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Chapter 2
Pages 570-579

From the book about Wabasha Co. Minnesota
Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell
Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884
Republished Currently by Higginson Books

On the Wisconsin shore, halfway between Fort Perrot and the head of Lake Pepin, there stands a prominent bluff, four hundred feet high, the last two hundred of which is a perpendicular limestone escarpment. Opposite the Maiden's Rock, as this bluff is called, on the Minnesota side, there juts into the lake a peninsula, called by the French Point Du Sable. It has always been a stopping-place for the voyageur, and here the party landed and proceeded to build the post. The stockade was one hundred feet square, within which were three buildings, probably serving the uses of store, chapel and quarters. One of the log huts was 38 x 16, one 30 x 16, and the last 25 x 16 feet in dimensions. There were two bastions, with pickets all around twenty-five feet high. The fort was named in honor of the governor of Canada, Beuharnais, and the fathers called their mission-house St. Michael the Archangel.

Maiden Rock derives its name from a beautiful legend connected therewith. These legends are peculiar to the Indians, owing, no doubt, to their having no way of transmitting their lore other than tradition. I introduce several in this work, not so much for their intrinsic fitness, as from a hope that such promulgation may tend in some slight degree to perpetuate among us sentiments of respect for the once powerful and still interesting nations, whose traditionary legends are among the most curious and interesting to be found in the history of any people. The legend of Maiden Rock, or Lovers' Leap, as I shall call it, is romantic and beautiful. I present it here in juxtaposition with the for because of its proximity and the fact of its being told perhaps for generations before the fort was built.

author unnamed

Lake Pepin with Maiden Rock in the Distance

Unchanging hearts which idols make
Of hearts as true though frail as they,
Are ever doomed to bleed and break,
And learn their gods are but of clay!
But though thrice shattered to the dust,
And all deformed the image lies,
The true heart in its boundless trust,
Will deem it kindred to the skies;
For love though tarnished by the fall
Survives to every age the same,
And wigwam, cot and lordly hall
Lights with its sanctifying flame,
And, like its great Original,
Is prompt to shield and slow to blame.

Let us recall this legend hoar
Of old Lake Pepin's sylvan shore
Which floats adown tradition's stream
Not as a vague and shadowy dream,
But, as a high heroic theme,
A stern reality of yore,
Which hallowed once can die no more
Than the fixed star's eternal beam.

Record may fade and pile decay,
And town and rampart waste to dust,
And nations rise and pass away,
And time blot out their names with rust,
While deed and sacrifice sublime
Live freshly in the memory then,
Defying all the assaults of time,
While live and beat the hearts of men.

Ah! Indian maid, thy heart was tried
Long, long ago, as legends tell;
When in its fresh and virgin pride
Love oped its gushing founts all wide,
And sealed thee as the martyr bride
Too rashly loving, and too well.

Oh! She was graceful as the fawn,
The young, the peerless We-enonay,
And lovelier than the dappled dawn
On the blue skies of flowering May.
Of all the tribe, she was the flower,
The sweetest of the wildwood bower,
And here the star which ruled the hour,
And braves of fame and chiefs of power
On her enchanting beauty hung.

But only one of all the band
Had touched her heart with love sublime.
Though few in years, his deeds of fame
At war dance and at feast were sung,
And cowering fear came with his name,
When whispered by a hostile tongue.

She used, when pensive twilight brought
Sweet moments of romantic thought,
To hear him wake the warbling flute,
And to her mood the measure suit.
Warmed by her smiles, with vigorous start
First love upgrew within his heart;
And the wild passion of his soul
Did brook no barrier nor control.

But brothers ten of stern decree
Did promise her, in revelry,
To chieftain old with ample fame,
Who wore the proudest war-bird plume,
And terror ruled where'er his name
Did tales of great achievement prove,
And chronicled with former wars,
On brow and breast were glorious scars.

A beautiful lake is the Lake of Tears,
And wild fowl dream on its breast unscared;
The golden brooch of costly price
Is dim with its radiant wave compared.
And tribesmen dwelt on its banks of yore,
But a hundred years have vanished thrice
Since hearthstones smoked upon its shore.
Edged by a broad and silvery belt
Of pebbles bright, and glittering sand
The waters into music melt,
When breaking o'er the pebbly strand.

