Alternate Perceptions Magazine, February 2024
What was haunting the skies of Nebraska’s
Republican River Valley in the 1980s?
by: Dennis Walker
On a warm summer evening in the early 1980s, six friends went for a drive along an unpaved, dusty road lined with trees and other vegetation along the Republican River south of the south-central Nebraska community of Arapahoe. The sun had recently receded behind the western horizon as the car lazily followed the winding river road east with no real destination in mind. The occupants of the car were a combination of coworkers at the local grocery store, sons and daughters of mothers who were friends or a combination of both. The small town offered little to do many nights for young people who merely wanted to pass an evening so, as was the fashion at the time, driving up and down the main street in town over and over and when that became too repetitive, denizens of the Arapahoe streets would seek other sight-seeing venues such as the one lane dirt road that ran parallel to the river.
After exploring the road for close to a mile, it was decided to turn around and return to town to see if anyone new had joined the cars parading back and forth under the streetlights. Stars had begun to poke through the darkening river valley skies and the sun had painted streaks of orange in the west as the carload of friends approached the incline leading to the state highway that had brought the vehicle south of town. All conversation halted abruptly as the lights from the car shined upward as the car climbed the incline to the highway and struck something on the other side of the pavement to the west, opposite of the vehicle. The car’s occupants stared in disbelief at an object hovering above the field. The object moved very little as it hung in the air. It appeared to be dotted with different colored lights and the occupants of the car took turns asking each other what they were looking at.
After what seemed like hours, the driver of the car decided he had seen enough and excitedly pushed his car onto the highway, heading north toward town. As the vehicle sped toward the lights of Arapahoe, every person in the car, minus the driver, watched as the lighted object followed and kept pace with the car easily as it cruised effortlessly above the tree tops as both car and object rapidly approached town. Roughly an eighth of a mile before the carload of friends crossed the railroad tracks on the south edge of town, the lighted object increased its speed and disappeared quickly in the lights of the small town.
The state of Nebraska is known mostly for raising corn and cattle, its college football and more recently, college volleyball programs. If asked, most people would not equate strange lights in the sky with the Cornhusker state; however, the phenomenon, be it balls of light, airships, black triangles, stereotypical unidentified flying objects (UFOs) now referred to as Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAPs), the skies of Nebraska have had their fair share of inexplicable and unexplainable sights in the skies for a very, very long time.
One of Nebraska’s most popular and famous authors, Mari Sandoz, comments on the airships reported by Nebraskans in the late 1890s beginning on page 243 in her book “Love Song to the Plains,” and states, “In times of extreme privation and hardship, of great public unease or after a war, when people refuse to face the dull realities of peace, they build fairy tales for themselves, tall tales, and if the times are right, these can run over the nation like prairie fire in a hot wind,” which could apply to many reported sightings and experiences over the years. She goes on, “Suddenly in the 1890s, when it seemed that the rains would never sprout corn again, tall tales started, not unlike those of bald-headed Indians, mummified pigmies in Wyoming, or the petrified mermaid of the Loup Valley. Flying boats appeared. Back in the hard times of 1857-58 there were stories of flying serpents that hovered over a Missouri River steamboat slowing for a landing. Then early in 1897 the papers reported an airship or something near Hastings at about eight hundred feet up.” She goes on to relate that she felt airship sightings across the state were an epidemic as reports came in from Hastings, Omaha, North Platte, Kearney, Grand Island and more.
In a 2010 article in Nebraska Life magazine, author Alan J. Bartels recounts the legend of a UFO (or Unidentified Ariel Phenomenon or UAP, as they are called more and more now) crash near Benkleman and of course there is the 1957 account of Reinhold Schmidt, who reported being abducted by a UAP in 1957 near the Platte River near Kearney. Nebraska has a long history of all manner of crafts, lights, encounters and what-not since before it became a state on March 1, 1867. The Republican Valley in the southwestern corner of the state is no exception. The small southwest Nebraska farming community that the author grew up in more than forty years ago was, and still is, small enough to be able to see the east edge from the west and the north from the south edge if you look up one of the main streets. Arapahoe is still a sleepy farming town in the center of Furnas County along the Republican River which begins in eastern Colorado, snakes through southwest Nebraska and eventually meets the Missouri River in Kansas.
My family lived on the west edge of Arapahoe’s corporate limits. Our neighbor's home and barn and other buildings were to our north and a small, sometimes inhabited house was across the street to the east. Directly south of our property was a large vacant lot that was never used for anything other than for a path for the owners to drive to check the cattle they sometimes kept in the low field behind our land. That provided an exceptionally large, unobstructed view of the southern and western sky above the trees of the Muddy Creek which ran in a crooked north to south path a short distance west behind our home. Nebraska sunsets are spectacular with their golden hues against the deep blue sky. And none are more beautiful than those in the Republican Valley, the long valley that Arapahoe and several other similarly sized communities occupy. As I grew older, I grew very fond of sitting on the slight rise of the neighbor’s yard across the street east of his house and watching the sunset over the roof and trees of our house and then the sun setting over the western horizon of the vacant lot. I marveled at how beautiful the twinkling stars were as they slowly pierced the darkening prairie skies in the summer. The moon also fascinated me. By the time I was a seventh grader, I was completely obsessed with space, space travel, the open skies, NASA and anything to do with the moon landings and the premier space station of the day, Skylab. I devoured anything I could get my hands on regarding the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab missions. At that time, the space shuttle program was only in its infancy. The first object I recall seeing in the sky that should not have been there was not an airplane, birds or Superman from the comic books I had read, it was Skylab itself! Launched in May of 1973, Skylab was built from left over parts from the final two Apollo missions, including the third stage of an Apollo V rocket. The world’s first space station had the first solar panels I had ever seen and weighed eighty-five tons. Skylab was used for numerous experiments over the years and held my young imagination captive the whole time. But as the 1970s wound down, the aging giant began to decay, and its orbit declined despite the best efforts of NASA engineers. By the summer of 1979, it was decided to attempt to guide the huge piece of space junk into the Indian Ocean to avoid hitting a populated area. The best NASA was able to do was get the abandoned station to crash in a less populated area of Australia on July 11, 1979.
