Aliens in the old west II - Mormons, blood, and monsters

“He looks down the barrel of his Winchester 1892 and takes aim. The strange flying bird, larger than the church in town, started to turn around, almost as if it had spotted him. It must have invisible wings because he can't see it at this distance, but the sound roars like a speeding train. It closes in, and he puts the finger on the trigger; when it's within range, he takes the shot. He could have sworn that it made a metallic sound on impact. The bird cancels the charge, goes straight up, and is out of sight within seconds.”

Howdy partner, nice to see you there. Take place by the fire while we continue the mission to discover what is genuine, fake, and somewhere in between on the TV show Ancient Aliens. With a background in archeology, our host Fredrik is trying to see what really did happen in our past.

Let's brush off the dirt and get back up in the saddle as we finish the second half of episode one from season three (S03E01) called "Aliens in the old west." 

We're going deep into America's early days and meeting its inhabitants that, according to some, tell strange tales of creatures not belonging there.

Today we will cover the genesis of the Mormon church or "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Are stories about angels and other beings evidence of an extraterrestrial influence on Joseph Smith? We look into the early days of church history and uncover a violent past with our scientific research. We unveil ties to the moundbuilder myth and a great dose of plastic shamanism. 

Later, we learn about Blackfoot mythology and read poetry from Walt Whitman. There's also the fate of Ambrose Bierce and a strange flying creature in both California and Arizona.

Our outro is written and performed by the band trallskruv; all other music in the show was used with permission. 


Joseph Smith and early LDS-history

Star clusters and the Jehovah's Witnesses

Mound builder myth


Wakara, massakers and wars

Star Beings

Above people and Zitkala-Za


Sci-Fi, poets, and portals

Devils Lake

Sources, resources and further reading suggestions

Hi, hello, and välkommen to Digging Up Ancient Aliens. This is the podcast where we examine the TV show, Ancient Aliens. Do their claims hold water to an archeologist, or are there better explanations out there? 

I am your host, Fredrik, and this is episode 22! This time we're back in the old west to close up episode one of season three called "Aliens and the old west." We started this episode last time, and this is part two, but you can follow along even if you have not heard the first episode. Even if you definitely should go back and listen to it either now or after this episode. This time though, we will deal with Mormon history that, according to the show, contain more aliens than you thought. We will also discuss "The above people" from the Blackfoot tradition, Thunderbirds and poetry. So we have quite the episode for you before going into all that.

Remember that you can find sources, resources, and reading suggestions on our website, There you also find contact info if you notice any mistakes or have any suggestions. And if you like the podcast, I would appreciate it if you left one of those fancy five-star reviews I've heard so much about. 

Enough of me yammering; let's travel back in time and see if you really should slam the door on those Mormons.


The show then decides that maybe we haven't talked enough about problematic people and racist notions. The narrator does not have to say more than "Palmyra New York" to send a cold shot down my spine. Some of you might have an idea now about what will come up. But we're going back to September 21, 1823. This is because the show will claim that this is the date when Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or Mormons as I'll refer to them as), met the Angel Moroni. The show also briefly shows the golden plates; a fun fact is that if the slabs existed, they would have weighed about 100 kg or 200 pounds each. Just picture Smith carrying these super heavy plates back to his cabin. The story of Joseph Smith is a weird blend of silly, stupid, racist, and dangerous. Since we have encountered the Mormons in the past, maybe we should look into them a little bit deeper due to the strange connection between the LDS church and Ancient Aliens.

Something worth remembering is that the history of the Mormon church is a strange tale filled with war, blood, and magical underwear. The church in 1800 was far from today's friendly and clean living church that today is worth about 100 Billion dollars. But they have done an excellent job in trying to erase the history that puts them in a bad light. If they've not been able to remove it, you'll note that they have downplayed much of it. So finding neutral information can be challenging. Take Wikipedia, for example; the pages about the LDS church are like a battleground between the church-friendly editors and other parties. As usual, I've tried to find as neutral sources as possible, and the websites and books used are listed in the show notes. 

Joseph Smith and early LDS-History

How about we start from the beginning? Let's sit down and hear about the origin of this belief. Joseph Smith is an exciting and problematic character that could quickly fill several episodes. If you are after that, I would recommend The Naked Mormonism Podcast hosted by Bryce Blankenagel. But little Jo was born on December 23, 1805. He did spend much of his formative years during the Second Great Awakening. This is a time in the US when religions realized they needed to compete for customers. But this time of religious fervor would give Smiths some ideas for later life. But Joseph was a known huckster, cheater, and smooth talker in his youth, this would not really change, but he added the prophet later on. This is not me just making things up; Smith has had many run-ins with the law. Some minor offenses, but before his death, he had advanced to treason and conspiracy to murder a Governor of Illinois, just to name a few. 

Portrait of Joseph Smith, 1842, painted by an unknown artist.
Portrait of Joseph Smith, 1842, painted by an unknown artist.

