The Gonzales Light

This is written from memory of events that took place up to 50 years ago. It concerns a phenomenon called the “Gonzales Light.” In Louisiana, these eerie swamp lights are known as feu follets. In other parts of the world, they are called will-o’-the-wisps. This mysterious light appears around Gonzales, LA and is generally assumed to be luminescent swamp gas given off by decaying organic matter. Sorry, not buying that one after my experience with it.

I was introduced to the Gonzales Light by my friend Dixon Wilson sometime before or about graduation time in 1962. Dixon told Mike (Buck) Roy and me the story one day, and we decided to make the trip to Gonzales that night to see it. We ended up out in the woods in Dixon’s Corvair parked in the dark in what appeared to be a recently logged or cleared area.

Lights out, Buck, and I smoked cigarettes in the dark with non-smoker Dixon until the light appeared. (Cigarettes were “in” then.) It appeared off in the distance as nothing more that a distant faint light fairly well defined (localized) and changed colors. It was faint enough that it was possible to convince yourself your eyes were playing tricks on you. It appeared off and on several times over the period we were there, perhaps an hour or more.

Dixon, recovering from a spinal tumor was partially handicapped and did not have full control of his right leg. Whenever the light appeared, Dixon’s right foot would begin vibrating, tapping rapidly on the floorboard. At first it scared Buck and me, until Dixon admitted it was his out-of-control foot.

That was about the extent of the light’s appearances that night. We went home somewhat disappointed.

Dixon and I began college at Southeastern LA College in Hammond, LA in the fall (Buck went into the Army soon after). Dixon and I revisited the light at least twice over the next year or two as I recall. The first of those trips were very much like the one described above, except it was to a different location in Gonzales, and others were with us.

It is the third trip, the second after starting at SLC, that is most vivid in my mind. I believe it happened in the fall of 1963 but I cannot be certain. Several of us were going to Baton Rouge to give blood. As college students we were always in need of beer money. We went to BR because they offered $20 instead of the $10 offered in Hammond. I cannot recall all that were on this escapade. I do remember Dixon Wilson, Alex Oliver, Tony DeMarco, John D’Antoni, and several others, enough people that we took two cars, my ’57 Chevy and John’s ’58 Chevy. We gave blood in the late afternoon and went and had a few beers that evening before returning to Hammond. (I know! Spare me the lectures.) Someone suggested we visit the Gonzales light. Time was probably late evening, tenish, when we got to Gonzales. We went to the same place we had gone to on the second trip mentioned above.

Allow me to set the scene…

First of all, we are one pint low and have been drinking beer, not that that should mean anything.

We drove down a dirt road in rural Gonzales, a good ways off Airline Hwy, and there was not a light from a building in sight. The road was intersected from the left at a 90-degree angle by another less traveled dirt road. We turned onto that road and stopped about 50 yards from the intersection. On the left and right were pastures with fencing around them. No cows as I remember. On the right back near the intersection of the two roads was an abandoned farmhouse. Ahead was a tree line about 75 to 100 yards away. The road was a perfectly straight, one-lane dirt road with grass in the middle of two tire tracks, and shallow ditches on either side. It appeared it was rarely ever used. About 50 yards into the woods a small fairly straight dirt trail wide enough for a vehicle intersected the road we were on from the left. I don’t know where this trail went, as we did not follow it to its end. Our road went through the woods for perhaps a quarter mile or more and crossed a blacktop road, continuing on the other side as a well used gravel road.

It was very dark, no moon. Once we parked and turned off the lights, it got very black. We knew the tree line was ahead from having seen it in the headlights, but we could see it only vaguely even after our eyes got accustomed to the dark. We got out of the cars (my car was in front), and we stood around in the dark, smoked cigarettes, and talked as we waited for the light to appear.

We didn’t have to wait very long before the light appeared down the dirt road some distance away. It looked to be at or just inside the tree line. It changed from red to blue to green and various colors and back again. It was fairly small in size; I would guess a bit larger than a basketball assuming the distance was estimated with any accuracy. It was not well defined but it wasn’t a vague shape either. In other words, it had no hard edges. It was a little brighter than on the two previous sightings, not real bright but bright enough and clear enough that everyone saw it.

It came and went over a period of time, perhaps a half hour or more, always in the same general location. Eventually we became curious of the source and began to speculate that it was car lights up ahead or something easily explainable. At this point, we had not yet been down our road so we had no idea what was ahead. We decided to send out a scouting party, and somehow I got elected; I guess because my car was ahead of the other car.

