Rural America is steeped in lore, the otherworldly, the supernatural. Where the wilderness begins, humanity’s capacity for the strange and unexplained increases. During the 1970s, dispatches from the far-flung wilds of the American West reported unsettling happenings: valuable livestock had been found killed and mutilated under unusual circumstances.
A 1979 examination of the cattle mutilations sweeping the American West by the Federal Bureau of Investigation said the bodies of several bovines were found cut up, excised, often unexplainably bloodless, and missing unusual body parts such as ears, eyeballs, jaw flesh, tongues, lymph nodes, genitals, or rectums.
The investigation was called “Operation Animal Mutilation.” FBI Agent Kenneth Rommel headed up the investigation that determined by 1979 upwards of 10,000 cattle had been “mysteriously mutilated.”
The investigation attributed the overwhelming majority of these deaths to natural predation but did give ground that their investigation had uncovered some “anomalies” that could not be attributed to predation. No culprit or culprits were identified as suspects.
It is worth noting the majority of these occurrences were in Colorado, Wyoming, and other Western Plain states. But, as many residents know all too well, the strange often is attracted to the lands of Mendocino County. One of the earliest and most notable cattle mutilations to occur in the Golden State happened here, where reportedly seven Covelo cattle were found mutilated on the Round Valley floor.
An unauthored news clip published in the The Times Standard on January 14, 1976 reported that “deliberately mutilated cattle have been reported near [Covelo, in] northern Mendocino County.” Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Barron L. Hankes, who was serving as the “livestock investigator,” revealed that “six animals owned by three ranchers in this area have been found dead and sexually mutilated in the past two weeks.”
Hankes told The Times-Standard the dead animals had their “anus, genitalia, and tounges cut out, and that the heifers had the teats of the utters cut off.” One of the animals had been reportedly “drained of blood.”
Hankes said that the wounds had been “definitely made by humans, and not by dogs or coyotes.” The animals had no other wounds besides the mutilations, Deputy Hankes said laboratory tests had revealed no cause for their deaths.
On April 19, 1976, Deputy Hankes was once again featured, this time by James A. Finefrocks’s article “The great mutilation mystery” in The San Francisco Chronicle and provided more insight into his investigation of the Covelo cattle killings.
First off, Finefrock reports that the number of cattle killed had been upped to seven–all occurring between November 1975 and January 1976. Deputy Hankes said “three of them were definitely mutilated by humans.” The location of all seven, mutilated in the Covelo Valley itself versus the hills or other parts of the county, indicated to Hankes that “It was like someone wanted us to find them.”
Deputy Hankes told The San Francisco Chronicle reporter, “I think the first one was real.” The next two killings were “takeoffs from the first,” Deputy Hankes said, “and the other four were from people who got spooked and reported cattle killed by animals.”
Though we’ve located no more reports of cattle mutilation in Mendocino County, as recently as 2019 there have been widely reported incidents of cattle mutilation in other areas. In October 2019, several cattle were reportedly mutiliated and killed that summer in Eastern Oregon. A shocking photo associated with the incident went viral portraying a carcass that appeared to have been drained of any liquids, almost empty and crumpled in appearance.
More recently, cattle mutilations have re-emerged in Wheeler County, Oregon. Wheeler County Sheriff’s Office has repeatedly posted about the mutilations on their Facebook page providing a visceral depiction of the strange injuries and wounds that are emblematic of this phenomenon
To this day conspiracy theorists and late-night radio listeners ponder these cattle mutilations and their possible connection to UFOs, cults, Satanists, or a government experiment gone wrong. Regardless, the fact these cattle mutilations cropped up in the far northeast corner of Mendocino County is a testament to the strange, magnetic power these hills, valleys, and shores contain.