Piasa

The Tradition of the Piasa and the Mysterious Rock Art of the Mississippi

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In the years following Marquette’s description, a number of explorers spoke of the pictograph, as well as others that were reported to have been seen on the bluffs as far as 30 miles away from the original. St. Cosme reports seeing the images in 1699. The Piasa is mentioned in a book by A.D. Jones with the title, “ Illinois and the West” written in 1838. One of the most satisfactory pictures of the Piasa comes from a German book called “ The Valley of the Mississippi Illustrated” published in 1839.

As with the Illini tribes, there can be found traditions of similar large birds and dragons throughout the world. The Dacotah tribe believed that thunder was a monstrous bird flying through the air and claimed that these birds were large enough to carry off human beings. In the ancient Buddhist caves of India there can be found a number of carved and painted dragons that easily fit with the descriptions of Piasa. There have also been found in the area of the Mississippi Valley thousands of burial vases which have dragon-like heads pronounced, standing up from the rim of the vessel.

One theory regarding the origin of the Piasa is that it may have been an older iconograph from the large Mississippian culture city of Cahokia, which began developing about 900 AD and was at its peak about 1200 AD. It was the largest prehistoric city north of Mexico and a major chiefdom. Icons and animal pictographs, such as falcons, thunder-birds, bird men, and monstrous snakes were common motifs of the Cahokia culture. The Piasa creature may have been painted as a graphic symbol to warn strangers traveling down the Mississippi River that they were entering Cahokian territory.

However, others have questioned whether the so-called mythical creature could have been an ancient species of bird that actually existed.  That so many cultures and groups of people separated by thousands of miles and years have similar tales of immense flying creatures is curious to say the least.

Featured image: The Female Piasa Bird. Credit: FoolishLittleMortal

By Greg Sorrell

References

Records of Ancient Races - W.M. McAdams 1887

The Valley of the Mississippi Illustrated - H. Lewis 1839

Illinois and the West - A.D. Jones 1838

Parkman's Discoveries of the Great West 1838

Comments

I'm seeing alligator. Not bird.

I see an alligator. One or two conversations lost in translation we write bird. This is a river culture, relatively close to a native habitat. But importantly NOT inside the normal range. The story of the capture sounds authentic, and applicable to a big 'gator.

So, obviously I am new to the site. Sorry for over zealously double posting.

Well not all people ar artists, and to my knowledge, alligators do not fly or have wings. Species become extinct, this is possibly just anohter creature that no longer exsists on our planet.

We tend to look at the stories of old with contemporary eyes whatever century that is, 18th, 19th or 21st century. We are no different than the Illiniwek people. They recorded what they saw and what they experienced. So, I am not going to try and re-write their stories by putting a modern spin on it. That's disgraceful. Instead we should take it at face-value and leave it at that. A big flying creature had a taste for Human meat that met it's demise at the hand of it's next meal. Period.

As for what the drawing resembles? I dunno. I suggest we look for something like the Piasa in fossil records.

John Russel's account of being in the creature's lair and seeing the bones of thousands if it's victims is enough credible evidence to doccument the Illini's oral and pictograph tradition. It's modern Archeology that refuses to allow the truth to exist beyond their narrow mindedness. I wonder if the Smithsonian had paid a visit to the cliff caves in the early 19th century and confiscated all the evidence which ran contrary to the prescribed evolutionary "spin" just as they have destroyed the truth of the red haired giants and Dinosaurs walking with Man?

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