Strangeness on the ranges, part three: The puzzle persists

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Cascade County Sheriff’s Capt. Keith Wolverton stands near a mutilated bull in this 1976 news photo.  The bull’s sexual organs were removed, along with a circular area of its hide.

Parts one & two of this series can be found here and here.

Mysteriously mutilated cattle carcasses were turning up on ranches in and around Cascade County, Montana, in the mid-1970s.  The cows had injuries that indicated someone, or something, had removed various organs and body parts with surgical precision.  No tracks, or other evidence of human presence, were ever found.  Sheriff’s officers were relentless, following up leads from UFOs to bigfoot to suspected devil-worshiping cults.  But there was little agreement on who, or what, had butchered the bovines.

Some veterinarians publicly disagreed that the mutilations could be attributed to any unknown source.  Despite the fact that they had never personally investigated a mutilation and were usually unnamed in the press, these vets stated that the mutilations were nothing but the result of decomposition and the depredations of common scavengers.  Sheriff’s deputies, they said, simply were not qualified to assess such things.

From the Great Falls Tribune, Nov. 13, 1975:

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“If a qualified individual examined a dead animal he could determine with a great degree of probability what caused the death,” one veterinarian said. … He said in past years animals died or were killed and similar carcass damage resulted, but it was “chalked off to coyotes or other predators until the cult thing became the vogue.”

A January 1977 meeting between state veterinary examiners and frustrated police investigators is described as “little more than a shouting match” in a Great Falls Tribune article entitled “Fur flies over mutilations:”

(State veterinarian Dr. Beckwith) Hubbell said he and his staff have looked at 35 mutilations in the last fiscal year, and “I would say that 98 percent of those we looked at were nothing more than predations.”

“Can you prove it’s predators?” asked Cascade County sheriff John Krsul.

“No, but you can’t prove it isn’t,” Hubbell replied.

“Listen,” said Krsul.  “I ordered (Capt. Keith) Wolverton to investigate these dead cattle.  We’re interested in this and I think the ranchers are, too.”

“Are you implying these animals are being mutilated?” said Hubbell.

“I’m saying we want to find out why these cows are dying.  I think you guys are mad because you didn’t get into this investigation at the beginning.”

….Following the meeting, Hubbell maintained his position of predators.

“I didn’t learn anything new, just more of what I had been told,” he said.

Despite Hubbell’s arrogance, the meeting evidently put pressure on state livestock officials.  One month later, a headline in the Dillon Tribune-Examiner reads “State officials admit cattle mutilations are a problem.”

In the article, Dr. Hubbell appears suitably chastised, saying, “There obviously is a problem.  I don’t know what the problem is, but something should be done at the state level, including the Predator Control Board, Brands Enforcement Division, Animal Health Department, Fish and Game, and others.”

If something was indeed done by the state of Montana, I cannot say.  My research revealed only one further article about the Montana mutilations during this time period.  In March 1977, the Dillon Tribune-Examiner posted three tiny paragraphs out of Cascade County:

Mutilations Investigation

Cascade County undersheriff Glenn Osborne has pledged that his department will continue to investigate any reports received of possible cattle mutilations, despite criticism from some skeptics who have called it a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Osborne explained that until it can be determined who or what is doing this, the incidents must be considered a criminal act.

“We have a responsibility to investigate,” Osborne said.  “We are taking all incidents reported to us and we are investigating them. No matter what the outcome, we want to investigate them to a logical end — to try to determine what is causing this, no matter what it is.”

The cattle-mutilation furor may have slowed down in Montana, but it reached a nationwide zenith in 1979 and 1980, when ranchers, law enforcement, and congressmen joined forces to pressure the FBI into opening an investigation. The Bureau had so far declined to investigate the mutilations on the grounds that they had no jurisdiction on matters not occurring on federally owned land.  The FBI finally consented to check it out when several mutilations were reported on Indian reservations.

