Was this year’s summer not the summer of strangeness? It will be near impossible to top. Thankfully there is nothing particularly strange about Lovers’ Leap. Do not confuse the legend with the expression ‘a leap of faith,’ which is the acceptance or trust in something based solely on one’s faith. The exact origin remains unclear; however the 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is credited with the idea, albeit in the context of one’s belief in God. Lovers’ Leap is similar to modern day suicide sites (think big city bridges or Japan’s Aokigahara forest), but collectively this brand of folktale is tragically romantic and guised as a cautionary tale for meddling parents.
There is very little information to be found on the subject, but there is a reference in Mark Twain’s 1883 memoir “Life on the Mississippi.” The passage reads: “there are fifty Lover’s Leaps along the Mississippi from whose summit disappointed Indian girls have jumped.” I managed to track down three such tales and all involve doomed star-crossed-lovers. The first legend - taking place in Chattanooga, Georgia - speaks of a Cherokee maiden named Nacoochee, who fell in love with a man named Sautee, a Chickasaw warrior. The two tribes were feuding at the time and during a battle Satuee was captured and thrown to his death off Lookout Mountain. When Nachooche heard the fate of her lover, she was so heartbroken that she flung herself off the same promontory.
The second story is set in 18th Connecticut and concerns Princess Lillinonah, the beautiful daughter of Chief Waramaug of the Weantinock tribe. Lillinonah happened upon a white man lost in a nearby wood and brought him back to her village. She cared for and protected him and eventually they fell madly in love with one another. Once winter had passed Sautee left the village, promising to return one day for her. Lillinonah continued to wait, season after season, but he never returned for her. Lillnonah’s father saw how upset she was and so he married her to a man named Eagle Feather. Before her wedding, she took a boat out to what is now the Housatonic River and rowed it downstream to her death. Just as she was approaching the falls, the man whom she loved returned and saw her. Watching her plummet to her death, he threw himself into the water and over the falls to die alongside her.
The last tale, recorded in a now obscure 1912 book called “The Legend of Lovers’ Leap” by West Decca Lamar, speaks of a Waco Indian maiden named Wah-Wah-Tee secretly marrying an Apache brave. There was great animus between the two tribes at the time and so the two planned on eloping. Wah-Wah-Tee’s father and brothers disapproved of their union and cornered the Apache brave and Wah-Wah-Tee at the edge of a cliff above the Bosque River. Not wanting to live apart, the two clung to one another and jumped off the cliff. Their bodies were later allegedly discovered in the same spot that they had first met, still embracing.
There is little historical basis for any of the aforementioned tales, and since the majority of existing tales were passed down through oral tradition and rarely recorded, there is no way of knowing how much truth lies within them. However, what remains indisputable is the appeal these locations seem to have on the inconsolable - the souls who intend to take their own lives whether in the name of love or out of overwhelming pain. Our landscapes are always changing via the workings of time and human behavior. Fortunately, many of these promontories can still easily be found and now serve as travel attractions. Just be sure to watch your step.