Colorado History

Snippy the Horse Is Headed to the UFO Watchtower

Snippy will soon have a new home.
Snippy will soon have a new home. courtesy Judy Messoline
A part of Colorado that's been called “paranormal Disneyland” just got a new ride. Snippy, the eerily mutilated horse of the 1960s, will soon be stabled at the UFO Watchtower in the San Luis Valley.

Inspired by frequent reports of Unidentified Flying Objects in the area, Judy Messoline created the UFO Watchtower about thirty years ago on ranchland off Highway 17, a couple of miles from the tiny burg of Hooper. The site boasts a modest campground, a gift shop and the watchtower — and soon it will also display Snippy.
click to enlarge The UFO Watchtower purchased Snippy's remains for $2,000. - COURTESY JUDY MESSOLINE
The UFO Watchtower purchased Snippy's remains for $2,000.
courtesy Judy Messoline
A three-year-old Appaloosa named Lady became known as “Snippy” after her bizarrely mutilated carcass was discovered about seventeen miles from Alamosa on September 9, 1967. The mare had been stripped of her hide from nose to withers, and left in a pasture that was strangely muddy despite a lack of recent rain. There were fifteen circular imprints in a wide circle close by the body, but no identifiable tracks. Despite cuts made with surgical precision to remove Snippy’s organs, no blood was found in or around the carcass; the exposed bones were as white as if left to the elements for years or bleached. The air around the horse had a strange, sickly sweet odor.

Owner Nellie Lewis claimed that when she picked up a piece of hide near her horse's body, it burned her hand. It was also reported that a U.S. Forest Service ranger brought a Geiger counter to the spot and found that Lewis’s boots and the area around Snippy’s carcass were highly radioactive. Nonetheless, the local sheriff opined that lightning had caused the horse’s demise and natural predators had disposed of the flesh. Lewis was unconvinced, and her story in the local Valley Courier — headlined “Flying Saucers Killed My Horse!” — was picked up by the Associated Press about a month later. International notoriety ensued.

Local veterinarian Wallace Leary was allowed to remove the carcass for further examination, which he extended into boiling the last of Snippy's body off her bones and mounting the skeleton to stand with metal wires. After that, Snippy's remains went through a long string of claimed ownership that finally landed her in a storage unit in Alamosa. Lewis died in 1976; John Heflin, the next-to-last person to have possession, died a couple of years ago, having failed to sell Snippy on eBay for $50,000. His widow sold Snippy to Messoline for $2,000 on August 21.

But before that, Messoline visited the storage unit to view the remains of Snippy for herself.

“I walked in, and felt like I was being pushed right back out,” she says.

No stranger to weird phenomena, Messoline agreed to let a “channeler” review the carcass after she'd brought Snippy home.

“The channeler’s face was sure something to see,” Messoline recalls. “She said, ‘This horse was tortured!’ But then she said that now that Snippy was with the watchtower, she was protected by Native American spirits. So I felt a lot better about that.”
click to enlarge Snippy will be stationed near the gift shop. - COURTESY JUDY MESSOLINE
Snippy will be stationed near the gift shop.
courtesy Judy Messoline
Snippy was the most notorious, though not the last, of what came to be known as “cattle mutilations” during an era obsessed by reports of UFO sightings. An Air Force-sponsored investigative body headed by nuclear physicist Dr. Edward U. Condon of the University of Colorado Boulder was in full swing at the time. The Condon Report, part of what the Air Force called Project Blue Book, officially concluded in 1969 that incidents not exposed as outright hoaxes were simply unexplainable and might benefit from future research.

If such research has been conducted, it hasn't been revealed publicly. And dead livestock in conditions similar to Snippy’s continue to crop up occasionally in the San Luis Valley. In order to avoid unwanted attention, farmers and ranchers have just quietly buried the carcasses, according to Messoline.

“My husband and I viewed one poor cow not long ago that looked a lot like what happened to Snippy,” she says. “While we were looking at it, the herd came around in a circle. One cow after another would take a step forward, then withdraw. The calf would not go near the dead mother. The rancher was pretty upset when he found out his wife had let us come look at it.”

Messoline plans to build an appropriate shelter and display for Snippy next to the dome-shaped gift shop at the UFO Watchtower. A GoFundMe campaign is in progress to help cover the costs, and a few green plastic space alien baskets have been placed on the property to encourage donations.
click to enlarge Snippy is the focus of a GoFundMe campaign. - COURTESY JUDY MESSOLINE
Snippy is the focus of a GoFundMe campaign.
courtesy Judy Messoline
Meanwhile, Snippy's skeleton is being restored by a Messoline friend and neighbor — Jay Young, general manager of another San Luis Valley tourist destination, the family-run Colorado Gator Farm. Before they knew of its famous denizen, the Young family had purchased an old Alamosa motel and a warehouse that had each previously housed Snippy’s remains. Intrigued by the “phenomenal opportunity,” Young volunteered to reconnect Snippy. Having grown up with the legend, Young says the experience has been marked by an “eerie mystique.”

“I’ve put together a few reptile articulations,” Young said. “This is my first horse — a lot easier than working with a python or the toe bones of an alligator. The wires were coming apart and the base Snippy stood on was a mess, so I built a framework to suspend her. Snippy flies again!”

While Snippy may not be on display until spring, Young has some seasonal San Luis Valley weirdness planned. The Colorado Gator Farm is holding its annual Halloween event October 29-31 at its Alamosa warehouse at 701 San Juan Avenue — the one that was once home to Snippy.

In the meantime, Messoline is keeping a close watch on her latest acquisition. “Gotta get a battery for my Geiger counter,” she says.
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Charmaine Ortega Getz is a freelance journalist and the author of Weird Colorado: Your Travel Guide to Colorado’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, Sterling Publishing, 2010.