Things That Influence My Writing: Montana Cow Mutilations

Newspaper clipping from the Billings Gazette, October 10, 1975

**Content Warning: This post discusses the killing and mutilation of animals by unknown perpetrator(s) over the past 50+ years in the United States. As a non-beef eater myself, reader discretion is advised**

While the world is caught up with everything that is 2020 (do you have your apocalypse bingo card yet?) I’d like to visit an ongoing state and national news story that captured my attention when I first moved to Montana in 2013. In October, 2019, new developments arose. I think it’s time to share this news with readers for the purpose of distraction. So, I’ll compile some basic information here. While I have some thoughts on what the possible explanations could be, I will save those for the end.

Cow Mutilations

From the GIPHY keyboard

On October 2, 2019 the Billings Gazette reported a new report of 5 dead cattle being found in Salem, Oregon. While tragic, the random death of cattle in the Pacific Northwest would not turn heads under normal circumstances. These were not normal circumstances. Instead, this was the newest report in an ongoing series of documented cow mutilations throughout the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, with the majority of documented cases in Montana, dating back to the 1970s.

According to the original newspaper clipping from the Billings Gazette on October 10, 1975 (shown above) about 175 reports of mutilations were gathered from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho in addition to Montana at that time. At that time, given the cost of the equipment necessary to cause the types of mutilations and damages found, the issue stumped authorities, leading to the concern of a cult traveling throughout the country traveling “by helicopter”. Reasonably so, this was thought to be ridiculous.

There is a Wikipedia page on Cattle Mutilation as a general concept, but it is important to note that this page includes international and domestic horse, goat, and other unidentified livestock incidents. These non-bovine and international incidents have mutilation patterns not matching those specifically found in the mutilated cattle of the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. That said, they may still be worth discussing for contrasting purposes.

The Investigation

From the GIPHY keyboard

The common pattern with these mutilations is that the sex organs and tongues are removed with all blood drained from the corpse. An investigative report mentioned in a 2001 article in the New York Times mentioned that a group that researches these incidents, The National Institute for Discovery Science, did find one interesting variation in a case in Utah where there was a hole in the head of one of the cattle with both BHT and Formaldehyde present, indicating that an embalming/preservation process took place. This group is/was funded by Robert Bigelow – a man that became obsessed with aliens and the Skinwalker Ranch – a place so notorious even the History Channel has added it to their questionable line up.

As their website is now defunct and it is hard to find information on anything other than his alien focused ventures, I am not going to spend much time focusing on this aspect for now.

I used the Wayback Machine to look up their website and I have to admit it’s hard to take this seriously. Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20071009234743/http://www.nidsci.org/

Another common element between all of these cases? They remain unsolved. To give readers an idea of how extensive and compelling these reports are, there is an open case file with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the recurring ritualistic serial mutilation of cattle. At this time, the FBI only investigates mutilations that occur on tribal land and all have been closed unsolved according to the Billings Gazette.

Private and public reward monies for information regarding cattle mutilations continue to accumulate, including a $25,000 reward for the recent mutilation in Oregon.

My Interest And Thoughts On These Events

From the GIPHY keyboard

Shortly before moving to Montana, on March 1, 2013, a rancher found more mutilated cows approximately 5 miles outside of Browning. Given how current it was in the news, this provided the opportunity for me to learn more about these incidents and start compiling information on this truly bizarre fascination.

Spoiler Alert: I don’t think this has anything to do with aliens. While I do not dismiss the possibility of life in this universe more intelligent than humans, I don’t think it is coming to Earth and messing with our cows.

I have 7 years of research and thoughts on these events and there are a few options regarding what I can do with this information. The option currently in the lead:

  • Start An Investigative Podcast/YouTube Series With A Funny Name

I would present each individual documented event in chronological order, the information available that I’ve been able to gather, any additional leads people are able to provide, and similarities between the events that I’ve been able to observe. This would then include leads from listeners that have been followed up on in later episodes.

The reasoning behind presenting the same information in two formats is because I want to be inclusive of non-auditory individuals, and those needing closed captioning and/or lip reading to assist with auditory processing. For more information on auditory processing disorders you can visit that website or read the Wikipedia page here.

Possible Explanations

From the GIPHY keyboard – credit to Trey Parker and Matt Stone

The big rule here driving my investigation: It’s Not Aliens. The perpetrators could be many things, but the response of “aliens” has become the standard cop-out. There is a lot of additional evidence, even from those that do believe aliens visit earth, to suggest these mutilations are not being performed by aliens.

