This old picture, and recent news accounts about Mississippi flooding, brought memories to mind:
|Piasa bird (early 2000's renewal)|
The Piasa bird has been on the cliffs overlooking the mighty Mississippi since Pere Marquette came through in his little flotilla of canoes. Likely it was quite old even then. The local folks are so attached to it that, when the original cliffside was wrecked in building a riverside road, they restored the bird to another, nearby, cliffside. Occasionally someone will get silly about the risk of falling and put up a wooden billboard with the Piasa bird in the area. It is neither worthy of the local people nor of the Piasa bird art to do this, in my opinion.
The Victorian/Edwardian enthusiasm for lovely stories about things of interest--think of George Washington's thrown quarter here--also has affected the Piasa bird. A local paper in the very early years of the 20th century, or the late years of the 19th century, published a long article about Chief
Quatoga, the self sacrificing Indian chief who died saving the Illini from the Piasa bird. (Well, I think it was the Illini tribe--but it's been years since I read the article.) Apparently the local Indians had engaged war, bloody warfare without end or mercy, and the Piasa bird had become an eater of the fallen warriors (and noncombatant villagers) to the extent that Quatoga had to hunt the Piasa bird down. The brave warrior Quatoga died in his successful attempt to rid the area of the man-eating menace. It would be really interesting if we could find out the folkloric roots behind this tale, and get some idea of the actual age of the Piasa bird on the cliffs of southern Illinois.
There is an old--very old--map of the Mississippi which shows the Piasa bird in approximately where it is now. I think that this map is either one made by Marquette or copied from his notes. But I don't have any image of it, nor any further information about it.
If you should go to the southern Illinois-eastern Missouri area of the United States, you should drive down the Great River Road past Alton and the other towns along the Mississippi area and see the Piasa bird for yourself.