Monday, October 21, 2013

Tacke Ranch Lights: Montana Mystery


Here is a collection of old newspaper articles, personal accounts and quotes regarding a phenomena in the 'Big Sky' state that I was previously unaware of. It seems the Tacke Ranch Lights and the legend behind the curiosity continues to be debated. Is it a spirit, UFO or natural anomaly? What do you think?:

Witnesses Recount Strange Lights

Helena Daily Herald - March 23, 1881

Ghostly Visitations!

Strange and Mysterious Lights in the Valley.

Does the Murdered Man's Spirit Visit its Old Stamping Ground?

Investigation to be Made by the Helena Scientific Club


For a long time past we have frequently heard that mysterious lights have been seen moving about, of their own accord apparently, over the farm and around the house and outbuildings of the late Charles Tacke, who was murdered last fall by Peter Pelkey who was hanged here in February for the crime. ...

For a while, no attention was given them, but so often have people who were passing the Tacke ranch in the night saw these lights and told about them on their arrival here, that night before last a party of our citizens, who have the organ of inquisitiveness developed to a litttle more than the ordinary, concluded to ride down to the ranch and witness for themselves the phenomena, if such there were. ...

One stolid German farmer, who lives close by, and who told us his story with all gravity, and whose word we would not think of doubting, for he believes all he says, is sure he saw these lights about the time the snow began to fall. They looked like the light thrown from a red glass lantern at first, but have been growing paler and lighter in color ever since. He has seen from one to four of an evening moving about the place, some going up as high as twenty feet and moving around in different directions, and sometimes, apparently, settling on the corners of the fence; the moving around the house, barns, corrals, etc., then finally sinking down and disappearing in an instant, leaving darkness behind. He couldn't think what it was made them do so. ...

Another farmer, who lives near, says he has seen the lights ever since the nights began to close in early last fall. ... We should believe this man fully if we did not know he takes a good deal too much stimulus sometimes to be a good judge of such wonderful sights as he describes, and think his imagination plays him tricks. Yet he is truthful and believes what he says.

The gentlemen of Helena who went down to satisfy their curiosity are all sober-minded, reliable men. They were a little belated on account of the bad roads, and had got off the direct track a little, and arrived there about 10 o'clock.

Two of them, who we happened to see first on their return, agreed that as they turned the corner and went into the road which led by the farm, and after riding awhile along the fence, all of a sudden they saw a large, bright light moving over the open field, somewhere from ten to forty feet above the ground; that it was apparently from four to six inches in diameter and from eighteen to twenty-four inches high, the body of the light being of an orange color, occasionally flashing off rays of a greenish or sometimes of a bluish tintage; that it moved up and down over the fields slowly, and gradually sank down and vanished. They also saw two other lights moving around which looked like a lamp light surrounded by a porcelain glove, the body of the light not being visible, but white, mild and distinct. ...

We have heard of no ratinal attempt to account for the singular lights seen. Some believe they are connected with the end of world, which Mother Shipton prophesied will take place this year.

Others say they are electric lights that have escaped from Edison's or Brush's laboratories, but they cannot see why they hang around one place so persistently. Others are sure they sent out from h—l by the murderer to find the place where the murdered man had buried his money. Not having seen them, we pretend to give no theory. - Helena Daily Herald - 23 March 1881

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THE MAGIC LIGHTS

Helena, Montana, Daily Independent - 1 April 1881

Throngs of Curious Sightseers Visiting the Tacke Ranch

Strange Sights Seen and Strange Stories Told

A Visit to the Ranch by an "Independent" Reporter and Others Wednesday Evening--Strange and Wonderful Lights Which they saw--Speculations as to the Cause of the Mystery


There are more things in Heaven and earth Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy - Shakespeare.


On Wednesday evening Messrs. J.B. Sanford, A.M. Walker, another gentleman whose name is not recalled, and the editor of the INDEPENDENT visited theTacke ranch with a view to ascertaining for themselves the truth or falsity of the rumors in reference to the mysterious lights which are said to float around the late residence of Charles Tacke, deceased. We arrived at the residence of Mr. Tom Darrington, adjoining the Tacke premises, about 8 o’clock in the evening, and found there several neighbors assembled, who were discussing the all-absorbing topic of the wonderful lights.

“Come to see the lights?” said Mr. Darrington, accosting us.