I took one other person with me, and we drove down the road in the direction we had seen the light. I do not recall who was with me, probably Tony or John. We noted the little trail to the left in the woods and passed it, going on to discover the blacktop road further on. (There was no traffic on that road all night that we could see.) I crossed over the blacktop and stopped, blinking my brake lights back at the rest of the crew. I turned around and faced back the way we had come and flashed my brights several times and turned out my lights completely several times, then drove back to the group.

I turned my car around to face back towards the woods again, and we got out to discuss the results of our experiment. The others had clearly seen my tail lights, brake lights, headlights, brights, etc, and they all said it was clear that it was my car and looked nothing like what we had been seeing.

So, we are standing around the front of my car again and talking, when someone notices the light is back. This time it is a little brighter and seemed a little closer. We all oohed and aaahed as we watched the light change colors and this time move about just a little, left and right, up and down slightly.

Then things got really interesting!

Suddenly the light quite literally charged us, coming closer and growing larger and brighter as it charged. It moved rapidly and was almost on us in a matter of a few seconds. As I recall it seemed to be to the left side of the road and almost in the pasture as it approached.

Panic ensued!

Eight “brave” souls decamped immediately and scrambled for the cars. We roared down the road in reverse headed for the road we came in on. Tony backed around in front of the farmhouse and I was right behind.

This is what I was thinking: The light was so bright and came so quickly at us, I am assuming we have angered some farmer by trespassing, and he was coming after us.

As I threw it in first and prepared to haul butt, someone said, “It’s gone!” We stopped and regrouped. What do we do? Where did the light go? What was it? Another car? Someone with a flashlight? We regained our courage and decided to investigate.

We went back down the road (cautiously) and stopped again where we were parked before. Cautiously, we got out of our cars (engines still running, however) and had a war council. Then began the rationalizing.

We decided it had to have been someone in another vehicle, and he must have turned down that dirt trail I had seen earlier. “Yes, that’s it! Let’s check. You go, Lane, we will wait here.” Or something like that…

Why do I always get the dangerous assignments?

I took my car and someone to ride shotgun, probably Tony again, (I wasn’t about to go alone!) and we drove back down the road to the trail in the woods. Don’t ask me how I got the courage to do this, but I shut the ’57 down, and Toni and I walked down that trail through the woods. It had rained that day only lightly enough to pockmark the dust. Those pockmarks were clear in the dust of that trail, and there were no tire tracks in the dust! Nothing had driven down that road!

We returned to the group and gave our report. Obviously it had not been another car, because it had nowhere to go once it charged us. It didn’t retreat and go down that trail. We concluded that we had REALLY seen the Gonzales Light that night, perhaps more closely that we would have preferred.

We stayed around a bit longer, but it did not appear again that night. After the adrenaline wore off we got bored and went back to school to tell our tale to all that would listen.

What did we see? I do not know, but I do know that some eight of us saw the same thing, and it scared us to death. There was no discussion about running or staying when that thing came at us. The decision was instantaneous, and it was unanimous. We were out of there!

I have never been back to Gonzales after that night. Never got the chance, and perhaps never had the urge. It probably isn’t there anymore. I suppose the area is built up now, besides I cannot begin to remember how to find that location.

The Gonzales light has been mentioned in publications dealing with weird stuff like that. Most believe it is glowing swamp gas, but what we saw was very bright and well defined, enough that we mistook it for possible car lights, at least one car light, but it seemed a lot larger than car lights. What we saw didn’t look like glowing swamp gas.


Filed under Growing Up, School

4 responses to “The Gonzales Light

  1. bob manard

    Cajuns believe they are the souls of unbaptised babies, infants who departed this world before being blessed. Follow them and they will lead you deep into the swamp where you will remain lost until daybreak – if you survive the night. The only way to outsmart the feu follet is to stick a knife into the ground or a fence post so the light will dance around the blade instead of bothering you. Some Cajuns insist upon using a needle, coaxing the mysterious light to pass through the eye of the needle. But the Gonzales light is nondestructive, legend contends. Years before Gautreau visited Roddy Road, a young girl was buried out on that once lonely stretch of road. Her distraught parents placed a burning candle on her unmarked grave every evening to keep her company. After the parents passed on, a light continued to guard the grave of the young girl, and is what glows for visitors who seek its luminescent radiance.


    • bob manard

      Then again, it could be just a similar reason to get your girlfriend to go park with you at night in the dark. Us city boys instead went to the “submarine races” out by the point or “pernt” if you are from Chalmette.


  2. Willis Tanner

    I was just thinking about the Gonzales lights and ran a search to see if I would come up with anything when I came upon this. When we were in our teens on into our 20s a group of us would always go to watch them at night. I don’t remember ever going and not seeing them. On a few occasions the light would pass through the car. But through the years with the development of the area made it impossible to go park on the road with our headlights off.


  3. Pingback: The Mystery of the Louisiana Feu Follet

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