This is a loose, modern interpretation of original paintings mentioned by Fr. Jacques Marquette, S.J., who explored this area with Louis Joliet in 1673. From his journal:
“While Skirting some rocks, which by Their height and Length inspired awe, We saw upon one of them two painted monsters which at first made Us afraid, and upon Which the boldest savages dare not Long rest their eyes. They are as large As a calf; they have Horns on their heads Like those of deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard Like a tiger’s, a face somewhat like a man’s, a body Covered with scales, and so Long A tail that it winds all around the Body, passing above the head and going back between the legs, ending in a Fish’s tail. Green, red, and black are the three Colors composing the Picture. Moreover, these 2 monsters are so well painted that we cannot believe that any savage is their author; for good painters in france would find it difficult to paint so well, — and, besides, they are so high up on the rock that it is difficult to reach that place Conveniently to paint them.”We are told that ‘piasa’ means man-eater. A legend of the Piasa bird was written by a classics professor from Alton, John Russell, in about 1836, which can be read in its entirety here:
“…Each morning and afternoon thereafter, the Piasa Bird came, shattering the peace of the village with its blood-chilling screams and the thunderous beat of its wings. More often than not, it returned to its lair with a victim.
“The Illini looked to their chief, Ouatoga, for a solution to this menace. Time and time again he had led them through the trials of famine, illness, and the threat of warlike tribes. But Ouatoga felt helpless before this danger and the years weighed heavily upon him. The beast seemed invulnerable. His body was covered with scales, like a coat-of-mail. The best efforts of Tera-hi-on-a-wa-ka, the arrow maker, and the tribe’s finest archers were to no avail.
“Then Ouatoga appealed to the Great Spirit. For nearly a full moon he prayed and fasted. Then in a dream he found the answer. The body of the Piasa Bird was not protected under the wings. After offering thanks to the Great Spirit, Ouatoga called the tribe together and devised a plan that could destroy the Piasa Bird…”