Piasa

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

(Read the article on one page)

Along the river of the Mississippi Valley where its banks form the boundary between Illinois and Missouri, there exists thousands of ancient pictographs carved or painted on rocks, on walls in cave shelters, and beneath overhanging cliffs. For hundreds of years these images have been described in the journals of explorers, heard about through whispers of townspeople, scrawled in old town records and in innumerable reports of ethnologists and archaeologists. One would be hard-pressed to find a more enigmatic and curious image than that of the Piasa. Its name is Native American and in the Illini signifies, “ The bird which devours men”.

In the town of Alton, Illinois is a narrow ravine through which a small stream flows into the Mississippi River. Near the mouth of this stream, a hundred feet high up on the face of the cliff side is a modern representation of the Piasa. The image was first written about in 1673 by French missionary priest Jacques Marquette while recording his journey down the Mississippi with Louis Joliet. Marquette describes the image as “ as large as a calf, with horns like a roebuck, red eyes, a beard like a tiger and a frightful countenance. The face was something like that of a man, the body covered in scales, and the tail so long that it passed entirely around the body, over the head and between the legs, ending like a fish.”

The original image was visible until 1847 when the entire face of the bluff was quarried away, however, the legend endures.

The legend of the Piasa Bird dates back to long before European explorers came to region. It has been traced to a band of Illiniwek Indians who lived along the Mississippi in the vicinity north of present-day Alton. This tribe, led by a chief named Owatoga, hunted and fished the valley and the river and lived a contented life until the "great beast" came. In 1836 John Russel, a professor of Greek & Latin at Shurtleff College in Upper Alton published an account of the legend as told by the Illini.

Many thousand moons before the arrival of the pale faces, when the Mastodon & great Magalonyx were still living in the land of green prairies, there existed a bird of such dimensions that he could easily carry off in his talons a full grown deer. Having obtained a taste for human flesh, from that time he would prey on nothing else. He was artful as he was powerful and he would dart suddenly and unexpectedly upon an Indian, bear him off into one of the caves of the bluff and devour him. Hundreds of warriors attempted for years to destroy him, but without success. Whole villages were nearly depopulated, and consternation spread through all the tribes of the Illini.

Such was the state of affairs when Ouatogo, the great chief of the Illini fasted in solitude for the space of a whole moon, and prayed to the Great Spirit that he would protect his children from the Piasa. On the last night of the fast the Great Spirit appeared to Ouatogo in a dream, and directed him to select 20 of his bravest warriors, each armed with a bow and poisoned arrows, and conceal them in a designated spot. Near the place of concealment another warrior was to stand in open view, as a victim for the Piasa, which they must shoot the instant he pounced on his prey. The next morning the warriors were quickly selected and placed in ambush as directed. Ouatogo offered himself as the victim. Placing himself in open view on the bluffs, he soon saw the Piasa perched on the cliff eying his prey. The Piasa rose into the air and darted down on his victim. Scarcely had the horrid creature reached his prey before every bow was sprung and every arrow sent into his body. The Piasa uttered a fearful scream, that sounded far over the opposite side of the river, and expired. Ouatogo was unharmed. There was wild rejoicing among the Illini and the brave chief was carried in triumph to the council house, where it was solemnly agreed that, in memory of the great event in their nation’s history, the image of the Piasa should be engraved on the bluff.

The Piasa

The Piasa. Image Source .

John Russel, in his 1836 report continues, “ My curiosity was principally directed to the examination of a cave, connected with the tradition as one of those to which that bird had carried its human victims. Preceded by an intelligent guide, I set out on my excursion. The cave was extremely difficult of access and at one point I stood at an elevation of 150 feet on the perpendicular face of the bluff, with barely room to sustain one foot. After a long, perilous climb we reached the cave. The floor of the cavern throughout its extent was one mass of human bones. To what depth they extended I was unable to decide, but we dug to the depth of 3-4 feet in every part of the cavern, and still we found only bones. The remains of thousands must have been deposited here.”