We acknowledged that such was the fact, and learned from him that every evening, parties of sight-seers from various portions of the county came in crowds to behold the unaccountable mystery.

“I don’t keep hotel,” said Mr. Darrington, “or I might do a lively business entertaining the sight-seers.”

The night before the light had been even more audacious than usual. It had come within about sixty yards of an old neighbor of Mr. Tacke, whose relations had not been of the most amiable nature with the deceased, and as it seemed bent on approaching him, this gentleman in self defense had raised his gun and fired at it, when the light at once disappeared. It was amusing to hear the assembled neighbors all speak of the strange light as “Charley Tacke,” or “him.” They seemed to entertain no doubt as to the identity of the mysterious visitant.

THE LIGHT–ITS APPEARANCE

According to the statement of the neighbors it had made its first appearance just before last Christmas, when the ground was covered with snow, and was then more brilliant than now. In color it was red and brilliant, resembling the head light of a locomotive, and of about the same size. It always wandered around the Tacke farm, sometimes passing over the top of his house, but usually gliding around the premises a few feet from the ground. Sometimes as many as three lights would be seen in close proximity to each other. They are usually visible for a few moments at a time. Sometimes, however, they can be seen for a full half hour, but always disappear as suddenly as they came. Often its appearance is like a sudden blaze, expiring almost instantly. The
neighbors say that at first the lights only appeared every tenth night, but recently they have been appearing every evening between 8 and 10 o’clock.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD VERSION

Tom Darrington, who lives within a few hundred yards of Tacke’s house, and the other neighbors, account for the mysterious light on the theory that Charley Tacke was killed so suddenly by Pelkey that he never knew what hurt him,and does not yet know that he is dead. That he was perfectly absorbed in his business as a ranchman, and now that spring is opening, the disembodied spirit continues to wander around the premises, intent upon preparations for the cropping season.

VISIT TO THE PREMISES

Accompanied by Mr. Darrington, our party at once proceeded to the deserted premises of the murdered Tacke. Grim and dark the outlines of the house and barn arose against the back ground of the starry sky. We entered the barn and were pointed out the stall where the murdered man was hidden under the lime. There by the light of a match we saw stains of blood still upon the posts of the stall. The boots of the victim still lie in the same position in which they were left some eight months ago, and a portion of the lime that covered his remains is still visible.

About the time of our arrival another party of five or six ladies and gentlemen from Helena drove up, and soon we were joined by an additional company of gentlemen from the country, making altogether an assembly of some fourteen persons, all intent on catching a glimpse of the unearthly visitant.

Soon the cry, “There he is! There is Charley!” called us from the barn. Sure enough a glimmering light, much like that of a lantern, could be seen gliding along at an apparent distance of 400 yards form where we stood. Faint and flickering the gleam shown for a moment, then disappeared and appeared again. “That’s Charley,” said Darrington solemnly. One gentleman had a double barreled shot-gun which he leveled and proposed to shoot as soon as the light came within range. But soon no further light could be seen.

“Let us get nearer,” said many voices, and at the word some five or six gentlemen, including Messrs. Walker, Darrington, the man with the gun, and the INDEPENDENT reporter started on a brisk walk in the directions from which the light was last visible. After going some three hundred yards we halted, when suddenly a bright light arose within a hundred yards of us very like the flame of a candle except a little more intense. It moved up and down in a zigzag way for an instant, and then disappeared. All the party saw
it distinctly. Suddenly, some 200 yards further off another flame appeared, moving rapidly along the ground like a man running with a lighted torch. It moved toward us for an instant, then receded, then circled around. “Watch it,” said Darrington, “that’s Charley’s light,” but soon it was gone.

THE INDEPENDENT man proposed to step off a hundred yards, and have one of the party light a match and wave it so as to see the contrast in the lights. This was done, but just as the match was lighted another light not like it flamed up at an equal distance from the INDEPENDENT reporter and the party. All saw the second light and hailed to know who was there, but no answer came. The man with the gun was about to shoot, but the light disappeared before he got his aim. At various intervals the gliding light could be seen glimmering along the horizon, sometimes at one point, then at another, but always within a radius of a few hundred yards from Tacke’s house. The neighbors solemnly informed us that no such lights were visible before last winter. Many of them had lived in the neighbor- hood for twelve years. They had often gone to the place where the lights were visible when the snow was on the ground last winter, to see if there was any sign of human footsteps in the snow, but were never able to see any indications of the
presence of mortal agency in creating the strange illuminations.

