MYSTERY WIRE — The legend of the Thunderbird lives on, rooted in Native American culture and resurfacing often when people see birds that seem too big to be known species.

Various versions say the bird is supernatural — a god — or compare it to a pterodactyl or even a spacecraft from another time.

The legend told in W.C. Jameson’s “Unsolved Mysteries of the Old West,” while not identical to other versions, cites a location in southeast Utah where a huge pictograph marks the location of a cave.

In North American Indian mythology, according to scholars, the thunderbird is regarded as a spirit, and the movement of its great wings is believed to cause thunder.

Sometime around 1738, Native Americans from the Ute tribe attacked a caravan of Spaniards carrying silver ingots to Mexico City, the legend says. The silver, loaded onto burros, was of no interest to the warriors. They were angry that the Spaniards had trespassed on sacred hunting grounds.

Two Spaniards hid out in the rocks and survived to tell the tale. The rest were killed, Jameson writes.

Ute warriors led two burros to the cave, and killed them before cutting off their hooves. Tribal belief held that if the hooves were severed, the spirit was doomed to roam the earth forever. The warriors left, and the Spaniards entered the cave to see what happened before making their way to Mexico City to make a report. They noted in their record the area of the attack and the presence of the bird’s image.

More than two centuries later, a Native American treasure hunter went back in search of the abandoned silver.

After digging deep into the sand that had collected over the years, he eventually found animal hooves, along with the remnants of leather he believed to be the packs the animals wore. There was no silver, but he found something else in the cave.

Enormous shafts from bird feathers were broken and scattered through the sand. The shafts were determined to be about twice as thick as the shafts of eagle feathers.

Was the killing of the burros a sacrifice to the thunderbird? Legend held that the bird would steal tribal children and eat them. Keeping the bird well-fed might have been seen as the tribe’s only defense.

Many other versions of the legend persist, stretching from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest:

The Thunderbird Myth —
Legendary Native American Figures: Thunderbird —
The Thunderbird of Native Americans —