In his earlier years, Smith made his fortune, or what we should call it, by going door to door and claiming that there was treasure on the property. The story he told the owners was that with the help of magical seer stones, he had gained the location of the hidden wealth. You might be excused if you thought that Smith walked around, digging holes until the property owner got tired. But it was not Smith who did the digging; no, that was the owners' responsibility. Smith mainly sat on the side trying to ensure that the diggers followed god rules. Because if they did something that angered god, the treasure was moved to a new location, and they needed to start over. So all he did was lazily supervise a few men, and if they questioned this, god became angry. Out of this, Smith got a place to sleep, some food, and access to the daughters on the farm. I don't think we need to go into more detail here. 

But the seer stones would make a return with the plates. This is because the Angel Moroni, I mean really, revealed the location of the tablets to Smith. Maybe it was an "I told you I could treasure"; perhaps it was laziness, but Smith could translate these magical tablets with the seer stones. But no one was allowed to see the plates. Trey Parker and Matt Stone described this whole thing quite well in the South Park episode "All about the Mormons." Even if the "Book of Mormons" is the most known, they have two others that are canonized, the "Doctrine and Covenants" and the "Pearl of Great Price." 

Even if the LDS church today is a large organization accepted by mainstream society, it didn't start out like that. They had a couple of things against them, first was religious bigotry. Even if you slap a Jesus sticker on your new faith, it would be hard to gain acceptance in 1830. Even if the second great awakening had occurred, people were still skeptical about the millenarianism sects of which early Mormonism was a part. Millennialism is not a movement for 30-something who is bragging about when they had a walkman. No, it is a belief that paradise would be on earth, not heaven. Or the simple version of it, at least. The second thing working against Mormonism was that Smith didn't stop being a con artist just because he started to work for Jesus. His criminal records grew even when leading the church; he was mainly fond of banking frauds. But he was not afraid of planning murders on officials, treasons, inciting riots, and starting some of the Mormon wars. 

A third thing creating friction for the Mormons was when Smith realized that people believed him. He started then to have more revelations, and suddenly he could sleep with everybody's daughters. He also added the idea of the gentiles and how they were inferior to the Mormons. So as you hear, they did a few things that, for quite apparent reasons, might create friction with the neighbors. Now the church will talk themselves silly about the first part. But they are evasive about the other two, almost actively trying to suppress this information.

Joseph Smith also believed that Zion would be a place in the US. In 1930 Smith had a revelation that said that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would take part in Independence, Missouri. It is a town most notable for being a pitstop for Lewis and Clark on their travels and the Donner party. At first, the Mormons' arrival to the city was peaceful, but tensions grew due to the reasons we brought up earlier. They got expelled in 1833 but stayed in the area, culminating with the first Mormon war in 1838. Smith learned from his mistakes and, in 1844, gave Zion a more fluent location: "The whole of America is Zion itself from north to south, and is described by the Prophets, who declare that it is the Zion where the mountain of the Lord should be, and that it should be in the center of the land." Without a fixed point, the church could leave Independence behind and find a new Zion again.

After being hounded out of Independence, Smith found a new town at the eastern border of Illinois called Venus (before that, Quashquema), which had begun as a settlement of the indigenous Americans. Due to the church's number, they could take over the town and, through democratic means, seize the political offices in 1839. Smith was elected mayor, and the town's name was changed to Nauvoo. Nauvoo comes from the Hebrew word Navu meaning beautiful. This is a reference to Jesaja 52:7, so Smith could say that this was a part of the new Zion. 

The downfall and death of Smith started with a newspaper called Nauvoo Expositor. When you know that this paper leads to Smith's end, you might expect a Guardian-level operation. But in fact, it only published one issue on June 7, 1844. Nauvoo Expositor was created by former church members and contained criticism of Joseph Smith's doctrines. Smith did not like this and decided to go on the offense. So the publicists were ordered to be arrested, and a trial was held between the 8th and 10th of June. The paper was deemed to be a public nuisance and ordered annihilated. A posse of some 100 people burned the building to the ground. 

First edition of Nauvoo Expositor published on June 7, 1844. Title and motto
First edition of Nauvoo Expositor published on June 7, 1844.

One publicist named Francis M. Higbee sent out a letter trying to get help from the state. The news about the newspaper's destiny spread, and papers published the statement across the state. Fearing a rebellion, Smith declared martial law on June 18 and called in the local militia of 5000 men. Fearing civil war Governor Ford ordered Smith arrested and rounded up a posse. Smith fled to Iowa but would later surrender on June 25.

Smith died on June 27, 1844, but the circumstances are a bit foggy. The official church position is that a mob fueled by religious bigotry stormed in and slew Joseph Smith. He was shot in the back and tumbled out of a window, trying to escape. On the other side, we have the successor Brigham Young staging the event with a portion of the Mormon army to get rid of Smith. We might never learn the answer, but we know that Young would take on the role of the new charismatic leader of the faith. Under this new regime, the Mormons would continue their pursuit of their Zion and later find it in Utah. We will look into what happened there a little bit later. Young did institute an oath of vengeance as a part of the endowment into the church. This oath to take revenge on the US was not removed until 1930. For the annals, I just want to say that this is in no way a thorough retelling of Smith and LDS history. It's long and even more ludicrous than I've managed to cover here.

