SAN LUIS VALLEY — The death of a horse 50 years ago put this area on the world map and discussion continues today.
A diary of an old family friend says it took place on Sept. 27, while other accounts have the incident happening Sept. 3, 19 and when The Associated Press (AP) finally picked it up in early October that year.
An Appaloosa named Lady was a creature of habit, living on the barren, windswept plains along the base of Mount Blanca, so it was unusual when she didn’t come to the fence behind the King home for her water and usual treat.
An aging bachelor, Harry King lived with his elderly mom, Agnes, and cared for the horse belonging to his sister, Nellie Lewis, who lived in town.
Harry went out to look for the horse. He found her lying on her side, with her head stripped bare to the bone from haunches upward.
An experienced rancher, he told his sister that the precision cuts and other injuries couldn’t have come from a coyote or even a pack of them.
No blood remained in the horse’s body and there was none on the ground.
A series of strange burns were on the ground a strong “medicinal” smell akin to acetone hanging in the air.
Nellie called a friend and then hurried to the ranch. What she found there is carved in the annals of history, embellished by numerous short films, folk legends and books, which have brought fame to the authors.
Somewhere along the line, the poor animal was poked, prodded and renamed “Snippy.”
When Nellie and husband Berle Lewis began walking around the grisly scene, the odor was still in the air and the bones appeared to have been exposed to the sun for years.
In the immediate area, they found what appeared to be 15 circular burn marks.
A hundred yards north of the carcass they found a three-foot bush squashed to within inches of the ground. The area within a 10 foot radius of the bush had also be flattened to within 10 inches of the ground.
On the bushes, Nellie found some gelatin-like blobs and a piece of metal encased in a piece of horse hair. After touching those eerie items, her hand began to burn, and turned red and lasted until she washed her hands.
Then they found more flattened brush but this time there were six indentations forming a circle three feet in diameter. Each indentation was two inches across and four inches deep. They appeared to have hosted a teepee-shaped device of some sort.
Duane Martin, a United States Forest Service employee arrived with a civil defense geiger counter and tested the clumps. The area around the carcass was also radioactively high. So were Nellie’s boots.
The exhaust marks were radioactive, as were the areas where the brush had been flattened.
Since that time, many residents reported sighting unidentified flying objects. One man said his car was followed by a top shaped object and a student at nearby Adams State College said both his rear tires blew out as he approached an object as it sat in a field.
Several days later, park police at the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Monument found Dr. John Altshuler, an award-winning pathologist with an extensive history of contributions to medicine trespassing on the monument after dark.
As the police lectured him about breaking the law, he begged for them to keep his name a secret, afraid that not only an arrest, but that his reason for being in the park in the first place would ruin his career. He was searching for UFOs.
When the park officers found out that Dr. Altshuler’s area of expertise was in the study of blood coagulation, they decided to let him off the hook under one condition: that he take a ride out to Harry King’s ranch to view the remains of Lady and see if he, a medical expert, could make some sense out of them. Since he was clearly into weird things already, Dr. Altshuler agreed.
When he arrived at the body, he recalled being “amazed” by what he saw. The animal’s lungs, heart, and thyroid completely missing, removed with some of the cleanest cuts he had ever seen. At the edges, the sliced skin was a deep black in color.
Even stranger to him was the lack of blood on the scene.
Interviewed years later, he told a reporter, “I have done hundreds of autopsies. You can’t cut into a body without getting some blood. But there was no blood on the skin or the ground. No blood anywhere, the outer edges of the skin were cut firm, almost as if they had been cauterized by a modern day laser, but there was no cauterizing laser technology like that in 1967.”
The Associated Press picked up the story on Oct. 5, 1967 and it didn’t take long before the account was filling the newspapers, who had dubbed the horse “Snippy.” Reporters from Associated Press, United Press International, The London Times, Parish Match, periodical magazines and publications devoted to strange things and stranger happenings arrived. A reporter for the Rocky Mountain News observed that Lady/Snippy had become more famous in death than Man O’ War was in his prime.
A guard was placed at the gate, pending investigation by the Aerial Phenomenon Research Organizaion (APRO) as news of the UFO involvement eventually reached the Condon Committee, a group funded by the U.S. Air Force from 1966 to 1968 at the University of Colorado. Their purpose was to study reports of UFOs, the number of which had boomed since the 1947 incident in Roswell.
While the first obvious place to lay the blame for the mutilation is space aliens, those not simply content with stories of flying saucers attributed the injuries to everything from secret government projects to the work of menacing satanic cults.
After being removed from the meadow, Snippy’s bones began an odyssey of their own. Wired together by a veterinarian, they were standing on a base that could be moved. They’re missing now.
However, her legacy hangs over the San Luis Valley.
Sky watchers frequent the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and the nearby UFO Watchtower, hoping to see something from outer space.
One thing upon which all can agree: The horse died in September 1967.
Berle Lewis pounded a stake in the ground with plans to erect a monument, but Nellie died and the plans faded away.
Most people agree that Snippy, a 3-year-old Appaloosa, died in a meadow in the middle of the night in September 1967.
Alamosa veterinarian Wallace Leary was so intrigued by the idea that extraterrestrials had whacked the horse that in 1968 he had Snippy’s skeleton mounted on a metal platform, her bones held together by wires and screws.
In that condition, Snippy traveled around the San Luis Valley town. She spent a few years on the sidewalk in front of the Chamber of Commerce. She was in a museum for a while. She ended up in an abandoned house on Carl Heflin’s ranch for as long as two decades.
A journey to visit Nellie Lewis’ grave in the Pioneer Uracca Cemetery yielded the sact that the cement that held her headstone had been turned sideways. She died of her own hand near there and at least four persons involved in the original investigation have also died suddenly and mysteriously
Snippy’s story is still being told and books are still being published. A three-year-old Appaloosa mare lost her head and her fame continues.