I am unable to locate the full text of the resulting FBI report, but some of the correspondence related to it can be seen on the FBI Vault archival website.  According to the book Mysteries of the Unexplained, lead investigator Kenneth M. Rommel, Jr. stated each supposed mutilation he personally investigated was “consistent with what one would expect to find with normal predation, scavenger activity, and normal decomposition of a dead animal.”  (More on the Rommel Report here.)

Cattle mutilations continue today, albeit not with the frequency experienced in the 1970s.  The phenomenon is as controversial as ever.

Probably at least some mutilations can be explained by the natural process of decomposition.  The following clip is from a NatGeo special and details a 1979 experiment performed in Arkansas.

Whatever the theories, cattle mutilation remains a modern-day mystery with few clues.  The 1976 book on the Cascade County incidents, Mystery Stalks the Prairie, offers the following summation:

(T)he men who have investigated the strange episodes related here have seen and heard too much to casually disregard it.  They believe those persons who say they have seen hairy creatures or UFOs.  In fact, some of the officers have seen UFOs themselves.

As for the cattle mutilations, the officers have observed too many strangely butchered cows to mark it all up to natural causes or predators.

There has to be an explanation for the strange and frightening incidents, and a solution to the syndrome of puzzling events.  Those in the Cascade County Sheriff’s Department have no intention of giving up before they unravel the mystery — no matter how long it takes.

They feel strongly that local sheriff’s officers will probably be the people responsible for solving the mutilation mystery, when and if it is solved.

At that time, this book may have a sequel.

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Strangeness on the ranges, part two: Bigfoot, cults, and UFOs

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Part one of this series can be found here.

According to the 1976 book Mystery Stalks the Prairie, Cascade County, MT Sheriff’s Capt. Keith Wolverton initially thought he could unlock the cattle mutilation case within three weeks. But three weeks came and went, and he found himself still devoted more or less full-time to the investigation.

Wolverton was given a loose rein by Sheriff John Krsul during the course of the investigation.  As stated in Mystery Stalks the Prairie, “No idea was too weird to merit careful consideration.”  His research led him from a prison in Minnesota to an alleged bomb plot to a supposed ceremonial cult site outside Butte, Montana.  He consulted with remote viewers and veterinarians.  He and his team experimented with donated calves — later returned, unharmed, to their owners — to try to determine the effects of different drugs on the cattle.  He tried to cut pieces of cow-hide with all manner of pinking shears, pizza cutters, and other instruments to attempt to replicate the mysterious serrated marks often found on the mutilated cows.  And the mutilations continued to occur with disturbing frequency, with over 100 individual cases reported over just a nine-month period in 1975-76.

Along the way, UFO reports flooded the sheriff’s office.  UFOs of all shapes and sizes were reported, from egg-shaped to saucer-shaped to one that resembled, in the witness’ words, a “two-story hotel sitting out there in the field” that slowly lifted off and drifted away.

In one case, a helicopter-like UFO was seen flying during a storm in 40-mile-an-hour winds — an unlikely feat for any common pilot to attempt.  In another report, a UFO was seen deliberately keeping pace with an Air Force plane.  Although Cascade County is the site of Malmstrom air base (and at the time, of several missile silos), officials there publicly denied any responsibility for, or knowledge of, the UFO reports.

It was only a matter of time before bigfoot showed up to take part in the hullaballoo — although the creatures do not appear to have been directly implicated in the mutilations.  Several unknown creature (and footprint) reports came into the sheriff’s office, with witnesses typically describing red eyes and a pungent odor going along with the hairy bipeds.  Oddly, when the bigfoot reports started coming in, the UFO sightings slowed.  Were the two phenomena somehow linked?

“There was overlapping,” write co-authors Wolverton and Roberta Donovan in Mystery Stalks the Prairie, “but one type of activity seemed to decline as another started.  Was it a piece of the puzzle, or purely coincidence?  Speculation seemed futile.”

From a report in the Helena Independent Record, entitled “What’s going on in Cascade County?,” February 11, 1976:

Reports of screams in the night, pulsating airborne lights and hair-covered creatures have officials here wondering just what is going on in Cascade County — and they’re asking for help.

