Withered Family Found– Almonte Gazette– A Media Mystery



The winter of 1886-1887 resulted in the death of nearly 80% of all cattle in the Badlands. Roosevelt lost over half of his herd.”Waiting for a Chinook” by C.M. Russell

I found this interesting article in the Almonte Gazette and decided to see if it was just sensational journalism.

A Withered Family Found– February 21 1887— Almonte Gazette—The bodies of five persons—a man, woman and three children—were taken from a cave in the Badlands of Dakota by a miner and were forwarded by Col. J.H. Wood, arriving to-day. The bodies are simply dried up, are not petrified, and are in a remarkable state of preservation. Scientific men say they belong to a race which existed two thousand years ago. The withered family will  be sent to the Smithsonian institute. 1887

So I pursued the matter for about an hour and saw various recounts…

ST. PAUL, Minn., Feb. 21. 1887–Col. J.H. Wood, of this city, has received the bodies of the five persons –a man, woman, and three children–taken from a cave in the Bad Lands of Dakota by a miner. Science Volume 9 1887

Library of Virginia-Alezandria Gazette 1887

Desiccated Bodies from Dakota? Five bodies taken by a miner from a cave in the Bad Lands of Dakota and sent lo the Smithsonian Institution are simply dried up, not petrified. They are.however, in a remarkable state of preservation. Scientific men who have seen them say they belong to a race which existed 2,000 years ago. This will be a very important addition to the collection of desiccated bodies now on exhibition in the national museum.


I have been through the Badlands lots of times and believe you me– it is not a place you want to get lost in. I wondered if they really were just a lost family after reading what the weather was like in  1887 in that area.



Weather conditions throughout 1886 created a foreboding scenario. A late thaw and scorching summer meant a short growing season. Wildfires took their toll on certain areas, and by winter the cattle were underfed and ranchers had little feed to supply their livestock.

The winter of 1886-87 proved to be extraordinarily harsh. One blizzard after another quickly buried what was left of the grazing land, and cattle were found “frozen to death where they stood” in temperatures as low as -41° F. Hardier cattle survived long enough to eat the tar-paper off the houses in Medora before succumbing to the elements. Others were found dead in trees after the snow melted, having climbed massive snowdrifts to reach the edible twigs before expiring amid the branches.

Tens of thousands of cattle died in the Badlands in the winter of 1886-1887, around 80% of the total population. In the spring, the Little Missouri swelled onto its floodplain, surging with melt water and ice. The carcasses of innumerable cattle bobbed down the icy river.

So were they really from a race that existed from 2000 years ago? After another hour of research not another word was dedicated to print about this find in the Badlands. One has to wonder if they were simply a travelling family frozen in the snow.We will never know.

Other Mysteries

Benoit & Richardson Photo– a Mystery

The Mystery Ruins of Carleton Place- Photos by Adam Dowdall

For the Love of Paris Green –Another Local Murdoch Mystery?

The Mystery of the Old Grandfather Clock in Beckwith – Descendants of McLachlins?

Mystery Solved of Who Killed the Red Baron — Again???

The Mystery of My Smelly Car — Seinfeldism

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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