UFO Sightings

aka: Airship Sightings

Arkansas has had a number of sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Most sightings have been isolated events, but there have been a few events in Arkansas’s recorded history in which several people have reported seeing a UFO—most notably in 1896–97 and 1965. Some have argued that the “UFOs” in the late 1800s were in fact airships or balloons that inventors were experimenting with flying. Others maintain that the sightings were a hoax perpetrated by citizens or newspaper reporters.

Throughout the fall and winter of 1896 and 1897, people across the country, beginning in California, reported seeing what they termed airships. By the spring, the phenomenon moved into Arkansas. According to newspaper reports, on April 20, 1897, Captain Jim Hooton, a railroad conductor for the Iron Mountain Railroad, was visiting Texarkana (Miller County) to pick up a train engine to bring it back to Little Rock (Pulaski County). While waiting for the train to be ready, he decided to go hunting near Texarkana. As he was making his way through some shrubbery, he heard what he described as the familiar sound of a locomotive air pump. Curious, Hooton made his way toward the sound. Hooton told the Arkansas Gazette that he saw the airship that was making news across the country landed in a field a few acres from his vantage point. Aboard the ship was a man wearing smoke-colored glasses. He asked the man, “Is this the air ship?” The man replied, “Yes, sir.” As the pilot was responding, three or four men came out of the ship. He asked the men, “I beg your pardon, sir. The noise sounds a good deal like a Westinghouse air brake.” “Perhaps it does,” the pilot answered. “We are using compressed air and aeroplanes, but you will know more later on.”

Perhaps the most prominent of the 1897 sightings in Arkansas occurred in Hot Springs (Garland County). On the rainy evening of May 7, Constable John J. Sumpter and Deputy Sheriff John McLemore were riding horseback outside the city limits. As they were riding, they saw a bright light in the sky that quickly disappeared. Puzzled, but not too alarmed, the two kept on their journey. Suddenly, they saw the light again, this time much closer to the ground. The two lawmen rode on to investigate. According to the account they gave to the Hot Springs Sentinel, they rode until their horses refused to go any farther. They dismounted and drew their weapons. They described seeing a cigar-shaped vessel, sixty feet long. Walking around the ship were several men, all shining lights while another filled a sack with water. Sumpter and McLemore asked the men what they were doing. A bearded man, holding a lantern, came near the policemen and told them that they were traveling through the country on an airship. The presumed pilot of the airship asked if the two lawmen would like to ride in the ship, “saying that he could take us where it was not raining. We told him we believed we preferred to get wet.” The pilot said their eventual destination was Nashville, Tennessee. The lawmen let the airship go on its way.

The airship sightings even caught the attention of the Arkansas General Assembly, which was debating issues regarding the Arkansas Railroad Commission; these reported airships seemed to be moving around the state without paying taxes, and the Arkansas Senate passed a resolution declaring that the airships should be paying taxes on the freight they carried.

In 1965, there was another rash of UFO sightings nationwide. On August 4, 1965, in Viney Grove (Washington County), Bill Estep reported seeing a flashing light in the sky. When he went to investigate, he saw a “long, narrow, silver object with lighted windows and a revolving light on top hovering in the air just above the trees.” Although police were unable to confirm Estep’s report, Rubin Strong of the Prairie Grove Police Department, who investigated the claim, told the press that he believed that Estep had seen something. That same night, people throughout Fayetteville (Washington County) reported lights in the sky. A few days later, two women reported seeing a strange aircraft land in a field near Blytheville (Mississippi County).

That same August, residents of Fort Smith (Sebastian County) reported seeing strange aircraft in the sky. The sightings drew the attention of Project Blue Book, a project developed by the United States Air Force to investigate the UFO phenomenon. The Blue Book report on the incident noted that as many as 1,500 people witnessed Fort Smith’s UFO.

Although not to the extent they reportedly saw UFOs in 1897 or 1965, Arkansans continue to report seeing strange objects in the sky. As a result, a number of organizations have formed to investigate local Arkansas sightings. The Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and other groups such as the National Investigative Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) have continued to investigate sightings. Such groups have established conferences such as the Ozark Mountain UFO Conference, which is held every April in Eureka Springs (Carroll County).

For additional information:
Busby, Michael. Solving the 1897 Airship Mystery. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 2004.

“Fort Smith Radiomen Report UFOs, Begin Watch with Cameras.” Arkansas Gazette, August 4, 1965, p. 8A.

Hurd, Debra Gage. “Uncommon Occurrences in Carroll County: An Outbreak of UFOs.” Carroll County Historical Quarterly 65 (Fall 2020): 108–113.

“Saw the Airship.” Arkansas Gazette, April 22, 1897, p. 3.

“Swear They Saw It.” Arkadelphia Southern Standard, May 14, 1897, p. 2.

“Swore They Saw It.” Arkansas Gazette, May 9, 1897, p. 1.

“UFOs Are Reported in North Arkansas; Cameras Catch None.” Arkansas Gazette, August 5, 1965, p. 13A.

“UFO Sighted Here.” Lincoln Leader, August 12, 1965, p. 1.

