Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Shunka Warak'in: A Mystery in Plain Sight

Through a series of odd coincidences, I have become an integral part of the modern urban legend of the Shunka Warak'in, so I thought it would be worth writing down my part in the saga so far, and the other things that have been part of the legend since Loren Coleman, famed cryptozoologist and creator of the blog Cryptomundo wrote (along with Jerome Clark) his 1999 book Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature.

When I was working as an archaeologist at the Helena National Forest back in the early 1990s, there was a landscape architect by the name of Rae Ellen Moore there. She wrote a book called Just West of Yellowstone: A Guide to Exploring and Camping : A Travel Sketchbook of the Area West of Yellowstone National Park, first published in 1987. (That was the FIRST edition of the book; I notice the revised 2006 edition by Rae Ellen Lee (she since remarried) now has omitted the entry I am about to talk about.) I read through Rae Ellen's book and saw she had gone to a small museum in Henry's Lake, Idaho that had a mount of a mysterious hyena-like animal. She had a little sketch of the animal as well. I asked her about it since she had seen it, and she said it looked like a hyena or something to her, and not at all like a coyote or wolf. Since I have always been into mysteries of that sort, it sparked great curiosity in me, though I was never able to get over that way to see it for myself. I soon found out the museum had closed and no one knew what happened to its collection of taxidermy. I was disappointed of course.

I began attending Iowa State University in 1991 to work on my graduate degree in Anthropology. My thesis subject was the sacred bundle system of my tribe, the Ioway. While gathering materials from various museums, I got the notes from Alanson Skinner in the early 1900s while he was collecting artifacts from the tribe. Associated with the "Big Ioway War Bundle" (Waroxawa), was an item called a "Hyena" skin, called "canka iwarawakya" (carrying off dogs). Skinner is notorious for strage transcriptions of the Ioway language; note here Skinner has canka (pronounced shahnka) when in 1848 they wrote "dog" as shunka, and today, the same (though some add 'ukenye which means "ordinary"). Skinner's word would be something like: shunka iwarawakiya.

In simpler modern Ioway transcription, "Carries-off-dogs" would be normally written as shunka warak'in (SHOON-kah wah-rahk-EEn) (the final "n" is not pronounced, but just nasalizes the EE sound before it). Shunka = dog. Wa= something, ra=mouth, k'in= to carry (Good Tracks, Iowa-Otoe-Missouria Language 1992: 117, etc.). Literally, "something that carries dogs in its mouth."

The notes gave the following account:

"Once a long time [ago,] every night some dogs were gone, and the people in the village, and the young men got up a war party. They thought it was [the] enemy [who was stealing the dogs], and laid for it. They had the horses and so on, and when this thing came, they fought it like a person and killed it. When it died it cried like a person. That is why they put it in the bundle, because it seemed to have a power. They shot at him a lot of times and never killed him, and followed him a day and a half. They painted the hide and used it in war to keep from being hit. [The hide was] worn across the shoulder." (Alanson Skinner fieldnotes)

Skinner also wrote about it in his 1926 "Ethnology of the Ioway Indians" (p. 211-212), where he added a couple of details in a slightly different version, again spelling it slightly differently. He also specified the information had come from Chief David Tohee and Joseph Springer (p. 209):

About this time [when the Ioway hero Wanathunje was alive (p. 211)] they killed the animal they called Shonka warawakya (Carrying-off-dogs) and placed its hide in the bundlel. This is how it happened:

One time the people began to miss their dogs. Every morning a few were gone, and no one knew the cause. Some thought it the work of an enemy, so the young men got up a war party and hid themselves so as to surprise and kill the nightly visitor. It turned out to be a strange animal, different from anything they had ever seen before. They named it "Carrying-off-dogs," but it is very like the animal the white people keep in their shows today and call hyena. When it entered the camp, the young warriors attacked it just as if it was a person. Again and again they shot at this creature, and could not kill it, but after following it a day and a half they at last succeeded in putting it to death. When it died, it cried just like a human being. When they heard this, and thought of the hard time they had in killing it, they decided that it must be a creature of great power. So they skinned it, and painted its hide, and later placed the hide in with the other powerful objects in the war bundle, to wear in battle across the shoulder to turn away flying bullets and arrows. But before the hide was put in the bundle, a big dance was held. Immediately afterward a party set out and were very successful, as they killed a number of enemies, returning with many scalps.(SKinner 1926: 211-212).

The Ioway, like other tribes, often took the hides and other parts of animals who had spiritual powers, and placed them in sacred bundles to use as protection in war, often wearing them as amulets. Since the shunka warak'in had been so hard to kill, it would have been thought that by wearing the skin, they too would be hard to kill in war.

Then I recalled the strange beast mentioned by Rae Ellen Moore at Henry's Lake, and making the "hyena" connection, wondered if it and the Shunka Warak'in could be the same animal, perhaps a relict hyena-like animal from earlier Ice Age times that had survived up in the mountains of Montana and Idaho. The Cheyenne have stories of "oldtime animals" that live in the mountains, and appear and disappear mysteriously; they seem to live in the "sand rocks" (the badlands and sandstone buttes).

In 1995, right about the time I first began to use email, I emailed the cryptozoologist Loren Coleman to ask if he had ever heard of something like this. He had not but was very interested. I told him of the connection I had considered between the beast of Henry's Lake and the Shunka Warak'in. I had not heard the term "ringdocus" at that time. Loren seemed very intrigued and said he would ask around. He followed it up more with his cryptozoological contacts and resources.

In 1999, Loren published his book Cryptozoology A to Z and had an entry for "Shunka Warak'in" in that book (p. 221-224). He mentioned my 1995 contact with him, and added research he had uncovered through the cryptozoological community.

