Mothman & The Thunderbird

Separated at Birth?

 

 

Initial Report: August 2002, revised June 2003 

by Daniel V. Boudillion

 

 

 Updated 24 September 2009

 

A Striking Resemblance Between the "Mothman" and an Indian Thunderbird Artifact
 

 

   Introduction

The purpose of this report is to draw attention to similarities between a circa 1600 Indian Thunderbird artifact, and the descriptions of an anomalous and frightening figure seen repeatedly in 1967, dubbed "The Mothman."

   Mothman History

The Mothman is one of the strangest and most terrifying of anomalous creatures ever to be recorded in America.  Between November 12, 1966 and December 15, 1967, it terrorized citizens in the Point Pleasant area of West Virginia.  It was said to have been encountered by at least 100 people over the course of that year.

 

According to author John A. Keel (The Mothman Prophecies, 1975) who was on hand investigating the reports during the time of the sightings, the creature was reported to be roughly man-shaped, either grey or brown, and between five and seven feet tall.  Its body was wider than a man's.  It did not appear to have a head, but rather its "eyes" were set on the upper chest.  These "eyes" were very large, and alternately described as glowing red lights, or a reflected red like a bicycle reflector.  [Glowing red eyes are the surest sign of a paranormal entity.]   When it walked it shuffled on what appeared to be human-like legs, but no feet were ever observed.  Rather than arms it had bat-like wings which it did not flap.  It was always seen to glide.  The non-flapping of the wings, even in ascent, is particularly disturbing.  Indeed, it was reported to regularly ascend straight up like a helicopter - and again be it noted, without any wing-action.  (In regards to the wings, John Keel determined that a man the size and heft of the Mothman would require 24 foot wings to be able to glide.)  It was fast in flight, able to pace cars going over 100 miles an hour.  In flight it emitted a humming sound and often emitted a "mouse-like squeaking."  Occasionally it was heard to also emit a screeching sound something like a woman screaming.  (This "woman screaming" sound is common among anomalous creatures, particularly the Bigfoot creatures.)  No one who saw it was indifferent to the creature - it struck terror into the hearts of all its viewers.

 

Recently, interest in Mothman has been rekindled due to the release of the movie The Mothman Prophecies starring Richard Gere.  Cryptozoologist Loren Colman has also contributed a new book on the subject, Mothman & Other Curious Encounters (2002), as have Sergent & Wamsley with Mothman: The facts Behind the Legend (2001).  For comprehensive accounts of the Point Pleasant and Mothman events, please refer to links such as:  prairieghosts.com, and mothmanlives.com.

Loren Coleman          

   Thunderbird Artifact

On June 15, 2002 I was visiting the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard Massachusetts.  While in the Indian Museum, I noticed an artifact that bore a startling resemblance to Mothman descriptions.  This artifact is ten inches tall and made of copper sheet.  It was recovered in Amoskeag Falls, Manchester, New Hampshire, and was probably fashioned from a copper kettle acquired through trade with Europeans during the early Contact Period, circa 1550-1630 A.D.  It is attributed to the Pennacook Indians and labeled "Thunderbird." 

 

The main difference between the Mothman descriptions and the Thunderbird artifact is that the artifact is crafted with a head, while the Mothman is typically described as having no head.  The general body shape - other then the head discrepancy - is identical.  The most striking similarity is the "eye" placement.  The Thunderbird artifact has two holes placed on the upper chest, same as Mothman descriptions.  Presently, these "eyes" on the Thunderbird artifact are being used as string holes to lace the figure to a museum stand.  I inquired of the Museum Staff if the holes were meant as "eyes", or were lacing holes.  They did not know, but gave their opinion that as "eyes", they were very compelling.  I also asked if the holes were part of the original creation or were added later as lacing holes, but the staff was unable to provide information on this. 

 

A New England Koasek Abenaki who is familiar with both this item and with Thunderbird lore states that, "the two holes bored into the copper at the 'chest' would have had a braintan lace knotted through them to suspend the ornament/talisman from the wearer's neck."  He goes on to state that, "We have our own theories as to the significance...."

