Located in the Uintah Basin in northeast Utah, the Skinwalker Ranch, also known as Sherman Ranch and the UFO Ranch, is filled with myths and mysteries, including UFOs, aliens, cattle mutilations, crop circles, and Navajo witches called Skinwalkers. The 480-acre ranch is about 3.5 miles southwest of Fort Duchesne, Utah, and borders the Ute Indian reservation.
The Uintah Valley Reservation was created for the Ute in October 1861 by the executive order of President Abraham Lincoln. The Uncompahgre Reservation (commonly called the Ouray Reservation) was created in January 1882, and in 1886 the two reservations were merged to become the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. For more than 150 years, the Ute have lived here on the reservation that covers over 4.5 million acres.
The Indians have long said that the bordering ranch is “on the path of the skinwalker” and, for that reason, have long been forbidden to go near the property. The Skinwalker is a malevolent shapeshifting witch of the Navajo people, which the Ute people take very seriously.
Before the Ute moved to the reservation, they were fierce and warlike people who lived primarily in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. At one time, the Ute and Navajo fought together against their common enemies. However, when the Ute first acquired horses from the Spanish, they began to abduct Navajo people and sold them in New Mexico slave markets.
Later, during the Civil War, some Ute bands joined Kit Carson in a military campaign against the Navajo. This ended in the Navajo being expelled from their lands and forced to march to a reservation in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, called the Long Walk of the Navajo. Though the tribe was allowed to return to their homelands in the Four corners area several years later, the Ute believed that the Navajo cursed the Ute tribe for their previous transgressions. Afterward, the skinwalkers began to plague the Ute people.
The Ute believe the skinwalker presence in the Uintah Basin extends back at least 15 generations. They don’t believe that the skinwalkers live on the ranch but rather hide out in a place called Dark Canyon, which is located nearby.
According to reports, the Ute has seen skinwalkers in the area numerous times. The witches have been spied near the ranch, on the road to Fort Duchesne, and in various areas of the reservation. One account described them as looking like humans with dog heads smoking cigarettes. Another described them as large black hairy humanoid figures that were very fast. They are also described as having unusually large “coal red” eyes. Others have said they have seen and taken pictures of very large tracks, which skinwalkers are said to leave.
The ranch, which takes its name from these shapeshifting witches, was first homesteaded by the Myers family in 1905 and first consisted of a few small buildings on the northwest corner of the ranch at the foot of Skinwalker Ridge. Later, the original homestead was abandoned, and the Myers established a new home on the eastern side of the ranch. By the 1930s, it was occupied by Kenneth John Myers and his wife Edith Child Myers. They stayed on the property until 1987. During their occupancy, they did not report any strange occurrences, though some of their neighbors did.
In the meantime, other unusual events began to occur in the Uintah Basin in the 1950s – numerous reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). This continued throughout the next several decades. Interestingly, these were not the first reports of strange aircraft in the sky. The earliest mention dates from the late 1700s when Spanish explorers searching for the Spanish Trail passed through the Uintah Basin and reported seeing craft in the sky over their campfires at night.
The UFO reports, numbered in the hundreds, included strange fireballs and aircraft that ranged in size from 20-30 feet across to as large as a football field. They were described variously as round, oval, cigar-shaped, and triangular. A glowing green light surrounded some, others emitted wavy red beams, and others appeared to shoot colored lights from their underbellies. By the 1970s, the Utah Highway Patrol got so many UFO calls that the troopers stopped filling out incident reports. At the same time, local ranchers also reported bizarre cattle mutilations.
A retired science teacher, Joseph “Junior” Hicks from Roosevelt, Utah, investigated more than 400 UFO sightings in the Uintah Basin. He found that the UFO appearances often coincided with cattle mutilations. Over the years, many eyewitnesses saw living beings in the windows or portholes of UFOs.
After the Myers vacated the ranch in 1987, it stood empty for seven years before Terry and Gwen Sherman purchased it in 1994. The couple moved in with their two children and livestock. They were surprised the previous owners had placed deadbolt locks on all the doors and windows, including those inside the house. Some of these had deadbolts on both the inside and the outside of the house. Even the kitchen cabinets had bolts on them. And at both ends of the house, iron stakes and heavy chains had been installed, which Sherman guessed were used by the previous tenants for large guard dogs.
The very day they took possession, the family spotted a large coyote or a wolf in one of their pastures which soon approached, making its way to a livestock pen. It then grabbed a calf by the nose, trying to drag it through the corral bars. Terry Sherman and his father then beat the animal to make it release the calf but were unsuccessful. When that failed, Sherman shot the animal with a .357 magnum at point-blank range, but still, the wolf held onto the calf. After another shot, it released the calf and stood calmly, looking at the men. After a few more shots, the animal trotted off. Amazingly, there was no blood or sign of injury in the animal. The men then followed the animal’s tracks for about a mile before they suddenly ended, as if it had simply vanished. This was just the first foreshadowing of the events that would follow.
A few weeks later, when Gwen Sherman was in her car, she encountered a large wolf whose back was parallel to the top of her window. A dog-like animal accompanied the large wolf that she couldn’t identify.
Over the next two years, the Shermans and their neighbors reported seeing several strange animals in the area. These included exotic, multicolored birds not native to the region and tall, dark beasts resembling Bigfoot or Sasquatch.
