Thursday, February 26, 2009

Legends of the Falls, 4

I found a superb guest blogger for episode four of Legends of the Falls. Here goes:

'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 (first-born) was the name
of a maiden who had plighted her troth to a lover belonging
to the same band. But her stern parents had promised her hand
to another, a 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 accompany 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 her, all unfriended,
upon the cold charity of a censorious world.'

As the lecturer remarked, this whole region is blanketed with Indian
tales and traditions. But I reminded him that people usually merely
mention this fact--doing it in a way to make a body's mouth water--
and judiciously stopped there. Why? Because the impression left,
was that these tales were full of incident and imagination--a pleasant
impression which would be promptly dissipated if the tales were told.
I showed him a lot of this sort of literature which I had been collecting,and he confessed that it was poor stuff, exceedingly sorry rubbish; and I ventured to add that the legends which he had himself told us were of this character, with the single exception of the admirable story of Winona.

- Sam C.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Legends of the Falls, 3

It’s no surprise that waterfalls inspire legends. In the past few weeks, I’ve been finding a slew of tales associated with Southern Appalachian waterfalls. Few, if any, have a basis in actual native traditions. However, the nineteenth-century writers who created many of these legends usually featured Native American characters.

So far, I’ve found six different stories associated with Toccoa Falls in northeast Georgia.

In her 1840 book, Rambles Around the Country, Elizabeth Fries Ellet related:

A sad tradition is connected with the Falls of Toccoa. A white woman, a prisoner of the Indians, it is said, was compelled by them to betray a party of the whites, who were encamped in the neighborhood. Under pretence of leading them, by a secret path, to a safer position, she led her unsuspecting victims, blindfold, one by one, to the brow of the precipice, and suffered them to walk off the brink.

Another tradition relates, how a fair, innocent boy, a child of the white race, was dashed down the precipice by an Indian, a sacrifice to the demon of revenge in his savage bosom. Probably there is little truth in either tale. It is natural for men to love the embellishment of beautiful scenes with imaginative legends.

Fifty years later, ethnologist James Mooney relied on James Wafford, who was part Cherokee and had been born near Toccoa, for information about the falls:

The lands about Toccoa falls were sold by the Cherokee in 1783 and were owned at one time by Wafford's grandfather. According to Wafford, there was a tradition that when the whites first visited the place they saw, as they thought, an Indian woman walking beneath the surface of the water under the falls, and on looking again a moment after they saw her sitting upon an over-hanging rock 200 feet in the air, with her feet dangling over. Said Wafford, "She must have been one of the Nûñnë'hï."

In 1896, Charles M. Skinner included a story of Toccoa Falls in his Myths and Legends of our Own Land:

Early in the days of the white occupation of Georgia a cabin stood not far from the Falls of Toccoa (the Beautiful). Its only occupant was a feeble woman, who found it ill work to get food enough from the wild fruits and scanty clearing near the house, and she had nigh forgotten the taste of meat; for her two sons, who were her pride no less than her support, had been killed by savages. She often said that she would gladly die if she could harm the red men back, in return for her suffering—which was not Christian doctrine, but was natural.

She was brooding at her fire, one winter evening, in wonder as to how one so weak and old as she could be revenged, when her door was flung open and a number of red men filled her cabin. She hardly changed countenance. She did not rise. "You may take my life," she said, "for it is useless, now that you have robbed it of all that made it worth living."

"Hush!" said the chief. "What does the warrior want with the scalps of women? We war on your men because they kill our game and steal our land."

"Is it possible that you come to our homes except to kill?"

"We are strangers and have lost our way. You must guide us to the foot of Toccoa and lead us to our friends."

"I lead you? Never!"

The chief raised his axe, but the woman did not flinch. There was a pause, in which the iron still hung menacing. Suddenly the dame looked up and said, "If you promise to protect me, I will lead you."

The promise was given and the band set forth, the aged guide in advance, bending against the storm and clasping her poor rags about her. In the darkest part of the wood, where the roaring of wind and groaning of branches seemed the louder for the booming of waters, she cautioned the band to keep in single file, but to make haste, for the way was far and the gloom was thickening. Bending their heads against the wind they pressed forward, she in advance.

