The Thunderbird is a mysterious creature from Native American legends. It resembles an eagle and possesses incredible strength. Myths of it are common in the Midwestern United States, and dangerous encounters with it have even been reported in Illinois.
Myths about the Thunderbird are found in all the Indian tribes of the Midwest. The Sioux Indians, especially the Brule Sioux tribe living in southeastern South Dakota on the Rosebud Reservation, have the legend “Wakinyan Tanka,” which means “Great Thunderbird.”
The Thunderbird is not a mythical giant bird but a group of supernatural beings who live in the Black Mountains. They are clothed in clouds and have colors corresponding to the sides of the world; the Thunderbird of the west is black, the Thunderbird of the east is yellow, the north is red, and the south is white. They are giants with four wings. Instead of legs, they have huge claws, their beak – with huge sharp teeth.
Unlike the rest of the thunderbird legends, these creatures are benign and seen as messengers of change. They seek to increase morality in the world.
“Sometimes a holy man may see a Wakinyan in his dreams, but only some part of it. No one has ever seen the Thunderbird in its entirety, even in visions, so its image is assembled from the dreams and visions of many people,” said John the Lame Deer, medicine man of the Brule tribe in 1969.
The Yaqui Indians have a very different legend. In it, a huge bird lives in the Otam Kawi Mountains and periodically goes in search of food, kidnapping men, women, and children. The Yaquis believe this so much that they are afraid to hold festivals and ceremonial dances for fear the bird will take some of them away.
In addition to Yaqui legend, there are more recent mentions of the giant bird in Illinois. The 1977 Discovery Channel show “In Search of the Unknown” tells how on July 25, 1977, three boys were playing hide-and-seek in the backyard when two giant birds appeared and swooped down on them and nearly carried off one of the boys, Travis Goodwin.
Then the birds flew in a second time, and one of them grabbed Marlon Love, whose parents were the owners of the house. It dragged him about ten meters at a height of one meter, and the boy lashed out and screamed.
His parents, Ruth and Jake Love, and their friends Betty and Jim Daniels ran out of the house at Marlon’s screams. They all witnessed the incident. A third boy, Michael Thomson, who escaped the bird’s attack, also confirmed the incident.
The incident was reported to local police as well as the Illinois Department of Conservation. Officials did not take the story seriously.
However, mentions of giant birds of prey have long been common in Illinois. When explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliot traveled through the region in 1673, they discovered a 15-foot image on a limestone cliff where the Illinois and Mississippi rivers meet. This bird became known as the Piazza Bird.
The Piazza Bird, according to Illinois Indian legend, was a huge flying creature combining the features of a mammal, bird, reptile, and fish. According to legend, the bird constantly threatened the inhabitants until their chief, Quatoga, killed the monster with poisonous arrows. This happened “many moons before” white men came to this land.
The original rock painting found by Marquette and Joliet was later found in several other places. A copy of the original mural is in Alton, Illinois, where Marquette and Joliet first spotted the original.
In 2002, a huge bird was seen in Alaska. “Reuters reports that several residents of Togiak and Manokotak villages saw a bird the size of a small hang glider, similar to the creatures in the movie “Jurassic Park.” Its wingspan was about 4 meters, but some scientists have questioned its size. Reptile specialist Phil Schemph told Reuters: “I don’t know of any creature with a wingspan of 4 meters that have lived on Earth in the last 100,000 years.”