“With a little help from citizens, we might be able to get to the bottom of this mystery,” Sheriff’s Captain Keith Wolverton said.

Wolverton himself watched one of the hovering lights for about two hours last Thursday night, but was unable to get near it because of the terrain.

Today he was continuing his investigation into a report by two young women who said they saw three hair-covered, human-like creatures near Great Falls on Dec. 26.

Wolverton scheduled a polygraph test for one of the two women, but said it was a routine investigative step.

“We don’t think it’s a hoax by any means.  We’re still investigating.”

Several county residents have reported being awakened at night by a sound “like a man screaming in terror or pain,” Wolverton said, but when they investigated they found nothing but frightened farm animals or pets.

Wolverton is treating the whole matter cautiously and will release few details — and no names.

“We figure there are quite a few people who have stories (of similar sightings) to tell and won’t because of fear of ridicule,” Wolverton said.  “We would like to have those reports.”

He guaranteed anonymity to anyone who requests it in connection with the investigation.

(Both women later submitted to, and passed, polygraph examinations.)

What if the mutilations had a more, let’s say, earthly explanation?  In the wake of the Manson Family, cults were all the rage in the 1970s.  Wolverton, according to Mystery Stalks, had been told by a fellow law officer that “the cattle were being injected with PCP, a hallucinogenic drug.  The blood was then removed from the animal and given to the witches of (a) cult to drink, which caused them to trip out.” (Yes, the italics appear in the original text.)  The cult theory led Wolverton to Minnesota to speak with a convict imprisoned there.  The man supposedly had inside information relating not only to cattle mutilations, but also to a plot to bomb Helena, Montana; and furthermore, that a cult was planning to mutilate human beings, mostly Hollywood celebrities.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, this lead turned out to be dead on arrival.

Wolverton did not discount the cult theory altogether, however.  In April 1976, he traveled south to Butte, MT to reconnoiter a suspected “devil-worshiping” cult’s ceremonial stomping grounds.  This lead also proved futile: nothing of import to the investigation was uncovered at the site.

This is part two of a three-part series.  Part three will drop shortly; in the meantime, here is a Youtube interview of both Capt. Wolverton and Sheriff Pete Howard of neighboring Teton County, Montana.

Strangeness on the ranges: A cattle mutilation timeline, part one

A similar scene played out all over the United States in the 1970s:  A rancher going about his or her normal business finds a dead animal — usually a cow, but occasionally a goat, pig, or horse — in the field.

Upon inspection it appears the animal has been mysteriously mutilated.  It may have an ear cut off here, an eye scooped out there, and perhaps a perfect circle or square of skin missing.  Frequently, the animal’s sexual organs will be conspicuously absent.  The organs appear to have been cut with a precise surgical instrument, sometimes leaving strange serrations along the margins.  Usually there are no signs of struggle and no blood, footprints, or tire tracks found anywhere near the scene.  In fact, sometimes it appears the animal was dropped to its final resting place on the Western range, right from out of the clear blue sky.  There are no other marks on the animal and scavengers seem to avoid it.

The law is called.  Sheriff’s deputies come out, take photos, scratch their heads.  If the corpse is fresh enough, they may call a veterinarian to try to determine a cause of death.  The examining vet is as puzzled as anyone.

Usually no cause of death can be pinpointed.  Usually the ranchers report the animal had appeared perfectly healthy just a day or two before its demise.  Often, unidentified flying objects have been observed in the immediate vicinity.

Word spreads.  Everywhere across the West, from the Dakotas down to Texas and over into Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, and Montana, nervous ranchers scan the night skies, loaded rifles at the ready.  They wait for the strange flying lights that could spell doom for their herds.

Despite their watchfulness, thousands of cattle were found dead and mutilated under mysterious conditions in the 70s.

