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Montana’s Shunka Warak’in, the Rocky Mountain Hyena

4 min read

Across the plains of Montana, something has been preying on domesticated animals for centuries. It has been given many names, including Shunka warak’in, Ringdocus, or Guyasticutus.
But it’s also been called simply the Beast, or the Rocky Mountain hyena, although the creature, due its appearance, could easily be called a wolf, even if wolves were extinct in the state for about half of the 20th century.
Whatever they are, they are known to attack dogs and cows and sheep and anything else wandered a fenced-in land.
If only we had a carcass, we could finally understand what this creature is once and for all.

Oh, wait.
Actually there is something on display in a museum in Montana.
It was 1886 when, in the Madison Valley of Montana, a settler named Israel Ammon Hutchins had a problem. Something was attacking his animals, as well as the animals of other farmers and ranchers in the area. It was something dark, mysterious and canine-like that screamed in the night like nothing he had ever heard. One morning he awoke to his dogs barking and jumped out of bed to find the creature chasing his geese. It had a dark coat, high shoulders, and a slanted back. The man finally got a shot at it, but missed, killing one of his cows instead.
The next time he got it in its sights, though, he missed the cow and killed the beast.
Well, Israel Hutchins traded the carcass to a businessman named Joseph Sherwood in exchange for a new cow. Joseph was also a taxidermist, so he mounted the creature and showcased it in his combo grocery store/museum in Henry Lake, Idaho and, for unknown reasons, he dubbed it ringdocus.
It was on display at least into the 1980s, but then it disappeared.
And dead cryptids can be as hard to find as live ones.
The only physical evidence of the existence of the animal was a black and white photo published in 1977 in the autobiography of naturalist Ross Hutchins, the grandson of the original monster (and cow) slayer.
In the photo, it looks a wolf, but not quite a wolf.
The photo was captioned Guyasticutus, which some have offered is a cheeky name for something fake made to sell tickets.

Either way the story of the creature and its disappearance continued to circulate.
Meanwhile a historic site preservationist, paranormal enthusiast, and member of the Ioway tribe named Lance Foster speculated that the beast could be a shunka warak’in, a canid wolf-like beast from Native American lore that would sneak into camps at night and make off with dogs.
Not by chance, its name translates to “carries off dogs”.
After one particularly fierce battle with a shunka warak’in, in which the tribe was victorious, they took pieces of its hide to place into sacred bundles that they wore during battle to make them as hard to kill as the creature had been.

Eventually, another of Israel Hutchins’s grandsons, Jack Kirby, learned that after Sherwood’s museum shut down, the entire taxidermy collection was donated to the Idaho Museum of Natural History in Pocatello, where it was put in storage.
Soon after that he discovered that one of those taxidermied beasts under the dusty sheets was the same shunka warak’in.
The man was able to convince the museum to loan it to the Madison Valley History Museum in Ennis, Montana, where it’s been on display for more than a decade. Kirby took it there himself, although he first stopped at his grandfather’s grave.
And today, the creature is the museum’s most popular exhibit, with people just call it the Beast.

All fantastic and a kind of happy ending, but what is it?
The shunka warak’in of Native American legend?
A dog mutant? A wolf-dog, coyote-dog, or hyena-dog hybrid? Or maybe just a bad embalmed thing?
Only a good DNA test could tell, but all interested parties have decided not to do that, and so the mystery of the shunka warak’in is still intact, and nobody wants to risk solving it….

Images from web – Google Research

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