January UFO sightings in Stephenville
gave the national news media a brief respite from politics and conferred
on the town millions of dollars in free advertising, but the Erath
County incident isn’t the Lone Star State’s
first rodeo when it comes to mysterious objects in the sky.
In fact, a bit of googling reveals that a variety of Web sites claim
the first ever usage of the word “saucer” to describe a UFO occurred
in 1878 near the Grayson County city of Denison,
then a booming railroad town in North
The sighting made page-one news in the Jan. 25, 1878 edition of
the long-defunct Denison Daily News. Here’s the complete story,
long-since in the public domain:
“A Strange Phenomenon
“From Mr. John Martin, a farmer who lives some six miles north of
this city, we learn the following strange story: Tuesday morning
[Jan. 22] while out hunting, his attention was directed to a dark
object high up in the southern sky. The peculiar shape and velocity
with which the object seemed to approach riveted his attention and
he strained his eyes to discover its character.
“When first noticed, it appeared to be about the size of an orange,
which continued to grow in size. After gazing at it for some time
Mr. Martin became blind from long looking and left off viewing it
for a time in order to rest his eyes. On resuming his view, the
object was almost overhead and had increased considerably in size,
and appeared to be going through space at wonderful speed.
“When directly over him it was about the size of a large saucer
and was evidently at great height. Mr. Martin thought it resembled,
as well as he could judge, a balloon. It went as rapidly as it had
come and was soon lost to sight in the heavenly skies. Mr. Martin
is a gentleman of undoubted veracity and this strange occurrence,
if it was not a balloon, deserves the attention of our scientists.”
careful reading of this 210-word story makes it
clear that Martin did not say he saw a flying saucer, but an object
“about the size of a large saucer.” Too, the piece makes no inference
the object came from another world. In fact, Martin “thought it
But at some point, someone ran onto this story and inducted it into
An even more careful review of the facts surrounding this1878 story
reveals the distinct possibility of a long-ago misunderstanding
on someone’s part: It appears the UFO sighting occurred near Dallas,
True, the story ran in the Denison
newspaper, but according to the first-ever printed reference to
the tale, an article in the Aug. 6, 1965 Dallas Morning News, the
newspaper merely reprinted a report that first appeared in the old
According to the News article, the story in the Denison newspaper
“recounts a piece that appeared in the old Dallas Herald.”
If that is correct, Martin had a farm in Dallas County, not near
At least both towns have names starting with a “D.” And back then,
the two places were about the same size.
A check of the 1880 U.S. Census shows no farmers named Martin living
in Dallas County, but enumerators found three John Martins living
in Collin County, just to the north of Dallas.
All made their living as farmers. To even further muddy the water,
the same census also lists a tenant farmer named John E. Martin
living in Grayson County.
Whichever John Martin saw the saucer-sized object, and wherever
the story first appeared, it did not create much of a splash downstate.
The Austin Daily Statesman, then an afternoon sheet in the capital
city, was silent on the reported goings on in North
Texas. Neither is there any easily-findable evidence that the
tale received any national notice in the press, unlike whatever
happened in the sky over Stephenville.