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The cows are not coming home: range rippers, cattle mutilations, 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.


If natural death, disease, and predation were the culprit, you’d expect the mutilation discoveries to make the news far less since it would become a normal thing. Such a thing shouldn’t stand out in memory.


But it does.


The mutilations only went on for a short period of time at my home farm, in the summer of 1975 or 1976. One of the few missing diaries from my grandmother’s yearly collection is that year, unfortunately, but my oldest sister remembers that summer.


“I was doing summer fallow. It was in the summer time,” Dad said when I asked him about what had happened. “Someone had seen a black van with red trim accents, down the road near where we found the animals. Doug was working for us at the time, doing the summer fallow. He came and told us he’d seen some dead animals in the slough area. We went out to look. Dad got a veterinarian out there to look at them. The vet said there was no blood left in them, but I don’t know how long they’d laid there. They were bloated a little.”


“Why did grandpa ask the vet to come?”


“To see if he could determine why they’d died. The udder was cut off. Maybe the animals ate it off because it was the soft parts. The heads were clean cut, the skin removed,” dad said.


The vet didn’t seem to think it was necessarily natural, though he couldn’t determine either way. One cow. A few calves in a different place a short distance away. According to my sister, there were no footprints or tire tracks around.


“I don’t know if someone killed them for the blood or what,” dad said. “I don’t know what the actual cause was, but it just didn’t seem natural. What I saw didn’t seem natural to me. It was strange.”


“Did it happen to anyone else?”


“I can’t remember. There might have been others around the area.”


“Were people in town talking about this?”


“Oh, I’m sure they were.” But, as he pointed out, he wasn’t in town at the cafe as much then. He didn’t really know what the news was on the matter.


People had all kinds of theories. Satan worshippers. Son of Sam. Some kind of cryptid. Aliens. The government, trying to distract citizens from cold war tests they were performing on the cattle.2


I don’t know what my grandpa thought, but he must have thought something because he sat up a night or two with a gun. My older sister remembers that my mom, who was busy with a woman’s ministry group that required a lot of nighttime driving, started carrying a weapon around in the vehicle at my dad’s request.


Grandpa never moved the bodies of the animals. The bones were there a long time after it was all said and done.


It never happened again, not like that. Same animals in the same pasture. Same cows, same predators, but only that one time.


I find this a most curious thing to have happened on my family’s farm, not far from where, one night as I slept just a mile or so away, those animals went down.


Paranoia creeps in easily when you’re in a farmhouse and all you have is your yard light between you and the black night. It’s quick and easy to make a joke out of paranoid rural folks, but there’s a reason horror movies are often set in desolate places.


I would find this all a bit difficult to believe actually happened, particularly as the details seem lost to my parents, except I saw the photos. Grandpa was a man who took a photo of everything, and while cleaning out his basement after college, I came across an old suitcase filled with photos. In with the pictures of formal portraits and farmsteads were two yellowed, stiff Polaroids with the bodies of cows splayed out on the pasture ground, legs jutting up from slightly bloated bodies. Where their udders should have been was a whitish raw area, their heads mostly bone.


I put the photos back because they creeped me out. I don’t know where they went after that.

By 1978 and 1979, the Federal government was concerned, at least from a financial loss point of view, that the ranchers were facing significant hardship. Can’t get taxes off a dead herd, I guess.


Maybe it’s all about confirmation bias, where we are all geared to seeing what we want to see, and so we do.


The veterinarian sees foxes and disease. Law enforcement sees criminal activity. Farmers wary of the feds see military helicopters. Senators see lost votes. Speculators see aliens. Government sees dollar signs.


I value my dad’s opinion, because he often surprises me. And that’s why, when I ask what he thinks happened, he simply says “I don’t really know.”


Something happened.


Maybe whatever it was fed fear and tall stories and copycats, but something happened somewhere for real in all the data and dysentery and predation. We just don’t know.


 

The FBI has an interesting collection of documents you can read here. You can watch a news report from KRQE from a few decades ago that summarizes those FBI documents here. A 1980 documentary “Strange Harvest” goes into great detail on this phenomenon.


As unbelievable as it sounds, I’d been working on this article for several months and was surprised to learn that Tucker Carlson had talked about cattle mutilations in an April 2022 interview with two men who were butchers. They believed that extraterrestrials were responsible.


With that in mind, I would encourage you to read Alien Encounters: The Secret Behind the UFO Phenomenon by Chuck Missler and Mark Eastman. You might also want to read Alien Intrusion: Unmasking The Deception, or watch the related documentary.


I’ve mentioned this topic, and crop circles, in an an essay in my first book.





 

1 Cockburn, Alexander. “Rippers of the Range: Esquire: December 1975.” Esquire, December 1, 1975. https://classic.esquire.com/article/1975/12/1/rippers-of-the-range.


2 Writer, Lindsey Bright. “Book Sheds Light on Cattle Mutilations, Dulce Base.” Rio Grande SUN, August 2, 2016. http://www.riograndesun.com/news/book-sheds-light-on-cattle-mutilations-dulce-base/article_8c60dfd4-9592-51e6-be53-99e9c9863232.html.

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