The Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot Film

The true history behind the iconic Bigfoot film that launched the legend.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Cryptozoology, Urban Legends

Skeptoid #375
August 13, 2013
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe

You've seen it a hundred times: the iconic picture of Bigfoot striding heavily through the clearing, arms swinging, head and shoulders turned slightly toward the camera. This famous image is frame 352 of a 16mm silent color film shot in 1967 in northern California by rancher Roger Patterson, accompanied by his friend, Bob Gimlin. The impact that this film has had on Bigfoot mythology is inestimable; and correspondingly, so has its impact upon paranormal, cryptozoological, and pop culture mythologies in general. I might well not be doing the Skeptoid podcast today if the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film had not turned legend and fancy into concrete, tangible, see-it-with-your-own-eyes reality.

Whether or not Bigfoot exists is one question — the answer to which has not exactly whitened the knuckles of science — but the authenticity of the Patterson-Gimlin film is something else. If Bigfoot were known to be a real animal, an investigation into the authenticity of the film would make sense. If Bigfoot were known to not exist, then it would be logically moot to study the film at all; it must be a fake. But for today's purpose, we're going to brush aside the larger question (which should never be done in real science) and focus only on this detail. We'll assume that the existence of Bigfoot is an open question (a big assumption), and just for fun, let's see what we can determine on whether this famous film clip is a deliberate hoax, or whether it shows a real animal, or whether there might be some other explanation. Maybe it's a misidentification, or an elaborate film flaw, or an unknown third party hoaxing Patterson and Gimlin. There are many possibilities.

Roger Patterson died of cancer only a few years after the film was shot, and never offered any clue other than that the film was genuine. Bob Gimlin remained silent for 25 years, and ever since he began speaking about it in the 1990s he has firmly stated that he was unaware of any hoax, but allowed for the possibility that he may have been hoaxed himself. Nobody else is known to have participated, and so the only two people whom we can say for certain were present when the film was shot are both stonewalls. So we must look elsewhere.

The original film no longer exists (only copies), and there is no record of anyone ever having possessed the original print. We don't know why, but we're left without the original film's leader, which would have included the date when it was developed. Thus, we have only Patterson's word for when it was developed, so we can't verify that the film was shot and developed on the days he claims it was. The original also would have included any other shots that were taken, such as possible alternate takes. If these were ever seen, we'd know for a fact that it was faked. So that's one more line of evidence that is unavailable to us.

No one has ever produced documentation like receipts showing when and where the film was developed. We know when and where Patterson rented the camera, but that's not really in dispute. He had it in his possession for plenty of time before and after the alleged date of the filming. So that's yet another dead end. Patterson covered his tracks very effectively (no Bigfoot pun intended).

He was quite a character, and had always been. He'd been a competitive rodeo cowboy, part-time rancher, and full-time slacker. Few who knew him had anything positive to say about him. His reputation was that he never paid his bills. He borrowed money, lied about it, and never paid it back. He was physically very strong — not an ounce of fat, and thick with muscles — and was fond of showing it off. He knew everything better than anyone, and nobody could tell him a thing. He never kept interest in one career very long. One day he'd build stagecoaches for miniature horses; the next day he'd repaint junk found at the dump and sell it. But his one saving grace was his wife Patricia. Patty had a brother in Yakima, WA, Al DeAtley, a successful asphalt contractor, who provided money whenever it was needed. It was this even keel that got Roger Patterson through.

The story goes that Patterson and Gimlin had developed a strong interest in Bigfoot, and in October 1967 they rented the movie camera and went off on horseback for a couple weeks to look for it. Next thing they knew, they'd become the luckiest Bigfoot hunters in history, when the creature obligingly stepped out of the woods and strode across the clearing for Patterson's camera, in the early afternoon of October 20th. Gimlin chased it on horseback, lost it, but found its footprints; then they rode about 5 kilometers back to camp for their plaster of paris. They rode back, poured plaster into the footprints, waited for it to dry, then went back to camp again. They loaded their horses into the trailer and drove 40 kilometers on rough fire roads back to Willow Creek, and posted the film off to Yakima to get it developed. It was about 4:00 in the afternoon.