Loren reported that cryptozoologist Mark A. Hall had reported "in recent years...sightings of mean-looking, near-wolflike and hyena-like animals have come from Alberta, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois." Hall told Loren of a 1977 book by Ross Hutchins, Ph.D., Trails to Nature's Mysteries: The Life of a Working Naturalist. In it, Hutchins, a zoologist, recounted the story of how his grandfather had shot a mysterious hyena-like animal in the 1880s. The Hutchins family had settled in the West Fork of the Madison River Valley, about 40 miles north of Ennis. His grandfather finally shot the animal, who was described as nearly black in color, with sloping high shoulders like a hyena. His grandfather called the animal "ringdocus." The carcass of the animal was donated to a man who practiced taxidermy, named Sherwood, who had a grocery store and museum at Henry's Lake. That was where Rae Ellen would see it a hundred years later, in the 1980s. Dr. Hutchins had no idea what the animal could have been; apparently he never saw the mount himself. Hutchins had a photograph of the Ringdocus in his book as well (see below).

Although the animal seems to be too small to be a surviving dire wolf or cave hyena, Loren posited that it might be a Borophagus, "an ancient hyena-like dog found during the Pleistocene in North America" (p. 223).

Borophagus ("devouring glutton") is an extinct genus of the subfamily Borophaginae, a group of canids loosely known as "bone-crushing" or "hyena-like" dogs. ...The genus first appeared in the Miocene, and survived until the late Pliocene, when more typical dogs, such as the dire wolf, displaced it. ...Typical features of this genus are a bulging forehead and powerful jaws; it was probably a scavenger....Its crushing premolar teeth and strong jaw muscles would have been used to crack open bone, much like the hyena of the Old World. The adult animal is estimated to have been about 80 cm in length, similar to a coyote, although it was much more powerfully built. ...Borophagus is one of the best-known borophagines. Borophagus probably led a hyena-like lifestyle, like hyenas, it often scavenged, using its keen senses to find carcasses of recently dead animals. Borophagus roamed the plains of North America for 7 million years.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borophagus)

More on Borophagus:

The two things that might be problematic about its identification as belonging to Borophagus is that there is no evidence for Borophagus after the Pliocene and the characteristic high-domed skull which doesn't seem to match the mounted specimen, although it is not clear if the specimen was built around the original skull or not. The painted images from the NPS of course is just an artist's rendition based on present-day hyena appearances; there is no reason a Borophagus could not be near-black.

Loren's Cryptomundo post of Dec. 10, 2006 mentioned an incident that had begun in 2005:

In December 2005, a strange wolf-like animal started killing livestock in McCone, Garfield and Dawson counties, Montana. By March 2006, it had struck six herds of sheep in McCone and Garfield Counties, wounding 71 and killing 36 ewes. The thing had even reached the status of being named; it was called "The Creature of McCone County."

This is the New West article (combined parts I and II):

A Montana Wolf Mystery & the Fury it Breeds

By Hal Herring, 3-29-06

The creature, whatever it is, came out of Montana's own McCone County, wandering from the rough breaks of Timber Creek, just south of the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Reservoir, and the CM Russell Wildlife Refuge. Where it had wandered before that, Canada or North Dakota, nobody knows.

Since December, it has struck six herds of sheep belonging to stockmen in McCone and Garfield Counties, killing 36 ewes, and injuring 71, many of which will succumb to their wounds.

It leaves a track like a small wolf, or a dog, or a wolf-hybrid, but its killing habits are inefficient, nothing like the surgical lethality of a wolf taking meat from a herd of domestic sheep.

Coyotes, those that survive here in the gauntlet of traps and aerial gunnery and cyanide "getters," kill a lot of sheep every year, but nothing like this.

This creature is a traveler, and it is not always alone, though its companion leaves a smaller track still, adding to the mystery. Where it has stopped to kill, over an area of more than a hundred square miles, it has created a fury, one that is not entirely directed at the creature itself (the stockmen here know full well how to handle that problem) but at the federal and state governments, at complex regulations imposed to protect an animal that they despise, and at a far-away society that seems to have lost all respect for them and their constant struggle to remain self-reliant, solvent, and on the land.

"I discovered the devastation on January 12th," said Jim Whitesides, who was keeping his flock of 720 sheep in a half-section holding pasture, right at the corner of McCone and Garfield counties, waiting for drier weather before he moved them onto a grazing allotment on BLM land. "It was terrible warm weather and mud, and when I got there, the sheep were all up milling around on a ridge. I called them all down, and as they came close it just looked like they had all been attacked, blood everywhere, their hams bitten, plugs taken out, like a lemon, and of course then there was some laying around dead."

Whitesides would have 21 dead ewes in that bunch, and 39 injured. He has estimated that the attacks have cost him over $19,000, an almost ruinous blow. "I've seen some terrible coyote damage, but nothing ever like this."

Whitesides has spent his life running cattle and sheep in the Missouri Breaks country. In his speech, there is a slight but distinct brogue, explained by the fact that his mother came to eastern Montana from Scotland in 1906. His father came to the area in 1912. His parents would have seen the last of the wolves in eastern Montana. "Everybody has relatives who claim to have been in on the last wolf killed around here," Whitesides said, "and it must have been around 1920 when they finally got them out of here. They had to, if they were going to raise stock." In his lifetime, he said, he has never had to think about wolf trouble, and he has paid little attention to the conflict over re-introducing wolves to Yellowstone. "That wasn't in my realm, and I couldn't imagine all the fuss over it. We always take a lot of losses -- normally under a hundred head a year, but it's always coyotes." The battle against the coyotes is conducted by stockmen with the help of two full-time trappers who work Garfield County for the federal Wildlife Services Agency.

"We have a very good program here," Whitesides said, "and we couldn't raise livestock without it."

The confusion over the identity of the animal that rampaged though Whitesides' sheep started at another kill site, back in late December, deeper in McCone County. Mike McKeever took a severe hit on his sheep herd sometime on the night after Christmas.

