Devils Hoofmarks

Tracks made by a myst ery mammal, possibly a Rodent; in England and elsewhere.

Etymology: Newspapers in 1855 report ed t hat some people at t ribut ed t he marks t o Sat an.

Tracks: Vaguely donkeylike; some appear t o have been made by hooves, while ot hers do not . Length, 3.5-4 inches. Width, 1.5-2.75 inches. Depth, 0.5-4 inches. The prints are 8-16 inches apart and direct ly in front of each ot her, rat her t han alt ernat ing left and right .

Significant sightings: On t he night of February 8-9, 1855, somet hing left a t rail of t housands of print s in t he snow across Devon, England, from Torquay in t he sout h to Exet er in t he nort h. The t racks wandered t hrough gardens, lanes, and cemet eries in at least t hirt y villages, crossing roofs and jumping across walls and hayst acks. Several groups of people followed t hem, but all failed t o find a t rack maker, t o not e whet her t here was more t han one t rail, or t o det ermine if t he print s varied in shape from place t o place.

Ot her cases of myst erious t rails t hat have been compared t o t he Devon case include cloven t racks in t he snow found in Inverness, Scot land, t he same mont h, which a local nat uralist declared were made eit her by a hare or by a European polecat (Mustela putorius); t he donkeylike t racks discovered by t he crew of James Clark Ross in May 1840 on desolat e Kerguelen Island in t he Sout h Indian Ocean, which may have been made by an animal cast ashore on a shipwrecked vessel; t he 2-mile-long set of semicircular t racks found in t he snow on January 10,

1945, near Everberg, Belgium, by Eric Frank Russell that were 9-12 inches apart; the hoofmarks clearly impressed in t he wet sand of a Devonshire coast al t own t hat were found by a Mr. Wilson in Oct ober 1950; and small, horseshoe-shaped t racks in t he snow phot ographed by Ruth Christiansen in January 1975 at Frederic, Wisconsin.

Possible explanations:

(1) Many wild guesses were made, including an escaped monkey, mouse, rat , swan, hare, deer, ot t er, t oad, Domest ic cat (Felis silvestris catus), escaped kangaroo, heron, and a Great bust ard (Otis tarda).

(2) Zoologist Richard Owen suggest ed t he t racks were made by Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) out looking for food on t his part icularly cold night . However, badger print s overlap and clearly alt ernat e left and right .

(3) Birds may have easily left t racks in closed gardens or on t op of walls, but bird print s, whet her clawed or webbed, are easily recognizable.

(4) The Donkey (Equus asinus) does act ually place it s hooves in a st raight line when walking and could have account ed for some of t he t racks.

(5) The Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) may have cont ribut ed t o t he myst ery, according t o Gordon St ein, but it would have had a difficult t ime scaling walls or roofs.

(6) The Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) makes a V-shaped t rack when it moves along in kangaroo-like leaps of 2-3 feet , climbing bushes and t rees wit h ease. It is quit e common in English gardens. Alfred Leut scher t hought of t his explanat ion when he came across dozens of t rails made by t his mouse in t he snow, all four feet coming t oget her in a single t rack roughly conforming to t he hoofmarks.

(7) Manfri Wood recount ed a t ale he heard about a carefully planned prank by Romanies using several hundred pairs of specially made st ilt s in an at t empt t o scare away t heir rivals, t he Didikais (Romanies of mixed herit age) and Pikies (criminals expelled from Romany society). The scheme depended on making

The DEVIL's HOOFMARKS, unidentified tracks made in the snow on the night of February 8—9, 1855, in Devon, England. (Illustrated London News/Fortean Picture Library)

t he t racks appear supernat ural. However, t he event t ook place in Somerset at an unspecified t ime in t he past and involved size 27 boot s at t he base of t he st ilt s. (8) James Alan Rennie proposed t hat t he t racks were made by freakish air current s, an int erest ing suggest ion in t he light of similar explanat ions for t he crop circles of sout hern

England. He claimed t o have seen a line of much larger t racks being made in such a fashion in t he snow in nort hern Canada in 1924.

(9) Morris K. Jessup and George Lyall suggest ed t hat unident ified flying object s (UFOs) sent down "rays" or laser beams t o creat e t he t racks.

(10) Mike Dash has discovered that some apparent anomalies in this case have been overstated: There were multiple trails of varying lengths, not a continuous one of 100 miles, as one account had it. Several sources suggest that tracks were found for several days afterward. One report that the tracks led to a haystack with no marks in the snow on its surface and reappeared on the opposite side is difficult to explain, but the source was anonymous and secondhand. Some witnesses saw claw marks or rounded prints, while others found clearly defined hoofmarks. Also, in some instances the tracks were not strictly one in front of the other. All of this indicates multiple causes for the tracks. Sources: James Clark Ross, A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions (London: John Murray, 1847), vol. 1, p. 87; "Extraordinary Occurrence," Times (London), February 16, 1855; [William D'Urban], "Foot-Marks on the Snow, in Devon," Illustrated London News 26 (February 24, 1855): 187; "Mysterious Footprints in the Snow," Inverness Courier, March 1, 1855; Richard Owen, "Professor Owen on the Foot-Marks in the Snow in Devon," Illustrated London News 26 (March 3, 1855): 214; "The Mysterious Footprints in Devonshire," Times (London), March 6, 1855; "The Foot-Marks in the Snow in Devon," Illustrated London News 26 (March 10, 1855): 238; Rupert T. Gould, Oddities: A Book of Unexplained Facts (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1928), pp. 9-22; [Eric Frank Russell], "Our Cover," Doubt, no. 15 (1946): 218; Theo Brown, "The Great Devon Mystery of 1855, or 'The Devil in Devon,'" Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association 82 (1950): 107-112; Theo Brown, "A Further Note on the 'Great Devon Mystery,'" Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association 84 (1952): 163-171; Morris K. Jessup, The Case for the UFO (New York: Citadel, 1955), pp. 153-160; James Alan Rennie, Romantic Strathspey (London: Robert Hale, 1956), pp. 81-82; Eric J. Dingwall, "Did the Devil Walk Again?" Tomorrow 5, no. 3 (Spring 1957); Alfred Leutscher, "The Devil's Hoof-Marks,"

Animals 6, no. 8 (April 20, 1965): 108-109; George Lyall, "Did a Laser Create the Devil's Footprints?" Flying Saucer Review 18, no. 1 (January-February 1972): 24-25; Manfri Frederick Wood, In the Life of a Romany Gypsy (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973); "Woman Photographs Strange Tracks," A.P.R.O. Bulletin 23, no. 8 (June 1975); "The Devil's Walk in Devon," Fortean Times, no. 39 (Spring 1983): 16; G. A. Household, ed., The Devil's Footprints: The Great Devon Mystery of 1855 (Exeter, England: Devon Books, 1985); Gordon Stein, "The Devil's Footprints," Fate 38 (August 1985): 88-95; Mike Dash, ed., "The Devil's Hoofmarks: Source Material on the Great Devon Mystery of 1855," Fortean Studies 1 (1994): 71-150; Joe Nickell, RealLife X-Files (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001), pp. 10-17.

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