Friday, November 16, 2018

Bird eats Indians!


Buffalo Courier

Saturday Morning, July 12, 1873


THE PIASA-BIRD
__________
A Legend of the Illinois
__________

On tho banks of tho Mississippi, 25 miles

northeast from St. Louis, and about 5 miles

from the mouth of the Missouri,stretched over a

hundred hills, lies the quiet, half-secular,half-

Puritanical old city of Alton.



Just below it begins, the Great American

Bottom. Back to the east, and northward,

rise hill and bluff.gradually, some abruptly,

from the water's'edge, and, rolling backward,

blend imperceptibly into tho great prairies of

the state; while on the west flows the

Mississippi, De Soto's magnificent mausoleum,

flanked in turn by Mariposa-like cottonwoods,

and an almost tropical luxuriance of hazel,

willow and vine. There, amid the doubtful

aspirations of tbe present and the cherished

traditions o f the past, the good people tell

this Indian legend:



The Ottow-Wahs and the Illinois were allies,

and Lin-cah-tello, "the Firm Oak", was their

chief. Together they had quiet possession of

that country, and were at peace with all the

surrounding tribes. They were all happy, except.

Lin-cah-tello, saddened at the mysterious

loss of his only daughter, and the death of her

lover, who flung himself over the cliffs, in a

moment of despair, into the water below; but

the great chief, nevertheless, lived for his

people, and their ingenuous sympathy buoyed

him up.

As the years of' prosperity rolled by, suddenly

the Piasa-bird came among them, and

took up its home in a cave in the cliffs, scarce

a league to the northward of the present site

of the city. Whence it came, h ow it received

its name, or what that name meant, is unknown.

Its coming was as sudden as its shape

was mysterious Possessing an eagle's head

and wings,—the former crested with steel,-—it

had the tongue of an adder, and the tail of a

dragon, tipped with the sting of a scorpion.

It had four legs, human to the knees, and

eagle the rest, pointed by the longest and

sharpest of talons, — making altogether a

monster the peer of which was never known

before or since, and which, fortunately, left no

progeny.


With the swiftness of an arrow it would

light down upon an Indian, sink its beak into

him and carry him away to its cave. Often a

half-dozen were taken in one day to sate its

voracious appetite. No one was safe in venturing

out alone; and frequently when a group

were bathing or fishing, it would sweep down

like winged lightning, and carry one off to

Its cave in the cliffs. Nothing in the shape of

bird. man, or beast was free from Its all-devouring

nature, The bald-eagle, primeval lord of

the castles in the crags along the river's edge,

look 'height, and' soared away into the

thunder's home, and never returned again;

and the smaller birds, that once made the air

joyous with their lays, caught the alarm, and

piped and caroled no more. Tho browsing

herds of game disappeared: the wail of the

wolf, and the fierce growl of the bear, no more

re-echoed in the dense solitude; nothing, save

its perpetual lashing of the river, broke the

almost death-like stillness.


Anxiety, starvation, and despair now succeeded

the peace, happiness, and plenty of

this Arcadia. What had they done that the

Great Spirit should send this terrible curse

upon them? War was tho only shaft in the

quiver of God's wrath' they bad seen or felt.

Pestilence and famine, principally creatures

of civilization, were to them unknown. Of all

the terrors they had ever experienced, this

dreadful bird brought the greatest; and how

could they escape them?


The medicine-men had invoked the interposition

of Mee-sak-kam-ne-go, the grandmother

of mankind,who had in charge all the poisons,

with which she could help her children when

she wished; but she listened not to their

tearful supplications.  She didn't care for

them; and the demon-bird kept on in its

fearful work of destruction. Then they sought

the assistance of Kla-po-chee-sek, the north

wind; but all their earnest appeals and weird

incantations failed to move it from its wintry

home. It was indifferent to their fate. And

now their hope lay In an appeal to Ah- min-

me- o- gee- c hee , "the Spirit of Thunder";

and all the great medicine-men in the surrounding

tribes were asked to Come together

and help them to urge that spirit to drive the

scourge away.