At first, it appeared that only two ewes had been killed, but closer inspection found 15 more ewes that had been attacked but not killed. Ten of them would die of their wounds. By December 28th, the McKeevers had found five more ewes killed. Mike McKeever called their local predator control contractor, a pilot named Jeff Skyberg to see what could be done. Now the plot thickens. McCone County is one of five eastern Montana counties that, about twelve years ago, became disgusted with the federal predator control agency and decided to take over the job themselves by hiring private contractors. But that was before there were any wolves in Montana, or any regulations to protect them. Faced with the carnage at McKeever's ranch, Skyberg called in Wildlife Services agents to help him decide what to do. The men looked at two sets of tracks, and agreed that they had been made by medium sized dogs, or even wolf-hybrids, rather than true wolves. The messiness of the attacks suggested domestic dogs, too, a whole lot of killing instinct untempered by skill.

The agents reported the attacks to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, (FWP) which has taken on the responsibility of managing wolves since an agreement was reached with the federal wildlife agency, and federal funding became available, in early 2005. Wolves are, for now, still listed as an Endangered Species, and the FWP makes its decisions "between the guardrails" of the federal policy, as Carolyn Sime, who directs the wolf program for FWP, describes it. The Wildlife Services agents called Sime, and told her that the problem in McCone County was domestic dogs on a rampage. Since dogs that kill stock are fair game for anybody with a weapon, it seemed as though the problem would soon be solved. Then on January 12th, Whitesides found his sheep attacked.

The next day, reports came in of sheep killings at the McKerlick Ranch in northeastern Garfield County. In a pasture within sight of his house, John McKerlick found, according to an account in the Jordan Tribune, "…lambs with meat, hide and wool dragging on the ground; their insides torn out and a front leg on one torn away. Ten were dead and eight still going … He found two more dead and a 100-110 pound lamb (sic: it was actually a wether) had been eaten and dragged in a 20' diameter circle." Whatever killed the sheep had stayed in the area for a long time, leaving a lot of tracks. "We had an overflow from a watertank that was frozen and held the snow, and he sauntered around all over on that ice," McKerlick said. "I don't know what he was doing all that time."

Like Whitesides, McKerlick has no experience with predation at the level he witnessed that morning. "The tracks are bigger than anything I've seen before. We've never had anything like this. My parents lived just south of here, and in 1923, my dad had a little horse, and the wolves followed him and hamstrung him, killed him, but that was about the last wolf in this part of the country." The Wildlife Services agents that investigated still figured that the mess at McKerlick's was the work of domestic dogs, so nobody called Carolyn Sime at FWP to tell her about the incident.

On February 6th, Jeff Skyberg and his "gunner" Les Thomas, were flying in Skyberg's plane, gunning coyotes as part of their contract for predator control in McCone County, and trying to find the stock killing dogs that were lost somewhere in the immense roll of prairie and the jagged coulee country below them. On a ridge below them, they saw what they were pretty sure was a wolf.

"We got a call from Wildlife Services, saying that Jeff Skyberg had a wolf in his sights in McCone County and could he go ahead and kill it," said Carolyn Sime. "I could not just issue them a kill permit to go out and kill whatever wolves were there. It would have been illegal. We had no reports of wolf kills from there, and the attacks did not fit the pattern of wolf kills. I said no." But Sime and others in the FWP office knew that the denial would infuriate Skyberg and the ranchers in the two county area. "The anger is easy to understand." Sime said, "A government agent has just kept you from doing your job. Jeff exercised tremendous restraint, and I know he's mad … but I could not legally do it. There is no such thing as a no-wolf zone in Montana, no matter what people might think." The FWP went into "a huddle," Sime said. First, with the possible federal delisting of the wolf from the federal Endangered Species Act looming, it was imperative that they remain within the law. So far, Montana's painstakingly achieved wolf management plans are a kind of blueprint for what seems like a balanced management approach for wolves. The plan has been approved by the federal wildlife agency, while Wyoming's plan, which calls for treating the wolves as vermin away from National Parks, cannot be approved, and has so far been the leading obstacle to taking the animal off of the Endangered Species list. Sime and her office were in an odd spotlight that would shine far ahead into derailing the delisting process if they just went ahead and did what the ranchers wanted them to do.

"We stuck our neck out and we authorized Wildlife Services to take the wolf, even though it was technically illegal."

During the huddle and the subsequent back and forth, though, the creature disappeared back into the maze of coulees and the scrub pine of the breaks. Attacks that killed one sheep and injured another in Garfield County over the weekend of February 18th are believed to be the work of the animal that escaped that day. Then, the animal, or one very like it, appeared on March 11, about fifty miles away, on a ranch northwest of Jordan. According to the Jordan Tribune, rancher Clifford Highland and his grandson, Ryan Murnion, saw the animal as it was eating the carcass of a ewe. "We saw a wolf for approximately 20-30 seconds at 350 yards," Highland said, Murnion shot at the animal, but it escaped into the breaks.

Carolyn Sime and her team authorized permits for the ranchers who had suffered losses and for Wildlife Services in Garfield County to kill the wolf, or wolf-hybrid, if it was seen again in the act of attacking livestock. But the level of frustration among the ranchers and the communities remained high. There seemed to be no legal way, for instance, for the freelance predator control contractors in McCone County to kill the wolf if they encountered it. And the animal ranged so widely, the permits issued to the ranchers who had suffered losses seemed to be of little use. Other ranches, where there were no permits, would surely be hit soon. Again, people asked, why could anybody who saw the thing not just kill it?

[end part 1; part 2 continues]

Creature Feeds Conspiracies, Controversy

By Hal Herring, 3-30-06

Editor's Note: This is the second in a two-part series on the creature of McCone county. Click here to read the first installment.

In Eastern Montana, permits had been issued and a plan formed to take care of a wandering creature, wolf or not, that had killed 36 sheep and injured some 71 more.

But the level of frustration in the prairie communities continued to build, further feeding a divide between two cultures -- one rooted to the land the animal was wandering, and the other filled with regulations designed to protect the animal.

