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Phantom Flyers


An airplane alighted atop a hill near the Falcon family’s home in Trenton. He descended the hill to the house and woke the family just shortly after midnight today in 1917. The mysterious aviator spoke to Mrs. Falcon, a woman of French and Indian descent, for nearly ten minutes. After he had left, she told her husband and children what he had said.

In French, the man said, “Look out, my friend, for something is going to happen.” He told her he brought a message for the Indians of North Dakota and Montana. They were to put all efforts into the war, and following the war, the United States and Canada would be under one government. Mrs. Falcon asked the stranger his name and where he came from twice, but he would not tell her. After delivering his message, the man left, and the Falcon family watched as he walked up the hill to a hulking object. At first they thought it was a horse, but they soon discovered it was an airplane, after he started it and flew away.

Mrs. Falcon gave a written testimony of the event the next day. Many were skeptical at first, but finally accepted the story after several others reported hearing a humming and seeing the lights of the plane in the sky that night. Though testimony forced residents of Trenton to believe that a pilot had in fact visited the town, many doubted the news he relayed to Mrs. Falcon. Some believed he was a pilot from a flying school, while others thought he was possibly a booze runner. Regardless of the man’s identity or what his true purpose in Trenton was, many believed he had stopped simply to determine his location and made the story up after rousing the Falcon family.

After the mysterious event, residents kept a lookout for the aviator for several nights. Though this was the first appearance of the pilot in Williams County, other areas in North Dakota had seen their own “Phantom Flyers.” Residents of Dunn Center had bore witness to a mysterious airplane just a few weeks before. On July 28, the Mandan Weekly Pioneer reported that two couples were out driving when they saw a blinding light coming at them from the west. The plane was traveling at about 60 miles per hour and the couple chased it for two miles before the pilot finally outran his pursuers. Area farmer Henry Hanson also saw a plane, though this one came from the opposite direction. At least three other parties reported seeing an airplane that night. “Reports of their experiences were given out last night and had the community roused to such a pitch this morning that a report of the affair was wired to the department of justice in Washington.” reported the Pioneer.

Posses were sent out the next day to search for the mystery plane, which was thought to have landed just a few miles from Dunn Center. Alf. O. Nelson, a real estate agent of Dunn Center suspected the pilot of being a “pro-German fanatic” who was out to destroy the ripening crops. Farmers kept revolvers, rifles, and shotguns handy to protect their crops.

Other sightings added to the mystery of these aviators. The Mandan News reported a “mysterious light whose uncanny appearance in the northwest sky has caused ...much agitation and speculation.” Sightings had also been in Dickinson and other towns in western North Dakota. The Williston Herald reported that these “aviators have been variously described as German agents, I.W.W. agents or American and Canadian student aviators on practice flights.” All they could know for sure, however, was that the mystery pilots were not a local. There were no known airplanes owned in western North Dakota, unless it was not licensed.

By Tessa Sandstrom

The Mandan News, August 10, 1917.

“Plane scares Dunn Centerites,” Mandan Weekly Pioneer. August 3, 1917: 5.

Shemorry, Bill. “Trenton’s Phantom Flyer,” More Lost Tales of Old Dakota. Williston, ND: 1988, 42-44.