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THE LEGEND OF THE PIASA
 
piasa
Back in the time when the saber toothed cat and the woolly mammoth still roamed the earth, when the First People camped along the shores of the mighty Mississippi,
In this time before time, there lived a beast so fierce that to this day, his name sends a shiver down the spine of those who knew him. The Piasa! The evil bird!
His face was covered with fur like a lion’s mane. His claws and teeth were like daggers. His antlers were like the branches of a mighty oak. His wings clapped like thunder. And his long scaley tail could wrap three times around his body.
It was larger than a wooly mammoth. It could carry off a full-grown bull buffalo, elk or deer and eat it in a single meal.
Once it swooped down and snatched up a man and devoured him like a cat playing with a mouse.
Once it had tasted human flesh it would eat nothing else.
Hunters did not return from the hunt. Wood gatherers were never found again. Berry pickers were themselves plucked from the ground. Before long people were afraid to leave their villages. Before long entire villages disappeared.
Many brave souls had tried to fight the beast, but none survived the battle.
There was one among the people considered both brave and wise. His name was Outoga.
He wanted to help his people, but he did not know what to do.
As is the custom among the Illiniwek, he went off by himself to pray and fast seeking a vision.
Creator heard his prayers and on the fourth night sent him a dream.
He returned to the village and told them of his vision: “Creator has spoken: we should gather 28 of the best marksmen, the best hunters. With poison tipped arrows they should circle a clearing. One of us should stand in the center of the clearing and offer our life as bait.”
Outoga asked, “Are any of you willing to offer your life to save the people?”
Brave men bowed their head. No one stepped forward.
“It is my vision. It is only right that I shall offer my life for my people.”
The next morning before the sun rose twenty-eight hunters with poison tipped arrows hid themselves in the bushes and shrubbery surrounding a hill top prairie.
Outoga stepped out into the middle of the clearing armed with nothing but his drum and his courage. He began to sing his death song:
Hey nickity, hey-wa-na Hey nickity, hey-wa-na Asa-wanna, hey-wa-na Asa-wanna, hey-wa-na
As the first rays of rose colored dawn crept over the distant hills they heard the Piasa approach like distant rain.
Hey nickity, hey-wa-na Hey nickity, hey-wa-na
The thunder-clap of wings grew steadily louder.
Asa-wanna, hey-wa-na Asa-wanna, hey-wa-na
The hunters notched their arrows and drew back their bows.
Hey nickity, hey-wa-na
The Piasa came into view. At first it was a tiny speck high above them. Then it dropped like an eagle with its wings folded back its talons outstretched.
Asa-wanna, hey-wa-na
At the last second the Piasa flapped its wings and stalled just above Outoga.
Some saw a blinding flash of light. Some thought it an invisible shield. But the talons of the Piasa could not pierce this barrier.
Some say Creator smiled upon Outoga.
But in that moment’s hesitation the Piasa bared its breast and 28 arrows found their mark.
The Piasa shrieked a deafening shriek, rose up, and fell into the mighty Mississippi.
The water bubbled and boiled. A foul green stench rose from the water for four days and four nights.
In honor of Outoga they inscribed a picture of this beast on the cliff above the river where this happened so many years ago.
The picture is still there to remind us of this story to remind us of the bravery of this man.
To this day when the people paddle past in their canoe, (or drive past in their car), they offer a silent prayer hoping they, too, could be so brave, hoping that if they are in need Creator will offer them guidance And they, too, can find the courage in their heart To do what needs to be done.
This is my version of the story (C) 2011
But there are some other versions out there on the web:
Alton, Illinois' web page has little history and a short version of the tale.
One of the more complete versions of the story and alot more history can be found on Ghosts of the Prairie.
John Dunphy has some strong words to say about the history of the story!

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