Star clusters and the Jehovah's Witnesses 

But let's return to our TV show here. So they've mentioned that Smith got the plates from an angel called Moroni. Since angels come down from heaven, Smith must be talking about an alien. We then have Logan Hawk, who says:

"Moroni claimed to be from the Pleiades star cluster. So, a church today, nine million members strong, believes that their church may have originated not of this world, but of another world."

The issue here is that Hawk is blending two cults, the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons. The JW squad does have an idea that god is located within the Pleiades. This was due to an early widespread notion during 1800 that the Pleiades was the center of the universe. As for the Angel Moroni, the name was not used for the Angel who visited Smith until 1835. In preparation for "Doctrine and Covenants," Smith named the Angel Moroni, who would be the spiritual version of the prophet Moroni. Moroni was the last person to inscribe the golden tablets; he was a human on earth, to be precise. But the name was later changed by Smith to Nephi, the first translator of the tablets. But the church later considered it a mistake and changed the name to Moroni again after Smith's death.

If we look into the Mormon doctrines, we find the book of Abraham in which Smith asserted there was a star/planet named Kolob. Kolob was presumed to be near the throne of god and a representation of the first creation. So Logan Hawk has cherry-picked the things he liked and then put them together, hoping nobody would notice. 

Mound builder myth

They then say that the tablets were found in Cumorah Hill, but it's important to note that Cumorah Hill is not a mound or manufactured structure. The hill's name is an invention of Smith and was unimportant to the local population before this. But Coppens comes in with this quite interesting quote:

"We have since found out that in burial mounds and other mounds across the Native American region we have such plates. These written tables have been found, and not just in North America, but also in South America. This entity tells Joseph Smith to go on a physical search for an object, which we know could have been an archeological finding."

The narrator continues:

"According to Ancient Astronaut Theorists, Moroni may, in fact, have been a Star Being – an extraterrestrial whose mission was to pass down to Smith and his followers the advanced knowledge of the mound builders."

Smith probably "found" the tablets in the hill, or mound as he calls it, so he can hint at the myth about moundbuilders. As settlers moved west, they started encountering mounds and earthworks that we attribute to the Adena culture today. But to the 19th-century minds, the mounds were too advanced to have been built by the indigenous people. The idea about the moundbuilders had started to appear, an "evolved" race that had been lost to time. Several different hypotheses circulated on who the builders were. Maybe it was Egyptians, an enclave of welsh people, a settlement of Norwegians, or perhaps it was a lost tribe of Israel. Basically, anything other than the native Americans who had been living in these lands for generations. For example, JW Foster, the president of Chicago the academy of science, reasoned that native Americans "/../ was never known to engage in an enterprise requiring methodical labor; he dwells in temporary and movable habitations. /…/ To suppose that such a race threw up the strong lines of circumvallation and the symmetrical mounds wich crown so many of our river-terraces is preposterous, almost, as to suppose they built the pyramids of Egypt." note that this quote is from 1887 from one of the leading scientists of the time. As we said with Serpent mound in the last episode, the day's science was not above racist ideas. 

There were more claims to support the myth about the mound builders. Another was that there had been finds of metal objects in the mound. It is correct that the indigenous people of North America never got too far in metallurgy. So the presence of metallic artifacts in the mounds was evidence that it must have been someone else. But when these objects were re-examined, the metal objects were of native copper. Copper is one of those metals that you can find raw in nature. This is why most metalworking cultures have started with copper; you can call it a gateway metal. That the pure copper is easily worked is just a bonus, and we have some beautiful artifacts preserved to our days. It is not as if they found some stainless steel or Oneida silverware in the mounds.

Vax cast of the Grave Creek Stone
A plaster cast of the Grave Creek Stone By Smithsonian Institution -, Public Domain.

Another argument in favor of the moundbuilders being another more advanced race was that there were tablets with alphabetic letters in the mounds. Some were misinterpretations of archeological finds, but some were pure hoaxes. The earliest is probably the Grave Creek Tablet, found in 1838. The signs have been attributed to greek, Norse, or Phoenician. But no one has been able to determine if the author tried to relay a message or just scribbled random signs on it. We can also count Smith's tablets among these hoaxes, even if we have not seen any evidence of them existing. 

But we also have the Key-stone, a small arrow or cheese slicer formed stone inscribed with Hebrew letters reading "the laws of Jehova," "the word of the Lord," "the holy of holies," and "the king of the earth." Another stone called Decalogue with the ten commandments was also found, written in Hebrew but strangely in a different accent. If they were lost tribes of Israel, it's hard to believe they would use two versions of the script tied to varying times in Israel. What makes it stranger is that some grammatical parts indicate they were written in 1800. So both of these can be reasonably called frauds.

Furthermore, we have the Davenport tablets found while excavating mounds in Davenport, Iowa. These are crude forgeries with something that is supposed to resemble languages and planetary movement. But since they used tiles from a local house to produce this fraud, we are confident these are bad forgeries.

