Page 18 - The 'X' Chronicles Newspaper - Jan/Feb 2018
P. 18

18                             The Man Who Created Bigfoot





             The Man Who Created

                          Bigfoot



                         Leah Sottile


           Bob Gimlin was a small town cowboy when
          his friend coaxed him into hunting the famous
           mythical creature 50 years ago. Today, as the
          legend of Bigfoot has grown, Gimlin is viewed
             by the community of believers around the
                country as something of a prophet.

          For weeks in the fall of 1967 the cowboys rode
          from sunrise to sunset in search of the creature
          no one had ever captured on film. Two rodeo
          men from  Washington’s apple country, they’d
          traveled to Northern California’s thick forest.
          They’d read headlines of unidentifiable
          footprints. The smaller cowboy was driven by a
          long obsession with the mythic beast known as
          Bigfoot; the other liked to see things for himself.
                 One late October afternoon near Bluff
          Creek, the men trundled on horseback, half a
          day’s ride from the nearest signs of civilization.
          The sun shone bright, lighting the leaves all  would soon become the world-famous              baritone voice all campfire smoke and truck
          around them in a grand finale of orange and red  Patterson-Gimlin film—arguably one of the     engines. Bob Gimlin wears big hats and big belt
          and yellow. Roger Patterson rode in front,     most scrutinized pieces of video footage ever   buckles and drives a big pickup. He talks slow
          pausing his quarter horse to point his lens    made. It is the cryptozoological equivalent to the  with a heavy drawl and seems to find a way to
          toward the leaves, the film chattering inside his  Kennedy assassination’s Zapruder film.  The  turn almost any conversation toward horses.
          rented 16mm Cine Kodak camera.  When he        film met immediate criticisms accusing                 In a booth with vinyl seats, Gimlin
          finished, he tucked the camera into his        Patterson and Gimlin of being master pranksters  ordered coffee and dumped in two creams, and
          saddlebag, leaving the leather flap open.      who simply filmed a man in an ape suit and laid  told the waitress he wouldn’t be eating. For the
                 Bob Gimlin brought up the rear. He rode  fake footprints in the mud.                    next six hours, he told his story: who he was
          a quarter horse, leading a pony loaded with            The film tore Patterson’s and Gimlin’s  before he saw Bigfoot, who he became after, and
          supplies behind him.* Patterson navigated      friendship apart. Patterson partnered with his  why he stayed quiet for four decades after the
          around a bend where a large tree had fallen and  brother-in-law, Al DeAtley, to take the film on a  film’s debut.
          jammed up the nearby creek—its root system     national tour as a way to raise funds for a full-      Before he had ever heard of Bigfoot,
          upturned and exposed, like blind fingers       fledged expedition back at Bluff Creek.  The    Gimlin had led the life of a man who feared
          reaching for an anchor.                        three took equal shares in the film, but soon   nothing, who thrived on dares and several times
                 The horses saw it first. Patterson’s    Gimlin felt edged out, and sold his share of the  cheated death. The first time was at age seven
          reared, kicking and protesting, then Gimlin’s.  rights for less than $10 to another Bigfoot    when his appendix burst. He missed a year of
          Less than 100 feet away, the men saw why: a    researcher.                                     school as he recovered in the Ozark mountains
          hulking gorilla-like figure covered in dark hair       After five years estranged, Patterson and  cabin in Missouri where he was born.
          hurried on two legs along the creekbed. Its    Gimlin made amends in 1972 as Patterson lay on         In 1940, the promise of sprawling green
          sloped head and torso were pushed forward, its  his deathbed, dying of cancer at age 38.       ranchlands and orchards set against the towering
          upper back hunched, thigh muscles rippling,    Patterson apologized for ousting Gimlin,        Cascades pulled his farmer father and mother
          long arms swinging, breasts exposed.           pleading with him that when he recovered that   westward.** In Washington, Gimlin roped wild
                 Patterson scrambled off his spooked     they would go back to California and catch      horses with native boys on the nearby Yakima
          animal, holding its reins just long enough to  Bigfoot. He died the next day.                  Reservation, crawling onto their backs and
          reach inside his saddlebag for the camera.             More than 40 years later, the film has  hanging on for dear life. “I was ready to ride,”
          Gimlin, a cowboy famous through the Yakima     never been conclusively debunked. It has        he says. “Even at a very young age I wanted to
          Valley for taming wild colts and running in    withstood scrutiny from scientists, forensic    ride anything that bucked, jumped, moved, run,
          breakneck “suicide races” (in which riders     analysts, Hollywood special effects experts, and  or whatever.” He became a natural rodeo man:
          careen down steep slopes), dropped the         costume designers. No one can quite explain     quick to bounce back, never letting a cast or a
          packhorse’s rope and gripped the reins of his  it—except those who believe in folklore. In that  sling keep him from a horse. He raced caravans
          frightened pony to steady it.                  time, Bigfoot has evolved into a full-fledged   and chariots through mountain passes, hurtled
                 Patterson scrambled across the uneven   American myth, propagated by a national         down cliffsides. He gained a reputation as a
          ground, waving the camera in one hand, the film  congregation of believers who regard Gimlin as  daredevil (though he declined Evel Knievel’s
          blurry as he ran. He stopped to crouch and     a kind of prophet.                              offer to join him in for-profit “daredevilin’”).
          steady himself, then trained the lens on the           “Meeting Bob Gimlin, to a Bigfooter, is        At age 18, Gimlin joined the  Army
          strange figure, the camera shaking from his    like meeting the President of the United States to  reserves; later he enlisted in the Navy. After two
          breathing. “Bob! Cover me!” he yelled over his  an  American,” says Cindy Rose Caddell, a      tours in the Korean  War, he and three other
          shoulder to Gimlin, who rode toward the creek,  researcher and author. “Or what meeting the    sailors were in a car accident that left one dead
          dismounting his horse and drawing his rifle.   Pope is to a Catholic.”                         when the driver smashed into a power pole. His
                 The picture steadied as the creature, mid-      The 84-year-old cowboy wore a black     head slammed into the dash and the motor of the
          stride, turned to look over its right shoulder—  cattleman’s hat and sunglasses, an off-white coat  car pinned his body in the vehicle. “I lost half
          just a glance—before it disappeared into the   with “Bob” embroidered in blue thread at the    my face,” he says. Gimlin underwent several
          forest. A skunky, rank odor hung heavy in the  chest. His boots stated their intentions across the  plastic surgeries to repair his nose. He spent two
          air.  The whole affair was over in less than a  tile entryway of a roadside diner in Union Gap,  years recovering in a hospital in California.
          minute.                                        in central  Washington, pausing as he held the  Once he received his discharge papers, Gimlin
                 The final 59.5-second film, which the   door for an elderly woman in a pink jacket.     headed back home to Yakima.
          men would airmail back home to be developed,           “Come on in, young lady,” he said, his                         (Continued on Page 20)
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