Today, we will take a deep dive into a phenomenon that has been recorded for over 120 years. We are going to take a look at the tri-state spook light. This light has been seen in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. This is typically in the area of Hornet, Missouri, just over the Oklahoma Border. This is why this light carries many names. The Tristate spook light, the Hornet Spook Light, the Ozark Spook Light, and many others. In this episode, I will uncover the earliest recordings of the spook light that I could find. The many places it’s been spotted and what’s been done to better understand it. We will read many first-hand testimonials of those who have seen it and believe in it. 

Now I want you all to know that I have a hard time believing in these things for many reasons. When you have stories of ghosts and goblins roaming through the night, I typically think it’s a good story, and that’s that. It’s just a story. But there have been so many sightings with the spook lights that it’s hard to just dismiss it.  

There is also this factor of the documentation through the years. What I hope I can accomplish in this episode is you understand how much this has been reported on over the years. I am a research person. I don’t use google to write my episodes. I look at many different factors and sources, and I see the story’s narrative come forward. And that’s what I put down and cover for you all in each of my episodes.  

But, with a ghost story. It’s hard to really go that deep in research. But, I was so happy to see that was not the case here. I found plenty for us to go over. First off, let’s start with the lore behind the lights.  

Several stories go along with the spook lights. But there are three that we see become the main theories and ghostly tales. 

The first story is about two Native Americans. One was a warrior, the other was his lover. Something caused one of them to decide to jump off of a bluff called lover’s bluff. So the surviving person took out a lantern and started looking for their lost lover. To this day, they are still out there, looking for them. This story is interchangeable, where it’s either the warrior or his lover jumping from the bluff.  

The following two stories are very similar. They both start with a warrior. In one tale, it’s a native American. The other, it’s a soldier in the civil war. He goes to war and has his head cut off. His body has returned to the earth with a lantern, always out looking for its severed head.  

You get the story, though. The light is a lantern in each one, and the ghosts are looking for something or someone.  

The first time in Oklahoma’s history that I could find anything that mentioned the “Spook Light” was May 3rd, 1901. It was a front-page article in the “Headlight” paper from Carmen, Oklahoma. This town is actually further west and is not near the tri-state area that we will focus on. But I found this very interesting, and it is an excellent example of what people were seeing. If you want to see this article for yourself, make sure to check out the blog post at truecrime.blog where you can read this and many more articles on the subject. Here is the article. 

“A Spook Light! Quite an excitement has been caused in the neighborhood six miles east of town during the past two weeks by the appearance of a mysterious light on the farm of Miss Effie Norton. The light was seen nearly every night, sometimes in the shape of a dog and sometimes in some other form. The light was, by many timid and superstitious people, attributed to some supernatural power. Some daring young men in the neighborhood decided to probe the mystery and have done so sufficiently to satisfy themselves that the light was manipulated by some ordinary human agency for the express purpose of scaring certain people. Further developments may be expected soon.”

This story was fascinating because the light was present, but it was also taking on different shapes. So they saw a dog and other things. After a few days, it says some young men go to the lights to see what was causing them, and they came back believing it was man-made to scare some of the locals.  

Response to this article was found in the “Okeene Eagle” published on May 10th, 1901. 

“The Augusta Headlight tells of spook light on the claim of a young lady near that town. Someone wants that claim at a low price; a few charges of buck-shot in the vicinity of that light would cure that desire.”

This is actually a pretty typical response that I would expect to see. The writer is basically calling BS on the light and saying that it would quickly end the show if they shot in its direction.   

But I found something pretty interesting here. 20 years later, there is another sighting in one of the three states, and it’s also further west of the tri-state area. This time we are in Reno County, Kansas. This is just north of the sighting in Carmen, Oklahoma. This is what was written in the Enid Daily Eagle on November 17th, 1922. 

“A Reno county girl, Miss Geneva Shuff of Sylvia, when she signed her contract to teach school in southwest Kansas, near Elkhart, did not know that her schoolhouse was supposed to be haunted by a “Ghost Light.”

But other Teachers found it out and fled before the phenomena, and the school board, in hiring Miss Shuff, decided not to tell of the disadvantages of the school. 

The “ghost light” is described as looking like a reflection of a full moon. Abut the size of a windmill wheel, of a dull red color, shining particularly bright on a dark night.” 

But instead of scaring off Mrs. Shuff, it has made her want to find out just why the light is appearing at various intervals, so she wrote to her brother, Harold Shuff, to come out to her and together they would stay at the schoolhouse and see just what was causing the excitement.

So the town has had trouble hiring teachers because of this ghost light, and they neglected to tell the new out-of-town teacher about it. This could have gone horribly wrong, but it works out well because Mrs. Shuff wanted to know what was causing the light. So she roped her brother into the adventure because that’s what they are for, and they try to learn more. 

“According to Miss Shuff, the light is not stationary. Sometimes it’s in the schoolyard, other times in the adjoining fields. Whatever it is – a spook or a specter, a midnight mirage, or someone’s practical joke – many persons have seen it.”

In this article, we are also treated with a first-hand account of the light and its movements.  

“Mr. Crawley, with whom Miss Shuff boards, saw the specter lights one night as he was coming home, seemingly dancing ahead of him in the road. Thinking that it might be the reflection of the car lights, Crawley turned his car clear around, but the light was still up the road. When he turned to chase it, it rolled away. For nearly an hour, he chased the rolling light, and then suddenly, it disappeared.”

