THE PIASA MONSTER BIRD
The 1934 restoration of the Piasa Bird on the bluff
over the Mississippi by Alton, Illinois. Replaced
original which had been destroyed during
quarrying operations in the 19th century.
This article was written in 1958 by Charles Harnett as a project of the Illinois State Museum. It was never published due to disagreement between Harnett and a museum curator
as to interpretation of certain recorded accounts.
Tourists venturing along the Mississippi near Alton, Illinois become predictably startled when seeing for the first time
the colorful but grotesque painting of the Piasa monster bird on a bluff overlooking the river. But modern riverboat sightseers
are probably far less shocked than was Father Jacques Marquette, the famous missionary who first explored that great river,
when he discovered a similar pictograph said to have been painted by prehistoric Indians centuries earlier.
Since Father Marquette first made known his 1673 discovery of painted monsters "upon which the boldest Indians dared not
long rest their eyes", a furious controversy has raged among ethnohistorians aiming to prove or disprove the validity of the
Piasa (pronounced pie-ah-saw) painting.
Variously described as a flying dragon, monster bird and aerial demon, the Piasa has endured through the past three centuries
an an Indian legend confirmed only by its reproduction as recorded by various observers.
Similar in description to the Phoenix of the prehistoric southwest, Anka of Arabia, Demaj of Persia, Imgig of Mesopotamia,
and Marco Polo's Rukh, the Piasa has its counterpart in almost every corner of the globe both in prehistoric legend and early
history. The American Indian version has been described as a monstrously huge bird with a wingspan measuring over fifty feet,
able to carry off antelope and humans with equal ease in its enormous talons .
First account of the Piasa paintings came late in the 17th century when Father Marquette recorded in his journal strange
observations he made during an exploratory trip by canoe down the Mississippi. His account states:
"While skirting some rocks which by their height and length inspired awe, 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 as large as a calf,
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 a tail so long that it winds all around the body, passing above the head and going
back between the legs, ending in a fish's tail. Green, red and black are the three colors composing the picture. Moreover,
these two monsters are so well painted that we cannot believe that any savage is their author, for good painters in France
would find it difficult to do so well. And besides, they are so high up on the rock that it is difficult to reach that place
conveniently to paint them."
Such a description, regardless of how improbable it may seem, would indeed appear credible in light of how Father Marquette
had been assigned by the French the important task of recording his observations as he travelled the Mississippi, converting
the savages along the way. That he was a reliable observer is not open to question. His records have persisted to the persent
time as important references by scholars studying customs and culture of the Indians of the period when white men first arrived.
Elsewhere in his journal, for example, in describing an animal he was seeing for the first time, Marquette wrote:
"We call them "wild cattle", because they are similar to our domestic cattle. They are not longer but are nearly as large
again and more copulent. When our people killed one, three persons had much difficulty in moving it. The head is very large;
the forehead is flat, and a foot and a half wide between the horns, which are exactly like those of our oxen, but black and
much larger. Under the neck they have a sort of dewlap, which hangs down; and on the back is a rather high lump. The whole
of the head, the neck and a portion of the shoulders are covered with a thick mane like that of horses; it forms a crest a
foot long, which makes them hideous and, falling over their eyes, prevents them from seeing what is before them. The remainder
of the body is covered with a heavy coat of curly hair, almost like that of our sheep, but much stronger and thicker."
If the modern reader never seen a buffalo before, he may well have called Marquette's description far fetched. But the
Jesuit proves himself an accurate observer by describing that highly unusual creature with great accuracy. On the basis of
this alone -- not to speak of other remarkbly accurate accounts of strange customs and experiences -- it hardly seems likely
that Marquette could have exaggerated what he saw on Alton's high bluffs. For more on the buffalo, their importance to the
Native American culture and how they were a dominant factor in the existence of birds such as the Piasa dipicted, go to the
Addendum on the link below: Legend of the Giant Bird.
Marquette's records also show that the Menomini Indians informed him before leaving on his voyage south on the Father of
Rivers that he would encounter "horrible monsters which devouted men," so it would also be difficult to say that he was not
well prepared to witness some marvelous things.
In his account of the Piasa, Marquette goes on to describe the location of his sighting:
"While conversing about these monsters, sailing quietly in clear and calm water [apparently further south on the Mississippi],
we heard the noise of a rapid into which we were about to run, an accumulation of large and entire trees, branches and floating
islands was issuing from the mouth of the river Pekistanoui with such impetuosity that one would not, without great danger,
risk passing through it."
