Monday, May 4, 2015

Down in the Cryptodumps, part four: Stuff Flying Around With Wings.

Back to the Cryptozoology Dump Box from the SITU collection that I was once perusing and making copies for filing, which never took place [panic not, readers, all the originals DID get back in Ivan's files.] My Fortean Heart is pure and my finger tips not sticky.

Today: weird stuff flying about not related to UFOs.


c.1976 News accounts were coming out of Texas of a very big bird seen. SITU received several clippings. Ivan had already passed away, but he would have been interested [as I'll show you later]. The Texas sightings reported seeing a flying animal around 15-20 feet in wingspan. The majority of the sightings were along the Rio Grande on both the US and Mexican sides. 

Perhaps the human mind was playing jokes or perhaps The Universe was, but earlier in 1975 palaeontologists discovered, in Texas, the largest fossil pterosaur ever found. The beast had a wingspan of nearly fifty feet, and its skeleton challenged science to tell how it could even get off the ground. The "Texas Pterosaur" seemed a ripe candidate for inspiring goofy Texas sightings.

The hitch in that hypothesis was that not all the witnesses could easily be written off as goofs. One sighting was by three k-12 teachers and another by two policemen. Both "birds" were about one third the size of the Texas Pterosaur. 


A letter in the files from the same time came from a researcher looking into cryptozoological mysteries in Eastern Canada. He referred to thunderbird sightings from two areas, approximately as marked on the map above. The Quebec [Laurentian-area] information was from a trip that he had taken in 1975. A Quebecair pilot told him that his plane had been buzzed by a bird of approximately 25' wingspan as he was flying over the Laurentians in 1972. Another man told the correspondent that he had seen a similar bird in the same area in 1969. 

The Northern Ontario information came from a woman researching Ojibwe legends of the Thunderbird. The Thunderbird is a primary Nature Force/Deity/Manitou of the Peoples of the Ojibwe/Chippewa. The old pictoglyph above is from the Jeffers Minnesota park. This lady said that during her interviews several Native Americans of the area told her that they had seen the Thunderbird nests in Northern Ontario. 


Sanderson would have been interested in all this 1975-6 input had he lived. He had a fairly extensive resource notebook on the topic. When you glance through this thing, you notice that Ivan had some favorite bits which sort-of hooked him. 

Though not buying everything that he read in this article, much of the thing [minus the tone] intrigued him. 

One case that he liked has been repeated many times. You can read it above. But he also said that to get the gist of the subject, readers should read the entirety of Pearl's article. 

Another case, which Ivan might not have seen, appeared in PURSUIT after his death in an article by Curt Sutherly. Sutherly was intellectually "congenial" to both Pterodactyls and Thunderbirds, but informed us in the article that they were two utterly different things: Pterodactyls were physically/biologically real animals of the past, which possibly could have lasted into prehistoric-humans' times but are now extinct, and Thunderbirds were "monsters popping in and out of our reality", semi-real parodies of physical/biological things, that he wished to call "para-creatures". 

 Ivan wouldn't have liked Sutherly's conclusions [though I would] {The above are Ivan's notes} . 

Ivan didn't like non-physical things in general. He was a hands-on and in the lab [or the zoo] kind of guy. He'd MUCH prefer a still existent pterosaur AND an unknown really big raptor of some kind to any other set of choices. For Sutherly, the Ojibwe, and myself, the Thunderbird as a "Real" Manitou is quite the most compelling of the hypothetical sets. 


This was in a large box of things sent to SITU from Joan Whritenhour's organization after her passing. A good bit of that stuff wasn't too interesting, but the organization had some "odd" contacts that SITU didn't have. Occasionally a mention of something would occur in a letter or newsclipping that was right down SITUs alley. As you can read, the report is of a "monster bird" in the vicinity of Belvidere, IL which is close enough to be called Piasa Bird Territory. In 1948 there was a flurry of sightings in that area all the way down river towards St. Louis. 

I'm a fan of the idea of the Piasa Bird. It's one of those cryptozoological mysteries which has a long but solid provenance thoroughly attached to Native American lore. There were two other Piasa Bird references in this cryptobox: One was a FATE magazine article that I didn't think much of, and the other was the oldtime article above. This latter was one of Ivan's articles --- he had a little group of photocopies of 19th century newsclips that he was apparently once reading. 

The 1889 clip above is quite enthusiastic for the possibility of a real Piasa. It is based upon knowledge by someone who was a scholar and serious about finding out about the painting on the hillside. It comes at a time just after one of the great collectors of information about American pictographs had published his work. The writer knew of McAdams' book on the Relics of Ancient Races as well as having talked to one of the most important informants of the time, John Russell. The writer also may have talked to the pictograph collector, or maybe it was he himself doing the writing.

Here's our pictograph hero, Garrick Mallery. Preserving the designs of the ancient Native American pictographs was his avocation and his passion. He ended up creation an 8oo page manuscript of his work. Within that work he mentions the Piasa Bird. 

So what's that all about? The FATE magazine article stated that the Piasa Bird had no wings. It intimated that we probably had no idea what the thing was like at all because the glyph was so degraded by the time anybody looked. But I disagree and I think that Garrick Mallery and John Russell disagree. There is a statement by some early viewer that the "Bird" was a crudely drawn monster with no wings. FATE takes that as the definitive reference. But Russell [I believe] states that because of the brown-red color of the wings, you will have a hard time seeing them from a distance and in less than good lighting conditions. Then, as what is for me the coup de grace, Mallery publishes this in his monograph:

Our favorite Mississippi Flying Monster could fly by wing after all. 