Victors in many a forest fight,
The bird of peace has taken flight;
The tree on which she framed her nest,
Smoothed the bright feathers of her breast,
Is shorn of its broad, leafy shield,
Profaning hands the bark has pealed!
Encamped the predatory horde; their only cheer,
Parched maize and smoked-dried flesh of deer.
Oft, brother, have the paths of war,
From home and country led us far,
And council on this shore had met,
And ominous of coming strife,
Clashed tomahawk and scalping-knife.
And Wapashaw, with eye of skill,
Took measurement of slope and hill,
And tents were pitched by his command,
On swells of undulating land
Well guarded on the weaker flank
By water and opposing bank.
The sentinel was shown the bounds,
Wherein to pace his lonely rounds.

A signal by the chief was made
To close the council, and obeyed,
Yet promptly with one voice decreed,
That We-enonay, the chieftain's daughter,
Should wed the brave, whose brow with might
Came decked and armed for the fight.
And she with savory nourishment,
And gourds of cooling water,
Was bade to cheer and grace the feast,
While her light form of forest tone
Breathed a low and whispered moan.
The chieftain, urged his suit again,
And Sire again renewed the strain,
And bade her bridal robes prepare,
Nor dare to look on Neemooshe,
whose bride of moons she ne'er should be.

A thing of beauty is the slender vine
That wreaths its verdant arm around the oak,
As if it there could safely intertwine,
Shielded from axe or lightning stroke, ~
Thus the maiden clung unto her love,
While scalding tears and sobs outbroke
From her o'er-labored bosom, while hear ears
Were filled with tones that did not soothe her fears.

She sought her warrior firm and true,
And then resolved, come weal, come woe,
With him to flee, and free to go
Where they might roam from day to day,
Till life should peaceful pass away.
Love hath more devices far,
When instant need to rescue calls,
Than all the strategy of war
Investing long beleaguered walls;
With stealthy step and agile limb
The unconscious sentinel is passed,
And now she stands alone by him
On whom her soul's great stake is cast.

Comely to look on was the youthful pair:
One, like the pine, erect and tall,
Was of imposing presence; his dark hair
Had caught its hue from night's descending pall;
Light was his tread, his port majestical,
And well his chieftain brow became a form
Of matchless beauty. And We-enonay,
Ah, what of her? Bright shapes beyond
This darkened earth were looks like those she wore.
Graceful her mien as lily of the pond
That nods to every wind that passes o'er,
Softer than ripple breaking on the shore
By moonlight was her voice, and in her breast
Pure thought a dwelling found ~ the bird of love a nest.

Safely the guarded door is passed,
The outer picket gained at last;
And now the uncovered way they take
With the soft speed of startled deer,
When bounding hoofs are winged with fear,
To gain the skiff upon the lake.

Gained is the lake and light canoe,
But as they quickly push from shore,
With whoop and yell and wild halloo,
Louder than battle's stormiest roar,
A hundred dusky forms are seen
Rushing along on either hand,
Now plunging through the tangled green,
Now madly leaping on the strand.

Now, lover, every sinew strain,
Let no false stroke your speed delay,
Your fierce pursuers on you gain!
Row for your lives, away! away!

The eastern beech is gained at last,
But scarcely have they sprung to land
And vanished in the forest vast,
Ere their pursuers gain the strand;
They leap like wolves, a howling band,
Up the steep bank and follow fast.
The maiden speeds her lover past,
And fleetly leads upon the trail;
Yet higher, nearer swells the roar.
She turns ~ a rocky steep is near,
Which lifts its flinty summit height ~
A landmark, desolate and drear,
Piercing the blue encircling sky ~
And leads her fearless lover there,
Not to surrender, but to die.
Far, far below, a depth profound,
The lake sends up a murmuring sound,
Meet place beneath the cloudless skies,
For love's last solemn sacrifice.
Far down from crag to crag swift leaping,
With eagle plume and eye of fire,
We-enonay sees her wrathful sire;
Above, one lightning glance he threw,
Then notched an arrow to the string,
And firm his trusty bow he drew;
The maiden sprang before her lover,
His form with her light form to cover,
That when the whizzing shaft should fly,
She, she alone, or both might die,
Still came the sire, his bow on high.
Nor shook his hand nor quailed his eye;
And well the desperate lovers knew
His arm was strong, his aim was true.

All bootless now the daughter's prayer,
The parent heart is dark and stern,
No throb of mercy softens there,
But fiercest fires of vengeance burn.
In vain she warns her maddened sire,
That sooner than give up her brave,
They both would seek a fearful grave,
And slumber in the embrace of death,
Far down the shelving gorge beneath.
He heard, but deigned her no reply,
And bade her brothers quickly fly;
They come~ and from that beetling hill
In close embrace the lovers leap!
Two forms are flying down the steep ~
A sullen sound, and all is still.

