Myths and Legends of our Own Land, by Charles M. Skinner, , at sacred-texts.com
So few States in this country—and so few countries, if it comes to that—are without a lover's leap that the very name has come to be a by-word. In most of these places the disappointed ones seem to have gone to elaborate and unusual pains to commit suicide, neglecting many easy and equally appropriate methods. But while in some cases the legend has been made to fit the place, there is no doubt that in many instances the story antedated the arrival of the white men. The best known lovers' leaps are those on the upper Mississippi, on the French Broad, Jump Mountain, in Virginia, Jenny Jump Mountain, New Jersey, Mackinac, Michigan, Monument Mountain, Massachusetts, on the Wissahickon, near Philadelphia, Muscatine, Iowa, and Lefferts Height. There are many other declivities,—also, that are scenes of leaps and adventures, such as the Fawn's Leap, in Kaaterskill Clove; Rogers's Rock, on Lake George; the rocks in Long Narrows, on the Juniata, where the ghost of Captain Jack, "the wild hunter" of colonial days, still ranges; Campbell's Ledge, Pittston, Pennsylvania, where its name-giver jumped off to escape Indians; and Peabody's leap, of thirty feet, on Lake Champlain, where Tim Peabody, a scout, escaped after killing a number of savages.
At Jump Mountain, near Lexington, Virginia, an Indian couple sprang off because there were insuperable bars to their marriage.
At the rock on the Wissahickon a girl sought death because her lover was untrue to her.
At Muscatine the cause of a maid's demise and that of her lover was the severity of her father, who forbade the match because there was no war in which the young man could prove his courage.
At Lefferts Height a girl stopped her recreant lover as he was on his way to see her rival, and urging his horse to the edge of the bluff she leaped with him into the air.
Monument Mountain, a picturesque height in the Berkshires, is faced on its western side by a tall precipice, from which a girl flung herself because the laws of her tribe forbade her marriage with a cousin to whom she had plighted troth. She was buried where her body was found, and each Indian as he passed the spot laid a stone on her grave—thus, in time, forming a monument.
"Purgatory," the chasm at Newport, Rhode Island, through which the sea booms loudly after a storm, was a scene of self-sacrifice to a hopeless love on the part of an Indian pair in a later century, though there is an older tradition of the seizure of a guilty squaw, by no less a person than the devil himself, who flung her from the cliff and dragged her soul away as it left her body. His hoof-marks were formerly visible on the rocks.
At Hot Springs, North Carolina, two conspicuous cliffs are pointed out on the right bank of the French Broad River: Paint Rock—where the aborigines used to get ochre to smear their faces, and which they decorated with hieroglyphics—and Lover's Leap. It is claimed that the latter is the first in this country known to bear this sentimental and tragically suggestive title. There are two traditions concerning it, one being that an Indian girl was discovered at its top by hostiles who drove her into the gulf below, the other relating to the wish of an Indian to marry a girl of a tribe with which his own had been immemorially at war. The match was opposed on both sides, so, instead of doing as most Indians and some white men would do nowadays—marry the girl and let reconciliation come in time,—he scaled the rock in her company and leaped with her into the stream. They awoke as man and wife in the happy hunting-ground.
In 1700 there lived in the village of Keoxa, below Frontenac, Minnesota, on the Mississippi River, a Dakota girl named Winona (the First Born), who was loved by a hunter in her tribe, and loved him in return. Her friends commended to her affections a young chief who had valiantly defended the village against an attack of hostiles, but Juliet would none of this dusky Count de Paris, adhering faithfully to her Romeo. Unable to move her by argument, her family at length drove her lover away, and used other harsh measures to force her into a repugnant union, but she replied, "You are driving me to despair. I do not love this chief, and cannot live with him. You are my father, my brothers, my relatives, yet you drive from me the only man with whom I wish to be united. Alone he ranges through the forest, with no one to build his lodge, none to spread his blanket, none to wait on him. Soon you will have neither daughter, sister, nor relative to torment with false professions." Blazing with anger at this unsubmissive speech, her father declared that she should marry the chief on that very day, but while the festival was in preparation she stole to the top of the crag that has since been known as Maiden's Rock, and there, four hundred feet above the heads of the people, upbraided those who had formerly professed regard for her. Then she began her death-song. Some of the men tried to scale the cliff and avert the tragedy that it was evident would shortly be enacted, and her father, his displeasure forgotten in an agony of apprehension, called to her that he would no longer oppose her choice. She gave no heed to their appeals, but, when the song was finished, walked to the edge of the rock, leaped out, and rolled lifeless at the feet of her people.
When we say that the real name of Lover's Leap in Mackinac is Mechenemockenungoqua, we trust that it will not be repeated. It has its legend, however, as well as its name, for an Ojibway girl stood on this spire of rock, watching for her lover after a battle had been fought and her people were returning. Eagerly she scanned the faces of the braves as their war-canoes swept by, but the face she looked for was not among them. Her lover was at that moment tied to a tree, with an arrow in his heart. As she looked at the boats a vision of his fate revealed itself, and the dead man, floating toward her, beckoned. Her death-song sounded in the ears of the men, but before they could reach her she had gone swiftly to the verge, her hands extended, her eyes on vacancy, and her spirit had met her lover's.
From this very rock, in olden time, leaped the red Eve when the red Adam had been driven away by a devil who had fallen in love with her. Adam, who was paddling by the shore, saw she was about to fall, rushed forward, caught her, and saved her life. The law of gravitation in those days did not act with such distressing promptitude as now. Manitou, hearing of these doings, restored them to the island and banished the devil, who fell to a world of evil spirits underground, where he became the father of the white race, and has ever since persecuted the Indians by proxy.
On the same island of Mackinac the English had a fort, the garrison of which was massacred in 1763. A sole survivor—a young officer named Robinson—owed his life to a pretty half-breed who gave him hiding in a secluded wigwam. As the spot assured him of safety, and the girl was his only companion, they lived together as man and wife, rather happily, for several years. When the fort had been built again, Robinson re-entered the service, and appeared at head-quarters with a wife of his own color. His Indian consort showed no jealousy. On the contrary, she consented to live apart in a little house belonging to the station, on the cliff, called Robinson's Folly. She did ask her lover to go there and sit with her for an hour before they separated forever, and he granted this request. While they stood at the edge of the rock she embraced him; then, stepping back, with her arms still around his neck, she fell from the cliff, dragging him with her, and both were killed. The edge of the rock fell shortly after, carrying the house with it.
Matiwana, daughter of the chief of the Omahas, whose village was near the mouth of Omaha Creek, married a faithless trader from St. Louis, who had one wife already, and who returned to her, after an absence among his own people, with a third, a woman of his own color. He coldly repelled the Indian woman, though he promised to send her boy—and his—to the settlements to be educated. She turned away with only a look, and a few days later was found dead at the foot of a bluff near her home.
White Rocks, one hundred and fifty feet above Cheat River, in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, were the favorite tryst of a handsome girl, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer of that region, and a dashing fellow who had gone into that country to hunt. They had many happy days there on the hill together, but after making arrangements for the wedding they quarrelled, nobody knew for what. One evening they met by accident on the rocks, and appeared to be in formal talk when night came on and they could no longer be seen. The girl did not return, and her father set off with a search party to look for her. They found her, dead and mangled, at the foot of the rocks. Her lover, in a fit of impatience, had pushed her and she had staggered and fallen over. He fled at once, and, under a changed name and changed appearance, eluded pursuit. When the War of the Rebellion broke out, he entered the army and fought recklessly, for by that time he had tired of life and hoped to die. But it was of no use. He was only made captain for a bravery that he was not conscious of showing, and the old remorse still preyed on him. It was after the war that something took him back to Fayette County, and on a pleasant day he climbed the rocks to take a last look at the scenes that had been brightened by love and saddened by regret. He had not been long on its summit when an irresistible impulse came upon him to leap down where the girl had fallen, and atone with his own blood for the shedding of hers. He gave way to this prompting, and the fall was fatal.
