Memories can be elusive, like a figure through a foggy window. But, some moments stay with you no matter how hard you try to forget.
It was a summer evening in August 1966. Two sisters felt the darkness coming on, but the summer light remained. Alongside the mouth of the Albion River, the sun hovered over the Pacific. In the changing light of the Mendocino Coast, the sisters would see something they would never forget.
R.J. was 15 in August 1966. One of four children, her family was living in Ukiah while her father worked as a commercial fisherman based in Albion. Mom and the children would make the trip through the coastal range at least twice a week, visiting Dad and bringing him supplies. Soon, Mom, R.J., her older sister, and her two younger siblings tracked down a trailer. They parked it near the dock Dad tied up his boat and made the Albion Flats their home.
R.J. and her older sister slept in the family car while Mom, Dad, and the little ones slept in the boat.
On that August evening, the long light of summer was fading but the river and hills were suffused with light. The sisters got comfortable around 8:00 p.m. tucking themselves into a 1957 two-door Pontiac Chieftan stocked with pillows and blankets.
Big Sister was in the front seat and R.J. was in the back. They rolled the windows down and let the summer evening in. The sisters talked in that easy way you can at the end of a summer’s day.
The moment was broken by an audible bleating of sheep. This was no normal baa. It sounded like an entire flock was crying in terror
Startled, the sisters tried to pinpoint where the noise was emanating from. Across the river, on a steep hillside, a local man’s flock grazed within a fenced pasture. They caught sight of the sheep running frantically. The flock scattered forming smaller groups afraid of an unknown predator.
The flock’s cries, their frantic movements, the summer evening calm broken by the unadulterated fear of defenseless prey.
And then, the unforgettable came into view.
R.J. and her big sister made out what first looked like two bears, running on their hind legs, moving with an unnatural agility. Their faces were flat. Their arms and legs were long. They were tall, maybe 6′ 4″, muscular and wide. Long, dark hair covered their bodies.
In the fading summer light, the pair watched these strange creatures terrorize the flock 150 yards away on the opposite side of the river. The creatures looked to be working together to corner the sheep.
The sheep cried. The light dimmed. The sisters witnessed the unbelievable.
Summer twilight gave way to seaside darkness and the pair feared these creatures could swim. They locked the Pontiac’s doors and hid under their blankets horrified these creatures would come for them next.
The night was long. The sisters replayed their memories of the summer night broken, the flock wailing and scattering, the senseless cruelty of these unknown creatures.
Morning light prompted the pair to emerge from the Pontiac. The sisters got down to the boat and told Mom and Dad who thought it was all a dream.
Later that morning R.J. was at the local Post Office located across the river not far from where the strange creatures tormented the sheep. Locals spoke of sheep killed in the night. They blamed it on a wild pack of dogs.
R.J. was told by Sam Costa, the Mendocino County Sheriff at the time, that it was unusual that dogs would only eat the heart, liver, and flesh between the legs of the sheep. She watched the Sheriff inspect a carcass.
Sheep killings were not uncommon in rural Mendocino County. Whenever R.J. heard about another pack of dogs taking down a sheep, she knew the real culprit.
38 years after R.J.’s experience, she composed a Bigfoot Observation Report and submitted it to the Bigfoot Field Researcher Organization (BFRO).
In the years following her sighting, she would hear tales of more up and down the Mendocino Coast. Her father-in-law described seeing a similar creature near Comptche in the 1930s. He was in a wagon when Bigfoot crossed the road in front of the horses. The man driving the wagon had seen the creature before and told the father-in-law the creature was called the “Woodsman”.
In the 1940s, there were reports of Bigfoot seen carrying an armload of fish near Fort Bragg. In the 1970s, two Bigfoots reportedly stole grain sacks near Albion.
The BFRO classifies R.J.’s sighting as Class A confidently ruling out the misidentification of other animals as Bigfoot. The Observation Report contains notes written by a BFRO researcher who reached out to R.J. asking specific questions to validate her sighting.
R.J.’s report is detailed and vivid. There is almost a naivete to her tone and diction, like recalling that night brought her back to the child that saw the unbelievable.
As time has passed, the sighting next to the Albion River has proven to be a seminal moment changing the course of her life.
How do we know? We spoke with her on the phone.
R.J. is 71 now. She lives in Idaho. We know her name, but she’ll remain R.J.
Since seeing two Bigfoots along the Albion River, she has never been the same. “It makes me look at everything individually. I see things that everyone else just passes by.”
R.J. told us once a person sees a Bigfoot “you feel like they have a target on you.”
She told us she regularly sees Bigfoot near her home in rural Idaho. “They are everywhere. They live in bands. If you see one, there are more.”
When R.J. found the BFRO, she found a community that understood her and what she saw. R.J.’s mother never believed her and she felt relief finding others that had encountered what she did as a teenage girl.
Experience and memories form our beliefs. The scar from the hot stove is enough to believe in the power of heat. No need to try that again.
Imagine experiencing something remarkable that is beyond human experience. Parents, friends, and strangers dismiss, discredit, and deny. How can you even trust yourself?
R.J.’s belief in Bigfoot is a product of her memories and experience. That evening by the Albion River was her initiation. She has spent her life availed of knowledge that only a select few have attained.
She is 71 and a vehement believer, a machine gun-style conversationalist vacillating between her childhood in Mendocino, her retirement in Idaho, and the Bigfoot sighting that changed her life.
As American church attendance plummets, belief sounds like an antiquated notion. R.J.’s conviction forced me to ask myself: what do I believe in?
This is the second in our series of articles exploring the many encounters with Bigfoot that took place in Mendocino County. Check out the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization for their archives of sightings and their approach to studying Sasquatch.