One such flurry of mutilation cases is profiled in the excellent and very strange book, Mystery Stalks the Prairie.  The book, published in 1976, details a number of mutilations and subsequent investigation undertaken by Capt. Keith Wolverton of the Cascade County, Montana, sheriff’s department.  A collaborative work between Wolverton and reporter Roberta Donovan, Mystery Stalks describes, in a dispassionate, matter-of-fact tone, the twists and turns the investigation took as it meandered its way down increasingly arcane tributaries of weirdness before ultimately concluding — absolutely nothing.

The mystery remains even today.

I did some searching on newspapers.com to find more information on the Montana mutilation incidents.  Although the mutilations in Cascade County began in 1974, the first news article I found appeared in the Great Falls Tribune in the summer of 1975.  In it, Wolverton appeals to the public for help in solving the case, stating that 14 mutilated cattle had been found in the last year.

On Halloween 1975, a Helena Independent Record headline reads:

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“If this doesn’t settle down, there could be some innocent people get hurt,” Montana Stockgrowers’ Association Director Mons Tiegen says in the article.

Clearly the gory goings-on had gotten under Tiegen’s skin.  One week later, on November 6, 1975, the Chouteau, MT Acantha reports that the Stockgrowers’ Association is offering a $1000 reward for information leading to the capture of the mutilators.

Two days after that, a Tribune item describes the 17th mutilated cow investigated in Cascade County:

Deputies said the cow had been dead less than 24 hours after they reached the area but reported no physical evidence at the scene to indicate how the pasture was reached.

Deputies said they also are puzzled by the manner in which the cow was mutilated.  According to officials, after the one ear was removed the 1000-pound animal was rolled completely over onto its other side so the mutilated portion of the head was lying against the ground.  “It must have taken a great deal of strength to roll that carcass over,” said one deputy.

And this was just the beginning.

This is part one in a three-part series.  Stay tuned for part two.  For your reading pleasure in the meantime, Mystery Stalks the Prairie is available freely here.

Bigfoot in Montana: Exotic species?

After my last post, I emailed the Montana department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) through their web site to inquire about the state’s regulations on hunting sasquatch — and actually received a response!  I regret to say, however, absolutely nothing has been cleared up.  According to the emails I received, regulations on hunting bigfoot-type creatures in my state “would most likely not exist.”

I’m withholding the name of the person who wrote back to me, but other than that, here is our exchange.

Greetings.  This is possibly an odd question, but one that I’m curious about.  A family member brought the following to my attention:
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/10/09/1580008/-Breaking-News-Bigfoot-hunting-is-legal-in-Texas-but-not-in-California

Obviously each state is different.  As a Montana resident, my question is — if bigfoot creatures exist in Montana, what would be the regulations on hunting them?

Thanks
Sarah

 

Sarah,

Great question! I am not a legal expert and appreciate your understanding in my honest attempt to candidly answer your question without confusing you further or complicating this hypothetical situation.
You are correct in that each state varies in the ways hunting regulations are created and enforced. Most likely Bigfoot would be classified as a non-native exotic species. Hypothetically, if Bigfoot creatures do exist in Montana the regulations on hunting them would most likely not exist- this would be due to its classification as exotic species.

“Exotic species” are any species that are not native to that ecosystem. They are broken into three categories:

Controlled

“Controlled species” means live, exotic wildlife species, subspecies, or hybrid of species that may not be imported, possessed, sold, purchased or exchanged in Montana unless a person obtains written authorization from the department.

Noncontrolled

“Noncontrolled species” are live, exotic wildlife species, subspecies, or hybrid of that species that may be possessed, sold, purchased or exchanged in the state without a permit, except as provided in this subchapter or in Montana statutes or federal statutes. An uncontrolled species may not be released into the wild unless authorized in writing by the department. This definition does not authorize the sale, possession, transportation, importation or exportation of a noncontrolled species in violation of any applicable federal or state statute or regulation or county or city ordinance.

Prohibited

“Prohibited species” are live, exotic wildlife species, subspecies, or hybrid of that species, including viable embryos or gametes, that may not be possessed, sold, purchased, exchanged, or transported in Montana, except as provided in MCA 87-5-709 or ARM 12.6.2220.

