They’re both into secrecy, so it’s not all that surprising that the FBI waited until June 5, 2019, to open its FBI file on Bigfoot. And what does the Bureau have on the big, hairy and mysterious fellow? Looks like some pretty strange stories make up the bulk of the file, along with, uh, 15 hairs. Here’s how the record was constructed:
The legend of Bigfoot, by any other name
Jerry Garcia didn’t say “What a long, strange trip it’s been” about Bigfoot, but maybe he should have. Weird stories have always dogged this giant, hairy primate said to be hanging out in the woods of North America. Alternately known as Sasquatch (and not to be confused with Yeti, because that dude abides in the Himalayas), the first rumors of this legendary creature appeared centuries ago. They were part of written descriptions of oral histories from indigenous North American tribes. In some of them, the Bigfoot prototype is more human and less like an ape, while in others it’s depicted as a scary monster. And “it” might be “she,” according to some folklore. In more modern times, hoax spotters and myth-busters both have loved the idea of a Sasquatch from the get-go. Newspapers from the late 1800s right up to the turn of the 21-century have devoted splashy coverage to “sightings” of Bigfoot by gold miners, mountaineers, and even some campers, for example.
In 1967, Bigfoot was almost caught, on film at least. That’s the year the Northern California Patterson–Gimlin film allegedly caught a big ape-like being walking erect like a homo sapiens. This very tall creature, covered in hair, makes eye contact with the cameraman and then vanishes. For decades afterward, anyone looking to verify the legend of Bigfoot clings to that film as evidence. Its creator, Bob Gimlin, is considered quite sane. “It walked upright and for quite a long ways. It didn’t look like a bear. I’ve been in the woods my whole life,” he told Popular Mechanics in 2019, at age 86. “There’s no doubt in my mind at all what it was.”
The FBI opens a Bigfoot file
Why would the FBI want to get in on this folk tale, even if there was a Bigfoot running around? One instigator was Peter Byrne, who in the mid-1970s was already a veteran seeker of both Yeti and Bigfoot and serving as director of the Bigfoot Information Center and Exhibition of Oregon director. The FBI file released in 2019 included a letter from 1976. the 1976 letter where the FBI Laboratory respectfully describes its policy of only examining physical evidence for bona fide law agencies, and then goes on to say every so often, “in the interest of research and scientific inquiry,” it makes an exception. This was one of those, and so it examined 15 hairs provided by Byrne. According to a 1977 response in the FBI’s Bigfoot file, the “the hairs are of a deer family origin.” Could be the FBI had reason to hide the true source of the hairs, but in any case, that was the end of the incident. Byrne, though, still describes himself as a hobbyist Bigfoot seeker all these years later.
And the FBI had more in that file. News clippings made up most of the total of 22 pages released, like a New York Times article titled, “Is It Bigfoot, Or Could It Be Just A Hoax?” The whole file just opens up more questions. If the FBI and the New York Times don’t know if Bigfoot is real, is there any hope for the rest of us? Should we pin our hopes on Bigfoot finally joining Facebook like everyone else? Even though patience hasn’t paid off in the past, maybe it will this time. And while the world waits for firm evidence of Bigfoot, we can always hope Scotland’s Specialist Crime Division will fill the gap by releasing its own information on the Loch Ness Monster. That is if it has any.