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Bigfoot ruined this man’s life, then gave him a fresh start

This story originally aired on April 28, 2018.  

If you close your eyes and picture Sasquatch, there’s a good chance you’ll conjure up a very specific image: a big, hairy humanoid, mid-stride, arms swinging, head turned to glance back over its right shoulder.

In that iconic picture, the thing Bigfoot was turning back to look at was Bob Gimlin.

Gimlin, along with Roger Patterson, gathered their famous film footage in northern California in 1967. Fifty years later people still pore over it, debating its authenticity and speculating on how it may have been faked.

A frame from the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film.

That film, which launched a thousand Bigfoot hunters, also sort of ruined Bob’s life.

Bob Gimlin lives in Yakima, and he’s a real-deal cowboy. He used to break horses, he rode in an honest-to-God sheriff’s posse, and, of course, he rode in rodeos, which is where he met Roger Patterson.

One day in 1961 they ran into each other at a gas station, and Roger told Bob he wanted to show him something. He came back with a large plaster cast of a footprint -- “this is a Bigfoot track,” Roger said.

Bob wasn’t sure what to make of that. But he was open-minded enough that one day later, when Roger came knocking, he was willing to listen.

“He come running into my place and he said Bob can you take me to Northern California?” Bob said. “Labor day weekend they found all these tracks down there.”

An Encounter At Willow Creek

Bob agreed to load up three horses in his trailer and head down to the area around Willow Creek, in Northern California. They quickly discovered the tracks they were looking for had succumbed to rain and human foot traffic. But the two men mounted up and headed deep into the woods on old logging roads.

“The leaves were all changing, reds and yellows,” Bob recalled. “We were just riding up there, Roger was taking pictures of me on the horse and leading the packhorse. That’s when Roger’s horse just started jumpin’ and a lungin’.”

Then, Bob saw what was spooking the horse.

“There was a Bigfoot standing there just on the other side of the crick from us. But it just immediately turned and started walking away. Well, Roger by then had got his camera out of his saddlebag on his horse, and he was up running across the crick there. He hit the other side of the bank and stumbled and kind of fell down on his elbows. And that’s when it made that famous head turn, is when I stepped down off the horse,” he said.

There was no doubt in Bob’s mind: This wasn’t a hoax. This was Bigfoot.

Once they’d calmed their horses down, they tried to follow her -- she appeared to be a rather heavy-bosomed female -- but to no avail.

A Schism, And An Imposter

Once the shaky film was developed, Roger was giddy, certain that he had a goldmine on his hands. But Bob was unimpressed.

“When I first saw the film I thought [expletive], that ain’t nothing. I said I saw a lot more than that. So I was kind of the bad guy,” said Bob.

That turned out to be the first crack in their friendship.

They hit the road with the film, trying to interest investors and maybe sell the story to Hollywood. But Bob says his heart wasn’t in it. He had horses to take care of, and he headed home to get back to work.

Still, Roger and his associates continued the roadshow with, according to Bob Gimlin, one major difference.

“He hired some guy that said he was me!” Bob said, still incredulous after all these decades.

And that was it for Bob and Roger. Bob says the two didn’t speak again until Roger was on his deathbed.

“His brothers called me and said Bob, he’s asked to see you. So I went to see a little old dried up guy there in the bed and he rallied up a little. Bob, he said, I apologize,” Bob said.

“He said Bob, I’ve got the money and the means and the equipment. He said as quick as I get well you and I are going to go down to California and capture a Bigfoot. Well that was in the afternoon and he was dead the next morning.”

All The Ridicule And None Of The Money

Bob says he forgave Roger at that point … but his anger still boiled. He seethed that this had turned to a payday for others but not for him. And Bob chafed at the mockery -- the constant mockery -- that seemed to follow him wherever he went.

He says people would occasionally screech into his driveway in the middle of the night and shout taunts about going Bigfoot hunting.

When the ridicule reached his wife at her bank job, that was a breaking point.

“They’d razz her about it where she was working, and she’d come home a bawlin' and saying, oh God Bob, I wish you had never went down there with Roger. I said I do, too.”

So Bob disowned Bigfoot. He stopped doing interviews and answering mail about it. He basically wouldn’t talk about it for nearly 35 years.

But then, in 2003, along came a Russian scientist named Dmitri Bayanov.

Bob Gimlin Reemerges After 35 Years

Bayonov has written about Sasquatch as well as what they call the Russian Snowman. He came to the US to attend a conference in California, and he convinced Bob Gimlin to go along with him.

Reluctantly, Bob agreed to tell the story of Willow Creek to a room of attendees. In a video of the talk, you can see Bob, his mustache not yet white, clearly unsure of what to expect. For decades his story had gotten nothing but ridicule.

He finished the story, stood for a moment in uncertain silence, and then it came: thunderous applause.

“It was like lifting a weight off my shoulders,” Bob said. “Here’s all these people just anxious to hear what went on, and believed in me. And when I walked in the room, standing ovation. And I thought, wait a minute, how did this turn around in a few days?”

Once again, Bigfoot had changed Bob’s life. He discovered that not only was he accepted by this community of believers, he was revered. In his 35 years of silence, the Patterson-Gimlin film became legendary among Bigfoot enthusiasts.

He started going to bigfoot conferences again, giving interviews and signing autographs.

‘Until The Day They Spank Me In The Face With Dirt’

Still, that wasn’t good news for everyone in Bob’s life.

“My wife allows it but she will not go to any of them with me because of the bad days that she had. She says I won’t allow anybody that has anything to do with it to come to my place to do any filming or any interviews. You do what you want to, but I’m not going to go do any of it.”

And that’s sort of the agreement Bob has made with the world, too. He knows what he saw. If you don’t believe him, fine. You’re the sucker.

“I strongly believe that if a real one walked in the house and sat down at a table -- or, the best it could -- they’d say no, it’s a fake. It’s somebody in a suit. That’s how naive they are,” said Bob. “So that’s just the way I’d tell them until the day they spank me in the face with dirt.”

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.