The glaring impossibility of this timeline is what first raised suspicions among skeptics. In response, Patterson and Gimlin began providing all sorts of different versions of their story. Other suspicious cryptozoologists, such as Peter Byrne, found holes and contradictions in those stories. In the end, the version Patterson and Gimlin settled on was that they put the film onto a plane and flew it to Yakima, where Al DeAtley picked it up to have it developed. Byrne found that the only charter planes that could have flown that route that day were all grounded due to rain and bad weather. Since then, few serious researchers took Patterson and Gimlin's story seriously.

But the film had already grown larger than all of them. It was a sensation, and to this day, rakes in revenue in licensing fees. DeAtley backed Patterson and formed Bigfoot Enterprises on November 1, just 10 days after the shoot, and reported $200,000 in the first year. Make no mistake about it: for the late 1960s and a man who used dig through the dump, Bigfoot was big money. Throughout the 1970s, Patty Patterson, Al DeAtley, Bob Gimlin, and a wildlife film company fought numerous lawsuits with one another over the rights to the footage. The biggest winner was a Bigfoot fan named Rene Dahinden, who ended up with about half of the rights, and Patty with the other half.

It was in 2004 that author Greg Long dug into this mess to sort everything out. Over a period of six years, he actually went and met face to face with all of these characters who were still alive, and many other people — anyone he could find who knew Patterson or was involved in the film in any way. His entire adventure was published in his entertaining book The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story.

That wildlife film company just mentioned, American National Enterprises, turns out to have been pivotal. Patterson had been driving down to Hollywood a lot, trying to sell the idea of a pseudo-documentary about Bigfoot; based on Patterson's own self-published 1966 book Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist? Studios wouldn't bite, but ANE did. It was with their money that Patterson rented his camera and took some pre-production stills of his buddies allegedly on a Bigfoot hunt, but actually in Patterson's own backyard. They included Bob Gimlin costumed up as a native American guide. ANE's movie was to be titled Bigfoot: America's Abominable Snowman.

Bob Heironimus was a sturdy, hulking 26-year-old laborer who lived a few doors down from Bob Gimlin. One day Gimlin told Heironimus that Patterson would pay him $1000 for a day's work on a film set wearing a costume. Heironimus readily agreed; that was a lot of money. He met with the men once or twice to try on a gorilla suit and make some adjustments. Then one day, he drove down to Willow Creek. He spent the night at their camp, and the next day they shot the footage.

ANE's money had also been used to buy the gorilla suit. It came from Philip and Amy Morris, established makers of gorilla suits for carnivals. They told Greg Long that they had recognized the suit when they saw Patterson's film on television, and that Patterson had asked their advice in modifying the suit to make the arms longer. They'd even shipped him extra synthetic fur, made from a material called Dynel. They also advised him to put a football helmet and shoulder pads on the suit wearer to make him look enormous. Not surprisingly, when Greg Long asked Bob Heironimus about the suit, he also mentioned that he wore a football helmet and shoulder pads inside of it.

Bob Heironimus then went home, where his mother and two brothers also saw the suit, and waited patiently for his $1000. In accordance with his character, Patterson never paid Heironimus a dime. When he saw the film hit it big, Heironimus feared prosecution for fraud for his role in its production, and so made no further efforts to collect, nor ever spoke up about it to anyone. A groundless fear perhaps, but very real for an honest and innocent young man.

