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Dig deep enough in the Western United States, and you have a decent chance of finding a fossil. From ichthyologists in Nevada to an Apatosaurus in Colorado, relics from earlier epochs dot the West.

Library of Congress // Public Domain
According to the story that ran in the Tombstone Epitaph back then, “A winged monster, resembling a huge alligator with an extremely elongated tail and an immense pair of wings, was found on the desert between the Whetstone and Huachuca mountains last Sunday by two ranchers who were returning home from the Huachucas.”

After a chase, they shot the bird down, and reported that it was about 92 feet long and and 160 feet from wingtip to wingtip. “The monster had only two feet, these being situated a short distance in front of where the wings were joined to the body. The head, as near as they could judge, was about eight feet long, the jaws being thickly set with strong, sharp teeth. Its eyes were as large as a dinner plate and protruded about halfway from the head,” the Tombstone Epitaph reported.

A photo of the supposed Thunderbird, which resembled a prehistoric pterodactyl, was also taken. Or was it?

The story was likely a hoax, and the photo was almost certainly fake. While there are claims the photo was printed with the original article, it was not; the first mention of it appears in 1963. The story itself was never printed by the Epitaph’s competition in Tombstone, and the 1890's was the golden age of yellow journalism in the United States.

But as hoaxes go, it’s a pretty good one, considering all of the thunderbirds, winged serpents, and other strange flying creatures that are found throughout the myths of the Southwest.