I mentioned before that I have thoughts on alternative explanations. I don’t think these cases are going to be a “one explanation fits all” kind of thing. These potential explanations include: insurance fraud, publicity, public diversion from other questionable activities, ritualistic or cult activity, and intimidation. That said, I absolutely expect that there are potential explanations that I have not yet thought of. Who knows – maybe I will be proven wrong and there are aliens. I have to be open to that possibility, no matter how skeptical I am and how little I think it makes sense.

TL;DR

If you are interested in this kind of investigative podcast about the unsolved mysterious cow mutilations that have been ongoing throughout the United States for at least the past 50 years, please like this post and/or comment your suggestion for title of the series, what excites you the most, or if you have any thoughts you would like to contribute. If you think a friend would like to listen to this podcast or would have anything to contribute, please share this.

I’m excited to have as much input as possible in this 100% bizarre side project, even if you disagree with me and want to tell me you think I’m wrong; even if you insist that it’s aliens.

If this gains enough interest (100 likes) I will launch the first episode of the podcast.

Until then, I will continue to focus my efforts on reviews, my book becoming available for pre-order later this summer, “A Hundred Different Skies”, and my short story collection coming out early next year.

As always, thank you for reading. Without you, this post would have been meaningless electrons sent out into the void.

Lo Is Domestic AF: Homemade Sauerkraut FAIL

This year we joined a CSA to support the local economy and are likely to continue doing so moving forward. We received cabbage in one of our weekly shares, so we decided to use Joshua Weissman’s recipe for sauerkraut. His recipe is not to blame. I take all the blame on this one. Jacob says he wants to take some of it too.

Unfortunately, this did not go as planned. Three days in everything seemed okay. We extended to the full seven days. Maybe that’s where we went wrong.

First, we lifted the bags full of water off the top of the cabbage. Immediately, something wasn’t right. I have a very sensitive nose. Jacob really had to shove his face in there to get a good whiff. He refused to allow me to take a picture of his reaction, so I agreed to put my face in it so he could get a truly emotive video.

I smelled rotten, vomit inducing cabbage for all of you. I hope you’re happy. No. I did not eat it. 🦆 🤢 🤮

I hate wasting food, but I want to learn how to make these things. I will do full troubleshooting later, but I think I will use more pH based microbial selection for lactobacillus in the future. That means buying litmus paper and doing daily testing, plus adjusting the pH using vinegar.

You may have noticed that we had two jars. That’s because I wanted red pepper flakes in one of the batches. I can’t say anything for what this did because they both smelled so bad.

In other news: we’re out of risotto rice, so there’s been a delay in making our pesto risotto, but we have made another new batch of vegan pesto. I can post that recipe next. Additionally, we have a lot more of those chocolate chip cookie mixes for us to doctor with random things. I would love to hear suggestions!

If you enjoyed this, please like, comment, and/or share this post. I would love to hear what strange ingredients you want to try mixing into chocolate chip cookies. Turmeric might be a good one 🤔

Thank you for reading. I hope everyone has a wonder weekend and a beautiful summer solstice ☀️🌈🌞

February 2020: “Trillium” by Margaret Lindsay Holton

Summary (Caution – Mild Spoilers):

Margaret Holton’s “Trillium” is a story of how three families settle in the Beamsville, Ontario area. The first family begins with Colonel Thomas Hartford and his land grant after the end of the North American Theater of the Seven Years War. These original colonizers eventually chase the native population away, bringing their European culture and farming techniques. With this, they also bring European plants, and with each new wave of immigrants, the crops change ever so slightly.

Skip ahead 80 years. The next immigrant introduced is 15-year-old Francesco “Franco” Di Angelo. He is a hard-working Italian that comes to the region with the dream of working the land and buying a piece of his own. He is passionate about agriculture and family. It takes some time to build up his fortune, and the reader watches through the eyes of a laborer as the Niagara region experiences the earliest stages of its infrastructural revolution. Eventually, Franco joins forces with Thomas Hartford’s descendent (also named Thomas Hartford), and their families become intertwined.

Skip ahead another 50 years, and our third immigrant is introduced. Paddy O’Sullivan is an Irish immigrant looking for his big break, and he gets it. He manages to purchase unused land and other properties and leases adjacent land to the Hartford Farm on a 99-year lease.

This book follows the Hartford family’s farm through the generations starting in 1759 and closing in 2001. The Hartfords, Di Angelos, and O’Sullivans cross-pollinate through trials and tribulations of agricultural life. “Trillium” follows the constant battle between Capitalism and Traditionalism, with the secret ingredient of remembering your roots.

Overall Reaction:

I find the story of a multigenerational farm and its growth fascinating. I think the book has potential. There’s murder, intrigue, incest, affairs, and mystery. There are very human characters that make mistakes and ignore the faults of others. There is an alluring family vendetta that is so vile and gross it makes the reader feel soiled.

