Death on the Sand Dunes: Snippy the Horse, the First Cattle Mutilation

Death on the Great Sand Dunes: the Strange Case of Snippy the Horse, the First Cattle Mutilation


Colorado’s beautiful San Luis Valley is full of interesting stories. It’s home to the oldest town in the entire state so it should come as no surprise that a “ghostly train” still runs the lines.  The area has a thriving community of  “Crypto-Jews” and even the Amish. But perhaps the most peculiar story that the Valley can lay claim to is one of particular importance to UFOlogy and general fringe weirdness: the story of “Snippy” the horse – the first cattle mutilation associated with strange lights in the sky.

On September 9th, 1967, Harry King left his humble ranch in search of Lady, his three year old mare. He and his mother had noted that she hadn’t moseyed back to the ranch for water in three days, something that was particularly odd considering how dry and hot the weather had been. Their fears were realized when they found Lady, or most of her anyway, laying on her side with her neck stripped bare to the bone. The cuts were incredibly clean, surgical even, a fact that led Harry to believe that Lady wasn’t simply the victim of a coyote or some other local predator. He noted that there was no blood on the scene, only a series of strange burns on the ground a strong “medicinal” smell hanging in the air. When reported, the local sheriff blew Harry off and wrote the ordeal up as a lightning strike, never bothering to visit the ranch himself.

A shot of the Great Sand Dunes: Legendary UFO Hotspot

Several days later, park police at the nearby Great Sand Dunes national park busted someone for trespassing on the property after dark. This miscreant turned out to be Dr. John Altshuler, an award-winning pathologist with an extensive history of contributions to medicine. As the police lectured him about breaking the law, he begged for them to keep his name a secret, afraid that not only an arrest, but that his reasoning for being in the park in the first place would ruin his career. You see, he was searching for UFOs.


The San Luis Valley, particularly the area surrounding the Great Sand Dunes Park, has long been a hotbed of mysterious lights in the sky for longer than most records have been keeping track. In fact, the Native Americans who dwelled in the land would often tell stories of underground caverns where “ant people” sheltered humans and “flying seed pods” shuttled people back and forth between the stars. These stories have since morphed into flying saucers and underground cave bases where little grey men perform horrific experiments on people’s butts, but the point is the same: people have been seeing very weird things there for a very long time.

In the book An Alien Harvest: Further Evidence Linking Animal Mutilations and Human Abductions to Alien Life Forms, Dr. John Altshuler was interviewed by television producer Linda Moulton about the evening he spent in the park looking for aliens.

“About 2:00-3:00 AM I saw three very bright, white lights moving together slowly between the Sangre De Cristo mountain tops.. They were definitely not the illusion of stars moving.. At one point I thought they were coming toward me because the lights got bigger. Then suddenly, they shot upward and disappeared. At the time, I was both elated and disbelieving in a way. I knew that the lights were not my imagination, that the stories of UFOs were true.”

When the park officers found out that Dr. Altshuler’s area of expertise was in the study of blood coagulation, they decided to let him off the hook under one condition: that he took a ride out to Harry King’s ranch to view the remains of Lady and see if he, a medical expert, could make some sense out of them. Since he was clearly into weird things already, Dr. Altshuler agreed.


When he arrived at body, he recalls being “amazed” by what he saw. The animal’s lungs, heart, and thyroid completely missing, removed with some of the cleanest cuts he had ever seen. At the edges, the sliced skin was a deep black in color. Even stranger to him was the unbelievable lack of blood on the scene.

“I have done hundreds of autopsies. You can’t cut into a body without getting some blood. But there was no blood on the skin or the ground. No blood anywhere.. the outer edges of the skin were cut firm, almost as if they had been cauterized by a modern day laser. but there was no cauterizing laser technology like that in 1967.”

After examining Lady, Altshuler became so frightened that what he had seen would discredit him that he couldn’t sleep. He was utterly convinced that he had seen a horse that was experimented on by complex equipment, and furthermore, he was beginning to believe that it’s demise was related to the lights he had seen in the sky. Sure enough, those same thoughts were shared by the King family. Harry’s 87 year old mother Agnes had seen a strange object fly over their house on the day of Lady’s disappearance.