Some of the first questions about how to deal with the stock-killer concerned the CM Russell Wildlife Refuge. Among the least popular of the federal government's many, many unpopular endeavors in the region, the CM Russell's one million acres (including the vast acreage of the surface of Fort Peck Reservoir) has been a flash point since it was set aside as a "game range" in 1936, following the general exodus of human population from the region in the wake of the Dust Bowl years. Among the extremely hardy agricultural people who did not leave, who stayed on, year after year, building larger and larger holdings in order to survive, there is ongoing suspicion that the Refuge, which has been the site of prairie dog town recovery (an idea that disgusts many ranchers who have battled the rodents for decades) is also the secret site of wolf re-introductions. Such secret re-introductions, it is theorized, will have the conspiratorial effect of bringing down even more federal regulations on ranching operations and have the wolves killing stock that will help to ease ranchers into the financial abyss.

That event will force the sale of private property and begin the creation of the Big Open, or the even more despised notion of the Buffalo Commons, a huge, unpeopled, wildlife reserve, running through the parts of the Great Plains states that have suffered big declines in agriculture and population since the 1920's. The re-introduction of protected wolves has long been seen around Jordan as the first sign of a resurrection of the Buffalo Commons idea, a new strategy for the urbanites and nature worshippers to begin the destruction and removal of the farming and ranching culture of the Plains. Everyone, from Carolyn Sime, who directs the wolf program for the state, through the officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says that there is no evidence that wolves have ever been released on the Refuge, nor are there plans to ever do so. But the idea has taken root in Garfield County. "This question came up over and over," Sime said.

What if the Wildlife Services agents have to pursue this stock killer into the CM Russell National Wildlife Refuge? What if it attacks stock on the thousands of acres of leased grazing allotments inside the Refuge boundaries?

On March 14th, Montana Senator Conrad Burns organized a meeting in the small town of Circle, the county seat of McCone County, to review the options (as Cohagen rancher Alan Pluhar told me, "It's an election year. We wish that he would respond like this all the time, but we'll take what we can get.")The meeting drew a crowd of more than 100 people. Most of the ranchers who had lost stock were there to present their stories. According to Carolyn Sime, "there was a lot of frustration. It was a passionate, but civil, meeting … You know," she continued, "with this wolf stuff, common sense and restraint sometimes disappears. It is extremely visceral, it goes way back, and it is all happening in the context of our time …an age-old story, now juxtaposed to rising fuel and land prices, low commodity prices … it is frustrating."

One of the direct results of the meeting was that the agents from Wildlife Services were granted permission to pursue the stock killing predator, whatever it turned out to be, onto the Refuge. Agents have the right to remove two wolves or wolf-like canids from the area, and from inside the Refuge. Ranchers who hold grazing leases on the Refuge would have the same rights to protect their stock from predation as leasees of other federal grazing lands, by killing the animal if it is attacking their stock, or by harassing it away if it seems like a threat. An indirect result was a difficult bit of legal wrangling to give the McCone County predator contractors the right to kill the animal. In the end, local predator control pilot, Jeff Skyberg and his shooter, Les Thomas agreed to volunteer their services to the FWP, and the FWP agrees to be responsible for their actions. It is a risk, but one worth taking, said Sime. "I was in McCone County with the landowners, and we had a good talk," she said. "We made a verbal agreement, and by the following Friday, we had everything legal." Skyberg and Thomas have what is left of the 45-day period following the stock attacks on March 11 to pursue and kill the wolf legally. After April 25th, if there are no more attacks, that permit will expire.

According to Larry Handegard, of the Billings office of Wildlife Services, agents are actively pursuing the creature now in Garfield County, using aircraft and traps. Jeff Skyberg is still flying and searching. They are joined by a good number of men and a few women, all of them busy and out on the prairie calving or lambing right now, who will hold to the time-tested doctrine of "shoot, shovel, and shut up," a doctrine that received some air time at the meeting in Circle, and probably much more at the Hell Creek Saloon in Jordan. A rancher who asked not to be named said this, "We are calving now, and there is no way we can afford to lose any stock. No way. If you are out there, and there's no vehicles in sight, and you see this animal, you will shoot it. SSS. And if anybody gets charged for that, we are going to band together, every one of us, and support that person."

Jim Whitesides, a rancher who lost 21 ewes, and an unknown number of unborn lambs to the animal, discussed the leverage that he and other landowners have over the FWP, if a solution to the predation problem cannot be found: "We have been in Block Management for 18 years, and we kind of initiated the idea of working with sportsmen, getting them access to land in return for them writing letters and helping support our predator control programs. I don't do any hunting -- I don't have time for it -- but we have worked very well together with the hunters. Now, if we can't work this out, I'm thinking of taking my land out of Block Management."

Over all of the ranchers on this part of the prairie, a cloud seems to hang, of an increasingly difficult future, made the more so, intentionally or not, by wildlife, and by rules made a long way away, by people whose motives seem ridiculous or incomprehensible. "This is bigger than Jordan and Circle having a little wolf problem," said another Jordan resident who asked not to be identified. "The USFWS is an out-of-control bureaucracy. The more rules they make, the more fines they bring in, the bigger they get. There so many encroachments on us now, from reducing AUMs on the BLM lands to way back under Nixon when some bleeding heart banned 1080. Why are people so upset over this? It is because everything seems to point to the idea that we can get rid of out farmers and ranchers, even while we import forty percent of our food … if we don't watch out, they'll have a fence around this state. We've all seen the UN biodiversity maps, there's not much of Montana left over for human use."

Loren continued:

News articles appeared throughout the next few months, and it went national with an article in USA Today in May 2006.

Mystery beast ravages flocks of Mont. sheep
Posted 5/21/2006 10:51 PM ET E-mail | Save | Print | Reprints & Permissions |
By Gwen Florio, USA TODAY
HELENA, Mont. — Ranchers in eastern Montana have a wildlife whodunit on their hands.
Livestock growers in Garfield, McCone and Dawson counties have lost about 100 sheep this year to a ravenous creature that dispatches their 170-pound animals with ease and ferocity.