Although I was not witness to its crashing “Down Under, in Austrailia,” My brother, Royce, and I saw it before it returned to earth. My science teacher at the time, one George Probasco, pinned a newspaper article above his chalk board (Yes, chalk board) several weeks before Skylab was to come back home that it would be orbiting low enough in the sky so and could be seen from the ground unaided. Of course, I was beside myself with expectation. I don’t recall the exact date, but I remember standing in the vacant lot south of my home with my brother watching Skylab travel briskly across the sky from the northwest to the southeast. It was maybe a little bigger than a commercial jet when viewed at a distance and had a yellow-orange glow around it, but we could even see the long solar panels on the top. I read soon after seeing it, that Skylab had crashed
The Skylab space station as it was seen in the late 1970s.
In 1980 I entered my first year of high school and, defying authority, rock n roll and admiring the fairer sex took the place of sky watching and reading about space travel, although I began an unending love affair with the British science fiction show Doctor Who around that time. At about the same time, I also began a long tenure working at the local grocery store where I met and befriended one Timothy Kappers, Esquire. We will get to the good stuff soon, I promise!
Tim and I had similar upbringings, our mothers were friends and, despite his being a senior when I was a freshman, Tim had a car, liked hard rock music, and allowed me to cruise back and forth around the streets of Arapahoe with him and his friends as was the custom back then. Tim and I also enjoyed discussing paranormal topics such as UFOs, cryptids such as Bigfoot, ghosts and the like that we both had experiences of their own with or knew someone who had.
In July of 1980, Tim and I had gotten in the car of our coworker and friend, Doug Soncksen to drive around one evening as there was little else to do and with us were Tim’s sister, my brother, and a young lady who would likely not appreciate being mentioned here. That night, sometime between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m., the driver chose to take Highway 6 south out of Arapahoe to the Republican River several miles distant, to drive along a dusty, unpaved road that. Once one got off of the highway, the well-travelled dirt road went north for a short distance toward the Republican River, then, after a curve that guided travelers eastward, followed the south side of the river for who knows how far. That road has now been blocked off for many years as someone bought land there and has a homestead. The trips there were innocuous. Just something different that the “main drag” and same old cars driven by others our age. They would drive for a distance, turn around and get back on the highway and head back north into town.
The river road facing north toward the river after leaving the highway, which is to the left in the photo.
The bend in the river road that winds eastward.
On this particular summer night, in Doug’s car, the group ventured down that dirty road for a mile of two from the highway and the conversation turned to Bigfoot, more to put a chill down the girls’ spines than anything. Tim and I had discussed the subject ad-nauseum many nights before. Once Doug had decided he’d driven far enough, he turned the car around and followed the path back to the highway. The road had a slight elevation increase as it met the highway and as Doug’s car came to the highway his car’s lights hit something in the air above the field west of the highway. There was no metal shine to the object, but it did have small, multicolored lights on whatever it was and hovered there, staring at the car as the car’s occupants stared back.
After the sighting at the river, Tim and I spent many nights on the roads in the hills north of town into the late 1980s, listening to our favorite rock releases of the day from Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Judas Priest, Twisted Sister, Dio, Blue Oyster Cult and the radio sometimes, scanning the skies for anything unusual. We both had seen the small yellow points of light that moved in a slow, deliberate pattern from one end of the sky to the other at a constant speed and long before had concluded that logic dictated them to be common earthly satellites. Over time, we learned to differentiate them from airplanes. Over the years, Tim and I, and many of our friends, were witness to things in the Republican River Valley skies and many of those stories have never been told outside of family circles, if at all. What follows are the accounts of my friends and others, gathered many years after the events occurred, and as happens with human memories, some recollections may be dimmed, and details lost or altered in the years since. I have attempted to put down in writing what those folks saw back then as a record of what was, and likely still is, haunting the skies of the Republican River Valley and beyond and be entertaining to the reader as well. The accounts are based on questions asked of the participants and have not been altered in any way other than correcting grammar.
The beautiful Republican River Valley in southwest Nebraska.
The Republican River Valley is a 453 mile-long, 14.3-million-acre oasis of trees, lust grasses with picturesque sunsets and lined by steep, ancient bluffs. It winds its way through parts of Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas and, on average, is about 150 feet wide with an average depth of about ten feet. The usually shallow river is fed by a myriad of creeks and streams and can be dry as a bone one season and up to its banks the next. Some notable communities along the river valley include Wray, Colorado, St. Francis, Kansas, McCook, Cambridge, Arapahoe, Oxford and Clay Center, Nebraska, and St. Francis, Concordia and Junction City, Kansas. It is said that the Republican River was named after the representative form of governing themselves the Pawnee Indians who occupied the valley lived by and were the valley's residents until about 1815. The river has been a treasure trove for Native American artifacts and many fossils over the years as archeologists have found evidence of ancient camp grounds with tools and arrow heads the river itself uncovering the massive skulls and other remains of the giant bison and other animals that once roamed the plains of Nebraska. Frequent floods also added to the discovery of ancient encampments and fossils. The most notable of these floods, in modern times at least, was that of May of 1935 which took many lives and cost untold property damage in the valley from its beginnings in eastern Colorado down into Kansas and everywhere in between. It is estimated that 113 people lost their lives and some estimates indicate 11,000 to over 40,000 head of cattle were killed in the flood. Dams along the river after the 1935 disaster have prevented a repeat of the destruction along the valley. The Republican River Valley has long had its mysteries as witnessed by an article in the June 6, 1935, Lincoln Journal. The piece told of a story told for generations among the Pawnee. At some point the tribes moved west in search of buffalo, a staple of the Indians’ diet and source of clothing and more. The Pawnee medicine men, who had found living with indigenous animals to be beneficial and learned of giants in the lands west of the Republican Valley. Apparently, these giants were a proud people who disobeyed the gods and were punished for that pridefulness when the gods sent a mighty rain. The giants arrogantly ignored the rain and waded defiantly into the river but as the rain continued, the river continued to rise and the giants were trapped and drowned in the mud and slime. Over the years, the medicine men would point to large bones exposed in the river banks as examples of the giants who had displeased the gods. Most likely, the bones described that were uncovered by the river over those years were those of prehistoric animals native to Nebraska prior to humans, but who knows? We weren’t there. Now, on to the skies of the valley.