The warriors stand like wolves at bay,
When baulked all sudden of their prey;
But as that sound greets the quick ear
From the steep brow, they blanch and start,
And a strange awe of chilling fear
Creeps through the chief's bold heart.
Little dreamed he, relentless brave,
That this, his soft and timid dove,
By the transforming power of love,
Would the bold, tameless eagle prove.
One hurried glance he gives below,
Then calmly readjusts his bow,
And on his awe-struck warriors calls.
Far down that steep, by the sylvan lake,
Two hollow graves they quickly make,
And there they laid them side by side
In their fearful wedlock, bridegroom and bride.
And ever yet, in the leafy June,
When full on the lake shines the round, bright moon,
And the winds are hushed and the waves are still,
And the echoes sleep on the sacred hill,
Two forms steal out from the covert shore,
With shadowy bark and spectral oar;
And with never a wake or ripple, glide
Slow and serene o'er the silvery tide;
But the whoop and the yell, and the wild uproar
Of fierce pursuers, are heard no more.

Comments from the 1884 book, Winona County Section, Chapter 7

A very casual survey of the ground at the foot of "The Leap" will show what a prodigious jumper the girl must have been, to have jumped into the lake, as many believe she did. If the legend had any foundation at all, it was most probably based upon the rebellion of some strong-minded We-no-nah (meaning the first-born girl) to a sale of her precious self to a gray-bearded French trader, as James Reed supposed, from a tradition said to exist concerning such an event. As there was an old trading-post, fort and mission established in 1727 on the north shore near the Lovers' Leap, it is more probably that some trader of that post made the purchase, than any at the foot of the lake, as Reed supposed from the Indian account of the affair.

It may be that the girl threatened to jump from the cliff, so near to the old post, but if she did, like Reed, I will venture the prediction that she was cuffed into submission to the will of her dear mother.

Comment from the 1920 book, "S" Biographies:

The biography for Addison R. Spaulding, 1920 book, says this: "In 1873 Mr. Spaulding purchased from the Indians 126 acres on the bluff overlooking Lake Pepin and Lake City. In the letter inclosing the deed to the property from Frank Hurd, then of Oak Dale, Neb., was written, 'My grandmother saw the girl who leaped from Maiden Rock.'"

Here is a site for present-day Maiden Rock, Wisconsin
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The following legend, translated from the Sioux by Baptiste Rocque, and written by Miss Cora Clark, of Toledo, Ohio, is given as a sample of the traditions that have been handed down from ancient generations:

In the old Indian days of the North Red River country, when an eagle's feather was worth a pony, and one feather might be added to the warrior's head-dress for each scalp taken, many were the young braves who made solitary and dangerous trips to the Rocky mountains to seek along appalling abysses for the aerie of that noble bird, the eagle. When once a warrior had sighted a nest, he most jealously guarded the spot against intrusion, and, with Indian obstinacy, clung to his right of discovery.

Een-moo (the Panther), a young and brave Sioux, left the camp of his people and took his course with the sun toward the land of its setting. Young Een-moo's heart and limbs were strong; he knew no fear, either of the deadly enemies in his way, or of the heights and depths of the mountains. He was alone but for his pony, his bow and arrows and a knife; he carried also one buffalo-skin and a blanket. Een-moo reached the mountain country in peace; the enemy had not crossed his path, and he had turned not, save to send an arrow in search of game. He placed his horse and blanket where none might discover them, and with his arrows, his buffalo-skin and his knife at his back, he went on further up the mountains. He stood at length midway ‘tween earth and sky, and in rigid silence surveyed the scene before him. As he stood thus, the cliff spirit touched his eyes, his feet, his limbs; his eyes received the fire of an eagle's gaze, his feet and limbs the strength and swiftness of its pinions. Then came the climbing of dizzy heights, from which he peered into the cloudy chasms, searching the perpendicular sides for a chance shelf on which might be the rude angular works of an eagles' nest. This, the object of his strenuous efforts, was finally before him. His quick eye had caught sight of a projection upon the face of a huge wall beyond the black depth that lay at his feet. Indistinct at first, it had slowly assumed bolder outlines, and as if to confirm at theat moment his almost assured hope, there was a movement, a majestic rising and falling, and the huge bird had left her nest. Een-moo's frame was on fire; his eye flashed along the upper edge of the cliff and then with equal speed marked out a course by which it might be attained. He must traverse miles and miles of rock; but, nothing daunted, he commenced with a bound the perilous expedition. He rose and fell; he went under and over, down, down, up, up, up, and he stood above and a little over the nest. With folded arms, compressed lips and heaving breast he looked down, a long, long distance down, and counted six eggs; he looked further to the black rock floor below. At this moment, from another position among those upper rocks, another dark form appeared. A Cree warrior knelt with one hand pressed against a jutting stone, the other on the ground, and with eyes whose fire could be equaled only by that of the brave above him, he counted the same six eagle eggs.

