(First things first -- not all this research is mine. In fact, very little of it is, outside of the similarities with the Maori legend. However, it's not a very well publicized idea, though it is very likely to be the case and is possibly grounds for eliminating the famous Piasa Bird from the list of cryptozoological beings and as such, really should be put out there.)

A great hero, arising in a land terrorized by a monstrous, man-eating bird, comes up with a daring plan. Using another man as bait, he lures the monster bird out from its lair, and while it is distracted by the chase, he leaps out from hiding and kills the beast. Such a story is familiar to many in the cryptozoological community as the killing of the infamous Piasa, the monstrous bird depicted on a rock painting near Alton, Illinois.

However, this story is not that of Ouatago, the Native American chief who slew the Piasa. Rather, it is the story of Pungarehu, and the bird in question was not that chimera of Illinois folklore, but the Poukai or Pouaka. The people preyed upon were not the Illini, but the Maori of New Zealand. (The Poukai, or its prototype the Haast's Eagle, has been in the news recently).

In the cryptozoological literature the Piasa story has been told and retold and likened to the more modern sightings of gigantic raptorine birds throughout Illinois, with a few researchers noting the story as somewhat dubious - but then, of course, they go on to recount it anyway.

A few years back two friends of mine, Ben Roesch and John Moore, published a small magazine called The Cryptozoology Review. Of course, I've now come to realize quite a few CFZers also wrote for the magazine; there were several contributions by Darren Naish, and Richard Muirhead wrote a few as well. I believe Jon Downes may have written some things up for it, but I could be wrong (and probably am, knowing me).

In the Summer 1998 issue John Moore wrote up an article about the Piasa. We had been talking via e-mail for quite some time, and I recall our conversations on the bird and its somewhat dubious nature. Some of the particulars are a bit fuzzy, but he sent me some of the sources he was drawing upon for the article.

Anyway, most everyone is familiar with the particulars of how the Piasa pictograms were discovered by Father Jacques Marquette in 1673. His account of the first European sighting of the paintings, as given in the Recit des Voyages et des Decouvertes du Pere Jacques Marquette reads:

'...we saw upon one of them two painted monsters which at first made us afraid, and upon which the boldest savages dare not long rest their eyes. They are large as a calf; they have horns on their heads like those of a deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard like a tiger's, a face somewhat like a man's, a body covered with scales, and so long a tail that it winds all around the body, passing above the head and going back between the legs, ending in a fish's is approximately the shape of these monsters, as we have faithfully copied it.

Unfortunately, Marquette's depiction no longer survives. However, John reproduced with the article a copy of a drawing originating on a French map made by Jean-Baptiste Louis Franquelin in 1678, possibly copied directly from Marquette's sketch. The drawing depicts the Piasa more or less as it appears near Alton today; however, it has no wings (note that Marquette makes no mention of wngs in his account, either). The last reliable sighting of the original paintings was reported at the end of the eighteenth century, and it was noted that they had nearly disappeared then. Moore thinks it likely that the paintings may have entirely vanished by the beginning of the 1800s.

The fact is that many of the Native American tribes believed that a manitou, or spirit, called a Water Panther inhabited many rivers and streams. The water panther in traditional depictions is a long-tailed creature with four legs, sporting deer-like antlers. It supposedly haunted rapids, which were caused by the movement of its long tail. It could also move between bodies of water in the form of a meteor, and was also believed to be responsible for eclipses.

The traditional story of Chief Ouatago and the killing of the birds, originated from the pen of a man named John Russell, and did not appear in print until 1836. In fact, Russell's own son reported that "his father at one time confessed to him that the legend of the Piasa Bird was the product of imagination coupled with Marquette's account."

The only truly mysterious part of the tale, then, seems to be the derivation of the name 'Piasa' itself. Moore feels it may have derived from the French pailissa (palisade), a word often used to describe bluffs such as the Alton rocks. I felt that the name may have derived from pesshu or bizhy (Missipesshu and Micibizhy were two names used for Water Panther spirits). Given the similarity of the above Maori tale, it may even be that the name was derived from that bird's name, Poukai (its variant Pouaka is even closer to Piasa).

Moore's thesis in the article was that the Piasa, far from being a bird as traditionally thought, was only a spiritual depiction and in all likelihood never represented a real biological entity. Personally, I find this theory to be much more tenable than the truly chimerical flying monster depicted in the minds of many.

The most distressing part in my mind is the fact that, upon reviewing the source material, we find that just such a 'Piasa-as-spirit' theory had been proposed as far back as an article by Indiana historian Jacob Dunn written in 1923 and the "Piasa Bird" fallacy has been circulated and propagated for nearly 90 years! He also noted that one specific Water Panther - called Lennipinja by the Miami tribe of Ohio - was called, tellingly, l'Homme Tyger (man-tiger, or manticore) by the French. Further, Dunn noted that the Jesuit missionaries (of which Marquette was one) often wrote on the veneration given to the Water Panthers by natives and that Marquette notes a similar veneration of the Piasa.