I contacted all but one of the witnesses to the incident south of Arapahoe in the early 1980s. Interviews were done via email or phone, and I just let the interviewees relate what they remembered, unencumbered by tons of questions. I have been careful to put down precisely what they said, leaving even the bad grammar! Sorry guys!
Growing up in small town Nebraska before the advent of the internet and ever-present cell phones/cameras to entertain you as a youth was, in my humble opinion, the best. Young people were forced to find or make their own entertainment. This was manifested in many ways, some good, some not so good. In any case, the things one said and did were almost never captured on film back then, thank goodness. Unfortunately, that is also the case for the strange things seen in the sky in the 1980s and 1990s in the Republican River Valley and the area surrounding it. There are, however, memories of those oddities, that most never discussed much in the years since. I have also dug up some encounters with odd things in the sky in south central Nebraska as well as some from across the state. After reaching out to so many folks after so many years, I’ve concluded that Nebraska might need to be well known for unidentified aerial phenomenon instead of corn production, college volleyball and football!
Of course, I have a plethora of my own experiences, some of which overlap with friends of mine and sometimes our memories differ in detail, but we saw what we saw. To set an example for those brave souls who trusted me to inscribe their experiences on paper, I will go first and tell the tales of what I consider to be my most intriguing sightings back in the 1980s and 90s as I remember them. Dennis Walker: As I briefly mentioned in the forward, my first notable encounter with something in the skies that I couldn’t explain happened in what I believe to have been 1980 on a clear evening in July in or around the 20th of that month. As was the case many times throughout that period of my life, I was “cruising” with friends of mine up and down the streets of our hometown of Arapahoe as we didn’t drink at that time or do drugs and were bored. On that fateful night, our crew consisting of driver, Doug, whose blue Dodge Volare we were riding in, a young lady whose mother was friends with my mother next to him, and my longtime friend and coworker, Tim, filled the front seat while Tim’s younger sister, Linda, sat in the back seat to my left, I took the middle spot and my brother, Royce, was to my right. We had spent considerable time that early evening driving up and down “main street” of Arapahoe, as most of our contemporaries did, waving and honking at each other and discussing the happenings of the day, local and beyond. As was also the custom for Tim and I, our discussion inevitably turned to what we had heard or read about the legendary creature Bigfoot as Doug guided his car south of town, across the wooded Muddy Creek and Republican River. Once on the south side of the river, the vehicle turned east on a small, dusty road with an incline of several feet. It took us north for maybe fifty yards, running along the highway for a short distance before it curved to the east, paralleling the river and leading into thick trees. The conversation was, of course, partly intended to unnerve our female friends due to the thick foliage along the river. Once the car had reached a point that Doug decided was far enough, he made a two or-three-point turn and the party headed back west along the road we had come on.
The conversation, as I remember it, remained on bigfoot until the car came to the end of the dirt road at the highway. As Doug’s headlights angled upward with the incline of the road, he stopped at the edge of the pavement and the beams of his headlights revealed something I can see in my mind if I close my eyes to this day. As we sat in stunned silence, something hovered maybe fifty feet over the field on the west side of the highway. The car lights, when they hit the object, showed no reflection to indicate it was made of metal. There was no sound. I remember different colored lights, similar to a Christmas tree, red, blue, green and yellow. They didn’t twinkle or move, so my guess now is that whatever it was maybe the size of a large helicopter, and it stayed steady in the sky. It didn’t move around like a helicopter does. It just sat there. I seem to recall we sat in that position for a minute, maybe two, before Doug decided to get on the highway and head back into town. As soon as our car began traveling north, the lights followed, matching the vehicle’s speed, even as Doug continued to speed up. The object followed the car on the west side of the highway and over the trees of Muddy Creek. No sooner did the car reach the streetlights on the edge of town, the lighted object increased altitude and moved off quickly over the community to the north and out of our sight. For whatever reason, that’s where my recollections of the incident end.