And that creature is?

"A wolf," says rancher Mike McKeever, who found one of his pregnant ewes disemboweled last month.

"A wolf or wolf hybrid," says Carolyn Sime, statewide wolf coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

"A dog or a hybrid," says Suzanne Asha Stone, the Boise-based Northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife. A hybrid is a mixture of wolf and dog.

The disagreement encompasses a century of passionate feelings about wolves in the West.

Reviled by ranchers as a profit-devouring predator, wolves were hunted nearly to extinction and were designated an endangered species in 1973. In the mid-1990s, despite vocal opposition from ranchers, 31 wolves from Canada were re-settled in central Idaho and in Yellowstone National Park. More than 800 wolves now roam the Northern Rockies.

However, the forests of Yellowstone, thick with elk and deer, are more than 300 miles from the barren, windswept plains of eastern Montana. Stone says that's what makes it so unlikely that the sheep predator is a wolf.

The distinction is important: Defenders of Wildlife reimburses ranchers for proven kills of livestock by wolves.

"Wolves are fabulous travelers," Sime says. In 2004, a radio-collared wolf from Yellowstone was struck and killed about 420 miles away, on Interstate 70 west of Denver.

McKeever says he believes the Montana marauder is a wolf because it preys on adult sheep. Coyotes usually kill lambs, and only one or two at a time, he says.

Sime says she's certain the culprit is one animal — two at most — because there are so few tracks.

McKeever estimates his loss at about $20,000. He doesn't qualify for the reimbursement because no one knows what the killer is yet. The state has issued 45-day shoot-to-kill permits to affected ranchers. Such permits are needed because of wolves' designation as endangered.

If it turns out to be a wolf, the money will be cold comfort, McKeever says.

That's because where one wolf turns up, others are likely to follow.

"We've never had to worry about wolves before," he says. "We do now."

Florio reports daily for theGreat Falls (Mont.) Tribune

The number of livestock the "Creature" killed finally reached about 120, by the end of October 2006.

Now comes word in a December 9th article that first appeared in the Billings Gazette that the animal, the one which may have been attacking the sheep, was killed from the air by Montana’s Wildlife Services agents, on November 2, 2006.

What they shot, it is believed, is the "Creature." But now they aren’t exactly sure what it is they killed. The animal was big at 106 pounds. Its coloration seems unexpected for a wolf. The animal shot in Garfield County had shades of orange, red and yellow in its fur, unlike the Northern Rockies wolves, which tend more toward grays, browns, and blacks, said wildlife officials.

It may take months, but DNA analysis is occurring at the University of California Los Angeles, and the carcass is now at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, for genetic analysis.

Maybe it is the Shunka Warak’in (pictured above)?...

The present whereabouts of the mounted Shunka Warak’in are uncertain, though some reports claim it has been moved to the West Yellowstone area. Once it is located, it is essential that DNA testing on samples of the fur be conducted. Only then will we know for certain whether we are dealing with a truly new animal or a very bad taxidermist’s mount.

I wonder what this new animal they killed in Montana is. What if it has something to do with the Shunka Warak’in?

Over the years, Loren and I kept in touch about the Shunka Warak'in/Ringdocus mystery. I had the thought that if we could find the mount, the thing to do would be to convince the owner to submit a sample of the specimen's hair for DNA and other tests. We both agreed. In the summer of 2007, I had the idea that the Idaho Museum of Natural History (in Pocatello) might have acquired the Sherwood mounts from Henry's Lake when it closed, so I wrote to them and found out that they did acquire materials from that museum. Loren and I traded several emails on this, on trying to figure out how to get the Museum to get interested in the issue. The Museum sent a few photocopies of old photographs of the Sherwood mounts they had, but none of them were the creature. Although I left several phone messages, I was unsuccessful in getting any response from the Museum.

Then in November of 2007, Loren posted that the missing mount had been found!

The story was in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (Nov. 2007):

Mystery monster returns home after 121 years

By WALT WILLIAMS Chronicle Staff Writer

ENNIS - More than a century ago, a wolf-like creature prowled the Madison Valley, killing livestock and letting out screams that one account said would leave a person's hair standing on end.

Jack Kirby poses in Ennis next to the wolf-like creature his grandfather shot in 1886 in the Madison Valley. He is holding the G.W. Morse rifle that was used to kill the animal. Kirby retrieved the mount from an Idaho museum where it was being stored. A bullet from a Mormon settler's rifle ended the animal's life and triggered stories of the creature that were passed along through generations of family history and local folklore.)

The only evidence of the creature's existence was a missing taxidermy mount and a grainy black-and-white photograph of that mount - which fueled strange speculation about what kind of animal it really was.

Now after 121 years, the taxidermy mount has been found. The creature that once spooked some of the Madison Valley's first white settlers has come home.

“I never doubted the story,” said Jack Kirby, grandson of the settler who shot the animal.

After reading a Halloween-themed Chronicle story about local legends of strange creatures, Kirby tracked down the mount in the Idaho Museum of Natural History in Pocatello.

The museum has since loaned it to him to put on display at the Madison Valley History Museum, although at the moment it resides in the basement of a building on the north edge of town.

The “ringdocus” or “shunka warak'in” - two of the names it has been given over the years - strongly resembles a wolf, but sports a hyena-like sloping back and an odd-shaped head with a narrow snout. Its coat is dark-brown, almost black, with lighter tan areas and a faint impression of stripes on its side.

It measure 48 inches from the tip of its snout to its rump, not including the tail, and stands from 27 to 28 inches high at the shoulder.

The mount is in amazingly good shape, showing no signs of wear and tear and retaining the color of the fur. It arrived in Ennis Friday.

One of its first stops was the gravesite of the man who shot it, Israel Ammon (I.A.) Hutchins.

