While most researchers attribute the term “flying saucer” to a 1947 sighting of several disc-shaped objects by pilot Kenneth Arnold at Mount Rainer, Washington, the term “saucer” was actually first used for a UFO in 1878 when Texas farmer John Martin described a flying object he saw during a hunting trip.
Martin was hunting on his property north of Dallas, Texas, on the morning of Wednesday, January 2, 1878. Suddenly, he noticed a dark object in the sky to the south. When the farmer first saw it, the UFO was about the size of an orange. But, it grew in size rapidly as it approached his position. The local newspaper said, “The peculiar shape and velocity with which the object seemed to approach riveted his attention and he strained his eyes to discover its character.”
Since it was morning and yet the object looked dark, it seems that the UFO did not have any lights. Instead, it appeared as a dark shape against the bright blue of the sky. Martin kept staring at it as it moved rapidly toward him. Martin said the UFO “appeared to be going through space at wonderful speed.”
The brightness of the sky temporarily blinded Martin, and he lost track of where the object was. He rested his eyes for a few moments. By the time he could see again, the UFO was right on top of him, and it was much larger than before.
The newspaper article said, “When directly over him it was about the size of a large saucer and was evidently at great height.” So, although it was huge in size, it was also very high up in the sky. This means its true size was even larger than what it seemed to be.
Martin described the shape of the object as sort of like a balloon. But, although hot-air balloons already existed, they were extremely rare, and they did not move very fast. Martin kept watching the UFO until it moved completely out of view. “It went as rapidly as it had come and was soon lost to sight in the heavenly skies,” the newspaper said.
A report about the sighting appeared in the Denison Daily News on January 25, 1878. It was titled “A Strange Phenomenon” and consisted of a first-hand report from the farmer. The newspaper article confirmed that Martin was a very trustworthy person. He was not the kind of person who would make up a false story. “Mr. Martin is a gentleman of undoubted veracity and this strange occurrence, if it was not a balloon, deserves the attention of our scientists,” the article said.
Below is the complete newspaper article as it appeared in the Denison Daily News on January 25, 1878:
A Strange Phenomenon
From Mr. John Martin, a farmer who lives some six miles north of this city [location may have actually been south of Denison, as this article was probably a reprint from a Dallas newspaper], 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.
In the book Texas UFO Tales, authors Mike Cox and Renee Roderick said that the UFO incident may have happened closer to Dallas than Denison, which is 72 miles north of Dallas. The authors said that Martin’s story may have first appeared in the Dallas Herald. It was then picked up and republished by the newspaper in Denison.
In the early 1970s, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a famous astronomer and UFO investigator, studied the Martin sighting. Hynek classified the incident as a “daylight disc.” These types of UFOs usually travel very fast and make almost no sound. They sometimes make sudden, sharp turns while traveling extremely fast.
Daylight discs are often described as shiny or metallic. They usually display no lights. Sometimes, witnesses may hear a very faint “swishing” sound. Daylight discs were mostly reported after 1940. So, this very unusual case from 1878 is extremely rare. It remains one of the most interesting UFO cases of the 1800s.
This article is an excerpt from the book The Real Cowboys and Aliens: UFO Encounters of the Old West, by Noe Torres and John LeMay. Copyright 2014 by Noe Torres.