BACK IN JANUARY, I highlighted a few of the Burke Museum’s astounding collection of 18 million-plus artifacts. It includes everything from a giant ground sloth from 10,000 years ago found at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to the world’s largest spider, which arrived here in 1934 in a banana shipment from Cuba.

Since then, the collection keeps growing, and so does the astounding part.

It now has acquired bones of the “Chicken from Hell,” or at least a cousin of this two-legged, rather homely, birdlike dinosaur a little larger than an ostrich that lived 66 to 68 million years ago. A male ostrich can reach 9 feet in size.

The bird’s scientific name is Anzu wyliei, and it weighed about 500 pounds, likely feeding on a variety of vegetation and small animals.

So far, only three remains of genus Anzu have been found. The Burke learned about this particular devil chicken from Dave Fuqua, a high school science teacher in Glendive in eastern Montana.

Fuqua also goes by the name “Dinodave.”

“I was raised on dinosaur bones,” he says about Glendive. “I mean, they’re right outside your door.”


That area is known as a world-class fossil bed because it’s located in the Hell Creek Formation that spans across not just Montana, but also the Dakotas and Wyoming.

All those millions of years ago, Seattle was underwater, and a large inland sea lapped up to this part of Montana. The subtropical climate there was like in today’s Mobile, Alabama.

Then came the mass extinction that wiped out around 75% of all plants and animals, including the Chicken from Hell that ended up preserved in the sandstone in these badlands.

It was Bill DeWalt, then-director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History of Pittsburgh, who in 2004 came up with the memorable name for the bird. In a phone interview, he remembers looking at a drawing of the bird, based on fossil bones found.

“People don’t want to hear scientific names. If you can capture their imagination, it really helps. This thing looked like an overgrown chicken, a really scary chicken,” he says.

Plus, it did come from the Hell Creek Formation. ” ‘Chicken from Hell’ just popped into my head,” he says, and a search-optimization name was born.


Dinodave says that, in 2018, he was out on Fort Peck Lake in the area when he noticed the hillside. Good dinosaur-bone-hunting place, he decided, and later went back.

“Just exposed enough” in the rock, he remembers, were these fascinating bones. “The best two days of dinosaur-hunting in my life.”

Fuqua knew better than to start digging.

He ended up contacting University of Washington professor Gregory Wilson Mantilla, who’s also the Burke’s curator of vertebrate paleontology. This past summer, once permits were arranged, that site, along with another one in Montana, was part of a dig.

The Burke has 40 bones from that one single bird, says the professor, including a claw. That one claw would fill your hand. Holding that claw, says Wilson Mantilla, “It’s a visceral reaction. It’s the business end of that animal. That was the killer element of that machine. It’s sharp and beautiful and dramatic.”