Introduction: The Thunderbird is one of the few
cross-cultural elements of Native North American mythology. He is found not just
among Plains Indians,
but also among
Pacific Northwest and
Northeastern Tribes. In this paper, moreover, I want to examine how
the myths and legends of the Thunderbird tie into the sacred
Trickster ritual complex of Plains tribes such as the Lakota. I will
show how the Thunderbird is intimately connected to this complex, and attempt to
explain why. It is the intimate association between these two traditions that
may help explain some features of Plains culture and folklore. Aspects of the
Thunderbird myth only make sense in light of these associations.
For decades, bird lovers have flocked to the Rio Grande Valley to see a large variety of their feathered friends. But in 1976, hunters scoured the area trying to win a reward for the capture of a creature which became known to residents here as Big Bird. For about two months in the mid-1970s, Big Bird — not the friendly tall, yellow bird that loves children on Sesame Street — terrorized Valley residents. The 5-foot-tall bird was described as "horrible-looking," according to The Monitor’s archives. Its wings were large enough to be folded over its body and it had large, dark red eyes attached to a gray, gorilla-like face. Its head wasbald and it made a loud, shrill sound through its 6-inch-long beak.
Tom Waldon claimed to have found its tracks on Jan. 2, 1976, near his home in Harlingen. The three-toed tracks measured 8 inches across and pressed an inch and a half into the ground. Three teachers from San Antonio claimed to have seen Big Bird in that city as well, on Feb. 24, 1976. The trio later pointed to a picture in a book of a pteranodon, an extinct giant flying reptile, as being most like what they had seen. Some bird experts told area residents that the bird was a lost condor or a jabiru, a large Central American stork which can boast a 10-foot wing span, big tracks and a featherless head. The jabiru has a breeding ground about 250 miles south of McAllen,near Tampico, Mexico, experts pointed out. But just as mysteriously as it arrived, Big Bird seemed to disappear overnight. But for some Valley residents, what exactly the Big Bird was is still a mystery.THE FIRST SIGHTINGSThe Big Bird sighting thought to be the first was Jan 1, 1976, when Tracey Lawson, then age 11, and her cousin Jackie Davies, then 14, were playing in Lawson’s back yard near Harlingen.The two girls say they saw the bird standing about 100 yards away on an irrigation canal, according to the Atlas of the Mysterious in North America.Lawson went inside to get her binoculars, and when she returned, she saw the bird staring back at her.Big Bird was more than 5 feet tall, she said, and when she and Davies ran inside to tell....
Thunderbirds are one of the few cross-cultural elements of Native North
American mythology. Stories of Thunderbirds are found among the Plains Indians,
as well as among Pacific Northwest, the Illini, Ojibwa,
and Northeastern Tribes. Thunderbird mythology is found among the Early
European Tribes also, but readily apparent traces are masked by later
cultures. The Quileute, sometimes spelled Quillayute, is the name of a Native
American tribe living along the Quillayute River in the Pacific northwestern
state of Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. The following is their version
of the Thunderbird legend from stories adapted from Indian Legends of the
Pacific Northwest by Ella E. Clark,
University of California Press, 1958:
Long ago, there was a sad time in the land of the Quillayute. For days and
days, great storms blew. Rain and hail and then sleet and snow came down upon
the land. The hailstones were so large that many of the people were killed.
The other Quillayute were driven from their coast villages to the great
prairie, which was the highest part of their land. There the people grew thin and weak from hunger. The hailstones had beaten
down the ferns, the camas, and the berries. Ice locked the rivers so the men
could not fish. Storms rocked the ocean so the fishermen could not go out in
their canoes for deep-sea fishing. Soon, the people had eaten all the grass
and roots on the prairie; there was no food left. As children died without
food, even the strongest and bravest of their fathers could do nothing. They
called upon the Great Spirit for help, but no help came.At last the Great Chief of the Quillayute called a meeting of his people.
He was old and wise. "Take comfort, my people," the Chief said. "We will call
again upon the Great Spirit for help. If no help comes, then we will know it
is His will that we die. If it is not His will that we live, then we will die
bravely, as brave Quillayute have always died. Let us talk with the Great
So the weak and hungry people sat in silence while the Chief talked with
the Great Spirit, who had looked kindly upon the Quillayute for hundreds of
years. hen his prayer had ended, the Chief turned again to his people. "Now we
will wait for the will of the One who is wise and all-powerful." The people waited. No one spoke. There was nothing but silence and
darkness. Suddenly, there came a great noise, and flashes of lightning cut the
darkness. A deep whirring sound, like giant wings beating, came from the place
of the setting sun. All of the people turned to gaze toward the sky above the
ocean as a huge, bird-shaped creature flew toward them.
Juan Acu'a looks scared. He first runs away from the press and then argues that he's tired of telling his story to the press out of a fear that no one will believe him anyway. The fact of the matter is that around 2 a.m. on Sunday, he went to drop off his brother-in-law and on his return home, he lived through an indescribable situation that he still cannot understand. "I was on my way to the smallhold where I live and two animals crossed my path--a large one and a small one. One bit my leg while the other went for my face. I shielded myself with my arm to defend myself. Later I jumped into the Canal Fiscal and managed to come up in front ofmy brother in law's house with my clothing all ripped.
They called the ambulance and I was taken to the hospital, getting there at 5:30 a.m. They cured me there, but nothing else," Acu'a explained. The resident says that the creatures were tremendously strong, and that he was in fear for his life all the time, since he still couldn't figure out what they were. "I think they may come back. I felt their claws...look at my body. They were always going for my face. I jumped into the canal because they wouldn't go into the water. They followed me along the edge and then flew. They were dog-faced and had wings. This isn't a normal situation, I told myself. They were much stronger than me; they got on top of me," he noted.Meanwhile, the district attorney of Parral, Ricardo Encina, noted that the injuries had been evidenced, but couldn't tell what caused them. "He has, in fact, defensive injuries on his arms, shoulders and back. He's very affected by what happened. We've initiated transactions such as a visit to the site, we've spoken to the victime and he has an appointment to see a physician. Then we'll know what we're up against." The D.A. dismissed the possibility that the wounds were caused by a human. "All I can think is that it's not an attack by a person, since these arent the cutting wounds we're used to seeing when a knife is involved. Nor does he shows blows, as though someone had given him a beating. Nor does he....