Dragon Ride - Dragon Slayers, Legends & Serpent Dragons

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Piasa – Legend provides many details of this famous North American dragon. The Piasa was 30 feet long, including its 12-foot tail ending in a double fin, and the wingspan of its leathery wings was 16-to-18 feet. It was red, black, green, with four legs, bird-like talons, and reptilian scales. The horrible face of the Piasa was said to be a man's face with crimson eyes, sharp teeth, antlers, ape-like nostrils, bristling beard, and a vaporous breath.

Piasa Dragon Bird of Illinois

Dragon stories come from all continents inhabited by humans. The fearsome dragon bird that once terrorized the region of Illinois provides a compelling example of a dragon slaying story from North America .

The legend of the Piasa of Illinois was first recorded by the French explorer and Jesuit priest, Father Jacques Marquette. In August 1673 while traveling the route of the Mississippi River , he saw striking petroglyphs carved into cliffs along the river. The petroglyphs displayed the image of the Piasa. Marquette 's native guide explained that the word Piasa translated into "the bird that devours human beings."

The guide went on to tell the legend to Marquette, who recounted it in the journals of his explorations. Centuries before the arrival of Marquette , the Illini tribe of the region had coexisted with the Piasa that lived in a cave upon the cliffs where the petroglyphs commemorated its existence. By coexisted, the Illini presumably left alone the strange beast that swooped from the sky to kill deer and other mammals.

Unfortunately for the Illini, the Piasa eventually acquired a taste for human flesh. It happened after a war with a neighboring tribe. A battlefield strewn with dead people enticed the dragon bird with an easy meal. After that incident, the Piasa started hunting the Illini. It would strike from the sky, grasping men, women, or children in its talons and hauling them off to an awful death in its lair.

Now that the Illini were reduced to the existence of feeder mice, they decided that coexistence with the Piasa had to end. The warriors gathered and decided that the Piasa must be lured by human bait to the ground where a group of warriors could attack the dragon. The warrior brave Massatoga reportedly volunteered to act as the bait.

With 20 of the bravest and strongest Illini warriors waiting nearby, Massatoga went to the cliffs and began chanting to the Great Spirit, praying to be rid of the Piasa. The chanting man below the cliffs drew out the Piasa, which likely wanted the handy meal or maybe just some quiet. As the dragon came down for him, Massatoga ran into the cover of trees, which forced the Piasa to land and walk after its prey. As it entered the trees, the 20 warriors assailed it. The ambush began with poison arrows that were said to bounce of the dragon's scales, but eventually some pierced the dragon's wings and the warriors pressed in closer. With their knives and tomahawks, they eventually overwhelmed the dragon and ended its reign of terror.

The story of the slaying of the Piasa has certainly been worthy of surviving the ages, but unfortunately the amazing petroglyphs that were sketched in Marquette's original journal and in other sources were destroyed when the cliffs crumbled in the 1800s because of a nearby quarry. However, the new civilization present in Illinois chooses still to celebrate its amazing dragon legend and the petroglyphs have been recreated on bluffs near Alton , Illinois . Follow this link to see a picture of the new Piasa petroglyphs.


"Dragons: A Natural History." 1995. Dr. Karl Shuker. Simon & Schuster , New York . Pages 66-69.

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