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Topic Started: Jan 6 2013, 03:58 PM (3,183 Views)
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The Piasa, also called the Piasa Bird, is a legendary avian creature from Native American Folklore which was immortalized in a rock bluff mural painted by Native Americans on a cliff above the Mississippi River. The original Piasa illustration, located in Jersey County near present day Elsah, Illinois, no longer exists, but a newer version, based partly on 19th century sketches and lithographs, has been erected in Alton, Illinois, southeast of the original.

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There has been some debate over the translation of the creature’s name, some believe that the word Piasa translates into Great Bird that Devours Men, while others believe that this could not be the case and that Piasa is from the Miami-Illinois word payiihsa, the name of a small supernatural dwarf thought to attack travelers.

In 1673, the French explorer Father Jacques Marquette, while recording his famous journey down the Mississippi River with Louis Jolliet, was the first explorer to discover the original rock bluff mural, he recorded the following description upon seeing it for the first time:

While Skirting some rocks, which by their height and length inspired awe, We saw upon one of them two painted monsters which at first made us afraid, and upon which the boldest savages dare not long rest their eyes. They are as large as a calf; they have horns on their heads like those of a deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard Like a tiger's, a face somewhat like a man's, a body covered with scales, and so long a tail that it winds all around the body, passing above the head and going back between the legs, ending in a fish's tail. green, red, and black are the three colors composing the picture. Moreover, these 2 monsters are so well painted that we cannot believe that any savage is their author; for good painters in France would find it difficult to reach that place conveniently to paint them. Here is approximately the shape of these monsters, as we have faithfully copied it.

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This creature depicted in the rock painting was first referred to as the Piasa Bird in an article published in 1836 by John Russell of Bluffdale, Illinois. According to the article, which was entitled The Bird That Devours Men, the creature depicted by the painting was a huge flying monster that lived in the cliffs. Russell claimed that the creature attacked and devoured people in nearby Indian villages. One Native American legend which was featured in Russell’s article regarding the Piasa Bird reads as follows:

Many moons ago, there existed a birdlike creature of such great size, he could easily carry off a full grown deer in his talons. His taste, however, was for human flesh. Hundreds of warriors attempted to destroy the Piasa, but failed. Whole villages were destroyed and fear quickly spread throughout the Illini tribe. Ouatoga, a chief whose fame extended even beyond the Great Lakes, separated himself from his tribe and fasted in solitude for roughly a months time, he prayed to the Great Spirit to protect his people from the Piasa. On the last night of his fast, the Great Spirit appeared to Ouatoga in a dream and directed him to select twenty warriors, arm them each with a bow and poisoned arrow, and conceal them in a well hidden area. Another warrior was to remain in the open as bait for the giant beast.

When the chief awoke in the morning he told the tribe of his dream. He quick assembled twenty of his finest warriors and strategically hide them in some bushes around a clearing, Ouatroga himself was offered up as bat. Standing in open view, it was not long before Ouatoga saw the Piasa perched on a bluff eyeing his prey. The chef began to chant the death song of a warrior and the Piasa took to the air, swooping down upon him. As the Piasa drew near to the chef the warriors fired a volley of their poisoned arrows at the beast, and uttering a fearful, echoing scream it crashed to the earth, dead.

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There are a few researchers who have suggested that the above account was likely a story created by John Russell, as the Piasa’s original image, reported by Father Marquette, made no mention of the beast having wings, nevertheless, Russell’s account is commonly related as the history behind the pictograph. Some researchers, who put stock in the description that the Piasa Bird had wings, have suggested a connection between the Piasa legend and later sightings of the Thunderbird, implying that stories of the Piasa Bird may have evolved overtime into the legend of the Thunderbird.

Legendary BIRD depicted in a petroglyph on a bluff by the Mississippi River in Illinois.

Etymology: Illini (Algonquian) word of unknown derivation. Similar to the Cree (Algonquian) piyesiw (“thunderbird”) and the Ojibwa (Algonquian) binesi (“large bird”). In Kickapoo (Algonquian), peisa means “cat”; to the Miami and Peoria (Algonquian), paisa means “dwarf,” while to the Meskawki (Algonquian), paia’shiwuk were LITTLE PEOPLE. An alternative suggestion is from the French paillissa (“palisade”), meaning the bluffs along the Mississippi River.

Variant names: Blue bird (Creek/Muskogean), Hu-huk (Pawnee/Caddoan), Piesa, Storm bird.

Physical description: Length, 16 feet. Covered with scales. Antlers. Bearlike face. Glowing red eyes. Large teeth. Bearded. Batlike wings. Eaglelike claws. A long, forked tail.

Behavior: Has a preference for human meat. Powerful enough to carry away a deer in its talons.

Distribution: Mississippi River bluffs near Alton, Illinois.

Significant sightings: The Piasa bird was said to have been killed by the Illinois chief Ouatoga (with the help of twenty warriors) and commemorated in a petroglyph that existed in 1673 when Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet visited the area. The petroglyph was carved into the rock a half inch or more and was painted red, black, and blue. A BIG BIRD that looked like a naval torpedo was seen flying at a height of 500 feet over Alton, Illinois, on April 24, 1948, by E. M. Coleman and his son. Sightings continued over St. Louis, Missouri, during the following week.

Present status: The original petroglyph has long been eradicated, partly because of both the Indians’ and the whites’ habit of using it for target practice. It apparently had disappeared by 1867. No reliable sketch has survived. In 1924, Herbert Forcade painted his conception of the Piasa on the bluffs where a sand plant now operates on the 600 block of West Broadway, but the image was blasted away in the 1960s to make room for construction of the Great River Road. A 3-ton metal replica of the Piasa was mounted on the bluffs near Norman’s Landing, 2 miles west of Alton, in 1983, but it was removed in 1995. The Piasa’s latest manifestation is a 48-foot x 22-foot painting on the bluffs completed by the American Legends Society and many volunteers in 1998. Piasa
Park, opened in 2001, surrounds the painting and offers an interpretive center.

Possible explanations:
(1) A surviving rhamphorynchid (a fossil flying reptile), proposed by Perry Armstrong. Rhamphorynchus was a longtailed pterosaur that lived in Europe and
Africa during the Late Jurassic, 150 million years ago.
(2) A Native American legend, not based on fact.
Edited by linnaeus1758, Jun 14 2014, 03:39 AM.
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Felines, sharks, birds, arthropods
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What an amazing animal!
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