The Piasa, roughly translated from the Illini as “Giant Bird that Devours Man,” is today known from the lore that issued from near the present-day city of Alton, Illinois, in the 1600s-1700s. In 1673, the French explorer Father Jacques Marquette, in recording his famous journey down the Mississippi River with Louis Jolliet, was the first to describe this beast from his contacts with the Indians who lived along the Mississippi River. Immortalized in a rock bluff painting near Alton, the monster was shown with huge wings, horns, and scales.

According to Marquette’s diary, the Piasa “was 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.”

There are many legends regarding its origin. One of the more popular accounts goes like this:

Many moons ago, there existed a bird-like creature of such great size, he could easily carry off a full grown deer in his talons. His taste, however, was for human flesh. Hundreds of warriors attempted to destroy the Piasa, but failed. Whole villages were destroyed and fear spread throughout the Illini tribe. Ouatoga, a chief whose fame extended even beyond the Great Lakes, separated himself from his tribe, fasted in solitude for the space of a whole moon, and prayed to the Great Spirit to protect his people from the Piasa. On the last night of his fast, the Great Spirit appeared to Ouatoga in a dream and directed him to select twenty warriors, arm them each with a bow and poisoned arrow, and conceal them in a designated spot. Another warrior was to stand in an open view, as a victim for the Piasa.

When the chief awoke in the morning, he told the tribe of his dream. The warriors were quickly selected and placed in ambush. Ouatoga offered himself as the victim. Placing himself in open view, he soon saw the Piasa perched on the bluff eyeing his prey. Ouatoga began to chant the death song of a warrior. The Piasa took to the air and swooped down upon the chief. The Piasa had just reached his victim when every bow was sprung and every arrow sent sailing into the body of the beast. The Piasa uttered a fearful, echoing scream and died. Ouatoga was safe, and the tribe saved.

Modern reports of Thunderbirds birds have been recorded from the same area as the Piasa.

Late in the 1990s the Piasa, through the efforts of citizens, government, and business advocates, was repainted and restored to its former pristine state. It can be seen on the bluff just north of Alton, Illinois, on the Great River Road.


The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark

The Piasa is a legendary giant bird that some people believe might have once really existed in the area of Alton, Illinois. When French explorer Jacques Marquette visited this region in 1673, the Native Americans there told him of the bird, whose name in the language of the Illini tribe means “Giant Bird That Eats People.” In subsequent writings about his experiences, Marquette described the beast— which is also depicted in an Illini rock painting—as being about the size of a calf, with horns; a long tail; red eyes; a scale-covered red, green, and black body; and a humanlike face. The Piasa was supposedly strong enough to carry off a man in its talons, and legends tell of it doing this and eating its prey. There is no evidence, other than Illini stories, that such a creature existed. Still, some people say that together with stories about another giant bird, the thunderbird, which also was supposedly sighted in the same area, it is reasonable to assume that some kind of giant bird once dwelled in the area.


  • Giant Birds


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning

Leave a Comment