                    "Thunderbird"

 

Interestingly, the Fruitlands item I examined is only a reproduction - the original is in the collection of the Peabody Museum at Harvard, catalog number 88-45-10/46959.  A Native American version of its acquisition by Harvard's Peabody Museum is that it was obtained from a robber of a Pennacook Abenaki gravesite in New Hampshire. 

   Comparison

Loren Coleman, in his recent book Mothman & Other Curious Encounters, created a composite sketch of the Mothman based on the various reports and eyewitness testimony.  A written composite of the Mothman was first published in 1970 in The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings by John Keel - and an artists rendering of a sketch drawn by Roger Scarberry who saw the the creature on November 15, 1966 first appeared in Janet and Colin Bord's 1981 book Alien Animals.

 

The Loren Coleman sketch is below left.  To the right is a scan of the Thunderbird artifact from the book The New England Indians by C. Keith Wilbur.  It may also be found in The Western Abenaki by Colin Calloway.

 

      

Coleman Sketch & Thunderbird Drawing

   Thunderbird Lore

Although primarily associated with the Plains Indians, the Thunderbird was known to the Algonquin speaking peoples of New England.  However, like most Native American culture in New England, little is now known of their beliefs.  In regards to the Thunderbird, this much is known: it was a fearsome being and resembled a winged man or an immense bird, it caused fear and dread, and was said to actually kill and eat humans from time to time.

 

Pmola

 

According to a New England Koasek Abenaki about the Pmola (puh-MOH-lah): "Our legends tell us of a being who appeared as a giant bird-like creature, with glowing red eyes and claws, who would swoop down on unsuspecting animals and people and carry them off ... never to be seen again.  The Indian peoples of the Eastern Seaboard and Woodlands all share similar stories.  Grandmothers and Mothers would caution their children to behave, lest Pmola find them unawares and carry them away."

 

Piasa

 

Jacques Marquette, a French explorer relates a petroglyph of the Piasa near Alton Illinois in 1673:  "On the flat face of a high rock were painted, in red, black, and green, a pair of monsters, each as large as a calf, with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger, and a frightful expression of countenance.  The face is something like that of a man, the body covered with scales, and the tail so long that it passes entirely round the body, over the head, and between the legs, ending like that of a fish."  It was supposed to live high in a cave on the bluff.

 

An Alton, Illinois scholar named McAdmas observed during the mid 1800s, that the name Piasa "signifies, in Illini, 'The bird that devours men.'"  And indeed, it was Illini legend that children and adults were carried away and eaten.  

 

Tlanuwa

 

The Cherokee ledged of the Tlanuwa is similar of the Piasa.  The Tlanuwa were a pair of immense birds said to live in a cave on the north bank of the Little Tennessee River in Blount County Tennessee.  They would fly up an down the river, even coming into the villages to carry off and eat dogs and small children. 

Uktena & Tlanuwa       

Bad8gi

 

According to a New England Koasek Abenaki about the Bad8gi (BAH-dohn-KEE):  "I personally believe that the Thunderbird here in the East is based upon an ancient species of raptor, one that possessed a wingspan in excess of twenty feet.  These gigantic preying birds were the antecedents of the Eagles that are so important to our culture and traditions today.  Ancient oral traditions among the Algonquin/Abenaki tell us that these raptors rode the lightning and the thunderheads, coming up from the South, in a corridor that extends from Mexico right on up the Appalachians into New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.  I believe that the copper representation you refer to is this Thunder Being, and was made to harness the spiritual powers to benefit the wearer.  Our word for this Being is Bad8gi."

 

Note: The "8" in Bad8gi is intentional.  In Abenaki, the sound "OOHN" is represented by the 8 or , (an "o" with a circumflex).

   Giant Birds?

The largest bird in North America is the California Condor with a wingspan of up to nine feet.  The largest known bird today is the Andean Condor with a wingspan up to 12 feet.  Unlike the Andean Condor, the California is a very rare and endangered bird with only a small territory left of its once large range.  But as recently as the early 1800's it still apparently lived in eastern America as well, according to Halliday's Vanishing Birds.  Could Andean Condors, however, be flying up - or have ever flown up from South America?  In any event, Ornithologists tell us that the claw strength of either condor is not strong enough to carry food for much distance, and besides, the condor is a carrion eater, not a predator bird. 