As far as I remember, I mean, we went out south to the sandpits, okay, and we were coming out. It was during the summer. I do remember that. I don’t remember what you guys were talking about. I was too busy driving. And as you remember, just before we get onto the highway, it kinda angles up. And that’s when we all seen those lights. And they were hovering. And we all rolled down our windows, if they weren’t already rolled down, and we could not hear anything. Well, at that time of year, back then, the only thing that hovered was a helicopter. And you know how loud those things are. Well, there was no sound. I remember seeing the lights but that’s all I remember seeing. I don’t remember seeing a structure. All I remember is seeing lights. What the colors were, I don’t quite remember. I think there was, I don’t know, a white one, yellow one, blue one maybe, I don’t know. It was just hovering. And there was no sound. And at that time, 1981 or ‘82, whatever it was, there was nothing known to man, at that time, of aircraft other than helicopters. So, when I got onto the highway, well, I started driving and it kept up with us. This started going faster and faster, so I tried to keep up with it. If I remember correctly, I was doing almost seventy miles an hour to town. And all of a sudden, boom, it just took off. It went north. And it was so fast, there was no way of keeping up with it. And then out of sight it went. If you remember, I thought we all went over to Chris Arms’ house and we all took a piece of paper and a pen and went to different rooms and wrote down what we experienced. I can remember all of us doing it. And we all went into different rooms so we wouldn’t be talking to one another. I remember writing that down. (Only two of those written reports still exist). If I remember correctly, I think your brother went home. I think we dropped him off at your mom’s house.
We weren’t out lookin’ for UFOs or whatever, we were doing the customary thing for Arapahoe at the time (driving around). There used to be something on that dirt road along the river called ‘the pits’ (where firms would run dredging operations in ponds in the area for sand and gravel to sell) and one of the pits had water in it because it was right next to the river. There may have been another one with water in it, but we usually drove down to that first pond, and that’s kind of where everybody used to party, so we turned around there to head back out. We pulled up by the highway, the car lights came down just a little bit, and it was sitting right above a tree. There was a tree a long way away from the road, but there were, I don’t want to say some trees, but maybe a tree or two out toward that field across the highway. It was kind of sitting like maybe a hundred yards, sitting out among those trees. It looked like it was hanging out above the tree. It could have been in front of the tree or behind the tree. The lights were clear, red and blue color. But, as you know, white light is a combination of red, blue and green, so we could have been catching the red and blue, or whatever it may have been just at the edge of light. Kinda looking at a rainbow. Kind of a rainbow effect, I guess. I’m thinking we sat there thirty to forty-five seconds before Doug freaked out. We were making conversation, ‘What the hell is that?’ I don’t know!’ What’s it doing?’ ‘I don’t know!’ Just conversation. I don’t remember exactly what was said. And then Doug whipped out on the highway and took off. He punched it and was definitely speeding because he was freaked out. That’s when we noticed it was alongside us, keeping pace with us until we got almost to the railroad tracks (on the south edge of town). Then, boom! It hit a hydro-jet or turbo charger or something and went right over the top of town.
As Doug mentioned, most of the witnesses retreated to a friend’s home after the sighting to write down what we had seen. Two of those written reports have made it through the turbulence of time, one is Tim’s, the other is his sister, Linda’s. Though sparse on details, it still gives enough information to be mentioned.
Linda puts the date as July 20, 1981, and conditions as cool and clear. She estimated the time as 9:30 to 10:00 p.m. and the direction of the object was, according to Linda, south to northeast. The colors of the lights reported were yellow, red and orange. She added that the shape of the object was long. Her final comment on the written report was “Hovering a long time, then took off.” It seems we all recall the event down by the Republican River pretty much the same after all these years, with just a few things each of us failed to recall and someone else did. I am very grateful for the memories offered by my friends because I had forgotten bits and pieces of our encounter over time of in the heat of the excitement of the event itself. In talking with some of the witnesses, some I hadn’t talked to since the 80s, some common things were also agreed upon were that, although the object we saw acted a little like a helicopter, seeing one in or around Arapahoe was as rare as seeing a space station in the sky. Helicopters in the area then were almost unheard of at that time, although they might be more prevalent now. When asked if there was a reflection on the object when the car lights struck it, no one remembered seeing a reflection. Reports of the color of the lights among the witnesses were more or less the same, too, and that the object moved as quickly as the vehicle we rode in was also agreed upon. I talked with four of the six people in the car that night and no one expressed an explanation for what we had seen. One person I could not track down and the other declined to comment. As time went on, only Tim and I talked about the experience now and again and it just hovered in the back of our minds, similar to the object we all saw.
As the reader will see, this encounter was only the tip of the iceberg of what seems to be a plethora of sightings in and around the Republican River Valley in the 1980s and nineties.
Myself, I’ve had numerous sightings of things in the sky over the plains of southwest Nebraska that I can’t explain over the years beginning with that first sighting. As I’ve recounted, Tim and I spent many, many nights watching the skies mostly north of Arapahoe. For us on the few times we sat out south of town, there was little if anything to see. Bad timing on our part on those instances it seems. But that wasn't the case for all inhabitants of the area as I will demonstrate later.
Staying with things I’ve seen (I am the one doing the writing after all) The one event I recall over Arapahoe proper was sometime around the summer of 1985, I believe. I was renting a small one-bedroom house on the very southern edge of town. The house sat on the west part of the lot, just off of Nebraska Avenue which was referred to locally as “main street.” The lot itself had no trees and offered a wide, open view of the northern and western skies. I think the neighbors across the street to the west had some Elm trees behind their house and they sat back from the curb. To the south was an unused, long lot with trees that lined the Burlington Northern railroad tracks that ran east and west.
Being bored one night, myself and friend, Rob Mueller, were lying on the back of my blue 1970 Plymouth Duster talking and staring up at the clear Nebraska sky above us. I recall the sun had just gone down and the stars twinkled brightly above us despite the streetlights.
During our conversation about who-knows-what, the stars were blocked out by something large and unseen beginning west of us and proceeding east out of sight over town. The obstruction appeared to be triangle shaped, had no color, no visible lights, and was as black as the night sky. Whichever one of us that was talking at the time stopped in mid-sentence and we both watched this object silently move at a steady pace from west to east almost directly over us. I’m terrible at guessing distances but I’m thinking whatever it was passed over us and maybe 500 yards and was the size of a small airplane.
