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The Bird That Devours Men

Posted by Failed Success on 03/18/06 at 11:17 PM

Piasa BirdFrom the dark recesses of history comes a legend so amazing and terrifying, it’s astonishing that more people don’t know of its existence.

If you live in the St. Louis area, chances are you are familiar with the legend; or may have heard bits and pieces of it here and there. As historians and scientists dig deeper into this legend, more becomes known about a monster from the past that called the St. Louis region its home, and may still call it home today.

Upon exploring the Mississippi River in 1673, Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette noticed the strange likeness of a creature painted and sculpted on the side of the bluffs. The creature was described as a large creature with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger, a face like a man, body covered with green, red, and black scales and a tail so long it passed around the body, over the head, and between the legs. The painting depicted a dark secret that, up until now, only the Illinois Indians had known.

Marquette and JolietThe Illini lived on the banks of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, surrounded by forests and tall bluffs. The location is now home to the city of Alton, IL. The Chief of this village met with Joliet and Marquette and, when asked, reluctantly told the explorers the two hundred year old tale of the beast they now called the “Piasa Bird” which meant “bird that devours men”.

One night, several braves had returned to the village with a terrifying tale of a monstrous beast that had attacked their scouting party. They explained that the flying monster had swooped from the sky and picked up men and carried them off into the night. Their arrows had merely deflected off of its tough scales as they tried to defend themselves.

For several weeks the village suffered as the creature they were now calling “Piasa” attacked at night, carrying off a victim each time to an unseen fate. The Illini turned to their chief, Ouatoga, to rid them of this menace. After conversing with the Great Spirits, Ouatoga devised a plan. He believed that the creature would be vulnerable under its wings, where the scales did not protect. He had his warriors hide in the forest with poison-tipped arrows, while he offered himself as bait. The Piasa Bird appeared and went directly for the chief. He threw himself to the ground and held on to a tree root as the Piasa Bird tried to carry him off. Immediately, his warriors emerged and shot their arrows into the soft underbelly of the creature. In a scream of agony, it tumbled over the side of the bluffs and disappeared into the river.

Piasa Bird on the BluffsIn honor of this great victory, they painted the image of the Piasa Bird on the face of the bluffs. Believing that the Piasa Bird had lived in a large cave that was nearby, they warned all villagers to stay away from the cave, as they did not want to awaken any more of these evil spirits. In two hundred years, they had not encountered another menace like this.

Joliet and Marquette scoffed at this tale, attributing it to silly Indian folklore. However, they were both explorers who had spent a great deal of time discovering and documenting new species they encountered in their journeys west. Despite the chief’s warnings, they decided to explore the cave and see if they could find some evidence of this strange species.

They amassed a party of white settlers and an Illini scout named Pow-Ka-Ha-Toh (Sees in the Darkness) who was well known to the villagers as being able to see in the night as if it were daylight. They entered the cave and, armed with torches and muskets, began to work their way into the bluffs. As they explored deeper into the cave, they began to feel the crunch of bones underneath their feet. Further examination revealed them to be the bones of many different animals, some they even believed to be human remains.

Suddenly, a mist and wind swept through the cave, extinguishing their torches. In the darkness they began to hear loud shrieks and screams. Pow-Ka-Ha-Toh told Joliet that he saw many reptilian creatures, about the size of eagles, swarming towards them. Behind these creatures, he saw an enormous reptilian monster and declared it to be the “Piasa Bird”. The party fired a volley into the darkness from their muskets, and then fled towards the mouth of the cave. There was panic and confusion as the men struggled to reach the cave opening; meanwhile screams of men filled the air and were abruptly silenced. Joliet, Marquette, Pow-Ka-Ha-Toh, and one other settler were the only ones to make it out of the cave.

The Battle of PiasaThey returned to the village and Pow-Ka-Ha-Toh told the chief what had happened. The chief, angered that they had awakened the evil spirits, forced them to leave the village. Joliet and Marquette returned to the nearby French outpost of St. Louis and amassed an army of traders, soldiers, and able bodies to help them eliminate what they saw as a threat to trade and settlement opportunities in the region. When they returned to the village, they found it destroyed and deserted. They heard cries and screams in the distance.

A few minutes later, they noticed a dark mass approaching in the northern sky. Hundreds of winged creatures, followed by the enormous Piasa Bird, were descending upon them. The soldiers began firing their muskets, cannons, and ship-mounted artillery into the mass. The creatures began to fall from the sky as they were struck by the ordinance, but still on the mass of creatures came. The solders, with Joliet and Marquette at the lead, fought a pitched battle with the creatures as men and equipment were picked up and thrown about. Bodies were torn apart as the Piasa Bird and its minions swarmed the soldiers.

