Review: “Mystery Stalks The Prairie”

Mystery Stalks The Prairie (Riverbend Publishing; 2021) was originally published in 1976, and the fact that it is being republished in 2021 should speak to the interest it generated over the decades, as well as the influence it has had on discussion of its subject matter: Cattle mutilations. A collaboration between Keith Wolverton, who was then a sheriff’s deputy in Cascade County, Montana, and writer Roberta Donovan, it’s a book-length exploration of Wolverton and his fellow officers’ investigation of a series of cattle mutilations in and around his county in the 1970s. 

As to what, exactly, was responsible for the mutilations, Wolverton did not, in the original book, come to any conclusions, but he was open to any and all possible explanations, no matter how out there those explanations might seem. These included that perhaps some sort of devil-worshipping cult was killing cattle and taking pieces of them to use in occult rituals, that perhaps people were using helicopters to capture and cut-up cows for even more mysterious reasons and, of course, that it was all the work of aliens, or whoever it was exactly that rides around in UFOs. 

There was— perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not—a lot of UFO activity in the area at the time, and entire chapters are devoted to Wolverton and his fellow officers chasing down UFOs. And he meant, I should perhaps note, UFOs in the in the truest sense of the term—rather than flying saucers or strange vehicles, the flying objects were completely unidentified. Sometimes they were no more than mysterious lights in the sky, other times they seemed to be helicopters or other conventional aircraft, but not ones that anyone in a position to know could identify. 

The 2021 publication includes the entire 1976 original book, plus several new features. There’s a new introduction by Montana UFOs and Extraterrestrials author Joan Bird (which includes the revelation of a 1947 cattle mutilation on a Blackfeet reservation in Montana, one linked pretty directly to extraterrestrials), a new epilogue written by Wolverton in 2019, and the transcript of a 2016 interview of Wolverton and Pete Howard, a retired sheriff of Teton County in Montana who, like Wolverton, was involved in the original investigation.

So, as interesting as UFOs may be, what makes this a book to discuss on a blog devoted to monsters and cryptozoology? Well, among all the other strangeness Wolverton and company were investigating in the seventies, there were also sightings of large, hairy humanoid creatures of the Bigfoot variety—although, curiously enough, in the 1976 text, Wolverton never uses the word “Bigfoot: or “Sasquatch,” but continually refers to them as “the creature” or “creatures.” 

The eleventh chapter of the book is “Hairy Creatures, Eight Feet Tall” and, begins:

Law officers have been unable so far to find an explanation for the sequence in which the strange events have occurred.

First there was the rash of cattle mutilations, then the many sightings of unidentified helicopters, followed by numerous UFO sightings and—more recently—the reports of people who saw one or more strange hairy creatures that walked upright like a man.

There was overlapping, but one type of activity seemed to decline as another started.

There was a December 1974 sighting by a man who said he saw a creature between seven and eight feet tall that looked like a grizzly bear; he fired his gun at it three times to no effect, and then retreated to his car as it kept coming toward him.

There was a December 26, 1975 sighting by two junior high girls of a creature between seven and seven and a half feet tall and twice as wide as a man, with a face that was “dark and awful looking and not like a human’s.”

One of the girls’ father said he heard “a sound that he could only describe as like a human dying an agonizing death” that he attributed to one of the creatures. Such cries were heard by others in the area, and was among the circumstantial evidence relating to the creatures that Wolverton found when he investigated.

The most dramatic sighting was that of a 16-year-old boy who saw a tall, hairy creature walking in the pasture outside of his home on the morning of April 4, 1976. Like many Bigfoot sightings, this creature appeared not to have a neck, and was further described as being entirely covered with dark hair about an inch long, save for his face. The boy thought the creature, which walked smoothly with long strides and didn’t seem to bend its knees much, was about eight feet tall. It met another creature. The witness provided sketches of the creature, which are reproduced in the book.

There is a bit of follow-up regarding the creatures in the next chapter, as Wolverton wrote of his interaction with groups studying them in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The unnamed spokesmen for one of the groups that Wolverton spoke to at the time told him there was “no doubt the things are real” and that there is some sort of link between the cattle mutilations and the “strange hairy creatures.”

Wolverton further reported that there may be a link between the creatures and UFOs, and notes some ways in which the creatures don’t behave like real flesh and blood animals, like their being seemingly impervious to gunfire, disappearing suddenly, having glowing eyes and so on. 

“One theory being studied by those at the Pennsylvania center is that the creatures may be a psychic phenomenon, visible to some and not to others and possibly non-physical,” Wolverton wrote.

In the context of the book, however, they are just one more sort of strangeness that seemed to plague Wolverton’s beat, and which he investigated but could come to no conclusions regarding.

In the 2019 epilogue to the updated edition that Wolverton wrote, he notes some post-retirement investigations he conducted, at which time he seemed more open to embracing more outre explanations for some of the mysteries he wrote about in the 1970s. 

“After retiring, I knew I was never going to solve the cattle mutilations, so I decided to investigate the possibility of finding Bigfoot,” Wolverton wrote.

He did not, but tells a bit about he and a fellow researcher went on trips to California, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska, and talks in detail about some of the investigations, sharing witness reports.

One of particular interest to readers of Monsters of Ohio may be that a man reported finding “a large woven nest among a group of trees” in Alaska, similar, perhaps to the nest Bigfoot investigators found in the Akron area in the 1990s and attributed to the Grassman. 

“The nest appeared to be five feet by four feet,” Wolverton wrote. “It was interesting because it seemed to be woven into an oval shape by grass and twigs.” 

Hair samples found in the nest were tested, and turned out to belong to a bear. That trip concluded Wolverton’s search for Bigfoot, a term he used freely in his 2019 epilogue, even if he seemed to carefully avoid using it in the original text of Mystery Stalks the Prairie.

Because so much of the book reads exactly like what it is—a law enforcement officer uncommitted to a particular theory investigating strange happenings—there’s a certain dryness to the proceedings that might make it a difficult read for some readers, despite the relative brevity of the book. It’s nevertheless an interesting work, mostly because it is the work of an open-minded public servant trying to make some sense out of what seems to be completely senseless. 

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