if you go out in
the woods today
This entry is a re-post from 2011.
Above: Air Force investigation summary card.
Below: Satellite view of area.
If you go out in the woods today
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go out in the woods today
You'd better go in disguise.
If you go out in the woods today,
You'd better not go alone.
It's lovely out in the woods today,
But safer to stay at home...
IT OCCURRED, it is told, on a Labor Day weekend in 1964, in the wilds of the Sierra Nevada...
Above and Left: The Cisco Grove area in Autumn.
EVEN TODAY, the area around Cisco Grove in the high country of the Sierra Nevada's northern reaches is a wild and scenic wonder of mixed conifer forests, cascading rivers and ice-blue lakes.
Ancient granite boulders bigger than houses sit sage and unperturbed in the midst of the snow-melt rush of the Yuba River -- to which all tributaries flow -- as it courses its way through groves of Ponderosa and Lodgepole pines, Incense Cedars, Cottonwoods, and Aspens. In spring and summer (which always comes later in the high country) the meadowlands provide a deep green photosynthetic carpet against which a rainbow of untold numbers of wildflowers preen. In day, the sky overhead is a crystalline blue of a purity unfamiliar to most city-dwellers, while at night -- far distant from city lights -- it becomes a black-blue globe hosting a huge procession of stars of remarkable radiance and glory.
Here the mountain lion and coyote roam in search of prey, as do the hawk, the eagle and the owl -- each in their turn. Here the deer meander calmly though ever wary, while the squirrels leap from branch tip to branch tip with no thought to gravity as they go about their frenetic endeavors. And in all directions there is a crescendo of life: bear, bobcat, fox, beaver chipmunks, mice, stellar jays and woodpeckers being just the very tip of a long list on land, while rainbow and steelhead trout head the aquatic parade navigating within the icy waters.
Here too, has come man, though mostly on his way to somewhere else. In 1844, the first group of emigrants to cross the Sierra Nevada with covered wagons wintered here, opening the California Emigrant Trail, on which two years later the Donner Party would achieve its grisly gastronomical legacy. Two hundred thousand more came this way by the end of the Gold Rush, and the rust from their wagon wheels can still be seen today. In the 1860s thousands of Chinese immigrants swarmed the area as the transcontinental railroad blasted its way through the granite passes, its labor crews composed at the ratio of one Caucasian foreman to 40 Chinese laborers, with each crew working on rotation in three eight-hour shifts every day and every night. Many would remain here forever, as disease, accident and avalanche struck down dozens at a time. In the early 1900s would come the Lincoln Highway -- the first transcontinental automobile road -- bringing cars through the area on their way to or from Lake Tahoe and San Francisco or all the way to Times Square. And it was along this route that Charlie Chaplin would travel just a few miles distant from Cisco Grove to film his silent classic, The Gold Rush.
Above: Cisco Grove circa 1940s.
NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED since those days. Two stone cabins built by master mason Les Hammond for George Gould -- who named the area after a grove of Cottonwoods -- are all that remain. Small settlements dot the nearby areas along Highway 80, which replaced the Lincoln Highway as the preferred means of travel. But the old two-lane highway still exists a little distance away. So even now it is possible to drive along that road, and park, and thence to wander into the woods and imagine the scene as told by Donald Shrum of his 1964 encounter with seemingly otherworldly creatures.
For Donald Shrum, it began as a holiday hunting trip with friends.
But for Project Blue Book, the Air Force's official investigation into the UFO phenomenon, it began -- as it so often did -- with a five-page telex from a local Air Force base...
Note: Click on document page for full-size version.
(May require clicking on image afterwards to enlarge.)
Word came back from Blue Book requesting specific information:
A reply was sent six days later:
Included, was the referenced letter from Victor Killick:
That a recorded interview was held with Donald Shrum is part of the Blue Book file:
But only a single page -- the last one -- remains of the transcription:
And so the specific reasons for Blue Book's conclusion, noted on the file card for the incident, will never be known:
Donald Shrum was lucky in this much: he avoided the publicity he feared. Not one news article was ever written, and the documents included here are all that remain from that time to re-tell the story as it first was told.
Above: Sunrise over Cisco Grove.
A BLUNTED ARROW TIP, a canteen, and a terrified hunter half-naked at dawn were all the evidence to be offered on Shrum's behalf. For unknown reasons, his hunting companions were never interviewed. Where they had been during Shrum's frantic night encounter with whatever he fancied was threatening him from the base of a tree will never be known. Nor will any confirmation or contradiction of his account -- including whether his companions had also seen lights, or indeed whether he had truly got separated that night.
Of the transcript of his interview -- on which sometimes such matters can be weighed and assessed -- there remains but one meager page. And thus, as it does so often, personal preference and levels of credulity are the only guides left to individually judge the matter.
But for one man -- who even Blue Book thought believed his own story -- there undoubtedly remained only further questions, forever unanswered and unanswerable, far removed from the expected idles of a Labor Day respite from cares and woe, when a weekend jaunt found a hunter becoming prey of an entirely surprising kind -- if only in his own mind -- deep in the wilds of the Sierra Nevada.
1. In his 1977 book The Hynek UFO Report, Dr. J. Allen Hynek -- for 20 years the official astronomer-consultant to the U.S. Air Force investigation of the UFO phenomenon -- commented on this case as follows...
The actual tape recording of his narration of the encounter was retained by the Air Force, as well as the arrows he fired at the aliens. Blue Book labeled this one "Psychological," but to the best of my knowledge, never studied the tapes.
The story of a bow-and-arrow hunter, held at bay high in a tree, setting flame to parts of his clothing and tossing them down onto the heads of his assailants until he was half-naked, passing out because of strange fumes emitted by "aliens," is certainly hard to believe, unless one considers it within the framework of the whole parade of stories similar to it. Apparently, however, the local astronomy instructor believed Mr. S_____ sufficiently to report his story. Would he have done so if the witness was obviously unstable? Yet Blue Book persisted in calling the case "Psychological" for the record.
On a personal note, that Dr. Hynek and this article both use the term "half naked" is coincidence, the original post having been written in 2008, long before chancing upon Dr. Hynek's comments just this week.
2. Reposted on Labor Day Weekend, 2013, with no change to the text or footnote one. In the time since its original posting at this site a book has come out called "Aliens in the Forest: The Cisco Grove UFO Encounter" by Noe Torres and Ruben Uriarte, written "with the full cooperation and permission of Shrum".
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