The camera store had to file charges for theft against Patterson to get him to finally return the camera. ANE lost every penny of their investment; Patterson immediately abandoned their pseudo-documentary and, in essence, stole the film clip that was rightfully their intellectual property. It was only 30 years later that Greg Long was able to piece together the entire story by talking to all of those involved. Holes still remain; for example, Al DeAtley claims to have no recollection of where or when he supposedly developed the film, or how he received it from his brother in law. The October 20 timeline is clearly impossible as given, but no evidence could be found to provide actual dates for when the film was actually shot or developed. With much credit going to Greg Long, we now have a reasonably solid reconstruction of the film's complete history, with plenty of space in the gaps to fill with anything more plausible than the Patterson-Gimlin claim of the world's luckiest Bigfoot hunt.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

In 1967, Roger Patterson was a young man, only 41 years old. He was strong and exuberant — an amateur boxer known for walking on his hands on the small town's main street — too lazy to take a regular job, too much in love with his wife Patricia, and too many stars in his eyes to stick within the confines of the even the flamboyant rodeo. He was inwardly happy but outwardly grumpy, frustrated with society's conventions that expected him to be less than he wanted to be. But even at that young age, he was dying of cancer. Roger may have had a year left or five, and his thoughts were consumed with providing for his beloved wife while still being the rascal that he needed to be. When Roger put that film cartridge into his camera, it wasn't with the careful eye of a cinematographer. Nor was it with the deliberate mischief of a hoaxer. It was with the vivacity of a happy-go-lucky shortcutter, a candle doomed to burn half as long, and desperate to burn twice as bright. His thoughts were on Patricia and with squeezing in one final success, a roll of the dice, a lottery ticket. If his Bigfoot movie failed, he would die as the obscure debtor as which he'd been cut out; but if he won, he'd be the flash in the pan that he needed to be to sustain his wife and justify his years of skylarking. Roger Patterson made the gamble he needed to make. The wheel of fortune spun, and as it does every once in a great while, it made Roger the winner. It turned Bigfoot into a real monster that walked across the clearing and into legend and permanence.

Just over four years later, Roger Patterson lay in bed and drew his final breaths. The film had been a great success, and brought in a constant stream of money unlike anything he'd ever known. Patricia securely owned enough of the film rights to sustain herself. When he finally closed his eyes, Roger went to that great Bigfoot pasture in the sky, without ever having compromising the eternal youth that was in his makeup to be. He never paid his bills. He never sold hours of his life. He never put in an honest day of someone else's work. He never sacrificed his lack of principles. He never gave up being untrustworthy and living his few years on his own terms. Yet, perhaps it was that insistence on being who he was that caused his film to outlive nearly everyone else of his day. Even as a hoax, the Patterson-Gimlin film is perhaps the most honest film ever made.

Brian Dunning

© 2013 Skeptoid Media Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Carroll, R. "Bigfoot." The Skeptic's Dictionary. Robert T. Carroll, 24 Feb. 1999. Web. 8 Aug. 2013. <>

Korff,K., Kocis, M. "Exposing Roger Patterson's 1967 Bigfoot Film Hoax." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 Jul. 2004, Volume 28, Number 4: 35-40.

Long, G. The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 2004.

McLeod, M. Anatomy of a Beast: Obsession and Myth on the Trail of Bigfoot. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

Patterson, R. Do Abominable Snowmen of America Really Exist? Yakima: Franklin Press, 1966.

Smith, B., Radford, B., Stollznow, K. "Monster Talk: Suitable for Framing." Monster Talk. The Skeptics Society, 17 Feb. 2010. Web. 7 Aug. 2013. <>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "The Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot Film." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 13 Aug 2013. Web. 4 Oct 2015. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 125 comments

A good number of factual slips in the Skeptoid analysis may be seen here:

To reply to one of the questions way back, here is a copy of the full film roll as shot by Patterson, including the Bigfoot part that day.

The camera original of the film may still exist, but it has been lost or appropriated, possibly by Rene Dahinden. It was used to make cibachrome stills in Los Angeles in 1980, where the film resided in a film archive, following the bankruptcy of ANE Film Company.

S. S., Willow Creek, CA
July 14, 2015 12:15pm

"If Bigfoot were known to be a real animal, an investigation into the authenticity of the film would make sense. If Bigfoot were known to not exist, then it would be logically moot to study the film at all; it must be a fake."

