What Is It? Where Did It Come From?
Bonham Daily Favorite, October 4, 1992
While most persons may consider UFO's a 20th century phenomena and the current rash of crop circles in the British Isles a hoax, no unexplained celestial sightings by contemporary man would be surprising to the early settlers of the Red River valley. The possibility of manned flight has aroused curiosity since the dawn of civilization. Old Testament stories of heavenly chariots, pillars of fire, and Ezekiel's wheels all fit within the realm of man's desire "to slip the surly bonds of earth."
The folklore of practically every society abounds with legends and fanciful accounts of attempts at flight and the sometimes disastrous results. From Greek legend the story of Daedalus and his son Icarus may well be the oldest of the stories that remains extant. Imprisoned in the maze at Crete, the two plotted their only means of escape, flight over the prison walls. Daedalus fashioned wings of feathers and wax which, when attached to their bodies, would allow the two to soar away to freedom. And as every school boy knows, Icarus, full of bravado and enthusiasm, ignored his father's warning, flew too close to the sun, and fell to his death when the wax on the wings melted.
In the 14th century Leonardo daVinci dreamed of and designed marvelous flying machines. But the first actual attempt at controlled flight in the 1700's was also the first demonstration of flying that was to be witnessed by Bonham citizens, hot air balloon ascensions.
But before the first balloon exhibitionists arrived on the scene Fannin County residents for a number of years reported mysterious and baffling occurrences in the skies. The first of these was reported by The Northern Standard newspaper on March 23, 1843. The accounts quoted a number of citizens of Bois d'Arc (Bonham) who had sighted a strange "aeroship" which appeared to be some fifteen feet in height and of indeterminable length. For several days the spectacle was observed making its appearance in the northern sky stretching from east to west.
The Standard, in the same edition, also reported that two days after the sighting a major flood swept Red River and Bois d'Arc Creek. Jabez Fitzgerald's still on Bois d'Arc was swept away. There were no further sightings of the aeroship.
Evidently the skies over Fannin County remained relatively quiet for the next several years, or at least no further phenomena were reported until 1873.
In June, The North Texas Enterprise, a Bonham paper, reported in detail an incident that occurred outside the town: A few days ago a Mr. Hardin, residing some five or six miles east of this place, saw an aeroship resembling an enormous serpent floating in a cloud which passed over his farm. Several parties of men and boys, at work in the field, observed the same thing and were seriously frightened. It was of a yellow striped color and seemed to float along without any effort. They observed it coil up, turn over, and thrust itself along displaying the mannerisms of a snake. The cloud and aeroship moved in an easterly direction and were seen by persons a few miles this side of Honey Grove.
Thomas R. Burnett, editor and publisher of The Enterprise concluded the account with "the question is, what is it, and where did it come from?"
The month of March seems to have been a good month for these mysterious sightings. In March 1897 appeared the first report of the by now standard cigar shaped object.
On March 29th several Dallas newspapers and other journals throughout the valley reported that a farmer between Honey Grove and Paris was chased by a cigar shaped aeroship which was dragging an anchor along the ground. The anchor snagged the man by his pants and hoisted him into the air. Suddenly the pants gave up the fight and with a loud ripping sound the farmer fell back to earth. He later expressed anger at the captain of the ship for dragging the anchor along the ground.
Two weeks later a man travelling between Bonham and Denton reported the sighting of an aeroship that was "definitely some kind of manufactured craft." Other persons along Red River reported that for the next week a "seegar" shaped object 200 feet long with large wings was sailing through the Texas skies. People between Bonham and Farmersville heard the crew of an airship singing hymns as they passed overhead.
Despite the proliferation of such stories no authoritatively witnessed and documented account of man's flight took place until August 11, 1904.
The Woodmen of the World, at their park south of Bonham, scheduled a two day series of events at their annual log rolling contests. The highlight of that year's festivities were the balloon ascensions available to the local citizenry. From available information it is indicated that this was the first time that aerial flight was seen locally.
The Bonham News reported large crowds in attendance for the scheduled ascensions with some stalwart young men availing themselves of the opportunity to float above the trees. The News failed to report whether the ascensions were tethered or free floating and the duration of each ascent.
The most spectacular part of the exhibition involved what was billed at "the most daring and spectacularly dangerous fire flight." Each night at 9:00 Professor Reisto took wing from the balloon, flew 200 feet through mid-air, absolutely enveloped in flames.
The fascination with flight continued unabated in Fannin County until 1912 when for the first time people had the opportunity to see first hand the miracle of flight as demonstrated by the Wright brothers in 1903. The legitimate air age arrived in Bonham on January 12, 1912 in the person of famed aviator Charles Walsh who put on a spectacular two day exhibition of his flying skills for a large crowd of persons from throughout the area.
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas