Native American Tales

The Great Thunderbird

The Great ThunderbirdThe Great Thunderbird

Brule Sioux

John Lame Deer recounts a bit of wisdom about Thunderbirds in this story.

There are several sets of great thunderbirds. When a person dreamt of them, the person gained some power, at least for a while. The thunderbirds all lived high up and in each of the four directions.

When people first came to be, the water monsters, that lived in all the rivers and streams, decided that they did not like the people. To the water monsters, the people were nothing but lice crawling upon the face of the Earth. All the water monsters decided to puff their bodies up in the water to cause a great flood. Many people were drowned, but a few escaped to a high peak, but the waves threatened to pull them off.

The thunderbirds got together and decided that they should help the people. They were relatives of a kind because when a man dreamed of a thunderbird, he got some of its power.

At first, the thunderbirds fought the water monsters down by the water, but it wasn’t working out. It was the home turf of the water monsters and they had the advantage. The thunderbirds retreated to the sky to plan on how to attack next. It was decided that the thunderbirds should attack from the sky. They all decided to thunder and lightning at once. When they did so, all the water dried up and the water monsters were burnt to a crisp, including Unktehi, the biggest water monster of them all. Unktehi’s bones now makes up the ridges in the Badlands.

Lame Deer goes on to talk about how he was lost in the Badlands, years ago, looking for horses, but a terrible storm came up and it got dark. He climbed up on a high ridge and was afraid he was going to fall, but he felt that if he stayed there, he would be safe. When the storm went away, he said he had been on the backbone of Unktehi, but he was never able to find it again, not did he find the horses.


I’ve never been to the Badlands, but multiple stories have mentioned that the Badlands ridges are bones. I know they do kind of stick up weirdly out of the landscape, but like I said, I’ve never been there and cannot personally vouch for what the whole thing looks like. I do know that actual bones have been found in the region, of various prehistoric beasts. These bones may lend to the idea that the whole darn thing is just bones.

Thunderbirds are cryptids; a cryptid is an animal/being that has sightings, supposedly, but no one can really determine whether it’s real or not. There isn’t enough evidence to disprove their existence nor is there enough evidence to prove their existence. Obviously, there aren’t really birds that can make it lightning, but are there birds large enough to pick up a ten-year old kid? That’s the thing we don’t know. People say that have seen extremely large birds and there are even some stories about tribes in the Appalachian region clearing hillsides so they can keep a watch for Thunderbirds.


Unktehi was a jerk and so she died. Again, you do something awful, expect some kind of punishment. You kill a bunch of people, don’t expect to get out of it alive. In all of history, there aren’t many mass-killers who have gotten out of something alive. The only instances in which they do get out alive is if they’re small-time killers who are careful, or they were lucky enough to escape the death penalty, or unlucky enough, however you look at it. Mass-murderers almost always get their due, whether by mob justice, government justice, or by their own hand. If you’re a mass-murdering tyrant, like Unktehi, you’re going to get it, maybe not right now, but you’ll get what’s coming to you.


Down with Water Monsters!!

Weigh In

What would you do with Unktehi and her cohorts?

Are thunderbirds real? Yeah or nay?


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