Lovers' Leap, myth or legend?

Located at the mouth of the Niangua on the south shore (mile marker 31.5), this prominent bluff was said to be 200 feet high before the lake filled in the valley. The bluff has an Indian legend attached to it. The following quote comes from the 1889 History of Camden County:

The chief of the Osages, Okema, is said to have fallen in love with Winona, a Delaware. Winona had a lover, Minetus, to whom she had pledged her hand, and consequently rejected the proffered hand of Okema. The latter became enraged, and said that Minetus must die. Winona fled from Okema, who pursued her to the place now known as Lover's Leap, and there, to escape capture, she jumped from the precipice, and perished on the rocks below.

Okema and his warriors, and Minetus and his comrades were there--a battle ensued--a tomahawk, hurled at the head of Okema, struck one of his warriors, and bore him over into the depths below. Minetus now grappled with Okema, and in the desperate struggle both rolled headlong over the precipice and likewise perished.

Now, that's a pretty good story--touching, romantic, the stuff of legends. But is it true? Read on.

In his book, Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain relates the story of another Lover's Leap. This one is along the upper Mississippi River, in Minnesota. The place is called Maiden's Rock. The legend associated with Maiden's Rock also features the beautiful Winona, who in this tale is Sioux rather than Delaware. Keep in mind as you read this that Twain cannot resist having a little fun with the story. The conversation begins with Twain asking a local tour guide about the legend--

"When you were talking of Maiden's Rock, you spoke of the long-departed Winona, darling of Indian song and story. Is she the maiden of the rock? And are the two connected by legend?"

"Yes, and a very tragic and painful one. Perhaps the most celebrated, as well as the most pathetic of all the legends of the Mississippi."

We asked him to tell it. He dropped out of his conversational vein and back into his lecture gait without an effort, and rolled on as follows:

"A little distance above Lake city is a famous point known as Maiden's Rock, which is not only a picturesque spot, but is full of romantic interest from the event which gave it its name. Not many years ago this locality was a favorite resort for the Sioux Indians on account of the fine fishing and hunting to be had there, and large numbers of them were always to be found in this locality. Among the families which used to resort here was one belonging to the tribe of Wabasha. We-no-na (firstborn) was the name of the maiden who had plighted her troth to a lover belonging to the same band. But her stern parents had promised her hand to another, and famous, warrior and insisted on her wedding him. The day was fixed by her parents, to her great grief. She appeared to accede to the proposal and accompanied them to the rock, for the purpose of gathering flowers for the feast. On reaching the rock, We-no-na ran to its summit and, standing on its edge, upbraided her parents, who were below, for their cruelty and then, singing a death-dirge, threw herself from the precipice and dashed them in pieces on the rock below."

"Dashed who in pieces--her parents?"


"Well, it certainly was a tragic business, as you say. And moreover, there is a startling kind of dramatic surprise about it which I was not looking for. It is a distinct improvement upon the threadbare form of Indian legend. There are fifty Lover's Leaps along the Mississippi from whose summit disappointed Indian girls have jumped, but this is the only jump in the lot that turned out in the right and satisfactory way. What became of Winona?"

"She was a good deal jarred up and jolted; but she got herself together and disappeared before the coroner reached the fatal spot; and 'tis said she sought and married her true love, and wandered with him to some distant clime, where she lived happy ever after, her gentle spirit mellowed and chastened by the romantic incident which had so early deprived her of the sweet guidance of a mother's love and a father's protecting arm, and thrown all her, all unfriended, upon the cold charity of a censorious world."

So, what's the real story behind the naming of Lovers' Leap near Linn Creek?

It was named by a Mr. William Baker in 1856. It seems that Mr. Baker attended the wedding of Dr. Massey, of Linn Creek. After the wedding, the guests visited the bluff. Baker was so overwhelmed by the view, so smitten by the wedding, and perhaps so imbibed of liquid refreshment, that he immediately christened the place Lovers' Leap--and the name stuck.


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