Some tablets have been found in native American mounds that aren't forgeries and hoaxes. They are commonly called the Adena tablets and are several tablets found especially in mounds. The problem for us is that only two were found by archeologists; the rest were found by treasure hunters. Looking at the patterns, design, and where these tablets were located, archeologists are pretty sure that the tablets are associated with the Adena culture. They are modest in size; you will be able to hold one in your hand. 

Most importantly, these plates were not really meant to be read. While analyzed, it's become evident that they were meant to be utilized as stamps. Within the tablets' groves are traces of red ochre, animal fat, water, and in some cases, urine. These components would have made a relatively efficient color for printing. We always have, as a species, tried to decorate our belongings and make out self more stunning. So I don't think this is a far leap.

The most considerable effort to disprove the moundbuilder myth was made by Cyrus Thomas in 1882. Armed with 5000 dollars, he went through the evidence wonderfully academically. This resulted in a 700-page report in 1894 called "Report on the mound explorations of the Bureau of Ethnology," where he laid out things we discussed. Even if most of us have come a long way since early 19th-century archaeology, these ideas remain as we see in the show. I do not know if Coppens meant the tablets with or without the letters, but it's clear he was talking about the moundbuilders. Our friend Graham Hancock did revisit this myth in a new form with Atlantis mixed into this as late as 2019. The book is called "America Before: The Key to Earth's Lost Civilization," but if I were you, I'd stay away from it. If you want to explore this subject more, I would instead turn to Jason Colavito's book "The Mound Builder Myth: Fake History and the Hunt for a "Lost White Race." You find a deep excavation of the moundbuilder myth there, and I highly recommend the book. 


But what do the moundbuilders have to do with Joseph Smith? As we mentioned earlier, part of this myth told about lost tribes of Israel coming to America and building these mounds. This idea also appears in Joseph Smith's writing, and in "Book of Mormon," Smith talks about how white Israelis who believed in Jesus traveled across the sea to the new world. They were called Nephites, but some turned wicked and rebellious. These evil people called themself Lamanites, and their wrongful living turned their skin dark. Smith wrote in the 2 Nephi fifth chapter:

"And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them."

Similar to Ham's story, the difference is that the Lamanites did more than see their drunk-ass father naked. Hams' skin does not turn black in this story, but this passage was often used in the colonial period to justify slavery. Though this passage was probably an inspiration for Smith. The Mormons did believe that their whiteness was a divine sign of them being the chosen people; their whiteness was what set them apart from the darker tainted people. It was even a foundation for priesthood within the church. In 1844 Brigham Young clarified that being of Abraham's pure and unmixed seed was essential to be considered for the priesthood. With the seed of Abraham, Brigham Young meant that you were white. 

Young would continue to use the Ham passage to justify that cursed people can't hold the priesthood; by cursed, he meant black. He cleared this in a speech in 1852, cementing the church's view on the matter.

"Lord told Cain that he should not receive the priesthood nor his seed, until the last of the posterity of Able had received the priesthood, until the redemption of the earth. If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the priesthood, for the curse on them, until the residue of the posterity of Michael and his wife receive the blessings, the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed."

This idea was in effect until the 1970s, and the passage about the amenities in later editions changed. 

But due to this Lamanite connection, the indigenous people had a paradoxical relation to the early Mormons. They were doomed to be looked at as inferior, but according to the book of Mormon prophecies, they had the capabilities to become superior. A direct descendant of the Nephites, cursed, but curses can be broken. The Mormon church believed that the Native Americans, if properly converted, could again become white. This idea led to Mormons taking in children from native American families, not all voluntary, to be servants. Later in the previous century, it changed to give proper education, as they call it. All of it to make "white people" out of them. This "education" program was active up until the 1970 or 1980s in some areas. 

We explored the history of appropriation of the native American culture last episode. The LDS have not been innocent of this either. For example, in early meetings, they often talked in tounges imitating a made-up version of Native American languages, and chanted and danced "just like Indians." These are just a few examples of how the Mormons under Smith and later church leaders have incorporated real and fictional native American elements into their teachings. 

Wakara, massakers and wars

Now when we have a better understanding of the foundation of the LDS church, we will move on to the Mormons' entry into Utah.

Joseph Smith felt such a strong connection to the Native Americans that he believed they could help guide him to a new holy land, which he called "the new Zion." Although Smith died in 1844, the victim of mob violence – his successor, Brigham Young, ultimately led the Mormons further west to Utah. In 1849, when the Mormons arrived in the area of Parowan Gap, local Ute leader, Chief Wakara, told them they had entered "God's own house" and showed them proof in the form of petroglyphs dating back thousands of years.

We have covered Smith's idea about the new Zion already, and Utah was a logical place due to not yet being part of the US. Utah would become a territory in 1850, and it would not be until 1896 that it would become a state. The Mormons settled early in 1849 with the skeptical approval of the local leaders. The Native Americans in the area did call themselves the "Niche" or "The people," then they were divided into smaller bands such as "Fish eaters" and "Lake people." But the identity was fleeting, and a family cluster could change bands over time. It was not as in Europe, where we identify with our place of birth. 

