DIGHTON One can see for miles across the flat High Plains. There are few houses. Few people. And with small towns dotting the landscape, there are few streetlights obstructing the view of a starry night.
Moreover, Dighton, population 1,261, is a small western Kansas community like most that dot the Midwest — a town with an economy reliant on the wheat fields that surround it, a place where, it seems, nothing unusual ever happens, a town populated by the average American — hardworking, churchgoing.
Go back nearly 40 years, however, and Dighton made the national news — and not for anything ordinary.
Up in the sky on the darkened plains, they saw them. Lights. Crazy moving lights. Lights that chased vehicles. Lights that could hover low or move in directions no ordinary aircraft could.
From well-respected farmers to the city’s police chief, they said they saw flying objects — unidentified flying objects.
“People were seeing them all across the state,” said Lane County farmer Vance Ehmke, who wrote about western Kansas’ surge of reports while interning at the Garden City Telegram that summer. “There was this rash of UFO sightings and an oasis of conversation.”
A history of sightings
The year was 1972, and Kansas was a hotbed of UFO sightings. In fact, the state had the most sightings in the nation that year. The county seat town of Dighton was the center of it all.
Kansas activity that year started in the spring of 1972 in Dighton, where a red-orange and white light would hover until an investigating patrol car approached, then would move away.
Then-Chief of Police M.R. Shelton said he chased it at speeds of up to 100 miles an hour but never caught it. He said it would run parallel to his car, or slightly ahead of it.
Shelton also said the UFO would remain stationary until an investigating officer would radio another car about it. It then began to move away.
“We didn’t think much about it at first,” Shelton said in July 1972. “We thought it might be the military taking infrared pictures or checking out a feedlot.”
However, according to the news reports, Forbes Air Force Base at Topeka and McConnell at Wichita both reported they did not have any low-level flights or planes that took infrared photos while hovering.
‘It was something different’
Other Lane County residents began seeing the lights, sometimes red-orange, sometimes white. Now living in Omaha, Pam Krehbiel Schnuelle said she doesn’t talk about her incident much with friends and relatives. She was only 18 when she and a friend were driving home from a baseball game in Scott City to the Krehbiel farm near Amy in Lane County. Around 10 p.m., they saw a bright star in the northeast.
“It began to move around, and we thought, ‘Huh.’ Then it moved around quickly and sporadically, and we knew it was something different than we had ever seen.”
It would get dimmer, then brighter, she said. Then it came right at their vehicle, getting within 100 yards of the car.
“It was bright enough to take up the whole windshield,” she said. “It wasn’t just a little ball.”
The object quickly zoomed away and disappeared, then reappeared in the east. The two could barely climb out of the vehicle when they got to the farm because they were so scared. Schnuelle recalls not wanting her friend to drive on east to Dighton.
Getting national attention
She still remembers the smell — an odd smell that didn’t smell of burned wheat. She hasn’t smelled it since.
Schnuelle also still remembers the look on her father’s face when he discovered it.
“My dad, we’re religious people,” she said. “The only thing we did was go to church, the rodeo during summer — just good people. For my dad, it was hard. It was very hard to imagine.”
All the hype around the county was enough to warrant national attention. According to a July 1972 story in The News, UFO experts came to investigate.
While many things can be explained, some, however, can’t be explained, Lane County farmer Ehmke said.