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Long Time Gone and the Mysterious Year of 1976

By Priscilla Waggoner

June 2, 2023

Note: This Long Time Gone interview with Larry Watts was conducted by Priscilla Waggoner in January 2020 right before the pandemic changed the world and during the time readers might remember when drones were reportedly seen in the night skies in eastern Colorado with no explanation—still to this day.

Right now, there’s a significant amount of media attention—and frenzy—about the mysterious aircraft that have been appearing in the night sky overhead. Some comments on social media from folks outside the region tend to be a little…dismissive, as if to say, what’s the big deal? What’s a few unidentified aircraft in the sky? What’s a few mysterious lights? But what a lot of those commenters may not know is that this is not the first time mysterious occurrences have taken place in these parts.

Now, no one is saying the drone sightings are connected to…that time. Not at all. But it can’t be denied that recent events tend to bring up memories of, and feelings about, what happened before, and what happened before is the kind of stuff that doesn’t happen much, if ever. And, as the saying goes, “you can’t make this [stuff] up.”

In the latter part of 1975, Larry Watts, who was sheriff of Kiowa County at the time, started receiving calls from cattle ranchers. The calls always came in those darkest hours right before dawn, and they all involved the same thing. Someone had come in the night and killed one of their cows. “Killed isn’t the right word,” he says. “The cattle were mutilated, and it was almost always the same. It looked like their tits had been burned off. Their pallet—you know, the end of their nose—had been removed. About half of their tongue. And all their sex organs had been taken out of them. And there was never any sign of a wound. There was no sign of how those organs were taken out of them. No incision, no marks. And there was never any blood. Not a single drop. Never, ever any blood, at all.” Over the next year, Larry would receive multiple calls like that, and when he’d go out to the rancher’s property, he’d find the same thing. Cattle who’d been dead just a few hours were already bloated. Sexual organs, and sometimes other ones, as well, removed with no sign of an incision. No sound from dogs or other livestock that would alert the rancher to anything that was happening. And no blood. Not a single drop.

Kiowa County was not the only place this was happening. The first case in this area was in Elbert County. There were also mutilations in Prowers and Cheyenne Counties and other counties further to the north. By the time they stopped roughly a year later, there were over 130 reported cases of cattle mutilation in Colorado with more than 25 of those happening in Kiowa County. “We…” Larry pauses for a moment. “Well, we got hit pretty hard down here. It got to where I didn’t even want to answer the phone.”

But during that time, there were other inexplicable events, as well, and they involved sightings of mysterious aircraft. Three events in particular stand out in Larry’s memory, even now, 40 years after they happened.

Larry and three other men were in his patrol car, parked some distance from Highway 287 north of town by Rush Creek. “I thought it had something to do with the creek up there…” he begins, as if the story is already telling itself in his mind. “But, well, something did come up out of that creek about midnight, and it’s something I still can’t explain to this day. So, me and three other guys was sitting in my sheriff’s car out there in the middle of nowhere, up here north in the middle of the pasture. And this…thing…it was kind of quiet out there, you know, and all of a sudden, this thing that was flying came up out of that creek and it lit up that place around there like it was daylight. A piece of land, about a quarter of a section—160 acres, you know, and I mean it did. It lit up that area just like it was daylight. It had a tremendous light. And, for just a minute, we could hear like a swish noise. It wasn’t like a helicopter. You know that swish-swish-swish noise helicopters make. It wasn’t like that—this was a lot shorter. Just that one real short whoosh kind of sound, and that was all. And then do you know that light just went out and it was gone. I mean, gone and out of sight. It wasn’t a helicopter. No helicopter could move like that.” He pauses again as if the memory has grabbed ahold of him and won’t let go. “The next morning, we found two dead cows. Yearlings. It so happens that all three of those guys that were with me are dead, so I’m the only one left that knows about what happened.”

He then recalls another night. “Me and the sheriff of Prowers County—George Martin, he’s dead now, too—but we was out here at the city water wells and there was a deal right on the hillside and across the creek. So, we sat there and watched it and it was just like it hovered there. It would be like a helicopter but it wasn’t. It was dark, and I don’t know what it was but when it raised up just a little bit—I’m talking instantly within the snap of your fingers—it was out of sight. That’s how fast it could move. So, I know that wasn’t a helicopter. You know what I mean? There was a lot of things…people got to where every time they’d see a falling star or something they’d be calling me, all times of the day or night for almost a year, I was going out looking here and looking there. It was kind of a bad deal, and I still don’t know what it was.”

The third event Larry remembers is perhaps the most mysterious of all. “One Sunday, I was just sitting down to dinner,” he begins, “and we didn’t have any radios over in the sheriff’s office. We just had a radio in the car and a sheriff’s phone in the house. And the dispatcher out of Lamar called me and said, ‘Go get in your car and switch your channel over to Limon radar. They want to talk to you’ So, I did. Well, they’d gotten ahold of both patrolmen, Wilbur and Gary Thomas. They both lived here in Eads. And they said there’s an object about a half mile east of Carval about a hundred feet off the ground, just hovering there. It’s been there about thirty minutes. And the deputy there in Carval went out to look at it but he couldn’t see anything. It was on radar, but he couldn’t se a thing. But anyway, we went west at about a hundred mile an hour and we got to Haswell because Haswell’s really high. Gary was on the east side of Haswell, Wilbur was right in Haswell, and I was on the west right on Cemetery Road. And pretty quick, that dispatcher in Limon said, ‘It’s raised up a little and is heading east, right toward Haswell.’ And I said, That’s right where we’re at. And within less than a minute, he said, ‘We got it on radar, and it’s right on top of Haswell.’ Now this is a bright, sunny day with not a cloud in the sky and none of us could hear anything or see anything. And probably within another two minutes, the radar said, ‘It’s moving southeast at a high rate of speed, and it’s now over the panhandle of Oklahoma and went off our radar.’ Now that’s moving pretty darn fast. And we never saw or heard anything. So, I don’t know if it was invisible or anything. I never knew. It was just a bad deal, and we were really glad when it stopped.”

The events continued like that until the end of 1976 when it stopped altogether.

For the vast majority of that time, Larry Watts was the only law enforcement in Kiowa County and worked, by himself through all of that. “I didn’t like that, but I didn’t have any choice. That’s just how it was.”

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