Comments

Greg,

Thanks for your response.

We really don't know when the animals deposited themselves in the LaBrea Tar Pits, all we have to go on is the Archeological community's storyline that's been perpetuatured and emblazoned for 120 years. But I'll bet the oldest of those creatures walked into the hydrocarbon goop not 2,000 years ago and some as recently as just a century ago. Heck, they've found house cats entombed in 4 feet of that tar, so the "10's of thousands of years" Fairy Tale is so full of holes it just plain doesn't float. That story, as well as, 97% of "modern scientific interpretations" are intended for the consumption of gulible uneducated masses. I'm not including you in that group necessarily, as I realize we are all being lied to on a daily basis about the (theory) of Evolution as though it is absolute fact. The far-fetched backstories and other accompanying fiction are exactly that: Pure fantasy.

I was a student of Archeology and Geology for many years and bought into the millions of years crap until I saw the light, and it wasn't the Bible. It was realizing that concrete is actually rock, or rock is concrete and it doesn't take millions of years for a house foundation to "set up".
What about the thousands of rock layers? I see deposition like that on construction sites after just one rain event, dozens of layers of deposited sediment, albeit on a much smaller scale, but the mathematics are the same. Imagine the deposition of a Continental scale flood. Just my two cents.

Tsurugi's picture

"I was a student of Archeology and Geology for many years and bought into the millions of years crap until I saw the light, and it wasn't the Bible. It was realizing that concrete is actually rock, or rock is concrete and it doesn't take millions of years for a house foundation to "set up".
What about the thousands of rock layers? I see deposition like that on construction sites after just one rain event, dozens of layers of deposited sediment, albeit on a much smaller scale, but the mathematics are the same. Imagine the deposition of a Continental scale flood. Just my two cents."

Math Fellow, you are a fellow after my own heart. I live in a geologically interesting area and, over time, I too began to notice things that did not seem to match what I had learned from textbooks. Finding a few things like that resulted in me paying a lot more attention to the stone around me. I began finding many strange and wonderful things, and began to ask questions.

Google, that endlessly patient info-servant with its googolplex of busy internet tentacles, could not help me identify the weird rocks I was finding, but it did find other interesting things for me.

In particular, your comments about rock/concrete reminded me about one very interesting thing Google brought to my attention a few years ago. In Judah there are thousands of rock-cut caves beneath the surface. They're called the Bell Caves.

 

 

These caves have many interesting features....but look at this:

 

So....after the caves were cut, that sediment flowed in and hardened.....wonder how old these caves really are?

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.

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

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.

Pages

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

The excavation of the Oseberg Ship, Norway. 1904 - 1905.
In the autumn of 834 AD, two elderly women were buried together in the magnificent Oseberg ship discovered in 1903 near Tønsberg in Vestfold, Southeast Norway. Ever since the ship was excavated in 1904-1905, many theories have been put forward about who these women were. The objects they took with them to the grave may provide the answer to this Viking Age mystery.

Myths & Legends

Bearded Gods of the Americas Were Jesus Resurrected?! Maybe. But Why is the Plumed Serpent Ubiquitous?
It is claimed by some authors that white missionaries or "gods" visited America before Christopher Columbus. Authors usually quote from mythology and legends which discuss ancient gods such as the Mexican Aztec’s Quetzalcoatl to conclude that the legends were actually based on Caucasians visiting those areas, and that the Caucasians were really the gods.

Human Origins

Kalash girls with traditional clothing.
The Kalash (known also as the Kalasha) are an indigenous people living in what is today Pakistan. Although Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, with more than 95% of its population being adherents of Islam, the Kalash hold on to their own religious beliefs, along with their own identity, way of life, and language.

Ancient Technology

10 Innovative Medieval Weapons: You Would Not Want To Be At The Sharp End Of These!
Long before modern warfare, there was a time of knights in shining armor atop equally armored horses fighting for the hand of a maiden or in pitched battle. However, the weapons that these knights wielded expanded far past that of an ordinary sword and shield.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article