 

Andean Condor

 

Be that as it may, reports of giant birds - Thunderbirds perhaps - have been reported in eastern America since colonial times.  These giant birds are reported to have wings like a "B-29", and are known for trying to carry off children and livestock.  Numerous modern reports from Illinois attest to this. 

 

Interestingly, there once existed a gigantic bird in North America called the Teratornis Merriami (Feduccia, The Age of Birds).  It stood five feet tall with a 24 foot wingspan.  According to Dr. Kenneth Campbell it was, unlike the condor, a predator bird, "the long narrow beak was of the predator type, rather than the carrion eater type (condor)."  He goes on to say, "the bones of some as recent as 8000 years ago have almost always been found in conjunction with human habitation sites."  (Loren Coleman comments: "Were Amerindians killing these giant condor-like birds for their feathers or because the birds had been kidnapping their children and stock?)  This is interesting information indeed, because 8000 years places it well within the human era, and Thunderbird legends may well be echoes of this giant predator bird.

 

Teratornis Merriami

 

Native Americans who have written me have this to say about the Giant Bird/Thunderbird connection:  "The giant raptors were strong fliers and strong walkers.  They preferred making short trips on foot and they were the size of a man and walked almost erect (not like the usual bird).  Indians in Illinois dreaded meeting the giant raptor at night and mistaking it for a human, which happened."  

 

From another source, "[Consider] Nadinahamasit, the Turkey Vulture.  If you have ever seen this unmistakable form above you, it is real easy to visualize the Thunderbird.  Black, all wings and primaries outstretched, just a ridin'-the-thermals, little no-neck head darting this way and that, looking for prey."

 

Turkey Vulture

 

These descriptions are particularly relevant as the silhouette of a giant walking turkey vulture (if there is such a thing) would from behind have a very similar silhouette to the Mothman, and, it is interesting to note that the Mothman is described as "... from behind, it appears to have no head."

 

Bearing in mind Loren Coleman's remark, a correspondent had this to say, "My father's grandmother was one of the last Tamaroa Indians, who were natives of central Illinois along the Mississippi river and its tributaries.  According to them, they battled the giant eagles for generations and when the last one known to them was finally killed they found hundreds of human skulls in its lair.  It was not a condor or vulture but a perfect replica of the familiar golden eagle but about 3 times larger. Despite their size they were strong fliers and also strong walkers, and they preferred to traverse short distances afoot walking almost erect like a human with folded wings behind them."

   Paranormal Aspects

Giant bird sightings are not, however, in any way straightforward - if that can even be the case in such an odd subject.  There is a certain paranormal element to many of the modern sightings.  For example, in Illinois - which is a hot-spot of such sightings - reports are that the creatures glow.  Typical of night sightings, "It was grayish and illuminated ... it as big as a house.  It [glowed] greenish-yellow and bobbed up and down."  Another report, "[it was] illuminated by a dull glow."  And, "Its eyes were wide open and shone like burning coals."  (All from Alton Illinois - Piasa territory.)

   Mothman's European Relatives

The Mothman and his kin seem to get around.  The following are reports of winged "human-shaped" entity sightings:

 

Sweden, 1946: During the "ghost rocket" episode, the Swedes were also reporting huge winged creatures without heads. 

 

Kent England 1963: Four teenagers saw a black figure shuffle towards them, "It was the size of a human ... but it didn't seem to have any head ... there were huge wings on it back - like bat wings."   (Mervyn Hutchinson)

 

Mawnan Cornwall, 1976:  Two 14 year old girls and a 12 year old saw a hissing "owl man" accompanied by a hissing noise.  Sally Chapman:  "It was like a big owl with pointed ears, as big as a man.  The eyes were red and glowing ... its feet were like pincers."  Barbara Perry: "It was horrible, a nasty owl-face with big ears and big red eyes.  It was covered with grey feathers.  The claws in its feet were black.  It flew straight up...."  (See June Mellings sketch below.)