Suddenly, yet stealthily, she sprang aside and crouched beneath a tree that grew at the very brink of the fall. The Indians came on, following blindly, and in an instant she descried the leader as he went whirling over the edge, and one after another the party followed. When the last had gone to his death she arose to her feet with a laugh of triumph. "Now I, too, can die!" she cried. So saying, she fell forward into the grayness of space.

The website for Toccoa Falls College - All Things TFC - features a different legend of the falls, attributed to Kathryn Trogdon’s 1973 History of Stephens County [GA] and A Tree God Planted, The Story of Toccoa Falls College by Troy Damron (1982)

Once upon a time many moons ago there lived in a beautiful valley in what is now northeast Georgia, a lovely Cherokee princess named Toccoa. One day, beautiful Toccoa met Wild Waters, the chief of a hostile tribe, at the foot of a high waterfall in Cherokee land. Never before had Toccoa seen such a handsome brave. His hair was long and black, and his eyes sparkled more brightly than those of any of the braves of her tribe. His laughter mimicked the rippling of the stream below the falls, and his words were like the fragrance of Cherokee roses kissed by the morning dew. Toccoa fell madly in love with the handsome chief, and her every thought was a heartthrob for her young lover. Each day when twilight came, she met him at their trysting place—the foot of the high waterfall.

One day the lovely princess did not come to meet Wild Waters. His heart was heavy as he gave his special call to her, only to hear his echo for an answer. But he continued to come to the falls in search of Toccoa. One night he was meet at the falls by the old witch mother who brought a strange and mysterious message from Toccoa: “Come to the falls each evening at twilight until the leaves are a bright golden yellow. Then, ere the leaves are crimson with autumn stain, we shall know whether we have loved in vain.”

The father of the princess had been told of his daughter’s love for Wild Waters. But he was very unhappy because there was a young brave from among the Cherokees whom he wanted his daughter to marry. So Toccoa was forbidden to see her lover again. But Toccoa steadfastly refused to marry her father’s choice.

One day she heard that she was going to be given that night to the Cherokee brave. In the evening when Wild Waters came to the falls, the clouds were black and low, and the rumble of the thunder filled the air. Zigzag streaks of lightening played their part in the imminent scenario. When Wild Waters reached the foot of the falls, he saw the lifeless body of his beloved Toccoa lying stretched full length atop the big, brown rock. Her arms were full of crimson autumn leaves, and he thought he could hear her sobs in the sounds of the beautiful waterfall. It is said that even today anyone whose ear is tuned to the sounds of nature and listens carefully can hear the sobbing of the beautiful Toccoa in the sounds of the falling water.

My favorite Toccoa Falls legend, though, features a lovely Indian maiden (naturally) and appeared in Scott’s Monthly Magazine in 1868. [This is quite lengthy, but to retrieve the story from obscurity, I post it here in its entirety.] The author of this melodramatic piece was identified only as “Carrol”:

Toccoa was an Indian maiden, an orphan niece of a powerful chief. From her childhood the tribe had regarded Toccoa with interest and respect, for she was not only wonderfully beautiful, but wise and thoughtful beyond her age. As a child, Toccoa was the embodiment of reckless gayety; but as she grew to womanhood she became silent and melancholy, ceased to join in the sports of the Indian maidens, ever wandering away from them, and silting alone on some eminence, with hands clasped, and deep despondency in her great black eyes, that ever seemed fixed upon a terribly fascinating object, from which it was impossible to withdraw them; and the aged of the tribe would say, “Toccoa sees more than the wisest of us can see.”

“What do'st thou see, Toccoa?” her young companions would ask.

“Ask me not; I cannot tell thee,” Toccoa would reply.

Then the maidens would say: “Thou wilt not tell us, Toccoa, because thou seest that which will make thee more beautiful than thy companions; and thou art only studying spells by which thou wilt keep captive the hearts of our young warriors.”

“I am proud of our young warriors,” returned the girl, “but neither seek or desire their love.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the maidens, “thou hast caught a glimpse of a warrior in the home of the Great Spirit; that is the reason thou carest not for our braves!”

“No, no, my friends. I only love our hunting grounds—their forest trees, our mountain streams, the graves of our kindred, and I think only of the greatness of our people.”

