First Photos of “Bigfoot” California’s Legendary “Abominable Snowman”
- August 10, 2017
By Ivan T. Sanderson
At three-thirty p.m. on the twentieth of October last year, two young men, Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, were “packing” it on horseback into one of the last remaining great wilderness areas, northeast of Eureka, California. Their saddlebags contained, on one side, rifles and grub and, on the other, ready-loaded movie and still cameras and other equipment. They were following a creek which had been washed out two years ago in the terrible floods that devastated most of northern California. This was some twenty miles beyond the end of an access road for logging and about thirty-five miles in from the nearest and only blacktop road in this vast, as yet not fully mapped area of National Forest. I have been up this Bluff Creek and, as a botanist, I can tell you that it is rugged — four layers or tiers of trees, the tallest up to 200 feet, and a dense undergrowth. Also, the terrain goes up and down a gigantic sawtooth.
Roger and Bob rounded a sharp bend in the sandy arroyo of the creek. Then it happened. The horses reared suddenly in alarm and threw both the riders. Luckily, Roger fell off to the right and, being an experienced horseman, disengaged himself and grabbed his camera. Why? Because he had spotted what had turned their horses into mad broncos. About 100 feet ahead, on the other side of the creek bed, there was a huge, hairy creature that walked like a man!
The way Roger described it to me would not, I am afraid, make much sense to you; but then, Roger had been hunting this sort of creature for many years. What he actually said was: “Gosh darn it, Ivan, right there was a Bigfoot. And, fer pity’s sakes, she was a female! Just wait till you see the film.” Roger is a Northwesterner and he does not waste words, but what he does say, I listen to. This is what he told me:
“On the other side of the creek, back up against the trees, there was a sort of man-creature that we estimated later, by measuring some logs that appear in the film, to have been about seven feet tall. Both Bob and I estimate — and this pretty well matched what others told us from examination of the depth to which her tracks sank into hard sand— that she would weigh about three hundred and fifty pounds. She was covered with short, shiny, black hair, even her big, droopy breasts. She seemed to have a sort of peak on the back of her head, but whether this was longer hair or not I don’t know. Anyhow, hair came right down her forehead to meet her eyebrows, if she had any; and it came right up to just under her cheekbones. And — oh, get this — she had no neck! What I mean is, the bottom of her head just seemed to broaden out onto and into her wide, muscular shoulders. I don’t think you’ll see it in the film, but she walked like a big man in no hurry, and the soles of her feet were definitely light in color.”
This last bit got me, as I have seen really black-skinned Melanesians with pale pink palms and soles. I don’t want to sound facetious, but this whole thing gets “hairier and hairier,” as you will see in a moment. Roger did something then that I have never known any professional photographers to do, even if his camera was loaded with the right film, he had the cap off the lens, the thing set at the right F stop and so on. He started running, hand-holding his Kodak sixteen-mm loaded with Kodachrome film, trying to focus on this “creature.” What he got was just about what any amateur would get in such circumstances. But then he got a real break. As he puts it:
“She was just swinging along as the first part of my film shows but, all of a sudden, she just stopped dead and looked around at me. She wasn’t scared a bit. Fact is, I don’t think she was scared of me, and the only thing I can think of is that the clicking of my camera was new to her.”
“Okay,” I said. “Tell me this, Roger — the hunting season was on, wasn’t it?” “You’re darned shooting right it was,” Bob Gimlin chimed in. “And out that way, anything moving with fur on it is liable to get shot.” But actually, there just aren’t any hunters way up there, twenty miles beyond the only road, known as the Bluff Creek access. Could it be that this Mrs. Bigfoot knew all about guns but was puzzled by the whirring of a small movie camera? And another thing: everybody who says they have been close to one of these creatures or has found one of their “beds” has stressed the ghastly, nauseating stink they exude and leave behind. Was this what really scared the horses or did the horses scare the “Adorable Woodsman,” which is my name for the lady?