SPECULATIONS OF THE SPECTATORS

“What is it!” was the general query of the curious crowd who had seen for themselves the marvelous light. “It’s Charley,” was the general verdict of the neighbors. “It’s phosphorescent light,” said a few skeptics. “But the surrounding ground is high and dry, and who ever saw phosphorescent light in winter with the thermometer thirty degrees below zero and the ground covered with snow?” answered others. “It’s a lot of mischievious rascals who are hoaxing the country,” said a third. “But who would try to carry out a hoax at the risk of life, when men armed with rifles and shot guns are blazing away at the mysterious visitant when it appears,” answered another. A classical gentleman suggested that the blood of Charley Tacke should be washed away from the stall where he fell at the time of his murder last fall. “You know, gentlemen,” said he, “that the ancients had a tradition that until a body was decently interred the discontented ghost was unable to cross the styx and continued to wander around among the habitations of men. Wash away the blood stains and remove Tacke’s boots from the stable–perhaps that will allay the troubled spirit.” Others thought that the deceased, who was a money-saving man, had buried treasures still hidden on the ranch, and that search should be instituted at once. So without arriving at any conclusion, the company, about ten o’clock, dispersed for their several homes. Perhaps men of science can ex- plain the strange phenomena on scientific principles. If so, let the public have the benefit of their suggestions. Certainly these illuminations, if the united testimony of the neighborhood is to be believed, are full of mystery and deserve the closest scrutiny and investigation. - Helena, Montana, Daily Independent - 1 April 1881

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Mysterious Lights

For a long time past we have frequently heard that mysterious lights have been seen moving about, of their own accord apparently, over the farm and around the house and outbuildings of the late Charles Tacke, who was murdered last fall by Peter Pelkey who was hanged here in February for the crime. ... For a while, no attention was given them, but so often have people who were passing the Tacke ranch in the night saw these lights and told about them on their arrival here, that night before last a party of our citizens, who have the organ of inquisitiveness developed to a litttle more than the ordinary, concluded to ride down to the ranch andwitness for themselves the phenomena, if such there were.

...One stolid German farmer, who lives close by, and who told us his story with all gravity, and whose word we would not think of doubting, for he believes all he says, is sure he saw these lights about the time the snow began to fall. They looked like the light thrown from a red glass lantern at first, but have been growing paler and lighter in color ever since. He has seen from one to four of an evening moving about the place, some going up as high as twenty feet and moving around in different directions, and sometimes, apparently, settling on the corners of the fence; the moving around the house, barns, corrals, etc., then finally sinking down and disappearing in an instant,leaving darkness behind. He couldn't think what it was made them do so. ...Another farmer, who lives near, says he has seen the lights ever since the nights began to close in early last fall. ... We should believe this man fully if we did not know he takes a good deal too much stimulus sometimes to be a good judge of such wonderful sights as he describes, and think his imagination plays him tricks. Yet he is truthful and believes what he says.The gentlemen of Helena who went down to satisfy their curiosity are all sober-minded, reliable men. They were a little belated on account of the bad roads, and had got off the direct track a little, and arrived there about 10 o'clock.Two of them, who we happened to see first on their return, agreed that as.... - Beyond Spirit Tailings: Montana's Mysteries, Ghosts, and Haunted Places

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The Hanging of Peter Pelkey

One of the most gruesome murders recorded in Lewis and Clark County occurred in September of 1880. Authorities discovered the crime when they went to check on Charles Tacke who had a ranch four miles east of Helena in the Prickly Pear valley.

Tacke's brother had reported him missing. An awful stench led authorities to the rancher's bloody corpse buried under several barrels of lime. An ax clotted with blood lay buried with the victim. Tufts of hair and pools of blood revealed how the killer had dragged the body to its final resting place. The subsequent arrest, trial, and hanging of Peter Pelkey led to a series of ghostly visitations witnessed by hundreds of local residents.

Peter Pelkey was a 24-year-old French-Canadian who drifted from the lumber camps of Maine to New Hampshire and Minnesota before ending up in Tacke's employ. Tacke was something of a recluse, a thrifty bachelor who lived in a very old log cabin despite his prosperity. Pelkey and Tacke made a strange combination but seemed to get along well.

