John Mionczynski is a legend among American field biologists, not only for his prowess as a research scientist, but also for his stories involving Sasquatch, and his unapologetic fascination with the subject. He can’t really be blamed for having that kind of interest, since he says he ran into the creature himself on at least one occasion.
Mionczynski’s encounter occurred in 1972, while he was camping in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains in a bacon grease-stained tent on loan from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. That night while lying in his tent, Mionczynski was approached by what he first thought might be a bear, which had sniffed its way up alongside his tent in search of the unmistakable scent of bacon. Through his tent, Mionczynski gave what he took to be the unwelcome ursid a gentle pop with the back of his hand, hoping it would get the message.
However, after several unsuccessful attempts at getting the “bear” to leave him alone, he finally issued a firmer strike to what he had initially taken to be the bear’s snout, only to feel his knuckles colliding with what could only have been bone; possibly a kneecap, he later thought. Suddenly, he saw the moonlit silhouette of a large, human-like hand coming down over his tent, whatever he had just struck fell forward, collapsing his tent. For the remainder of the evening, the “bear” proceeded to toss pine cones from off in the shadows at a rattled Mionczynski, who built a fire and anxiously listened to it moving around in the nearby brush.
Later, he reported the incident to the Department of Game and Fish which, to his surprise, led to his discovery that several of his coworkers had either shared an interest in the subject, or even had experiences themselves.
“There were a lot of people in the Game and Fish Department that were interested,” Mionczynski recently recalled of his years working in Wyoming during an interview. “People that I knew and worked with, [and] drank beer with after work [were] very interested in these stories of a hairy primate in the Wind River Mountains, and other places in Wyoming,” which included reported sightings in Yellowstone National Park that have occasionally occurred over the years.
“All these sightings were coming in now that I was tapped into that resource,” Mionczynski said. “So I could get these sightings kinda funneled in to me to investigate.”
Mionczynski said he was hearing several stories from reservations, where he said the Indigenous American residents often wouldn’t share their accounts, although today he says “now they do, so I get reports all the time.”
On one occasion, Mionczynski says that a hair sample was obtained, which he turned over to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s lab for analysis. To the surprise of those in the lab who studied it, the sample in question appeared to be a match for some kind of primate. Exactly what primate that was, however, was another question.
“After we found out that it came back as a primate hair, but not a known primate,” Mionczynski recalls, “I wasn’t particularly quiet about it. I thought this was the most interesting wildlife project I’ve ever heard of. Yet nobody can get any funding to study it.”
“It’s not gonna get studied unless I do it personally,” Mionczynski remembers thinking. That would have been his plan, that is, if his superiors hadn’t caught wind of the odd discovery first.
“The head of the research division for the Game and Fish Department called us into the lab after he heard we had analyzed this sample, because word spreads by word of mouth.”
As Mionczynski recalls, “He wanted all of us that were involved in that—the head veterinarian, Tom Thorn, and myself, and the forensic veterinarian who actually looked at the hair under the microscope [and was] the first one to identify it as primate hair.”
The response from his superior had not been the warm reception Mionczynski might have hoped for.
“We got chewed out,” Mionczynski says. “He told us to be there at a certain time, and we were all sitting on a lab bench waiting for him to show up, and joking. Wondering what he wanted to see us about.”
“He just started coming in red faced,” Mionczynski recalled. “And he said, if I ever hear of any of you connected with the name Bigfoot—and you don’t even have to utter it—if your name is connected with the name Bigfoot any time in the future, I’m gonna see to it personally that you’re fired, one way or another!”
Mionczynski said that the two other employees that were called in with him and given the same warning had “gone quiet,” and although they still went to Bigfoot-related events and conferences in pursuit of their interest, they no longer openly expressed that they did so.
The same couldn’t be said for Mionczynski, however, who felt that his superior had presented an ultimatum that he just couldn’t get behind.
“I was more vocal, and I just decided I really couldn’t work for an agency that doesn’t honor science enough to study the most interesting science phenomena to come along.”
Although for many biologists this might have signaled the end of their fascination with a taboo topic like Sasquatch, fortunately Mionczynski continued his studies after leaving the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Although that in itself has presented its challenges over the years.
“I think I’ve come to a place where I can deal with it,” Mionczynski says, admitting that he doesn’t like doing many conferences and speaking appearances.
“There’s certain things I won’t talk about,” he says, referencing various members of tribal groups that have confided their personal stories to him, although one thing remains consistent among these Indigenous American traditions: since the earliest arrivals of humans in the Americas, there have been traditions involving Sasquatch.
“Sasquatch was already there,” Mionczynski says, echoing the members of Indigenous American tribes have shared their stories and traditions with him.
“They were here when people first arrived,” Mionczynski says.
Today, several decades after his superior had once tried to silence his Sasquatch interest, John Mionczynski’s interest is still strong, and he remains involved in the pursuit of knowledge about what he believes to be America’s most famous—and yet reclusive—giant primate.