Friday, December 15, 2023

1890 Pterodactyl, Monster, or Wild West Tale

It was spring 1890 and it was just a normal day out on the range. The two ranchers were sweaty after finishing a long day's work and were riding home on their horses. Exhaustion filled their bones after searching half the day for a couple of lost cows...okay, we don't really know that, but I was just thinking it very well could have went something like that. But now for the real unembellished story.

By Marine 69-71 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
A picture of The Tombstone Epitaph Newspaper Office

As the story goes according to the April 26, 1890, edition of The Tombstone Epitath, the two ranchers were riding their horses home from the Huachucas in the desert between the Whetstone mountains and the Huachuca Mountains when a giant bird-like creature landed. The ranchers told the paper that the bird-like creature appeared to be exhausted for it would fly just a short distance at a time. 

Picture by Linore Rose Burkard
They were basically awestruck. When the amazement finally passed, the two men, still on horseback and armed with Winchesters, overcame their fear and set out after the monster. They gave chase for two miles before finally gaining on the creature and opening fire on it, wounding it. But that seemed to anger the monster and it turned on the two men and began chasing after them. The men claimed they were able to avoid the creature due to its wounded and exhausted condition. They were eventually able to get off a couple of well-aimed shots and the large bird-like creature fell and partially rolled over. 

The paper tells that the men cautiously approached the motionless monster, all the while their horses were snorting in terror. The ranchers found the creature dead. They measured the creature, which they said had the head of an alligator about eight feet long! Large, strong teeth and protruding eyes the size of a dinner plate. (I wonder if dinner plates were the same size as they are today?) There seemed to be some difficulty measuring the wings because of the way the creature had landed. It apparently had found its final resting place with its wing/wings tucked partially under it. But according to the story after much work the men were able to get the one wing out and measured it at seventy-eight feet. So that would make the wingspan of this creature one hundred and fifty-six feet! 

The monster had no feathers, making it unlikely a bird. The ranchers claimed its skin was rather transparent, smooth, and easy to penetrate with a bullet. They said they cut the tip of the wing off and were going back the next day, bringing some important people, and would skin the animal and send the findings off to important scientists of the day. And finally they said they would then bring it back to the city.

But that's it! There was never another article about this amazing creature. However, since the article, there were claims that there was a picture of the bird nailed to a barn and six men sitting in front of it. People swore to seeing the picture. But when research was done, searching for follow-up articles, for pictures, for reports in other papers, there was none to be found. When one of the eyewitnesses of the picture was tracked down and told the lack of evidence, he said maybe it was the power of suggestion. In his mind, he can still see that picture of the giant Pterodactyl like creature. But the search through the archives of The Tombstone Epitath showed that no picture ever was published in the paper. In fact, The Tombstone Epitath didn't have the ability to publish pictures in 1890. And there was no evidence that the creature's skin was sent to scientists. 

There are many theories on this story. 

The Creation Museum in Kentucky has a display dedicated to the article and possibility of the dinasaur-like creature. 

Taken by Linore Rose Burkard, Creation Museum

The Indians in that region talked about the giant Thunderbird. Was that what the men saw?

By Sixa369 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Some say it could have been the newspaper trying to drum up business, that this kind of thing wasn't that uncommon in the Wild West. Especially since mining was dying down and Tombstone had died with it. There weren't too many stories out there to tell in a town with a handful of people, so they made them up.

Picture taken by C.S. Fly 1881

And still others say that this could indeed have been the last of the Pterodactyls.

So, we might just conclude that this was all a big hoax...

But I wanted to know more so I kept digging. And what I found was a YouTube video with Joshua Hawley talking about this very mystery. Hawley works right where the shoot-out happened at the O.K. Corral. He is also an author and a researcher.  And Joshua Hawley tells a twist. 

It was in the 1930's or 1940's and there was an old cowboy there that decided to speak out. 

He said he was actually one of the ranchers that shot at the creature and missed it. He said they mislead the story (so men have been telling fish stories for over 130 years :D). They actually chased after the flying monster when they missed it, but their poor horses were getting so spooked (and he admitted he and his friend were a little scared as well) the horses got turned around and the two cowboys could never get the horses to chase after it again, and the creature flew off unharmed.

So, what is the truth? Like the licks to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop, the world may never know. Unless, that picture surfaces! 

So, what do you think? Was it real or just a 19th century fish story?

Kirsten Macleod is in a bind. Her father’s last will and testament stipulates that she must either marry, lead the plantation into a first year profit, or forfeit it to her uncle. But marriage is proving no easy option. Every suitor seems more enamored with the land than with her. Until her handsome neighbor sweeps into her stable to the rescue… of her beloved horse.

Silas Westbrook’s last year at veterinary school ends abruptly when he is called home to care for his young orphaned sisters. Troubles compound when he finds an insurmountable lien on the only home they’ve ever known, and the unscrupulous banker is calling in the loan. The neighbor’s kind-hearted and beautiful stable girl, Krissy, provides the feminine influence the girls desperately need. If only he had a future to offer her. But to save his sisters from poverty, he should set his sights on Krissy’s wealthy relative Kirsten Macleod, the elusive new heiress. Surely this hard-working and unassuming young lady and the landowner could not be one and the same?

Debbie Lynne Costello is the author of Sword of Forgiveness, Amazon's #1 seller for Historical Christian Romance. She has enjoyed writing stories since she was eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She writes in the medieval/renaissance period as well as 19th century. She and her husband have four children and live in upstate South Carolina with their 4 dogs, 4 horses, miniature donkey, and 12 ducks. Life is good!


  1. Thank you for posting this strange story today. I would say it was a hoax, but I suppose stranger things have happened! Merry Christmas!