Some historians believe the Jesuit missionary was referring to the Missouri River as the Pekistanoui, placing the location
of the Piasa paintings not far from where the Missouri empties into the Mississippi only a few miles below Alton, Illinois.
A book written by Father Christian LeClerq, a Recollect missionary, contained another observation, authored this time by
Father Anastasium Douay. From the following description it is evident that what Father Douay saw was similar but probably
not the same pictograph observed by Marquette. The Mississippi Valley at that time contained scores of bluffs on which the
Indians had scrawled pictures of buffalo, plants and obscure figures. It should also be considered that a terrific rivalry
existed between the Jesuit and Recollect Orders and some authorities say that Recollect Douay's observation may have been
recorded for the purpose of discrediting the earlier work of the Jesuit Marquette. Douay wrote:
"I had brought me with the printed book [Marquette's] of this pretended discovery and I remarked along my route [down the
Mississippi] that there was not a word of truth in it."
Apparently, Douay had made up his mind beforehand that Marquette's monster paintings were illusory or fraudulent, and was
out to prove him wrong. His account continues:
"When we came near the place we saw, instead of these monsters, a horse and some other beasts painted upon the rock with
red colors by the savages. It is said that they cannot be reached, and yet I touched them without difficulty."
However, Douay quotes the Indians as having warned him as they had warned Marquette, that "there were some Tritons and
other monsters painted which the boldest men durst not look upon, there being some enchantment in their faces." He also relates
that the Indians "had told us likewise that the rock on which these dreadful monsters stood was so steep that no man could
climb up to it."
The controversy has continued for centuries whether Marquette and Douay had observed the same bluff and which of the two
missionaries had exaggerated his story. It is likely, however, that Douay's pictograph was at an entirely different location
from that seen by Marquette. Could the Jesuit have been so wrong in his observation, claiming the bluff to be of such height,
not to mention the description of the painting itself?
The Piasa bears a striking similarity to legendary birds like the Anka and Rukh of eras before Marquette's. But one wonders
whether Marquette himself had ever heard of them, since the Church frowned on reading about anything that smacked of superstitution.
Arabic authors in the middle ages often wrote of the Anka, a bird of huge size. The early Arabic writer, Kazweenee, called
it the greatest of birds: "It carries off the elephant as the cat carries off the mouse. This bird is accustomed to pounce
on all the birds of Mount Demaj and eat them up. One day, it was hungry and birds were scarce, so it pounced upon a child
and carried it off. It is called Anka-mogrel because it carries off what it seizes."
In the 13th century, the adventurous explorer Marco Polo detailed in his Travels much that he was told about the Rukh of
Madagascar, also been said to be able to carry off an elephant. According to young Polo (Marco Polo's Travel; III, 36):
]. Polo tells how he heard of a mighty feather presented to the Grand Khan of China purportedly taken from a Rukh and measuring ninety "spans" long. In classic literature a "span" is usually described
as being the distance between the tip of the thumb and the tip of the little finger in a spread out hand, roughly nine inches.
If the translation "ninety" is taken to be accurate that would make the feather over sixty-seven feet in length, which is
not likely. It is probably a mistranslation with the actual measure being NINE spans. That would make the feather somewhere
just over six feet long, similar in length to the one described as coming from the American southwest in The Boy and the Giant Feather
The Madagascarians related to him that "at a certain season of the year...the Rukh
makes its appearance from the south. Persons who have seen this bird assert that when the wings are spread, they span fifty
feet." [Approximately the same size as Native American accounts in The Legend of the Giant Bird
In the 17th century renowned British traveler and florist John Tradescant obtained what he claimed was the claw of the
Rukh, "a bird capable to trusse an elephant." The claw was an outstanding feature in Tradescant's museum which later became
the famous Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.
The first mention on record of a gigantic bird the likes of the Ruhk, Anka or Piasa was found on ancient tablets excavated
from Mesopotamian ruins. They describe unnamed monstrous and fantastic birds of prey that could carry off an antelope in each
In the cold of the North, similar stories of gigantic birds were told right up until modern times. In the northern plains
of Russia, the bird was called Vekher, the wind-demon. The Norsemen knew it as Hraesvalg, a huge eagle-like creature.
