1903~1904: British Army Shoots a Yeti

The Legend:

Sometime in the 1890's, workers on a telegraph line near a pass called 'Jelap La' disappeared. British troops explored the area, shot a shaggy, man-like creature, and left the body there. The only evidence is an army report on the matter.

All the Wrong Details...

        A telegraph line was stretched between Kalimpong, India and Gyantse, Tibet in 1903, that passed through the Jelep pass (not 'Jelap', as it is called now). This was because the British sent an army to "establish trade" with Tibet in December 1903, which forced it's way from Kalimpong, India, to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet at the time, arriving in September, 1904. As it turns out, a member of this invasion force was none other than Major L.A. Waddell, who is already listed in Anomalies as having seen strange footprints in the Himalayas in 1889. Waddell wrote a book about the invasion which was published in 1905, and it's interesting reading.

        For our purposes here, however, Waddell's book tells us three things. First, the telegraph line advanced with the army, being used to communicate back to Kalimpong as they moved onward. Second, the group passed through the Jelep pass on December 12, 1903, and the telegraph line was laid through at the same time. Third... Waddell doesn't report anyone going missing, or any strange characters being shot. Shootings did occur during the invasion; but not at Jelep pass, and when shootings occurred only humans were shot at (who were often shooting back). So Waddell reports nothing like the account in the legend above. This also reflects the summary given by Perceval Landon, who also published an eye-witness account of the invasion in 1905. So where did the 'army shoots a wildman' story come from?

The Original Source

        After I followed a fairly circular route through many publications, it became clear that the earliest version of this legend that anyone actually knows about comes from Jadoo, a book by John A. Keel, and published in 1957. Keel gives an altogether more detailed acccounting of the story, which I will now sum up:

        Early in the 1900's, the British were stretching a telegraph line from Kalimpong, India, to Lhasa, Tibet [so in 1903-1904. -- Garth]. The workmen were encamped at Chumbithang (the Chumbi valley), three miles from Jelep La (the Jelep pass). One evening, a dozen workers failed to return; so the next morning, a squad of British soldiers went out to look for them. Instead of finding the workers, the squad found a strange creature hiding under large boulders near the pass; it was shot and dragged to the nearest "dak" bungalow. Later the British political officer for India, Sir Charles Bell, came to the bungalow and ordered that the body be packed and shipped away, "supposedly to England" [quote from Keel's book]. The body was never seen again. Neither were the missing workers.

      Luckily for Keel (and maybe us), an old man in Darjeeling, India, named Bombahadur Chetri, claimed to have seen the body of the beast, though no details are given on how or when this happened. The creature is implied to be humanoid: past this, it's stated that it was ten feet tall, covered in shaggy hair two to three inches long with a hairless face. It had sharp yellow fangs, and red eyes... and its feet were attached backwards. Keel is quick to explain this last detail was probably a misperception based on how the body was lying; if it had ape-like feet that resembled a hand, they might look backwards if they were dangling off a table. Of course, previous to telling the whole story in his book Keel had also mentioned some of the local folklore about the wild men... which included the belief that the wildmens' feet were attached backwards to help them climb. So Keel is implying that the old man reported the feet as backwards because the old man expected to see it; on the other hand, however, maybe yeti have their feet on backwards. After all, more natives have seen them than Europeans!

The Strange Gets Stranger

        Keel's odd story next turned up in 1961, in Ivan T. Sanderson's Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life, with some interesting changes. Sanderson tells his readers that he has an official British government report concerning the matter. According to this report, in 1902 a telegraph line was being strung from Lhasa, Tibet, to Kalimpong, Darjeeling, India. When the work party reached a pass called Chumbithang, near Jelep-La on the Tibet-India border, a dozen line workers failed to return to camp one night. The following day a squad of Indian soldiers, out looking for the missing workers, found and shot a strange man-like creature that was covered with thick hair, which was found sleeping under a rock ledge. A note in the report then states that a full report was sent along with the body to Sir Charles Bell in Sikkim. And, at this point in his book, Sanderson now states that John Keel also wrote something about this event.

        Sanderson's sum up of what Keel 'unofficially' adds to the government account is: that Keel had the luck to meet one of the soldiers that shot the creature, a man named Bombahadur Chetri, who claimed the creature was ten feet tall, covered with hair but for the face, and with long yellow fangs; and that the body had been packed in ice and shipped to Sir Charles Bell... which is interesting, because Keel's book does not say that, as summed up above. Sanderson also fails to mention the claim that the creature's feet were attached backwards, which is not surprising: this wouldn't fit with Sanderson's proposed theories regarding hairy wildmen in the Himalayas.

        I don't know exacty what Sanderson's reasons were for it, but I believe it is safe to say that he never saw a government report of any sort in relation to the shooting story... it's far more likely that he invented the idea of an offcial report to allow him to claim to know more about the story than Keel did, in order to stamp his own name over the first author of the account, so to speak. The reasons for this conclusion, ignoring the fact he got Keel's version of the story wrong, is that the events he describes could not have happened as he described them. A telegraph line could not be laid from Tibet to India until after Tibet had been invaded; nor would there be reason to do it then, since a line had been laid from India to Tibet during the 1903-1904 invasion. The idea that an official British government report would also mis-state the year this event happened as 1902 is, frankly, unbelievable. Also, 'Chumbithang,' as already mentioned, translates as 'Chumbi Valley'... so it's not the name of a pass, as Sanderson asserts.

        So, the original tale of the British army shooting a Yeti -- and I have dug deep trying to find something -- comes down to this: we have to take John Keel's word for what someone else may have told him, and the evidence (assuming it exists) has vanished due to a British government coverup... so, no evidence. Sorry, folks... this story can't be trusted unless better evidence -- such as an earlier reference (or a body) -- turns up.

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