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Legendary Piasa Bird
The Return of the Mystical Piasa Bird on the Majestic Bluffs Overlooking the Mississippi.
The legendary Piasa Bird, is a Native American mythological beast. The Piasa Bird is supposed to have lived in the bluffs above the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and flown over the three county region, which includes Jersey. The original drawing on the cliffs along the Mississippi River was supposedly done by the Indians. In legend it is the riverside spectacle of the Great River Road. In reality the American Bald Eagle returns annually from early November through February.
Trainmen See a Fearful Spectacle Near the Piasa Bridge – Was it the PiasaBird?
From the Jersey County Democrat, November 18, 1886
Many of our readers, especially those who have lived here long, or have ever lived in Jersey or Morgan counties, will remember to have heard of the old Indian legend of the Piasa bird.
This bird, if bird it could be called, was a conglomerate of bird, beast and fish. It had the head of a tiger, the horns of a deer, the wings of an eagle and four legs ending in claws. To complete the hideous catalogue, the body was covered with scales. The description as given of this beast in the old Indian stories much resembled the fabled dragons of antiquity. Its favorite mode of locomotion was flying through the air, and its den, known as Piasa cave, is still pointed out in the high bluffs of the Mississippi, above Alton. Above this cave on the face of the rock, at one time within the memory of those yet living, was pictured in the crude style of Indian art, that is to be found on the Palisades of the Hudson, this fearful monster, the Piasa bird. Thus have the legend and description come down to us.
Now the trainmen on train No. 62 last Thursday morning had never heard of this wonderful beast or the wonderful stories related of it.
These men were GENE DOWNEY, engineer, and JOHN WELLS, fireman, E. J. DENNIS, conductor, and THOS. REED and WISMEYER, brakemen. But at three o’clock last Thursday morning while crossing over Piasa bridge, near the south end of the bridge, these men – all of them except the fireman, who was putting in coal at the time – saw a sight that will remain with them to their dying days.
The story they tell is one calculated to paralyze the mental faculties. They say that just as they were crossing the Piasa bridge at a point 50 feet from the south end, they saw with startling distinctness a huge animal with a body as large as that of a yearling calf, flying slowly in a northeast direction about 50 feet above the track. The huge wings wereflapping slowly but propelled the monster with wonderful swiftness. The moon was shining brightly and the train men had time to examine the animal carefully. The train was going slowly over the bridge, and they got a good sight of the monster. They never heard of the Piasa bird of legend, but they described it very accurately as the monster they had seen. There were the horns, the scales, the wings, the huge body, everything as was once pictured on the rocks by Indian artists.
To say that the men were frightened by the awfully spectacle were to put it mildly indeed. They were paralyzed with fear. When the monster had disappeared in the dim northeast, and they had collected their senses sufficiently to be able to converse, they got together and began to compare notes. They found that all of them had seen the spectacle except the fireman, JOHN WELLS. After an anxious discussion, they came to the conclusion that it must be His Satanic Majesty that they had seen and they agreed not to say a word about it, least their veracity should be called in question, and they would become the laughing stock for the incredulous. But finally one of them told their adventure to a man who had heard the story of the Piasa bird, and when they found how closely the descriptions matched, a new query arose.
Was it the Piasa bird, that legendary and mythical conglomerate animal that they saw? If not, what was it? The train men say they could not be mistaken by an optical delusion.
They all agree as to the description and movements of the beast, and are willing to make affidavit to the facts as herein set forth.
Who will solve the mystery?
The above was in the “Roodhouse Eye” last week and of course is true. We can not imagine why the Piasa bird should again visit its old haunts unless it was looking for those democrats in Piasa township who voted for BURKE instead of MURPHY. Perhaps it missed the date and thought JIM WARD was to speak at Central school house that night. If, as some suppose, the bird is in league with the evil one, he will let JIM alone, for he canmake more good democrats swear than any man in the district.
Thanks to Bev Bauser for this article.