My first thought was an airplane. But what kind of airplane was flying at the time in southwest Nebraska? According to History.com, “In 1989, the B-2 (Stealth Bomber) was successfully flown, performing favorably. Although the aircraft had a wingspan of nearly half a football field, its radar signal was as negligible as that of a bird. The B-2 has won a prominent place in the modern U.S. Air Force fleet, serving well in bombing missions during the 1990s. The B-2 also successfully evaded infrared, sound detectors, and the visible eye.” Now, unless the U.S. Air Force was testing that aircraft over Nebraska years before it was made public, which is believable, I don’t know what we saw. But to us, it remains unexplained. Probably just a Stealth Bomber, right? Maybe.
Tim and I had been sitting on one of our cars (I don’t recall who’s) sometime in the summer between 1990 and 1992. It was before I moved out of town in 1993, but the exact date escapes me. That evening our patience (or boredom) paid off as we witnessed the most incredible sight of my own lifetime (outside of the birth of my son and the first Spider Man movie).
The sun had almost completely set as we sat along the gravel –paved road one mile north of Arapahoe, overlooking the town and a large chunk of the river valley west of the cemetery where the road turns northward. The sun had set, and we were casually watching the western horizon and sky. The night was clear, and a full moon slowly climbed high in the sky. The stars were very clear that night and we could easily see the rotating light from the small Cambridge airport some twenty miles distant in the west. After an hour or so, both of us became aware of a small cloud bank just on the western horizon. We didn’t think much about it as summertime skies in Nebraska are filled with clouds, thunderheads, and all shapes and kinds of clouds day and night. As we continued talking, we noticed a small, yellow light that appeared to be centered either in the clouds or out in front of them. “Okay,” we decided, “maybe it was a plane coming east after departing the McCook airport forty miles west of Arapahoe.”
Over the course of, say fifteen to twenty minutes, it became obvious that the light was growing larger as it approached our position. There was no wind and I found myself straining into the night to hear the distant sound of either propellers of an approaching plane or the rumble of jet engines. I could hear neither. The yellow light continued to get closer and grow larger and had our unwavering attention. We continually looked for the flashing lights of an airplane which are common and easy to spot on clear nights year-round almost anywhere in “fly over country” but were unable to see any. “Well, this is odd,” we agreed and continued to watch. After nearly thirty minutes a large form began to take shape as the light floated over the dark hills northwest of town and west of where we were parked. The shape looked big and as it approached our hill, we could see that, behind the light on the front of whatever it was, there were no wings, and the entire object was unlit other than up front. As it approached, the thing changed its trajectory and was heading northeast and away from us so we decided to run up the road north to try to get underneath the object as it passed over the road. The best way I can describe what I remember seeing is to refer the reader to the opening few minutes of the 1977 classic Star Wars movie where the viewer sees a huge Star Destroyer slowly emerge from the bottom of the screen and ultimately come into view. Whatever we were seeing was huge. As big and wide as a football field at least. The full moon illuminated the thing a little, but I mostly recall it being dark, maybe metallic and floating totally silently over us as we stopped to stare in awe at what we were seeing. It kept the same constant, slow speed it had displayed in the western sky as it made its way over us and continued northeast over the empty fields and in a few minutes, was beyond our sight.
To my knowledge, neither one of us wrote anything down but we talked about it regularly among ourselves and continued to sit on the hills north of town as much as we could until I moved away. Tim followed suit some years later. After talking with him about it for this piece, I have the distinct impression that neither one of us has seen anything like that in the years since seeing that lumbering behemoth in the sky. Tim Kappers: We went out north of Arapahoe a couple of miles, went west about a mile, turned left on the gravel road and went down about maybe three-quarters of a mile (north) and stopped because we liked to go out there and stargaze. So, we were sitting on the hood of the car discussing life, hope and dreams or whatever. We noticed a bright light in the west. We noticed it and kept talking. Looked again. It was still there, but a little bigger, so we kept talking, looked again and it was still coming so we actually started watching it and it floated, I’m going to use the word float, because there was absolutely zero sound. We had a full moon in the south and we were looking north and when it passed over the road just north of us the moon lit up the side of it and the only thing, I could possibly say was it was a blimp, sort of type looking thing. It was long, grey in color with the moonshine and had lights around it. So, we took off up the road toward it. Of course, being out of shape, we didn’t run far but we ran up the road toward it and we never heard a sound. Nothing. And it just floated on east. I would say it was not quite as big as a blimp. Not as tall as a blimp, but it had rounded edges on the front and back. My best description would be close to something the size of a blimp but slightly smaller. Like maybe three-quarters the size of a full-size blimp. What it really reminded me of was the Hindenburg. That kind of shape with the silver skin on the outside that reflected the moonlight. The lights were white is the only color I can say I saw and that may just be because of what we were looking at as it was coming toward us. We were seeing a physical shape in moonlight and there is no doubt in my mind. There were small lights around the edges. It was almost pill shaped.
I’m guessing that the cloud bank was over by the Cambridge area, and it took a long time for it to travel from the cloud bank to where we were going, So, I would say it took thirty to forty-five minutes to get from where we first saw it to going over us. When it got to us, it started veering north so it passed just north of us. To me it always had a white light. I’m thinking it was between 1988 to 1990. Probably in the 90s. All I know is that it was nice out because neither one of us had jackets on and it wasn’t really hot. A typical Nebraska night. There may have been a very slight breeze. I don't remember seeing any distinctive markings on the outside. I mean, it was bright enough that, if it was a blimp, and most blimps had something written on the side of them, or it would have had that basket on the undercarriage, there was none of that. It wasn’t that far off the ground. I would say it was maybe seventy-five to a hundred feet off the ground.
