Back in the 1960s, a photograph, said to date from the late 1800s, appeared in the pages of a popular newsstand magazine of the day – possibly True, Saga, or Argosy – and displayed the deceased remains of a gigantic, monstrous bird, pinned to a pair of barn-doors somewhere in rural North America – the exact location is, just like the picture itself, a matter of some debate.
Numerous researchers, investigators and authors of a whole range of anomalies claim, with absolute unswerving certainty, that they personally saw the priceless picture when it was published. The big problem, today, however, is that despite the fact that the pages of all the above-magazines, and many others too, have been carefully and dutifully scoured – even to the point of near-obsession – the picture cannot be found, anywhere at all. It’s almost as if it never even existed in the first place.
What was the alleged winged nightmare? Possibly nothing less than a legendary Thunderbird. And, if you’re not acquainted with the phenomenon, I refer you to the words of my good friend – and fellow creature seeker and co-author with me on our Monsters of Texas book – Ken Gerhard, who says the following of the mighty, flying beasts:
“These creatures are likened to enormous eagles and are prominent in numerous, Native American folklores and totems. The name Thunderbird is derived from the sound that is apparently produced as a result of the thunderous beating of the mighty wings of the creature. Surprisingly, these mythological beasts are occasionally still reported flying around in our modern skies, and, incredibly, are described as having wingspans comparable to that of a small airplane.”
Well, in the same way that there is a distinct enigma surrounding the missing 1960s-era Thunderbird photograph, so there is a similar aura of weirdness surrounding the photo of a Thunderbird that appears in my and Ken’sMonsters of Texas.
Like all authors, Ken and I wanted to ensure we had a good and varied selection of photos to accompany the text of the book. And that included, if possible, Thunderbird-themed imagery. But, we didn’t want to simply go down the easy and lazy path of just pulling pictures from Wikipedia or somewhere similar, or using images that were well-known and/or well-used. So, the hunt was on for something relevant and new. But, it was no easy task. Or, rather, for a while it wasn’t.
One afternoon, just a month or so before the book had to be submitted to the publisher, I was speaking on the phone with my dad, and he asked what I was up to. I told him that the writing of Monsters of Texas was coming to a close, but that we were having a hard time finding a Thunderbird photo. Given that my dad’s interest in Cryptozoology is not exactly huge, he almost flummoxed me when he said, words to the effect of: “I can send you a picture; I have an old painting of a Thunderbird in my garage.”
This sounded almost too good to be true. Amazingly, it wasn’t. Like all young men his age in the early 1950s, my dad had to serve three years of what was then called National Service (or, in the U.S., the Draft). But, his stint in the British Royal Air Force aside, my dad spent his working career as a carpenter. In the late 1970s, the company he was then working for secured a contract to rebuild and renovate the lobbies of a well-known hotel chain in and around the London area.
When the work was completed, my dad and his colleagues were presented with gifts, as a sign of appreciation for the work. In my dad’s case, his gift was a circular piece of stone, on which had been painted a brightly colored Thunderbird catching a fish. I vaguely remembered seeing this as a young teenager, but didn’t realize the significance of it back then, and promptly forgot about it – chiefly because it was never on display in my parents’ home, and apparently remained buried amongst a mass of stuff in the garage for decades.
So, my dad dug out the circle of stone, dusted it off, and took a picture of it for me – the very one that accompanies this article. But, there’s something else, too. I find it very curious that while I was diligently searching – but ultimately failing – to find what I considered to be a good, previously unseen Thunderbird image for the book, I should finally get one from, of all people, my very own dad, all as a result of a chance conversation. Or, was it all down to chance?
I am a big believer in the phenomenon of Synchronicities – so-called “meaningful coincidences” that appear to be the result of something stranger than mere random actions. And, I’m very inclined to place this affair into that same category.
And, of course, I can’t ignore the fact that this represents two Thunderbird-connected photographs that seem to have distinctly Fortean overtones attached to them – one of which seemingly disappeared from the pages of one or more magazines years ago, and another that appears in Monsters of Texas! Maybe I should keep careful watch, just in case the latter picture starts to mysteriously disappear, too, from each and every copy of the book…
Wikipedias version :
The Thunderbird is a legendary creature in certain North American indigenous peoples'history and culture. It is considered a "supernatural" bird of power and strength. It is especially important, and richly depicted, in the art, songs and oral histories of many Pacific Northwest Coast cultures, and is found in various forms among the peoples of theAmerican Southwest and Great Plains. Thunderbirds were major components of theSoutheastern Ceremonial Complex of American prehistory. 
he legend of the Thunderbird is an ancient myth that survives even to the present day in some Native American cultures. Though the Thunderbird myth varied from region to region and tribe to tribe, the Thunderbird was, in the eyes of the ancient Native Americans, a magical animal that was sent by their gods to protect them from the powers of evil. Riding on the wings of the storm, the Thunderbird embodied the power of the storm. Its eyes flashed fire, its cry was like the crack of lightning, and its mighty wings beat with the sound of rolling thunder, ever protecting its people from the powers of evil.
