The Monster of Elizabeth Lake

Some Thoughts on the Monster of Elizabeth Lake

In April, I was a guest on the Southern California Ghosts and Folklore Podcast. We discussed the Monster of Elizabeth Lake—a winged creature that terrified residents in the 1800s.

Witnesses described a creature that came out of the lake with a wingspan exceeding 50 feet. The creature had a tough, leathery hide; the hide was so tough, that bullets had no effect—they just bounced off. Strangely, the awful creature was said to have six legs.

Landowner Miguel Leonis, a legend in his own right,  was determined to put an end to the monster’s reign of terror.  Leonis camped out one night by the lake with his rifle. When the monster emerged, Leonis went into a blind rage and charged. He fired at the creature, but as he closed in, he smashed its head with the butt of his rifle and then punched it in the eye. The monster was wounded and fled.

As the story goes, a pterosaur-like creature surfaced in Tombstone, Arizona sometime later and was shot to death by ranch hands.

When I was on the podcast, I proposed a few theories as to what the creature may have been. Admittedly, the theories sound outlandish. One of those theories is that the creature was indeed a pterosaur. The eyewitnesses descriptions of the monster match a pterosaur very well. But recently, something about the story made me think…

It sounds ridiculous that Miguel Leonis wounded this animal using blunt force, right? Not so fast…

Assuming that a pterosaur did exist,  its tough hide would be hard to penetrate with gunfire. However, the creature would be very vulnerable on the ground. Pterosaurs, with their massive wingspans, were not able to take flight easily. If charged, the creature would be virtually helpless against an attack; the blunt force trauma from being beaten with a rifle butt could certainly severely injure the animal.

As stupid as it sounds, I believe my “pterosaur theory” is plausible!

To do my due diligence, I also put on my “debunker hat” and came up with a more reasonable theory. What if the animal was a misidentified California Condor? Condors have wingspans of over 10 feet—not the 50+ reported by witnesses, but people often misjudge size, especially with airborne animals.

Even in the 1800s, condors were quite rare. Populations have been on the decline since the end of the last ice again. Large-scale extinctions of large mammals at the close of the ice age drastically cut the food supply of the condor. The large scavengers no longer had carcasses from megafauna to pick; carrion, at least enough to support the condor population, became scarce. By the 1800s, only about 600 condors remained.

Condors were a rare sight, even in the 1800s. Additionally, many eyewitnesses were Spanish Dons or settlers from the East, who would have had no familiarity with the condor.

Personally, I like my pterosaur theory….

Read the show notes.

I think you’ll enjoy the podcast, check it out!

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