their love can never be, the young couple stands staring at the swirling
river far below. One last kiss, and then, holding hands, they leap
from the cliff, soon to be united forever in death Ė and legend.
Texas has at least four topographical
landmarks known as Loverís Leaps, and probably more. Telling the story
of the Loverís Leap at Junction,
in 1916 J.E. Grinstead fell back on verse in his magazine, Grinsteadís
ďThus they stood a single moment, On that rocky, towering heap; Then,
they named the place foreverĖAs they made the Loverís Leap.Ē
The forlorn tales of unrequited love associated with steep precipices
are touching, to be sure, but believing them takes a considerable
leap of faith. Love gone badly has produced many a suicide, but jumping
couples are far less common in fact than fiction.
Even so, mankind has been enthralled by Loverís Leap stories for a
long time. Sappho of the Isle of Lesbos leaps into the Ionian Sea
from a towering white rock because she had fallen in love with Phaon.
In another ancient story, Hero, a young priestess of Apollo, hurls
herself into the sea when she learns of her lover Leanderís death.
Marlowe transformed Heroís story into poetry in the 16th century.
This basic story crossed the Atlantic to North America, then slowly
spread with the development of the continent. Americans Westernized
the tale in an interesting way: Instead of American girls and boys
leaping from cliffs, most of the legends centered on the double suicide
of lovelorn Indians.
Why Indians? Some scholars have suggested the preoccupation came from
the American desire to romanticize the displaced noble red man. In
other words, we will take your land with no qualms but, hey, in return
weíll give you some enduring legends.
best known Loverís Leap in Texas is the
cliff overlooking the Brazos River in Wacoís
Cameron Park. Itís such a well known landmark that thereís even a
local church named after it Ė Loverís Leap Baptist.
In 1912, Lamar West told the story in a booklet he wrote and sold,
ďThe Legend of Loverís Leap.Ē
In prose more purple than a plum, West identified the leaping maiden
as Wah-Wah-Tee, cherished daughter of the chief of the Waco tribe.
(That Waco Indians once lived along the Brazos is at least true.)
The beautiful Wah-Wah-Tee had fallen for a handsome Apache, but her
father naturally did not approve of his daughter hanging out with
an enemy brave.
Caught in an illicit moonlight rendezvous,Wah-Wah-Tee and her lover
see no other option than suicide.
ďIn the last embrace of love and death, [they] sprang from the cliff
into the maddened waves below, since which dreadful night it has been
known as Loverís Leap,Ē West wrote.
hundred miles south of Waco,
Austinís Loverís Leap is
Mount Bonnell. Austin being
notable for doing things its own, weird way, the Capital City story
is a bit different.
The woman who plunges to her doom from Mount Bonnell, a prominent
feature above the Colorado River, is one Antonette, a European lady
captured by the Comanches from the Spanish settlement of San Antonio
de Bexar. When her lover comes to her rescue, the Indians kill him.
Seeing that, Antonette opts for death.
The Austin story may be
Texasí oldest example of a variety of
the Loverís Leap legend. Newspaper writer and novelist James Burchett
Ransom told the tale for the first time in ďAntonetteís Leap and the
Death of Legrand, or, A legend of the Colorado,Ē in the Austin Gazette
of March 18, 1840.
Texas has two Loverís Leaps. One is the precipice two miles from
Junction in Kimble
County, first written about by Grinstead.
Having a Loverís Leap became a matter of civic pride in the 19th century.
Any elevation with enough height for a fall to be fatal could be transformed
by an ambitious town developer, chamber of commerce or post card vendor
into a place of romantic legend.
Ellis Parker Butler, who spent part of his career producing promotional
brochures for up-and-coming midwestern towns, later recalled how he
created tourist attractions all over the map.
ďLoverís Leap was a good card, always,Ē he wrote in the June 1919
issue of Harperís Monthly. ďThere was always an Indian legend, and
always the same one. If there was no legend we wrote one, and it was
again always the same one.Ē
least-known Loverís Leap is a cliff on the Devilís
River, the wildest and most remote stream in the state. Again,
the story is a little different: An overly-protective Indian chief
and his warriors attack the chiefís daughter and her lover, both of
them having fallen out of tribal favor. The smitten couple leap to
their death in the river just ahead of dad and his friends.
The chief reaches the bluff just in time to see the love sick couple
sink beneath the water for the final time. At that, the anguished
chief calls out that this must be the Devilís river and drops dead
of a guilt-induced heart attack.
Of course, Indians of long ago did not practice Christianity and had
no concept of hell. Believing the Devilís
River tale or any other Loverís Leap story would almost assuredly
be jumping to the wrong conclusion.
© Mike Cox
- February 14, 2014 column
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