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Texas | Columns | "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"


by C. F. Eckhardt

This story was told to me by the late Alan Acton, who had been, for years, a sort of shirt-tail geologist and surveyor for oil companies. He encountered, twice, a phenomenon he couldn't explain. There are those who blame this phenomenon on 'swamp gas,' but where Mr. Acton had his experiences there haven't been swamps since there were dinosaurs in them. I'll try to tell the story as Mr. Acton told it to me.

"I was in Tom Greene County, surveying a lease for one of the companies. It had a lot of doglegs in it, and we had to get the survey right. My partner and I hired several local Mexicans to pull chains and put down stakes, but for some reason they wouldn't leave their houses until it was full daylight and wanted to be back home before the sun was fully down. We lost a lot of daylight that way, but there was no getting around it. I asked one of the Mexicans why they wouldn't agree to leave home before sunup and insisted on being back before sundown, and he said "Muchas brujas con luces." Now, that means 'many witches with lights,' and when a Mexican gets to talking about witches you're not going to get any sense out of him, so we had to keep losing daylight.

"One Saturday night my partner took the car-it was an oilfield Model T, and if you've ever seen one you know it wasn't much of a car. It was stripped of everything but what was needed to make it run-no fenders, no hood, no bumpers, no running boards, no doors, but a lot of spare parts wired to the spare tire. The only lights on it were the kerosene ones under the windshield, but the glass was out of the windshield and we'd sawed the frame off just above the light brackets. He was going into town in that thing.

"I stayed on the lease in the little one-room shack we were bunking in. I'd just bought a new rifle-a muley Savage in the .250-3000 caliber, which was a very flat-shooting gun. I also had my sixshooter, which was a Smith & Wesson .44. "Along about sundown I went outside to sit and watch the sun go down. That place was still as death. It was so quiet out there you could hear a windmill pumping a couple of miles away if the wind was right. Of course there were no airplanes flying after dark out there, and the nearest main road was eight or ten miles off, so there were no road sounds.

"Away off in the distance I saw a couple of lights. I first thought they might be the lights on the T, but they didn't look right. They were together and then they'd separate maybe ten or twelve feet apart and then come back together. I thought maybe it was a couple of guys on motorcycles, but motorcycles in those days were really loud, and I couldn't hear the engines.

They'd dip out of sight like they'd gone down in a draw or something and then come back up a little closer. What they looked like was a couple of people carrying Dietz lanterns at about knee level, by the bails.

"There were some pretty rough folks in that country in those days, so I decided to get a look at them before they got one at me. I got my rifle and sixshooter, lit the coal-oil lamp in the shack, and went out and knelt down behind a bush maybe twenty, thirty feet from the door.

"Those things kept coming, and I realized there wasn't anyone there. There were just those lights. They were balls of light maybe a foot or so in diameter. They didn't seem to have a central flame or anything, they were just glowing. They came right up to the edge of the half-circle of light that was coming out the door of the shack and stopped and just hung there.

"Well, by this time I was a mite nervous, you might say, and I figured I was going to have to visit the privy pretty soon. I laid my sights on the nearest ball of light and squeezed off one of those .250-3000 rounds. Both the lights went out. It was like you'd turned off an electric light switch. As soon as I fired, they both just went out.

"The next morning one of the Mexicans asked me what I shot at in the night, and I said a coyote. He said "Maybeso a coyote with fire on his tail, an' the fire was so bright you couldn't see the coyote for it?" That's when I knew what the Mexicans were scared of, and I'll have to admit it spooked me quite a bit, too.

"The second time I saw one of those things was a couple of years later, up by Borger. I was out with a crew-there were three of us in an oilfield T. We let dark slip up on us, and in those days the closest light was the moon out there, and there wasn't any moon that night. We were creeping across country, trying to avoid falling in a hole and breaking an axle. We'd just about decided we were going to have to spend the night in the Henry Ford Hotel when we saw a light off in the distance. We figured it was a lamp in a ranch house window, and at least we'd get to sleep in the barn.

"We headed for that light. It was slow going, but we made progress-but when we got to it, there was no house. There was just a glowing ball of light, maybe a foot or a foot and a half across, in the branches of a little tree. Again, there wasn't a center to it, it was just a soft glow that seemed to come from the whole ball.

"Somebody hollered "Let's get the Hell outa here," and I jerked the wheel on the Ford and slapped both ears all the way down. (That refers to the spark and gas levers mounted on the Model T's steering column. 'Running with both ears down' was a way of expressing 'wide open' with a Model T.) I don't know how I kept from breaking an axle or turning that thing over in that rough ground, but I didn't. In about ten minutes we ran out onto a gravel road. There wasn't but one gravel road around, and it led to Borger, so we got back to our beds that night. The next morning those other two fellers wouldn't even talk about what we'd seen."

Swamp gas? Folks, the places Mr. Acton had his experiences with what some folks call 'swamp gas' were both as dry as old buffalo bones. There has to be another explanation for what is, unquestionably, an unknown natural phenomenon, but nobody's found it yet.

C. F. Eckhardt
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas" January 1, 2007 column


Books by C. F. Eckhardt

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