(While we referred to this in the title as the “Abominable Snowman” for purposes of quick identification, the Bigfoot or Sasquatch, zoologically, has nothing to do with the Himalayan Abominable Snowman known for centuries in Asia and first brought to the attention of the western world in 1921. Our lady is a form of primitive, full-furred human. The Yeti, or Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas is some sort of giant, rock-climbing ape, in my opinion, and that of Professor Carleton S. Coon. The Yeti footprints found have an opposed big toe, almost like a hand. The Bigfoot has an unopposed toe, such as is seen only on human-type creatures.)
While Roger took the film, Bob got the horses calmed down and then rode over the creek. Roger was running again after the Bigfoot, still hand-holding his movie camera. Despite the logs and trash on the route she took — and it was not even a game trail — he got some parting shots which turned out to be of particular interest to the scientists. But we will come to that later.
At that point, I asked Bob — because he was then what is called “the back-up man,” which means that he was now close enough to see Roger clearly — “Just what was Roger doing?”
“He was running like hell, jumping them logs and going up into the real thick bush.”
“Did you see her, too?”
“Yeah, Ivan, but way ahead and really taking off for the hills.”
This brought me up sharp, because I had by this time viewed their film (and half a dozen out-takes, blown up, in full color as transparencies, which I had examined under strong magnifying lenses on an illuminated shadow-box several times and projected by three different projectors). In every case, the creature was — at standard speed for photos (twenty-four frames per sec) — as Roger said, at first just ambling along, swinging her rather long arms, not running scared, and even stopping for a brief look-see over her shoulder as it were; then ambling on again into the deep woods… Yet here was the back-up man saying that she had taken off for the hills. Roger, however, backed up his back-up man unprompted.
“When she got around the corner and into the real heavy stuff [timber and underbrush] she did take off-running, I mean — because, when we lost her tracks on pine needles after tracking her for about three-and-a-half miles, we took plaster casts of her tracks. Now, down by the creek, in the sand, where we first spotted her, her stride was from forty to forty-two inches from the back of the heel on the left side to the back of the right heel ahead; but when she got really going, she left tracks that measured sixty-five inches from back heel to back heel. Man, she was running just like you and I do!”
“Why ‘she’?” I asked Roger.
“Well, Ivan, let’s run that film through again, and you tell me, as a trained zoologist, if that thing has pendant breasts or not.”
We ran the film again, slowly, and we had a stop-and-hold device on the projector by which we can hold any frame without fear of burning it. This we did and, so help me, there are definitely large, pendant breasts fully covered with short, black hair. No ape (or monkey) is known to have had any such development of the female mammary glands. Human beings, on the other hand, do — frequently.
Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin actually have nothing much more to add. They presented us, both newsmen and scientists, with this film for appraisal. We viewed it, and our findings follow. But, for my money, these young men, after six years of sensible effort, have turned up with the first bit of (possibly) concrete evidence for something that, however fantastic it may sound, has been going on for years, both in this country and Canada — and a lot of other places in the world, like Russia, for instance. So let me get down to a proper analysis from both a scietific and journalistic point of view. Before I do this, however, I want to say that, in this day of technology, ‘anything’ can be a hoax. But elaborate hoaxes cost a lot of money, and if they are to fool scientists and the like, they also require plenty of knowledge. Anyway, here’s what we did to verify and check it out:
I have known Roger Patterson by correspondence for about six years. He tells me — and this flatters me to hell — that he got interested in this business from reading a book I published in 1961, entitled Snowmen: Legend Come to Life, (Chilton), which was a compendium of all I had been able to find in published form on this subject up to that date. I, myself, had been researching it since 1930. During this work, I found that the British had first become cognizant of the matter in Asia in 1921, and quite by mistake. However, as I went back in history, I discovered that just such hairy, primitive, non-tribalized humanlike creatures have been reported by scholars of various cultures and in literature for centuries from almost all over the world. Thus, what Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin achieved is not just an isolated incident. It fits a pattern, and precisely. But what happened next?
Well, these young men had the sense to get their film carefully processed, under guard, a copy made, and the original locked up in a vault so that it could not be scratched, stolen or destroyed. Then they went to the one group of people who really know about “faking” things — especially like “King Kong,” “apemen” and other phony monsters — namely, Universal Pictures in Hollywood. There they met Dale Sheets, head of the Documentary Film Department, and top technicians in what is called the Special Effects Department, who are the men who have actually made such things for the movies. They asked the technicians, in effect: “Look at this strip of film. fellows, and then tell its if you could reproduce that for us.” “No,” the experts answered. “Maybe if you allotted a couple of million bucks, we could try, but we’d have to invent a whole set of new, artificial muscles, get a gorilla’s skin and train an actor to walk like that. It might he done, but offhand we’d say it would be nearly impossible.”
