Marquette's Man-eater

Until it was worn away by the elements a curious relief was visible on

the bluffs of the Mississippi near Alton, Illinois. It was to be seen as

late as 1860, and represented a monster once famous as the piasa bird.

Father Marquette not only believed it but described it as a man-eater in

the account of his explorations, where he mentions other zoological

curiosities, such as unicorns with shaggy mane and land-turtles three

feet long with two heads, very mischievous and addicted to biting. He

even showed a picture of the maneater that accorded rudely with the

picture on the rocks. It was said to prey on human flesh, and to be held

in fear by the Indians, who encountered it on and near the Mississippi.

It had the body of a panther, wings like a bat, and head and horns of a

deer. Father Marquette gave it a human face. The sculpture was

undoubtedly made by Indians, but its resemblance to the winged bulls of

Assyria and the sphinxes of Egypt has been quoted as confirmation of a

prehistoric alliance of Old and New World races or the descent of one

from the other. It has also been thought to stand for the totem of some

great chief-symbolizing, by its body, strength; by its wings, speed; by

its head, gentleness and beauty. But may not the tradition of it have

descended from the discovery of comparatively late remains, by primitive

man, of the winged saurians that crawled, swam, dived, or flew, lingering

on till the later geologic period? The legend of the man-eater may even

have been told by those who killed the last of the pterodactyls.

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