“But why art thou so sorrowful, Toccoa? Such things should make thee glad. Wouldst thou be a warrior, and fight for our homes?”

“I would ! Oh, I would!” cried Toccoa; “and no harm should come to my people only over my dead body. Oh! would that I were a warrior, to lead our braves! I would sweep our enemies from the earth! None should live to threaten us!”

“Then,” thought the Indian maidens, “Toccaa is ambitious. She has a warrior's heart in her bosom—she is impatient of control, and desires to rule the tribe.” Thus they spoke to the chief's wife, as she sat in the door of her wigwam, nursing the chief's infant son.

The brow of the Indian mother grew dark and troubled; she pressed the boy close to her bosom, and said to Toccoa:

“Wouldst thou have our great chiefs and thy young kinsman die, that thou mighst be head of our tribe, lead our warriors to battle, and preside over our councils?”

“Wherefore dost thou question me thus?” asked the girl.

“Thy companions say, Toccoa will never be a wife to any of our braves, and she loves nothing better than our hunting-grounds. Dost thou not know, Toccoa, what a woman loves she desires to possess, and call it her own ?”

“Good mother, my love is not like the maiden's love for a warrior, or the woman's love for ornament. It is as the affection of the Great Spirit, who loves us because we are His people. Thus do I love our hunting grounds, because they belong to our tribe; our dead lie in them—the blood of those heroes who wrested them from other tribes flows around them, a broad stream, across which our enemies cannot pass. Our groves, our mountain passes still echo with the war-whoop, the wedding song, and the wail for the dead of generations passed away, and in the skies above us ever flit their shadows—“

“Thou art deceitful, Toccoa!” interrupted the chief’s wife. “A woman's thoughts for good go not beyond her wigwam.”

The squaw feared Toccoa, and said to the chief: “Toccoa has not a woman's heart in her breast. She is ambitious, and desires to rule the tribe like thee. When a woman has no wigwam, no warrior, no children of her own, and thinks of the things of which men think, she becomes dangerous, and is to be feared. Beware of Toccoa! She will seek to do thee harm. Even now when we find her at midnight kneeling, with soft, tearful eyes and outstretched arms, gazing up at the pale moon, or see her lying prostrate before the rising sun, as if drinking in its beams, she may be weaving spells by which thy strength will fail, thy arm grow powerless; and before thou hast numbered half thy days thou wilt pass away, with thy infant son, from the hunting-grounds of thy forefathers, and a weak woman will be head of they tribe!”

The words of the squaw troubled the chief, and he called his wise men in council to deliberate on the strange conduct of Toccoa.

Toccoa was with her young companions by a mountain stream. Some of the maidens were sporting in the waters, some wreathing their brows with flowers, others were braiding their long, black tresses and trimming them with crimson berries. Toccoa sat on a high rock gazing in the distance, her hair was unbound, and swept round the girl like a garment of raven plumes. No flowers were on her brow, or berries on her beautiful arms. Every now and »hen the merry maidens would call to her-

“Toccoa, thou art too beautiful not to wear flowers. Come down and trim thy neck and tresses with berries, and gaze at thyself in the water, and thou wilt never again think of anything else but thy beauty.”

While the maidens thus spoke, a boy came shouting, “Toccoa! Toccoa! The fathers of the tribe are in council, and call for thee.”

Her young companions looked at each other with startled gaze, like a herd of frightened fawns when they hear the huntsman’s horn, and followed Toccoa at a distance, as she walked with calm but mournful mein to the assembly.

“Toccoa,” said the most aged father of the tribe, “thou must tell us why thou art different from the maidens, thy companions? Tell us why thou dost not wear flowers, and deck thyself with berries? We must know, for we suspect thee of dark and fearful thoughts.”

“Father,” replied Toccoa, “it is because I can only think of the things the Great Spirit shows mc.”

“What are those things, daughter?”

“I must not tell thee.”

“If thou wilt not tell us, Toccoa, we will send thee far away into a strange land, into a wilderness, and in death thou wilt not sleep with thy forefathers.”

“Oh, fathers!” exclaimed Toccoa, “send me not from the land 1 so much love, for which I would grasp the spear, string the bow, and exultingly count the scalps of our enemies!”

“Daughter thou must go, unless thou wilt tell us why thy love is so great.”