IMAGES: Top is the early version of the Piasa from the 1678 Franquelin Map described in the text, and below it is a depiction of the water panther.

Bovine Curiosities

It is amazing what small matters will entertain a man who is tied to his post and involved in a mind-numbingly boring activity. It fell to my lot to mow a 50 acre field of oats stubble.

For my readers who are not familiar with the process of farming and preparing land for the winter, what needs to be done to an oats field is that after the oats has been harvested in midsummer, the ground cover will return and grow, and with that comes weeds that will grow to a great height. These weeds must be cut off before they go to seed in early fall. So sitting in a tractor with circulated air conditioning, which means that if I was to try and dull my boredom by lighting up my beloved Marlboros and killing myself slowly, then the inside of the tractor would smell of the stale smoke for weeks. This would then lead to my non-tobacco-addicted relatives being very unpleasant to me for the next month or two. So in my almost suicidal boredom and homicidal withdrawals while I went from north to south and south to north mowing off the top of the green weeds, I noticed something very peculiar.

To the east of me across the blacktop road we have a large pasture with a creek running through it where half of our cattle herd is lodged in. These cattle are not exactly free range but have been exposed to predators at some points in their history. Keeping in mind that these cattle are totally domesticated, there should be nothing remarkable about their movement. I say that when you pay attention to what is going on you can see the true picture. The herd was composed of about 15 cows 17 calves and a herd bull; not a very large herd but quite sizable. I watched their movement and was amazed.

The herd formed a line with a matriarch at the front and fourteen cows walking two by two toward the creek to drink. The calves sheltered inside guarded by a full grown cow on either side with the herd bull bring up the rear. The matriarch drank first and moved to one side being watchful and the cows split off to each side and allowed the calves to drink and the bull finally drank. The herd then reversed its direction and crossed the pasture toward the feeder and moved in the same formation with the bull in the rear, head up and watching for predators.

The reason that this is so interesting is because of a theory of species memory that I have expressed in past Blogs. Domestic animals can revert to their wild habits even after they are completely domesticated and the movement of our cattle reminded me very much of an American bison herd or an African buffalo herd. It is remarkable how simple a matter will entertain a man who is tied to his post.

Domestic animals have not lost their natural instincts. When feral, dogs will form packs. As for hogs, it takes roughly a month for them to become completely wild and extremely dangerous. But if you watch a group of domesticated cattle moving in a pasture or a paddock if they have been together a reasonable time you should notice a distinct herd order, and the protective instincts of these normally docile beasts becomes very evident. The only reason that a beast can be caged is that he does not know his strength to shatter the bars with his breath.

Herd bulls remain very docile and easy to handle until they learn that they have the ability to make a man run. They are not controlled by fear or mastered by pain; they are kept such by their own ignorance but because these animals are not simple dumb creatures they become more intelligent with age and experience, and this is when they become dangerous.

It is my experience as a keeper of these creatures that the more feral a cow is during the breeding season; exposed to predators and weather and other natural influences; the better mother she will make when she calves with almost lioness-like devotion to her offspring. Much of the time have I been put up on a gate to avoid one of these massive animals in the calving barn after she has given birth and attempting to defend her calf. I have also witnessed a cow giving birth in an open field on frozen ground and then shortly after walking the calf slowly back to the rest of the remaining mothers who have not yet had calves, which makes for great difficulty in extracting this pair from the heard because of the natural protective devices put into place by their species memory and given wild behavior. It actually can be a rather dangerous affair.

I do not know if my readers will find this as fascinating as I do but it is a testament to the wonder of the natural world even in domesticated animals.

I also have some other bovine related news that may be more interesting. We own another pasture , which is much more wooded and has not only a crew but a pond and is actually at the top of a glacier-cut valley with half of the valley floor following a third of this property. The valley is full of trees, bushes and thorns; swampy parts and springs, and other valleys inside of the valley itself with a very flat portion at the top that makes up most of the pasture but along the valley walls at the foot of the plateau. Approximately a week prior to the day in question we had counted the cattle and filled the feeder with oats. Upon our return to this pasture we made a count of the cattle and found one calf to be missing. I use the word 'calf' very loosely because this one was actually 6 months old and very close to 600lbs, it could be estimated based on my father’s knowledge of his animals. So after searching the pasture from top to bottom, stumbling into a quicksand pit, being ripped apart by thorns and seeing parts of my own property that I did not even know existed, we decided that it was best to start looking for a carcass after the better part of 3 hours. We got into the pickup truck and went on the road to the lower entrance of the pasture and drove from the feeder in the valley floor to an area where the creek cut under the fence. So after going to the bend in the creek and finding nothing I looked down to my feet and found what appeared to be a bone from a large animal’s leg. And I followed the trail of bones that extended in a circle of about 20 meters in diameter until I reached a shade tree at the bend of the creek.