Slowly the soldiers began to drive the creatures back towards the bluff using torches and bonfires. The creatures appeared to fear the heat of the flames. Several other boats had arrived with more soldiers and weapons to reinforce the makeshift army and join the battle. Under Joliet’s direction, the soldiers fought to force the monsters towards the bluffs and back into the cave where they had discovered them. Joliet figured that he could trap the creatures inside the cave and then seal it shut. Once the creatures were driven back into the cave, fires were set all around the mouth of the cave to keep them at bay. Cannoneers came forward and blasted the cliff face with a volley of cannonballs, creating an avalanche of rock and debris, effectively sealing the cave.

Marquette Piasa Bird SketchUpon their return to St. Louis, Joliet and Marquette reported to the governor what had transpired. They agreed that the menace had surely been destroyed and, in the interest of protecting their profits and interests in this new land, decided to keep the story of the Piasa Bird and its kin quiet. Naturally, the story did not stay a secret long. Survivors of the battle spun their tales, and even Marquette’s own journal sported some illustrations of the beast he had first seen painted on the bluffs. Most settlers, however, believed it to be a tall tale, concocted by glory seeking soldiers and crazy Indians and felt no fear in venturing into the region. As years passed, settlers built settlements and outposts all along the river and built the city of Alton where the old Illini village had been. The Piasa Bird and its kin were never seen or reported again. The original painting on the rocks of the Piasa Bird was left there as an amusement for travelers, until it was destroyed during excavation of the bluffs.

Today, historians and scientists seek to unravel the mysteries surrounding these great and terrible creatures. They search to find the line of what is myth and what is reality. Were these creatures dinosaur-like leftovers from a prehistoric time? Were they a new species altogether? Were they large birds given incredible powers by the imaginations of the Indians and early settlers?

Historians find new clues and evidence all of the time, and soon we may know the truth. They have fought to keep the legend alive and have continued to keep a large painting of the Piasa Bird on the bluffs, as an homage to the brave warriors of the past, and in the hopes of new found evidence for the future. But as people turn up missing in the bluffs, and mysterious disappearances on the river mount every year; more people are beginning to believe that the Piasa Bird, or its descendants, still dwell in The Great River Bend.

Some references regarding the Piasa Bird:

Department of Natural Resources - The Legend of the Piasa Bird
MSNBC - The Piasa Bird
Great River Road.com - The Piasa Bird
The Alton Museum - Legend of the Piasa Bird

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  1. Total 100% B.S.
    I lived in Alton as a kid. The actual Journals of Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette NEVER mentioned ANY meeting with an Indian Chief. Their “native” guide simply paid homage to the painting as the expedition floated by in canoes. No legend was told of it. BUT there were Two images painted on the bluffs not One ......

    Posted by Uncle Ernie  on  04/11/09  at  10:48 AM
  2. Too much reading

    Posted by Amanda  on  12/31/08  at  08:29 PM
  3. you people earlier, you speak of total ignorance… Peyote was around in that area… those dead natives know more about life than you, or your little office working follower father ever could dream of learning once you kiss your bosses ass long enough, thats not life dipshit.

    Posted by aaron  on  02/13/07  at  06:02 PM
  4. Well the unknown is called that for a reason, If it were known then we could say, “Hey I believe it cause I saw it.” I love a good myth and have many opinions on the subject from what I read. I would love to find out if scientist found any hard evidence of evolution or mutation to show where the race is headed or came from but alas you could just say it was a Wendi go or even a band of cannibals either or still interesting to know we still have some mystery left in our lives.

    Posted by SNicKeRz  on  12/11/06  at  12:31 AM
  5. The creature known as “Piasa” is a symbol.

    Every initiated Mason knows this.

    The various parts or aspects of the creature
    can easily be found in masonic symbolism.

    The symbols equate to a much darker secret
    than any “man-eating creature.”

    The serpentine tail is the biggest secret.

    The bearded face of a man reveals the true
    masonic nature of the beast. Alton, IL is full
    of Masons and Orders… there’s a “Knights of
    Columbus” building containing the universal
    symbol for fascism (same as on the early dime)
    right on the front wall… you may have seen it.

    Also the “Order of the Full Moon” contains yet
    another great secret of Freemasons. And the moon.

    If you’re a masonic initiate (above the blue
    degrees) you already know. I’ll keep your secret
    for now, but I know who you are and the time of
    revealing is coming very soon and you will be
    exposed. May every Mason see these words.

    And for you non-initiates DO YOUR RESEARCH.

