Native American Piasa Bird Mural | Alton, IL
The Piasa Bird is a Native American mythical creature depicted in one of two murals painted by Native Americans on bluffs above the Mississippi River. Its original location was at the end of a chain of limestone bluffs in Madison County, Illinois at present-day Alton, Illinois.
The original Piasa illustration no longer exists; a newer 20th-century version, based partly on 19th-century sketches and lithographs, has been placed on a bluff in Alton, Illinois, several hundred yards upstream from its origin. The limestone rock quality is unsuited for holding an image, and the painting must be regularly restored. The original site of the painting was on lithographic limestone, which was quarried away in the late 1870s by the Mississippi Lime Company.
In 1673, Father Jacques Marquette saw the painting on a limestone bluff overlooking the Mississippi River while exploring the area. He recorded the following description:
"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 a 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 two 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 reach that place conveniently to paint them. Here is approximately the shape of these monsters, as we have faithfully copied it.”
The French cartographer Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin compiled a map titled ″The Mississippi″ in about the year 1682, from Louis Jolliet′s description of his 1673 journey with Father Marquette. A creature similar to the underwater panther is sketched on the map east of the Missouri River and south of the Illinois River. As in Marquette′s description the animal is wingless with no resemblance to a bird.
Later French explorers, like St. Cosme, reported that by 1699 the series of images were badly worn due to the habits of the local Indians to "discharge their weapons" at the images as they passed. Author A. D. Jones, in his book "Illinois and the West" c. 1838, also describes the ravages of weapons (firearms) upon the images, and further refers to the paintings as being named “Piasua".
The original image was the largest Native American painting ever found in North America.