Travel across the United States and you’ll find cryptids in virtually every state. My home state of New Jersey has the Jersey Devil, which also inspired an X-Files episode; Florida has the Skunk Ape. Travel to the Adirondacks in New York State and you just might catch sight of Champ, a creature believed to reside in Lake Champlain.
What happens when you venture a bit further west? When it comes to the state of Montana, there’s a being known as the shunka warak’in which, apparently, you can see if you travel to the Madison Valley History Museum. In an excerpt from J.W. Ocker’s The United States of Cryptids: A Tour of American Myths and Monsters published at Atlas Obscura, Ocker traces this creature’s history — and explores how the remains of one happened to be preserved.
As Ocker writes, Montana residents have long cited the presence of a creature, also known as the Rocky Mountain hyena, which preyed upon animals in the region. In 1886, a farmer named Israel Ammon Hutchins shot and killed one of the creatures as it attacked one of his cows. Eventually, the body of the creature was stuffed and mounted, and remained on display for nearly a century.
As for what the being was, the jury remains out. Ocker notes that it could be “[a] wolf-dog hybrid, a dog-coyote hybrid, hyena, or hyena-hybrid” — with some believing it to be a creature referred to in stories from the Ioway people who first lived in the region. Shunka Warak’in translates to “carries off dogs” — an ominous testament to why this creature has haunted residents of the state for centuries.
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