By William Bathlot
The following article appeared in the January 1952 issue of FATE.
The light seemed to follow us. It was transparent. Finally I raised my shotgun and let it have both barrels.
A little story by Kenneth Arnold entitled “Phantom Lights in Nevada” came out in the Fall 1948, FATE Magazine. (Also see “Lights Without Flame.” August-September FATE.) I wish to verify Mr. Arnold’s story with one of my own and, at the same time, to point out that these mysterious lights are not confined to Nevada alone. To my certain knowledge, we had these same lights away back before 1900 and since in the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles and also in the lower parts of Kansas.
About 1900, the Government opened up the land in Beaver County in the Oklahoma Panhandle to homesteaders. At that time the entire countrry was covered with bunch grass and blue stem and pastured by thousands of head of cattle from ranches up and down the Cimarron and Beaver rivers. I filed on a relinquishment in the year 1905, built a dugout and a little one room shack above it.
A cowpuncher friend of mine from the (X-I) Ranch over on the Cimarron River and I were sitting out in front of my shack one warm June night when a light about the size of a boy’s toy balloon suddenly appeared 100 yards west of the house and moved leisurely along toward the north. It seemed to float about a food and a half above the ground and threw out a yellow glow.
“Jim,” I asked, “who do you suppose is tramping across the country with a lantern at this time of night?”
“Just a ghost light,” Jim explained, as casually as if he slept with them. “From what I can find out this country has always been pestered with them. They’re spooky all right. Can’t get a cow pony near one. Nothing slower than lightning can catch up to them. They can turn off and on whenever it suits them. No one knows what they are. But since they don’t do any damage we pay them no mind. Speaking for myself, I don’t intend to get too friendly with the critters!”
But I have the same curiosity that killed the cat and I decided to meet the ghost the first chance I got. I did some figuring. This wasn’t a Will o’ the Wisp or a Jack o’ Lantern such as infest low, swampy land. The dry upland of the Oklahoma Panhandle doesn’t breed those and, besides, these lights were too large and not the color of swamp lights. Since we have electric eels, luminous fish, and fire flies, I thought, it is reasonable to believe that large birds of some unknown species live on the western prairies and are able to illuminate their bodies.
Several times that summer I saw strange lights at a distance but I never was able to get anywhere near one. Then, one night as I was coming home from Liberal, Kans., with a load of lumber, a luminous globe of light, somewhat larger than a man’s head, sprang into sight on the road about ten feet ahead of the team. The horses, badly frightened, jumped sideways, crowding a front wheel beneath the wagon and nearly upsetting the load of lumber.
This ball of light seemed to throw out a dim glow, but it gave forth no rays. It kept to the road ahead of the team. As I came down a slight incline, I put the team into a fast trot thinking I might get close enough to the light to see what it was. And I did get close enough to see the outlines of the road right through it. Then, as if fearing capture, it rose into the air and settled a short distance from the road.
Some Sinister Thing
I pulled the team to a half and walked over to a patch of wild plum brush where I thought the object had come to rest, but I couldn’t find a thing or hear a sound, thought I felt some sinister thing was watching my every move and cold chills ran up my back. In spite of all this, I remained convinced that I was on the trail of a large luminous bird.
A month after this old Brindle, the cow, about to come in fresh, struck out one evening for the timber along the Cimarron River two miles away to the north. Bob, my saddle pony, had cut himself across the chest on a barb wire fence the day before so I had to take out after old Brindle on foot.
The country was as dry as a powder horn that fall and the coyotes seemed more numerous than usual. I picked up my double-barrelled shotgun, slipped some loaded shells into my pocket, took my hired hand, and started over the trail to find the cow.
It was dark when we found her. Brindle had found her calf and she didn’t intend to go back home with us. We couldn’t very well carry the calf so we decided to return early in the morning with the team and wagon, load the calf in the wagon and lead the cow.
We were a mile from home when, without the slightest sound, a ball of luminous fire appeared just ahead of us in the trail. We stopped in our tracks and watched it in silence for awhile. We tried walking around it but it would slide over and head us off. When we went forward it backed up and when we backed up it came toward us.
We just stood there with that thing about a dozen feet in front of us as silent as death itself. It was transparent. We could see a bunch of sage brush right through its body. It hovered in the air approximately 18 inches above the ground. We could see no body resembling bird or animal, nor could we see anything resembling legs to hold it up. It was just a ball of light.
Yet apparently this strange object could see us, and it checked our every move. The deadly unnerving stillness of the thing seemed to paralyze us. Finally I raised the shotgun to my shoulder and let it have both barrels. The light went out.
We didn’t stop to see what (if anything) we had hit, but hurried on home. The next morning, when we went after the cow and calf, we stopped the team near the spot to see what damage we had done. We examined the place carefully.
There was no blood, no feathers, no hair and no footprints, except our own, in the fine blow sand that covered the earth.
I went back to Forgan, Okla., on a visit a year ago. That night, far in the distance to the southwest, we saw two of the ghost lights. These were not car lights, for cars do not travel deep Oklahoma blow sand where there are no roads. Sometimes I wonder if these ghostly lights are the spirits of men who died in old No Man’s Land when Judge Colt ruled the Oklahoma Panhandle with his six-gun!