Friday, February 09, 2024

The Aztec UFO Incident and The Fog of Time (1)

Letter From Home (Flying Saucer Snippet, Letter From Warty To Grandma) - Aztec Independent Review 3-24-1950

Origin Stories

     Recently, colleague and noted researcher Curt Collins reached out and inquired about “a claim that the Aztec hoax was inspired by a joke newspaper story in the Aztec Independent Review by George Bawra.” [sic] Curt discovered a blurb (See below) in Garrett M. Graff's new book, "UFO: The Inside Story of the US Government's Search for Alien Life Here―and Out There," which precipitated the question.

(For the record, the more common, long held precept for the origins of the Aztec UFO crash narrative is that the story was created out of
Frank Warren -
By Frank Warren
The UFO Chronicles
whole cloth by two purported conmen, i.e., Silas Newton and Leo GeBauer. This account was borne by then, off and on again newspaper reporter J.P. Cahn as his former employer, the San Francisco Chronicle passed on the piece, thus Cahn sold it to True Magazine).
Aztec Snippet in UFO -The Inside Story of the US Government's Search for Alien Life Here By Garret M. Graff -
Snippet from Garrett M. Graff's new book, "UFO: The Inside Story of the US Government's Search for Alien Life Here―and Out There"

Curt additionally cited, Jerome Clark’s piece in Omni magazine, in the Sept. 1988 issue and in referencing researcher Bill's Moore previous report on Aztec, he in part wrote:

"UFO researcher William Moore who has investigated the Aztec story dismissed the new allegations [By Bill Steinman in the book, "UFO Crash at Aztec, A Well Kept Secret"] as 'unsubstantiated conjecture.' And a reporter for the Daily Times [Debi Yeager] published in nearby Farmington says nobody in Aztec even remembers a UFO crash [*See article below]. 'Several years ago I got a call from a guy in California and that's the first time I ever heard the story', says the reporter. "I decided to check it out. No one knew anything about it, except George Bawra [Sic] who's now dead. At the time he was editor of the Aztec Independent Review. He told me he had written a tongue-in-cheek story about a UFO in the area. Apparently some people picked up the story as gospel."

He (Curt) went on to say that, "I've seen this repeated again and again" (as most of us who pay attention have).

The Farmington Daily Times article cited by Moore is seen below:
What Happened Around Aztec, By Debi Yeager - Farmington Daily Times 1-17-1982
* Farmington Daily Times 1-17-1982

In the latter part of 1991, The International UFO Reporter published an in-depth article/report by researchers, William E. Jones and Rebecca D. Minshall concerning Aztec, and the assertions of Bill Steinman; although they didn’t travel to Aztec, they did contact some of the stated witnesses Steinman talked to and concluded the following:

“Neither the Scully book nor the Steinman book is persuasive. The critical information each presents is questionable. Everyone we contacted in Aztec, especially the older people who were adults in March of 1948, is certain that no crash ever took place. It is clear that the flying-saucer-crash story is part of Aztec's folklore but not its history.”

One of the witnesses that Jones & Minshall spoke to (also) brought up Bowra, and stated:

"... the crash story may have been started by a newspaper man she believes was named George Bower [sic]; he sometimes wrote partially true and sensational stories for the local paper to help boost circulation."
Official UFO magazine (Aztec Article by McClelland) - Oct. 1975
Official UFO Dec. 1975

Going back further to 1975, the magazine, Official UFO, published an article/report, by Mike McClelland, then an investigator for the Aerial Phenomenon Research Organization (APRO), as well as Project Coordinator for the Unidentified Flying Object Report and Information Center (UFORIC). The title of the article was, "The UFO Crash of 1948 was a Hoax."

McClelland's report/article was prompted by the revelations (concerning Aztec) of one Robert Spencer Carr, who was primarily known as "an American writer of science fiction and fantasy." Carr's revivification of the Aztec crash story, first mentioned on a radio broadcast on Oct. 11, 1974 to promote the upcoming Flying Saucer Symposium by PSI Conferences in Tampa, Florida "created a media sensation that lasted for months in print and broadcast news."

In regards to Bowra, McClelland wrote:

"... George Bowra who owned the Aztec newspaper in 1948. From my conversation with him, he impressed me as one who must have been a colorful individual. He recalled a tongue-in-cheek article he had written for the newspaper years ago describing his abduction by little green men from space."

Letters From Home

On the mind of readers at this point is, why not locate the original article(s) cited over the years? The short answer is various researchers and or interested parties have tried, myself and close colleagues included.

Several years ago with our first pass looking through the microfilm and or copies thereof the Aztec Independent Review for the issues published around 1948—we searched for any articles akin to the Aztec narrative, concerning flying saucers, crashes, aliens etc., we got zilch, bupkis, nada.

A breakthrough occurred when I interviewed George Bowra's son, Jim (RIP) back in 2013. When questioned about the alleged article, he stated:

"my father periodically wrote a tongue-in-cheek ... uhh, article ... about a boy, kinda of a hillbilly dumb kid named Warty, and he was writing to his grandmother. Occasionally it would be local politics and city government but usually it was just ... something. He wrote this one particularly ... Warty wrote this one about a flying saucer ..."

