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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  1. Conquistador3

    01/08/2013 at 5:40 PM

    Cattle mutilations are really one of those things that can make me uneasy.
    Sure, the vast bulk has perfect rational explanations, going from lightning strikes (much more common than you may think) to predators, but there’s a hefty body of evidence hinting towards something sinister gathered by law enforcement officials, veterinarian pathologists, park rangers etc.
    While it’s easy to speculate about a connection between cattle mutilations and UFO’s, this corpus hints at the fact the perpetrators may be of this world.
    In a few cases very “terrestrial” items have been found near (or even under) the mutilated animals: these included a large gauge hypodermic needle, a veterinarian scalpel and a small military surplus bag.
    Veterinarians have found large concentrations of commonly available drugs in the animals’ tissues.
    Finally a pathologist wrote in his report concerning a cow found missing her guts these had been removed using a well known and time-honored pathological method, the Rokitansky Procedure.
    As somebody wrote “I’d be very disappointed if aliens with such an advanced technology as to be able to travel through the stars would still rely on hypodermic needles and XIX century pathological procedures”.
    It may be easy to blame a shadowy government agency bent on some sinister project but then why bother killing cows at random with the possibility of being caught? After all why not just buy the cows through a front company and butcher them in secret?
    While we may not know who the perpetrators are, their objective seems very clear: spread terror. As one sheriff in Nevada said “It’s like they wanted us to find these cows”. No effort is made to hide or even dispose of the corpses. The mutilations are seemingly made to attract attention, to tell the people something stalks the countryside killing and mutilating animals. After all why not simply take away the whole cow? Thousands of cows disappear each year on free ranging ranches. Nobody would notice an extra few.
    Whoever’s the culprit his intents are probably much shadowier and far more terrifying than we can imagine.

    • S.

      01/08/2013 at 6:34 PM

      Maybe it’s a sex thing.

      • Greg Newkirk

        01/08/2013 at 7:34 PM

        It’s always a sex thing.

    • Greg Newkirk

      01/08/2013 at 7:34 PM

      They freak me out too, for that very reason. They always seem so unnecessarily brutal. Speaking of which, how in the world has a cattle mutilation not ended up on the cover of a metal band’s album?

  2. Jerry

    01/10/2013 at 12:30 PM

    I work for a rural municipality. I was about to enter our ag guy’s office when I found my self eavesdropping on a telephone conversation he was having with a local farmer. Having an interest in the paranormal, I found it quite fascinating that he was describing two previous experiences to the one he was apparently having with the ranch owner — it was about the mutilation of livestock. By the time he was finished, I had forgotten the reason for my trip to his office and we got on to tht topic of his call. It turns out that a sheep had been stripped of it facial and neck skin and wool — just exposing the muscle, skull and tissue. The farmer had shot her sheepdog — as it is usually the first thing to blame — but could not understand why other than the wool and skin the dog had not set about eating the meat of the unfortunate sheep. I asked the ag guy to share with me his other experiences and they did sound like the classical even-sized hole in the animals genital/anal areas as if a large mechanical (or laser) corer (like an over-sized apple corer) had been used to extract the tissue. He was convinced that something paranormal had been at work in both of his previous, personal experiences with the phenomena.

    It did turn out, through an autopsy of the dog, that it had indeed just removed and at the sheep’s wool and scalp and facial skin. Presumably it had become “full” at that point and left the sheep to the elements. Still; this long-time ag guy believes that, for the most part, something unnatural is taking place with regards to animal mutilations.

  3. Archie1954

    02/11/2013 at 1:04 PM

    I don’t think there is any question that cattle mutilation is taking place by sinister forces unknown. When the US government investigates the lies start, so such causes found by American government officials must immediately be discounted. You will never get the truth from the government, end of story! Best to review witnesses’ accounts of such mutilations and compare them to find the truth. Other nations are not so ready to lie about causes. Check out Brazil and the mutilation of a man near a large hydro dam several years ago. It is absolutely chilling!

  4. Carla Staton

    06/24/2016 at 8:18 PM

    I read about this decades ago in my father’s flying saucer books!

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