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THE MAN WHO CHASES BIGFOOT
by David Bates 1972

 
Each day in the life of Ron Olson is like one of those terrible frustrating dreams in which you’ve been somewhere like the Planet of the Apes, only to return home and discover that nobody believes your story. Olson, however, claims his story isn’t a dream. And he insists his apes are right here on Planet Earth.

"They are out there" he days "huge, hairy, humanoid creatures that walk erect on two legs and leave gigantic tracks in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. "If you ever run across one," Olson says, "you’ll easily recognize it by it size (7 to 10 feet tall), its smell (an unmistakable stench) and its call, a shrill terrifying whistling noise…"

Nobody on record has ever caught or killed such a beast. Many scientists probably don’t even believe the creature exists. But Olson does. That is what makes his life so frustrating. "I believe in it," Olson declares not with the bravado of a newly converted Christian but with an obvious trace of embarrassment at how foolish his declaration of faith may seem and how vulnerable it makes him to public ridicule.

‘I believe in it as firmly as I believe that I’m sitting here saying it. It’s like a religion to me."

By now you’ve probably heard the lavishly publicized legend of Olson’s creatures, known originally as Omah or Giant Hairy Apes, but known more commonly today as Sasquatch or Bigfoot.

Although there is no scientific proof that the creatures exist, many people over the years have reported finding enormous tracks allegedly made by Sasquatches. Ron Olson has done none of these things. But so firm is his faith in Sasquatch that for the past five years he has been devoting his life to the study and anticipated capture of the creature.

He is the founder and head of a Eugene-based corporation, North American Wildlife Research, (NAWR) the major Bigfoot hunting outfit in the United States.

"As far as a capture goes, right now it depends largely on coincidence" says Olson, a 3l year old (now 57 yrs old) Vietnam veteran with the build of a welterweight boxer and the perpetual suntan of a man who spends long hours outdoors."With good fortune," he says, "a capture could come tomorrow, if it happened by accident. But a planned capture is at least another year down the road."

Olson, and a team of several dozen volunteers throughout the Northwest are cooperating with Bigfoot hunters in British Columbia in programming a computer with data collected since the early 1800’s, when white settlers began hearing the legend from Northwest Indians.

By weeding out hundreds of apparently fraudulent or mistaken bigfoot sightings, Olson says the researchers hope the computer study will spew out a pattern indication the creature’s migratory behavior, feeding habits, population density and so forth. "I might be able to tell you someday that we figure on June 1, 1976 or some such specific date that at this certain point on the map, at this longitude and this latitude, there’s going to be a Sasquatch pass through," Olson says.

At this point in their introduction to Olson, the skeptics quite understandably begin identifying him with the saucer-seer and the sťance sitters. But hold on. Even the toughest cynics eventually find themselves running into something slightly disarming about this man who chases Bigfoot.

It has something to do with the honest face and the sincere way he has about him and with the intelligent eyes, the articulate explanations and the professional manner in which he discusses his work.

Nowhere in sight are the eccentricities and personality quirks we look for in kooks. This man dresses conservatively, goes to church, votes Republican, keeps his lawn mowed and lives in a typical house in a typical Springfield neighborhood. In a word, Ron Olson just isn’t a weirdo. He comes across more like a competent forest ranger or police sergeant, somebody who has to win the public’s trust with solid common sense. And herein lies a puzzle as intriguing as the Bigfoot legend itself.

Why would a man of Olson’s age and attributes give up various opportunities in business to chase a creature that most people don’t even believe in? Why does he believe he believe in it? What can he possibly hope to gain if he should prove himself right? Olson didn’t always believe in Bigfoot.

He first heard of the legend when he was a twelve years old pupil at Goshen Elementary school and saw a newspaper story about somebody finding enormous human-like tracks around a diesel tractor that had been left overnight on a forest road. "I was really intrigued, but I didn’t think much about the story and I didn’t pursue it," Olson recalls. "At that time I don’t really feel I could say I was believer." Bigfoot was nothing more than an incredible tale to Olson during years he attended Pleasant Hill High School. After graduation, he enrolled at Southwestern Oregon Community College for a few terms and later for a full year at the University of Oregon. He took liberal arts courses, "hopefully to find a field I really wanted to pursue, but it just wasn’t there," he said. Instead of completing college, Olson went into the Army, serving from 1964 to 1966, most of that time in Vietnam.

Meanwhile Olson’s father, Frank, a Pleasant Hill farmer, became financially involved in a film distribution company, (ANE) AMERICAN NATIONAL ENTERPRISES, INC of Salt Lake City. ANE was owned and run by Russell Neihart, a Bishop of the Mormon Church and his friend Jerry Romney also the Mormon who first claimed he was the man-in-the suit in the ANE Bigfoot film.