Some years before the outbreak of the Civil War a man with his wife and daughter took up their residence in a log cabin at the foot of Sunrise Rock, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. It seemed probable that they had known better days, for the head of the household was notoriously useless in the eyes of his neighbors, and was believed to get his living through "writin' or book-larnin'," but he was so quiet and gentle that they never upbraided him, and would sometimes, after making a call, wander into his garden and casually weed it for him for an hour or so. The girl, Stella, was a well-schooled, quick-witted, rosy-cheeked lass, whom all the shaggy, big-jointed farmer lads of the neighborhood regarded with hopeless admiration. A year or two after the settlement of the family it began to be noticed that she was losing color and had an anxious look, and when a friendly old farmer saw her talking in the lane with a lawyer from Chattanooga, who wore broadcloth and had a gold watch, he was puzzled that the "city chap" did not go home with her, but kissed his hand to her as he turned away. Afterward the farmer met the pair again, and while the girl smiled and said, "Howdy, Uncle Joe?" the lawyer turned away and looked down the river. It was the last time that a smile was seen on Stella's face. A few evenings later she was seen standing on Sunrise Rock, with her look bent on Chattanooga. The shadow of night crept up the cliff until only her figure stood in sunlight, with her hair like a golden halo about her face. At that moment came on the wind the sound of bells-wedding-bells. Pressing her hands to her ears, the girl walked to the edge of the rock, and a few seconds later her lifeless form rolled through the bushes at its foot into the road. At her funeral the people came from far and near to offer sympathy to the mother, garbed in black, and the father, with his hair turned white, but the lawyer from Chattanooga was not there.
The name of Indian Maiden's Cliff—applied to a precipice that hangs above the wild ravine of Stony Clove, in the Catskills—commemorates the sequel to an elopement from her tribe of an Indian girl and her lover. The parents and relatives had opposed the match with that fatal fatuity that appears to be characteristic of story-book Indians, and as soon as word of her flight came to the village they set off in chase. While hurrying through the tangled wood the young couple were separated and the girl found herself on the edge of the cliff. Farther advance was impossible. Her pursuers were close behind. She must yield or die. She chose not to yield, and, with a despairing cry, flung herself into the shadows.
Similar to this is the tale of Lover's Leap in the dells of the Sioux, among the Black Hills of South Dakota.
At New Milford, Connecticut, they show you Falls Mountain, with the cairn erected by his tribe in 1735 to chief Waramaug, who wished to be buried there, so that, when he was cold and lonely in the other life, he could return to his body and muse on the lovely landscape that he so enjoyed. The will-o'-the-wisp flickered on the mountain's edge at night, and flecks of dew-vapor that floated from the wood by day were sometimes thought to be the spirit of the chief. He had a daughter, Lillinonah, whose story is related to Lover's Leap, on the riverward side of the mountain. She had led to the camp a white man, who had been wandering beside the Housatonic, ill and weak, vainly seeking a way out of the wilderness, and, in spite of the dark looks that were cast at him and her, she succeeded in making him, for that summer, a member of the tribe. As the man grew strong with her care he grew happy and he fell in love. In the autumn he said to her, "I wish to see my people, and when I have done so I will come back to you and we shall be man and wife." They parted regretfully and the winter passed for the girl on leaden feet. With spring came hope. The trails were open, and daily she watched for her white lover. The summer came and went, and the autumn was there again. She had grown pale and sad, and old Waramaug said to young Eagle Feather, who had looked softly on her for many years, "The girl sickens in loneliness. You shall wed her." This is repeated to her, and that evening she slips away to the river, enters a canoe, casts away the paddle, and drifts down the stream. Slowly, at first, but faster and faster, as the rapids begin to draw it, skims the boat, but above the hoarse brawling of the waters she hears a song in a voice that she knows—the merry troll of a light heart. The branches part at Lover's Leap and her lover looks down upon her. The joyous glance of recognition changes to a look of horror, for the boat is caught. The girl rises and holds her arms toward him in agonized appeal. Life, at any cost! He, with a cry, leaps into the flood as the canoe is passing. It lurches against a rock and Lillinonah is thrown out. He reaches her. The falls bellow in their ears. They take a last embrace, and two lives go out in the growing darkness.