Hopefully this helps, and please let me know if you have any further questions. Check out this link for more info:

http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/species/default.html

Thank you-

 

Hi  —

Wow, thank you for your quick response.  I certainly wasn’t expecting one so soon.  I guess the only obvious question is why would they be determined to be non-native?  If a creature which isn’t common to Montana migrates to Montana naturally, through its own power, is it still ‘non-native’ for legal purposes?
Cheers,
Sarah

Hi Sarah,

 

Excellent question- I would argue that  the fact the creature isn’t common to Montana and migrates to Montana (natural or unnatural) is what makes it a “non-native.” Regardless of how it gets there the fact remains that it is a non-native species. The classification is required in order to determine the correct way to quantify and care for the species according to Montana statute.

If we can get past the state’s assumption that bigfoot are not native to Montana — I feel like Montana needs to update its codes on “exotic species” as the regulations cited by the FWP representative imply that the questionable species has been bodily transported into the state.  With bigfoot, this is probably unlikely.  Unless I pick up one who’s hitchhiking next time I’m in Washington state, bring it home in my Tercel, and release it into the wilderness.  I guess that’s not so unlikely after all.

 

January odds and ends

I have been remiss in updating this blog lately.  Of course we had The Holidays and their attendant joys and horrors to distract us, and this month I have been suffering, and later recovering, from a terrible cold — nothing serious, of course, but enough of a hindrance to my daily life that I haven’t even been able to contemplate writing anything.

One good thing about my convalescence, however, was that I got some reading done, namely Raincoast Sasquatch by J. Robert Alley.  This book seems to be puzzlingly little-known within the Bigfoot community, but presents excellent sighting reports (many of them out of the ordinary, such as the parked group of teenagers reporting an unknown creature lifted and held their car’s back end to prevent their escape) and research from southeast Alaska and surrounding areas.

41ZKYGGD21L._SX301_BO1,204,203,200_

One thing in particular that caught my attention in Raincoast Sasquatch was the section dealing with stick construction and tree markers, which I discussed a little while back in my post, Of Sticks and Sasquatch.  Alley describes a number of what have been reported to him as “nests” of woven sticks and bark that were seen by forestry professionals and others, and also recounts an extremely unusual formation of trees in the Klawock Lake area of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

Alley writes (with accompanying photographs), “As reported to me in 1996 by Klawock forest workers, the trees were located thirty feet off a logging spur, several miles up the Klawock-Hollis Highway, which transects the island.  According to researcher Al Jackson, Prince of Wales Island Native elders had stated that fifty years ago the trees had been jammed into the soft muskeg by huge two-legged creatures as markers.

The trees above Klawock Lake are all trunks set quite vertically, with root wads uppermost, in a seemingly deliberate fashion… The largest tree shows approximately thirteen feet of wood above ground; the next largest shows approximately nine feet…. An estimated one-third of their total length may be embedded below the muskeg.”

So… mature trees, their tops jammed forcefully into the soil, with their roots towering vertically nine to thirteen feet above the surface of the ground?  What the heck?  Certainly doesn’t sound like anything most non-Herculean human beings would be able to pull off.

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Friend of the Big Sky Bigfoot Conference Russell Victor Acord reports that the second book in his Bitterroot Series will be available very soon.  Russ read from his manuscript of the new book at last fall’s conference and I for one am stoked to see the final product.  If you haven’t already, check out the first book, Footprints of a Legend.

Russ is a busy guy — he’s also co-organizing the International Bigfoot Conference, to be held in September in Kennewick, Washington.  This is shaping up to be a huge conference, so if you are likely to be anywhere near Kennewick around Labor Day, you have no excuse for missing it.

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I came upon this quote in the book Glacial Lake Missoula and its Humongous Floods by University of Montana geologist David Alt.  While it was not intended to pertain to Sasquatch, I think it serves as food for thought for the subject:

“Very few scientists in any discipline come to daring new conclusions as they consider the evidence.  Most go through life believing what they learned in college, resenting challenges to their settled beliefs, and disliking those who present them.  They muddle their way through their problems in a fog of confusion just like people who are not scientists.  That may not be how science should be done, but that is how it very often is done.”