So then Bob and Roger applied to various groups of American scientists out west. None were seriously interested. There were, however, two Canadians who had also been looking into this matter in their country, where the creatures have been named Sasquatches (suss-kwatches). These Canadians, Mr. John Green, a newspaper publisher of Harrison Lakes, British Columbia, and Rene Dahinden, originally a Swiss mountaineer but for the past two decades a government forestry officer for the Canadian government, flew down to Yakima, Washington, and invited Roger, Bob, and Roger’s brother-in-law, Al De Atley, to come up to British Columbia and give a group of scientists there a showing.
They did, in Vancouver. At this meeting, there were, in addition to Dr. Ian McTaggart-Cowan, Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of British Columbia, who is the province’s leading zoologist, a dozen or so scientists, including Don Abbott, an anthropologist with the Provincial Museum in Victoria. Most of the scientists admitted in print that, though they had come to the meeting skeptics, they had left somewhat shaken. Here’s how they stated their reactions in the Vancouver Province next day:
Dr. McTaggart-Cowan summed up the more cautious opinions when he said: ‘The more a thing deviates from the known, the better the proof of its existence must be.’
Don Abbott spoke for the dozen or more scientists who appeared remarkably close to being convinced: “It is about as hard to believe the film is faked as it is to admit that such a creature really lives. If there’s a chance to follow up scientifically, my curiosity is built to the point where I’d want to go along with it. Like most scientists, however, I’m not ready to put my reputation on the line until something concrete shows up — something like bones or a skull.
Frank Beebe, well-known Vancouver naturalist and provincial museum illustrator, commented: “I’m not convinced, but I think the film is genuine. And if I were out in the mountains and I saw a thing like this one, I wouldn’t shoot it. I’d be too afraid of how human it would look under the fur. From a scientific standpoint, one of the hardest facts to go against is that there is no evidence anywhere in the western hemisphere of primate (ape, monkey) evolution — and the creature in the film is definitely a primate.
Beebe’s objection, however, was typical of those given by other “experts” who ventured out of their own specialties to comment. Since I know something about primates and about geography, I brought this matter to the attention of Dr. Joseph T. Wraight, who happens to be the Chief Geographer of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. His statement appears in detail elsewhere in this magazine, but may I sum it tip here by saying that the distinguished Dr. Wraight — whose doctorate, by the way, is in Human Ecology — responded in effect, “Bunk!” to this last objection.
One leading American weekly appeared to have been sufficiently impressed by the film to fly Roger, Bob and Al, with their film (and out-takes from same, blown up) to New York to bear their story straight. Armed with the film and these statements, the three landed in New York and gave me a buzz. I was with them in two hours. And then the “jazz” began. Every time we called upon anybody, we were asked for “further confirmation.” It was not easy, but we got it, step by step. But after a week of spending other peoples’ money, the boys, as I call them — though they are all married and fathers — got a really rude, flat and, in my opinion, senseless turn-down. So that’s why the story I am writing is in these pages.
The boys have not asked anybody for a single cent for what they’ve got. All they wanted was to be reimbursed for their out-of-pocket expenses. (This has been done.) For the rest, they need sufficient funds to mount a properly equipped and trained small group to go into this or another wilderness area for a full year to stage a real hunt for a Bigfoot — captured alive or on film — or else at least for a skull or other physical evidence. The commonest question asked me about these Bigfoot (of California) and the similar Sasquatches of Canada is: “Why has nobody ever seen one?” The answer to this is that they have, and by the hundreds, and for a hundred years (let alone the earlier sightings by local Indians). One is even alleged to have been captured on the trans-Canada railroad’s tracks in 1884, to have been examined by medical men and held in captivity for some time. It was even mentioned in official dispatches to the Crown by the (then) Colonial Governor of British Columbia. Further, I personally took an extended trip in 1959 to the West, covering just about every area from Alaska to California, and even the Canadian Northwest Territories, and interviewed several dozen people who said they had encountered these creatures. All my findings up to 1961 went into my book, mentioned earlier. Since then, however, further reports have continued to stream in at a minimum of once a month.
