It’s 1980 and a group of men at the Georgia Kraft Corporation in Jasper, GA, are busy chopping up an old oak chestnut tree. It’s something the team have done thousands of times before, so they’re not expecting anything out of the ordinary. But actually, two workers end up witnessing something so completely extraordinary it stretches the bounds of credibility. What the pair come face to face with inside the log leaves them utterly flabbergasted – and more than a little bit spooked. How in God’s name did it get there?
When tree museum Southern Forest World opened its doors in Waycross, GA, in 1981, it had an amazing relic on display. Local loggers had come across the piece a year earlier when it was loaded on a lumber truck bound for the sawmill. And nearly 40 years after it was first discovered, the unusual object is still fascinating visitors.
In 1980 loggers at the Georgia Kraft Corporation found themselves chopping up a chestnut oak that was quite unlike any other. A pair of workers were shocked to find the remains of a dog stuck fast inside the tree. And unfortunately, it appeared that the animal had died a long time ago.
In fact, the logging crew were 20 years past the point of being able to save the creature. It’s thought that the dog was aged about four when it became stuck in the tree sometime around 1960. Unable to get out, it’s likely the pooch had suffered a drawn-out, hungry death.
It’s believed the hapless hound had been chasing another animal when it crawled into the hollow middle of the tree and ascended nearly 30 feet. But then, tragedy struck. The opening in the tree got narrower and narrower, and the dog became trapped, powerless to exit from either end and with apparently no one around to help it escape.
But what’s so incredible about the story is that the dog left behind more than just its skeleton in the tree stump. In fact, the dog’s whole body was perfectly preserved. It had become mummified and remained wedged inside the tree, hidden from the outside world until the loggers chopped down the oak.
Thanks to its mummification, the dog looked like something out of a nightmare, frozen in time in its secret hidey-hole inside the tree. The beast had its paws outstretched and its teeth bared, as if it was about to pounce.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when they made the macabre discovery, the loggers decided to treat this trunk as a special case. Rather than transport it to the lumber mill, they donated it instead to the Southern Forest World museum. And this is where the trunk and its grisly contents remain today.
A sign on display at the museum reveals how the dog’s mummification is thought to have occurred. It would have been reasonably dry inside the tree trunk, which would have helped to preserve the animal’s body. At the same time, tannic acid present in the oak is believed to have toughened and solidified the dog’s skin.
Tannin is naturally found in the bark of oak trees. As well as being used to tan the hides of animals, it also helps to keep the immediate vicinity free from moisture. This would have helped to prevent the typical process of decay and decomposition that occurs after an organism dies.
At the same time, as the tree was hollow, the air inside traveled upward and outward, much like a chimney. This meant that after the dog died, the smell of its dead corpse left the oak. Therefore, bugs that would normally feed on dead matter were not drawn to the scent, helping to preserve the creature. And the dog remains in the same pose today, some 60 years after first entering his final resting place.
“People always ask me, ‘How did he get in there?’ And I always say, ‘Well, he was a hound dog. Maybe he was after a raccoon,’” Forest World’s manager Brandy Stevenson told Roadside America. “And then they’ll say, ‘Poor old thing. I feel so sorry for him.’”
At Southern Forest World, the petrified animal – which is the museum’s star attraction – is displayed behind glass. The creature was known simply as “Mummified Dog” for over 30 years – until a competition took place to find it a name.
In 2002 the museum decided to host a contest to give the nightmarish beast a moniker. There were a large number of entries, and many people got creative with their submissions. Suggestions that came close to winning included “Chipper” and “Dogwood.”
But it was “Stuckey” that came out on top. The name was proposed by a woman who explained that the frozen-in-time creature inside the tree trunk reminded her of the pecan logs being sold at Stuckey’s convenience stores. Southern Forest World then altered the spelling to “Stuckie” for trademark reasons.
Moreover, photos and videos of Stuckie continue to be shared online, with many prompting a variety of comments. Some people feel sorry for the animal and the gruesome way that it perished. “Poor dog, what a horrible way to die,” Traci B. commented on YouTube. “Very sad, it’s just horrid to think of his suffering,” K. Erica added.
Others were unnerved by the animal’s frightening appearance. “For the rest of my life, I will now be terrified to look inside of hollow logs,” Curoi MacDaire wrote. Fellow commenter Little Jimmy agreed. “Wow, I bet the loggers freaked out,” he offered.
Experts examined Stuckie after his discovery and concluded that the animal had been in the tree for an estimated 20 years. And the surprising way the dog’s body was mummified has made it famous. The pooch actually appears in the new Ripley’s Believe It Not! book, Shatter Your Senses.
Meanwhile, Southern Forest World also boasts some other interesting artifacts in its collection. There are many outdoor pieces including a hollowed-out stump and a butterfly garden. “The managed forest part is really what we’re all about,” Brandy Stevenson told Roadside America. “If we don’t have trees, we don’t have oxygen.”
But Stuckie is without a doubt their most prized possession. And although it’s rare to find such a specimen today, there was once a time where creatures would regularly be mummified. Indeed, in Ancient Egypt, it’s believed that as many as 70 million animals were mummified before being buried.