Allowing the Mormons to settle was a form of protection against the US's attempts to get the indigenous people off the lands. But relations did turn sour rather quickly; just during 1849, the Mormons committed two massagers, killing some 100 native Americans. From this point, the relationships between different bands and the Mormons were fleeting and mostly forged out of necessity. Chief Wakara did take advantage of this; being quite a character, he tried to use the Mormons to his advantage as much as possible. This gave him numerous names among the anglo-American settlers, such as "Napoleon of the dessert" or "Indian land pirate." Showing their admiration and contempt at the same time in their names. 

Wakara did have some 150 people in his band, but the individuals changed over time. What set Wakara apart was his approach to nomadism and horses. While the other people in Utah were sedimentary, Wakara was in motion. If he saw an opportunity to get ahead, he took it; this made him neither friend nor foe to the Mormons. Wakara seems to have been a complicated person. This did not fit well with the white Mormon's ideal of the indigenous people. After the chief's death, they wrote him as a more simplistic character. Since the native Americans were supposed to be aggressors, they even made up stories on how Wakara, in 1950, tried to attack Fort Provo but instead had his band howl in the night. 

The Mormons even staged reenactments of "Indian attacks" during festivities, where they dressed up as Native Americans and pretended to attack the celebrations. This would later be picked up by Buffalo Bill and his shows. The dressing up as native Americans was not limited to only pretend attacks. It was also used in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, where they dressed up and attacked the Banker-Fisher wagon train heading for California. They killed some 140 people but spared children young enough to not remember the events. Those were given to local families to raise as Mormons.

Parowan Gap petroglyphs in Utah
One section of Parowan Gap petroglyphs. Photo taken by -ted - Flickr: Parowan Gap, CC BY 2.0,

As for the petroglyphs, the quote can be traced to an expedition led by the LDS-member Parley P. Pratt. Since Wakara had directed them to the site of Parowan Gap petroglyphs, it could be well argued that he tried to elucidate that this was a holy site in a way these settlers would comprehend. While Christians see the place of god as a building, many other religions tend to have the gods around them. I'm not sure why the show focuses on the quote; it seems as if someone is trying to describe their culture to an outsider.

Star Beings

Tsoukalos then starts talking about petroglyphs, and the show presents a sample. Some are from the area, others unknown places; the show wants us to believe they are all from the same site. We bring this up since any strange petroglyph to Tsoukalos will mean it's an alien. As we've mentioned, they see what they want to see in these cases. But we use this to launch ourselves into the next section. Star Beings, ancestors, people, or children, these beings come with numerous names and in diverse forms. We've encountered them before, and we will try to explore them a bit more in this section. Now the show wants us to connect the star people with the Mormon angel Moroni and the Lumeleys UFO crash described by the Weird Wild West author Josh Walen as follows:

"In 1865 [October 19, editors note], the Missouri Democrat reported that a trapper saw the light traveling through the sky at night. It flew over his camp, broke apart, and crashed in the forest some miles away. The next day he tracked it down and found a large stone embedded in the side of a mountain. It was hollow; it was cracked open; he claimed there were chambers inside of it, and there were hieroglyphic markings on it. And there was also some mysterious liquid spilled around the area. But the newspaper, you know, went so far as to suggest that these were meteoric conveyances of aliens from Mercury or Uranus. So, the whole idea of UFO crashes was explored in the 19th century almost a hundred years before Roswell."

Complete with Egyptian hieroglyphs, it sounds like an invention of its time. I've not been able to find the original article itself, but we must remember that newspapers of the day had a different approach than many in our time. Even today, we struggle with misinformation, and as we explored in the last episode about the Aurora crash, they were not above printing internal jokes as news. 

Above people and Zitkala-Za

But with this story, we get a brief presentation about the Sky beings by Andrew Collins. He tells us that the Blackfoot tribe has a tradition where beings come down from the sky in "Sky vehicles." Nowhere in the literature could I find references to vehicles, but we have to remember that myths can evolve over time, so Mr. Collings might have heard a newer version where wagons had been incorporated. 

Photograph of Zitkala-Ša with her violin in 1898
Photograph of Zitkala-Ša with her violin in 1898, taken by Gertrude Kasebier

But it is true that among the Blackfoot people and other tribes, there is an idea about the Above People (Sky beings). The main characters we might encounter are the Sun, the Moon, the Morningstar, and the Star-boy. 

In the story of the Star Boy, he and his mother are thrown down from the sky world due to the mother's disobedience. The boy or Poia is marked with a terrible scar and can't marry. Poia embarks on a long journey to meet the Sun and get his forgiveness. The Sun does forgive Poia and returns him to earth where the scar is gone and is bestowed with the sacred knowledge of the Sun Dance. 

So the above people or sky beings have a place among Native American cultures. But to call these aliens is to reduce a complex and living culture, not that this has stopped the ancient alien crowd. We know they do this with all religions to some extent. But with the beliefs of the native Americans, they've taken more narrative freedom.

We then meet Standing Elk from the Yankton Dakota Tribe, part of the Sioux People. The Dakota people share some ideas with the Blackfoot, such as Sun-dances and star men. Tikal-Za was a Yankton Dakota woman known for her writings, musical talent, and political activism. She wrote a few of these stories in her book "Old Indian Legends" in 1901. Tikal-Za is quite the character; she wrote an opera and championed Native American rights. I would happily talk more about her, but I'll add some links to her essays in the show notes.