“We took him down to the cemetery to see I.A. to let him know (the creature) is back in the valley,” said Kirby's wife, Barbara.

Hutchins shot the animal in 1886 on what is now the Sun Ranch, but not on his first try. He accidentally shot and killed one of his cows when he first spotted the creature on his land, his son Elliott Hutchins recounted in his memoirs.

He killed the strange animal when it appeared on his land a second time and traded the body with entrepreneur Joseph Sherwood for a new cow.

Sherwood was a taxidermist. He mounted the animal and put it on display in his combination store-museum at Henry's Lake in Idaho. His taxidermy collection was later given to the Idaho Museum of Natural History, where it was kept in storage.

The creature apparently baffled the people who saw it alive, and some speculated it was a hyena escaped from a circus rather than a wolf. The younger Hutchins remembered its haunting screams at night and wrote that after it was shot and in its death throes, the animal bit through a half-inch rope with a single bite and “exerted his very last strength to reach any one of us.”

The story of the “ringdocus” - as Sherwood reportedly named it - reached a national audience when the prolific writer and naturalist Ross Hutchins wrote about it in his 1977 autobiography, “Trails to Nature's Mysteries: The Life of a Working Naturalist,” and included a picture of the mount. I.A. Hutchins was his grandfather.

The tale was again picked up by writers Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark in their book “Cryptozoology A to Z.” In that book, Coleman linked it to a Native American legend about the “shunka warak'in,” a creature that snuck into camps at night to steal dogs.

The animal has so far eluded identification. The younger Hutchins wrote that a detailed description was sent to the Smithsonian Institution, which wasn't able to identify it.

The picture of the mount included the scientific-sounding name “Guyasticutus” as a label for the creature, but the name may have been tongue-in-cheek. Early accounts report that the Guyasticutus was a mythical creature invented by traveling showmen to swindle gullible ticket-buyers.

Coleman and Clark suggested that a DNA test should be done on the mount to determine what it is. Kirby, however, was not so certain he was ready to end a mystery that had been passed down by his family for four generations.

“Do we want to know?” he said.

The mount will be displayed in the Madison Valley History Museum when it reopens in May.

Looking at the photo, the animal's face strongly resembles that of a wolf. You can't really tell anything about its supposedly sloping shoulders or hindquarters from the photograph.

The Museum's website is at http://madisonvalleyhistoryassociation.org/
Their address is: Madison Valley History Association, Inc., P.O. Box 474, Ennis, Mt. 59729

Madison Valley History Association, Ennis, Montana. Our mission is to develop a museum to house and preserve collections of artifacts, tapes, photographs, and stories of historical importance to the Madison Valley and interpret them through display and education. The MVHA Museum is presently located in Ennis in the front part of the Wildlife Museum building just south of the Town Pump Store on the west end of Main Street. Admission to the MVHA is free, although donations are appreciated. The MVHA Museum opens in May on Memorial Day Weekend and remains open until the end of September. Hours are 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Tuesday through Sunday. The Wildlife Museum, sponsored by Altimus Taxidermy, is located in the back of the building and is open when the MVHA Museum is open. An admission fee is charged to visit the Wildlife Museum.

Hopefully they will redesign the page for the animal at: http://madisonvalleyhistoryassociation.org/creature.htm
Their newsletter "The Wagon Tongue" mentions in the July 2008 issue (vol. 6, no. 3) that "the 'Beast' is attracting attention..."

Loren added:

The story of the 19th century shooting and mounting of this unknown cryptid canine has been repeated often. It is scheduled to be one of the stories discussed in a forthcoming History Channel “Monster Quest” program. The “Monster Quest” film crew visited the International Cryptozoology Museum specifically to talk to me about this cryptid and other related canine enigmas.

The mystery of the Shunka Warak’in has been an enduring one in cryptozoology. It appears today that we may be closer to solving it. This is a remarkable turn of events, and I could not be happier to hear about this.

I look forward to thoughtful individuals considering the DNA testing of the newly re-discovered taxidermy mount. Intriguingly, if it is still owned by the the Idaho Museum of Natural History in Pocatello, perhaps now Dr. Jeff Meldrum could request the test. Dr. Irv Kornfield’s University of Maine DNA lab is ready and willing to do this testing.

In late 2008, a new book was published, A Cryptozoological Study of the Shunka Warak’in, by Mystical Mikal, published by BookSurge Publishing. This approximately 61-page book, according to Cryptomundo, "looks at the overlap between one old saga of a werewolf-like creature and cryptozoology." The single review on Amazon.com (as of today, March 3, 2009) isn't so good: "Wow! Quite possibly the worst cryptozoology book ever published! Save your money! Just google "Shunka Warak'in" and you'll learn everything that is in this book and probably more. The author makes lots of reference to the alledged mounted Shunka Warak'in, but never has a photo (then again, there are no photos in the book). He makes reference to Shunka Warak'in sighting is Illinois, Canada and elsewhere, but gives no details. No original research at all. You'll learn more from a 30 min internet search than you will from this book. "

I don't think the book looks quite as bad as that review make sit out to be, although it does seem to be a cut-and-paste self-published book based on uncited Internet sources. The Table of Contents indicates there is an overview of cryptozoology as a discipline, then the book looks at the reported sightings and offers a possible explanation. There are two other sections, "Similarities of the 'Ringdocus' with extinct animal species" (about 10 pages) and "Misidentified Sunka Warak'in kill sites" (3 pages). I didn't see any mention of werewolves however. On page 51, the author states "This animal has since been renamed 'Guyasticuts' meaning 'Rocky Mountain Hyena,' and is currently undergoing DNA testing."

