Featured Outlaw: Tim Pattison
Story by Joseph T. O’Connor
Photos by Tyson Krinke, Faith Malpeli
Tim Pattison pulls out an old brown hiking boot, its upturned toe and worn, cracked leather befitting a yesteryear thrift store. He points a gnarled index finger at the heel.
“That’s where her front teeth went through,” Pattison says in his easy cadence, pawing the two punctures. “These got a partial steel shank in ‘em. If I’d had tennis shoes on, she would have broke my foot and pulled me out of the tree.”
That was in 1979. A grizzly bear had chased a 24-year-old Pattison up a lodgepole pine and snagged his left boot. He kicked it in the snout, and it let go. But it’s a recurring pattern for Pattison. Bears have treed him seven times since.
“I can’t live in the city,” Pattison says. “If there ain’t a grizzly bear around, I don’t want to be there.”
Tim Pattison is a modern mountain man, an outlaw living in a world of technology –one he regularly avoids. He has a television, but prefers watching the wood burn in his stove: “caveman TV,” he calls it.
He lives in Big Sky, Montana with no cell phone, no email, no driver’s license. He and his tight-knit crew of hunters and shed-antler seekers are known as the “Bos.” This is Bo Tim.
Tim Pattison has a sturdy build and walnut eyes that gleam when he tells a joke, which he does often. He keeps gray-streaked hair in a ponytail that drapes like a mane from under his wool balaclava. He hasn’t shaved off his beard since 1977, when it was a shade darker than his eyes. His smile says he knows something you don’t.
“He’s a gentle giant, and my best friend,” says Terry Thomas, who along with his twin brother Lance, grew up with Pattison and eventually followed him to Montana.
Pattison was raised in Sacramento, California, the son of a rocket-engine inspector and a tough stay-at-home mother. When he was a junior at Rio Americano High School, his father took him deer hunting in Idaho for two weeks. On that trip, a 17-year-old Pattison killed the largest mule deer buck of his life with the .30-30 he got for his 12th birthday. Bo Tim was hooked on the mountains.
“I was looking for the wilderness experience,” says Pattison, who turns 60 in February. “I wanted to do what I wanted to do and not get caught up in the rat race.”
On Thanksgiving Day, 1974, Pattison moved to Big Sky, Montana and into the Michener cabin with his black lab, Dudley. Built in 1913 near the intersection of Highway 191 and Lone Mountain Trail, the Michener cabin was a welcome sight for Pattison. He rented it for $33 a month.
“It was wine, women and song back then,” recalls Pattison, who once had 30 people in the 250-square-foot cabin. In 1997, Big Sky’s Ophir School administration refurbished the cabin and moved it south. It now rests in front of the school. “Bo Tim and Dudley” is carved into the center ridge beam.
Pattison needed a new place to live, and asked local contractor J.C. Knaub if he could put up a wall tent on his property, a veritable compound dubbed “Knaub’s Hole.”
“Tim showed up here and said, ‘I need a place to put my wall tent for a couple weeks,’” said Knaub, sitting in his kitchen one afternoon last October. “He lived here for four years.”
In 1996, Pattison met Meredith Madden, Knaub’s nanny at the time. “She’s legend,” Pattison says. “She was the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my whole life.”
They had their first and only child in Knaub’s cabin next to the main house on February 7, 1997. It was -38 F the day their son Winter was born.
“Bo Tim is what he is,” said Scott Hammond, who’s known Pattison for 20 years and now rents him a cabin on the banks of the Gallatin River. “He doesn’t want to be bothered by modern day business. We could all aspire to be more like him.”
No one quite knows what a “Bo” is, though some venture to explain the term. It’s a noun; it’s an adjective; it’s often verbed. There might be 10 Bos right now. There could be 20.
“If they liked you, they Bo’ed you,” says Wade Stone, known in the Big Sky area as Woody the Wood Lord.
“They’re kind of a counterculture to the suit and tie,” Knaub says. “You hunted a lot, had your dog, lived in your wall tent, had friends that shared the same values.”
The Bos have lived by their own terms in Big Sky for decades. Some say you had to live in a wall tent for three Montana winters before you became a Bo (Pattison lived in a wall tent for five). Others that you needed to kill a bull elk every year (Pattison has killed one each year save two since 1974).
It may be just living off the land, or using the term “legend” to describe virtually anything.
“When I first met the Bos, everything was ‘legend,’” Knaub said, adding that Pattison created the moniker. “‘I went on a legend 10-mile hike, and I put a bull elk down with a legend shot in the heart.’ ‘I just had this legend burger.’”
Pattison and his crew hunted elk-shed antlers for 25 years, and have stories that stretch the confines of the imagination; tales of big money and high risk, of a man with three fingers and ungulate heads the size of Volkswagen Beetles. They have satellite hunting camps up places like Tick Ridge and Never Heard ‘Em Scream Creek.
For 40 years, Bo Tim Pattison has lived like a mountain man in Big Sky, growing vegetables, hunting, fishing. He still seeks a bull elk every fall, but these days he also forages for character lodgepole pine logs to build his beds.
Six days a week, Pattison builds lodgepole beds by hand in the shed adjacent to his cabin. He’s a master at his trade. A single bed can take up to 115 hours to construct, and in mid-November, Bo Tim was on his 123rd. Through his business, Rustic Log Beds, Pattison can sell beds for as much as $3,500 apiece, but living the life he loves trumps all.
“Money is no big deal for me,” he says. “If I can wake up every morning and look out my back door and see elk up on the hill and the river flowing and the colors changing and I’m here and healthy, that’s all that matters.”
This story was first published in the winter 2015 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.