Thunder in His Footsteps

The ghost of the most gigantic animal that ever walked the earth is conjured to life when a lone fossil hunter tracks down the first true footprints left by this stupendous creature, and thrills to the romance of a great discovery.

dinosaur three-toed prints

The three-toed prints were made by a fair-sized two-legged dinosaur which fed on other animals and was presumably on the hunt when he passed this way. He towered about thirteen feet high and was a dynamic machine for the pursuit and capture of prey, which he tore to shreds in his powerful jaws and hind feet.

R. T. Bird

I came back to the dry ledge, satisfied at last. I’d learned where to search for the forefeet by this time—always a little in advance of the rear ones. They were more shallow and hadn’t showed up as readily, but were none the less interesting. Such tracks indicated the foot had been heavily padded with flesh in life, and there was just a trace of the single claw on the inner digit. This was a day of days! Even my beloved chief, Barnum Brown, would have been not a little thrilled at this. I thought of him, then on an aerial survey, up in Canada. I was sorry he wasn’t here. Well, the trail would remain for other times to come.

Can you visualize the great bulk of such a creature that had walked there? He must have approximated the big brontosaur whose huge skeleton now dominates the New Jurassic Hall in the American Museum. When you come into that hall, and look up into that great mechanical mass of articulated bones above you, even then it is difficult to picture such a beast in life. Sixty-seven feet of lengthy neck, backbone and tail; four pillar-like legs with hips alone fifteen feet above the base; shoulders according, and a massive basket for a middle. . . .

Still such a creature once floated a vast body most of the time in lakes and lagoons where favorable plant food abounded. Here a similar sauropod had apparently been moving over a shallow mud flat.

Even if I hadn’t tried, I couldn’t have helped imagining the big fellow was moving along there, time and time again, as I finished cleaning up that trail. At the end of an hour I walked back and sought a high place on the river bank where I could look along it. I wanted now to piece the complete story together around these tracks as the evidence seemed to show it happened; I wanted to catch the detail of a strange and spectacular sight: that of this greatest of all four-footed animals in motion. The smaller, flesh eating dinosaurs had come along there first, for I found a sauropod footprint impressed on one of theirs. It was evident they were terrestrial animals; hence this rock ledge, then a mudbar, must have been exposed close to some shoreline, or at best only covered by shallow water. As previously mentioned, these carnivores were large, yet the mud was firm enough to hold them.

brontosaurus footprints

Where the ground "thundered" to the tread of one of the most gigantic four-footed animals the world has ever known: footprints of a prehistoric titan resembling the familiar Brontosaurus, whose name appropriately means “Thunder Lizard.” These prints were associated with the three-toed prints and are the only definite ones of their kind ever to be disclosed. With an enormously long neck and tail, the creature must have measured 60 feet or more in length and stood 15 feet high at the hips. The row of prints shown are all rights; the first left print appearing just above the center of the picture.

R. T. Bird

Thundering Ghost

With these thoughts in mind the great dinosaur moved again for me. He was out there on the shallow mudflat coming in from deeper water, progressing in the manner of a heavy quadruped, moving slowly, leisurely, without concern. Beyond were other sauropods, but he, in the foreground, was the central figure, with the sunlight glistening on his moist skin like the glint of a wet alligator crawling on a bank to dry. It glistened on his tiny head and along the great snakelike neck that held it. It followed across his massive shoulders as he moved, and flashed on the ripple of the muscles; it danced over the great broad back and ponderous hips and thighs, to linger on the water after the passage of a lengthy tail. He would have bulked the equivalent of four or five, six-ton, African elephants combined. The heavy mudflats must have trembled under him. You might have felt the thudding jar of every step as he came along; leaving this great trail behind—just as the name Brontosaurus implies. . . . “A Thunder Lizard.”

I spent the rest of the afternoon photographing the trail and taking accurate measurements. A sense of both elation and futility marred my dreams that night. It was out of the question to remove even one of these washtub tracks—that would have to be a consideration for the future. In the end I had to be content with a pair of plaster casts. If anything should happen to the originals, they would constitute a record.

As to the mysterious stone artist, I never located such a man, nor did I try very hard to do so; I was satisfied. I really felt as if I owed the man a lot. The strange quest he started terminated in a manner far beyond anything I had expected. If the idea of tracing down originals had not occurred to me, then this story never would have been written. All the prints in Jack Hill’s had been well done— too well done, the only reason to suspect them. The one single “mystery print” that Ryals showed me checked with the descriptions of at least a dozen people, in regard to the others once seen there. How often I wished I could have seen them too! To me they are still as indefinite as the creature that made them. I think more will turn up another day, but that is, again, another hunch.

As for the sauropod tracks, their story is but half told. I have hesitated to deal with technical details in a narrative of this nature. Many interesting things are still to be learned about them, but that, like removing a trail-slab, is a fitting story for the future. This—just a tale of prospecting—has been offered for the value it alone may hold.

Incidentally, the big tracks were still there by the Paluxy River when I last saw them. It will be a hard, strenuous, not to mention expensive, job to take a series of them out. An ideal place to exhibit such a slab has already presented itself to Dr. Brown. There is ample room on the base of the Museum’s Brontosaurus, just under the mounting of his tail. So mounted it will appear as if this big fellow had just stepped out of them. In the river bed they will be soon worn away and lost forever. What could be more fitting than the place described? Like Brontosaurus, he, too, this Texas sauropod . . . had once moved forth against the world with thunder in his footsteps.

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