According to Pelkey,'s testimony, he and Tacke were in the log stable catching hogs. Tacke bent down to grab one as Pelkey picked up the ax to toss it out of the way. He accidentally hit Tacke on the head causing a wound that bled profusely.

The sight of blood made Pelkey crazy. He struck Tacke twice more over the head, killing him. Pelkey feared the hogs would eat Tacke's body, so he dragged the dead man into the manger and poured two barrels of lime over him. When Pelkey noticed one of Tacke's feet sticking out of the lime, he took up the ax and chopped it off, then jumped on it to bury it in the lime as well.

Pelkey rifled Tacke's pockets, took what money he could find, and made his getaway. But there was a witness to the ghoulish business. Tacke's fine stallion, stabled next to the lime-covered corpse, had seen the murder. Pelkey saddled the valuable animal intending to ride hell-bent for Fort Benton, but the horse - perhaps in loyalty to his dead master - refused to cooperate.

The horse snapped and bit at his rider's legs until Pelkey had to kneel in the saddle to protect himself. Although Pelkey beat the horse mercilessly, it would only move in fits and starts; it took them all night long to travel about eighteen miles. Pelkey finally reached the Dearborn, trading the horse for a swifter mount. Authorities soon identified the horse as Tacke's, followed Pelkey's trail, and arrested him.

Once incarcerated in the Lewis and Clark County Jail in Helena, Father Lawrence B. Palladino, S.J., visited Pelkey and found him to be "seemingly stolid, stupid, and devoid of human feelings." Then Pelkey had a strange experience.

One night as he lay wide awake on his cot, he saw a sudden blinding light in the corner of his cell. The light struck terror into his heart. When it dissipated, Pelkey was transformed. The guards corroborated this story, noticing immediately that Pelkey no longer spoke in grunts but with "articulated intelligence."

Pelkey was sentenced to hang. Early on February 4, 1881, a crowd thronged about the jail yard in a congenial mood, packing so densely onto the surrounding shed rooftops that several roofs collapsed. At half-past eleven a blanket-wrapped coffin was placed under the scaffold. Jailers escorted Pelkey out of the jail at 11:45; the crowd fell silent as the death warrant was read. Pelkey bowed and nodded to several in the crowd.

Officials escorted the prisoner to the gallows, restraints were applied, the noose adjusted, and the signal given. The sheriff cut the cord, springing the iron trap and Pelkey fell through the trap. His heart beat for 14 minutes, and at 16 minutes doctors pronounced him dead, his neck broken by the fall.

Wild rumors about strange lights appearing on Tacke's deserted ranch soon began to spread. The lights hovered over the house and floated around the property, gliding along the fence rail, over the fields, moving inside the house and stable.

The newspapers reported the incidents in detail, and according to Father Palladino's account in "Indian and White in the Northwest," the "entire community became absorbed in the apparition." There were many theories proposed to explain the lights. One was that the lights were electric and had escaped from Thomas Edison's laboratory.

Others believed that the phenomenon was the ghost of Peter Pelkey, looking for the rest of Tacke's reported wealth. Still others believed it was the ghost of Tacke guarding his property.

Witnesses to the sightings all agreed that the lights visited the various corrals and pens, the house, and the fields. They were erratic, and periodically rose in the air as high as forty feet. One neighbor claimed he saw one to four lights of an evening, moving independently in different directions, sometimes settling on the fence corners.

Another said that they appeared as clear, bright lights moving around the Tacke property, rising in the air, and eventually moving over the valley until they were lost to sight.

The ghost lights persisted for several months. Hundreds drove out each evening to observe them to the consternation of Tacke's brother who feared some tourist would accidentally set fire to the place.

Father Palladino admitted that when he and his colleagues were asked their opinions about the lights, they would allude to the fact that someone who wanted to buy the ranch had simply made the story up to scare off other buyers. But years later Father Palladino concluded that "…we must candidly confess that the strange occurrence has ever been, and still is to this very day, an unsolved riddle in our mind." -

Sources:
Spirit Tailings: Ghost Tales from Virginia City, Butte and Helena
Helena Daily Herald - 23 March 1881
helenair.com/
Beyond Spirit Tailings: Montana's Mysteries, Ghosts, and Haunted Places
Daily Independent - Helena, MT - 1 April 1881

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