In the wilds of the upper midwestern United States lives a frightening-looking, primitive wolf-like beast known to Indians and early western pioneers. The Ioway, as well as other tribes, even have a name for it: shunka warak’in (“carrying-off dogs”). Little has been written about this animal because records of it are relatively rare and the existence of the otherwise well-known timber wolf has often confused the picture. Nonetheless, evidence does exist for this new addition to the cryptozoological menagerie. The story of the Shunka Warak’in begins in the 1880s, when members of the Hutchins family traveled west by covered wagon to settle in the Madison River Valley, near the West Fork, in the lower part of Montana. Their ranch left its mark on the geography of the region. The name Hutchins Ranch, located about forty miles north of the little town of Ennis, still appears on Montana road maps.
Shortly after the Hutchinses settled in the area, they and other locals encountered an unusual animal. As Ross Hutchins would write years later (in his 1977 book, Trails to Nature’s Mysteries: The Life of a Working Naturalist):
One winter morning my grandfather was aroused by the barking of the dogs. He discovered that a wolf-like beast of dark color was chasing my grandmother’s geese. He fired his gun at the animal but missed. It ran off down the river, but several mornings later it was seen again at about dawn. It was seen several more times at the home ranch as well as at other ranches ten or fifteen miles down the valley. Whatever it was, it was a great traveler…
Those who got a good look at the beast described it as being nearly black and having high shoulders and a back that sloped downward like a hyena. Then one morning in late January, my grandfather was alerted by the dogs, and this time he was able to kill it. Just what the animal was is still an open question. After being killed, it was donated to a man named Sherwood who kept a combination grocery and museum at Henry Lake in Idaho. It was mounted and displayed there for many years. He called it “ringdocus.”
The younger Hutchins, who had a Ph.D. in zoology, had no idea what the animal was, though he advanced the speculation that perhaps it was a hyena that had escaped from a circus. He noted, however, that the “nearest circus was hundreds of miles away.” Probably, he thought, this mystery would never be solved.
In recent years, according to cryptozoologist Mark A. Hall, reported sightings of mean-looking, near-wolf-like and hyena-like animals have come from Alberta, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. The reports appeared to be without historical precursors, and thus caution seemed a wise response. On the other hand, the discovery by Hall of the Hutchins story now reveals that a photograph of the taxidermically mounted hyena-like animal, the so-called ringdocus, exists.
In 1995, Lance Foster, an Ioway Indian, told Loren Coleman: “We had a strange animal called shunka warak’in that snuck into camps at night and stole dogs. It was said to look something like a hyena and cried like a person when they killed it. Its skin is said to be kept by someone still.”
Foster, who had heard of the mounted ringdocus, thought it was an example of the Shunka Warak’in, which he knew from his own experiences and those of relatives in Montana and Idaho.
The animal seems too small to be a “dire wolf,” or cave hyena. The cave hyena was an Old World animal. Possibly the species existed here but was sufficiently rare that examples do not exist in the fossil record. This, of course, is purely speculative.
A prehistoric mammal that may fit these observations is the Borophagus, an ancient hyena-like dog found during the Pleistocene in North America. While the Shunka Warak’in has been described by various witnesses as a “hyena” or a “mean-looking” hyena-canid cross, the mounted animal has a decidedly dog-like or wolf-like appearance with the hyenid characteristics visible but not overwhelming.
The present whereabouts of the mounted Shunka Warak’in, Hutchins’s so-called ringdocus, are uncertain, though some reports claim it has moved to the West Yellowstone area. Once it is located, it is essential that DNA testing on samples of the hair and skin be conducted. Only then will we know for certain whether we are dealing with a truly new animal or a taxidermist’s very bad mount.
The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark