[This is a post by TCC Team Member Dorraine Fisher]
The Legend of Piasa
Thunderbirds In Illinois
By Dorraine Fisher
There is always some truth to legend. And legends of giant birds with up to a 25 foot wingspan flying and hunting over the rivers of central Illinois has long survived in Illinois native folklore.
Central Illinois is a vast stretch of rolling plains, once home to the ancient mound building natives that first traveled the waterways via the Illinois River all the way south to the Mississippi River and Cahokia Mounds near St. Louis, Missouri.
Native Americans told stories of times when the people watched carefully over their children to make sure they weren’t snatched by the giant birds that seemed to swoop down out of nowhere. And they claimed the birds flew in on the spring storm winds, and were large and strong enough to lift a baby buffalo and carry it away. And skeletons of large birds of up to 600 pounds have been found in other places like Argentina. So we know for a fact that very large birds have existed in history.
In 1868 a teacher reported a young boy in Missouri who had been snatched from schoolyard by “an eagle.” Apparently the other children caused such a loud raucous over the incident that the bird dropped the boy, unfortunately to his death. According to local reports, “eagles” in the area had been a problem in that period, snatching up small livestock and pets. But anyone who knows anything about eagles knows they aren’t anywhere large and strong enough to pick up such large animals (or people) and carry them any distance.
Giant birds have also been reported in Illinois in modern times. In 1977, boy in Lawndale, Illinois was reported to have been picked by a large bird while playing hide and seek in his back yard. The bird lifted him possibly a foot off the ground, but dropped him as it realized the 60-pound boy was too heavy to carry off. The boy’s mother filed a report. But not satisfied by the explanation she was given by local authorities of an attack by a turkey vulture, she decided to do some leg work on here own and later described the bird as looking more like pictures she’d found of a California condor. And this remains one of the most frightening accounts of giant bird attacks in Illinois to this day.
So is there some truth to the legend? Some insight can be found in native stories from years past.
In Alton, Illinois, near St. Louis, a cliff face on the Illinois River tells the horrific tale of a bird to be revered. A bird known as Piasa, (pronounced PIE-a-saw), meaning “a bird that devours men” is painted on the wide cliff wall. And according to Father Jacques Marquette’s diary, it “was as large as a calf, with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger, a face like a man, the body covered with red, green, and black scales, and a tail so long it passed around the body, over the head, and between the legs.”
No one knows the artist of the huge painting, but it’s believed to be a product of the ancient Cahokian Indians who built a large earthen mound near there that rivals any Mayan pyramid. The painting is believed to have been a warning to river travelers that they were entering Cahokian territory.
And in the years since, there have been numerous claims by hunters and other outdoorsmen of unusually large birds patrolling the skies over the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. And there have been claims in other states like Alaska and Texas as well. Some claim the birds to be larger than an airplane. And often when reports are filed, turkey vultures are again sited as the likely suspect. But witnesses maintain they’re not turkey vultures, which are roughly the same size as the bald eagles that hunt and fish along the rivers. They claim these birds are much bigger than that; large enough to block the sun.
So when the sky suddenly turns dark over your head as you walk along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, beware. ************
© The Crypto Crew
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