Then at the end, we have what they believe to be the scientific explanation of the lights. This goes into some history, and then they pull in someone who builds a theory.

“There is a story that many years ago when the western counties were being opened up, that a little town stood on the site of the schoolyard and vicinity. A well was dug just southeast of where the school stands but was not used. An epidemic among the cattle came, and many of the carcasses were thrown into this unused well.  

J.H. Mallinson, superintendent of the United Water, Gas and Electric company, in Hutchinson, suggests that the gasses from the decomposed carcasses of many cattle filling the well may be the explanation of the Morton county spook light. Gasses from the decomposing matter under certain conditions cause a flickering lights above the ground known as ignis fatuus.

Sometimes its is known as “will of the wisp” or “jack o’ lantern.” It is very probable that this is what the people see near that schoolhouse. Imagination does the rest, said Mr. Mullinson.”  

So when you look into “will of the wisp,” you will end up going down another rabbit hole that has an entirely new story attached. This one is biblical and is concerning a blacksmith was named Will. Will was not a particularly good person, and when he died, he attempted to get into heaven but was denied. Peter decides that Will deserves a second chance in life and restores him. But Will quickly returns to his evil ways and is cursed by Peter to walk the earth for eternity.  

Now, we are going to jump another 20 plus years to 1946. This is when things are really starting to get interesting in the tri-state area. The locals begin seeing the spook lights almost every night. This is something that they can count on seeing, and as time goes on, more and more people are traveling to the area to see the spook lights.  

Map to the Spook Light

A high school physics class actually takes a field trip out there to see if they can find a reason for the lights. When they get there, they find that so many people there are in their cars, waiting for the light too. They found it hard to see anything because of all the headlights in the area. They only saw a wisp of light, and that was it.  

But more and more people continue to go out to see the lights. Locals start to get annoyed because the crowds will sometimes knock on doors at all times of the night to ask for directions to see the lights.  

The Army even got involved. They studied the lights for a while. Locals even claim that the soldiers shot at the lights. Although I have trouble believing this myself.  

Over the next few years, the spook light sightseers only increased in numbers. By the mid-fifties, the crowds were dazzled with even more lights of many colors. Some of these were found out to be caused by teenagers with flashlights. This was reported in the Okeman News Letter on October 12th, 1954. 

“Many persons were slightly red-faced over a greenish spook light reported floating near Sand Springs. For five nights, hundreds turned out at midnight to watch the strange sight. Officers, reporters, and television cameramen witnessed the strange phenomenon. Then two high school youths admitted they were the spook light. They did it all with a flashlight covered with green towels. The boys said they were having fun fooling everyone, but the crowds got too big, and they got too scared.”

Once they were cleared out, the mysterious light again returned night after night.  

The light has never harmed anyone, from what I can tell. There was a time where two boys were out to see the light, and when it appeared, they got so frightened that one of the boys fell on the other while holding a penknife. He stabbed his friend in the leg, and he had to have stitches to close the wound. But that was not the lights doing.  

Many people would suggest that it was the headlights of cars, somehow reflecting and creating the spook lights. But others would refute this and point out how long this has been going on, long before cars and their headlights lined the roads. 

By the 1960s, people started trying to profit from the spook lights. Tours began popping up, shops that sold pamphlets and merchandise. And states began to look into whether or not they too could profit on the spook lights. But it was argued in the Tonkawa News article written by Bill Roter on July 21st, 1960, that no one owned the spook lights and should always be free.  

Bill had just come back from seeing the light with his children, and they witnessed the light first hand. Locals started setting off fireworks into the night sky to report to others that the lights were visible in their area. Once this happened, the tours would quickly head their way. This article even discusses the fifth story to explain the lights.  

Many years ago, there was a Miner in the area. The Miner was traveling with his daughter. They were stopped by hostile Native Americans, and his daughter was taken from him. The M iner died while looking for his daughter. His ghost still roams the area, holding a lantern high so that he could one day find his daughter. 

This one is interesting because although the ending is always similar. This is the first one that is not involving a warrior or a soldier of some type.  

Over the years, the crowds have died down. It seems every ten years or so, there are articles about the lights that come up. Each one telling the tales of the lights and giving their personal accounts of seeing the mysterious glow. Many just say that’s it’s something you got to see to believe. I know I keep saying this, but if you go to our page, truecrime.blog. You will see the many news articles we referenced in this episode and a lot more we didn’t. You could write a book with all the data that we were able to pull on this.  

I honestly don’t know what is causing the lights to appear. It might be “Swamp Gas,” as some call it. It could be a ghost, whether it’s a soldier, Native American, lover, someone forsaken by god, or a miner, I don’t know. Or it could be some kind of hoax, but if it’s that, they have been keeping it up for many years. Either way, I believe that it’s there. I just don’t know why.  

But, my son is going to college out that way. So on, a future trip to see him will involve visiting the spook light for myself. It really impressed me that this had been something looked into so much, with such a wide variety of answers. I want to form my own opinion about it.  

What do you all believe? Join me on Facebook.com/Okieinvestigations to let me know.  


Links to check out: https://www.legendsofamerica.com/mo-spooklight/


Newspaper Clippings

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