 

Note the headlessness in the Swedish and English accounts, and the glowing red eyes, grey feathers, and ability to fly straight up on the Cornwall accounts.  All are reported attributes of the American Mothman.  The grey feathers, the shuffle-walk, and the red eyes are shared by both the Mothman and the Thunderbird. 

   Assessment

There is a startling visual resemblance between the Mothman descriptions and the Thunderbird artifact. The single difference is the head - the Thunderbird has one, Mothman doesn't.  If the holes in the Thunderbird figure were intended as eyes, the identical placement of the eyes is a significant feature.  With the exception of the head, the Thunderbird is a figure that exactly reproduces the Mothman descriptions.

 

A correspondent has this to say about the head-discrepancy: "I feel compelled to tell you that I found an important misconception in your evaluation of the Pennacook figure.  The shape in the Native America figure is not a "head", but a stylized flame as shown by it's shape.  This has been placed there to anthropomorphize the figure but does not show a solid head. This in my eyes makes the figures identical." 

 

While on the subject of heads, it is interesting to note that in 1952 in Flatwoods West Virginia a towering entity with glowing red eyes and a "head shaped like an ace of spades" was seen by multiple witnesses.  The "ace of spades" shape is a good description of the head on the Pennacook Thunderbird artifact.

.

Ace of Spades head Shape Comparison

 

  

Flatwoods Monster & Abenaki Thunderbird

Note "Ace of Spades" head-shape

 

     

Ace of Spades Head Shape

 

A second resemblance is its perceived disposition: the citizens of Point Pleasant felt terrorized by the Mothman - the Thunderbird was a figure of dread and fear in the culture of the Pennacook craftsman who created the copper figure.

 

There is more correspondence between the artifact and composite sketch than between physical descriptions of the Mothman and traditional descriptions of the Thunderbird.  The traditional descriptions of the Thunderbird tend to represent a gigantic bird, while the Mothman is described as a winged man-like figure. 

 

However, in either case, both had glowing red eyes - a telling clue - and flew, and were beings of dread.  From behind, a large walking Thunderbird bird would resemble a Mothman being.  The oddly raised shoulders of the Mothman would correspond to the hunched up wings of a shuffling bird.  Both are recorded as shuffling.  It is also significant that Thunderbird lore states that giant raptors when walking could be mistaken at night for a human.

 

      

Wings hunched up into points resembles Mothman shoulders

 

Interestingly, both the Mothman and Thunderbird are recorded as flying without flapping their wings.  The Mothman is always recorded this way, the Thunderbird only occasionally.  However, the occasions it is sighted in "paranormal" non-flapping flight, are also the occasions it is observed to have glowing red eyes

   Conclusions

The Pennacook Abenaki Thunderbird artifact has been labeled a "Bad8gi" Thunder Being by the modern Koasek Abenaki.  The "Mothman" sketch is a composite of over 100 witness accounts from 1966.  Both items are visually similar, and significant portions of their lore - the paranormal portions - overlap.  One assumes there is a connection, a commonalty.  But are they the same being?

 

     

 

 

The initial question may not be whether there is a strange "Mothman" creature that troubled folks in West Virginia, or whether there really is or was a Thunderbird being that the Pennacook of New Hampshire and other Algonquin speaking tribes of New England feared - the point is that both cultures have legend of it, and images of this creature (in this case composite sketch and copper artifact) - with the exception of the head motif in this instance - are identical. 

 

Secondly, it would appear that this is a case of  significant correspondence between anomalous-appearing beings, rather than sightings of a real yet unknown species (such as a large bird).  The constants between the Mothman and Thunderbird are in the paranormal aspects.  If they are the same creature, they are a paranormal one. 

 

Thirdly, in regards to the Thunderbird, there appears to be two situations happening simultaneously: a paranormal red-eyed anomalous entity, and the possibility of a large unknown raptor akin to the Teratornis Merriami.  This does not apply to the Mothman or his kin - the Mothman has always proved himself to be paranormal. 

Good Books on Mothman & Kin

 

        

 

        

If there are indeed strange paranormal beings in the world, perhaps they are definable by types - much in the way the reports of lake monsters and Bigfoot are recognizable "types."  If so, whatever produces these phenomena appears to be consistent in its types.  I find it curious that two cultures separated by 400 years, 750 miles, and dissimilar cultures have recorded a particular "type" in almost exact detail.