There are at least three different legends of the Thunderbird available to us today, that can give us some information about what this creature was like. The first comes from the Winnebago Indians of the northern Midwest and Plains states, a second comes from the Passamaquoddy Indians of Maine, and a third comes from the Quillayute, a Chimakoan tribe living along the Quillayute River, a six-mile river on the Olympic Peninsula, near Seattle, Washington.
This thought is reminiscent of the "bird-man" concept prevalent at Cahokia , and it is believed that the Cahokians were related to the Winnebago peoples. Richard L. Dieterle explains in The Short Encyclopedia of Hotc�k (Winnebago) Myth, Legend, and Folklore,
The enemies of the Thunderbirds in Winnebago legend are the "Water Spirits". These became the enemies of the Thunderbirds in primordial times, when the Thunderbirds shot their lightnings everywhere, including the waters. The Thunderbirds still use their lightning when crossing the waters, as that helps protect them from the waterspirits. The Winnebago believed that all lightning was directed at Waterspirits, which lived in bodies of water, or in streams of water beneath the surface of the Earth. The waterspirits were the favorite food of the Thunderbirds, though they usually ate animals and sometimes even humans.
The surviving Passamaquoddy Indian brave had discovered the home of the Thunderbirds, but the intrepid Indians who had set out on a quest for the source of thunder had gotten more than they had bargained for. One Indian had died already, and his companion was about to undergo a transformation:
The Thunderbirds, according to the Passamaquoddy, were men who could transform themselves into flying creatures. These men were also able to transform the Passamaquoddy Indian brave into a bird like themselves. However, this brave now had a new enemy: Wochowsen, "great bird from the south", who had control of the south wind, and made it blow so hard that the Passamaquoddy brave could not return to his homeland.
A belief in the magic of the Thunderbird is held by the Passamaquoddy, because he can tame the winds alternating between calm and storms. In this way the Thunderbird was not merely seen as a large, natural flying creature, but as at least a semi-supernatural creature with ties to the divine world above.
The Quillayute described the Thunderbird as essentially a very large bird, though no bird in history was ever as big as the type of bird they described, and of course no other bird ever had the same supernatural powers:
The battle between Thunderbird and Whale appears to be primarily symbolic of the battle between the air and the sea, as imagined by the Quillayute in their attempt to interpret the forces of nature. Like most ancient peoples, the Quillayute interpreted the forces of nature in symbolic forms, inventing gods and goddesses, deities, and demigods as causes of these phenomena.
It is interesting that the Quillayute mention the "Great Flood" in their description of the battle between Thunderbird and whale. The story of a Great Flood that covered the Earth at one time is nearly universal throughout the ancient world - but that is a story for another time.
The Quillayute legend describes the Thunderbird as a giant flying creature with feathers. According to the geologic record, no avian (bird) was ever as large as the creature that the Quillayute described. However, there were flying creatures that were that large - the giant pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus Northropi, native to the Mesozoic Period (65 million - 230 million years ago). With a wingspan of 33 feet, Quetzalcoatlus Northropi was possibly the largest flying creature on earth in any period. A fully grown Quetzalcoatlus was also quite capable of catching and carrying
off a small whale like the Killer Whale. Absurd as this might seem, there have been sightings of similar creatures all the way up to the present day in various parts of the world (see The Mysterious Piasa Creature Part II).
One problem with this theory is the fact that the Thunderbird is described as having feathers. However, recent evidence out of China suggests that at least some dinosaurs may have had feathers. One controversial photo, which has now been lost (if it ever truly existed), shows a pterodactyl-like creature with feathered wings being displayed by a group of men as a sort of hunting trophy. This controversial photo, some believe was a sort of urban legend, a thing that never happened but was believed by many to be true, despite the fact that large-scale searches have been made for the photo without success.
So, despite the existence of plenty of secondary evidence, the quest for an actual photo or other decisive evidence for the existence of a Thunderbird continues on. Like the quest for Piasa, dragons, and other mythical monsters, the Thunderbird and its paranormal ilk continue to live on the fringes of human perception, waiting for the lucky snapshot to snap them into focus.