When I came back from the Army," Ron Olson recalls, "I went right into the family’s film business." (ANE = American National Enterprises, Inc). He helped farm pole beans during the summer but spent the rest of the year traveling throughout the country, showing wildlife documentary films like "Alaskan Safari" and "Cougar Country."

For the past seven years (1966 to this article date of l973) Olson’s main source of income has been the distribution, promotion and showing of the [ANE] films, he said. But a growing percentage of his income has stemmed from his search for Sasquatch.

That all started about five years ago. (1968) "It was in l968," Olson recalls, "I was on the road showing "Alaskan Safari" when an odd coincidence occurred." While my brothers were showing the same film in Ohio, I was working up through the Carolinas. All the way through North Carolina, I talked with the man who was company president at that time about how rough the competition was getting.

Finally he said to me "Ron, what kind of wildlife film could we pick out that nobody could compete with?" I remembered those stories I had heard in Oregon, and I suggested the subject of Sasquatch to him. He said, "What’s that?" And we got to talking about it." Olson says he and the Film Company [American National] executive decided to try to be the first to make a Sasquatch documentary if any footage of such creatures should ever become available.

Shortly after they reached their decision, Olson’s coincidence occurred. "My brother Dean called me in February from Cincinnati and said "Ron, pick up the Argosy Magazine."

So I went out and bought one and there it was the whole story of how this guy in Yakima, Washington made of film of Sasquatch in Northern California. I got right on the phone and called him up and arranged a rendezvous in Yakima to set up a deal.

Olson says he still wasn’t a Bigfoot believer at the time he contacted Roger Patterson, the Yakima fellow who claimed to have photographed the creature. It was the chance to produce and market a potentially lucrative Bigfoot film that initially motivated Ron Olson, he said.

A Lot of things went up and down for a while, problems with company board members saying "Gee, this thing is too far out and we don’t want to put the money up for that kind of film."

"But I tested Patterson’s footage on movie audiences and found the subject to be as strong as I predicted it would be," Olson said.

A relatively inexpensive twenty-minute Bigfoot documentary was eventually produced but Olson says it hasn’t been the lucrative and persuasive film he had hope for. And for the past five years since he obtained Patterson’s footage he’s been unable to get financial backing for turning out the kind of Bigfoot movie that he figures would make a box office smash.

Something else has happened since then though – something influencing Olson a lot more than striking it rich would have. He started believing in the beast that he wanted to make a film about.

"I don’t think I was even near the point of believing in it until I saw Patterson’s footage." Olson continued, "Not until I had seen the film and had worked with Patterson for a while did I start coming to the point of thinking in my own mind that there was really something out there." Something out there? Yes, according to Patterson’s bizarre film. The film we obtained from Patterson lasted only seventeen seconds and the quality is not outstanding.

Patterson claimed he started shooting the footage after he was thrown around from a horse [Peanuts] that was frightened by a Sasquatch which stood up in front of them as the man and horse were crossing a clear cut logging unit some where in Northern California.

The creature in Patterson’s film looks much like a huge gorilla as it turns its humanoid face toward the camera and hurried away into the dense undergrowth.

Olson says zoologists have examined the film for the Smithsonian Institution and film technicians in Hollywood and the authenticity of the footage has been upheld. He says the experts came away convinced that the film showed no signs that it had been doctored and that the creature depicted — whatever it was — was probably not a gorilla or a man in a gorilla suit.

Therefore, concludes Ron Olson, as did Roger Patterson, the beast must have been the legendary Sasquatch of Canadian folklore.

"I think that in four years of knowing Roger, that if there had been a flaw in the guys personality, that if he even had the possibility of faking something like this, I believe I would have detected it.

He was a congenial, quiet guy who would just as soon not talk about his film and who never made a penny off it in his life.

"Roger Patterson died this year [1972] of cancer. On his deathbed, he reassured Ron Olson one last time that the Sasquatch film was no fake.

While Patterson lived, Olson worked with him gathering data on Sasquatch sightings and trying to get backing for the production of a major feature-length documentary film on Sasquatch. Patterson was on the ANE payroll from July 1967 until October 1, 1967 according to Clyde Reinke, who signed ANE payroll checks.

Proceeds from the enterprise would have financed a year-long expedition in which Patterson and Olson planned to hunt for the creature in the wilderness of Northern California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

Instead, there has been only disappointment, Patterson’s footage has been ignored by the scientific world, the documentary has never materialized and the big expedition has been indefinitely delayed.

But Olson has been doggedly carrying on with his North American Wildlife Research. Last year in fact, Olson worked virtually full time as a Sasquatch sleuth and the organization’s Eleventh Avenue office - - which is dramatically outfitted with displays of plaster casts of Bigfoot tracks, a life size Bigfoot old painting and wall size maps filled with pins designating Bigfoot sightings - - was staffed by a full time secretary."At one time last year we had six small expeditions out, led by six full time guys, paid through contributions we were receiving that amounted up to $4000.00 a months," Olson said.

