The cows are not coming home.
Range rippers, BOVMUT, and the things we can't explain.
It was like an ugly gash that cut across the Great Plains through the southwest, a dark blotch centered on Kansas and stretching up and over, landing hard in New Mexico.
This was the late 1960’s and 1970’s, and cattle were dropping like flies.
I’m talking about cattle mutilations.
In the files released by the FBI to the public, 130 odd pages of memos and newspaper clippings, you’ll find a September 1976 article from Oui, a men’s pornography magazine, because no stone goes unturned by the FBI.
Ed Sanders, the author of that article, grabs the reader by informing him that, in the past three years, more than 1500 cattle in 22 states have been killed, mutilated, and had their blood drained with various body parts and organs removed. The surprisingly lengthy article goes on to feature just about every gory detail and every speculative explanation possible.
Nudie photos, and then an article about cattle mutilations. There’s some congruency there.
Sanders, who also wrote The Family, a rather creepy book about Charles Manson, had earlier acknowledged to crime writer Alexander Cockburn that he’d received a cow’s tongue in the mail for his research efforts to share the world of cattle mutilations with lonely men.1
There were apparently many cow’s tongues to be had.
“In the late summer,” Cockburn wrote for a 1975 Esquire article, “a Colorado rancher found a blue plastic valise on his land. In it were a cow’s tongue, an ear, and a scalpel.”
Cockburn and Sanders were a little late to the game, though the stats had increased by the time they picked up their pen. The party had started long before their comprehensive articles.
A year early, in August of 1974, the Daily Tribune out of Hastings, Nebraska, had gone straight for the jugular: “Are UFO sightings and mutilations related?”
Among the slain cattle, the article included the death of a Quarter Horse, and a local resident informed the reporter that since the event, the “doors are locked and guns are loaded.” Intermixed with sightings of strange unidentifiable objects in the sky were descriptions of helicopters that seemed out of place.
How much of a gap is there, really, between aliens and G-men?
A year after the Daily Tribune article, the mutilations trudged on, as did the stonewalling from authorities. In 1975, public frustration that the FBI would not get involved created pressure for Senator Floyd Haskell to bring it to Congress to try to move the needle and investigate the mutilations.
In the September 3, 1975 edition of The Denver Post, editor Charles R. Buxton ran a short column entitled “Cattle Deaths And The FBI,” expressing a similar frustration and a disdain for the excuse that there was no legal reason or jurisdiction for the feds to get involved.
“If the FBI will not enter the investigation of mysterious livestock deaths in Colorado and some adjacent states, then Sen. Floyd Haskell…should take the matter to Congress for resolution,” he wrote. “There is already federal involvement. Consider this: Because of the gun-happy frame of mind developing in eastern Colorado (where most of the incidents have been occurring), the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has had to cancel a helicopter inventory of its lands in six counties. BLM officials are simply afraid their helicopters might be shot down by ranchers and others frightened by cattle deaths.”
Buxton drew attention to the killing and mutilation of animals happening in other states, suggesting there was a jurisdictional reason because the incidents were spread across a chunk of the nation and crossed state boundaries. “If there is a pattern to the incidents it would seem that the broadest possible study of them is indicated.”
Sightings of Army helicopters, threats to the local newspaper editor in Brush, Colorado, and a general sense of fear had created the potential for a shoot-first-question-later situation. Why didn’t someone do something?
Yet an August 29, 1975 memo later made public revealed that Sen. Haskell had, indeed, put pressure on the FBI and not just Congress. In a letter to Special Agent Theodore Rosack, Haskell emphasized that the mutilations were causing a great deal of fear in people.
“In virtually all the cases, the left ear, left eye, rectum and sex organ of each animal has been cut away and the blood drained from the carcass, but with no traces of blood left on the ground and no footprints,” Haskell wrote. He asked Rosack to look into it, if for no other reason than the ranchers were arming themselves to protect their livestock, families, and themselves. It was no small thing that 130 mutilation cases reported to local officials in the previous two years in nine states across the nation.
States like North Dakota.
On January 21, 1975, in a memo to the director of the FBI from the Minneapolis Division, law enforcement indicated they were worried about mutilations of animals in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
“For the information of the Bureau, animals, mostly livestock, have been reported as mutilated in the three-state area of this division and parts of their bodies missing. The parts listed as missing have been the sexual organs, ears, lips and udders, and in some instances, the blood from the animals was considered completely drained. No evidence of value ever located at the scene.”
According to the report, the state veterinarian said it was foxes.
Maybe foxes carry blue plastic valises.
McHenry, Dickey, Foster, and McIntosh counties, those western cattle lands, made the news in the region. Farmers found the animals, but no footprints or vehicle tracks, according to a January 1975 article in the Bismarck Tribune.
Part of the problem of ascertaining how the animals had died was that the ranchers in those western counties didn’t always find the dead animals soon after death. Western North Dakota is vast, rolling, and empty, like most of the places these mutilations occurred, and ranchers didn’t keep precise tabs on their herds every day. This made autopsying the slain animals difficult. There was a time factor.
A horse that had died in McIntosh County was unique in that its body was found relatively soon after its death. Dr. Ivan Berg, a veterinarian at NDSU, concluded it had died of dysentery, since a fox couldn’t kill a horse but could certainly feed on it after it had died. On the horse’s body, there was no indication of surgical or clean cuts as some ranchers had claimed when finding their mutilated livestock. For officials, this one case seemed to be a neat conclusion to all of the cases.
North Dakota Crime Bureau Chief Agent Richard Hilde assured the readers that they were “satisfied that the deaths were natural,” pointing out that the state officials in South Dakota had reached similar conclusions. “I’m completely satisfied at this point that we do not have a maniac or cult on the loose.”
I might have left it at that, except it happened to my grandfather’s cattle.
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