“Father, thou compellest me to speak of that which I would fain hide from myself. Wo is me, that 1 can see more than the most aged of the tribe can behold. I see coming over the wide waters, beyond the distant hills, great canoes, filled with beings whose faces are white like snow. They number more than the spirit eyes that look out of the skies at night. They land on our shore, they kill our deer and buffalo, they turn the course of our rivers, and desecrate the graves of our forefathers. Oh, father! does not the mother more dearly love the child when she knows there is moored before her door the phantom bark that bears our dead to the hunting-grounds of the Great Spirit, and it is waiting for the loved one she holds to her breast? Yes, father, yes; and this is why I love my country more than all our tribe— because I see the evil that is coming upon us.”

The elders of the tribe then spoke softly among themselves, saying, “An Evil Eye hath looked on Toccoa, giving her power for harm. Our people say that she is wise, and they revere her; our young men say she is beautiful beyond all other women, and they worship her. Should Toccoa speak thus to them, they will hearken to what she says, and will think, wherefore shall we strive with other nations to enlarge and keep our hunting-grounds, when a more powerful people will come to take them away from us? Then their spirits will grow sluggish, their hearts will become heavy, their strength will fail, their courage will depart, and they will become as women. Then will come to pass the things of which Toccoa speaks. It is for this purpose she has been bewitched by our enemies. Toccoa must die!” The aged men said to the girl:

“Toccoa, then, must die tor the good of our country.”

“Fathers of my tribe,” replied the maiden, “I would die myriads of times to save my country; but my death will not avert the doom of my people. I hear the steady coming steps of the snow-faced people; onward, onward they come, over our plains, by our rivers, and up our mountains. I hear the mighty pines crashing to the ground, and our lordly oaks groaning beneath the strokes of their great tomahawks, and you, my people, will surely flee before them, into a distant land. I alone will remain to keep watch where our council fires have burned, and my spirit, that you have deemed unwomanly, will mingle with the race that shall displace ours, to kindle in their hearts a love for my country. Ah! and they will love it, fathers; as Toccoa loves it. Their women will be fair and gentle in times of peace; but when the war-whoop rings around their wigwams the spirit of Toccoa will kindle in their hearts, and they will become as the hearts of warriors. They will place bows and arrows in the hands of their boys, and bid them fight for the land they have wrested from the red man.”
“Be still, Toccoa!” said the fathers, “This cannot be! There is no nation so great as ours. Thou art laboring under the spells of an Evil Eye, from which thou canst be released only in the Spirit Land, where those of our tribe who have gone before us hunt milk-white deer across crystal hills, and drink the blood of our enemies in gourds made of the breath of flowers. We will send thee to join our maidens there, who live by streams blue as the sky, and who are crowned with wreaths that shine like the face of the Great Spirit; and thou wilt tell our kinsmen we are a great and powerful people, and our hunting-grounds cover the world.”

It went abroad through the tribe that an Evil Eye had looked upon Toccoa, and that the aged men had decreed she must die, or harm would befall their people; and though grieved for the maiden's fate, they did not murmur, for they believed that the fathers were wise men.

They took Toccoa to a high mountain. The maiden stood on the edge of a precipice, a line of warriors stood before her, with their bows and arrows. They would have bound her eyes, that she might not see the death-missiles, but Toccoa waved them away, saying:

“I die for my country. Let me die like a warrior!”

At a signal, the arrows of the warriors flew true to their aim, and quivered in the young girl's heart. She uttered no sound, but sprang into the air, and disappeared over the precipice.

Long did the Indian maidens search for Toccoa's body, but it was never found; but before two moons had rolled away, a clear, bright stream flowed to the edge of the rock, and fell over the precipice where Toccoa had been sacrificed, and the maidens of the tribe said: “It is the spirit of our lost companion come to prove to us that she is happy,” and they called the cascade the Falls of Toccoa.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Legends of the Falls, 2

A traveller, sleeping on the banks of the Oronoco, has heard the mysterious sounds of the Laxas de musica.* He wakens his Indian guide, who congratulates him on having heard them, and tells him they are the voices of his departed friends from the regions of the dead, giving him assurance that they are happy, and that they watch over him: that he need not now fear the paw of the tiger, nor the bite
(*Rocks which are said to emit musical tones at sunrise.)
- From The Works of Mrs. Hemans, by Felicia Dorothea Browne Hemans, 1839

