Harlingen, 1976

By Noe Torres, 2014

 

In the mid 1970s, South Texas experienced a rash of sightings of a large, winged “Mothman” type creature, having some bird-like characteristics. Many witnesses saw the creature, and their panicked descriptions surprisingly agreed in many general aspects.

In a typical description, the creature was described as five feet tall with a dark body; membranous, leathery wings that folded around its body; a wingspan of about 15 feet; dark red eyes; a hairless, gray, gorilla-like face; a bald head; and a beak or snout that extended at least six inches. In addition, the creature emitted a blood-curdling shrill screech.

Sketch

The terrifying Mothman-like creature was first spotted on a school playground in Robstown, Texas in November of 1975. A couple of weeks later, the creature was seen about 100 miles south of Robstown, in San Benito. Ted Cortez, then police chief of San Benito, told the media that a man rushed into the police station saying excitedly, “I’m not drunk. I’m sober. But I saw it.” Later, two other witnesses contacted San Benito police to report that they had seen a large bird with a bald head, like a monkey.

Shortly thereafter, on New Year’s Day 1976, just outside Harlingen, 11-year-old Tracey Dawson and her 14-year old cousin, Jackie Davies were playing outside their home when they spotted a similar creature standing in a plowed field about 100 yards away from them. Tracey rushed into her house, retrieved a pair of binoculars, and used them to observe a “horrible black bird.” The girls rushed back into the house to tell Lawson’s parent about what they saw, but the adults did not believe them.

The following day, however, Tom Waldon, the stepfather of Jackie Davies, found eerie three-toed tracks that were 8 or 9 inches wide, 12 inches long, and pressed an inch and a half into the hard ground. Tracey’s father, Stan Lawson, who weighed 170 pounds, tried to make a similarly deep impression in the ground with his own foot but found he could hardly make any.

Later, two San Benito policemen, Arturo Padilla and Homero Galvan, traveling in separate squad cards, reported seeing a huge bird with a wingspan of about 15 feet gliding above their town. Officer Padilla later said, “I’ve done a lot of hunting, but I’ve never seen anything like that.” They described it as an oversized stork or pelican.

Big Bird

Another sighting was reported at this time in Laredo. Arturo Rodriguez and his nephew Ricardo were fishing on the banks of the Rio Grande River when they saw the creature, according to media accounts at the time.

The next incident occurred on January 7, when Brownsville resident Alverico Guajardo heard something slam into the outside of his mobile home. Frightened by the sound, the 35-year-old man left his wife and child in the house, grabbed a knife, and ran outside for a look. Getting inside his station wagon for protection, Guajardo positioned the headlights so that they illuminated the area around his mobile home, when suddenly he saw a nightmarish bird-like creature on the ground in front of him. As Guajardo’s headlights shone on the huge bird-like animal, it rose up to its full height and displayed two huge red eyes that struck terror in Guajardo. He later told reporters that he sat staring at those eyes for at least three minutes, after which, the creature issued a horrifying screech and receded into the darkness.

“I was scared,” Guajardo said. “It’s got wings like a bird, but it’s not a bird. That animal is not of this world.”

Another sighting occurred on January 14 in the Willacy County town of Raymondville. 26-year-old Armando Grimaldo was enjoying a smoke in his mother-in-law’s backyard when he heard what sounded like the flapping of bat wings, followed by a whistling or screeching sound. As he rose up out of his seat to investigate, he felt “something with claws” grab him from behind. Running toward a nearby tree and struggling to free himself from the creature’s grasp, Grimaldo felt his clothes being torn away from his body as he ran. Shortly thereafter, the creature broke off its attack and disappeared into the night. Grimaldo’s neighbors found him in the yard shaking and screaming with his clothes in shreds.

Yet another sighting was reported some 300 miles away, in Eagle Pass, Texas, where 21-year-old Francisco Magallanez claimed he was attacked by the creature. Although Magallanez admitted that he had been drinking at the time of the incident, a physician who examined him confirmed that he had suffered scratch marks such from an animal or bird.

On February 24, a creature matching the previous descriptions was seen in San Antonio by three teachers. The teachers later picked out a picture of the extinct flying reptile Pteranodan as matching the creature they saw. Pteranodan, the largest of the pterosaurs with a wingspan of up to 25 feet, is believed to have become extinct at about the same time as the dinosaurs. They are viewed as the precursors of modern-day birds.

Following the San Antonio sighting, no further media reports seem to have been filed about the creature. As suddenly as it had appeared, the so-called “big bird” had vanished. Still, it remains deeply etched in the memories of many South Texas residents who lived through the creature’s brief “reign of terror.” Afterward, many legends and tales about the creature spread among the local population.

Scientists and others attempted to explain away the unearthly winged creature, insisting that it was likely just a large stork, a heron, or other large bird. However, those few individuals who stood face to face with the creature, staring at the terrifying large red eyes set in the ape-like face, never “bought in” to the mundane explanations. The words of eyewitness Alverico Guajardo, who called it “not of this world,” bear strong testimony to an encounter with something out of the ordinary.

Despite the theories and speculations, the mystery of this strange creature has never been solved. It remains filed away in the recesses of our imagination, awaiting a time when we ourselves may be confronted by the sound of large, leathery wings rustling outside our window late in the night, followed by an other-worldly high-pitched screech.

 

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