Neither saw the other, and day after day they crept stealthily to their respective places watching closely the nest, and afterward still more zealously the growth of the young birds. That the larger feathers might attain their full value, the birds were left unmolested until just ready to leave the nest. The momentous day for action set by Een-moo came at length, and with the earliest eastern light he began his preparation. He cut his buffalo-skin into long, slim strips, from which he twisted a light rope. When he reached the spot the old bird had not yet gone for morning food. He had not long to wait, however, for her to rise from her nest, when he sent an arrow to the noble mother's heart. Attaching the rope to the rock above, he cautiously descended by it toward the nest.

With all his previous preparation and present caution he could not save himself, for there was a flaw in the rope, and when within a few feet of the landing, the cord, which alone connected him to all living things, snapped, and he was precipitated among the affrighted birds. For a moment his strong Indian heart was daunted. He looked above, below, and saw no way of escape. It was but a moment; with his inborn tact he soon set upon the only possible means of escape. He saw in the movements of the frightened eaglets a strength that might be put to use. With his natural alacrity and fortitude he immediately put into action his desperate thought. With a stick from the nest he killed one of the six birds and dropped it below, nor did he for an instant watch its dizzy fall, for he knew he must follow. He then, with strands from the rope left in his hands, tied an eagle to the back of each ankle, to the back of his neck and one to each writs, in such a way that their rings were free to move and in a natural condition. He raised his arms, made his body and limbs perfectly rigid, closed his eyes and let himself go from the rock. The birds, conscious of falling, tried with the greatest efforts to keep up, was that Een-moo not only did reach the ground in safety, although dizzy and half-unconscious, but found himself borne a considerable distance from the base of the cliff. He returned to find the old bird and one young one, and having secured the desired feathers from the seven birds, proceeded to his horse, and thereupon took his homeward way, anxious, after so long an absence, to receive from his family the honor of his success. At night he was loth to stop, but much wearied he crept into a bear's cave to take a rest, having a knife and arrow ready, expecting the return of the animal.

Meanwhile with the early-rising sun the Cree Indian appeared, having made his preparations also to secure the birds that morning; but what was his consternation to find the nest empty, and not only that, but to see hanging from above a broken Indian rope. Filled with anger and mortification at this seeming robbery, he hastened to the summit of the cliff and made close examination of all the tracks, which soon told the whole story; but of the manner of escape he knew not, but knew that the enemy warrior was then on his way to the Red River county, the land of the Sioux. He determined to be revenged, and to yet secure the eagle feathers. Late that night Een-moo roused from slumber to find a dark object bending over him; before he could move one wrist was seized and a knife was descending, when with this fee hand he caught the descending wrists of the foe. Neither Indian would release the other, so that they kept their rigid positions until daylight. In the gray dawn the fierce eyes of the foes met, ~ one a Sioux, the other a Cree, both young, brave, and of equal strength. The Cree claimed a right to the eagle feathers now in the possession of the Sioux, but Een-moo told him that he also had the right to them. They therefore agreed to settle the quarrel by gambling for the feathers. They came forth into the day, took ten arrows, and after arranging the mark, proceeded with the shots. Een-moo lost in succession each set of feathers, his pony, his blanket. He then in desperation put at stake his side scalp for one set of feathers, and thereupon won in succession each set of feathers, his pony, blanket and knife, and those of the Cree; then the Cree put up his side scalp for a set of feathers. This Een-moo would not accept, in admiration of his enemy, but offered to give him half the feathers. This was done, and not only this, but the two exchanged friendship. As it was necessary, however, that there be a conflict because representatives of contending tribes had met, the agreed that at the full of the next moon they would each bring to that spot thirty warriors who should by a battle avenge the quarrel; but as to themselves, on would ride a white horse and the other a black one, and although they must appear as foes, one would not injure the other, as in reality they were eternal friends.

End of Chapter