Sculpture Celebrates Thunderbird Mythology

Bismarck, North Dakota is a lovely city with a rich history.  Nestled up against the majestic Missouri River, Bismarck boasts a diverse cultural background, and the residents are proud of their heritage.

Along the river, you’ll find statues and tributes marking the Lewis and Clark trail.  You’ll see an old paddle wheel riverboat and the buildings of Fort Lincoln in the distance.   It is truly an amazing place to visit.

On my recent trip to Bismarck, I took a closer look at some of the statues and monuments that have been erected in recent years.  As a crypto-enthusiast, one of them really stood out to me. Keelboat Park on the banks of the Missouri River stands a large, 4 headed sculpture that represents the four archetypal Thunderbird myths from four geographic regions of the United States.  Built by students at the United Tribes Technical College, this impressive monument is well worth the visit.

Measuring 15 feet high and around 30 feet across, the sculpture depicts four giant Thunderbirds, with heads and talons thrust forward, emerging from a thundercloud.

In tribal culture, Thunderbirds are not physical entities, but spiritual messengers.  They represent the sacred power of thunder and lightning.

In the field of cryptozoology, some say that enormous birds of prey are not merely a spiritual or mythological entity, but that they are real animals that presently exist.  It is even said in some circles that the Native American myth of the Thunderbird is rooted in ancient sightings of real creatures.

A cryptid that is localized to North America, sightings continue to this day, and are primarily reported from Pennsylvania to the Central states.  There are several pictures floating around the web that purport to show these giant birds with enormous wing spans, but controversy surrounds them, with many claims that they are forgeries.

Cryptozoologists say that the Thunderbird resembles an enormous condor or eagle. Sightings seem to be reported in the same areas at around the same time of year, leading to the conclusion that it might be an extraordinarily rare and highly migratory bird.  Perhaps it is the Read Full Report, a bird thought to be long extinct.  Is it possible that there is a small surviving population of prehistoric migratory birds still alive today?

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A well known myth among crypto-enthusiasts is that of a picture from years ago that was featured in an old book.  It reportedly showed a bird tacked to the side of a barn.  The bird depicted boasted a wing span over 30 feet, which would make it more than double the size of any known bird.  Many people claim to remember the picture, but no one can seem to find it.  For the record, I’ve long perused books about the strange and mysterious, and I too have a vague recollection of such a photo.

The History Channel’s show MonsterQuest had an episode about Thunderbirds called Birdzilla (Click for full episode).

The monument in Bismarck stands as a testament to the ancient allure of strange and magical creatures, and how they appeal to something inside of us to this day.   As we drove away, we happened upon another lovely sculpture, also constructed by the students of United Tribes.  This one is also quite awe inspiring.

This statue, called “Reflections”, was sadly vandalized shortly after being erected.  You can see where there are dents in the front of the chrome globe.  Apparently, some Philistines decided to try to roll the globe into the river.  Grrrrr.

The plaque near the sculpture reads:

The reflective sphere surrounded by the spirit eagle represents Mother Earth.  The Earth is a Mother to all nations.  We must honor Mother Earth and all who dwell within.  Remember, she is sacred ground.  Let us always be aware of our surroundings and use the practical knowledge with the needed mind change to care for and save Mother Earth.

The majestic spirit eagle engulfs the globe with its powerful wings.  The wings represent the balance needed between male and female, between plants and animals, between water and sky, as all have a spirit.  The courageous eagles are seen as spiritual messengers.  They carry prayers from the Earth world to the Spirit world.  The wise “Masters of the Sky” surround the Earth with an unbroken wholeness so that all people may live in harmony.  Always treat all beings with respect and dedicate your efforts to the good in life.

I hope that these amazing sculptures inspire you as they did me, and if you ever find yourself in Nodak… make sure you visit all of the amazing sights along the Missouri River trail.