Last Monday night, about 10:30, we were awakened by a noise among the cattle. I arose, thinking that perhaps my bulldog was performing some of his pranks, but upon going to the door saw to my utter astonishment an airship slowly descending upon my cow lot, about forty rods from the house.
Calling my tenant, Gid Heslip, and my son Wall, we seized some axes and ran to the corral. Meanwhile, the ship had been descending until it was not more than thirty feet above the ground, and we came within fifty yards of it.
It consisted of a great cigar-shaped portion, possibly three hundred feet long, with a carriage underneath. The carriage was made of glass or some other transparent substance alternating with a narrow strip of some material. It was brilliantly lighted within and everything was plainly visible - it was occupied by six of the strangest beings I ever saw. They were jabbering together, but we could not understand a word they said.
Every part of the vessel which was not transparent was of a dark reddish color. We stood mute with wonder and fright, when some noise attracted their attention and they turned a light directly upon us. Immediately on catching sight of us they turned on some unknown power, and a great turbine wheel, about thirty feet in diameter, which was slowly revolving below the craft began to buzz and the vessel rose lightly as a bird. When about three hundred feet above us it seemed to pause and hover directly over a two-year-old heifer, which was bawling and jumping, apparently fast in the fence. Going to her, we found a cable about a half inch in thickness made of some red material, fastened in a slip knot around her neck, one end passing up to the vessel, and the heifer tangled in the wire fence. We tried to get it off but could not, so we cut the wire loose and stood in amazement to see the ship, heifer and all, rise slowly, disappearing in the northwest.
We went home but I was so frightened I could not sleep. Rising early Tuesday, I started out by horse, hoping to find some trace of my cow. This I failed to do, but coming back in the evening found that Link Thomas, about three or four miles west of Le Roy, had found the hide, legs and head in his field that day. He, thinking someone had butchered a stolen beast, had brought the hide to town for identification, but was greatly mystified in not being able to find any tracks in the soft ground. After identifying the hide by my brand, I went home. But every time I would drop to sleep I would see the cursed thing with its big lights and hideous people. I don't know whether they are devils or angels, or what, but we all saw them, and my whole family saw the ship, and I don't want any more to do with them.
What’s interesting is that this story made it into the 1979 UFOs: It Has Begun since three years earlier, in 1976, one of the last living people to have been present at the time of the cow story explained to a Fortean Times researcher that Hamilton was a prominent teller of tall tales and an upstanding member of the local Liar’s Club. He had made the whole story up as a joke. “The club soon broke up after the ‘airship and cow’ story,” Ethel L. Shaw, then 93, remembered. “I guess that one had topped them all.” According to a 1981 book, three decades before, in 1943, the former editor of the Advocate, Edward F. Hudson, admitted that he and Hamilton had concocted the story as a hoax, calling it “the airship story that we made up.” In fact, Alexander Hamilton told anyone who asked that the story was a hoax down to his death in 1912, at which point he was still receiving letters about the hoax.
This certainly was not the only hoax story told during the months of the Great Airship Mystery in 1897. The Aurora, Texas airship “crash” was another hoax that began as a joking tall tale, and newspapers of the time devoted whole pages to publishing the best “tall tales” about the occupants of such ships.
But that isn’t the only set of facts ufologists have failed to check. The cow abduction story, as reported in UFO and ancient astronaut books like Bruce Rex’s Architects of the Underworld and Maximillian de Lafayette’s various UFO works, alleges that rancher Alexander Hamilton should be believed because he was a member of Congress, either at the time of the abduction (Lafayette) or previously (Rex). This is an easily verifiable claim, and in looking at the list of representatives who served in Congress in the nineteenth century, there is none named Alexander Hamilton. He was actually a member of the Kansas state legislature.
All of the real facts ended up published in Fate magazine in 1977 under Jerome Clark’s byline (having chosen to publish in Fate over the Fortean Times). Jacques Vallée almost certainly would have seen and read the article’s findings.
So how did the story end up in the movie? Easy: Jacques Vallée was one of the first to unearth it from the newspaper archives in the 1960s, along with known fabricator Frank Edwards, and Vallée at first failed to check any of the facts, simply accepting the story at face value because newspapers don’t lie. Why he chose to stick with the story is not known to me; perhaps he was too invested in his discovery to brook challenge. Ironically enough, it was the mass media—movies first, then radio—that killed off the local liars’ clubs and the amusements they provided, as part of the general collapse of civic and community organizations and clubs that continued apace through the twentieth century, to the point that Vallée and Edwards had no inkling of the cultural context of the old newspaper stories they read.