Abstract

During the 1970s many small-scale cattle ranchers across the Midwest reported finding their cattle mutilated. The episode, often dismissed as mass hysteria or sensationalized reporting, demonstrates the growing dissatisfaction of many ranchers concerning government intrusiveness and restrictive policies. These frustrations found a release in response to the mutilation phenomenon during which ranchers vented their anger by taking direct aim at the federal government. The turbulent economic conditions of the period paired with government interference in the cattle industry helped sustain the mutilation phenomenon as ranchers projected their fears and insecurities through the bizarre episode. The hostility ranchers showed toward the federal government during the mutilation scare presaged and helped provide the impetus for events such as the Sagebrush Rebellion. The mutilation phenomenon also underscores the pronounced effects of the libertarian movement of the 1960s that gave rise to the New Right and gained adherents across the West and Midwest.

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NOTES

1. Yuval Gabay et al.,
“Unmarked Helicopters,”
in Mark Snow et al.,
Songs in the Key of X: Music from and inspired by the X-Files
(
Burbank, Calif.
:
Warner Bros.
,
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).
2. Floyd K. Haskell to Theodore P. Rosack,
Aug.
29
,
1975
, http://www.foia.fbi.gov/cattle/cattle1.pdf (accessed Aug. 1, 2008; site discontinued).
3. The documentary was produced and directed by Linda Moulton Howe and first aired on May 25, 1980 in Colorado. At the time, the documentary attracted a record number of viewers at a quarter of a million in Colorado and Wyoming. Howe connected the cattle mutilations to extraterrestrial activity and provided as much evidence as possible to link the two together.
A Strange Harvest
, dir. by Linda Moulton Howe (
1980
;
Linda Moulton Howe Productions
,
1988
,
video cassette
).
4. R. McGreggor Cawley,
Federal Land, Western Anger: The Sagebrush Rebellion and Environmental Politics
(
Lawrence
:
University Press of Kansas
,
1993
); Bruce J. Schulman and Julian E. Zelizer, eds.,
Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s
(
Cambridge
:
Harvard University Press
,
2008
); Michael Schaller and George Rising, eds.,
The Republican Ascendancy: American Politics, 1968–2001
(
Wheeling
:
Harlan Davidson, Inc.
,
2002
); Lisa McGirr,
Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right
(
Princeton
:
Princeton University Press
,
2001
); Robert Alan Goldberg,
Barry Goldwater
(
New Haven
:
Yale University Press
,
1995
).
5. Alan S. Blinder,
Economic Policy and the Great Stagflation
(
New York
:
Academic Press
,
1979
),
1
,
2
,
25
;
“Meat Price Ceiling is Not Right or Fair,”
Farm Bureau News
,
Apr.
9
,
1973
; Allen J. Matusow,
Nixon's Economy: Boom, Busts, Dollars, and Votes
(
Lawrence
:
University Press of Kansas
,
1998
),
220
21
,
224
25
; Gilbert C. Fite,
American Farmers: The New Minority
(
Bloomington
:
Indiana University Press
,
1981
),
203
;
“Temperatures Plummet, Feed Prices Soar,”
Cattleman
59
(
Feb.
1973
):
22
; Edward Uvacek Jr.,
“The Balance Sheet: Consumer Resistance,”
Cattleman
60
(
Nov.
1973
):
23
,
128
.
6. Blinder,
Economic Policy
,
25
,
26
27
,
107
109
; Matusow,
Nixon's Economy
,
229
,
233
.
7.
“Beef Numbers Back up in Feedlot,”
Farm Bureau News
,
Sept.
3
,
1973
; Matusow,
Nixon's Economy
,
233
; Charles E. Ball et al.,
Building the Beef Industry: A Century of Commitment
(
Saratoga, Wyo.
:
Saratoga Publishing Group
,
1998
),
180
81
; F. Williams,
“Texas Cattle Economics: What Happened?”
Cattleman
60
(
Apr.
1974
):
14
,
136
,
138
; Edward Uvacek Jr.,
“The Balance Sheet,”
Cattleman
61
(
Mar.
1975
):
36
.
8.
Associated Press
,
“Mutilated Livestock, Strange Flying Objects Reported in Nebraska,”
Sioux Falls Argus (S. Dak.) Leader
,
Aug.
