His Vow to Find a Bigfoot Altered Life of Freeman*
By Vance Orchard
back to back articles on the death of Paul Freeman)
WALLA WALLA --- These were the words of a very determined man a man badgered by many people following his reporting in 1982 of his encounter with a Bigfoot in the Blue Mountains near Walla Walla.
Paul Freeman would see his life altered substantially following the reporting to his superiors at the Walla Walla Ranger District of the Umatilla National Forest. He was a patrol rider whose job was to regularly check out the Mill Creek Watershed, a source of water for the City of Walla Walla. So it was that after the incessant hectoring by scoffing dis-believers that Freeman declared he would search the Blues until he found a Bigfoot and prove to his skeptics that the thing existed.
Ina a period of several years Freeman did what he promised all but find one he could bring in for dissection and proof. What he was to learn should well have been the proof, but science demands a bit more than photography, plaster casts of huge hands and feet or hair that can't be identified in laboratories. Freeman lay all this and more before the skeptics and was as near a solution as anyone at his untimely death on April 2.
But, it was only a month after his reported Bigfoot encounter in 1982 that Freeman, with several friends found lots of Bigfoot evidence evidence that backed up his June report. And, out of the fishing trip experience by Freeman and his friends also came statements by a leading anthropologist (and Bigfoot believer) which further seemed to vindicate Freeman. The entire thing should have rated highly in establishing more credence of Bigfoot but scoffers still held sway even among some leading Bigfoot seekers.
Following are excerpts from my account of the fishing trip on the Wenaha South Fork River when six friends of Freeman caught "Bigfoot fever"(in Oct. 10, 1982 editions of the UB):
Six men who packed into the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Area late in July on a fishing trip, caught more than a mess of trout.
They caught the Bigfoot "fever" in a big way.
The account which follows will not only tell of this experience, it will be an updating of the Blue Mountains Bigfoot affair which started in June with the sighting of this phenomenon.
The man who reported seeing a Bigfoot - a bipedal primate reported by many other people over many years from Northern California to British Columbia - was Paul Freeman. Freeman, along with Bill Epoch, rode the Mill Creek Watershed, patrolling to keep men and livestock out of the water source for the City of Walla Walla.
Anything resembling a routine ride around and through this sizable and rugged area of the Blues came to a halt June 10 when Freeman almost came face to face with a Bigfoot as it came off a steep bank as Freeman came around a curve in a mountain road.
Freeman reported to his superiors what he had seen and his life hasn't been the same since.
He says he quit his job with the U.S. Forest Service because of the "flack" he took about the Bigfoot sighting. He moved from Milton-Freewater to Athena and has since returned to Camas, Wash., from whence he and his wife, Nancy, and children had come when he took the forest service job.
But, Freeman has not given up on eventually finding a Bigfoot, if only to vindicate that he had truly seen the manlike monster.
Finding a Bigfoot is a vow Freeman made to himself when he got all the "flack. Seeking to fulfill it, he made more than one trip into the Blues before he left Athena. One such trip came in July, when Freeman's boss, Allen Mitchell of Athena, mentioned a fishing trip he had planned into the Wenaha country. Freeman was invited to come along.
Besides Mitchell and Freeman, the rest of the party consisted of Russ and Mike Evans, Andy Ely and Rodney Bonifer. All live in the Weston-Athena area. All have spent time in the Wenaha and Mitchell says he has hunted and fished there for more than 25 years.
Unloading horses at Timothy Meadow, the party rode their horses down the South Fork Wenaha River to make camp near the mouth of Milk Creek, a favorite camping place of hunters and anglers.
Mitchell struck off downstream to do some fishing before it got too dark.
On his return to camp, he found the others buzzing about seeing big footprints and that Freeman had made some Plaster of Paris casts.
"I just said, 'Yeah okay," and went off to bed," Mitchell said. "I've never been concerned with that Bigfoot stuff in the past."
The next morning, Mitchell and Mike Evans saddled up and took a ride up into the mountains toward Shoofly Creek. About a mile from camp, Mitchell became a Bigfoot believer, he says.
He and Evans found scores of big footprints --- three different sizes in the lot --- that he swears could not have been faked.
"Absolutely no way possible," he says.
"Don't disturb anything," Mitchell admonished Evans. "Freeman hasn't been up here yet."
A big man, it required three of Mitchell's steps to stretch from one of the big footprints to the other, he says.
