Twisting its way through the American midwest, past corn fields and major urban areas alike, the Mississippi River is in a way timeless. Controlled now by wing dikes and dams, the great river still bears a strong resemblance to its prehistoric self. Complete with long expanses where human activity is difficult to discern, and lined by high limestone bluffs, one of the world’s greatest rivers is steeped in history, and stories of cryptids.
In 1673, near present day Alton, Ill. the French Catholic Priest and explorer Jaques Marquette spotted a very large Native American cliff painting, or petroglyph, on the face of the bluffs. He described in some detail two great monsters, hideous and frightening to him, with faces like that of a man, the antlers of a deer, red eyes and the tail of a fish. This was the legendary Piasa bird.
In reality, it wasn’t a bird at all. Marquette and later 18th century accounts of the spectacle made no mention of wings. Most of the legend that many of us from the midwest have heard is a fabrication; traced to a man named John Russell who made most of it up in an article he wrote in 1836. The piasa bird petroglyph, sadly, no longer exists, having both faded seriously and ended up being quarried off the face of the bluff itself. It remains, by and large, a mystery as to why the Native Americans went through such lengths as to climb the face of the bluff and create elaborate paintings of monsters. The basis for the subject of the paintings is now conjectural, the paintings themselves long gone – but the story does not end here.
In 1972 the town of Louisiana, Missouri, itself located on the banks of the great river, played unwitting host to a cryptozoological creature named Momo. Short for the Missouri Monster, Momo was described as smelling horrifically bad, with a pumpkin shaped head and a hairy body. Momo seemed to have a taste for rotten flesh, as he was known to dig up the graves of deceased pets, no doubt contributing to the stench. Supposedly six to seven feet tall, Momo was also known to emit growls and shrieks, not unlike those usually reported in bigfoot cases. A few days after the first sighting, and a particularly harrowing incident involving the monster terrorizing part of the congregation of the local pentecostal church, in old time small town fashion, the Sherriff of Louisiana formed an armed posse and went searching for Momo.
The posse found nothing, and plaster casts of tracks attributed to Momo appeared to have been fakes. The Monster more or less dissappeared as abruptly as he came. Occasional sightings continue in the area around Louisiana but they are often dubious or poorly detailed. In 1972, dozens of people ranging from Pike County to St. Charles County in Missouri along the Mississippi saw a cryptid that today remains unexplained.
The Momo sightings coincided with a UFO flap of sorts in the same area. Throughout the 1970’s, multiple reports of UFO activity, particularly disc shaped craft, accompanied by cattle mutilations gripped the area. Theories have been advanced for years that the Bigfoot and UFO phenomena are somehow linked, and in the case of Momo that may have been true, but most of the time these events often seem seperate, linked perhaps only by circumstance in all but a few cases. Was Momo a creature left here by an alien craft, or just the overactive collective imagination of a small Missouri town? What did the Indian’s see that inspired the Piasa bird petroglyphs? We will probably never know, but what we can say for sure is that the Mississippi still has secrets, and some day, Momo may yet appear again.