 

I would say in conclusion that there are grounds for suggesting that the good folks at Point Pleasant in 1966 and the fine Abenaki Pennacook of sixteenth century New Hampshire were reporting images of the same being - whatever that being may really be.

 

Anyone who would like to correspond about possible Mothman and Thunderbird connections, or has further information, may do so at: dvb@boudillion.com

   Notes & Sources

Alien Animals by Janet and Colin Bord

 

Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings by John Keel

 

Curious Encounters by Loren Coleman

 

Goblin Universe by Ted Holliday

 

Mothman & Other Curious Encounters by Loren Coleman

 

Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

 

Mysterious America revised edition by Loran Coleman

 

 

 

 

Written Sketch of Mothman by John Keel

Compiled by more than 100 eyewitness accounts

 

 

Height: Between five and seven feet tall.  Usually described as "taller than a good-sized man."

 

Breadth: Broad at the top with a slight taper downwards.  Always described as "very broad, much broader than a man."

 

Covering: Witnesses have been unable to determine if it is clothed or covered in skin.  Generally described as being grey, though some thought it was brown,  One witness thought it was covered with grey fur.  Daylight sightings by others do not substantiate this.

 

Head: Seen from the back it appears to have no head.  Few witnesses reported seeing any face at all.

 

Eyes: Self-luminous, bright red, approximately two to three inches in diameter, set wide apart.  Witnesses say the eyes are set in near the top of the shoulders.

 

Legs:  Man-like.  No witness has ever been able to describe the feet.

 

Arms:  None.  No witness has ever reported seeing arms.

 

Wings: Folded against the back when not in use.  Wingspread, everyone agrees, is about ten feet.  Bat-like.  Do not flap in flight.

 

Carriage:  Animal walks erect like a man.  Does not stoop like a bear or ape.  Moves its legs in shuffling manner.  Some said it "waddled."

 

Sound: Loud squeaks, like a mouse.  One witness said it sounded "like a squeaky fan belt."  Two witnesses testified they heard a mechanical humming sound as the creature flew overhead.

 

Speed: It is said to have kept pace with automobiles moving seventy to one hundred mph.  Few birds can achieve this in level flight.  Pilot witnesses estimated it was traveling at least seventy mph in level flight without flapping its wings.

 

 

 

June Melling's sketch of Cornish Owl Man:

 

Cornish Owl Man - Melling Sketch

Note: the eyes and head set down in the shoulders creates the

same "headless red-eyed" silhouette as the Mothman.

 

 

Artists rendering of Roger Scarberry's 1966 Mothman sketch:

 

Mothman - Scarberry Sketch

 

   Addendum I - The Red Eye Gallery

A consistently reported feature of paranormal creatures are their glowing red eyes.  Both the Mothman and many of the Thunderbird sightings include this anomaly in the reports.  No known terrestrial birds or beasts have self-luminous eyes.  Some animals, particularly the nocturnal ones, have reflective eyes - their eyes have a mirror quality that helps make the most of the available light.  But this reflection is silver-white, and does not glow, let alone glow red.  Where eyes glow red, the paranormal is close at hand.  It is one of the surest signs of the paranormal in a sighting. 

 

Below are the sketches of the Mothman, and the Thunderbird artifact, with the eyes filled in red for side-by-side comparison. 

 

Please note also that the Owl Man's head and eyes are set down low on the shoulders - so low that in the dark or from behind it would present the same "headless, glowing-eyes-on-the-chest" appearance and silhouette of the Mothman. 

 

 

       

 

"The chlorine in the pool is killer!"

 

   Addendum II - Mothman's Photographer

I was recently watching Andy Colvin's Mothman's Photographer and noticed on Disc 2 he was waving around on camera a printout of the above "Red Eye Gallery."  (This is actually from the 2003 version of this webpage.)  Well Porgy, that's shoes for industry.

 

   

Screen grab from Disc 2 of Mothman's Photographer


 

 

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Copyright 2002, 2003, 2009 by Daniel V. Boudillion

 

 

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