Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Chasing Footnotes - Cattle Mutilation Edition

In the past, I have mentioned that it is sometimes difficult to find footnotes that need to be chased. I usually just stumble on them and this is another case of that. While researching another project, I stumbled on the claim that cattle mutilations had a long, century’s old history, which suggested something truly anomalous. I’m not sure how that proved the paranormal or UFO connection to the mutilations, but I was more concerned with the claim that they extended into the distant past.

I found a reference that suggested there was an unexplained death of dozens of sheep in England in 1606. It was claimed that “nothing was taken from the sheep but their tallow and some inward parts, the whole carcasses, and fleece remaining behind. Of this sundry conjectures but most agree that it tendeth towards some fireworks.”

The footnote associated with this said that the source was Christopher O’Brien’s Stalking the Herd. I have a couple of O’Brien’s books in my library but Stalking the Herd was not among them. This wasn’t a major problem and I emailed my friend about this.

He responded quickly, telling me that the reference came from Tom Adams’ Project Stigmata, and Adams had received it from Elizabeth Hills, who lived in Regina, Saskatchewan. According to what Chris sent, Adams published it in his:

private book of ‘Oddities’ and appears to derive from a diary (or other personal papers) from the court of James I of England. The quotation is:

10 February 1606: The minds of men are much troubled with a strange accident lately fallen out, which yet by no means can be discovered, about the City of London and some of the shires adjoining. Whole slaughters of sheep have been made, in some places to number 100, in others less, where nothing is taken from the sheep but their tallow and some inward parts, the whole carcasses and fleece remaining still behind. Of this sundry conjectures, but most agree that it tendeth towards some fireworks.”

That does take us into the seventeenth century, but sometimes these things get garbled in the translation. But in the world of the Internet, it is often easy to trace a quote or a book. I was able to find the more information at:

What I learned there was that the book had been published in 1848 and was a collection of letters and other writings and the quoted material could be found on pages 44-45. Specifically:

The Court and times of James the First: illustrated by authentic and confidential letters, from various public and private collections


By Thomas Birch, Robert Folkestone Williams

Publication date: 1848

Topics: James I, King of England, 1566-1625James I, King of England, 1566-1625Great Britain -- History -- James I, 1603-1625Great Britain

Publisher London: Henry Colburn

Collection” americana

Digitizing sponsor: Google

Book from the collections of Harvard University

Or, in other words, this seemed to be an exact copy of those letters, though I suspect the language might have been “modernized” somewhat so that we would be able to understand it. The original English, at that time, 1606, would have been somewhat different than we would speak in the modern world.

Anyway, I have found the original source, though I was led there by Chris. What has been reported by both Tom Adams and Chris is accurate. It seems that only the interpretation might differ. We are talking about one of the first reported cases of large-scale animal mutilation. But does it equate with our modern cases? I’m not so sure.

The description, vague though it is, does not sound like something we would see today. There is talk of the tallow being removed and apparently some of the soft, internal organs, though there is no description of them. The fleece and the meat are left behind which would seem to have been of greater value than what was taken. I mean, the tallow, according to various sources, was used for many purposes at the time such as candle making and soap. That seems to be the motivation here. The crime is of an economic nature. Tallow would be difficult to trace and of value to those making the candles and other things, but a sudden glut of meat and fleece might lead back to the butchers.

I will also note here that I have seen the documents that proceed and those that follow and there is nothing in any of them that would suggest the tale is taken out of context. I have little hope of actually seeing the originals, meaning the letters and diary entries that were made in the early seventeenth century.

But rather than argue about interpretation, I will note that the information provided by the sources cited was accurately repeated. Nothing was added, left out or altered. All that is left is our interpretations of the event. For those interested in a little more context, though I’m not sure about the relevance, Stalking the Herd provides it, suggesting that it had to do with Guy Fawks and his attempt to assassinate James 1, which gets us to the reference about fireworks. Anyway, Chris provides some interesting points about all that in his very readable book.

I suppose what is amazing is that I can sit here, in 2022, and find, rather easily and quickly, documents from so long ago without leaving my chair. At the moment, it seems that the information is correct and I’ll let it go at that. 


Paul Young said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Young said...

KR..."The crime is of an economic nature. Tallow would be difficult to trace and of value to those making the candles and other things, but a sudden glut of meat and fleece might lead back to the butchers."

Point taken...but...
It still seems a massive risk to slaughter so many sheep to make candles when the meat itself was practically gold and you were more or less guaranteed to be hung just for killing one sheep that wasn't yours.