Joe Soucheray on George Wheeler and Elmwood UFOs

Joe Soucheray, Minneapolis Tribune, Thurs. April 17, 1975

Pierce County, Wis.

The road from Ellsworth begins its run into Elmwood on the flat and then dips and turns like a roller coaster until finally Elmwood is in sight, a little movie-set town with a church spire, set in a deep-walled valley cut by the Eau Galle River. At night you can go up on the hills, look down and the lights of Elmwood, Ellsworth and Plum City—the so-called Piece County Triangle—shine like cities seen from an airplane window. Eerie twinklings.

In the early morning of April 7, as he was finishing his rounds up near Tuttle Hill in Elmwood, retired police chief George Wheeler saw a new light the likes of which made him scream and dive into a ditch for cover.

“I thought for sure a plane was crashing,” said Wheeler. “I thought a plane was going to wipe out the town. It was something, the size of a football field, about 1,500 feet off the ground. I hit the ditch and the thing passed over me and I saw a blue flame shoot out of it. It cut across town at a right angle and moved at a fantastic speed, I’d say 1,500 to 1,800 miles per hour if I had to guess.”

“I thought for sure a plane was crashing,” said Wheeler. “I thought a plane was going to wipe out the town.”

Wheeler said he got back into his car and drove to the top of Tuttle Hill. From there he studied the object at length and described it as cigar shaped, 100 yards long, casting a white light on the ground. It was silent, he said. It sped off towards Ellsworth and Wheeler. He hesitantly put in a call to the Ellsworth Village Hall. They told him he wasn’t crazy, people had been making similar reports for about two hours.

At 11:25 p.m. April 6 Jane and Donna Koehler reported three UFOs over their mobile home. Mrs. Koehler said the UFO changed colors, blinking in red, white and blue. Then came Wheeler’s report. At 1:55 a.m.m, Nany Theis saw a UFO with lights flashing from orange to blue and called the police.

Police Reputy Carl Ryden, himself a retired chief and friend of Wheeler’s, saw his first night-time UFO in response to the Theis call.

“I saw this thing haning up above the trees,” said Ryden. “It started coming for me like a big blue and yellow train light, I thought. It veered away to the north. I couldn’t say what it was. It’s hard to explain it even if you see it.”

“Until it blows up a building or little green men start giving me trouble I don’t do anything,” said Ellsworth Police Chief Ron Miller.

Ryden grunted. “But Wheeler,” he said.

“If Wheeler saw something, he saw something,” the chief said.

He wondered then why they would come all that way from outer space just to visit some country boy.

“I feel like a saw a ghost,” said Wheeler a couple of days after UFO night. “I’m surprised more people didn’t see it, but it was late on a Sunday night and people were either sleeping on in a saloon.”

On Monday, April 7, the lonely road between Ellsworth and Elmwood shone with the lights of UFO hunters. One anonymous caller reported a UFO shaped like a giant felt-tipped pen.

The Pierce County sightings are the most famous sightings since that warm fall night in 1973 when Charlie Hickson and Calvin Parker said they were visited by claw men from outer space who landed their craft in Pascagoula, Miss. Hickson wondered then why “they would come all that way from outer space just to visit some country boy.”

Both Ellsworth newspapers reported the sightings in their weekly editions and concluded that anyone who got a photo of the UFO could make a fortune. UFO investigator Dr. Jack Bostrack of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls was called to one sighting but it was too late. Professor Sherm Schultz of Macalester College said descriptions of the objects have been poor and of no value to investigators.

They mystery plays hard on Ryden. He’s interested now. On Memorial Day three years ago he and his buddy Howard Young were fishing Crow Lake in Canada when they saw something.

“We were trolling along when Howard yelled, ‘Carl turn around!’,” Ryden said. “I turned around and we both watched the damndest thing we ever saw. An object was coming down low over the water. It was green, spooky. It headed for an island, broke through the surface and was gone. Kicked up six-foot waves. I twasn’t a falling star. It wasn’t a pontoon off a plane, we checked; it wasn’t a missile, we checked. OK, what was it?

On the recent UFO night he watched “something the shape of a silo top” hover over his field for an hour.

“We go back to shore and tell some people what we saw and the resort owner tells us, ‘Shuddup, shuddup, you want to scare the customers away’—like he knows what it was we were describing.”

I drove out to Young’s farm to ask him about Ryden’s story. Young was standing on his front porch looking back out to the two stands of woods where on the recent UFO night he watched “something the shape of a silo top” hover over his field for an hour.

“You weren’t scared?”

“Naw,” said Young, “nothing to be scared about. Can’t hurt ya.”

“Ryden told me to ask you about the thing you saw land in the water up in Canada. Did you see something?”

Young pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his face, still looking back the woods.

“I’ll say we did,” he said. “Left six-foot waves and big bubbles where it went under.”

“Ryden said a friend of his said it might have been a moose.”

Young laughed. “No moose I know went that fast.”

The skies have quieted now in the Pierce County Triangle. Kids are sleeping through the night once more and the dogs, which took to whining during UFO night, got up a pretty good bark again.


Learn more about the local 1975 UFO Flap in Minnesota, Western Wisconsin, and Iowa.

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