Creepy Mystery: Patterson Film
A little over five decades ago a man named Roger Patterson and his friend Bob Gimlin filmed some of the most controversial footage ever. It was October 20, 1967, Patterson and Gimlin were riding horses along the banks of the Bluff Creek in Orleans, California. After turning a corner to avoid a fallen tree with a large root system, the men beheld a tall, hairy, bipedal creature who gave them a dismissive glare and retreated into the forest-line. With their camera rolling, these men captured under a minute of footage of the legendary cryptid known as Sasquatch. Since then, this film footage known as the Patterson Film (or sometimes Patterson-Gimlin film) has been scrutinized and analyzed by experts and amateurs alike from all walks of life. While many are skeptical, there are still many who believe this is actual footage of a creature that has evaded human contact for centuries.
By his own account, Roger Patterson had held a fascination with bigfoots and other ape-like cryptids for years leading up to filming of his famed movie. This started in the late 50’s when he discovered the work of prominent Scottish biologist and early researcher of cryptozoology Ivan T. Sanderson. That interest only grew, especially once he discovered a host of witnesses who claimed to have had Bigfoot sightings at nearby Bluff Creek. He enlisted the help of his friend, and former rodeo rider Bob Gimlin to venture out with him and see what they can find. Gimlin did not share any of his friend’s enthusiasm about cryptids, but as an avid outdoorsman he was looking for an excuse to head out into forest for some trail riding. Given that the area they were exploring happened to be too rugged for cars, horseback was the only way to go.
The two men rode upstream at the Bluff Creek and reached an area with a lot of debris and upturned trees from a flood which occurred a few years before. As they navigated around one tree in particular was when they saw the creature. Needless to say Patterson and Gimlin scrambled off their horses to balance the camera and get their rifle in the case they needed to defend themselves. As they did, the Bigfoot glared at them as she swung her arms and wandered off into the treeline and out of sight. Once Patterson dismounted, he trailed after the creature for a short while, but he stopped when he realized how defenseless he would be against a massive 7 ft beast. Stories differ about how he got the film shipped out, but afterwards they did go back to collect plaster molds of the footprints they found.
Roger Patterson’s hopes that his film would shake the scientific community to the core failed to come to pass as scientists were largely ambivalent towards to footage. Initially they sent the film to a primatologist in British Columbia who wrote it off as a hoax immediately. From there they took the film to a number of different media outlets who all turned it down, or only gave it a small image-less blurb in print. One major publication in New York was greatly interested in doing a story about the Patterson film, but only after a collective of New York-based scientists verified it. Naturally they all declared it a fake out-of-hand. It should also be noted that there was definitely a streak of bias among those who reviewed the footage, as they refused to believe two “cowboys” could possibly have seen something that no scientist had ever observed. Patterson did see his cause taken up by his hero, Ivan T. Sanderson who helped them get the film footage to the BBC.
Slowly but surely the Patterson Film began to spread it’s influence, and Roger Patterson did what many before him had done, and began a tour conducting screenings of his film. Mind you his partner in this endeavor Bob Gimlin never reaped any benefit from this and after Patterson’s death in 1972 he was forced to sue his widow in order to get some form of compensation. The footage began to grow as a force in pop culture, showing up in different magazines and even on the Tonight Show. One magazine cover in the early 70’s, proudly plastered Patterson and Gimlin on their cover dressed as a cowboy and an Indian (Gimlin was part Cherokee so naturally he was the Indian half). With more and more people seeing the grainy footage of the legendary animal it was inevitable a debate over the authenticity would kick up, and it is a debate still raging to this day.
A point defenders of the film’s authenticity point to is the movement of the subject. As she walks, there a number of little details to her stride which can not be duplicated by a human, much less one in a large hairy suit. Idaho State University’s D. Jeffrey Meldrum published a research paper where he analyzed the footprints recovered by Patterson and Gimlin at the site of the film and came to the conclusion that given the depth of the animal and the size of the strides it took, that it was time for the scientific community to take the idea of Sasquatch seriously. Even outside of the realm of biology and paranormal research, experts have had their say on the footage. William Munns the special fx master behind movies like; Swamp Thing and Return of the Living Dead, exhaustively studied the footage and came to the conclusion that even with his skills and mastery he could not make a bigfoot suit which looked that authentic. If a trained professional responsible for some of filmdom’s most elaborate prosthetics and costumes could not duplicate the look of the creature, what chance do two rodeo-workers from California have.
Given that Roger Patterson already had an established love the creature as well as a desire to actually find proof of it’s existence, the Patterson Film has come under wide scrutiny as a hoax. First and foremost the thing people look at is Patterson’s character. He was not particularly well known as an honest or trustworthy individual, as mentioned before he even tried to screw his friend out of rightful compensation from the film. Those who knew him personally the adjective “shady” was thrown around a lot to describe Patterson. Even some in cryptozoological circles are highly skeptical of the Patterson Film; chief among them one of the pioneers in the field, French-Belgian zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans. He has pointed out that the fur on the figure is too uniformly matted and that the buttocks does not split enough, in his conclusion the subject of the film is a man in costume.
For all the feedback and discussion the Patterson Film has brought on, both men there that day never went back on their story. Even as recently as 2017, Bob Gimlin in an interview with the CBC for the film’s 50th anniversary, maintain that he and his friend saw a Bigfoot at that creek bed. In 1972, Hodgkin’s lymphoma claimed, Roger Patterson, and though shied away from the spotlight in his later years he remained very active in chasing down leads of Sasquatch across the country. For over five decades this is a film that has been endlessly analyzed and debated and perhaps it’s mysteries will never be solved.