Brian Irby
Arkansas State Archives


    Back in 1995 when I was nine, I lived in Midway, Arkansas. One night I was woken by a loud noise outside. At that time I didn’t have my own room, so I slept on the couch in the living room. I looked out the window to see if a wreck or something had happened, or if my mom’s boyfriend at the time was getting home from being on a towing call since his dad owned the old Phillips 66 there. The first thing I noticed was that all the vehicles were still there. Then a bright light appeared in the pasture across Hwy 5 N. I remember it was a bright, soft, orange light. As I was watching this light move around the pasture, it suddenly stopped. Then in a flash it was between our house and the Phillips 66 station. The motion lights outside the side of the store came on. Next thing I know the light beams right in my face peering out the window. I dropped down and hid under my covers. The light was so bright I could see it through my covers. Then our dog started barking and running to the window. All of a sudden, everything went dark and silent. The dog was still barking and I decided to look out the window again. This time when I looked out, the motion lights were off and the security light in front of the store was out. It was complete darkness. The next morning I woke up to my mom’s boyfriend mad because the big satellite dish he had in the yard wasn’t working. When we walked outside to it to check to see what was going on, we noticed our swing set partially crushed. It turned out that the satellite was fried along with the motion lights and store cameras, and the batteries in both vehicles were dead. As I child I couldn’t explain what I saw. I did tell my mom and her boyfriend, but they told me it was just heat lightning.

    J H Mountain Home, AR

    It was 1976 in Montgomery County. There were four of us–my sister who was driving (age 16), mom, younger brother, and myself. We were probably coming back from the skating rink in Pike County. I think it was about 10 p.m. because it scared us all so badly we immediately drove to our neighbor’s house and he was already asleep. I was 12 and lying in the back window of our ginormous Olds Ninety-Eight just checking out the stars when I noticed a solid white light in the sky following us. We were on Highway 8 W about two miles west of Black Springs. The highway follows the Caddo River, and the light seemed to be over the river. I alerted everyone in the car and my sister stopped. There were no cars in sight and there was a large field between the river and highway. I don’t remember how close the object was when we stopped, but everyone in the car had eyes on it when it stopped in midair over the river, directly adjacent to the car. It did a 90 degree turn and headed directly toward our car tracking over the field. It was not fast and it was not high in the sky. We freaked out! I remember my mother screaming, “Oh my God, I can see inside!” My sister shot off (I remember seeing the speedometer at 70 mph) and we went directly to the neighbor’s house (half a mile probably) who lived on a hill. The object went back to the river and continued its journey toward Mena. We watched until we could no longer see it.

    TJ Miller Norman

    Years ago when I was maybe between six and eight, my sister saw something out of our bedroom window and called me over. When I looked out, above the tree in the neighbor’s yard across the street, I saw a large saucer-shaped object with lights around middle. Our youngest sister began to bounce, calling “let me see, let me see.” I tried lifting her but could barely get her up to the window for more than a moment or two. My older sister and I couldn’t believe what we were seeing and began getting super uneasy. We called for my twin brothers, and one came. We told him to look and what we saw. He looked puzzled and then looked out. He began yelling “Dad!” over and over. I’ll never forget the look on his face. He was as super uneasy as we were. As we began hearing Dad’s footsteps entering hallway we watched it zoom off fast straight up into the sky and become a dot like a star. Dad came in the room and we all told him what we’d seen. He calmed us down and said he’d find out in the morning. We weren’t to talk about it anymore and to go to bed. We did. The next day when he came in from work, out at LRAFB (he was a SMSgt stationed there) he told us he’d spoken to someone and they said what we saw was a blimp. A weather balloon. We argued it wasn’t and the shape was different and it was as wide as the tree. We had described it and I vaguely remember we tried to sketch what we’d seen, and he got irritated and told us to stop. We were not to discuss it again. He didn’t want to hear any more about it. This is maybe the second time I’ve ever spoken out about it to potentially more than a super close friend, and very few of them did I ever tell, or in deeper depth and then only privately to my younger sister. We were raised to do as we were told by my parents and we certainly didn’t disobey my father at such a young age. It was a taboo subject in our house and during those times we were forbidden to speak of it. We were afraid to do so. This is a memory I’ve held very vividly and strongly since its occurrence. I know what I saw and it was no weather balloon or blimp…and it was at a close distance. I’ve always known there were others out there somewhere and hope to have another experience some day before I’m gone. I would welcome it and be thrilled.

    Karen Hughes Gravel Ridge, AR

    My grandpa was a no-nonsense type of guy, which leads me to believe this story even more. I think it happened in the 1990s if I remember correctly. He was hunting one night and as it got dark he left his deer stand and entered the field, which was huge. He said as he entered it a white light probably 100-300 feet above lit the field up like it was daytime, and when he looked back down at the field, there were animals looking up at the light–every animal you could imagine to be in that area. After a few moments of observing, the light just went away, no sound of the animals leaving. The light was just gone. He had never seen anything like that before or again. Happened in northeastern Arkansas around Smithville.

    Ryan Lawrence Newport, AR

    My parents have always told a story that they didn’t dare speak with each other for years. On the highway between Cabot and Ward, their vehicle stopped and they saw a rib-like huge structure above them. Hovered for a bit before flying quickly away. This was maybe 1976-77. My parents were never “believers,” but they believed this.

    Ginger Morris Cabot, AR