One of the recurring themes I enjoyed was that of building renovation and redecorating overtime. The additions of indoor plumbing to a farmhouse or new double pane windows to keep drafts out involve the reader over time. Additionally, this is where I noticed the struggle between capitalism and traditionalism the carried out in the changing of home furnishings and preservation of heirlooms. Additional details, such as the effects of the passage of time on buildings, molding statues, and chipping paint, provided an elegant backdrop to the impact of neglect in home life. How the home evolved over 250 years never left me wanting for detail.

In historical fiction, great liberties can be taken with many things, but not dates and facts. Many historical fiction books have bibliographies at the end of them from the fact-checking process. With both of these factors in mind, the structure of a historical fiction book should not necessitate a separate written timeline to be made and math to be done on the part of the reader to place when different events are occurring. This is particularly troublesome when there are inconsistencies in the dates of events.

The majority of the action occurs late in the book and focuses on a very privileged set of characters. I connected most with this famiglia that seemed to get left behind even though they did a lot of the work. The decreasing focus resolves to include a few of the family members in the privileged characters’ shenanigans. By far, this jovial, mostly virtue driven family, brought a smile to my face more often than not.

I had a hard time suspending disbelief. This difficulty was due to historical inaccuracies, changing the referred names of characters without context as to why a character would use that name for someone, and misnaming of characters present in a scene. Additionally, I experienced cognitive dissonance with my own life experiences, having grown up and worked in and around agricultural communities for the majority of my life.

Let me explain the cognitive dissonance: I grew up in small-town semi-rural America. My exposure to wineries came in my late 20s in rural California and Montana. Rustic and modest is how I’d describe the ones I’ve seen, but I’ve never been to Napa Valley. I spent the earliest part of my life fresh out of undergrad in the agriculture and land surveying industries in different parts of the United States. I never saw the opulence described in this book. Even the best-managed multigenerational farms of the American side of the Great Lakes are scrappy as hell trying to keep everything together. To me, the money from material objects over time mentioned in the book didn’t add up to buying in to social clubs or status. To check other inconsistencies, my mom worked on an “organic” by the 1970s definition co-op farm, so I gave her a call and ran my dissonance by her. While this helped by explaining how definitions changed, it did bring a lot of my conflict back to the fact-checking concern.

I recognize that this is different from rural Canada, though the Niagara region seems to have moderate pockets of rural life. [Addendum for clarification: the following is from my own life and is not from the book – this is part of my own cognitive dissonance and is part of me explaining why I do not connect with the characters] I don’t know how often in rural Canada when over at the neighbor’s house they’ll tell you the name of the cow you’re eating at a barbecue. Perhaps I don’t possess the frame of mind to connect with the privilege these characters have with their multi-million dollar lifestyles.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the premise of the story and some of the characters, but found myself unable to be involved in the story as I was constantly jarred away and unable to suspend disbelief. That said, other readers may not share this experience.

LGBTQA+

While there are major characters that are LGBTQA+, I would not recommend this book for booklists looking for positive, accurate representation as these characters perpetuate what the Advocate’s Tracy E. Gilchrist and Daniel Reynolds describe as “17 LGBT Tropes Hollywood Needs to Retire“. For further explanation, GLAAD has been fighting statistically inaccurate misrepresentation in storytelling for some time. As a member of this community it is my duty to include a content warning. This book contains the following potentially harmful tropes:

  • pedophilia & predation tropes related to repression
  • sex, drugs & hedonism
  • “bury your queers”
  • “the depraved homosexual”
  • “the sissy villain”
  • “the bi-erasing bisexual”
  • “the promiscuous queer”

Grammar & Punctuation

There were issues with grammar and punctuation that, while interrupting to the reading experience, could easily be corrected with editing software such as Grammarly, Hemingway, or Fictionary.

Twilight Zone Moments

The structure of the book jumps around without specifying dates, while using highly specific details lending themselves to dates leading to inconsistencies and confusion. The examples I’m going to use is regarding a car that a character buys and a disappearing character.

The Mazda RX7 came out in 1978 and someone could get one in Canada if you knew a guy who knew a guy, if you drove across the border into the United States. This purchase is mentioned without the year. Then the story changes to a different scene years before this car was available without mentioning the year, causing disorientation.

A character disappears and is never heard from again after her brother returns from WWII and takes over the family farm. It is unknown if she outlives her brother, but I would have imagined that she would have received some part of his will. Right? Perhaps I have a better relationship with my siblings.

Want To Read More About The Author?
You can read my interview with Margaret Lindsay Holton here. You can purchase the book here. Follow the book on Twitter here.