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:
“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:
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.