    DO NOT LISTEN TO WHAT ANOTHER TELLS YOU IS TRUE,
    BREAK AWAY FROM THE HERD MENTALITY AND FIND OUT
    FOR YOURSELF. SEARCH OPENLY AVAILABLE ANSWERS!

    As for YOU, the 13 or “12 and one"… Mark my
    words you dark plague the truth WILL be revealed.

    And you are powerless to stop it.

    You bearded ones have had your day in darkness,
    you have deceived the people long enough. Now
    you will be exposed for what you are.

    You may own our banks, government and mass media,
    but you cannot own our mind, soul and spirit.

    Your true agenda is now coming to light and let
    everyone who reads this DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH.

    High knowledge is only seperated by ignorance.

    Ignorance comes from “believing” without knowing.

    Know this and be well - to you the serpents,
    know this and tremble for the truth is coming!

    -Anonymous Truth Seeker and Avid Researcher

    PS. Do yourself a huge favor and research the
    true meaning of “Am-er-ika” (America)

    PPS. The ancient Hebrew language holds a key.

    Posted by TheRevealer  on  06/27/06  at  02:55 AM
  6. Ornithological Nightmare, that’s exactly what I was going to say.  It’s apparently easier to cover up the truth of an atrocity by simply creating a myth to confuse the straights…

    Posted by Spoonman  on  05/04/06  at  11:15 AM
  7. looks very much like the image of a chineese dragon.

    Posted by matt  on  05/01/06  at  02:09 AM
  8. Wouldn’t it just be eas to go to the cave, move the rocks, and look for the skeletons?

    Seems like a pretty easy myth to figure out.

    Posted by Ally  on  04/26/06  at  11:28 PM
  9. sounds like one of the multitude of demons that are depicted all over the world in ancient folklore

    Posted by ayo  on  04/22/06  at  07:32 AM
  10. That thing took a large poop on my car one day.  I mean a LARGE poop.

    Posted by whydoesitreallymatter  on  04/21/06  at  08:06 AM
  11. That thing ruined my new car.  Damn bird.

    Posted by chickpea  on  04/17/06  at  06:54 PM
  12. Nah, too much hallucinogens during religious ceremonies. 

    Peyote. 

    Bad trip + religious ceremony = Seeing big carnivorous bird.

    I mean honestly, if you are going to use hallucinogens you should keep your acid trip to your self.

    Just say no to hallucinogens…

    Posted by occupant  on  04/15/06  at  07:35 PM
  13. YYYYYYAAAAR!

    Posted by Ahab  on  04/11/06  at  06:00 PM
  14. I see, an Indian village was destroyed. Naturally it must have been a huge demon bird that did this. It had absolutely nothing to do with the French soldiers that moved into the area. And it was the damn bird that was “a threat to trade and settlement opportunities”, and not the Indians that lived there. It’s all so logical.

    Posted by Ornithological Nightmare  on  04/10/06  at  07:01 PM
  15. Not to be mistaken for the not-so-rare “Pizza” bird who lingers in pizzaria parking lots in the hopes of snagging a free slice of pepperoni-pie from unwitting diners.

    Posted by Frohickey  on  04/10/06  at  01:12 AM
  16. The Piasa Bird rocks!!!!

    Seriously, the Piasa Bird is alive and well in Alton. Be sure to not get caught on the River Road after dark, it may be the last thing you do

    Posted by fatty mcfattypants  on  04/08/06  at  04:39 PM
  17. Yoinks!

    Posted by The Duke of Prunes  on  04/07/06  at  07:51 AM
  18. You tell him Plummer! 

    On a side note, I pooped today!

    Posted by dicky mcgee  on  04/07/06  at  06:45 AM
  19. He’s a friend of yours? Does he do birthday parties?

    Posted by kissmeimdanish  on  04/06/06  at  05:03 PM
  20. “Pterodactyl” is spelled with a P, jerk.

    And I don’t like you people giving the Piasa Bird a bad rap.  He was a good friend of mine until some dirty frenchies and a bunch of savages shot him down.

    Posted by ThePlummer  on  04/06/06  at  03:53 PM
  21. The Piasa bird was really a teradactyl from prehistoric times. One of the last remaining dinosaurs.

    Posted by iknowitall  on  04/04/06  at  05:47 PM
  22. I always remember seeing that Piasa bird mural on the bluffs as a kid when we would drive down the River Road. Pretty crazy looking bird.

    Posted by stlucie  on  04/04/06  at  12:07 PM
  23. Was doing a blog explosion surf and found your site. This is the first I have heard of the Piasa Bird, way cool story. I hope the researchers do figure out what it was.

    Posted by Lucy  on  03/20/06  at  08:59 AM