Does science only allow investigation of things previously proven by others? Can there ever be 'authentic' evidence of things as yet unproven? And is it possible to prove Bigfoot does not exist?

You allow for a third possibility, that Bigfoot 'might' exist to permit examination of the film without upsetting scientific sensibilities, only to ignore the film altogether in favor of assailing the character of those involved. Credible people such as University of Idaho's Jeff Meldrum and others have raised some intriguing questions regarding anatomy and locomotion that deserve investigation.

All of this is reminiscent of your own displeasure with arguments made by crackpot conspiracy types. Just as eager believers should not be reflexively dismissive of the 'official version' shouldn't skeptics resist being straightaway dismissive because there isn't one?

If money was the motivation for creating the hoax, what is the motivation for maintaining silence now? It has pretty much played itself out. Being the most famous and longest running hoaxes of modern times wouldn't Patterson's heirs stand to make much more money now from book and film rights detailing the hoax than they currently receive from a diminishing number of licensed viewing requests?

d'arc madr, Bothell, Washington
July 19, 2015 10:25am

Wow. What you did here was basically just a character assassination, followed by chapter and verse from someone's book, most of which isn't substantiated. I see quite a bit of "Psuedo" in YOUR words. I point this out because it's something you do quite often yourself, is it not?.

I get, and I agree with the point, that someone's character is always used as a basis for determining the likelyhood that they are being truthful on any given subject, but you devote approximately 50% of your speech here on character assassination. You could have simply said something to the effect of his charater being very questionable, even dubious. Instead, you chose the path you did because that is more likely to sway the weak-minded when you go on and on about how shifty the guy was (that's an OPINION, btw) and how he never held a steady job for long (true, but also subjective) and also state that he never sold hours (worked) of his time (NOT true). So, you've contradicted yourself on that point. The reconstruction is either SOLID or it has plenty of space to fill (i.e. full of holes). There are TOO MANY contradictions to mention here.

I see a lot of OPINION here and little fact. You'd have perhaps made a better case had you used Bullet Points for the ACTUAL facts involved, some of which are very damning to the credibility of the film. Instead you chose to weave fact and opinion( and contradiction) in a game of words designed to sway the reader in your direction thru misrepresentation.

Jimbob, North America
July 25, 2015 4:07am

Humans 'make sense' of reality, through the prism of 'Beliefs'!
This applies to science and to skeptics too. Though of course this is denied.

Our beliefs shape everything we do and even 'How' we think. 'Critical thinking' is a 'Belief system' too! There is no escape from it. We are all 'Users' when it comes to viewing reality through beliefs!

So, defining Reality, is just a game we all play... ;-)

Michael, Birmingham England
July 31, 2015 11:37pm


"Humans 'make sense' of reality, through the prism of 'Beliefs'!
This applies to science and to skeptics too. Though of course this is denied.

Our beliefs shape everything we do and even 'How' we think. 'Critical thinking' is a 'Belief system' too! There is no escape from it. We are all 'Users' when it comes to viewing reality through beliefs!

So, defining Reality, is just a game we all play... ;-)"

Absolutely. I've said before that man does not move from "logic" and "scientific facts". He is ultimately motivated by Belief.

My sometimes criticisms of Skeptoid and its posting so-called skeptics that have maintained the "Official Story", have been observations that said skeptics have ignored their own rules and mandates for solid evidence and critical analysis when confronted with plain and official evidence which goes directly against their thinking, and against the Official Story (or "commonly held view").

It has been notable that said "rational thinkers" have thus often descended into unfounded accusations and ridicule of myself and what I've posted, in exactly the same manner as religious fanatics demonstrate when anything against their beliefs is asserted.

Notable also on other occasions is the frosty silence when clear evidence is presented against their beliefs, or they are called to account for said unfounded assertions.

