There have been numerous sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) in Arkansas between 1896 and 1965, including at least three UFO sightings in Pine Bluff during 1913, 1947, and 1950.
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From 1896 to 1897, people across the country, from California to Arkansas and beyond, reported seeing what they classified as airships. An article in the Arkansas Gazette printed on April 20, 1897, reported that Captain Jim Hooton had witnessed the appearance of one such airship. Hooton, a railroad conductor for the Iron Mountain Railroad, was visiting Texarkana to pick up a train engine to bring back to Little Rock. He decided to go hunting while he waited. As he made his way through the underbrush, he heard the familiar sound of a locomotive air pump and moved toward the sound. As he looked up he saw an airship land in a field a few acres from where he stood. Hooton and the ship’s pilot then had a conversation about the airship’s engine before it took off. Hooton was able to make an extremely detailed sketch of the airship when he was interviewed by the Arkansas Gazette two days later.
On May 7, 1897, Constable Sumpter and Deputy Sheriff John McLemore spotted a bright light in the sky that quickly disappeared while out riding outside the city limits one rainy evening in Hot Springs. As they kept riding, they saw the light again, closer to the ground. They rode as fast as they could until their horses could go no further, then dismounted and drew their weapons. According to the Hot Springs Sentinel, they described seeing a sixty-foot-long, cigar-shaped vessel with several men shining lights walking around the ship. Sumpter and McLemore questioned the captain, who told them he could take them to where it was not raining. Sumpter and McLemore said they “preferred to get wet.” The two lawmen let the airship go on its way after finding out that they were headed to Nashville, Tennessee.
On the evening of June 25, 1913, numerous Pine Bluff residents reported seeing a mysterious airplane with a searchlight on its nose. According to the Pine Bluff Daily Graphic, the members of Dr. J. M. Lemmons' family, who lived on West Sixth Avenue, and Ned Ballard, a local automobile driver reported watching the aircraft for quite a while before it disappeared in a northerly direction.
On July 4, 1947, T.L. Huckaby reported seeing a noiseless circular object flying toward the Pine Bluff Arsenal at around noon. Huckaby said that the object had a silver-like coloring and was as big as a wash tub. Huckaby’s was the third such sighting of an unidentified flying object (UFO) by an Arkansas resident at the time.
On August 5, 1950, seven Pine Bluff residents also reported seeing a flying saucer near Pine Bluff the previous night. Charles White, an Arkansas Power and Lights workman even said that it was the second flying saucer he had seen. He reported seeing his first flying saucer in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1948.
On August 4, 1965, in Viney Grove, Bill Estep reported seeing a flashing light in the sky. After getting closer, he saw a “long, narrow, silver object with lighted windows and a revolving light on top hovering in the air just above the trees.” The Prairie Grove Police Department was unable to confirm Estep’s report, but officer Rubin Strong told the press that he believed Estep had seen something. That same evening, people all over Fayetteville reported seeing lights in the sky, just like Estep. A few days later, two women even reported seeing a strange aircraft land in a field near Blytheville.
Later that August, residents of Fort Smith also reported seeing a strange aircraft in the sky. All these sightings drew the attention of Project Blue Book, a program developed by the United States Air Force to investigate UFO sightings. The Blue Book report on the Fort Smith sighting reported that as many as 1,500 people witnessed the UFO.
Arkansans continue to report seeing strange objects in the sky even today. As a result, several organizations have formed to investigate local Arkansas UFO sightings. The Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and the National Investigative Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) continue to investigate UFO sightings. There is even an Ozark Mountain UFO Conference that is held every April in Eureka Springs.
Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard