Roswell 1947 from the Roswell museum

Roswell 1947 from the Roswell museum

This pin was a gift from Jimmie Wilson

The Crash Near Roswell

An unidentified flying object crashed on a ranch northwest of Roswell, New Mexico, sometime during the first week of July 1947.

Rancher W.W. “Mack” Brazel said later he found debris from the crash as he and the son of Floyd and Loretta Proctor rode their horses out to check on sheep after a fierce thunderstorm the night before. Brazel said that as they rode along, he began to notice unusual pieces of what seemed to be metal debris scattered over a large area. Upon further inspection, he said, he saw a shallow trench several hundred feet long had been gouged into the ground.

Brazel said he was struck by the unusual properties of the debris and, after dragging large pieces of it to a shed, he took some of it over to show the Proctors.

Mrs. Proctor, who later moved from the ranch to a house closer to town, said she remembers Brazel showing up with the strange material. The Proctors told Brazel he might be holding wreckage from an alien spacecraft—a number of UFO sightings had been reported in the United States that summer—or a government project, and that he should report the incident to Chaves County Sheriff George Wilcox.

A day or two later, Brazel drove into Roswell, the county seat, and reported the incident to Wilcox, who reported it to Maj. Jesse Marcel, intelligence officer for the 509th Bomb Group, stationed at Roswell Army Air Field.

In their book, A History of UFO Crashes, UFO researchers Don Schmitt and Kevin Randle say their research shows military radar had been tracking an unidentified flying object in the skies over southern New Mexico for four days. On the night of July 4, 1947, radar indicated the object had gone down about 30-40 miles northwest of Roswell. The book says eyewitness William Woody, who lived east of Roswell, said he remembered being outside with his father the night of July 4, 1947, when he saw a brilliant object plunge to the ground.

The debris site was closed for several days while the wreckage was cleared, and Schmitt and Randle say that when Woody and his father tried to locate the area of the crash they had seen, Woody said they were stopped by military personnel who ordered them out of the area.

Schmitt and Randle say Marcel, after receiving the call from Wilcox and subsequent orders from Col. William Blanchard, 509th commanding officer, went to investigate Brazel’s report. Marcel and Capt. Sheridan Cavitt, senior Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) agent, followed the rancher off-road to his place. They spent the night there and Marcel inspected a large piece of debris Brazel had dragged from the pasture.

Monday morning, July 7, Marcel took his first step onto the debris field. Marcel would remark later that “something … must have exploded above the ground and fell.” As Brazel, Cavitt, and Marcel inspected the field, Marcel was able to “determine which direction it came from, and which direction it was heading. It was in the pattern … you could tell where it started out and where it ended by how it was thinned out …”

According to Marcel, the debris was “strewn over a wide area, I guess maybe three-quarters of a mile long and a few hundred feet wide.” Scattered in the debris were small bits of metal that Marcel held a cigarette lighter to see if it would burn.

Along with the metal, Marcel described weightless “I”-beam-like structures that were three-eighths inch by one-quarter inch, none of them very long, that would neither bend nor break. Some of these “I”-beams had indecipherable characters along the length, in two colors. Marcel also described metal debris the thickness of tinfoil that was indestructible.

After gathering enough debris to fill his staff car, Marcel decided to stop by his home on the way back to the base so he could show his family the unusual debris. He’d never seen anything quite like it. “I didn’t know what we were picking up,” he said. “I still don’t know what it was … It could not have been part of an aircraft, not part of any kind of weather balloon or experimental balloon … I’ve seen rockets … sent up at the White Sands Testing Grounds. It definitely was not part of an aircraft or missile or rocket.”

Under hypnosis conducted by Dr. John Watkins in May 1990, Jesse Marcel Jr. remembered being awakened by his father that night and following him outside to help carry in a large box filled with debris. Once inside, they emptied the contents of the debris onto the kitchen floor. Jesse Jr. described the lead foil and “I”-beams. Under hypnosis, he recalled the writing on the “I”-beams as “Purple. Strange. Never saw anything like it … different geometric shapes, leaves and circles.”

Under questioning, he said the symbols were shiny purple and they were small. There were many separate figures. This too, under hypnosis: [Marcel Sr. was saying it was a flying saucer] “I ask him what a flying saucer is. I don’t know what a flying saucer is … It’s a ship. [Dad’s] excited!”

Marcel reported what he found to Blanchard, showing him pieces of the wreckage, none of which looked like anything Blanchard had ever seen.

Meanwhile, Glenn Dennis, a young mortician working at Ballard Funeral Home, received some curious calls one afternoon from the RAAF morgue. The base’s mortuary officer was trying to get hold of some small, hermetically sealed coffins and also wanted to know how to preserve bodies that had been exposed to the elements for a few days and avoid contaminating the tissue.

Dennis later said that evening he drove to the base hospital, where he saw large pieces of wreckage with strange engravings on one of the pieces sticking out of the back of a military ambulance. He entered the hospital and was visiting with a nurse he knew when suddenly he was threatened by military police and forced to leave.

The next day, Dennis met with the nurse, who told him about bodies discovered with the wreckage and drew pictures of them on a prescription pad. Within a few days she was transferred to England; her whereabouts remains unknown.

At 11 a.m., July 8, 1947, Lt. Walter Haut, RAAF public information officer, finished a press release Blanchard had ordered him to write, stating that the wreckage of a crashed disk had been recovered. He gave copies to the two radio stations and both of the local newspapers. By 2:26 p.m., the story was on The Associated Press wire:

“The Army Air Forces here today announced a flying disk had been found.”

As calls began to pour into the base from all over the world, Lt. Robert Shirkey watched as MPs carried loaded wreckage onto a C-54 from the First Transport Unit. To get a better look, Shirkey stepped around Col. Blanchard, who was irritated with all of the calls coming into the base. Blanchard decided to travel out to the debris field and left instructions that he’d gone on leave.

Blanchard had sent Marcel to Fort Worth Army Air Field (later Carswell Air Force Base) to report to Brig. Gen. Roger M. Ramey, commanding officer of the 8th Air Force. Marcel told Haut years later that he’d taken some of the debris into Ramey’s office to show him what had been found. The material was displayed on Ramey’s desk for the general when he returned.

Upon his return, Ramey wanted to see the exact location of the debris field, so he and Marcel went to the map room down the hall—but when they returned, the wreckage that had been placed on the desk was gone and a weather balloon was spread out on the floor. Maj. Charles A. Cashon took the now-famous photo of Marcel with the weather balloon in Ramey’s office.

It was then reported that Ramey recognized the remains as part of a weather balloon. Brig. Gen. Thomas DuBose, the chief of staff of the 8th Air Force, said, “[It] was a cover story. The whole balloon part of it. That was the part of the story we were told to give to the public and news and that was it.”

Later that afternoon, Haut’s original press release was rescinded and an officer from the base retrieved all of the copies from the radio stations and newspaper offices. The next day, July 9, a second press release was issued stating that the 509th Bomb Group had mistakenly identified a weather balloon as wreckage of a flying saucer.

On July 9, as reports went out that the crashed object was actually a weather balloon, cleanup crews were busily clearing the debris. Bud Payne, a rancher at Corona, was trying to round up a stray when he was spotted by the military and carried off the Foster ranch. Broadcaster Judd Roberts and Walt Whitmore were turned away as they approached the debris field.

As the wreckage was brought to the base, it was crated and stored in a hangar.

Back in town, Walt Whitmore and Lyman Strickland saw their friend, Mack Brazel, who was being escorted to the Roswell Daily Record by three military officers. He ignored Whitmore and Strickland, which was not at all like Mack, and once he got to the Roswell Daily Record offices, he changed his story. He now claimed to have found the debris on June 14. Brazel also mentioned that he’d found weather observation devices on two other occasions, but what he found this time was no weather balloon.

The Las Vegas Review Journal, along with dozens of other newspapers, carried the AP story:

“Reports of flying saucers whizzing through the sky fell off sharply today as the Army and the Navy began a concentrated campaign to stop the rumors.”

The story also reported that AAF Headquarters in Washington had “delivered a blistering rebuke to officers at Roswell.”

The military has tried to convince the news media from that day forward that the object found near Roswell was nothing more than a weather balloon.

Geology near Roswell


Bottomless Lakes State Park lies along the eastern bluffs of the Pecos River valley. Two major geologic units are exposed at Bottomless Lakes State Park, Quaternary river and alluvial deposits and rocks of the Permian Artesia Group, which is about 230 ma. Before deposition of the Artesia Group, carbonates and evaporites were being deposited by the marine seas in the Delaware Basin, which occupied much of southeastern New Mexico, in part forming the underlying San Andres Formation. The Roswell area lies on the thinner northwestern edge or shelf of the Delaware Basin. The San Andres Formation consists of interbedded limestones, dolomite, gypsum, and minor sandstone and siltstone; these rocks are not exposed in the park.

As the Delaware Basin subsided, the shelf region of the basin became more saline, and the Artesia Group was deposited. The Artesia Group consists of five formations: Grayburg (oldest), Queen, Seven Rivers, Yates, and Tansill Formations. These rocks consist of alternating layers of red to green to gray to white gypsum, limestone, sandstone, siltstone, and shale. Later the beds were tilted gently 2°–3° to the east. Some of these beds host oil and gas deeper in the Delaware Basin to the southeast.

Petroleum is generated from source rocks rich in organic material and then migrates into reservoir rocks where it is trapped. Petroleum is less dense than the water residing in the pore spaces of the reservoir rocks and tends to migrate updip until it is trapped by an impermeable shale, sandstone, limestone, or sealing faults. Petroleum can also accumulate at the top of anticlines or in stratigraphic traps resulting from changes from one type of rock deposit to another. These structural and stratigraphic traps are common in southeastern New Mexico.

The Artesia Group is also known for “Pecos diamonds,” small, doubly terminated quartz crystals found in the gypsum outcrops of the Seven Rivers Formation. These unusual crystals range in size from microscopic to 6.5 cm in length; the average length is 2.5 cm. The crystals vary from transparent to translucent, and the translucent crystals are white to red to yellow to nearly black. The crystals are found in the vicinity of the Pecos River; the northernmost locality is at Overton Ranch near the community of Dunlap in De Baca County and the southernmost locality is near Artesia, a north-south distance of about 110 miles. These crystals are most likely formed by low-temperature solutions that permeated the gypsum beds and replaced the gypsum with the silica in the fluids. The morphology of the crystals from simple prismatic to rhombohedral shapes is consistent with a replacement origin. Most of the crystals have incompletely developed faces that also indicate a replacement origin. Well-formed dolomite crystals also grew in the Seven Rivers Formation. A display of “Pecos diamonds” is exhibited at the Visitor Center.

Originally the Pecos River flowed west of Roswell, but the tilting of the Permian beds forced the river to shift eastward as downcutting continued. The river continued to change course to occupy the lowest point in the valley. The Quaternary river deposits consist mostly of clay and silt with minor sand and gravel. The present river channel occupies the lowest point in the valley and is bordered by floodplains of oxbow lakes and swamps that formed as a result of abandonment of the older Pecos River.

Above the Pecos River, several terraces of older sand and silt remain. The upper Orchard Terrace is approximately 40 ft above the river, and the lower Lakewood Terrace is approximately 20 ft above the river. Floods that resulted from melting of glaciers in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains formed these features during the Pleistocene Ice Age, 10,000–20,000 years ago.

The Bottomless Lakes are actually cenotes, small perennial lakes within deep, steep-walled sinkholes that extend below the water table (Caran, 1988; Ford and Williams, 1989). The formation of cenotes begins with the dissolution of carbonates and evaporites by underground water forming underground caves. Hydrogen sulfide gas, a byproduct of oil migration, may also produce sulfuric acid that enhances the formation of underground caves and caverns. One or a combination of three processes then forms the cenotes. Dissolution from above a cave, such as water percolating down a fissure, will weaken the roof of the cave and cause collapse or stoping of the roof along the fissure or other zones of weakness. Cenotes are also formed by collapse of the cave roof from below by excessive weight that widens as the collapse progressively migrates upward. The third process involves the removal of the cave roof by lowering the water table, causing an increase in the effective weight of the roof, which then collapses under its own weight.

At Bottomless Lakes, water flowing through the San Andres Formation, predominantly from the Sacramento Mountains to the west, slowly dissolves gypsum, halite, and limestone forming underground caves and caverns that result in collapse of the overlying rocks from their own weight. A combination of all three processes of solution, collapse, and water-table fluctuations forms the sinkholes. Lakes form when the sinkholes extend below the water table. The sinkholes at Lazy Lagoon probably formed by fluctuations in the water level. Lake-in-the-Making is a sinkhole that has not yet reached the water table. This process is seen at Lea and Cottonwood Lakes where steeply dipping or sagging beds are observed in the bluffs above the lake. The regional dip of the beds in this area is to the east, and the southwestward slumping of the beds above Lea Lake is a result of underground dissolution and subsidence. Folds seen elsewhere along the bluffs overlooking the park are probably a result of dissolution of underlying rocks and only partial collapse at the surface . Any fissures or fractures that form in the overlying rocks will tend to channel surface drainage and increase the underlying collapse.

At Bottomless Lakes, evaporation rates far exceed the precipitation rates because of the present semi-arid climate. Therefore, Bottomless Lakes are actually fed by the upward movement of ground water, not downward surface drainage, as many of the legends would imply. Subsequent irrigation in the Pecos Valley has resulted in lowering of the water levels such that water no longer spills over the lake shores as it did in the early 1900s. Local fluctuations in the lake levels are also a result of seasonal changes in precipitation and available ground water. Gradual subsidence and local catastrophic collapse can still occur. Rockfalls along the bluffs and cliffs surrounding the lakes are common, so take care in hiking near the steep walls. Hiking is not allowed along the rim of these bluffs because of the potential for rockfalls.

Much of the soil present along the lake edges at Bottomless Lakes State Park is white and salty. The salts are formed by the upward migration of underground water containing gypsum and salt that precipitates when the water evaporates. Locally, a white crust is formed over deep, seemingly bottomless alkaline mud. Vehicles that travel off maintained roads could become stuck.

Location: 16-G2