The Mysterious Thunderbird Photograph

Upon searching the electronic archives of the Internet, you’re bound to find some version of “it.” In fact, numerous people are certain they’ve uncovered “it.” They just can’t recall where they saw “it.”

So, what the hell is “it?”

A photograph that, if authentic, would change mankind’s perspective on prehistory. A photograph of a creature thought to have been extinct 65 million years. A photograph of a “Thunderbird,” more appropriately, a pterodactyl. A monstrous, flying beast, longer than two Greyhound buses placed end-to-end.

Our tale begins in April, 1890, somewhere near the outskirts of Tombstone, Arizona. Through a mire of heat, a pair of cowpunchers spot a massive creature, complete with serpentine body and clawed talons, soaring high above the desert floor. Undaunted by the size of the anomaly, the men close the distance between the being and themselves. When their horses begin to protest, the cowhands dismount, and track the bird on foot.

As the aberration lands, the men squeeze off a few well-placed rounds from their rickety rifles, and the beast is felled, collapsing in a languid heap upon the sands of the wasteland.

Though this legend is believed by many to be nothing more than an eerie campfire anecdote, there are those who swear the aforementioned tale is true.

It’s been claimed the two cowpokes who shot the bird actually carved off a hunk of the creature’s enormous wing, and dragged it with them to Tombstone. To date, no one has produced this palpable proof, but numerous individuals profess to having seen a photograph of the giant avian in question.

Cryptozoologists point to a 1960s Saga magazine article, which reported an actual daguerrotype of the bird had been published in an 1886 installment of the Tombstone Epitaph. The Epitaph, a legitimate newspaper, asserted the creature was killed by a pair of prospectors, and hauled into the southeastern Arizona town on the back of a wagon.

Allegedly, the dead beast was pegged to a wall, while six men stood side by side, arms outstretched, in front of the enigma, whose wingspan measured thirty-six feet.

A September, 1963 feature in Fate magazine asserted the photo in question had been published at an obscure date, sometime prior. Fate, itself, conducted a thorough investigation of its own archives, believing they may have unknowingly possessed a copy of the elusive picture. Unfortunately, the periodical’s rummaging produced no tangible evidence.

During the hysteria to find the slippery photograph, the original 1886 Epitaph article was recovered. Although the editorial described the bird and the circumstances surrounding its death, this firsthand account made no mention of any picture of the creature.

All this confusion leads one to ponder how so many cryptozoologists, including John Keel, author of The Mothman Prophesies, could insist on having seen the photo in question, at some point in time.

Even after copious amounts of research, what’s become known as the “Thunderbird Photograph” has yet to be recovered.

There are at least a couple versions of the mythical picture online. Whether or not any of these is authentic, remains to be seen. After all, the Tombstone Epitaph did print its original 1886 feature regarding the flying beast.

Whatever the truth may be, while sauntering down Allen Street in Tombstone, or traveling that lonely stretch of Interstate 10 on your way to the O.K. Corral, glance up occasionally at the sky. You may catch a glimpse of more than just a DC-10 on its way to Vegas.

Hugh Mungus

© 2010. Hugh Mungus

Reference Index:

Treat, Wesley. (2007). Weird Arizona: Your Travel Guide to Arizona’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. pp. 88-89. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN 13: 978-1-4027-3938-5 

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