Illinois Dept. Of Natural Resour
A representation of the legendary creature.The original cliff drawing of the bird was destroyed during the 19th century.

The Piasa bird apparently is a legendary creature – at least no remains of a beast that is equal parts bird, reptile, lion and deer have ever been found.

What little we know of the creature derives from a cliff painting by unknown artists from the Illini tribe and early translations indicating that Piasa (pronounced PIE-a-sa) meant "the bird that devours men" in the Illini tongue.

The first recorded sighting came in 1673, when French Canadian explorers Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet sighted a painting of the creature as they navigated the river near present-day Alton, Ill.

In his diary, Marquette described the Piasa as being "as large as a calf with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger's, a face like a man, the 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 original cliff painting was destroyed during quarrying operations in the 19th century, but has since been restored twice.

The best-known legend about the Piasa was written by author John Russell in 1836. According to his fanciful account, the flesh-eating bird, which was capable of carrying off a full-grown deer or man in its talons, preyed upon members of the tribe for years until Chief Ouatoga had a vision that the Piasa could be killed by poisoned arrows fired at its lone vulnerable spots under its wings. Using himself as bait, the chief lured the bird to a bluff where it was killed by 20 archers who had hidden nearby, its body plunging into the river.


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