NOTE: While I have made an effort to use as inoffensive language as possible, this post contains subject matter and imagery which some may find disturbing.
Late in 2019, in what we now know as The Before Time, I was asked to give a presentation following a screening of “E.T.: the Extra Terrestrial,” regarding UFO-related items held by the Western History and Genealogy department. As might be expected, researching this subject took me into the dustier, more cobweb-laden recesses of WHG.
What I found was a surprising variety of topics, ranging from a spate of mysterious flying craft sightings in 1897 (which turned out to be an experimental airship), to claims tying Native American folklore to alien entities, to my old friend, Harold T. Wilkins. I even discovered a scientific study conducted by the University of Colorado Boulder at the request of the United States Air Force, and a significantly less scientific study released by an organization billing itself as the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena.
Of the myriad variants of the UFO claims, one that stood out was a subject that was somewhat common for awhile during my youth, rising to prominence around the same time as the Ancient Aliens hypothesis (see Erich VonDaniken’s "Chariots of the Gods," for example). As with that, it was a bit of a flash-in-the-pan, sparking national intrigue for a brief period, but fizzled before finding much long-term traction. While the alleged phenomenon was widespread, and incidents were reported around the globe, it all began with a horse named Snippy.
On September 7, 1967, near the town of Alamosa in the San Luis Valley, Snippy, a 3-year-old Appaloosa, failed to return to the Harry King Ranch where she was stabled. Two days later, Mr. King (the ranch owner) discovered Snippy's remains roughly a quarter-mile from the ranch house. According to his account, the neck and head had been completely stripped of flesh, leaving nothing but bare, seemingly sun-bleached, white bone, while the remainder of the mare remained unscathed.
King returned the next day, accompanied by the horse’s owners, determined to unravel the mystery surrounding Snippy’s untimely death, but more questions than answers arose. There was no blood found on or around the body, and the flesh appeared to have been removed neatly and with precision. A number of darkened patches, said by the witnesses to look like scorch or exhaust marks, were found in the vicinity of the carcass. Roughly 100 yards away, they discovered a shrub which was squashed nearly flat, and nearby was a series of six small, round indentations in the ground, arranged in a circle.
There were some other elements to the initial reports as well. At one point, the exposed bones allegedly appeared to be bright pink; one person reported that her palm became incredibly itchy after handling some fur, or a piece of metal, or a piece of hide (reports varied); a sickly-sweet smell hung in the air around the body. One thing all of these claims have in common is that they were all transitory events, and there’s no way to investigate even whether they happened, let alone their cause.
Owing to these unusual circumstances, and occasional rumors of unexplained lights in the sky in the region (though none specifically correlated with this incident), the amateur sleuths concluded that Snippy’s death could only be attributed to aliens (naturally). Because when you have a number of unexplained mysteries, the best course is to assume a conclusion. This odd tale formed the impetus for Linda Mouton Howe’s seminal work, "An Alien Harvest."
Howe’s book contained a detailed account of the Snippy incident, complete with numerous interviews and photographs. Oddly, in her book Howe reveals that Snippy was actually the mother and that the deceased horse was, in fact, named Lady. (In other accounts, it’s claimed that Snippy was a nickname given to Lady by journalists, inspired by the gruesome condition in which she was found.) How this strange conflation of identities occurred is unclear, but largely irrelevant since the horse is called “Snippy” in virtually every instance. Even then, Snippy is occasionally referred to as “he,” though in that respect, the consensus is that Snippy was a mare.
The tale of Snippy was just the tip of a fairly gruesome iceberg. As might be expected, anyone who raises livestock will occasionally find a dead animal among their herd, and sometimes those deaths are mysterious in nature. Once the notion that aliens could be cited as an “explanation” for these deaths entered the public consciousness, some jumped at the chance. After all, why not “solve” one mystery by appealing to a second, even larger mystery? Particularly since admitting there isn’t actually a clear answer is just so darned awkward.
By the time Howe was compiling her book, over a decade after Snippy met her unfortunate demise, the author was able to interview a significant number of ranchers who subscribed to the ‘alien dissection’ hypothesis of dead farm animals. The fact that Howe was a respected journalist, at one point serving as the Director of Special Projects at Denver’s CBS affiliate, undoubtedly added an air of credibility which the claims would not have enjoyed, had they come from a fringe crackpot.
Credible source or not, the underlying problem with the deductions was that they were supported by vague, circumstantial evidence at best. Howe and many of her interviewees fell prey to what’s known in philosophy as the Argument from Ignorance Fallacy (sometimes known as the Argument from Personal Incredulity). In essence, this amounts to presuming a conclusion based on incomplete (or non-existent) evidence because you aren’t able to think of a better explanation.
For example, there are a large number of assumptions made by the witnesses involved in Snippy’s discovery. Some discolorations near the body were reputed to be “exhaust” marks, but their origin was never confirmed, and there’s nothing attesting to their being the result of heat or flame. The indentations found nearby were alleged to be imprints from the landing gear of a spaceship, but not only was there no evidence of said craft, there’s not any evidence that the marks were related to the horse or its premature passing in any way. There were some vague and nonspecific reports of “elevated radiation levels” in the area (particularly in relation to the alleged scorch marks), but others found no evidence to support those claims.
The novelty of the claims surrounding Snippy resonated in the region, and resulted in a great deal of notoriety for the nearby town of Alamosa. The aforementioned Air Force-funded team from CU Boulder even investigated the mystery surrounding Snippy’s death. Sadly, for those invested in a paranormal explanation for the enigmatic demise, they concluded that the actual cause of death was a perfectly mundane infection. Local veterinarian, Dr. Wallace Leary, acquired the carcass from the owner in order to mount the skeleton outside his practice as a novelty. In the process of preparing the bones, he discovered the source and cause of the infections: two small caliber bullet wounds in the right flank.
As to some of the other oddities surrounding the case, opinions were somewhat varied. Speculation around the apparent cleanliness of the neck wound ranged from the frightened horse getting tangled in a barbed wire fence, to someone discovering the suffering animal, and cutting its throat in an act of mercy. The bones being picked clean is easily attributed to scavengers or ants (radioactive or otherwise). While it seems unusual that the flesh would be stripped only from the head and neck, there remains no reason to infer an otherworldly explanation, particularly since the initial examination somehow overlooked two festering bullet wounds. Given how arid the climate in that region is, it’s entirely possible the blood from the wounds could have dried, leaving behind discolorations that were misidentified as “scorch marks.” Is that definitely the case? Nobody can say for certain … and that’s really the point.
Though her specific story is largely forgotten, the circumstances surrounding Snippy’s death remain open for debate in some circles. Her legacy, however, endures despite her obscurity. Clearly, the notion of aliens mutilating livestock is something that has remained in the public consciousness as an entertaining flight of fancy, even if not widely believed. Aliens, though, are not the only far-fetched explanation which has been proposed for unexplained animal deaths… but that’s a story for another time.
Snippy’s remains passed from owner to owner for years, until being put up for auction on eBay in 2006. When the owner couldn’t get the $50,000 price he was asking, the post was withdrawn. The relic is reportedly occupying space in an undisclosed warehouse.