The Piasa Bird

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AltonWeb - Piasa Bird Legend - Alton, IL


Alton Museum - Piasa Bird

Fabric Art at Pere Marquette State Park

Piasa Bird

Legend of the Piasa

The Legend of the Piasa

Piasa Bird Legend is pure fiction

Great River Road - Piasa Bird

eslarp - University of Illinois

Southwestern High School

Haunted Alton

Legend of the Piasa Bird

The Last Flight of the Piasa









No part of the United States, not even the highlands of the Hudson, can vie in wild and romantic scenery with the bluffs of Illinois. On one side of the river, often at the water's edge, a perpendicular wall of rock rises to the height of some hundred feet. Generally on the opposite shore is a level bottom or prairie of several miles in width, extending to a similar bluff that runs parallel with the river. One of these ranges commences at Alton and extends, with a few intervals, for many miles along the left bank of the Illinois. In descending the river to Alton the traveler will observe between that town and the mouth of the Illinois a narrow ravine, through which a small stream discharges its waters into the Mississippi. The stream is the Piasa. Its name is Indian, and signifies in the lllini, "the bird that devours men." Near the mouth of that stream, on the smooth and perpendicular face of the bluff, at an elevation, which no human art can reach, is cut the figure of an enormous bird, with its wings extended. The bird which this figure represents was called by these Indians the Piasa, and from this is derived the name of the stream. The tradition of the Piasa is still current among all the tribes of the Upper Mississippi, and those who have inhabited the valley of the Illinois, and is briefly this: 'Many thousand moons before the arrival of the pale-faces, when the great Magalonyx and Mastodon, whose bones are now dug up, were still living in the land of the 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 of human flesh from that time he would prey upon nothing else. He was artful as he was powerful, and 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 lllini. At length, Ouatogo, a chief whose fame extended even beyond the great lakes, separating himself from the rest of his tribe, fasted in solitude for the space of the whole moon and prayed to the Great Spirit, the Master of Life, that he would protect his children from the Piasa. On the last night of his fast the Great Spirit appeared to Ouatogo in a dream, and directed him to select twenty of his warriors, each armed with a bow and poisoned arrow, and conceal them in a designated spot. Near the place of their concealment another warrior was to stand in open view as a victim for the Piasa, which they must shoot the instant that he pounced upon his prey. When the chief awoke the next morning he thanked the Great Spirit, and returning to his tribe told them the dream. The warriors were quickly selected and placed in ambush as directed. Ouatogo offered himself as the victim. He was willing to die for his tribe. Placing himself in open view of the bluff he soon saw the Piasa perched on the cliff, eyeing his prey. Ouatogo drew up his manly form to its utmost, his feet firmly upon the earth he began to chant the death song of an Indian warrior. A moment after the Piasa arose into the air and swift as the thunderbolt darted down upon the chief. Scarcely had he reached his victim when every bow was sprung and every arrow sent to the feather into his body. The Piasa uttered a wild, fearful scream, that resounded far over the opposite side of the river, and expired. Ouatogo was safe. Not an arrow, not even the talons of the bird had touched him. The Master of Life, in admiration of the generous deed of Ouatogo, had held over him an invisible shield. In memory of this event the image of the Piasa was engraved on the face of the bluff.'

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