The American Pacific Northwest, from California to Canada, is Sasquatch country. It is there that believers in Bigfoot—a giant, hairy, upright ape-like creature—say the elusive monster wanders the woods leaving enormous footprints.
Bigfoot, described as an evolutionary link between humans and our ape ancestors, is a staple of indigenous American folklore who has miraculously survived into modernity. During the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, for example, the mascot Quatchi was based on this mythology. To this day, Sasquatch enthusiasts claim to have spotted the mysterious beast wandering deep in the North American rainforest. Indeed, the idea is so intriguing that there are books about this mystery still being published, like John Zada’s upcoming In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch, and institutions honoring the creature, such as the Bigfoot Discovery Museum in Felton, California. Bigfoot enthusiasts even briefly managed to enlist the US government’s assistance in their quest to confirm the giant’s existence, according to newly released FBI files.
The agency’s records show that in 1976, Peter Byrne, then director of the Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition of Oregon, where the Sasquatch is thought to roam, convinced the federal bureau to aid in an investigation of new materials he believed confirmed the creature’s existence. He cited “15 hairs attached to a tiny piece of skin” as the most promising discovery Bigfoot researchers had alighted on in six years. In one of his letters to the FBI, Byrne entreated the agency, “Please understand that our research here is serious. That this is a serious question that needs answering.”
In response to his request, Byrne received a letter from Jay Cochran Jr., assistant director of the agency’s scientific and technical services division. “The FBI Laboratory conducts investigations primarily of physical evidence for law enforcement agencies in connection with criminal investigations,” Cochran wrote. “Occasionally, on a case-by-case basis, in the interest of research and scientific inquiry, we make exceptions to this policy. With this understanding, we will examine the hairs and tissue mentioned in your letter.”
In an internal letter, confirming the examination request was granted, Cochran assured his colleagues that it wasn’t as outlandish as it might first seem. “This does not represent a change in Bureau policy,” he wrote. Noting that the agency’s science lab has previously assisted museums and universities in archaeological examinations, he reminded them that the FBI is interested in “research and legitimate scientific inquiry.”
With his wish granted, Byrne did as told, supplying the mysterious materials in the hopes of finally confirming Bigfoot’s existence. But he was ultimately unable to prove that Bigfoot was indeed a matter of “legitimate scientific inquiry.” The promising tissue and hair samples turned out to be prettily easily identifiable by FBI scientists, after all, and they didn’t think what he sent them came from a Sasquatch.
After an examination of the root structure of the hairs, the FBI lab concluded that they were “of deer family origin.” The no-longer-mysterious sample was sent back to Byrne, the Bigfoot enthusiast, in 1977, while the mystery of Bigfoot lives on, whether or not the creature ever did.