Obviously, the years have dimmed my memory of that night’s details compared to Tim’s, but it seems pretty obvious we saw something huge, silent and something we still cannot identify.
As mentioned before, Tim and I spent quite a lot of the late 1990s observing small lights skittering along the horizon west of Arapahoe. We also saw some pass right over our position on what we called “Stargazing Road,” a little used, unpaved road that ran east and west about three miles north of town on the west side of Highway 283, which runs north and south. We typically parked about a mile or so west of the highway on a hill and had a beautiful view of the night sky, unencumbered by town or farm lights. On numerous occasions, too many to describe individually, we witness those small lights on the western horizon. However, we occasionally had some fly over where we were. Now, that being said, growing up watching the skies without an airport of any real size within forty miles, we could easily tell the difference between an airplane and the small pinpoints of moving light that were man-made satellites. We saw both of those on our stargazing nights, too. Planes have the required flashing lights and move in a straight, orderly direction at an even gate. We could hear their engines most of the time. Satellites look similar to the lights we watched on the horizon, but they move at a constant speed in one direction and eventually fade out as they go farther from the witness. The lights we saw on the horizon and over where we watched sometimes had a kind of stop-start skip to them or they would change direction suddenly. I remember on one occasion, on the road west of the cemetery, I think there were several of us that night, we decided to follow one light that came from the east headed west and flashed a flashlight at it. With Tim driving, we drove north to the first intersection, turned west and tried to pace the light, all the while I flashed a flashlight off and on in the light’s direction. I may stand corrected, but I think it slowed its pace before far out pacing us and continued into the western sky.
On another occasion, early one morning, I was driving west of Arapahoe from Holbrook, a small community five miles west of Arapahoe, waiting for a truck with freight to arrive at the Arapahoe grocery store Tim and I worked at and was mostly wasting time until the truck arrived. About one mile west of Arapahoe, on the south side of Highway 6 and 34, south of the Burlington railroad tracks that ran east and west through the southern part of town, I noticed what I can only call a greyish-black colored, cigar shaped object hovering maybe four to five hundred feet above the ground over a field. It was shortly before eight o’clock in the morning and in the middle of the summer. As I was waiting to go to work, I didn’t take time to investigate the object and went on to work. I can’t believe now that I didn’t check it out! Another gentleman who lived somewhere along the river in the valley and wished to not have his name mentioned, related two stories to me involving his father, a hard-boiled skeptic. Sometime in mid-June of 1982, around 12:00 a.m., this fellow and his father saw what he describes as “Three big balls. They were white, like an egg and had a glow to them, traveling east to west down the river valley.” He estimated that the objects were likely closer to the Holbrook-Cambridge area to the west of them and maybe 60,000 feet or so in the air. “They were higher than airplanes,” he stated. “But we were looking at them twenty-to thirty miles away.” The objects did not flash as aircraft do, there was no sound and the witnesses watched for about five minutes. “Don’t know where they came from,” he said. “We just happened to look up, and there they were.” The next story this particular witness laid on me involved his father and some half-dozen friends he was at a campfire with around the Memorial Day weekend in 1995. His father told him that he and his friends witnessed a row of ten big lights high up in the sky that were, at that time, seen across the country and as far away as the east coast and California. His father said it took the lights about twenty minutes to travel from coast to coast.
My witness said that the story by the U.S. government at the time was that people were witnessing a training mission of some kind. In looking through the database of the National UFO Reporting Center online, I could only find one similar report, unless I missed some, which could always be the case. The report was from Tacoma, Washington, on May 27, 1995. It stated that a man, an anonymous Boeing employees and former United States Air Force member reported seeing four lights, “like balls of light,” streaking through the night sky silently, adding the comment, “bizarre.” My attempted search of online area newspaper records from the time was inconclusive. My friend Tim also relates a story that I’d filed away and forgotten that happened along the graveled country road that follows the bluffs south of town east and west along the valley. His memory of that event is as follows, “I remember seeing one bright light and two separate ones that actually joined it. Then they split and went in different directions.” When asked for more details, Tim offered, “We drove probably two or three miles, headed east, and we noticed a bright light and watched it as we drove along. Then two other lights, dimmer lights, so I assume they were smaller, came up and joined the other light. The first big light was moving east and the other two came up behind it, joined it and then they dislodged and kind of all went east.” He thought the sighting took place in the fall, September of October and around 1985 or 1986 and lasted seven or eight minutes. He said the sun had gone down. “What drew our attention to the ‘main one’ was that it wasn’t flashing,” Tim noted. “Usually on you see planes, you see the red and the green lights flashing.” I don’t recall that episode, but I have no doubt it happened. My guess is I’d packed it away in my mind because it wasn’t as dramatic as the first sighting. I’m grateful Tim recounted it to me.
The bluffs several miles south of Arapahoe near where a witness saw several lights converge into one.
South of Arapahoe, roughly a mile south of where my friends and I had our first experience, sits a social/shooting club referred to as “The Issaac Walton” building. South of that and maybe a mile or so east along a winding graveled road, the hills of the side of the valley are covered with Evergreen trees. One area in particular, within sight of the club has several square miles of densely packed trees on the hill and was called “The Black Forest” by most people I knew and may still be. It always had a mysterious aura around it to me although I never ventured into the trees as it was fenced off and private property. The area is also pretty secluded and offers a good view of the valley across the fields to the north toward the river. As long as I can recall, young folks would park along the road in that area for privacy for those things young folks used to do back then. Naturally, I was given accounts of lights in the sky from that area. The gentleman who related the story asked not to give his name. “A few of us were out at the Black Forest and saw a triangular shaped object. I'm guessing 1,000 feet up. It was just cruising along. I'm thinking 1982. I was still in school.” He added, “My friend Mark saw a large object by Deerfield Corner by Beaver City. He said it was a football field long and hovering at100 feet off the ground, then shot off north. He thinks it was 1985. It was just before dusk. Didn't see any lights. But no noise whatsoever.”