Also forgotten is the plain fact that the tenets and methods of science are themselves products of the Mind, but our so-called..

Macky, Auckland
August 1, 2015 3:38pm

...skeptics stoically continue to regard science as holding the only definitions of what is real, seemingly a sort of primordial Truth system stumbled over by mankind, when in fact it was Mankind that constructed science's rules of enquiry and definitions himself.

Apart from science not knowing everything, self-evident from its progressive and constantly expanding nature, this Truth System where anything not proven by the scientific method is not real, falls apart under the "skeptics" own rules of critical analysis (a fundamental Skeptoid mandate) when Skeptoid's OWN definitions of true evidenced skepticism are applied, and it becomes entirely obvious that the so-called skeptics themselves are firmly locked into a belief system which they vigorously defend by derision, irrational accusations, and even "evidence" which doesn't exist in the Official Story, in exactly the same manner as religious fanatics have behaved through the ages when their beliefs have been challenged.

Science is a mighty tool for everyday use, its applications have been marvelous, a source of wonder, but it is forever limited in its perception by the human senses, and the thoughts, of the Mind.

On an everyday level, we may well be guided by the engineering accomplishments of science in our modern-day lives, but we are motivated ultimately by Belief and Emotion.

Logically, why carry on with science ? Because we believe that our lives will be "better", that we will be more "educated", somehow.

Macky, Auckland
August 1, 2015 4:16pm

I think Patterson was merely lucky with timing, being the first to perpetrate a Bigfoot hoax at this level of cleverness. He gained credibility via precedent in ways that future hoaxers couldn't. It's similar to those who buy a stock at a golden moment and profit like few others. I also didn't realize how stubborn and dishonest he was until reading this article. Why can't Bigfoot die-hards factor that in? He was a classic candidate for a hoaxer.

It is HIGHLY unlikely that a creature this large could exist with no documented skeletal remains in forest areas increasingly under development. It just makes no sense unless one is full of wishful thinking. The "hidden" existence of Bigfoot is basically a conspiracy theory.

Bears rearing and walking on their hind legs are the most logical origins of the Bigfoot tale. There are several online videos of bears doing just that. People get easily spooked in the forest and seeing a walking bear would obviously cause unease, especially at dusk when its face is less discernible.

Jack C., Redding, CA
August 9, 2015 7:34pm

Notice how most critics of this article argue against logic and science as being pompous or presumptuous. That's the same angle Creationists pursue against biologists, you know. Those who desperately wish this film to be valid are not being objective. It holds a place in their minds or egos that they don't want to let go of.

One poster asked why the remaining people in this story don't finally admit it was a hoax, since they have little to lose after all this time. But they DO have a lot to lose in terms of pride and credibility. Don't assume that money is all that drives people!

Jack C., Redding, CA
August 9, 2015 7:44pm

At this point in time the Paterson/ Gimlin film certainly has its limitations on what it can offer as far as proof of large un catalogued bi ped that existed at the time of the filming..i think we must move past this film..Though this blog is about the film...There seems to be personality attacks that have zero to do with the image of Patty on this film...aspects of Pattys anatomy that the probabilty of a custume. Is very unlikly. be able to achieve....though the studies that have been done by a number of individuals, scientists and others that have areas of expertise who's conclusions are based on what the film can tell us is simply this... its highly doubtful that Patty is a person in a thing is sure its not a horse skin hide..rough stiched he once claimed that he wore on that afternoon.....

Dave Festa, Florida
August 10, 2015 7:57am

Just to follow up about a comment i had posted early 2014.. About a conversation between Bill Munns and myself...Mr Munns has been working on a new height for Patty....that involves data with considerable varibles to consider.. There is evedince that the new height calculations may be considerable shorter than prevoius estimates.. A few days ago i recieved an email from Mr Munns. That stated because of variables and descrepiencies those figures are not ready at this time. though he works on the project as time permits... Just some info for what its worth...

Dave festa, florida
September 24, 2015 12:59pm

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