Who are the strange butchers?

A look at the strange phenomenon of cattle mutilation in Colorado's San Luis Valley. From the Alamosa Valley Courier.

Cattle mutilation! It’s a subject as intertwined with the Valley as potatoes or the Great Sand Dunes. It was my first introduction to the weirdness and wonder of this area as a kid in Denver. I was thrilled by Christopher O’Brien’s books on the strange phenomenon.

Since I arrived here in August, I’ve tentatively asked a few long-time locals what they think of cattle mutilations. They tend not to have much to say about it, and I haven’t gotten many answers. I can’t tell if people are tired of talking about it and being known for it, if it was just mass hysteria in the first place, or if it’s just old news.

Although many old timers here may already know the story well, let’s look at an overview of the unexplained circumstances of cattle mutilation, and then hopefully readers with their own theories or explanations can let me know what they think.

Cattle mutilation is a blanket term that describes the alleged killing and partial dissection of livestock under unusual conditions. Defining traits include the animal having been drained of its blood, and having body parts cut out with what appears to be surgical precision. Often much of the animal’s soft tissue has been removed, possibly including the eyes, ears, tongue, genitals, and rectum.

Mutilations have been blamed on space aliens, secret government activity, cults, sick pranksters, or simply misidentified natural decomposition.

Paranormal researcher Charles Fort documented similar events that took place in the late 19th and early 20th century, but the phenomenon as we know it began in 1967, when the Pueblo Chieftain reported on the strange death of Lady, a three-year-old Appaloosa horse owned by Agnes King on a ranch near Alamosa.

King and her son Harry found Lady stripped of skin on her neck and head, and there was no blood at the scene. A “medicinal” odor hung in the air around the dead horse.

Subsequent media reports, perhaps intentionally, misidentified the horse as Snippy, which was the name of another of King’s horses.

By a decade later, reports of mutilated cattle came in from 15 states, mostly in the West. Democratic senator Floyd Haskell asked the FBI to investigate the claims in 1975, saying there had been 130 mutilations in Colorado, and more in other states. An FBI report published four years later found over 8,000 animal deaths that fit the criteria.

In addition to the lack of blood around the dead animals, some researchers claimed that scavengers and predators would avoid the carcasses, and that domesticated animals would become fearful and agitated around them.

The FBI report said eyes were missing in 14 percent of mutilations, the tongue in 33 percent, the rectum in 48 percent, and the genitals in 74 percent of cases. A survey conducted by the National Institute for Discovery Science found slightly different numbers, with the main difference being a much higher count of eye mutilation.

Mutilations may take place very quickly, as in the case of two ranchers in Utah in 1997 who discovered a calf mutilated less than an hour after they tagged it.

Carcasses often have no visible tracks or footprints nearby. Several mutilations in New Mexico were surrounded by “suction cup-like impressions.”

The 1979 FBI report concluded that the majority of suspected mutilations were misidentified natural deaths, but that more than a few were unexplainable.

A report by New Mexico investigators reported that some animals had been tranquilized and treated with an anti-coagulant.

Researchers said that missing soft tissue may be due to post-mortem dehydration and contraction of tissue, or the result of small scavengers and parasites. The absence of blood has been explained as having pooled in the lowest part of the body, or consumed by insects or evaporated.

Apparently surgical cuts may be stretched and torn skin, which can appear linear.

Hypotheses abound. Some researchers believe “true” mutilations are the work of humans who derive some sick pleasure from killing and dissecting livestock.

Others theorize the deaths are the work of mysterious cults, positing that the removed blood and organs were kept for gory rituals, though little hard evidence supports this.

A more popular theory is that cattle mutilation is the work of government agencies seeking to do clandestine research into cattle diseases that may spread to humans. A 2002 report relates the story of two Utah police officers in an area that had seen such a high number of mutilations that ranchers had organized patrols. The officers claim to have gotten in a heated argument with men in an unmarked helicopter in 1976, which was followed by a five-year halting of mutilations.

Other reports include black helicopters reportedly seen hovering over an area where 16 cows were mutilated in New Mexico.

And, of course, many attribute the deaths to aliens obtaining tissue samples for some bizarre reason.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Are cattle mutilations the work of cults, government spooks, or little green men? Or are they just a case of mass hysteria brought on by modern anxieties? Are cattle mutilations still happening in the Valley?

Let me know!