Documented Sighting History

The problem is, whom do you believe? I don't want to indiscriminantly start quoting everyone, because then I fall into the trap of using anecdotal evidence and this compromizes everything. The thing I will do is to site those cases that seem secure because two or more independent sources claim essentially the same thing.

I am not as impressed by the residents of Marfa, who may have ulterior motives for keeping legends of every kind, going, or even inventing a few! Especially convincing will be written accounts dating from the time of the 'anecdote'.

I will label sightings as 'anecdotes' when only one source has been uncovered. And I will site them as probable when two or more sources confirm about the same date. My goal is to do a library search on 'southwest mysteries' and see if I can recover citations to the lights in books written at the time.


Here is a first cut at a chronology:



May 25, 1997

Steve Laroche photographed them. (Fact)

February 2, 1991

Radio Amateur Edwin Hendricks gives a detailed account of observing them with binoculars and a VLF receiver.


October 25, 1989

NBC television program "Unsolved Mysteries" picked up on the story. This was confirmed by using the Sul Ross Library Catalog and finding a video on file.


ca 1988

Historical marker date on marker itself. (Fact)

Possibly also when the Viewing Area was set up too. Tourism

September, 1986

Marfa Lights Festival starts.

(Fact) Tourism


William Corliss does NOT mention them in his book 'Unusual Natural Phenomena' Though he mentions other Spook Lights.


Ca 1976.

Hal Finney (marfa19.htm Item 47) reports that "I spent the summer of 1976 living with my parents in Midland, Texas. I heard about the Marfa lights from co-workers, and decided to drive down to see them." He also notes that he was told that the lights do not appear if it is overcast. Unfortunately I cannot seem to email him to support this story.



It is claimed that in 1975 a local group, including local citizens and Sul Ross Physics students, engaged in a coordinated effort to try and determine the cause and source of the lights.

(Anecdote) See Bill Baker's page at Sul Ross College


From Edson Hendricks (VLF Observations with McGreedy ... email to me on 2-19-01)OK, fine, I just picked up my telephone and called the Marfa City Municipal Library, 915-729-4631, I reached "Esther" and related your inquiry to her. While I remained on the phone she pulled out her ML scrapbook and offered me an article from the San Angelo Standard Times dated January 14, 1965,


From Edson Hendricks (VLF Observations with McGreedy ... email to me on 2-19-01) Paul Moran, "The Mystery of the Texas Ghost Light," Coronet Magazine, July 1957, p. 57 (or maybe p. 37, her copy was obscured).

ca 1955

When 'Giant' was filmed, cast (James Dean) looked for them. (Anecdote) Tourism

Note, it should be easy to track this down if there are any books written about the making of this movie, or about James Dean.

 ca 1943-5

  Pilots stationed at Old Air Base used to hunt/chase them at night. The Mayor of Marfa, Fritz Kahl was one of these pilots.

(Anecdote) From Janet Christian's article at UrbanLegends.

 ca 1916

 Town native, Hallie Stillwell claims that as a young girl she saw them with her father.

(Anecdote) From Janet Christian's article at UrbanLegends.

Note, this is a personal recollection by a single person living in the town of Marfa.

ca 1883

The earliest recorded account of the lights appeared in a frontier newspaper in the year 1883, a sighting by a West Texas range hand named Robert Ellison. The cowboy had been tending to his herd near Marfa when apparently the cattle became spooked with the appearance of one of the tiny fireballs. According to published accounts, Ellison chased the light on horseback in a prairie game of cat and mouse, finally giving up after the herd began to stampede.

This comes from Cecilia Thompson's 'History of Marfa and Presidio County' but she says he was 70 years old in 1937 when he wrote his memoirs about the 1880's. She also specifically says that he did not write about this 'famous' 1883 event in them. Instead he told his family about them and somehow this information got to Cecilia or the unnamed source she uses. Ellison's daughter, Lee Pumpley of Marfa perhaps told the story to Sul Ross's Elton Miles (Tales of the Big Bend author). This means Cecilia's story is second-hand information at best.

(Anecdote) From a typical web source. Southwest Mysteries


Note, this story has been reproduced countless times, but no document is ever cited to support it that was published at the time


The town was named in 1883 by the wife of a railroad executive for a character in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamozov, the town of Marfa originated as a water stop on the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad.

(Fact) Marfa Chamber of Commerce












Copyright (C) 2001 Dr. Sten Odenwald