The expeditions turned up nothing however and the contributions have tapered off. Now Olson says the funds (bolstered by sales of Bigfoot books and plastic ashtrays made from molds of Bigfoot tracks.) are barely enough to keep the office open. To keep bread on the table at home, where he has a wife Edith and two sons Craig 5 and Troy 2, Olson has had to renew his activity in the film company and understandably reduce his search for the Sasquatch.

He laughs at suggestions that his quest is really some kind of easy money angle, a means of making a profit off the gullibility of the public."I would be ashamed, in fact, to have some of my friends know how little I made last year," Olson said. "It’s a matter of pride I guess. Some of my friends make a thousand a month and that is not the greatest pay in the world but it’s a hell of a lot more than I make. We are hanging on by a shoestring."

Olson says he has passed up several opportunities in the past few years to get ahead in the film industry, but it would have required him to abandon his quest for the creature. "Sometimes I think a guy should know when to quit, but I just can’t.

It would just kill me to turn my back on this after all I’ve put into it in the past five years. I’ve had some great business opportunities, but I’ve turned them down because there is still a slight glimmer of a chance that this Bigfoot thing might jell into something where I have the financial backing, an expedition in the field, a movie under way and all these things put together."

"I think we’ve got to keep this thing in front of the people to keep it alive. If we keep it out there long enough, somebody sooner or later is going to come up with something really great - - a sighting or maybe a film.

We always will have this hope that somebody out there with their Instamatic Camera is going to get a picture for us." Meanwhile Olson waits and hopes.

Unfortunately, as Olson observes, the only two existing Bigfoot movies — one made by his own film people and the other produced by the BBC — are among the poorest films ever made. He says they probably damage the legend’s credibility more than bolster it.

"There’s an extremely find line between fact and fantasy when you’re dealing with this subject. If you don’t stay on the factual side of that line, the people will throw rocks at you."

Nobody is throwing rocks at Ron Olson these days, but he says he has put up with plenty of ridicule. "I used to get a lot of people laughing at me all the time, but lately they don’t laugh so much.

In fact people seem to be getting a little more open-minded about Bigfoot. It’s really funny about people. If you can just get enough data out in front of a person over a period of a year or he will end up admitting ‘heck, there’s probably something like that.’

If a person can stay involved as long as I have and go through all the garbage that I have been through, talking to idiots and talking to good people and come out and say he doesn’t believe in Sasquatch, then I believe that he has an honest reason to say so.

But if that person doesn’t give himself a hundred per cent opportunity to look into the subject, then I don’t believe he has the honest right to say he does or doesn’t believe in it.

Olson’s goal in life is to make it utterly impossible for anyone to disbelieve in Sasquatch will just about require the capture of such a critter. He says he is ready for the event.

"The minute that creature is captured, we will begin a well-rehearsed procedure. We’ve got an all terrain vehicle available so that if we can’t fly the thing out, which would be the number one priority, then we can take it by ground vehicle to a secret and secluded holding area. We have several such areas available. the ideal areas are on private land, have one road in and no roads out and gates blocking entrances and exits We have permission to go in and set up a chain link fence holding facility which will take five men approximately six and a half hours to set up."

"We’ve already made contact with the Smithsonian Institution, the Yerkes Primate Center of Atlanta, Georgia and the Craighead brothers tracking team from Missoula, Montana — the same outfit that tracked Grizzly Bears in a project for National Geographic not long back."

"What we will do immediately after the capture is bring in the appropriate scientific people to study the creature, make the necessary tests, take blood and bone samples and then release the creature with a transmitter implanted behind it’s neck. Then we would track it for the next two years, probably recapturing it every six months to recharge the battery in the transmitter.

We would set up big directional tracking equipment to keep watch on the creature over a twenty-mile radius. The creature will be protected. It will not be killed.

By tracking it, always knowing where it is, we will answer all the mysteries: How far does it migrate? Does it hibernate? What does it do? Why the hell can’t you see it?"

"Roger Patterson wanted to use the creature in a sideshow - - have the thing ride around in a cage, but I strongly disagreed with that."

Ron Olson’s idea is to take some exclusive film footage of a captive Sasquatch then release the creature, announce the discovery and sell the valuable film to the three television networks and any movie producers who might be tempted. It’s a glorious plan, you must admit.

There is Ron Olson, standing behind an array of microphones in the Smithsonian Institution’s auditorium in Washington D.C., with America’s leading zoologists and major news media assembled to hear his startling announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, the film you are about to see was made two days ago at a remote encampment in Oregon’s Cascade wilderness where a team of investigators working under my direction is holding the first captured specimen of the legendary creature known as Sasquatch."

The film rolls, the audience gasps and suddenly the doubters believe at long last.

© Eugene Register-Guard Emerald Empire October 21, 1972

News Article courtesy the files of Rene Dahinden,
Richmond, B.C. Canada


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