The Bragg Lights

The Texas Story Project.

It was 1962, and I lived in Kountze, Hardin County, Texas. I was 12 years old and in the sixth grade. My friend Celeste and I were invited to spend the night with another friend, Mary.  Mary’s older sister Judy and her boyfriend Olin overheard us talking about the Bragg Lights, a phenomenon that had been making front-page news in the local newspaper, the Kountze News, for some time. Olin offered to drive us out toward Saratoga to Bragg Road to see if the lights would show up that night. For some reason I’ll never understand as an adult, Mary’s mother agreed. Olin, Judy, and we three 12-year-olds piled into Olin’s car around 9:00 p.m. and went to wait for the lights.

Bragg Road is not particularly interesting to see in the daylight. It’s a well-maintained, straight gravel road with heavy vegetation down both sides in a part of southeast Texas known as the Big Thicket. At night, under a full moon, it is most interesting—shifting shapes and shadows, a chorus of crickets, frogs, and owls—a perfect setting for an event that might scare the pants off three 12-year-old girls. Olin drove a mile or so down the road, killed the engine, and we all got out to sit on the hood of the car and wait. For what, we weren’t quite sure.

We were the only car on the road that night. After ten to fifteen minutes, a soft glow appeared in the far distance but clearly straight ahead of us and on the road. All five of us saw it. Over a period of ten minutes or so, the glow slowly moved toward us and became more clearly defined: a circular light maybe eighteen inches in diameter surrounded by a hazy nimbus of six inches or so. We sat there, white-knuckled, as the light continued to move toward us very, very slowly. We shuddered, squealed, and clutched one another—well, mostly we clutched Olin. It’s hard to judge how far away the light was from us when we screamed, clambered back into the car, and locked the doors. I can’t say that Judy and Olin hung back, but they maybe didn’t scream as loudly as we three sixth-graders! Olin cranked the engine, made a three-point turnaround, and we high-tailed it back to Kountze. We’d seen the light!

Most of the Kountze News articles dealt with speculation about the source of the light. Some people said it was nothing more than a car’s headlights on an intersecting road, but even sixth-graders know that cars have two lights, not one big one. I even heard the light explained away as the headlight of a train, but no one we heard about had ever heard a freight train when they saw the light, and the railroad tracks that had once been laid down along Bragg Road were long gone. The explanation that makes the most sense to me is this: A long, long time ago, a railroad switchman was the victim of a hideous accident in which he was decapitated. Now he walks the woods every night, carrying his lantern, searching for his lost head. Now that’s a story anyone in the Big Thicket can buy!

Rebecca Martin Fendley is a native Texan who grew up in Kountze and Orange, attended school at the University of Texas for both her undergraduate and graduate degrees, and taught and served as a school librarian in Texas public schools for 22 years.

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