Their faith Was great in the power of Thunder,

and in the effect ot the great hunting

medicine song they sang in their appeal. . Few

could sing it, — not more then four in all tbe

surrounding tribes,—add nothing could resist

it. As the rocks and trees danced and reeled

before the mellow symphonies of the lute or

Orpheus,so were deer, bear, elk, and antelope

known to come trembling around and submit

to sacrifice under its potent spell

They met; and, amid a chorus of shrieks

and groans, of yells and cries, there was one

loud, continuous, earnest appeal to the unseen

spirit living In the clouds, whose voice Was

louder and stronger then anything earth bad

seen or ear had. heard, to give them some

loud-sounding medicine, or wind, or rain, or

sleet, o r snow,—anything needful to insure

tbe destruction of this bird; and then they

sank to the earth exhausted, and waited for a

response.



Far above them a few fleecy clouds were

floating like angel-banners from heaven's

battlements; but no sound came from them, or

reverberated in the unfathomnable- depths of

blue beyond. But they knew that the spirit

Thunder would come; so they patiently waited.

The wind, rustling the leaves for a moment,

was thought to be the forerunner of an impending

storm; but, climbing the almost

vertical cliff., it lingered awhile in the gnarled

cedars, and then, leaping upward, died away

in the rock-ribbed hills beyond. But still.they

hoped and waited. Slowly the hours dragged

along; but yet there was neither doubt nor a

response. Then suddenly they were startled

by a roar and shock from above! High up the

bluff a huge rock, cleft once by lightning and

beaten by a thousand storms, broke from its

base, and, leaping like live thunder down the

rattling crags, caused their hearts to swell high

with hope,—sinking low with disappointment

a few moments after. Then sanguine expectation

yielded to nervous apprehension. Could

it be possible that the spirit of Thunder would

not come to their aid?—that it, too, would remain

indifferent to their tale, after all their

earnest appeals? Ob, no! thy thought was too harrowing

to entertain, and the great

medicine-men dismissed it, and still patiently

hoped and waited. ;


Slowly the dying sun dropped down the sky,

gilding the bluff-tops with almost celestial

splendor, and flinging a golden zone around

the snowy clouds in the firmament above. It

left the world, and with it perished every ray

of hope.


Ah-min-me o-gee-chee was afraid.'

Now what could they do? That congealing

pang that seizes the bosom when all the world

is unable, and heaven seems unwilling, to give

the desired relief, seized upon all. To Lin-cah-

tello their eyes involuntarily turned; but

what could he do, human as they, toward "re-

lieving them from this accursed destroyer?

Lin-cah-tello was a great chief, wise in council,

strong in arm, and brave in battle. He had

often dallied with death, and laughed It to

scorn, he had gone fifty days without food;

had cut the tongue from a bear, torn the fangs

from an adder; and had made the bravest chief

of his foes swallow an arrow,—the crowning

glory of all achievements of war; but now (how

crushing the thought!), with all of his wisdom

and valor, he was as powerless as a palsied

arm to help them-


Gathering bis chiefs and head-men about

him, he proposed the last and only remaining

plan to relieve themselves of this bloodthirsty

sprite. Some one must be sacrificed, placed

ia a conspicuous position, and twenty-five

warriors, with poisoned arrows, were to be

secreted near, and fire at the bird when it

came for its prey. And to him was to be left

the right to select the victim for the sacrifice.


Silently this proposition was received; but

who would be the chosen victim? All wondered,

but instantly concluded that it would be

-some worthless brave or squaw, useless longer

to the tribe. Of course, no other would be

sacrificed, none other was necessary.


The day appointed came. Every preparation

had been made; but the victim was yet

unknown. The livers of three antelopes had

been, thrown into a rattlesnake's den until

thoroughly permeated with poison, and into

these their arrows were soaked. The hour had

come. The warriors — twenty-five of the

bravest, quickest, and truest,—with their

bows, were placed in position by Lin-cah-tello;

and all was in readiness but the sacrifice.

Whom could it be?


Stepping out before them, all robed and

painted for the war-path, Lin-cah-tello told

his anxious clans be had carefully thought over

who should save them by sacrificing his life

and be. had chosen one whom he thought all

loved, but at whom the Great Spirit must certainly

be angry, or why thus afflict his people?