On one occasion, the Shermans saw a strange hyena-like creature attacking one of their horses, described as “low to the ground, heavily muscled, weighing perhaps 200 pounds, with curly red hair and a bushy tail.” As Mr. Sherman approached the animal, it vanished before his eyes. Afterward, they checked the horse and found numerous claw marks on its legs. A few months later, a neighbor reported seeing a similar beast running across their property.
The Shermans, like their neighbors, also saw strange lights and flying objects, including more than a dozen on one evening. On many occasions that they spied these UFOs, they also experienced the death or disappearance of seven of their best cows. Four disappeared without a trace, and three more were found dead and partially mutilated.
One of the dead cows had a peculiar hole in the center of its left eyeball but was otherwise untouched. Another was found with a similar hole in its left eye, and a 6-inch hole, about an inch deep, had been carved out of its rectum. The last cow to be killed and mutilated had been seen alive by the Shermans’ son just five minutes earlier. It had a 6-inch wide, 18-inch deep hole cored out of its rectum and extending into the body cavity. In all three cases, no trace of blood was found, a chemical odor was apparent, and no evidence of predators, footprints, or tire tracks.
Of the cattle that disappeared, one seemed to have been magically lifted from the snow. Its hoofprints led into a field and then just stopped. The ground was littered with broken twigs and branches, and the tops of the trees appeared to have been cut off.
Other strange events were also happening during these years. Pastures would unexplainably light up at night, the sounds of heavy machinery could be heard that seemed to be operating under the earth, poltergeist types of activities were occurring such as items disappearing only to reappear at later times, and strange disembodied voices, often speaking an unfamiliar language, were heard from above. Crop circles of flattened grass were found on the ranch.
“For a long time, we wondered what we were seeing if it was something to do with a top-secret project. I don’t know really what to think about it.” — Terry Sherman
The final straw occurred one evening in May 1996 when Sherman was outside with three of his dogs. When he noticed a blue orb darting around in the field near the ranch house, he urged his dogs to go after it. The dogs chased and barked at the orb, following it into some thick brush. Sherman heard them make three terrible yelps, and when he called for them, they didn’t respond. The next morning when he went to look for the dogs, he found only three round greasy lumps with what appeared to be a scorched spot. The dogs were never seen again.
After two years of these terrifying events, the family publicly spoke out. The first claims about strange claims about unusual events at the ranch first appeared in the Salt Lake City, Utah Deseret News and later in the alternative weekly Las Vegas Mercury as a series of articles by journalist George Knapp.
George Knapp and co-author Colm Kelleher subsequently authored a book in which they detail the earlier investigations into alleged UFO sightings in the Uintah County region, the vanishing and mutilated cattle, large animals with piercing red eyes that were not injured when struck by bullets, invisible objects emitting destructive magnetic fields, crops circles, bigfoot-like creatures, and poltergeist activity.
The Shermans planned to sell the property; however, before they got the chance, Robert Bigelow, a millionaire businessman, a believer in ufology, and founder of the National Institute for Discovery Science, offered to buy the property after he read about the events in the newspaper.
Bigelow bought the ranch for $200,000 contingent on a non-disclosure agreement with the Shermans, who agreed not to talk further about the events on the ranch. He then began establishing a compound with high-tech sensing equipment, PhD-level field investigators, scientists, and a security detail that guarded the property 24 hours a day. The investigators collected evidence, interviewed witnesses, and searched for explanations.
Its purpose was the research and advanced the study of various fringe sciences and paranormal topics, including UFOs and cattle mutilation. With little “apparent” success, the National Institute of Discovery Science was disbanded in 2004.
However, the organization was quickly replaced by the Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS), which was more secretive and was working towards having a government sponsor. In 2007, the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program (AATIP) was a secret investigatory effort funded by the United States Defense Department to study unidentified flying objects, primarily on Skinwalker Ranch.
In the next several years, $22 million were spent on the program, which investigated reports of unidentified flying objects and was run by a military intelligence official, Luis Elizondo, from the Pentagon. The shadowy program was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and has long been interested in space phenomena. He was was also a longtime friend of Robert Bigalow.
However, this information was not publicly known until it was released by the New York Times in 2017. When the story broke, a Department of Defense official confirmed the government-funded program, and Senator Harry Reid admitted his complicity.
Today, parts of the study remain classified, and the Department of Defense has never officially acknowledged the program’s existence. Interestingly, it does admit that the program was shut down in 2012.
That year, the Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies lost funding from the Department of Defense, as the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program contract expired and was not renewed. This was primarily due to Luis Elizonodo’s explanation that officials feared the public might learn about the program and see it as a misappropriation of taxpayer funds.
In the meantime, the ranch was sold to Adamantium Holdings for the rumored amount of 4.5 million in 2016. Bigalow’s company disbanded its security team, but the new owners quickly replaced it.
That same year, the Hicken Ranch Road, a Uintah County public road that bisected the Skinwalker Ranch, was illegally gated. Later that year, a representative of ranch owner Adamantium Real Estate approached the county for a road vacation, claiming rampant trespassing issues led the owners to make the road private. The request was granted, there is no access to the property today, and gates block the entrance with large warning signs.
In 2018, Adamantium Real Estate, LLC was issued a trademark for the name “Skinwalker Ranch.”
©Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated February 2023.
Navajo Skinwalkers – Witches of the Southwest
Kelleher, Colm, and Knapp, George; Hunt for the Skinwalker, Paraview Pocket Books, 2005
New York Times
Van Eyck, Zack, Frequent Fliers, Deseret News, 1996