"As near as I could figure, the Bigfoot would have to be right at six feet high at the crotch and would have to weigh around 1,200 pounds to sink into the mud as deep as those prints were," Mitchell says. "My horse weighs around 1,200 pounds and a walked him through the mud and he didn't sink as deep as those feet did.
"Nobody could have faked those prints."
Mitchell and Evans tied up their horses and followed the tracks.
"We found tracks all over the place for a quarter mile, including three different sets, and one was a cripple-footed one, just like Freeman had made a cast of back at camp," Mitchell says.
Mitchell figures the three creatures were in the bottoms of the Wenaha canyon when the party of six men rode in and then the three "spooked" and headed up into the rugged Shoofly Creek region.
The men weren't too far away from the manlike creatures, he says. Patches of melonweed were trampled and rolled in and looked like something had done it before they got there, he says.
Mitchell took pictures of the prints and Freeman has casts of the three different tracks found on the Wenaha.
As to publicity about his find on Shoofly, Mitchell said he didn't "care what you put in the paper; nobody is going to prove I didn't see the tracks I have proof the tracks are there.
"Print what you want; but that's the truth."
Plaster casts of the big foot prints have been gathered by the thousands over many years over most of the Northwest and those gathered here haven't drawn any more credulity than the rest until recently.
Now, after examining several casts made at the time of Freeman's sighting of Bigfoot in Tiger Saddle (the June 10, 1982 reporting) as well as casts made of prints found inside the Watershed, an anthropologist feels these might be different.
Grover Krantz, WSU anthropologist, who was the first such scientist to express belief in the manlike monsters, has conservatively called the Freeman sighting "of good quality."
But, it is the footprints which have caught Krantz' attention in this incident.
"I've always found footprints more convincing than somebody's verbal account of a sighting," he says.
Why are the Watershed prints so significant?
Krantz was again conservative
in his reply but said two casts are of the left foot, which have differences
in the toe positions, which he termed "a very important feature."
The Krantz statement indicated proof Paul Freeman had truly seen something in his June 10, 1982, encounter.
I believed Freeman had witnessed a very live Bigfoot that day and have continued to believe him over the years.
Paul Freeman's overall
contribution to the solving of this mystery of our mountains was sizable
make no mistake
and he should be given that recognition.
Paul Freeman's quest to prove the existence of Bigfoot is over. The former Walla Walla resident died Wednesday of complications from diabetes. He was 50. Freeman, most recently of Airway Heights near Spokane, brought notoriety to himself and Walla Walla after he reported seeing a Bigfoot in 1982 while on patrol for the U.S. Forest Service in the Mill Creek Watershed.
``I know what I saw; I'm not going to change, because that's what I saw,' he said in an interview with the Union-Bulletin at the time. The incident changed the course of his life.
He quit his job with the Forest Service, saying he had ``taken a lot of hassle and pressure over the Bigfoot thing, both from the public and the Forest Service,' according to news accounts at the time. He left Walla Walla for a while, then returned in 1984 to continue the hunt.
For years Freeman prowled the Blue Mountains looking for signs of the creature. He brought back foot and hand print casts, hair samples, skat and occasionally photos or video. In 1992 he swore off the hunt, only to return to it later. In some circles, Freeman was a respected expert. Others saw him as a kook. ``He moved from town to town somewhat because of the ridicule he suffered, and his children suffered in school,' said Vance Orchard, a friend and the author of ``Bigfoot of the Blues.' ``...He was a very determined person. He was going to prove he'd seen something. He spent a hell of a lot of his life on this.' Orchard, a former U-B reporter, interviewed Freeman in 1982. ``I believed him,' Orchard said. ``I've believed him ever since. A lot of people including the Forest Service believed he was hoaxing everyone, but I believe he was serious.'
Experts stood on both sides of the debate. A Washington State University associate professor of anthropology believed the footprint castings were real. The Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal analysed his evidence and dismissed it as bogus. Even some believers doubted him, thinking he had too many sightings, found too much evidence to be credible. ``A lot of people said he had too much luck, but you go fishing every day, you're going to catch a lot more fish,' Orchard said. In 1994, Freeman told a reporter he sometimes wished he'd never said anything.
Freeman appeared in an ice cream commercial, on ``Hard Copy,' ``Good Morning America,' and on ``Unsolved Mysteries.' The Discovery Channel used some of his video in a documentary.
Diabetes slowed him
in later years but his interest in Bigfoot remained, Orchard said.