In the Orient, gigantic terrible bird-monsters were called Simurgh and Garunda. Also mentioned in historical documents
is the Kamar bird of Iran which "overshadowed the earth, keeping off the rain until the rivers ran dry."
The Quillayute Tribe in the Pacific northwest of the United States speak of a very large bird, with feathers as long as a canoe paddle. When he
flaps his wings, he makes thunder and the great winds. When he opens and shuts his eyes, he makes lightning. In stormy weather,
he flies through the skies, flapping his wings and opening and closing his eyes.
Legends of primitive tribes from all parts of the world described reptilian winged monsters. A human-snake-dragon form
was used in rituals by the ancient Aztecs and Mayas of Central America as well as the Incas of South America. Kukulkan, the
winged serpent of the Aztecs, was said to be the incarnation of Quetzlcoatal, the first emperor of Mexico. The Tamaroa and
Miami tribes of the midwestern United States also told of Piasa-like creatures. Around the same time, many cathedrals of central
Europe were decorated with Gargoyles, terrible-looking winged monsters that seemed strangely out of character with the religious
beliefs of those times.
But Marquette was not the only one to claim to have seen the Piasa pictographs. St. Cosmo, another French missionary who
traveled extensively along the Mississippi, claimed to have seen the pictures on his journey north from Texas in 1686.
After that, sightings of the paintings remained scarce until 1812 when a Major Amos Stoddard in a book published in that
year stated, "What they call 'painted monsters' on the side of a high perpendicular rock, apparently inaccessible to man,
located between the Missouri and Illinois rivers and known to the moderns by the name of Piasa, still remains to a good degree
of preservation." With this, the paintings reappear after almost a century of obscurity.
Then in 1849 Spencer G. Russell, a student at Shurtleff College, also claimed to have seen the strange bluff paintings.
He explained their disappearance for almost a century in this way:
"There was one remarkable fact which has been noticed by all familiar with the Piasa pictographs: that at times they could
be seen more distinctly than at others. When the atmosphere was damper than usual, the colors stood out plainer."
Spencer Russell's father, Professor John Russell of Bluffdale, Illinois, published an account of the Piasa in 1836, which
read in part:
"No part of the United States, not even the highlands of the Hudson, can vie in wild and romantic scenery with the bluffs
of Illinois. On one side of the river, often at the water's edge, a perpendicular wall of rock rises to the height of some
hundred feet. Generally on the opposite shore is a level bottom or prairie of several miles in width, extending to a similar
bluff that runs parallel with the river.
"One of these ranges commences at Alton, and extends with few intervals for many miles along the left bank of the Illinois
River. In descending the river to Alton, the traveler will observe between that town and the mouth of the Illinois, a narrow
ravine through which a small stream discharges its waters into the Mississippi. That stream is the Piasa. Its name is Indian
and signifies in the language of the Illini, 'The Bird That Devours Men.' Near the mouth of that stream on the smooth and
perpendicular face of the bluff, at an elevation which no human art can reach, is cut the figure of an enormous bird with
its wings extended. The bird which this figure represents was called by the Indians, the Piasa, and from this is derived the
name of the stream.
"The tradition of the Piasa is still current among all the tribes of the Upper Mississippi and those who have inhabited
the valley of the Illinois, and is briefly this: Many thousand moons before the arrival of the pale face, when the great Magolonyx
and Mastodon whose bones are now dug up were still living in this land of the green prairies, there existed a bird of such
dimensions that he could easily carry off in his talons a full grown deer.
"Having obtained a taste of human flesh, from that time he preyed upon nothing else. He was artful as he was powerful;
would dart suddenly and unexpectedly upon an Indian, bear him off into one of the caves in the bluff, and devour him. Hundreds
of warriors attempted for years to destroy him, but without success. Whole villges were nearly depopulated, and consternation
spread through all the tribes of the Illini."
Professor Russell goes on to relate how an Indian chief, Ouatoga, dreamed of a scheme by which the monster could be killed.
Ouatoga set himself up as decoy and directed his warriors to kill the beast with poisoned arrows when it swooped low to carry
him off. The plan succeeded, according to the legend, and consequently the chief directed his warriors to illustrate the Piasa
on a nearby high bluff.