Why do I care? Well, it's a small matter in the larger business of living one's life, admittedly, but having a winged Piasa makes several things "fit" and others maybe possible. The "fit" is with the Native American legends, even those told way back to Marquette and Joliet. It "fits" with the idea of the powerful spirits or Manitous that we've talked about earlier. It "fits" with the dislike that the modern Native Americans had for that particular dangerous-in-their-stories manifestation, so much so that they fired guns at the image once firearms arrived. 

And, the Piasa Bird, unlike almost all other old images anywhere, is pretty close to a "proper" British-style Dragon [if it has wings]. As longtime readers of this blog know, we searched [some time ago] rather intensely trying to find a proper dragon anywhere, and, with the possible exception of "Beowulf's Bane" {not Grendel but the other thing, that killed him}, came up almost empty.

With wings our Piasa Bird remains a rare candidate for an ancient romantic concept. 


Inspired by this small victory, I looked a bit for Dragons. I came across this quizzical fellow, Christopher Christian Sturm { even for a Catholic like myself, I think that Christopher Christian is overdoing it .} He wrote of Dragons in his famous work.

Sadly, Mr. Sturm's flying dragons turn out to be Swamp Gas. The irony of that staggers me. 

I DO notice, however, that "swamp gas" seems a little insubstantial to deal with all the things that Sturm mentions --- it seems that the "sophisticated" English doubters were busily substituting one anomaly for another. But dragonless still am I. 

Ivan had the book above in his SITU library --- I don't have any means of knowing if he read it. It contains things about Vietnamese animals so he may have. It was one of those items which was marginal at best to any interest that SITU would have, and I considered passing it on to someone else. But first I wondered what "Vermilion Bird" meant. 

The Vermilion Bird is a deity or Nature Power --- the Phoenix. In some renditions it looked pretty dragonish to me. 

In Chinese mythology it is one of the four directional powers, one of which is the Azure Dragon. So, my Vermilion Bird seems to be no Dragon either. 

But the Vietnamese had other ideas. In their view, and especially before the Chinese influence thoroughly took over [we're talking mediaeval times here, not recently], these images of powerful significant Spirits sort of melded together. The important Spirit was the Kua, or water dragon, who mated with a goddess/fairy queen to produce the warrior dynasties of early Vietnam. 

The stories say that these dragons lived offshore in places like Ha Long Bay even until recent times. What did they look like? 

Curses! Foiled again!! I'm looking for Dragons and find Sea Serpents instead!!!

Happy Hunting, Folks.

Till next time, Peace.


  1. I was reading a short essay by Rens van der Sluijs, Consulting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia; and found this interesting information:

    "Francis Eagle Heart Cree (1920/1921-2007), elder and song keeper of the Ojibwe, North Dakota, often used to tell about the northern lights...

    "According to him, today’s thunders, lightning and northern lights are what remain from a time “when the Thunderbirds hovered overhead and carried away the ancestors if you threatened or got too close to them. …

    "Coming from a man who was never exposed to formal western education and stood in an age-old, unbroken lineage of cultural continuity, this testimony forms a striking parallel to the Australian belief that the polar lights used to be much more powerful in the past.

    At a time when scientists begin to ponder in earnest the possibility of extremely violent solar storms triggering geomagnetic disturbances on a scale that is hard to imagine, human traditions such as the ones cited above deserve to be heard. Elsewhere we have argued that many familiar motifs of global creation mythology are explicable as aspects of a high-energy density auroral storm that took place in the early Holocene. To this indirect evidence one could add these direct reports of increased auroral activity during the age traditional societies would call that of ‘creation’ and of ‘the gods’."

    (See "The Coming of the Sky Dancers" at :

    Interesting stuff.

    1. Yes, that fellow's views are interesting but I am not buying the social-cultural speculations. By far the dominant known impacts upon early civilization during the early Holocene [think c. 9000bc] were the big glacial melts, the concomitant sea level rises, the beginnings of "towns", and the establishment of stock "ranching" and early agriculture. Spectacular Auroras have nothing scientifically to do with any of that [even calendrically or in any patterned way of linkage], and do not seem to have been incorporated into mythologies "explaining" farming, animal husbandry, early technologies, etc. The earliest known documentable myths about these things are much later [c. 3000bc] and speak of sea-borne Life-Generators and Earth Powers, only moving into the heavens later [c.2000bc] with Mesopotamian or Chinese "astrologers", who take a "mathematical" not light-dragonish view of the gods. To make assertions about 9000bc imagery without any means of documenting any such vision from that age [by thousands of years] is a data-less path that I'm not prepared to walk. My suspicion is that this idea gets its "legs" due to its anti-spiritual [materialist reductionist] tone of eliminating the possible spiritual origins of anything having to do with religions. I suspect this because I have seen this "school of thought" many times before, and [speaking bluntly] the half-baked speculations get far more "play" in the established journals than they should.

      I have no doubt that anything in Nature which is impressive will find its way into the folk tales of native peoples somewhere or another. I also know that we should not assume that we can make "modern" links to the minds of peoples living 11,000 years ago with no documentation whatever. Currently existing native peoples resist mightily the reductionists' attempt to de-spiritualize their beliefs even today, noting that the researcher mind has no depth understanding of what that imagery and its spiritual content are. Many times it seems that the First Peoples are trying to tell us that they perfectly well understand the physical nature of some of these things but they are nevertheless the "occasions" and inspirations for much more profound interactions with their Spirit World. Modern academics, especially those out-of-their field, like physical scientists speculating on cultures, will of course just shrug this off.

  2. Nice article... I live about 20 miles from coudersport i assume same as referenced in the article, in the early seventies my high school physics teacher saw a thunder bird near coudersport. It was feeding on a deer carcass i the middle of the road. He claimed that when it took flight the span was greater than that of the roadway. Very similar to the account from the 40's

    1. Thanks. Feedback on personal/family/friend stories is one of the best things about making the effort to do a blog.

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