How Did a Victorian Alien Cow Abduction Hoax End Up in a Rod Serling Documentary?
Last week I mentioned that I had watched UFOs: It Has Begun, a 1979 update of an earlier documentary hosted by Rod Serling about ancient astronauts and UFOs, in which ufologist Jacques Vallée provides thirty minutes of new material about cattle mutilations. In this added footage, Vallée makes mention of something I had never heard of, but which took me a few days to get around to researching. Vallée claimed that in 1897, a UFO abducted and mutilated a cow, the first such claim on record. This was certainly an interesting enough story that I had to look up the text of the alleged statement made by rancher Alexander Hamilton in 1897 and printed April 23 of that year in the Yates Center Farmer’s Advocate, a Kansas newspaper:
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.
After this statement, twelve community members signed an affidavit asserting that the cow abduction story was true—well, not exactly. They testified that Hamilton was not in the habit of lying, which wasn’t exactly the same thing. The affidavit—known only from a version printed beneath the article—has never been seen in public records. It might be worth noting that the man whose name is listed first on the affidavit, E. V. Wharton, the newly installed state oil inspector (his term began April 1, 1897), was also a prominent newspaper publisher and editor.
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.
It's a fix
5/31/2015 01:34:20 am
The documentary also featured Lonnie Zamora, who "witnessed a Soccoro Saucer" roughly same period of time when a Ufologist set up his own organization.
5/31/2015 01:58:11 am
I'm pretty sure I've seen this statement before, years ago, in a Daniel Cohen book (I think it was his Encyclopedia of the Strange).
5/31/2015 12:43:45 pm
I remember Daniel Cohen. 'The Mummy's Curse' was a favorite of mine when I was a kid. I liked the skeptical, anti-Fortean conclusions he usually reached.
5/31/2015 04:12:56 am
More likely it was Cohen's 'The Great Airship Mystery' - a pretty good & skeptical book.
5/31/2015 04:59:04 am
Except that I never read 'The Great Airship Mystery'. "Encyclopedia of the Strange' has a section on the airship mystery, though, so I think that's where I read it.
5/31/2015 06:19:51 am
Ok, now I understand what happened to the alien that was supposed to be buried in Aurora, Texas in 1897. It was actually a cow flying the space ship that crashed. After the "crash", the citizens of Aurora, Texas had, in the great tradition of the state, had a barbeque.
terry the censor
6/1/2015 06:18:08 pm
That theory does explain all the facts.
5/31/2015 08:47:46 am
I seem to remember something in one of Clive Cussler's non fiction books about mystery sea wrecks and his searching for them about the USS Akon the US Navy's dirigible which was seen by residents of Ohio/WV on a scheduled flight exploding. No wreckage was ever found since the flight has been cancelled. But a few years later the airship did crash over the ocean near NJ. I found numerous references to this story just now on the web. I wonder the history of the story...anyone know. Sounds like an urban legend written by some fringe author in the 50s or 60s.
5/31/2015 08:49:16 am
It's for real. Nobody can argue with the facts!! See http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x21234_real-ufo-abduction-of-a-cow-google_news
5/31/2015 10:29:49 am
Oh yes, that's a good one from the airship fad.
5/31/2015 01:41:57 pm
Oh, do tell about the tour. What did you think about it?
6/2/2015 11:51:08 am
The tour was meh despite the guide's good efforts. The problem is, and this was actually a theme he focused on, the reality can't compete with the legend of the fog-shrouded alleys (it wasn't even foggy on the night of any of the murders) and the man in the top hat with the surgeon's bag. Also, too many of the buildings are gone or changed too much, a problem I ran into with a tour I led once in the French Quarter. I tried to take the group on that fantastic bit from the movie JFK, where Guy Bannister and Oswald's offices are on two sides of the same building corner but different streets. Problem is, that was the one part of the tour I had not checked out in person first, and it turns out that building was destroyed for a federal courthouse.
5/31/2015 01:40:51 pm
I love your research into these stories. Here, we have aliens traveling about in "airships" powered by turbines, but along comes Von Daniken, claiming they used rocket propulsion and atomic weapons because: ancient texts.
5/31/2015 06:36:33 pm
And then the movie Stargate came out, and the aliens stopped having to bother with clumsy interstellar vehicles.
terry the censor
6/1/2015 06:31:37 pm
Has anyone written a Star Wars book that injects loads of UFO lore? that would be a hoot!
terry the censor
6/1/2015 06:30:27 pm
This case and Aurora are entry-level tests for how reliable a UFO book is.
6/4/2015 06:19:30 pm
I am not related to the Hamilton of the story, but was living with my family (I was ages 6-8) in LeRoy, Kansas in the early 60s. My father got a call from someone who was researching the incident and hoping to get a descendant to confirm it. He was disappointed when my father told him that our being there with the same family name was entirely coincidental.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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