Byler UFO Column

Ken Byler

I’ve always been fascinated by the Marfa Lights. The idea that extraterrestrial visitors may be wandering around West Texas wielding big flashlights is intriguing.

There are some who believe the lights themselves are the extraterrestrial visitors.

It may surprise a lot of folks to learn that reports of unexplainable things seen in the sky have circulated in Texas for more than 100 years.

It was early spring 1896 when reports of strange things seen in the sky first began appearing in local newspapers. There’d been numerous reports of strange things sighted in the sky west of San Antonio the previous fall.

Eyewitness accounts of airships in the sky came in from as far away as eastern New Mexico. Yep, airships in the sky; that was the term used to describe the objects seen in the skies over San Antonio and New Mexico in 1896.

The following spring, more unidentified flying objects were seen in the North Texas sky. Unidentified flying objects? Yep, UFOs were reportedly seen in the sky over Collin County in 1897.

The UFOs were usually spotted in the daytime, reflecting in the sunlight. But on an early spring night in 1897, a strange thing happened: It appeared that unearthly night visitors had arrived in Collin County.

On the night of April 28,   the sky over Collin County was lit up as a bright light sped from the south toward Van Alstyne in Grayson County. The light grew more brilliant and swayed as though it was rocking from side to side as it moved along on the coal black southern horizon.

It was after 9 p.m. and folks in Van Alstyne were usually in bed by this time. But on this night they were on their porches and out in their yards nervously watching the light in the southern sky. Some of the men had loaded their shotguns and paced about their property as the light grew brighter on the dark horizon.

For years there had been reports of great balls of fire being seen floating just above the ground in the river bottoms of the East Fork of the Trinity. Old-timers called the balls of fire Will O’ the Wisps.

But this was no Will O’ the Wisp. It was too big, too bright and moving too fast. Some folks in Van Alstyne feared for the safety of their Collin County neighbors to the south.

There was no noise when the brilliant light appeared low on the horizon. Folks wondered if Anna had been struck by unearthly night visitors. Had Westminster been hit?

People began to assemble downtown, and some questioned if anyone knew what was happening. Had anyone with a telephone called anybody in Anna or Melissa?

Earlier that day, the sun was still above the horizon when the Houston and Texas Central Railroad “Special” stopped to take on water at Allen Station. The train was bearing Texas Railroad Commissioner Gen. Richard Hubbard, Houston and Texas Central Railroad Superintendent L.A. Daffan and a party of state and local dignitaries.

Along with the flags and banners, a new, state-of-the-art innovation had been mounted on the front of the steam engine.

The train would be stopping in McKinney for a dinner and reception held in honor of the dignitaries on board before traveling to Denison. It was dark when the Houston and Texas Central “Special” pulled out of McKinney.

In 1897, unless the moon was on the rise, when the sun went down it was really dark. Folks used “coal oil” lanterns and lamps and burned gaslights to light up the night. The headlights on steam locomotives were nothing more than big kerosene lanterns in front of huge reflectors.

On April 28, 1897, the Houston and Texas Central “Special” was the first train in North Texas with a new electric arc light mounted on the front of the locomotive. If you’ve ever been in a welding shop, you know how bright an electric arc light is.

The countryside was never brighter at 9 p.m. than it was when the Houston and Texas Central “Special” pulled out of McKinney. The train gathered speed as it rolled down into the East Fork of the Trinity River bottom.

As it steamed up the grade toward Melissa and the Grayson County line, the first electric arc light to be mounted on the front of a steam locomotive in North Texas brilliantly lit up the Collin County sky.

It could be seen from as far away as Van Alstyne.

Ken Byler is an Allen, Texas resident and Star Local Media contributor.

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