But why Standing-Elk (or Loren Zephier), who was a chief among the Yankton Dakota tribe and a Sun-dance chief, was not the one retelling the story about the sky beings is a bit odd. However, Standing-Elk appears on the show to talk about how he was visited by extraterrestrial beings. He did write about all of this in his book "Maka Wicahpi Wicohan: Universal and Spiritual Laws of Creation" and is a frequent flyer among UFO- and new age events. 

This was basically everything we got on the Above People. Quite disappointing, to be honest; most of it focused on the white experience rather than having a native American perspective. We're not done yet, and we will see more about just that in the next section.


We are going to Tombstone, Arizona, and the narrator starts to talk about Wyat Earp and OK Corral, but we're not going to talk about them. Why bring up Wyat Earp and OK Corral if you will not use them? 

The show talks about two cowboys who saw a giant creature in the sky, looking like an alligator with wings out of membrane. We then hear how the story has grown into different versions, changing until the creature is bulletproof. The show is alluding to an article in the Tombstone Epitaph published on April 26, 1890. In this article, the cowboys are two ranchers returning home; they spot the creature who seems exhausted on the ground at first. When they get closer, it flies up and away a little bit but returns to earth. After a few more flights, the creature turns against the two ranchers, who easily stay out of its way and shoot at it. After a few shots, the beast is unmovable on the ground. The creature was 92 feet (28 m) long, and the head was 8 (2,5 m) feet with giant teeth. The wingspan was a whopping 192 feet (58 m), but it only had two little paws. 

Article from Tombstone Epitaph, 1890, about a winged creature
An excerpt from the Tombstone Epitaph published April 26, 1890. Titled "Found on the desert."

If you look into this story, you note it's only one article, but it has evolved over the years. Some claim it was in 1886 and a second in 1890; some photos are circulating, but these are known hoaxes. But the show's idea that this is some sort of spacecraft is clearly not.

Sci-Fi, poets, and portals

Tsoukalos then talks about the tommyknockers and ghost riders, and ghost trains. He wonders if these were campfire stories invented on the spot or built on actual events. I'm not sure what method Tsoukalos uses to differentiate between fiction and non-fiction, but it needs some tweaking. From his writing and speaking on the show, it feels as if it comes down to "if it benefits me, this legend is real."

From this, we talk about Transcendentalism, science fiction, and poetry. Michel J Crow gives us this quote:

"Transcendentalism was perhaps the leading philosophy developed in America in the 19th century. One of the founding figures in it was Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was his belief in extraterrestrial life that led him to depart from Christianity, and another author who is part of that is the poet Walt Whitman. His most famous book, 1855, was "The Leaves of Grass." And in "The Leaves of Grass," there are like 200 references to astronomy. He believed strongly in extraterrestrials."

Transcendentalism was popular in America since it is a highly American philosophy. It talks about the natural goodness in people, how society and government have corrupted them, and that people can only be their best if self-reliant. But Walt Whitman was not a pure transcendentalist, he incorporates parts of it in his poetry, but you'll find a lot of realism there too. He moved between these two movements during his life and writings. As for the poetry collection they mention, I found two references to astronomy there. If you count things like the sun, moon, stars, sky, and something that can be found above your head. Sure, you might end up at 200, but I'm not sure where Crow gets this idea. Neither do I get ET vibes from the collections. I think they would need to point out some more specific poems. Whitman was known to speak his mind, and I can't find that he conveyed anything about beings from space. To get a feeling of what Whitman wrote the poem you can read the poem "Going somewhere" here:

 My science-friend, my noblest woman-friend, 

 (Now buried in an English grave—and this a memory-leaf for her dear sake,) 

 Ended our talk—“The sum, concluding all we know of old or modern learning, intuitions deep, 

 “Of all Geologies—Histories—of all Astronomy—of Evolution, Metaphysics all, 

 “Is, that we all are onward, onward, speeding slowly, surely bettering, 

 “Life, life an endless march, an endless army, (no halt, but it is duly over,) 

 “The world, the race, the soul—in space and time the universes, 

 “All bound as is befitting each—all surely going somewhere.” 

But from poetry, we move toward early Science Fiction; you might, when hearing this, have several American authors pop up. But you are all wrong except if you thought about Ambrose Bierce. Born in 1842, he was a Civil War Veteran of the Union Army, writer, and journalist. He may be most known for his book "the devils' dictionary," which could be described as an early "Urban Dictionary." The book contains some 100 words with satirical definitions and is by many thought of as one of the American masterpieces. Bierce was considered one of the most influential journalists in the USA and worked until his end. If you might have read a story by him, it's most likely "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," written as a stream of consciousness with a famous twist ending I won't give away here. 