However on the same page he also says "The second suspected Shunka Warak'in sightings occurred in 1995 within the North American states of Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois, and in Alberta, Canada. However, little is known of this incident." Obviously he is relating what he read about Hall's generalized reports for those areas in Coleman's book, but this sentence makes no sense grammatically. In addition, note that the Bozeman Chronicle article clearly stated: "The picture of the mount included the scientific-sounding name “Guyasticutus” as a label for the creature, but the name may have been tongue-in-cheek. Early accounts report that the Guyasticutus was a mythical creature invented by traveling showmen to swindle gullible ticket-buyers." And the poor author didn't even spell Guyasticutus right!

In any case, Guyasticutus does -not- mean "Rocky Mountain Hyena." It doesn't mean anything at all, as John Kern and Irwin Griggs' This America states on page 329:

Still other words got into the American language from nowhere; like Topsy, they just grew. Witness guyasticutus.

guyasticutus was --or still is, for all we know-- the most ferocious, rambunctious, man-eating wild animal ever exhibited under canvas to gullible Americans. For only ten cents, ladeez and gentlemen, a tenth part of a dollar, you can come into the tent and see with your own eyes this horrendous beast which consumes forty-eleven men, women, and tender babes-in-arms at a gulp, then bellows for forty-eleven more.

No one except its proprietor, alas, has ever actually seen the guyasticutus. For just when the crowd around the entrance has bought the last ticket, the proprietor rushes out of the tent and roars, 'Run for your lives, ladeez and gentlemen! Escape before you are swallowed alive!
The guyasticutus has busted loose!"

So maybe that review from Amazon.com is sadly correct!

Loren Coleman noted that there was a developing custody battle between Montana and Idaho for the mount in his Dec. 11, 2007 post:

Lance Foster, myself, and others have looked for the mounted Shunka Warak’in for decades. I’ve written about it in columns, books, and blogs. Finally, after 121 years of it being missing-in-action, the taxidermy mount has surfaced.

But guess what? There is a developing tug-of-war over who owns it, which state has the rights to it, and where it will end up:

The Sherwood Beast of Island Park legend and lore has been kidnapped!

The stuffed critter of mysterious origin — long displayed at the Sherwood Museum on Henry’s Lake — was recently removed from storage in Pocatello and loaned to a Madison Valley, Montana man who claims he is the grandson of the settler who shot the animal.

The Island Park Historical Society Board of Directors and other area residents are concerned about the move because they believe the mount should remain in Idaho and hope someday it can be displayed in Island Park.

The Sherwood Museum closed in the late 1970’s, and the family sold the museum and surrounding property in the 1990’s to Steve and Carol Burk of Idaho Falls. Before the sale the Sherwood family donated the taxidermy mounts and artifacts to the Idaho State Historical Society. The mounts are stored at the Museum of Natural History in Pocatello and the artifacts and photographs are stored in Boise.

A recent Bozeman Chronicle article by Walt Williams, “ Mystery monster returns home after 121 years,” makes it sound as if the animal belongs in Montana. It states, “Now after 121 years, the taxidermy mount has been found. The creature that once spooked some of the Madison Valley’s first white settlers has come home.” Full article is here.

Williams writes that Jack Kirby, claiming to be the grandson of the settler who shot the animal, read a Chronicle story about local legends of strange creatures, and tracked down the mount in the Idaho Museum of Natural History in Pocatello.

The museum loaned him the mount to display at the Madison Valley History Museum when the facility reopens in May 2008. Meanwhile, it is stored in the basement of a building on the north edge of Ennis.

Williams describes the mount: “The “ringdocus” or “shunka warak’in” — two of the names it has been given over the years — strongly resembles a wolf, but sports a hyena-like sloping back and an odd-shaped head with a narrow snout. Its coat is dark-brown, almost black, with lighter tan areas and a faint impression of stripes on its side. It measure 48 inches from the tip of its snout to its rump, not including the tail, and stands from 27 to 28 inches high at the shoulder. The mount is in amazingly good shape, showing no signs of wear and tear and retaining the color of the fur.”

The article notes that Kirby took the mount to the gravesite of the man he claims shot it, Israel Ammon (I.A.) Hutchins. Based on information in a family member’s, Ross Hutchins, autobiography, Kirby claims I. A. Hutchins shot the animal in 1886 on what is now the Sun Ranch, and traded the body with Joseph Sherwood for a cow.

A few years ago, Mack’s Inn resident, Harold Bishop, did some research on the beast for a scout project. He interviewed a Chester resident, Pete Marx, who told him a range rider named Heini Schooster killed the beast that was displayed in the museum. Schooster lived down the Madison River from the old Cliff Lake Post Office, which is not that far from the Sun Ranch.

Bishop’s story had Schooster killing the beast with a lever action .32 special, Kirby claims the fatal shot ws fired with a G. W. Morse rifle — caliber is not given.

The Island Park News runs Bishop’s story every October when it publishes its annual Sherwood Beast Halloween haunts story. The story also notes that people at Bozeman College were unable to ID the animal.

When the state accepted the Sherwood collections, officials said they would hold them until they can be displayed properly in Island Park. The Island Park Historical Society helped broker the deal under the leadership of its president at the time, the late Mary McBroom. For years, the IPHS has tried to raise interest in building a local museum.

This week, IPHS’s Board of Directors agreed to write a letter of concern to the state, expressing an interest in making sure the mount is returned properly and hoping it would then be displayed at the John Sack cabin in Island Park.
~ by Elizabeth Laden “Sherwood Beast loaned to Montana,” The Island Park News, 2007-12-07.

That is yet another part of the "Sherwood Beast" legend. The Island Park News regularly ran stories on the shunka warak'in; a search under "beast" at their search page (http://www.islandparknews.com/past.php) turned up 18 results, several referring to the animal. The paper generally refers to it as the "Sherwood Beast" or S.B. in the "Sherwood Beast Tales," a regular semihumorous Halloween tale written by Elizabeth Laden for several years running (an example: "Sherwood Beast gets his mojo back" at http://www.islandparknews.com/atf.php?sid=3578). She also calls him "Guyastickutes calderamus"; there's that damned "Guyasticutus" reference again!