For those not familiar with the Furnas County area, Deerfield Corner is the intersection some twenty miles south of Arapahoe where one can go west to Wilsonville on Highway 89, east to the county’s seat, Beaver City or south to Norton, Kansas on Highway 283. There have been other sightings in that area. It is on the way to Hendley. Tim also tells a story of the time he was driving to visit his brother and his family in Beaver City in the late 80s or 90s and while traveling east toward that community, he noticed something traveling just above the fields north of the highway that kept pace with his car. He describes it as phallic in shape and pitch black. It followed him to the edge of town.
Isaac Walton Building
When I left Arapahoe in 1993, I took my now fully ingrained UAP fascination with me to Kearney, Nebraska, and since it is very hard, without a lot of driving, to find a secluded hill to stargaze from or somewhere away from city lights, I relied on my Arapahoe memories when the urge to stare at the stars came upon me. The old TV show “The X-Files" and countless books by the late John Keel, Jacoues Vallee, Christopher O’Brien, to name a few, kept my interest alive. It wasn’t until nearly thirty years later, as life seemed to have other things for me to use my time for, that I got the notion to ask people I knew from the Arapahoe area if they had seen anything unusual in the skies in their time in and around the Republican Valley. I was amazed that there were so many others who were more than willing to come forward and eagerly gave me accounts of what they saw back in the days before drones filled the skies. In talking by phone and social media with these folks, I talked to some I hadn’t communicated with in almost forty years! As I explained to these witnesses, there is a scene at the end of the movie Blade Runner where Roy Batty, played with passion by the late Rutger Hauer, an artificial life form, a replicant with a limited “life” is about to shut down or “die.” In his lament for leaving this world, Batty recounts the things he has seen in his life to Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Dekard, and concludes by saying, “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” That was and still is how I felt about their accounts. If they were not recorded somehow, they would be lost and forgotten in the mists of time. So, I’ve collected as many as I could. As with my first really strange encounter, some people chose not to relate what they saw. And that’s fine. Unfortunate, but fine. It’s their right to decline to talk about it for their own reasons. Anyway, the following are stories from those who were gracious enough to share their accounts and what they saw. I am eternally grateful for their participation. Maybe future generations will be also. Dana Hutchens and her family lived some twenty miles south of Arapahoe, near the small hamlet of Hendley. She currently resides in Norton, Kansas. “I was little. I must have been about six in 1974. I was with my mom, Sue Hutchens and either my older brother, Mark, or my best friend up at McCook, I don’t remember, it was so long ago. I don’t remember what time of year it was. When you drive south out of McCook (On U.S. Highway 83), you come up on a big hill. We were leaving McCook and headed home, and it just seemed unusually dark that night. Once we reached the top of the hill, mom pulled over and she said, ‘Oh, my God.’ We rolled our windows down and looked out and there was an object, bigger than McCook, in the air above McCook. It pretty much covered the whole town. It had rounded sides, so I’d say it was a huge circle. It was so big you couldn’t see it all. But it was so close, it looked like it was black, made of metal and just hovering over McCook. Maybe a little bit closer to the south side of town.” “You could definitely see sky, but it was completely blacked out by this object right above McCook. I do not remember seeing any reflections. We could just see a big, black round type object. It was massive. It was sitting still. Mom got scared and we headed home. I was glad she got us the hell out of there. It was very ominous looking.” She estimated that it may have hovered two to three hundred yards above McCook’s tallest building. “It was terrifying."
“On another trip home from McCook, we would go fourteen miles south of McCook and then take the highway east (U.S. Highway 89) through Marion, Danbury, Lebanon and Wilsonville. Just six miles west of Hendley, we turned south on my dad’s county road for the last few miles home. Off to the west, there was an extremely bright light. I mean, sun-type bright light. It was so vivid. And as we continued down the country road, it looked as if it was following us quite a distance away. So, mom sped up. So did it. Mom slowed down and so did it. And we just kept watching this light and we were very nervous because it was not really going parallel with us, it was angling toward us. It started to pick up the pace as we did, and mom just floored it and we hauled ass over dad’s roller coaster hills. We continued south to the farm and came roaring into the yard. It (the light) was west of dad’s place at that point. As we went to get out of the car, it took off like a bolt of lightning. I mean just a streak of lightning going to the southeast. Mom called our neighbors to the southeast of us and said, ‘Oh, my God, run outside check this out.” The neighbor went outside in time to see it. And it was just haulin’ ass and continued southeast. I’m sure it ended up across here in Norton. That would have been about 1975.” “I spent a lot of time at my friend’s house. They lived two miles west of my dad, straight south of Hendley. We always slept out on the porch. It was a screened-in porch. We were up fartin’ around and we could see light in the sky and came off of the porch so we could see better. We saw three green triangles. The green outlined the triangles. Neon green just outlining these three separate triangles that flew independently. At the same time McCook was reporting several types of these green triangles. Back then, everybody was talking about it and there were so many being seen. My friend and I watched them for quite a while. They pretty much stayed in formation. They didn’t really break away from each other, but you could tell there were three separate objects. I don’t know how high, I don’t know how far, I was just little then. They were to the southeast of the road that comes straight south out of Hendley. They moved northwest to southeast. They weren’t very big. My guess is the size of a small plane." In 1973, a wave of sightings of unidentified aerial phenomenon was reported across the country and the world. The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomenon has cataloged a number of sightings and noted that the wave seemed most concentrated in the latter part of the year, tapering off after October to a large degree. Although the states with reports does not include Nebraska, anyone who knows the residents of the state, the people are, for the most part, God fearing, hardworking, common sense people who may not have stepped forward with stories at the time because as with most people, they didn’t want to face ridicule from family, friends and a mocking press. Whether or not Dana’s sightings were part of that wave may never be known but they fit the 1973 timeframe.