Natural animal mummifications have occurred elsewhere in the world too. In summer 2016, for example, gold miners in the Yukon in northern Canada made a fantastic discovery – but it wasn’t the precious metal. Instead, they found mummified animal bodies from 50,000 years ago. And the workers’ incredible finds would reveal new information about the region’s fearsome prehistoric beasts.
Today the Yukon, which was established in 1898, is one of the three Canadian territories to the north of the country; the other two are Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Back in the ice age, however, most of Canada was covered by ice that was miles deep, meaning wildlife was scarce or nonexistent. Therefore, the country was effectively a frozen desert.
Nevertheless, things were different in the land that we now call the Yukon. Somehow, the region escaped the extreme glaciation that covered the rest of Canada in unimaginably thick ice. And this meant that it provided a habitat in which a wide variety of wild animals could thrive.
The two gold mines where the finds were made are not far from the Yukon’s Dawson City in the Klondike region of the territory. Go hiking in the countryside in the area, and you’ll find the boreal woodlands typical of regions with lengthy winters and brief summers.
However, 50,000 years ago the landscape was quite different. Dr. Grant Zazula, a Yukon paleontologist, explained to CTV News that the territory in the Klondike was most likely treeless and characterized by frigid winds blowing across the land. The environment would have been a grassy tundra.
Wildlife in the Yukon would have included animals such as steppe bison, scimitar cats, camels and American mastodons. It would also have most definitely included caribou and wolves. And the extraordinary discoveries in those two gold mines were the astonishingly well-preserved mummified carcasses of an ice-age caribou and wolf.
Though the wolf that was discovered was actually a cub. It was found by gold miners at a mine worked by Favron Enterprises, run by the Favron family. The great-grandfathers of the present-day mine owners, Guy and Lisa Favron, were among the original prospectors who had headed north in 1898. The men had been lured by the heady promises of the Klondike Gold Rush at the time.
Speaking about the mummified wolf found by the miners in July 2016, a clearly enthused Zazula waxed lyrical. “It’s beautiful, the fur. It’s got the cute little paws and tail and the curled upper lip showing its teeth. It’s spectacular,” he said.
“Once in a while we find remains of ice age voles or squirrels. But in terms of something significant and crazy like this, this is very, very rare,” Zazula continued. “We sometimes get jealous because in Siberia, we have colleagues who work in Russia, and it seems like they find a new woolly mammoth carcass every summer. But we never seem to find those in the Yukon or Alaska,” he added.
This wolf cub would have been a Yukon or gray wolf. These predators and scavengers evolved somewhat differently to their cousins elsewhere in North America. In particular, Yukon wolves developed shorter and wider snouts than other wolves, meaning the power of their bites was increased. This probably helped to hunt or scavenge large animals in their territory – perhaps even mastodons.
And Zazula was in no doubt about the significance of this find. “When you look at fossil bones, that’s one thing. But when you actually see a whole animal from an ancient time, it brings that ancient time to life,” he told CTV News. “It just makes you ponder about the amazing changes that have happened in the environment, the climate and the animal community since that time,” he added.
The other mummified animal discovered in 2016 – in June – was found at another mine near Dawson City at Paradise Hill. This specimen is the partial body of a caribou – which, like the wolf cub, has been carbon dated to over 50,000 years ago.
And the Paradise Hill mine is owned and run by Tony Beets, who has a prominent public profile as one of the stars of the Discovery TV reality show Gold Rush. Like the Favron mine, Paradise Hill is a placer mine, which means that gold is extracted from gravel beds.
And the area around Dawson City is fertile ground for this type of mining. That’s due to the fact that the land was not covered in thick ice during the ice age. So the very factor that makes the Klondike a good place to mine for gold today is the same one that made the Yukon a suitable habitat for all kinds of wildlife 50,000 years ago.
However, only a fraction of the caribou was discovered. The remains consisted of the front part of the creature’s body and included a section of the torso, the forelegs and the head. And as with the young wolf, the caribou’s skin, hair and muscle were exceptionally well preserved.
Caribou appeared two million years ago across the tundra of Beringia, the prehistoric land that extended from the Yukon to Siberia. The Yukon was the site where the most ancient known caribou remains were discovered; those themselves dated back some 1.6 million years.
And prehistoric Native Americans had a very close relationship to caribou. As Roberta Joseph, chief of the Yukon’s Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people, said in a Yukon government press release announcing the mummy finds, “The caribou has fed and clothed our people for thousands of years.”
Furthermore, it would be difficult to overestimate the importance and rarity of these discoveries. Elsa Panciroli, a University of Edinburgh paleontologist, told The Guardian, “Ice age wolf bones are relatively common in the Yukon, but having an animal preserved with skin and fur is just exceptional – you just want to reach out and stroke it. It’s an evocative glimpse into the ice age world.”
While Zazula pointed out that the mummified body of a horse had been uncovered in the Klondike three decades ago, no other well-preserved animal remains had been found since then – until the bodies of the wolf and the caribou had come to light. Indeed, Zazula explained, “We think this is actually probably the oldest mummified mammal tissue in the world for soft-tissue skin, hair and muscle.”
Now, scientists are making a detailed study of the two mummified animals; this will include genetic testing. They hope to learn more about the creatures as well as the habitat they lived in. Also, there are plans to exhibit them at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre in Whitehorse, so visitors to the city can appreciate the specimens in all their glory.