Here I found some ribs and a skull. In no more than 7 days a 600 lb animal had been reduced to nothing but hair in the mud, scattered bones and a pile of sour oats that once had been the contents of its stomach. I called out to my father and showed him my discovery. We deduced that the unlucky animal had over eaten of the grain in the feeder and had gone looking for water. Upon drinking the water it had began to bloat as the dry grain swelled in its stomachs and it had finally died in the place I had found the skull. This area was not remote at all and much danger and trouble could have been saved if we had looked in the most easily accessible spot. Due to the rain that had recently been had in the area I could find no sign of predation in tracts and in examining the bones I was unable to find any strange marks of predation. However, this pertains to cryptozoology in that in no more than 7 days, in a very accessible area, under less than extreme conditions, a carcass between 400 and 600lbs was reduced to nothing but scattered bones and hair in the mud, and a skull that was being eaten away by rodents for the calcium. Under these less than extreme conditions if an animal of this size can all but disappear in a time space of no more than 7 days, how quickly would such carcasses of unknown animals disappear into the earth again?

I hope than I have been able to entertain if not educate my readers on the attempts of a madly bored man attempting to maintain his sanity, finding fascination in simple things, as well as discovering proof that large animals can disappear in a very short time.

I will continue on the track of mystery animals as the CFZ Illinois Operator but I am also very excited to enjoy the natural world in the month of October from the height of a tree stand in the Deer woods of Illinois. Please get in touch with me if there is anything around the CFZ that might require my talents as a woodsman.

The Lair of the Tiger salamander

I hope that my readers with forgive my long absence from the CFZ bloggo.

However, I honestly have had nothing worth writing. I have had my eye to the woods, waters and papers but nothing worthwhile had turned up. There was a report of a mountain lion near the town of Henry, Illinois where other such reports have come from in the past but because of its location on private property I was unable to get access. It's such a pity that The CFZ in civilized countries has it much harder. At least if I was Richard Freeman bushwhacking around a third world country I could bribe a local warlord and be home free other than the fact that he might decide to kill me later on in the expedition.

However, I have nothing to report on the large predator front other than that. No news has come to me. It will be fall soon and the hunters will be taking to the woods (as will I) and stories will be coming out of fresh sightings. These animals do not move very much in the summer and also the corn and foliage are so tall and thick that they can move very easily without being noticed. They are, after all, stealth killers. I have also acquired a new Glock pistol model G22 in 40 caliber that will accompany any expeditions that might eventually happen; that is if the current administration of my country does not take it from my cold dead hands. I apologize for the trampling of the rest of the worlds rights to bear arms and we are fighting for our lives to keep our rights even as I write. But Politics aside....
Now for something completely different.

I do have some small discoveries: a western hognose snake was farther east than it had been reported in my state; as well as a tiger salamander.

It is amazing what turns up when you are not looking for it. My father and I were working on the family farm's well shaft, which had a broken pipe, and I saw this salamander that looked larger than any I had ever seen. So I collected it for identification. It measured 11 inches. Also what makes this discovery of mine unique is that according to the University of Illinois there has never been a tiger salamander captured, photographed or documented in away way in my county or 3 other counties in my area and 1 county to the west of mine so 5 counties in total. The max. growth of the tiger salamander is 13 inches. I must say that I find a lot of irony in that I found this beautiful creature in a well shaft much like Sir John Lampton and his famous Worm!

However, I doubt that this tiger salamander could milk a dozen cows. If I may divert a bit, I would posit that the Lampton worm was most likely a large snake that was brought to England and that Lampton got from a trader when he was a boy and just as people today do when they get large predatory snakes and cannot take care of them, he released it, or in this case chucked it down a well. Because I must say, I see a very possible connection between the WORM and the giant snake legends that are around the world much like the anacondas or Pythons.

I must say, however, that if it would have truly happened, the sight of a knight and a 50- to 100-foot snake doing battle, that I would like to see. The raw combat would be tangible in the air. And such exotic pets would not have a hard time breeding legends in the minds of those who had never seen them before. Yet I collected this salamander in a well and nobody lost any sheep or any sleep, and I didn’t really keep any babes from harm, nor did I make halves of this salamander, or save cows and calves. But it is at the very least a rather interesting discovery.

So after identifying the salamander and documenting its size and location and shooting a piece for `On the Track` I released the salamander back into the wild. I have the pleasure of documenting for the CFZ the first known tiger salamander in my county as well as the entire surrounding area. None have been reported in this part of the state post 1980 at all and I believe that the tiger salamander population may be on the rise again.

I am doing my best in what little I can to support the CFZ. However, when there is no news I cannot make things up. I hope that my writings will be more frequent . I have also attempted to use my YouTube channel to generate some revenue in donation to the CFZ. I am unsure if that has been at all successful but I will continue to do my level best on the track of mystery animals.