Ambrose Bierce with scull
Portrait of Ambrose Bierce

Even if Bierce dabbles with some early Sci-Fi, this is not really what he's most famous for. Nor is his story "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field" first published in the San Francisco Examiner on October 14, 1888. Logan Hawk gives the story spark notes but adds things that are not there. For example, he claims that the wife says she can hear the husband's voice from a circle that was left in the field. But this is Hawk's own addition. I'm not against that a fictional story expands and is rewritten by the narrator. But you can't add things to a fictional story and then say that the story with the additions is true. But we see this quite often with the Ancient Alien theorists.

Due to time reasons, I'll not retell the story here, but I'll narrate the original story from 1888 in a little bonus episode if you want to hear more. As usual, you will find it in the show notes connected to this episode on the website.

We do not know precisely how Ambrose died, but the show has a few ideas. Childress suspects that the journalist maybe got himself into a mystical portal:

"At the very early part of 20th-century, Ambrose Bierce was in Northern Mexico, in this area that's known for strange phenomenon, called Paquime, this area too is thought to be another one these interdimensional portal areas."

Logan Hawks think that maybe Bierce met up with F.A Mitchell-Hedges. Yes, that Mitchell-Hedges, the one famous for the "Crystal Scull." The idea is that they meet up in Paquime to go to the largest Crystal Cave in the world to communicate with the scull. They figured out the language and unlocked an interdimensional portal that brought Bierce to the Extra Terrestrials. 

The then 71-year-old Bierce was indeed in Chihuahua City in 1913. This creates a few problems for the Mitchell-Hedges connection since, according to them, it was found in 1924 in Belize. The crystal cave Hawks mentions had a small part discovered in 1910, but the main feature that would make it the largest in the world would not be found until 2000. 

In 1913 Ambrose Bierce set out on a tour of Civil War Battlefields, but in El Paso, Texas, he decided it would be more interesting to follow Pancho Villas's army as an observer. We know he witnessed the Battle of Tierra Blanca and did continue with the military to Chihuahua City. The show then adds something that, in fact, happens. John Hafner explains:

"While there, he sent his last communication that we know of, which was a letter, and that letter ended with this ominous line: "As for me, I leave tomorrow for an unknown destination."

After this letter, no more communication is known, and we do not know what happened. Investigations place Amboce in town, but witnesses do not know what ensued after. But would it be far-fetched that his age caught up, he got into the crossfire, or any other reason other than aliens? Some speculate that he committed suicide to avoid the effects of old health; others speculate that he got himself in front of a firing squad. We do have another among his last letters in which Bierce say 

"Good-bye. If you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think it is a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico--ah, that is euthanasia!"

To be genuine, I do not know what happened with Ambrose Bierce; hopefully, we might learn someday. But with everything about Ambrose, I think that aliens are the least likely explanation for his disappearance and a pretty boring one if it is true. 

Devils Lake

From Paquime, we're steering northeast towards Los Angeles and Elizabeth Lake just west of Lancaster. The lake is almost 2,5 kilometers long and sits on the San Andreas faultline, and most people would not think twice about this lake. But it is apparently hiding something monstrous under it. The show tells us that the lake's original name is "La Laguna de Diablo" or "The Devil's Lake" because the settlers in the area believed that a devil creature would rise from it. The name Devils lake was noted by the priest Junipero Serra in 1780. It would later switch to "La Laguna de Chico Lopez" due to rancher Mr. Lopez owning so much land in the area. The name Elizabeth it has today might stem from Elizabeth Clayton Clark. Her family started a trading post/restaurant by the lake, and she was so beloved by the clientele that when she died, the lake was renamed.

The lake has also served as a point to divide the territories of the tribes Serrano, Tataviam, and Kitanemuk. Unfortunately, the language of these indigenous people has died out, and in my research, I could not find what they called the lake. But the idea about the devil came from the European settlers in the area, not the Native American people.

We then hear the story about how this creature was hassling the locals, rising from the water, and stealing cattle. The eyes shoot fire or lightning, and it has a tremendous sound. This story comes in a few different variations; the folklore likes to connect the rancher Lopez to the monster. The man responsible for getting rid of it in the lore is called Miguel Leonis. With his no-nonsense attitude, he grabbed his rifle and shot at the beast, who was immune to the bullets but fled. Some stories describe the monster as a dragon, some as a griffin, while others don't really identify the monster. But note that in all of these stories, they talk about a living creature with wings. Not some sort of steampunk UFO with wings.

Article from LA Times, 1886, The fiery dragon of Elizabeth Lake
An excerpt from the LA Times published 1886. Titled "A holy terror, The fiery dragon of Elizabeth Lake"

I found an article from 1886 published in the Los Angeles Times, where they printed one version of the story. They start the article by taunting another paper for printing these reports, but the LA times have now gotten proof. The story might rival Nibelungenlied, but it's from a trustworthy man called Peter B. Simpson. The story has been around some time, but it seems as if it's not until later than this Lopez got connected to it. The news article contains most of the elements we hear in the story. It's written with a bit of tongue and cheek, so I'm not sure if this article was meant to be taken seriously or if it was a fun story for a lazy Sunday afternoon. 

