Unsolved Mysteries Wiki
Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Case File: Marfa Lights
Location: Marfa, Texas
Date: 1883
Description: Marfa was a railroad water spot in West Texas surrounded by cattle farms. It has since become a UFO tourist spot due to the local unexplained activity.


History: In 1883, in the fields near Marfa, Texas, cattle by the thousands was being herded by cowboys across the arid country. One night, cowhand Robert Ellison noticed something strange in the distance. It was a mysterious light hovering a few feet above the ground, a few miles away. His daughter Julia Plumbley claimed that they first thought that it was a campfire, Indians, or other travelers. However, they continued to see the lights on many occasions over the next years. They were never able to determine what the lights were.
In 1916, eighteen-year-old Hallie Stillwell was driving to Marfa for business when she and several companions saw lights on the nearby Chinati mountain range. They did not believe that the lights were coming from a car. They thought that the lights were from either a campfire, Indians, Mexicans or ranchers. However, the strange movements of the lights seemed to suggest otherwise. Hallie and the others called the mysterious phenomenon "ghost lights".
In 1943, the mysterious lights were seen again near Marfa's army air base by Fritz Kahl and another airman. At that time, there was no vehicle traffic at night due to fuel rationing. Since there were no other artificial lights nearby, they could not figure out what was causing them. Fritz talked to people in Marfa and learned that the phenomenon was well known in the town.
Most of the sightings of the lights have taken place near Marfa; hundreds of residents have reported seeing them over the years. Most of them are not afraid and instead treat the lights with "affection". Residents Grace Everman and Sheri Eppenauer have reported seeing the lights several times. Teacher Lee Bennett was with three friends when she saw the lights. Interestingly, two of her friends did not see them, even though they were all looking in the same spot. Several people have tried to investigate the lights and truly find out what they are, but all attempts have been unsuccessful.
Background: Some legends claim that the lights are the ghost of an Apache Indian who refused to give up his desert home.
Investigations: Several possible explanations have been brought up throughout the years, including: ball lightning, St. Elmo's Fire, and jackrabbits with glow worms attached to their tales. However, no one has been able to conclusively determine the origin of the lights.
Journalist Kirby Warnock and several friends wanted to find out what the lights were; they realized that nobody had ever gotten close to the lights because they were using motor vehicles, which would "scare" the lights away. One night, the men decided to go on foot into the desert. They tried to get closer to the lights, but the lights kept moving away.
Unsolved Mysteries asked three scientists from a local observatory and university to investigate the lights. One was a chemistry professor, another an astronomer, and the third a geologist; with them were eleven other technicians and observers. In July of 1989, the investigators began their experiment. The lights have been seen near the Chinati Mountains. A highway cuts through the mountains and a radio beacon is in front of the mountain peaks.
In order to distinguish the Marfa Lights from car lights, the investigators placed two marker lights on the borders of the road. If the investigators observed lights outside of the designated area, they would be the Marfa Lights. The investigators used special nighttime viewing equipment. At 11:59PM, an unknown light appeared to the investigators, far from the highway. In the middle of an empty plain, the ghostly light (shown above) was clearly visible. The investigators had no explanation for it.
One scientist thought the lights might be refracted starlight, or luminous gases produced by small earthquakes, but they could not determine it for sure. All they could say was that it was a natural phenomenon, as of yet unexplained by science.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the October 25, 1989 episode. It was also featured on Sightings.
Results: Unsolved. Several of the Marfa Lights witnesses have passed away, including: Hallie Stillwell in 1997; Julia Plumbley in 2000; and Fritz Kahl in 2004.