Meantime, eight groups that I know of went into the field, apart from Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, and I know that the last have several scores of interviews on tape with other “witnesses.” What is more, none other than Dr. Vladimir Markotic, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Calgary, Alberta, made two trips to the same areas and assessed the current reports two years ago.
The next most common question (from non-zoologists, that is) is usually: “Why, if there are so many of these big creatures running around, haven’t we ever found a single bone of one?”
My answer is simply to go and ask any game warden, real woodsman or professional animal collector if he has ever found the dead body or even a bone of any wild animal — except along roads, of course, or if killed by man. I never have, in forty years on five continents! No, Nature takes care of her own, and damned fast, too. But there is another point here. These creatures are apparently not even tribalized. In fact, they seem to be lone hunters or gatherers, forming only small family parties that break up as soon as the youngsters can get along on their own. Unlike the next stages up the ladder to us people, they do not seem to bury their dead. If they did, we might have stumbled across their ritual burial grounds, even in caves — though such are rarities — where they are reported to live. Then, there is another very prevalent notion: Almost everybody except zoologists — and even many of them — seems to believe that no big, new animals could still remail undiscovered. This is a complete fallacy. First, despite all the howls about our population explosion, more than half the land surface of the earth has not yet been mapped, or for the most part, even pentetrated. Further, the world’s second bulkiest land animal-Cotton’s wide-lipped rhinoceros-was not found until 1910; the forest giraffe or okapi until 1911, and the giant sable antelope until 1929. Then there is the kouprey, the second largest ox, found in Indochina in 1936, and, of course, the Coelocanth fish in 1938, thought to have been extinct for some 70,000,000 years. I might add that two herds, numbering 400 and 300 head respectively, of forest bison-believed to have existed in not too pure a form in only one national park in Canada-turned up in 1960 only eighty miles from the new road going to Great Bear Lake. [The Komodo dragon, which is the largest known reptile, wasn’t discovered until 1912. The mountain gorilla, an ape species peculiar to Africa, was a native legend for centuries — just like Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman — but he wasn’t established as a real creature by scientists until 1901.[EDITOR’S NOTE.] The other most asked question comes from the zoologists and professional anthropologists. It is really twofold: (1) How could such a creature be in the North American continent, because not one single bone or tooth of any true monkey (as opposed to the South American monkeys, which are quite different) and much less an ape, has ever been found here? This is true, but then the same people turn right around and state that (2) our Bigfoots, Oh-Mahs and Sasquatches are hominids, meaning on the human branch of our old family tree! This I find to be completely ridiculous and totally unscientific.
Let me explain. First, let us leave “monkeys” of all kinds out of it, and concentrate on what scientists call the pongids (or apes) and the hominids (or man-types). True, no ape has turned up on this continent; and I’m not surprised because they are tropical animals and, although there have been mild, temperate times in the Bering Sea and the Aleutians, they had no reason to go meandering all the way up there and over here. The hominids, on the other hand, were represented by several types that lived in cold climates, even up to the ice front, in the case of the Neanderthalers; and, what is more, horninids in the form of what we call humans (i.e. Homo sapiens — such as our American Indians, and later the Eskimos — seem to have been able to get here over the land bridge, or the ice bridge at least, according to all the professional scientists. So, may I ask, why is it so all-fired impossible for earlier human types to have done the same? Also, would some anthropologist please explain how our brown bears, elk, moose and so on got over here from northeast Asia where they originated?
You can’t have it both ways. Either these things are apes or they’re manlike creatures. Everybody says they look like men (even if dressed in “monkey suits”). Men have gotten here, but the apes have not. Isn’t this exactly what the true scientists have been saying all along?
Bob and Roger feel that these creatures are definitely human — or at least what scientists call hominid. They may be the last of their race, or subspecies, or other species of us “people.” And Bob and Roger want them “conserved,” or at least given a chance. Above all, they don’t want mobs armed with high-powered, automatic rifles barging in by the thousands and driving the already overworked and understaffed sheriffs, local and state police out of their minds.