30
,
1974
; Jim George,
“UFO Zapping Cows? Why That's Out of This World,”
St. Paul (Minn.) Dispatch
,
Dec.
27
,
1974
. Several years prior to the mutilation phenomenon an interesting case occurred in Colorado that might help explain the immediate connection between cattle mutilations and UFO activity. In 1967 a rancher found a horse mutilated in a field. The ranch owner's sister and brotherin-law owned the horse. When they arrived a few days later, they investigated the area and found indentations in the ground that they claimed indicated a spacecraft had landed in the pasture. They also found a piece of flesh that oozed green sludge and burned their skin on contact. The ranch owner's mother claimed to have seen a UFO the night preceding the mutilation. The ranch quickly became a hotbed for UFO researchers and those interested in the paranormal, forever cementing the relationship between UFOs and animal mutilations. For more details, see,
“Dead Horse Riddle Sparks UFO Buffs,”
Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain
,
Oct.
7
,
1967
; David R. Saunders and R. Roger Harkins,
UFOs? Yes!: Where the Condon Committee Went Wrong
(
New York
:
World Publishing Company
,
1968
),
155
57
; Daniel Kagan and Ian Summers,
Mute Evidence
(
New York
:
Bantam Books
,
1983
),
41
43
; Rich Tosches,
“Town Gets Snippy about Skeleton of Mutilated Horse,”
Denver Post
,
Dec.
10
,
2006
.
9. Kenneth M. Rommel Jr.,
Operation Animal Mutilation: Report of the District Attorney, First Judicial District, State of New Mexico
(
Espanola
:
Office of the District Attorney, First Judicial District
,
1980
),
218
19
; Kagan and Summers,
Mute Evidence
,
xv
,
346
56
; Ed Sanders,
“The Mutilation Mystery,”
Oui Magazine
(
Sept.
1976
):
116
18
; R. J. Gallagher to Mr. Adams,
Sept.
12
,
1975
, http://www.foia.fbi.gov/cattle/cattle1.pdf (accessed Aug. 1, 2008; site discontinued).
10. Sanders,
“Mutilation Mystery,”
51
;
“Mysteries: The Midnight Marauder,”
Newsweek
,
Sept.
30
,
1974
,
30
; Pat Kalahar,
“Wyoming New Victim of Mutilation Panic,”
Wheat Ridge (Colo.) Record Stockman
,
Oct.
2
,
1975
.
11. Sanders,
“Mutilation Mystery,”
51
;
“Mysteries,”
30
; Linda Moulton Howe,
An Alien Harvest: Further Evidence Linking Animal Mutilations and Human Abductions to Alien Life Forms
(
1989
; repr.,
Cheyenne, Wyo.
:
Pioneer Printing
,
2000
),
31
;
Associated Press
,
“Cattle Mutilations … Ranchers Arming Themselves,”
Colorado Springs Sun
,
Oct.
5
,
1975
; Rommel,
Operation
,
190
.
12. Sanders,
“Mutilation Mystery,”
52
,
92
,
113
; Kagan and Summers,
Mute Evidence
,
40
.
13. Kagan and Summers,
Mute Evidence
,
78
,
80
; Rommel,
Operation
,
175
76
.
14. Special Agent in Charge, Denver to Clarence M. Kelley,
Sept.
4
,
1975
; R. J. Gallagher to Mr. Adams,
Sept.
12
,
1975
, http://www.foia.fbi.gov/cattle/cattle1.pdf (accessed Aug. 1, 2008; site discontinued);
“FBI Won't Help Investigate State Cattle Mutilations,”
Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph
,
Sept.
24
,
1975
.
15. Charles R. Buxton,
“Cattle Deaths and the FBI,”
Denver Post
,
Sept.
3
,
1975
; Kagan and Summers,
Mute Evidence
,
xv
xvi
; Sanders,
“Mutilation Mystery,”
114
; Dorothy Aldridge,
“If Coyote Mutilates, it has Dental Skills,”
Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph
,
July
29
,
1976
.
16. Ball,
Building the Beef Industry
,
183
;
“Meat Price Ceiling,”
7
;
“FB Wire to Nixon on Meat Price Ceiling,”
Farm Bureau News
,
Apr.
9
,
1973
;
“Government Meddling Resulted in Food Shortages, Higher Prices,”
Farm Bureau News
,
Aug.