Alt recently passed away and I regret I’ve only just read this book and did not have a chance to meet him.  I’m not normally into geology, but it has given me a new perspective on the whole landscape ’round these parts, and I appreciate the work that Alt did to bring awareness of ancient Lake Missoula to the masses.

 

The Varieties of Flathead Lake Monster Experience

Western Montana’s Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. Twenty-eight miles long, 15 miles wide, and 370 feet deep, it’s no wonder the enormous lake is rumored to be home to mysterious species.

Recently I contacted Mr. Paul Fugleberg, longtime Polson, Montana newspaperman and area historian, in search of information on the Flathead Lake Monster. Polson is the largest town on Flathead Lake, and Fugleberg has spent decades in the area. He was kind enough to send me some excellent resources, including a log he’s compiled of strange and unusual things sighted on the lake. The Flathead Lake Nessie, as Fugleberg calls it, has been mesmerizing and terrifying lakegoers since 1889.

While reading through Fugleberg’s exhaustive sightings log, I was surprised to note the differences in the type of “monster” people reported seeing. Most report a huge fish-like creature (perhaps a sturgeon), but others – well, I’ll let some of the selected reports speak for themselves:

1934 – Herbert Hoover of Rollins spotted what appeared to be a “little brown faced man with big goggly eyes” while swimming in Flathead Lake near the family’s west shore home. He thought it might have been a seal. The sighting was recalled by Hoover’s sister, Mrs. John L. Wilcox of Phoenix, Arizona, in a letter, Jan. 18, 1966.

1951 – As he fished in the Flathead River from the cofferdam below the Kerr Dam powerhouse, 17-year-old Fred Sego heard a loud splash. He looked around and saw a huge black, horse-like object with two big eyes staring at him. Sego said he knew it wasn’t a horse because it came up from beneath the water’s surface. He was so scared that he fell over backward trying to get away. He got up quickly and ran, not taking the time to look more closely. He never mentioned this until June 26, 1992, after reading the account of the Stark-Mangels June 22, 1992 sighting.  (Ed. note: In 1992, Miss Stark and Miss Mangels reported seeing a four-humped creature in the lake.)

September 8, 1963 – Polson high school teachers Heather McLeod and Genevieve Parratt, boating about 11:30 a.m., noticed a “dark gray object with three humps” swimming toward the center of the lake. About 10-ft of its length was visible. It submerged as another boat approached and passed, then re-surfaced and swam toward the main part of the lake. The women watched it for about five minutes.

June 5, 1970 – Neil DeGolier of Polson, Neil DeGolier, Jr., and Don Jonasson, both of Anacortes, Washington, were fishing near the Narrows about 5:30 p.m. when they noted a “boil” on the calm surface about 200 feet from their boat. It was caused by something with a head like an “African rhino.” It submerged, swam away, then resurfaced. The men watched for a couple minutes before it submerged again and disappeared. They said it was about 10 feet long and was a “lizard color.”

Thursday, July 29, 1993, about 1:30 p.m. — In calm waters of Skeeko Bay off the north side of Wild Horse Island, Rich Gaffney of Oswego, Ill., who said he’d “been a cop for nearly 20 years,” and his wife and three children, 9, 13, and 15, all witnessed a “nessie” as it surfaced about 50 yards away amid an apparent school of bait-sized fish. It swam past their boat perhaps a hundred yards away but was easy to follow visually because of its wake. He described it as shiny with a bowling ball-sized head, shiny humps, about 15 to 20 feet long. His first impression was that it appeared to be a couple seals that were swimming.

Ed. note: And now for something completely different:

August 1961 – While water-skiing off the east shore, Vern and Pete Clark discovered a drowned monkey.

The above reports are reproduced with permission of Paul Fugleberg.