Another point: The Minister for Recreation of the Canadian Cabinet, Mr. Kenneth Kiernan, has expressed sincere interest in these efforts. So also has our Secretary of the Interior, the Honorable Stewart Udall. The conservation angle to all this is serious enough, but there are other angles that we will not go into at this time.
Now comes the end of the story.
The leading news media — but not the working press, I should stress — treated this whole thing as an uproarious joke. But one of our leading picture magazines showed geniuine interest and arranged for the films and out-takes to be shown to representatives of the departments of zoology and anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History. Once again, as in Canada, the press wire services were on hand but were informed in closed session, I am told by these experts that the whole thing was nothing but a colossal hoax. The exact expression used by their spokesman being, as reported to me, “not kosher!” And the reason is alleged to have been simply that such a creature as depicted was impossible. The use of this term would, in this case, seem to imply that while considered a hoax, it was short of a fraud; but, if the creature depicted is impossible, then, for my money, it can only be a man-made thing and thus an outright fraudulent design. I have failed to receive any suggestions for a third alternative. This is manifestly a most unsatisfactory, situation. Furthermore, their verdict pronounced upon the pictures was handed down so fast that no time could have been given for a proper, thorough and truly scientific examination of the pictures to have been made. Finally, the existence of such a creature is not impossible. So, we — ARGOSY, that is — decided to do something practical. We did. It took time, patience and real cooperation from several other leading scientists. This is what we did:
First, our publisher, Mr. Harry Steeger, picked up the tab for the film and pictures, so that Bob and Roger and Al could get home for a couple of days for Thanksgiving. Next, I and my friend and partner, Desmond Slattery, drove down to Washington, D.C., where we set up a showing of the film and out-takes and blowups of all kinds. Then Argosy editor Milt Machlin flew down with the film, and brought his son Jason along, since he is a budding photographer — and an electronics wizard as well, in that he ran two tape recorders at different speeds for five solid hours. We then assembled the following persons:
Mr. N. 0. Wood, Jr., Director of Management Operations for the U.S. Department of Interior, representing the Honorable Secretary of that Department, Stewart Udall, on his written request to us.
Dr. A. Joseph Wraight, Chief Geographer, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (currently of the U.S. Department of Commerce) also a human ecologist.
Dr. John R. Napier, D.Sc., Director Primate Biology Program, The Smithsonian Institution. World-known expert on human, ape and monkey musculature, movement, and the anatomy of their hands and feet.
Dr. Vladimir Markotic, Associate Professor of Archeology at the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canadg. Also a physical anthropologist.
Dr. Allan Bryan, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.
Also present were several of us on “the other side of the fence” — let me call them the journalists or newsboys, or what you want. In addition to Des Slattery and Milt Machlin and myself, there was present Tom Allen, currently writer and editor on the editorial staff of The National Geographic Society. Tom has been a working newsman all his life; for seven years a feature writer and editor of the Sunday New York Daily News, then managing editor of Chilton Books of Philadelphia.
During a four-hour session, the films and stills were shown, examined under high magnification, challenged, questioned, argued about and studied. The scientists did not agree on all points. They did not even all see exactly the same details in the often hard-to-read blowups. But after careful scrutiny over a period of hours, not one voiced the suspicion that there was a vague possibility that someone with enormous funds, a strange, undecipherable motivation, a disregard for life and limb and an enormous knowledge of anatomy, physiology, photography and human psychology might have been clever enough to set up a hoax good enough to fool the top experts in their field.
In addition, in a separate screening, the film was shown to Dr. Osman Hill, head of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University. Dr. Hill said, among other things: “All I can say is that if this was a masquerade, it was extremely well done and effective.” He also expressed the feeling that this evidence was strong enough to induce some group to mount an expedition to search for further evidence.
So what’s the next step? At this point, everything clearly indicates the need for a major expedition with helicopters, two-way radios and possibly dogs to set on the trail of the next Bigfoot seen, though I’ve heard dogs usually run the other way when they get a whiff of the Bigfoot’s spoor. I can guarantee one thing for myself and Argosy Magazine. This story is definitely to be continued.
Argosy Magazine Article, February 1968