The Spirit of Big Thunder or The Thunderbird is a character from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
The Spirit of Big Thunder or, "The Thunderbird" was the ancestral protector spirit of Big Thunder Mountain which was renowned and worshiped by the shoshone indigenous people of the region. In 1849, colonist miner Henry Ravenswood, "discovered" gold in the Big Thunder Mountain range and established both the Big Thunder Mining Company and the mining-town of Thunder Mesa.
Ravenswood and his people stole the land of Big Thunder from the shoshone people, using legal authority and weaponry to keep them out and force them into submission. Due to all of this, the spirit of Big Thunder became deeply angered and began enacting natural disasters to try and fight off its abusers.
None of the Spirit's attempts truly worked until 1860 when a massive earthquake was summoned from Big Thunder Mountain which hit the town of Thunder Mesa. This earthquake sunk an entire portion of the town into a canyon and killed a large sum of Thunder Mesa's residents; namely its then-mayor, sheriff and the Ravenswoods, Henry and Martha.
Furthermore, those who had died in the earthquake haunted the canyon's ghost-town although how much the Thunderbird had to do with this remains unknown. As for the mountain, those who died haunted the trains and caused them to run out of control, day and night causing mass chaos and destruction for the miners.
Barnabas T. Bullion was a mining magnate, who owned and operated the Big Thunder Mining Company by 1880. Bullion mainly operated out of the mining towns of Tumbleweed (established in 1880) and Rainbow Ridge (established in 1869).
As the mining company would not relent, neither did the spirit of Big Thunder and accidents continued to be persistent in the operation as a result. In response to this, Barnabas sought help from his old friend Jason Chandler, the president of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. Chandler was an inventor who provided Bullion with a vast array of industrialized technology to aid in his operations, including:gas detection mechanisms hooked up to canary tanks, drilling machines, and specialized port-holes for observing employees in mines.
Chandler also however contacted an ally of his known as Madame Zarkov from the Museum of the Weird and relayed a message to Bullion from Zarkov that due to the thunderbird he should stop his operations. Bullion refused to listen to this advice however and one of the results was that the railroads of Big Thunder continued to be haunted and run on their own accords. The town of Rainbow Ridge suffered from constant intense earthquakes from the mountain meanwhile Tumbleweed was hit by an intense draught and later, intense flooding. By 1899, Bullion would be considered to be, "Long dead", quite possibly at the hands of Big Thunder Mountain's wrath.
The spirit of Big Thunder is partially inspired by the Thunderbird of North American indigenous mythology, being characterized as a massive spirit-bird which has flapping that causes thunderstorms. Exact characterization differs drastically from people to people but Ojibwa culture characterizes the creature as punishing evil humans, fitting in line with the story of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
The Spirit of Big Thunder is a major figure in the story of every incarnation of Big Thunder Mountain, always being affiliated with its disasters. Up until 2006, a stone-carved depiction of the Thunderbird could be seen on the attraction in Disneyland Paris.
Westernland (Disneyland Paris)
Theming and story elements regarding the Thunderbird can be found throughout Thunder Mesa in Disneyland Paris, not limited to Big Thunder.
In Disney Kingdoms: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Spirit of Big Thunder is visualized through the use of supernatural blue lightning. Like in the ride, it causes natural disasters and accidents to try and fight off the people of Rainbow Ridge and the Big Thunder Mining Company. At one point it personified itself through Onawa, one of the last indigenous people in the region who joined a gang of bandits to fight the company. At another point it dragged the evil foreman George Willikers down into its caverns to kill him as comeuppance. Eventually, the mining operation ended when Barnabas T. Bullion realized the company's misdeeds thanks to his daughter, Abigail.
- In real-life, there is a theory that the legend of the thunderbird originated from the misidentification of prehistoric-reptile bones as belonging to massive birds. Incidentally, Big Thunder Mountain has visible Tyrannosaurus-Rex skeletons within its rock-work. Tokyo Disneyland also has a triceratops skeleton visible in the mountain, visible from the Disneyland Railroad before entering the Primeval World display.
- The Thunderbird is similar to the Yeti from Expedition Everest. Namely that they are both Disney Parks characters based on famous cryptids and are renowned of legendary status to locals while being characterized as powerful protectors of their respective mountains.
- So far, the Spirit has only been referred to as the Thunderbird in Disneyland Paris while in American and Asian parks it is only referred to as the Spirit of Big Thunder.