20
,
1973
;
“Kuhfuss Calls for Removal of Beef Price Ceilings,”
Farm Bureau News
,
Aug.
6
,
1973
;
“Of Things that Concern Cattle Raisers: Cattlemen Condemn Phase IV,”
Cattleman
60
(
Aug.
1973
):
21
;
“Cattleman Gives Gloomy Beef Forecast,”
Chicago Tribune
,
Sept.
10
,
1973
; Willard F. Williams,
“Texas Cattle Economics: The Rape of the Beef Industry,”
Cattleman
60
(
Sept.
1973
):
200
.
17.
“Mysteries,”
30
; George,
“UFO Zapping Cows?”
; Aldridge,
“If Coyote Mutilates”
; Dorothy Aldridge,
“Cattle Mutilation Case Number 85 Leaves Sheriff as Stumped as Ever,”
Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph
,
Oct.
24
,
1977
; Sanders,
“Mutilation Mystery,”
114
; Kagan and Summers,
Mute Evidence
,
32
,
397
;
USDA, Statistical Reporting Service
,
“Cattle,”
Feb.
1973
,
Feb.
1976
,
Jan.
1979
(see, http://www.usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/MannUsda/viewDocumentInfo.do?documentID=1017, accessed Mar. 30, 2011). The average price per head of cattle between 1971 and 1978 was $217, which would have made the losses in Colorado total over $43,000. One statistic that reporters batted around asserted that ten thousand mutilations had occurred over the course of the 1970s. Greatly exaggerated, these figures actually came from two men who tried to estimate the total mutilations by multiplying the number of confirmed cases by four. They figured ranchers probably only reported one of every four mutilations. For further details, see, Kagan and Summers,
Mute Evidence
,
397
.
18.
USDA, Statistical Reporting Service
,
“Cattle,”
Feb.
1975
,
1
.
19. Rommel,
Operation
,
30
,
35
; Kagan and Summers,
Mute Evidence
,
456
72
.
20.
“Cults Blamed by Canadian Police for New Mutilations of Animals,”
New York Times
,
June
5
,
1980
;
“Tracking the Cattle Mutilators,”
Newsweek
,
Jan.
21
,
1980
,
16
.
21. Rommel,
Operation
,
4
5
.
22. Ibid.,
106
14
,
176
; Gail Olson,
“They Held a Mutilation but No One Came,”
Rio Grande (N. Mex.) Sun
,
July
26
,
1979
; Gail Olson,
“Two Convinced of Mutilation,”
Rio Grande Sun
,
Aug.
9
,
1979
.
23. James R. Stewart,
“Collective Delusion: A Comparison of Believers and Skeptics,”
in Rommel,
Operation
,
273
85
.
24. Kagan and Summers,
Mute Evidence
,
xix
.
25. Nancy H. Owen,
Preliminary Analysis of the Impact of Livestock Mutilations on Rural Arkansas Communities
(
Little Rock
:
Arkansas Endowment for the Humanities
,
1980
),
16
17
;
“Birds, Flies Caused Cattle Mutilations, Sheriff Concludes,”
Little Rock, Arkansas Gazette
,
Oct.
19
,
1979
.
26. Rommel,
Operation
,
2
; Kagan and Summers,
Mute Evidence
,
385
,
406
; Owen,
Preliminary Analysis
,
19
.
27. Between 1973 and 1979 the author could not find any articles in Farm Bureau News, Farmer's Digest, or Cattleman that even mentioned the mutilation episode.
28. For a history of cattle ranching in Rio Arriba County, see, Paul F. Starrs,
Let the Cowboy Ride: Cattle Ranching in the American West
(
Baltimore
:
Johns Hopkins University Press
,
1998
), Chpt. 5.
29. Rommel,
Operation
,
1
,
2
,
29
,
85
.
30. Ball,
Building the Beef Industry
,
178
,
191
,
177
.
31.
USDA, Statistical Reporting Service
,
“Cattle,”
July
1975
,
3
.
32.
“Toxicology: Sheep and the Army,”
Time
,
Apr.
5
,
1968
,
104
; Timothy Egan,
“Politics: A New Populist; Idaho Freshman Embodies GOP's Hope and Fear in ‘96,”
New York Times
,
Jan.
15
,
1996
.