The professor continues:
"Near the close of March of the present year, I was induced to visit the bluffs below the mouth of the Illinois and above
that of the Piasa [Creek]. My curiosity was principally directed to the examination of a cave connected with the above traditions,
as one of those to which the bird had carried its human victims. Preceded by an intelligent guide who carried a spade, I set
out on my excursion. The cave was extremely difficult of access, and at one point of our progress, I stood at an elevation
of more than one hundred and fifty feet on the face of the bluff, with barely room to sustain one foot. The unbroken mass
towered above me, while below was the river. After a long and perilous clambering, we reached the cave which was about fifty
feet above the surface of the river. By the aid of a long pole placed on a projecting rock and the upper end touching the
mouth of the cave, we succeeded in entering it.
"The roof of the cavern was vaulted, the top of which was hardly less than twenty-five feet in height. The shape of the
cave was irregular, but so far as I could judge, the bottom would average twenty by thirty geet. The floor of this cave throughout
its whole extent was a mass of human bones. Skulls and other bones were mingled together in the utmost confusion. To what
depth they extended I was unable to decide, but we dug to the depth of three or four feet in every quarter of the cavern and
still found only bones. The remains of thousands must have been deposited here: How, and by whom, and for what purpose, it
is impossible to conjecture."
In 1873, Martin Beem authored an article on the Piasa Bird Legend in the Illinois State Journal of Springfield, Illinois.
The legend he described is, with the exception of a few unlikely details possibly added for effect, similar to Professor Russell's:
"Its coming was as sudden as its shape was mysterious. Possessing an eagle's head and wings, the former crested with steel,
it had a tongue of an adder and the tail of a dragon, tipped with the sting of a scorpion. It had four legs, human to the
knees, the remainder eagle-like, pointed by the longest and sharpest of talons, making altogether a monster the peer of which
has never been known before or since, and which, fortunately, left no progeny.
"With the swiftness of an arrow, it would light down upon an Indian, sink its beak into him, and carry him away to its
cave. Often, a half-dozen were taken in one day to sate its voracious appetite. No one was safe in venturing out alone; and
frequently when a group were bathing or fishing, it would swoop down like winged lightning and carry one off to its eyrie
in the cliffs."
Beem also described the pile of Indian bones found in Professor Russell's cave.
With the publication of Russell's and Beem's articles the story grew, being told and retold countless times. Two years
later, A. D. Jones wrote concerning the paintings:
"There it was done, stained with the fase and fadeless colors whose subtle compounding the Indian only knows, and which
remain plainly visible to the present day.
"That such a monster ever existed, I cannot vouch -- that its image is engraven upon the rock, I know."
At times, little credence has been given the artistic works of the North American Indians with regard to the Piasa. William
H. Holmes, in the Second Annual Report of the American Bureau of Ethnology to the Smithsonian Institution in 1883, said of
the bird paintings:
"I am perfectly aware that a scientific writer should guard against the tendency to indulge in flights of fancy. To the
thoughtful mind it will be apparent that, although [the Indian pictographs] are not necessarily full of occult mysteries,
every line has its purpose and every figure, its significance. I desire to elevate these works from the category of trinkets
to what I believe is their rightful place -- the serious art of a people with great capacity for loftier works."
Edmund Flagg, on a tour of the western country not long afterwards, claimed he saw the Piasa paintings. His account, including
the description of the bone-filled cave, corroborated the story of Professor Russell:
"True or false, the figure of the bird, with expanded wings, graven upon the surface of solid rock, is still to be seen
at a height perfectly inaccessible."
Evidentally, the Piasa pictographs had remained exposed to the weather in an almost perfect state of preservation for at
least one hundred sixty-five years.
A similar tale of the Piasa was related by Lewis F. Thomas in 1841. Five years later, one George B. Douglas recorded his
version of the pictographs:
"There arose a vertical bluff, on whose flat surface and at a height seemingly unreachable by humans, is depicted the figure
of an enormous bird with outstretched wings."
An unidentified report of 1859 gives us the last eyewitness report of what the observer believed to be the Piasa paintings:
"Near the mouth of the Piasa Creek, on the bluff, there is a smooth rock in a cavernous cleft under an overhanging cliff,
on whose face, fifty feet from the base, are painted some ancient pictures of great interest to the curious. They are placed
in a horizontal line from east towest, representing men, plants and animals. The paintings, though protected from dampness
and storms, are in great part destroyed, marred by portions of the rock becoming detached and fallen down."