The hill south of McCook, Nebraska, looking north near where Dana and her mother saw something as large as the city in the air above it. Angela Warner and her husband, Robert, both grew up in the area south and north, respectively, of the Republican Valley and now live east of Elwood, about twenty miles north of Arapahoe, and maybe twenty miles north of Lexington. Angela reported to me one of her experiences with something she was unable to explain in the area skies. Mrs. Warner grew up in the small town of Wilsonville, not far from Hendley, maybe twenty miles Soutwest of Arapahoe and west of Beaver City. She recalled an incident in the summer between her junior and senior years of high school, around 1989. “I was sitting out on the front steps of my house, facing south. (This house happened to sit at the top of a hill, at the edge of a small rural town; not much in the way of light pollution). I was sitting with someone, and there was a lull in the conversation. I was just ‘spacing off,’ as it were, looking above the tree line, into the visible starscape. In the center of the sky, above the trees, there was suddenly this light; only slightly brighter than the surrounding stars, but moving in an extremely erratic way. No sound. Best way to describe the movement, was if you were to imagine the three lines of the letter ‘Z’, with then a third line that shoots off into infinity. This was not a ‘sky-filled’ movement; quite distant. A compact movement. The movement was so erratic, though, there was no way to shrug it off by saying, ‘oh it was just a satellite,’ or ‘it was just a comet;’ no way do those types of space objects move in this fashion. This was a mechanical/non-linear movement. The person sitting next to me saw it too; we both commented; ‘What was that?!? Did you see it?!? Weird!’ We sat there, staring for a while, to see if it would happen again, but it never did.” While the people of the Republican Valley were having their encounters throughout the early 1980s, not far away, about thirty miles north in fact, in the Platte River Valley community of Lexington, Traci Brock Woodside and the residents of that city, were witnessing something unusual of their own. Lexington, originally named Plumb Creek Station in the 1870s and 80s, boasted a population of 10,348 at the 2020 census. “I was still fairly young, junior high I believe, so it was the early ‘80’s, Traci recalled. “For several nights, there were very bright lights hovering close over northern Lexington. A ton of people saw them and drove and walked outside to see them. I remember standing on Thirteenth Street with my mom and sister watching them, along with several other Lexingtonites. I never did hear what they were. We talked about them at school I remember. There was speculation as to whether they were a hoax, or possibly a high school football team stunt or something. But these lights were huge and very bright. I’m sure lots of Lexingtonites would remember and can verify my story.”
“They were white lights, I believe, in a straight line,” Traci continued. “They were moving in a bobbing motion, from what I remember. It was over several nights, but I don’t think it was several nights in a row. I don’t remember them moving at all, just hovering in the sky. But they were huge! I don’t recall hearing any noise at all from them.” Mrs. Brock Woodside had another encounter with strange lights in the Nebraska sky more than a decade after her initial sightings, again in the Platte Valley which is north of the Republican Valley. “It was 1992 or so, in the fall I’m pretty sure. We used to shop in Hastings a lot when we lived in Funk and Holdrege. “We (her husband who was driving their vehicle and their toddler in the back seat sleeping) were traveling west on Highway 6 and 34 between Hastings and Funk. It was fairly late at night. Suddenly, three different colored lights (I believe red, green, and white maybe, one was green and one red for sure) appeared in the sky straight ahead of us. From our eyes, they appeared to be the size of a softball. No clue what the distance would have been. They were completely still. We were talking back and forth about what they could possibly be, and how weird it was that they weren’t moving. All of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, they sped to the back of our view! I could barely turn around in my seat fast enough to follow them. I let out such a loud ‘Oh, my God' that woke up our sleeping child in the back seat. They hovered once again and then literally disappeared. We were freaked out, to say the least. We were very scared.” “It was quick, a matter of a couple miles is all,” Traci added. “The lights were in a line, but not a straight line. And when they zoomed across the sky, they didn’t all leave at exactly the same time, and followed each other.”
Even now (2024), in Gibbon, Nebraska where I work as a newspaper reporter, writer and photographer, I continue to pick things I can’t identify out of the Nebraska sky. On August 21, 2022, while relaxing on my back deck in my hammock, I witnessed a dull, silver-grey, cigarlike object traveling first from the southeast to southeast. Maybe fifteen minutes later it returned from the direction I saw it go, this time traveling from southwest to southeast. There were no wings, it was silent and traveled at a consistent rate of speed. My son looked at it through cheap binoculars and couldn’t tell what it was. The same object has been quietly floating back and forth across the Gibbon skies for at least a year since my first sighting. Same slow speed. Same sudden appearance and disappearance. No lights, no sound, no wings. These days, lights in the sky are readily attributed to drones or billionaire Elon Musk’s Star Link satellites. And, to be fair, that’s probably what people are seeing. But some accounts are not easily accounted for as earthly satellites.
What did people see in the skies all those years ago and even today across the Republican Valley? Knowing is above my pay grade, however, I think the following statement by author Jacques Vallee sums up what I believe. “I believe that the UFO phenomenon represents evidence for other dimensions beyond spacetime; the UFOs may not come from ordinary space, but from a multiverse which is all around us, and of which we have stubbornly refused to consider the disturbing reality in spite of the evidence available to us for centuries.” It makes as much sense as any explanation in my mind.