Armed with that information we took another dive into the microfilm, and with our boots on the ground colleague, B.M. Marshall–we stroke gold; we finally understood why the so-called article(s) were so elusive. As you can see (below), the piece(s) wasn't an article at all, it was a regular column, certainly tongue-in-cheek as described and first published in July of 1949.

The first mention of Flying Saucers specifically in Bowra's Letter From Home column was published in the March 24th, 1950 weekly issue of The Aztec Independent Review.

(This was not the first mention of Flying Saucers in the paper, more on that later).
Letters From Home, People Who See Flying Saucers 3-24-1950 -
The Aztec Independent Review March 24, 1950

Also in that issue was an editorial likewise by Bowra simply entitled, "Flying Saucers" (see below). The commentary cites the Flying Saucer (UFO) events which occurred for 3 days in neighboring Farmington the week prior, offering a circumspect if not derogatory demeanor to the happenings at that time. In contrast, the Farmington Daily Times felt the sightings merited, front page, headline news. The March 18th (1950) edition of the paper in large, caps, entitled their primary article, as “HUGE ‘SAUCER’ ARMADA JOLTS FARMINGTON.”

Farmington Daily Times March 18, 1950 -
Farmington Daily Times March 18, 1950

The gist of Bowra’s editorial was continued in his other column, "Rips and Tears." (See below). In absorbing all three elements (the Letter From Home column; the editorial and the Rips and Tears column) of the that edition that addressed or mentioned Flying Saucers, it’s clear that the events of nearby Farmington are what instigated the focus on the Saucers (UFOs).

Flying Saucers - Aztec Independent Review 3-24-1950
The Aztec Independent Review March 24, 1950
Rips and Tears (Flying Saucers) 3-24-1950
The Aztec Independent Review March 24, 1950
Although Bowra's fictional character Warty, in writing to Grandma in the Letter From Home column shown above spoke of saucers, it was in generalizations and not event specific. With the actual articles now in play and conjecture aside, methinks even the most ardent skeptic would agree it would be a stretch, to put it mildly that the aforementioned piece is what birthed the Aztec UFO crash narrative. However, like Flying Saucer/UFO sightings during that time, Warty wasn't done, he would broach the subect again in the May 5th, 1950 issue (of the Aztec Independent Review). This time, he reports a sighting (See below).
Letters From Home, We Finally Saw a Saucer - Aztec Independent Review 5-5-1950 -

In contrast to the first mention of Flying Saucers in the column, Letter From Home, in where Warty (Bowra) spoke in broad strokes, here (right) albeit in the repeatedly described tongue-in-cheek manner, in this instance, published on the week of May 5th, 1950, Warty is facetiously reporting about a specific (fictional) Flying Saucer (UFO) event.

Although the first mention of George Bowra, in connection with Flying Saucers (UFOs) by an outside source (Desert Magazine) occurred in 1950 (more on that later), the most significant was in McClelland’s piece in December of 1975. Important to note, as stated previously, McClelland wrote:

“He [Bowra] recalled a tongue-in-cheek article he had written for the newspaper years ago describing his abduction by little green men from space."

For the record, beginning with his son, who also worked for the paper—nowhere has there been another report or reference to Bowra writing about “abductions” whimsical or no in the Aztec Independent Review, or anywhere else for that matter.

Conversely, abductions were brought to the American mainstream via “The UFO Incident, the 1975 American made-for-television biographical film starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons based on the alleged 1961 alien abduction of Barney and Betty Hill.” The movie splashed across screens in October, and was the talk across kitchen tables from coast to coast. Bowra was 77 by the time McClelland spoke to him; the former never took Flying Saucers/UFOs seriously as his penscript demonstrates; I believe, given his age, then current media coverage of the TV movie and abductions, and through the fog of time—he conflated “abductions” with his previous writings re Flying Saucers via his pseudonym, Warty back in the day.


With the Sept. 29th issue of 1950, the title of Bowra’s column was changed to “Letter To Grandma” and by March of ’52 it was taken off the front page. Over time variations would appear, e.g., Letter From Grandma, Letters To Warty from Rimrock and Letters From Cousins. Warty (Bowra) would write again (Letter To Grandma) about Flying Saucers in the Nov. 9th, 1951 issue, recalling the mass sightings (Farmington Saucer Armada) of the year before and attributing the events to the “power of suggestion.”

As I replied to Curt regarding his inquiry, I wrote:

“Did George Bowra write a fictional account that describes what is known today as The Aztec Incident? No. Did he mention Flying Saucers which was an off and on again convo based on media attention? Yes, in his light-hearted letters to Grandma.”

Additionally, Franky Scully first wrote about “The Aztec Incident” in his column for Variety magazine on Oct. 12th 1949—months before Bowra would generally mention Flying Saucers; said article was basically an abstract of what would later become his bestselling book, Behind the Flying Saucers (Henry Holt and Company, 1950). Moreover, at the same time, while Scully was enlightening his readers, likewise Silas Newton was spilling the beans on the golf course.

Finally, it’s clear from reading Bowra’s penscript above—there’s nothing that resembles, the Aztec UFO narrative, crashed Flying Saucers, aliens or abductions. The one Flying Saucer/UFO specific event he cites in his fictional, whimsical account published in the May, 5th 1950 issue which described seeing a UFO through the back window of his “store building,” shooting at it, and then realizing it was only a reflection of a “swinging light globe.” Full stop.

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