The Mystery Of The Thunderbird
Mark Hall goes in search of an exciting cryptozoological photograph that no-one knows quite whether they've seen or not...
One of the most-discussed and least-seen photographs in recent history must be the alleged frontier snapshot of a dead Thunderbird nailed to a wall with six men standing in front of it to demonstrate its size. People have been talking about it for more than 30 years. A handful of people claim to have held a copy of it, but realised its significance only after their copy had been lost. A fair number of people have recollections of having seen this thing published in a book and many have vague recollections of having seen it somewhere at some time, but cannot remember just where.
The handful who do remember say they saw a photocopy of it in the hands of Ivan T Sanderson, the famous naturalist and Fortean author who died in 1973. Back in 1966 he had been given a photocopy - not known for their high quality of reproduction - and here is how the photograph was described: An immense bird was shown nailed to the wall of a large barn. Before it stood six grown men wearing Western clothing with their arms outstretched touching fingertip to fingertip. By this measure the bird appeared to have a wingspan of about 36ft (11m).
In 1966, Sanderson loaned the copy to two young men who traveled into the heart of northern Pennsylvania to inquire about the numerous Thunderbird reports in that region. The names of the two men are a matter of record, but that doesn't help us. When they returned from their trip they had lost track of the photostatic record, and it hasn't been seen since.
The hunt for the elusive picture has been confused almost beyond rescue with a strange story that issued from the Arizona Territory in 1890. The original story appeared first in the Tombstone "Epitaph" on 26 April 1890 (see panel). According to Harry McClure of Colorado Springs, Colorado, who was a young man when the two cowboys were still living, the "Epitaph" account gave exagerrated and false particulars.
He was a youngster in Lordsburg, New Mexico, early this century when the two cowboys came to town. When the "Epitaph" story was published again in 1969, Harry McClure chose to tell his version of the story in a letter to the Summer 1970 issue of "Old West Magazine".
He remembered the two cowboys as they were well known for the strange encounter they had reported. McClure saw the cowboys and had friends who knew them personally. McClure said he and other people who resided there did not think the story was a hoax. It was believed by the people who knew them. After 60 years he had forgotten their names, but remembered what they said about a huge flying beast with a 20-30ft (6-9m) wingspan:
"Its eyes were like saucers; its two legs and feet up at the front part of its body were the size of those of a horse; its hide was leathery, instead of feathery. It lit on the ground once at a safe distance from the two cowboys, but it took to the air again soon afterwards only to come down again a second time..."
From Kurt
I have attached a little sketch and descriptive paragraph regarding my own personal experience with viewing the elusive "photocopy of a photograph"
of the Thunderbird, circa 1860's. I hope this sheds a little more light on this mystery for all of us. I didn't know that this photograph was not easily accessible!
If I had, I probably would have made several copies of it and been more careful about preserving it for historical purposes. It came into my hands from a friend who was equally interested in cryptozoology, much like myself. I'm sure it is out there floating around, it's just a matter of time before it turns up. I wouldn't be suprised if there is a jpeg of it on the internet somewhere, might just require a good comprehensive online search.
Best Regards,
Kurt F. Beswick, artist
Oculus Graphic Design

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