However, there are some interesting bits when you sift through the silliness. Not that I can presently make heads or tails out of "S. B. caught it with his teeth, which as you know if you are an S. B. fan, are actually the false teeth from his dead brother’s taxidermy mount at Idaho State University in Pocatello." But she connects this story with the stories about cryptids in Maine (proved to have been a dog) and in Montana (the sheepkiller mentioned earlier). There was also a 2008-02-01: Guest Column: Sherwood collection update, but I can't access it because I am not a subscriber.

The urban myth grows too.There are just more and more pages and theories about the shunka warak'in and ringdocus. It is really strange how modern legends begin, and take their own unpredictable directions. For example, here is a webpage devoted to the animal: http://www.unknownexplorers.com/shunkawarakin.php If you google "ringdocus" or "shunka warak'in" you will be amazed how many results you get. This one seems to be part of an art installation: "Score of the Ringdocus (I'm Just Too Scared Of Wolves)" http://flickr.com/photos/39102227@N00/2349386871

So now what? The obvious answer is DNA testing, or simple identification by a qualified zoologist. Montana State University at Bozeman is not far from Ennis; Bozeman is also the location of the Museum of the Rockies. Having a biologist/mammalogist check it out would at least help resolve whether the mount is really a wolf, or a "doctored" wolf (aka a Barnum-type "humbug"), or not. I think I'm at least going to try and call Ennis and see if I can track down anyone who knows if the mount is still there. And then maybe I can get someone with a car to go with me down there to check it out in person. It's a day trip.

The other possibility is to hunt down the bundle in the Museum of the American Indian and see if the skin of the Ioway's shunka warak'in still exists, and what that might help prove. Those collections are split up, some in Washington, DC, and some in the Heye Museum in New York. I do know in 1994 or so, I examined an amulet from an unknown animal in the Milwaukee Public Museum, that may be from the same animal the Ioway killed. But it had no hair left and was only a strip of badly worn skin.

So, the mystery continues. Part of the reason I posted this is because I was recently contacted by a student whose team is making a documentary about the Shunka Warak'in as a university film project. I am going to be interviewed for the film next week it looks like, and I needed to get my thoughts together, so this has helped.

Now that I have collected what is known about the Shunka Warak'in to the best of my ability, and taken this chance to again reflect about it, I will post again...probably after I get to Ennis and take some photos. I will certainly suggest that to the film crew next week. My life seems to have become entwined with this fellow's story over the past 20 years or so. But you never know about the Shunka Warak'in. The legend seems to have a knack of taking its own direction, and preserving itself as a mystery in plain sight.


Anonymous said...

Nice Article. I had heard about the mount and read a newspaper article but this really added a lot of missing information. I live in Ennis, MT. The Westfork area is actually south of Ennis, and the old Kirby place still exists on the banks of the Madison River. You can actually stay there.

Lance Michael Foster said...

Since you live in Ennis, have you actually seen the mount yourself? If so, what do you think it is?

Lance Michael Foster said...

I visited the museum myself, and do not think it is a dog, a coyote, or a wolf. I am not sure what it is. It has faint stripes.

Barbie Kirby Austin said...

Interesting read. I am the Great Grand Daughter of I.A. Hutchins and the daughter of Jack Kirby. The Guyasticutus is what we grew up calling him, though recently my dad and I went and visited the museum where he is. Sherwood was a detailed taxidermist and if he created it as it was, the Guyasticutus is a female. Our ranch, the Kirby Place is exactly 35 miles south of Ennis where the West Fork enters the Madison. Heini Shooster did not kill this animal. His place was six miles from where I.A. Hutchins lived with his family. The animal was killed right outside their front door. Heini lived down near the West Fork where the Kirby Ranch is, however the animal was killed on the Sun Ranch. The Guyasticutus is now located in a beautiful museum outside of Ennis on the way to Virginia City. Our family is from Montana, the animal was killed in Montana and the Madison Valley. Historically it only makes sense for it to remain in the valley in which it lived. We believe that Sherwood would have fully agreed with this. His business was just a few miles over the border into Idaho and about 12 miles from where the Guyasticutus was shot. We appreciate all your support and interest in this unique animal. I love having it as part of our family history....something to pass on for generations to come.

zigzaro said...

the animal that you metion about looked like bit honshu wolf to me whic was probably male wolf and female fox hybrid thats what ı meant to be .
dog same number in cromosome with wolf canbe hybrid with even fox sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo........

zigzaro said...

its wolf fox hybrid
plus itlooked like honshu wolf whic was has the apperiane between both of them.............male wolf and female fox as ı guess

zigzaro said...

hey lets try to make breed between male brownbear and female gray wolf it would has an apperiance like 'Sivas kangal 'dog..............

Mike Menendez said...

So what happened to the other creature that was killing sheep



I've never even heard of this beast until now. Until... I actually saw one.
Early yesterday morning I witnessed a very large orange colored animal with a long bushy tail, walking along a hillside. The time was approximately 7am between Sheridan and Buffalo Wyoming. This beast was at least 6 feet long, and approximately 45-48 inches at the shoulder and did not walk like any dog i've ever seen. It walked like a cat. Its color was the most disturbing, dark orange, almost burnt, and no animal i'm familiar with or walks like a cat, stalking prey, with a long bushy dog like tail, have I ever seen in Wyoming.
I began looking for similar descriptions of like animals possible in Wyoming and found this hyena like creature, that could be a remnant of the last ice age, that has been know about for hundreds of years in Native Culture. Several books have been written about the beast and its semi frequent viscous nature towards live stock dogs,and its apparent hideous howling at night.
Some call it a howler, some call it Shunka Warak'in. Unlike many other mystery creatures, this one has a real life mount, on public display, that was shot decades ago in Montana.
Although the animal seems to be too small to be a surviving dire wolf or cave hyena, it is possible that it is a Borophagus, an ancient hyena-like dog found during the Pleistocene in North America that still roams the mountains of Montana and Wyoming today. - b