Obviously, this "rock" was not the bluff spoken of by Father Marquette, St. Cosme, Russell, Flagg and the others. It must
have been another of the series of pictographs which still decorated the Mississippi's bluffs at that time. In 1889, the Bureauof
Ethnology reported on this same rock:
"They [a series of twelve pictographs on the rock face] are stained in the rock with a reddish brown pigment that defies
time. The position is so sheltered that they remain almost perfectly dry and in fair condition."
Either the fallen rock recorded in 1859 had apparently returned to its original position some thirty years later or the
reference is to yet other similar pictographs.
Besides this painting, four known pictographs and petroglyphs had been found in the Mississippi Valley bordering Illinois.
One is near the town of Ava, Illinois; a second about five miles from Prairie du Rocher; another twelve miles below Rockwood;
and a final Indian work located twenty-five miles above the mouth of the Illinois on the west bank of that river. None of
them remotely resemble the Piasa paintings.
In the late 1800s, archaeologist William McAdams, of Alton, claimed that the pictographs in the Mississippi Valley were
a chronological history of the great events that transpired in the past, attributing them to some far more intelligent people
than the Illinois Indians. He believed they were made by a culture of prehistoric Indians he called the "Moundbuilders," whose
mounds in Cahokia and elsewhere in Illinois, Ohio and the middlewest have become famous throughout the world.
P. A. Armstrong, in his book "The Piasa", in 1887 suggested that the Piasa paintings were the work of the Moundbuilders,
whose advanced structures and art far surpassed those of the Indian tribes that settled Illinois in later years.
In recent years, Gregory Perino, of Belleville, Illinois, discovered a fragment of an ancient Indian pot on whose surface
appeared the outline of a figure with a forked tail. Although the tail does not curve around the body as Marquette describes,
it bears a little resemblance to the Piasa.. The fragment is believed to have been made between 600 and 1500 A. D., long before
Marquette's explorations and possibly about the time of the so-called Moundbuilders.
A recent announcement by an Indian language authority has stated that the word "Piasa" was not a part of the language of
the Illinois Indians. However, the Bureau of Ethnology in 1883 described the word as an Illinois Indian name denoting "a bird
that devours men." Even among the Sauk Indians, relatives of the Illinois, the name was known; the famous Black Hawk's father
was himself called Pyesa.
Since locating the bluff that Father Marquette saw seems to be a point in question in determining the credibility of the
account, some wonder whether the Jesuit may have not seen the pictograph along the banks of the Mississippi River at all.
In the description of his journey down the Mississippi in 1673, Father Marquette relates having descended "following the
current of the river called Pekistanoui [the Missouri River] which discharges into the Mississippi from the northwest."
Unless he committed a gross error, it appears he was sailing down the Missouri eastward toward the Mississippi. Following
this statement, he describes the Piasa paintings, thereafter saying, "We heard the noise of a rapid into which we were about
to run, issuing from the mouth of the river Pekistanoui", apparently indicating his entry into the Mississippi from the mouth
of the Missouri.
If such were the case, Marquette and his companion, Joliet, may have left their route down the Mississippi a few miles
above Alton, traveled overland in search of the Missouri River, and explored its mouth before continuing on the Mississippi.
Such are the puzzles that ethnohistorians must deal with in trying to piece together the travels of famous explorers. It
is easy for us, in retrospect, to try to interpret the explorer's meanings, since we have highly accurate maps that specify
exactly where the various creeks and rivers are. Marquette and others had no such help. They had little to go on aside from
rudimentary navigation aids, Indian reports, and a lot of intuition. Thus, it's possible that some streams they described
as rivers were actually creeks, and vice versa. We have no idea either how complete those journals were, whether pages were
lost, and whether all events that transpired were recorded.
In Marquette's records, he never tells of having seen the Illinois River on his trip south along the Mississippi, leading
one to believe that he, indeed, had taken an overland route to the Missouri. He speaks of the Illinois only later in his journal
when describing his return trip up the Mississippi:
"We had seen nothing like this river that we enter [the Illinois]...That on which we sailed was wide, deep and still for
To be fair, the case against the Piasa is just as intriguing as the early legends.
First, as mentioned, came the story of Father Douay who reputes Marquette's observation. Next are statements from the French
missionary, St. Cosme, who claimed that the figures were obliterated by 1699.
There is also a case against Professor Russell. It seems that he had indulged in fiction writing previous to his narrative
of the Piasa legend. Although this in itself is not prima facie evidence of fraud but, combined with the fact that he had
changed details of his story considerably in later years -- although staying within the basic plot -- leaves some to doubt
the veracity of his tale.
