Old Man River:  History Along the MississippiApril 19-November 2, 2003

Legends and Spirits

Historic Legends

Bald eagle and alligator crossing sign
The Upper vs. The Lower Mississippi
Historic Legends exhibit section
Artifacts and artwork were loaned from many sources, including:
~ Garret Moffet, Macomb IL
~ Muscatine Art Center, Muscatine IA
~ www.myrtlesplantation.com

Mike Fink

The King of the Keelboatmen will be forever linked to the Mississippi River of the late 1700s and early 1800s. This frontier braggart was actually defeated by Davy Crockett in a keelboat race from Kentucky to New Orleans … but Fink bragged that Crockett had won only by cheating.

Rugged and boisterous, Fink was famous for his brawls, boasts, "cher amis" romances, and deadly markmanship. He was a crack shot who carried a handcrafted .45 caliber rifle that was "slicker'n a wildcat and quicker in action." One of his favorite entertainments was to shoot cups of whiskey off the top of another's head.

Jean Lafitte

A $500 bounty was posted in 1813 by the governor of Louisiana for the capture or death of French pirate and smuggler Jean Lafitte. Hiding out deep in the bayous, Lafitte in turn put up a $5,000 bounty for the governor's head!

During the War of 1812, the British offered Lafitte a pardon if he and his pirates would help them battle the Americans in New Orleans. Instead, the infamous outlaw warned Andrew Jackson of the coming attack and Lafitte became a war hero. To this day, tales of buried treasure and ghostly sightings hover over the swamps and around his New Orleans blacksmith shop - still standing in the heart of the French Quarter.

Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen

The most powerful voodoo priestess was a beautiful, 5'11" Creole Quadroon named Marie Laveau, living in the French Quarter in the early 1800s. Well-versed in herbal properties, Marie nursed the injured during the War of 1812 and eased the suffering of men in prison by mixing soothing herbs into stews and gumbo.

After being linked with black magic and sorcery, the clever Marie used fear to her advantage by casting spells during fiery rites along the bayous, accompanied by hypnotic drumbeats and snakes. The Voodoo Queen's city-wide spy network of servants and slaves provided her with the private secrets of community leaders in New Orleans. Through innuendo or outright blackmail, Laveau easily influenced the behavior of those in power, or they would face dire consequences.

Robert Johnson

It was rumored that bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to Satan in order to become the best guitar player that ever lived … many say he succeeded. This deal allegedly occurred during the dark of night at the deserted crossroad of Highways 41 and 69, now located inside the city of Clarksdale, Mississippi.

An unimpressive guitar player in 1930, he disappeared for several weeks, reappearing with a supernatural ability to play guitar. Tragically, Johnson recorded only 40 songs before his death at the age of 27, very likely from poisoning.

He did have enormous hands and long fingers, so his guitar chording is nearly impossible for others to imitate. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones marveled at his ability. "I was hearing two guitars … it took me a long time to realize he was playing it all by himself."

The Piasa Bird

In the 1600s, explorers Marquette and Joliet recorded in their journal the image of a fantastic creature painted on cliffs 40 to 50 feet above the waters of the Mississippi near the present-day city of Alton, Illinois. The monster was called the Piasa, or "the bird that devours men."

Generations of Native Americans told tales of its blood-chilling screams, white fangs, red eyes, and horned head. Its scaled body sported a spiked tail, dagger-like talons, and enormous wings. Whole villages were ravaged until Illini warriors shot it down with masses of poison arrows, and watched it disappear below the surface of the Mississippi.

Now a recreated painting of the monstrous bird adorns the Illinois bluff. The Piasa Bird once again haunts the river bend.

This section "Legends and Spirits" has the following related pages:
Historic Legends

Continue through exhibit

2 men in a canoe
Early Exploration and Development
River Days
view of Bellview, Iowa
Riverfront Property
Civil War enenactors
Man vs. Man

Bald eagle and conservation officer
Man vs. Nature
jazz musician
The Arts Along the River
You are here!New Orleans graveyard
Legends and Spirits
View Selected Artifacts
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