Back in 2002 I had a dream about an amusement park along the coast (out east) which was attacked by a creature that in my dream I thought was the Jersey Devil. Having been looking for a book subject of my own (as things were going slow for my daughter and I as outlined in how I got started) I thought this would be it. I had developed my fictional protagonists but needed a mysterious creature for the main subject. I began to become disenchanted with the Jersey Devil after my research showed it had been the subject of numerous books and movies. In the course of my research another huge flying creature was mentioned, the Piasa. While little information was available on the Piasa back in 2002, looking online today I find much more including some that discredits what was said in 2002. My original novel was written between 2002 and about 2008; published in 2010. I am re-releasing it after updating language however, I have not corrected any of the Piasa lore as it appeared in 2002. So, yes I know someone claims it was painted by the Chinese and someone else claims Piasa means little people and not the Bird that Devours Men. However the original lore is still also a viable option. These so-called researchers were not alive in 1840 so . . .
In short, the Piasa was first noted by Father Marquette in his journey down the Mississippi River with Louis Jolliet in 1673. One of them sketched a picture of a huge creature painted on the limestone cliffs just north of what would become Alton, Illinois. Marquette described the creature in his diary of the exploration. However in an accident where their canoe overturned the sketch was lost. Others claimed to have seen it but the only other sketch known was published by Henry Lewis, German artist who sketched various sites up and down the Mississippi River around 1841. Now I noted that some credit a J.C. Wild for the sketch. Regardless, it appeared in Lewis’s book, The Valley of the Mississippi, and was attributed to him.
In the 1870’s the Cliff face that contained the Piasa image was quarried for building a road and other projects. The original Piasa image was gone.
Other tales, including the supposed Native folklore of how it came to be and the story of a cave of bones attributed to the Piasa’s victims circulated and are touched on in my Piasa story. However, while the Piasa is the basis for my story, it more involves the story of Sara Williams who is orphaned after an auto accident in Alton, and Mike Kellogg the cryptozoologist, who lost his wife and daughter in an accident the same day and, following the discovery of additional caves in the Alton bluffs, comes searching for the truth about the Piasa.
While ‘Piasa’ presents an answer to the mystery it is purely fictional (as is, I think, the entire Piasa yarn) and not meant to be any kind of an actual explanation. My work is fiction but the references to the Piasa of the past are based on research, circa 2002-08.
What do I believe? I believe the painting was there and was painted by ‘someone’ to represent the creatures of Native American lore. It wasn’t necessarily a painting of one creature. Beyond that? Who knows.
My novel ‘Piasa’ was first released in 2011. The year is listed in the book as 2010 but that first batch, in late December, was misprinted and had to be redone. It was re-edited and a second edition released around April of 2017. The follow on story of Sara’s adventures, Cryptid, was released in April of 2018. Will there be a third novel? Who knows?