The Mysterious History of Cattle Mutilation

The dead cattle stunned the ranchers who found them. The animals’ ears, eyes, udders, anuses, sex organs and tongues had been regularly removed, apparently with a sharp, clean instrument. Their carcasses had been emptied of their blood. No traces or footprints were found in the immediate vicinity – nor any of the usual opportunistic scavengers.

Between April and October 1975, nearly 200 cases of cattle mutilation were reported in Colorado state alone. Far from being mere tabloid fodder, it had become a nationally recognized issue: that year the Colorado Associated Press voted it the number one in the state. Colorado Senator Floyd Haskell has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to get involved.

Throughout the 1970s, cases had continued to mount throughout the heart of the United States. And in 1979 – after thousands of reported cattle mutilations, causing millions of dollars in livestock losses – the FBI finally opened an investigation into a series of cases that allegedly took place on Indian lands in New Mexico. The pressure came, in part, from a heated public symposium on the subject that had been convened by that state’s scientific-minded US Senator Harrison Schmitt, who had a Ph.D. in geology from Harvard and had walked on the moon as Apollo 17. astronaut.

Ultimately, the FBI investigation threw cold water on the idea that something strange was brewing. On January 15, 1980, the Bureau closed the investigation by issuing a statement saying that “none of the reported cases involved what appears to be mutilations by other than common predators.”

Locals strongly disagreed.

“I’ve been around cattle my whole life and I can say for sure if this was done by a coyote or a sharp instrument,” said Sheriff George A. Yarnell of Elbert County, a rural area south of Denver. the New York Times in the fall of 1975.

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Theories range from satanic cults to UFOs

Ranch in the moonlight.

Ranch in the moonlight.

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The mysterious cattle mutilations were not limited to the 1970s, nor to the United States. Similar cases involving sheep, cows or horses have been reported as early as the early 17th century and as recently as 2019. The cases of the 1970s, however, have attracted the most widespread attention.

Broadly speaking, the cattle mutilation debate falls into two camps: those who see mutilations as unexplained phenomena, and those who see them as normal cattle deaths, repackaged as something mysterious or paranormal. .

For those in the unexplained camp, opinions differed on the possible explanation. Some law enforcement communities felt that animals were maimed by people in strange and almost religious rituals. In 1980, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police blamed the mutilations on an unidentified sect. The Iowa Department of Criminal Investigations, meanwhile, claimed the mutilations were carried out by Satanists.

Reports within affected pastoralist communities have indicated that the mutilations regularly coincided with sightings of mysterious unmarked helicopters. Some ranchers who suffered the worst losses believed the federal government had committed the mutilations – for a variety of reasons, including biological weapons testing. Animosity for the government turned out to be so high that the Nebraska National Guard ordered its helicopters to sail at 2,000 feet (instead of the usual altitude of 1,000 feet), for their safety, as panicked ranchers had started firing at helicopters.

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Others blamed unidentified land creatures. At Skinwalker Ranch, a property in northeast Utah whose many paranormal activities are the subject of the book Hunt for the Skinwalker: Science Confronts the Unexplained on Remote Utah Ranch, breeder Terry Sherman lost several head of cattle to dismemberment after purchasing the 512-acre property in 1996. These mutilations coincided with several bizarre encounters: in one, Sherman saw a wolf-like creature three times the size of a normal wolf that was waterproof for rifle shooting; in another, a researcher saw a strange humanoid creature with piercing yellow eyes spying on him from a tree. Other cases have since occurred on the property.

Still others link the mutilations to possible extraterrestrial visitors. Stanford-trained filmmaker, science journalist and author Linda Moulton Howe has studied more than 1,000 cases of animal mutilation, winning an Emmy Award for these efforts with her 1980 documentary. A strange harvest. In his 1989 follow-up book, An alien harvest: Further evidence linking animal mutilations and human abductions to alien life forms, Howe ultimately concluded – after studying hundreds of cases – that aliens were likely involved.

A particularly compelling case linking animal mutilation and aliens involved “Lady”, a horse found dead and partially skinned on a ranch in Alamosa, Colorado in September 1967. Within 24 hours of the incident, in which the brain, lungs , the animal’s heart and thyroid were clearly cut out, local superior court judge Charles Bennett witnessed three orange rings in the sky, flying in a triangular formation at incredible speeds. Two sheriff’s deputies, meanwhile, reported being followed by a floating orange globe.

READ MORE: How Skinwalker Ranch Became a Hotbed of Paranormal Activity

Skepticism in the veterinary world

Some medical experts offer much more mundane explanations for animal mutilation. Veterinary pathologists point out that scavengers tend to eat the soft tissue of a dead animal first, which could explain the missing external organs commonly described in dead cattle. The bloodshed, on the other hand, could be attributed to livor mortis: when an animal dies, the heart stops and the blood stops circulating, the blood thus settling by gravity, creating a “non-shedding of blood” effect. blood ”on parts of the surface of a carcass.

In Washington County, Arkansas, in 1979, the Sheriff’s Department conducted an experiment: they placed a dead cow in a field for 48 hours and found it looked a lot like those that were conspicuously mutilated. Bacterial bloating had caused his skin to tear in a similar way to an incision similar to what had been described in reports from some breeders. Maggots and flies, meanwhile, had cleaned the animal’s organs.

Cattle mutilation as an expression of economic anxiety?

A dead cow skull.

A dead cow skull.

Andrii Kozlytskyi / Getty Images

Agricultural historian Michael Goleman theorizes that 1970s reports of cattle mutilation likely provided a way for independent smallholder ranchers to express both economic anxiety and resentment over government interference in life. agricultural.

Unexplained cattle deaths have always been a part of herding, Goleman said – cattle deaths were no higher year over year at the time of reported mutilations than before or after. But most of the mutilation reports came at a time when the beef industry was booming. In the 1970s, the US government sent a lot of grain to food insecure countries, which pushed up the domestic price of feed. At the same time, President Richard Nixon intermittently froze the price of beef (and other meats) in the domestic market, to fight inflation. Cattlemen found themselves in dire straits and, at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing in 1975, the president of the American National Cattlemen’s Association said the industry had suffered “loss of money.” operation of $ 5 billion, plus a reduction in inventory value of $ 20 billion ”.

To support his argument, Goleman points out that the alleged mutilations of the 1970s most often occurred in states like Colorado and New Mexico, which had a higher percentage of small ranches most vulnerable to these government policies. Texas, meanwhile, has reported far fewer cases of the phenomenon, despite having by far the most cattle in the country.

Because the mutilations were concentrated both geographically and in time, Goleman says, paranormal activity seems a less likely explanation than a case of mass hysteria.

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