By SETH BOSTER, The Gazette
HOOPER, Colo. (AP) — Judy Messoline walks into the garage and frowns at the horse skeleton.
“Oh,” she sighs, “dear Snippy.”
Snippy is long gone, dead for 55 years now, a victim of something or someone. The tragedy remains a debate – however, not so much here in the San Luis Valley. Here, in this sparsely populated valley of great starry skies, there is a close consensus as to what happened during that gruesome scene depicted in publications around the world in 1967.
Ask around, and it seems everyone here has a UFO story. This one on Snippy is the most famous of them all, a local legend that has captivated people far beyond southern Colorado.
It’s only fitting that the bones of the Appaloosa now end up here at the UFO Watchtower, Messolina’s roadside attraction.
For the first time in decades, Snippy will return to the screen. This summer, she is slated to move into a purpose-built building Messolina attached to the observation dome people have come to know along Colorado 17, the so-called “Cosmic Highway.”
Of all the things that have been added to UFO Watchtower in 22 years – the campground, the mystical garden, the sightings recorded in the pages of a binder – “Snippy is the most exciting,” says Messoline. She’s either joking or being serious when she adds that the skeleton was also the most expensive (she declines to say the price, but at one point the remains went up for sale on eBay for $50,000).
The price explains why Messolina expects to increase the $2 entrance cost of the watchtower. She also plans to sell new T-shirts.
“The World Famous Snippy Horse”, Messoline plans to print on it. “Google it!”
Google it – but be warned, you’ll come across these awful images.
Or see the skeleton for yourself. See the hole at the top of the skull that Messoline points out.
“You can see where they cut through the skull to get to the brain,” she says. “There was no brain.”
There were, it seems, several missing organs. Some said it was as if they had been sucked in, as if they had melted, disappeared like flesh above the shoulders. In a meadow near King Ranch, the family’s owners found most of the body intact, except for the head to the collar. From the nose to the neck, the meat and the skin had disappeared, the bones had been cleaned.
The 3-year-old mare’s name wasn’t exactly Snippy. It was Lady. Snippy was the catchy name given to him by a local journalist, whose dispatch was picked up by news agencies around the world.
According to the story that circulated, the young mare did not return to the stable one day, “and her owner blames a flying saucer – or at least a radioactive surgeon”.
“It was a windy morning, September 8, 1967,” begins another account, by Christopher O’Brien in his book, “Stalking the Herd.”
It’s a book that comes out of his years of extraterrestrial research in the San Luis Valley, where he lived from 1989 to 2002. O’Brien continued to collaborate on high-profile films and surveillance equipment.
Snippy, he says, was the case that inspired this lifelong interest. In 1967, as a boy in a grocery store in Bellevue, Washington, he remembered the tabloid headline at the checkout: “Flying Saucers Killed My Horse!”
O’Brien remembers begging his mother for a quarter or two. “I just devoured the article before going home,” he says.
Fifty-five years later, he’s not so sure about alien killers. When it comes to “dismemberment cases,” as they are called in his field, “I consider myself an objective and unbiased observer,” he says. He notes a long list of possible explanations for dismembered cattle ranchers tend to come up with.
But when it comes to Snippy, “it’s like Roswell or Kenneth Arnold,” O’Brien says, citing other high-profile cases you can also Google. “He is the grandfather or the grandmother of all cases of mutilation. It is considered the first mutilation in terms of international media coverage. And it was unlike any case reported since. It was one of those instances of slam dunk, I think, that really showed how impossible it was to ignore the weirdness of it all.
However, it was ruled out by researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder commissioned by the Air Force.
The Condon Report concluded: “There was no evidence to support the claim that the horse’s death was in any way associated with abnormal causes.” According to the report, there was evidence of an infection that likely killed the horse and a cut that could have allowed magpies and scavengers to enter the entrails.
But the King Ranch family was unconvinced.
In 1993, O’Brien interviewed the late Berle Lewis, husband of the late owner of Snippy/Lady. Lewis wondered how the corpse could appear like this – no blood around it, he and his family claimed, no residue on the bones, “bleaching” – in the space of just one day, since the horse would have faded away. It was also rumored that the bones were turning pink. Some said a “sweet smell like medicine” wafted through the air, and others observed large round “burn marks” in the ground.
O’Brien quoted Lewis: “I know it’s something that we, I don’t know, killed the horse. I told myself that after all these years, I would have the answers, but I have no answers.
A local vet suggested some. After discovering two bullet holes in the bones, Dr. Wallace Leary theorized in The Pueblo Chieftain in 1968:
“…and I say that’s just a theory is that two kids hit her with a few .22 bullets. Then the horse gets scared and flies off at high speed and runs through a I’ve seen it before, this wire can clean an animal like a knife slicing cheese.
Leary was quoted at the time he acquired the skeleton for display in his office: “I thought we might as well keep her here, because (she) gave us more publicity than we could ever afford” , did he declare.
Advertising continues at UFO Watchtower.
O’Brien couldn’t help but laugh at the news of Messoline’s purchase. “It’s the story that keeps on giving,” says O’Brien.
It’s a story Jay Young has heard throughout his life in the San Luis Valley. He runs the local alligator park, the other roadside amusement operator Messoline tapped to work on Snippy for display.
Young considered himself “excited” and “honored”. And also a little scared.
“I always wonder, you know, what if Snippy could talk,” he says.
If only, Messoline agrees.
Then again, she thinks, maybe it’s best to keep it all mysterious. Better keep Snippy’s strange story in the press.
“Leave the press,” remarks Messoline, thanking us as we leave Snippy’s garage.
It’s a windy day. Which reminds Messoline of another mystery as she locks the garage door.
“Crazy,” she said. “There are days when I know it’s locked, and it’s like the wind has opened it.”
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