Even Lady’s owner, Nellie Lewis, mentioned that she had been seeing “something” in the skies every night, but declined to elaborate further when asked. When the went to see the body for herself, she reported that her hands began to burn after touching the horse’s mane, and that her boots had become radioactive after walking through several “burns” littering the area where Lady’s tracks stopped. This caught the attention of the  United States Forest Service who sent an agent out with a Geiger counter. What he discovered was a pulse of unusually high radioactivity roughly two city blocks of Lady’s body… an area where many people were starting a believe that a craft had landed.

Nellie, who was also an occasional writer for the Pueblo Chieftain, recounted her odd tale, and on October 5th, 1967, the Associated Press picked up the story. It didn’t take long before the account was filling the newspapers, who had mistakenly reported the horse’s name as “Snippy” and decided to run with it. While the first obvious place the lay the blame for the mutilation is space aliens, those not simply content with stories of flying saucers attributed the injuries to everything from secret government projects to the work of menacing satanic cults. But none of that mattered, because that same day, an account by Superior Court Judge Charles E. Bennett of Denver was published. Bennett and his wife claimed to have witnessed “three reddish-orange rings in the sky. They maintained a triangular formation, moved at a high speed, and made a humming sound.”

News of the UFO involvement in “Snippy’s” death eventually reached the Condon Committee, a group funded by the US Air Force from 1966 to 1968 at the University of Colorado. Their purpose was to study reports of UFOs, the number of which had boomed since the 1947 incident in Roswell. They reached out to pathologist Dr. Robert Adams who agreed to take a look at the animal and present his findings to the group.


Dr. Adams concluded that “Snippy” had a leg infection at the time of her death, and that someone had slit the animal’s throat to put her out of her misery.

“Bacteria, birds, and coyotes were responsible for the absence of organs in the abdominal cavity… predators had eaten away part of the horse’s rump, exposing the cavity.” Dr. Adams said. “It was normal under the circumstances that the brain cavity was devoid of fluid. Because all tissue was gone from the skull, the opening in the back was exposed to the air. Since the brain, after death, liquefied in hours, the fluid evaporated quickly in the warm prairie air.” “It was at least 30 days after Snippy’s death before anyone examined the carcass, and the longest the fluid could have remained would have been two weeks.”

“I know it’s going to pop the bubble, but the horse was not killed by a flying saucer.”

UFOlogists pointed to the source of the Condon Committee’s funding, the US Government, as proof that the group’s true purpose was to downplay UFO reports and provide disinformation. But at this point, it didn’t matter either way. Reports of cattle mutilations and their accompanying UFO’s were exploding around the world. Snippy had started a phenomenon.

In 1975 Democratic senator Floyd K. Haskell claimed there had been 130 mutilations in Colorado alone, going so far as to request the FBI step in to help in order to quell the growing fear the cases had instilled in Colorado residents. By this time, cattle mutilations had been reported in 15 surrounding states, including Texas, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Montana, and were starting to appear in many Latin countries as well. These mutilations continued to grow, including all variety of animals in their wake, eventually including human beings. Even today, extraterrestrial meddling is reported, though not nearly with the same veracity it once was. Perhaps much of the maiming has been outsourced to the Chupacabra since then.

Snippy’s bones reportedly floated around from local museums, to abandoned houses, to veterinary clinics, to local businesses, eventually finding their way to eBay in late 2006 with a reserve of $50,000. The auction was eventually put on hold due to a dispute over ownership of the remains, and I can’t personally find any reference to whether or not the bones were actually ever sold (can you?). One would imagine that they’re still out there somewhere.

But there are those, such as Weird America author Jim Brandon, who don’t believe that her bones were ever around to sell in the first place. Branson reports that Snippy’s skeleton disintegrated “like shredded wheat” shortly after her death.

While the whereabouts of her body might be mystery, the legacy she left stings hangs over the San Luis Valley in places like the Great Sand Dune National Park where skywatchers continue to trek in hopes of glimpsing a visitor from outer space, or in the continued reports of animals with their intestines bored out, burned, and whisked away by advanced technology.  Whether or you believe that Snippy was simply a sickly animal put out of her misery or the victim of intergalactic experimentation, one thing is for sure:

No one can beat a dead horse like extraterrestrials.

Architects of the Underworld by Bruce Rux

Mysterious Valley” by Carrie Patrick
Weird America by Jim Brandon

The Denver Post
The Minnesota MUFON Journal Issue #131 


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