He hoped all would Calmly submit to his choice

when he gave his name. And then, pausing

a moment, and looking around at those before

him, with his eyes booming with love, whilst

their. hearts beat high with mingled sorrow

and dread, he told them that he had chosen—

none other than himself !


Loud were the cries that went up against his

decision! Scores of warriors sprang forward

and begged to take his place; women threw

their arms about his neck, and implored him

to desist; and children shrieked their appeals

to stay and live with them, — for how could

they do without him ? But Lin-cah-tello was

inflexible. With a silent wave of his hand he

bade them depart to their lodges, while he

quietly took bis position near the river edge,

on a projecting rock, around which his warriors

were secreted, and calmly resigned himself

to his fate, — a willing sacrifice on the

alter of his people,


The suspense was not long. As if scenting

its prey, the Piasa-bird soon made its appear-

ance high in the clouds above, soaring around

and around, and gradually closing down to

the earth, until it poised for a moment,

straight yet high above him. It seemed surveying

the field; and then, when satisfied, it came

down with a fearful swoop and hiss upon the
noble chieftain; but ,ere it struck its fatal talons,

twenty-fire poisoned messengers of death

were buried In its body, and,with an unearthly

shriek, chilling the blood of the bravest of the

brave, it fell a harmless, quivering mass at

Lin-cah-tello's feet.


Wild was the delight and great the -rejoicing

then! All shouted; and sang, and

around the dreadful scourge, now filled with

arrows, and dreaded no longer,- until the great

valley rang and echoed with their shouts, and

those of sympathizing friends on the shore beyond.

Lin-cah-tello only was calm; his eyes,

filled with tear, told of his heartfelt joy. All

night their festivities continued; and the next

day they painted the picture of the monster on

the wall of the bluffs, in a beautiful field and

frame moulded by nature, a short distance

above the spot where the distracted lover

made his fatal leap.


Many moons afterward Lin-cah-tello was

gathered to his fathers. Wrapping the robes

around him he wore the day he succored his

people, and decorating him with his paints and

leathers, they placed him beneath tbe rock

once chosen as the shrine of his sacrifice, now

a perennial monument to his offering.


So died Lin-cah-tello,—pleased with his

knowledge of the past and present; and happy

In his ignorance of the future. Time rolled

on decade following swiftly after decade. Then

far to the eastward, arose an other scourge.

deadlier and more fearful yet to the red man

of America. He met it, fought it valiantly,

but In vain. Before him kings, emperors,

and priests had opposed it with powerful

armies and subtle casuistries, but stayed it

not. On it came! Mountains, rivers, oceans,

forests,—all the barriers and battlements of

nature could not stop it's steady progress, nor

bind its rushing pinions. Still onward it pressed,—

swiftly, silently, and incessantly! With

the resistless march of "the Scourge of God"

on Rome from the north, so came this mighty

march of Mind from the east, and swept before

it the doomed races of the soil, as the dew is

swept by the hot breath ot the morning sun.



Thus died the Ottow-wahs and the Illinois,

and then only was tho memory of Lin-cah-tell

forgotten.

This ends the legend, —vague, mysterious,

and indistinct, as all genuine legends are. A

short distance above the old convict and military

prison a rock, looming high above the

water's edge, is yet shown to the stranger as

"the lover's leap". Near this spot lovers now

frequently gather; and, as the grand old river

runs and sins it ceaseless song far beneath

them, the doleful story of tho Indian lovers is

forgotten in others too supernal for such an

alloy. Races change and generations pass

away, like the current below;.yet the stream

and their story are ever tho same.


Many are now living who remember traces of

the painting oft the bird on the cliffs,—which

time the  iconoclast, has now wholly destroyed.

Piles of Indian bones, years agone, were found

in the cave which, together with a stream and

a street, a township and a tavern, ye' bears

its name. On the walls of some of the older

citizens pictures of its death can yet be seen;

and a short account of this mystery has found

its way into Livingston's ephemeral history of

Illinois; but what the real nature, object, or

origin of the Piasa-bird was, if it had any at

all, is covered In the dust of oblivion, and, like

the mystery of Edwin Drood, must remain

forever untold.— Chicago Tribune.



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