Descriptions of Edmund Flagg and others are believed by skeptics to have been copied from Professor Russell's account,
since several phrases are nearly verbatim and the details are strikingly similar.
It has also been pointed out that superstitious beliefs of Europeans in the 17th century may have influenced faulty observation
of the pictograph, may have influenced Marquette who could have confused the painting with man-and-beast-devouring dragons
and gargoyles of his homeland. Numerous such monsters had been sculpted, painted and engraved on religious edifices, especially
in 17th century France.
The observation made by George Douglas in 1846 is at odds with descriptions of the pictograph made by his artist partner,
artist Henry Lewis, at the Piasa bluff. Lewis' painting is not that of the bird described by Douglas, but of a dragon-like
creature more similar to Marquette's.
One of the most outstanding arguments arises from the fact that Marquette's account portrays the monster more like a dragon,
while later observations describe a winged bird. Students of the controversy have theorized that Spencer Russell's claim that
the coloring used by the Indians tended to fade as the weather changed was little short of an alibi to cover up the "winged"
description related by his father.
Also, there had been no published account of a Piasa legend until Professor Russell's in 1836. With the exception of a
Piasa-like creature found engraved on a piece of ancient Indian pottery in more recent times, the Piasa has not been found
in any other Indian paintings of the region.
Numerous reports, beginning about 1699, purport that the pictograph became obliterated from natural causes and Indian bullets.
However, there is no way of knowing whether these reports speak of the same bluff as that described by Marquette.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the Piasa pictograph at Alton was reproduced and restored several times. In
1924, for example, a boy scout painted the traditional version of the Piasa on a cliff near Alton and presented it to the
city. Since then, it was repainted several times as late as 1952.
Whether or not the monster bird itself ever existed in America or anywhere else in the world is looked on by most scientists
and historians as conjecture. Where other historical accounts are more often taken at face value, especially if given by credible
sources, accounts of things that do not fit in with our own experience are shown less plausibility.
So it is that the puzzle of the Piasa remains unsolved and likely will remain so, until archaeologists find indisputable
evidence in the form of carvings, models, or paintings that match Marquette's description.
Or possibly the vestige of the Piasa may turn up on a bluff in a relevant, unnoticed location along the Missouri
Or perhaps one day a lost archival record will be found, or an old attic will give up an antiquated account of yet another
eyewitness who, like Marquette, was so emotionally shaken by what he saw that he took the trouble to record it.
The current 48-by-22 foot painting situated on a 100-by-75 section of the Mississippi bluffs just north of Alton
was completed by the American Legends Society and volunteers in 1998.
Click image for a truly remarkable comparison: The Piasia Monster Bird by early North American indigenous tribal
cultures to the "Shaman in the Cave" by early European tribal cultures.
In July of 1836, a professor named John Russell discovered something very unusual concerning the legend of the Piasa Bird.
Russell was a professor at Shurtleff College (opened 1827, closed 1960, now part of Southern Illinois University) and apparently
had enough interest in the local legend to do a little exploring and research into the story of the creature. His adventures
were later recounted in a magazine article in 1848 and in Records of Ancient Races in the Mississippi Valley by William
McAdams in 1887.
Here is how his story appears, written in his own words:
Near the close of March of the present year, I was induced to visit the bluffs below the mouth of the Illinois River, above
that of the Piasa. My curiosity was principally directed to the examination of a cave, connected with the above tradition
as one of those to which the bird had carried his human victims.
Preceded by an intelligent guide, who carried a spade, I set out on my excursion. The cave was extremely difficult of access,
and at one point in our progress I stood at an elevation of one hundred fifty feet on the perpendicular face of the bluff,
with barely room to sustain one foot. The unbroken wall towered above me, while below me was the river.
After a long and perilous climb, we reached the cave, which was about fifty feet above the surface of the river....The
roof of the cavern was vaulted, and the top was hardly less than twenty feet high. The shape of the cavern was irregular;
but, so far as I could judge, the bottom would average twenty by thirty feet.
The floor of the cavern throughout its whole extent was one mass of human bones. Skulls and other bones were mingled in
the utmost confusion. To what depth they extended I was unable to decide; but we dug to a depth of 3 or 4 feet in every part
of the cavern, and still we found only bones. The remains of thousands must have been deposited here. How, and by whom, and
for what purpose, it is impossible to conjecture.(source)
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