They are trying to present the etymology of placenames with the name devil in them. We get a quote from Standing Elk, but I feel it's heavily taken out of context. Standing Elk claims that places, where mysterious things happened got the word devil associated with them. For example, he brings up Devil's Lake and the Devil's Tower. The fact that he brings up the Devil's Tower I consider to be a clear indication that they might have taken this out of context.

The Devil's Tower is a butte that, among Native Americans, is known as different variations of "the bear's lodge" but is also known as "great grey horn" or "brown buffalo horn." This mountain there's a couple of holy stories associated with it and is viewed to this day as a sacred site.  

We have not really talked about the Thunderbird in Native American myths. This is primarily because the show has not brought it up, either. They talk about these peculiar folk legends told by settlers and loosely connect them to indigenous people to sell you the "Dragon theory." The Dragon theory is if it is flying and spitting thunder or fire, it must be a UFO they are describing with their primitive vocabulary. 

The issue here is that there is not a "one" thunderbird. Most of the tribes on the Midwestern, Plains, and Northwest Coast have their version of the bird. Some elements match while others don't. Its size differs; among some, it's a sacred force of nature; among others, it's a powerful being but no more special than other animals. The show simplifies the tale so much that it's a new version. As we discussed last week, it's a form of plastic shamanism; they want to sell you the idea that native Americans have UFOs in their religion since they are more attuned to nature. 

Remember to be careful about new-age-like claims about indigenous people since they are often wrong. We have seen this repeatedly in this episode and in previous episodes. If you give them a myth, they will change it until it fits. On that note, we will leave the wild west for now.


Remember to leave a positive review anywhere you can, such as iTunes, Spotify, or to your friend at the trench. I would also recommend visiting to find more info about me and the podcast. You can also find me on most social media sites, and if you have comments, corrections, suggestions, or just want to write an email in all caps, you can find my contact info on the website.

You will find all the sources and resources used to create this podcast on our website. You will often also find further reading suggestions if you want to learn more about the subjects we bring up.

The intro music was created by Alexander Nakarada, and our outro is by the band called Trallskruv, who sings their song "tin foil hat." Links to both these artists will be found in the show notes.

Until next time, keep shoveling that science!

Sources, resources and further reading suggestions

A Holy Terror. The Fiery Dragon of Elizabeth Lake. (1888). Los Angeles Times. [online] 1 Aug. Available at:

Bastian, D.E. and Mitchell, J.K. (2008). Handbook of Native American mythology. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Bednarik, R.G. (1988). Archaeological potentials of the Parowan Gap site, Utah. In: Rock art studies in the Americas. Symposium B. Oxford: Oxbow Monograph 45, Oxbow Books, pp.93–98.

Bierce, A. (1888). ‘The Difficulty of Crossing a Field’. [online] Available at:

Blankenagel, B. (2022) The naked Mormonism podcast. Avalible here:

Bushman, C.L. and Bushman, R.L. (2001). Building the kingdom : a history of Mormons in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Caldwell, D. (2014). A new ordering of Adena tablets based on a deeper reading of the McKensie Tablet. RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 65/66, 105–127.

Colavito, J. (2020). The Mound Builder Myth: Fake History and the Hunt for a ‘Lost White Race’. 1st ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Farmer, J. (2008). On Zion’s mount : Mormons, Indians, and the American landscape. Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press.

Feder, K.L. (2019). Archaeological oddities : a field guide to forty claims of lost civilizations, ancient visitors, and other strange sites in North America. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Fowler, L. (2016). Why Several Native Americans Are Suing the Mormon Church for Sexual Abuse. [online] The Atlantic. Available at:

Harris, M.L. and Bringhurst, N.G. (2015). The Mormon church and blacks : a documentary history. Urbana: University Of Illinois Press.

Henderson, G.A. (2019). Adena Engraved Tablets. [online] 30 Days of Kentucky Archaeology. Available at:

Henderson, G.A. and Schlarb, E.J. (2007). Adena: Woodland Period Moundbuilders of the Bluegrass. [online] Lexington: Kentucky Heritage Council. Available at:

Lewis, O. (2016). Seeking Native American Spirituality and Traditional Religion: Read This First! [online] Available at:

Murphy, T. W. (2005). Sin, Skin, and Seed: Mistakes of Men in the Book of Mormon. The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, 25, 36–51.

Spence, L. and Lewis, J.E. (2013). A Brief Guide to Native American Myths and Legends. London: Constable & Robinson.

Tadeusz Lewandowski (2019). RED BIRD, RED POWER : the life and legacy of zitkala-a. S.L.: Univ Of Oklahoma Press.

Talmage, J. (2019). Black, White, and Red All Over: Skin Color in the Book of Mormon. Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 28, pp.46–68.

Thomas, C. (1894). Report on the mound explorations of the Bureau of Ethnology. [online] Maryland: Bureau of American Ethnology.

Tombstone epitaph. (Tombstone, Ariz.), 26 April 1890. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Underwood, G. (1999). The millenarian world of early Mormonism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Whitman, W. (2013). Leaves of grass: the first edition of 1855 and the death bed edition of 1892. E-artnow Editions.

Zitkala-S̈a (2021). Old Indian legends. Portland: Mint Editions. (


“Folie hatt” by Trallskruv