The Ozark National Forest in northern Arkansas is 1.2 million acres of some of the best that the Natural State has to offer in terms of camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities. It is also the home of a mysterious phenomenon that has been recurring almost every night since the 1800s; the Dover Lights.
Twelve miles north of the rural town of Dover, off of Old Highway 7, a dirt road winds through the woods eventually leading to an overlook, built high above Big Piney Creek. From this vantage point, observers peer into the valley below and wait for the show to begin.
For decades, witnesses have reported strange lights on the hillside opposite the overlook and while there have been many legends behind the origin of the lights; there is no definitive answer as to what they truly are. In one tale, the lights are said to be the spirits of Spanish Conquistadors who had long ago perished while searching the hills for gold. When onlookers visit the overlook, they are sometimes cautioned by seasoned locals that saying the phrase, “I’ve got your gold!” can awaken or even antagonize the lights into following you back down the mountain.
Another story is that the canyon in which the lights appear is actually an old Native American burial ground and the lights are thought to be the spirits of tribal leaders, helping others to find their way to the next life.
Some believe the spectral orbs to be the carbine lanterns of miners who met their end in mine shaft collapse, doomed to walk the hillside searching for a way out of the darkness, perhaps not even knowing they are dead.
Although, the most detailed story involves an elderly couple that lived on the hillside back in the 1800s. Legend has it that the wife was stricken with a severe sickness and was deathly ill. She was too ill to even make it out of the mountains, so her husband rode into town and returned with a doctor. Over a few days, the doctor stayed to nurse the elderly wife back to health. Unfortunately, the elderly couple was also poor and thus didn’t have money to pay the physician back. As people were forced to be back then, the old man was proficient in making his own hunting supplies so the young doctor accepted twelve homemade rifle bullets as payment.
Years went by, and the doctor had grown into a prosperous and successful man. One day, he came across those rifle bullets from years before and decided to display them as a way of recalling a time when he was humble and willing to help no matter the cost. It wasn’t until he began to clean the bullets that he realized they were not made of lead as he originally thought, but of pure silver. The doctor thought that the old couple could not have realized that they were using valuable silver to make their bullets or else they wouldn’t have had to make everything themselves. They could have sold the silver and bought whatever they needed. The doctor, with greedy thoughts brewing, assumed the couple had much more silver and didn’t realize the riches they were squandering. As a result, he planned to trick these simple hill folk out of their unrealized wealth.
But when the doctor went back to the cabin on the hillside, he only found a couple headstones. The elderly couple had long since passed away. Through the night, the old doctor searched the property for any remaining silver. Thinking that the only way for the couple to be casually using so much silver would be if they were living near a mine. Therefore, with a lantern in hand, the doctor kept investigating and while he did not find a mine shaft, he did manage to find a crate of silver bars beneath the elderly couple’s house. He pocketed a few bars and vowed to come back the following morning with a pack horse for the rest.
That night, the doctor mysteriously died in his sleep and it is said that the Dover Lights are the old couple wandering the hillside looking for their silver.
Regardless, those lucky enough to see the Dover Lights typically tell similar stories about what they see. Spheres of light are seen hovering silently in the darkness of the hillside. Their intensity grows and shrinks seemingly at random. And their brilliance can be seen as a white light that changes to blue, orange, or even red. Mostly, the phenomenon stays in the same area, which leads some investigators to believe the lights are a result of phosphorus gases igniting sporadically. Some witnesses have claimed to see the lights move all across the hillside.
No matter if the Dover Lights are a natural phenomenon, supernatural beings, or even a simple reflection of light; the endurance of their centuries-old mystery establishes them as one of the most spectacular events available to witness.