Paisa: A Dragon of Native America

dragon of native americaNot very much is known about the Paisa Bird (pronounced Pie-a-saw), a dragon of Native America that has been found painted on a mural above the Mississppi river. It’s depiction is based off of old sketches, lithographs, and ancient accounts.

Descriptions of the Paisa Bird or Dragon

Accounts of this dragon go back to 1673. The first person to describe it whose account still exists is Father Jscqes Marquette. He described it as a flying monster with birdlike qualities, as well as the features of many other animals. He saw the painting while traveling along the Mississippi  River. He described it “as large as a calf with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger’s, a face like a man, the body covered with green, red and black scales and a tail so long it passed around the body, over the head and between the legs.”

This description is similar to other dragons around the world with his terrifying eyes, scales and long tail. It even has the face of a man, which is similar to other culture’s dragons which have human features, perhaps to show how man see themselves and their own evil in even the darkest and scariest of beasts. However, the horns and tiger-like beard are unique to this Native American cryptid.

The name, Piasa, to some means a bird that eats men or man-eating bird, but its been proven that this is not entirely accurate. More likely, it came from the Native American Miami-Illinois word páyiihsa which means “Little people”. This word also describes another Native American creature, small magical dwarves that love to attack lost travelers.

The Paisa Bird Legend

The legend that surrounds the Paisa Bird, passed down through the generations, goes like this:

There was once a bird-like creature that was so large it could pick up and fly holding a fully grown deer, but it prefered the taste of humans. No one was ever able to kill it. It would destory villages and spread fear wherever it went. But there was a great chief named Ouatoga who was famous across the Great Lakes and he left his tribe, fasted, and prayed that his people would be protected from the dragon by the Great Spirit. After many nights of fasting and praying, the Great Spirit appeared and spoke to Ouatoga. It told him to choose 20 men, give them poisoned bows and arrows and hide them while one warrior would stand out in the open as bait. Ouatoga did as he was told, with himself as the bait. When the Piasa tried to attack, the concealed warriors released their arrows and killed the beast, just as the Great Spirit promised.

This legend is similar to many dragon myths and fairy tales around the world. The monster is the antagonist of the story, wreaking havoc and destorying civilization. One hero stands up to it and uses bravery and cunning to defeat it, bringing glory to his name and safety to his community. It differs in its inclusion of the Great Spirit which is a common part of Native American lore. Many tales include fasting and praying to the Spirits for wisdom.