The Plasa Bird
In an early day in Illinois, the description of these monsters was quite
current in the western part of the state. So also was a tradition that these
monsters actually inhabited a great cave near. It described, however, but a
single monster and but a single picture. The tradition said that this monster
was a hideous creature with wings, and great claws, and great teeth. It was
accustomed to devour every living thing which came within its reach; men, women,
and children, and animals of all kinds. The Indians had suffered great loss of
their people from its ravages and a council of war was held to devise some means
by which its career might be ended. Among other schemes for its extermination
was a proposition by a certain young warrior to the effect that, upon the
departure of the beast on one of his long flights for food, he would volunteer
to be securely tied to stakes on the ledge in front of the mouth of the cave,
and that a sufficient number of other warriors of the tribe should be stationed
near with their poisoned arrows so that when the bird should return from its
flight they might slay it.
This proposition was accepted and on a certain day the bird took its accustomed flight. The young warrior who offered to sacrifice his life was securely bound to strong stakes in front of the mouth of the cave. The warriors who were to slay the beast were all safely hidden in the rocks and debris near. In the afternoon the monster was seen returning from its long journey. Upon lighting near its cave, it discovered the young warrior and immediately attacked him, fastening its claws and teeth in his body. The thongs held him securely and the more it strove to escape with its prey the more its claws became entangled in the thongs.
At a concerted moment the warriors all about opened upon the monster with their poisoned arrows, and before the beast could extricate itself, its life blood was ebbing away. Its death had been compassed.
The warriors took the body and, stretching it out so as to get a good picture of it, marked the form and painted it as it was seen by Marquette. Because the tribes of Indians had suffered such destruction of life by this monster, an edict went forth that every warrior who went by this bluff should discharge at least one arrow at the painting. This the Indians continued religiously to do. In later years when guns displaced arrows among the Indians, they continued to shoot at the painting as they passed and thus it is said the face of the painting was greatly marred.
Judge Joseph Gillespie, of Edwardsville,
Illinois, a prolific writer and a man of unimpeachable character wrote in 1883
as follows: "I saw what was called the picture sixty years since, long before it
was marred by quarrymen or the tooth of time, and I never saw anything which
would have impressed my mind that it was intended to represent a bird. I saw
daubs of coloring matter that I supposed exuded from the rocks that might, to
very impressible people, bear some resemblance to a bird or a dragon, after they
were told to look at it in that light, just as we fancy in certain arrangements
of the stars we see animals, etc., in the constellations. I did see the marks of
the bullets shot by the Indians against the rocks in the vicinity of the
so-called picture. Their object in shooting at this I never could comprehend. I
do not think the story had its origin among the Indians or was one of their
superstitions, but was introduced to the literary world by John Russell, of
Bluff Dale, Illinois, who wrote a beautiful story about it."
The bluff has long since disappeared through the use of the stone for building purposes.
Source: A Standard History of Champaign County, Illinois, by J. R. Stewart, published by The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago And New York, 1918.