Mothman & The Thunderbird
Separated at Birth?
Initial Report: August
2002, revised June 2003
by Daniel V. Boudillion
Updated 24 September
A Striking Resemblance Between the "Mothman"
and an Indian Thunderbird Artifact
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."
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
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
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.
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:
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...."
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
in New Hampshire.
Loren Coleman, in
his recent book
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
The Western Abenaki by Colin Calloway.
Coleman Sketch & Thunderbird Drawing
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.
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."
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
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.
The Cherokee ledged of the Tlanuwa is similar of 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
According to a New
England Koasek Abenaki about the
"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
"o" with a circumflex).
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
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.
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
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,
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
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."
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:
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
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.
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
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.
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 &
Note "Ace of Spades"
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
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.
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.
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:
Notes & Sources
Alien Animals by Janet and Colin Bord
Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings by John
by Loren Coleman
Goblin Universe by Ted Holliday
Mothman & Other Curious Encounters by Loren
Mothman Prophecies by John Keel
Mysterious America revised edition by
Written Sketch of Mothman by John Keel
Compiled by more than
100 eyewitness accounts
Between five and seven feet tall. Usually described as "taller than a
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
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
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
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
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
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