Beyond that wild illimitable waste
Of unfenced prairie, there are wild flowers growing
In rich luxuriance, over by the chaste
And velvet-vested rivers that are flowing
Within the moss-clad suckle valleys glowing;
And in that sea-like undulating wild,
The moon-like roses are forever blowing,
For there the wild deer, on the lawn, so mild,
Leaps with the unscared fawn like some delighted child.
-From Nacoochee, by Thomas Holley Chivers, 1837

I’m drawn to the under-reported and the overlooked, and I figured the early illustrations of the Southern Appalachians (published in magazines from about 1855-1885) fit into that category. The artists who created those illustrations are not especially well-known, but they were interesting characters. Investigating them leads deep into the popular literature of the nineteenth century, including numerous poems written about notable places and legends of these mountains. Drivel mostly, though I do bump into some enjoyable exceptions - a few intriguing stories.

Take for instance, Thomas Holley Chivers (1809-1858), a Georgia physician who penned some truly horrible verse. In 1899, Charles Dana summed him up as a “literary freak.”

I happened across his poem, Nacoochee; or, The Beautiful Star. after I'd already found a couple of other poems set in that lovely north Georgia valley. Chivers had merely appropriated the name from the Cherokees. His Nacoochee unfolds in another, distant and fictional, location.

Nacoochee was one of his more popular, and more highly-regarded poems, and the 1837 collection of the same name is a piece of work. Had he been a rock-and-roller, his gloomy collection featuring…

The Death of Time
The Dying Poet
The Dying Dove
The Dying Beauty
Song of the Dying Soldier
Burial of the Indian Child
The Dying Poet to His Child
Hymn to Death
The Mother’s Song at the Grave of her Child

…would make Marilyn Manson look like Doris Day.

Chivers is remembered mainly for a nasty feud with Edgar Allen Poe. Apparently, Poe gave Chivers a favorable review to butter him up for a loan. In return, Chivers accused Poe of plagiarizing “The Raven” from his own work. At least one book and many scholarly articles have been devoted to Chivers-Poe controversy.

Chivers' work, including Nacoochee does reflect two significant currents of American Romanticism. One is the influence of Swedenborgian philosophy and the other is an idealized celebration of the Native American.

Raised a Baptist, Chivers eventually became a devoted disciple of Swendenborg, and harbored delusions of mystical grandeur:

Poetry is that crystal river of the soul which runs through all the avenues of life, and after purifying the affections of the heart, empties itself into the Sea of God. Now, he who dives the deepest into that mysterious sea, brings up the greatest number of the shells of truth, and is made richer in the lore of the wisdom of the universe.

As with many of his contemporaries, Chivers’ fascination with Indian themes could be traced to Chateaubriand’s French prose work, Atala, which inspired many poems and legends, including some set in the Southern mountains. Chivers biographer Charles Lombard summarized the juicy story line of Atala:

Chactas, an old Indian chief, meets Rene, a melancholy young Frenchman who came to the Louisiana colony to forget an unnatural love for his sister, Amelie. Chactas, reared by Lopez, an old Spaniard, is rescued from the savage Muscogulges by a beautiful Indian maid, Atala. A Christian, she leads Chactas to a village inhabited by other converts. There the missionary, Pere Aubry, lectures Chactas on Christianity. Atala and Chactas spend many happy moments together amid the splendor of the unspoiled forests. When Chactas becomes too passionate in his declarations of love, Atala, adhering to her vow to remain a virgin, commits suicide. Ultimately, Chactas and Rene die at the hands of hostile Indians.

Lombard described how the Atala story was recycled, endlessly, by American Romantics:

A comely Indian lass, thoroughly Christianized and speaking a refined poetic language, was invariably the sweetheart of a stalwart brave patterned after Chactas. Invariably their love affair had a tragic end.

Chivers’ Nacoochee did not take place in the north Georgia valley of that name. The poet explained in the preface to his 1837 collection, a preface more engaging than the title poem itself:

The word Nacoochee, in the Indian language, signifies beautiful star. There is a lake, between the Oakmulgee and Flint rivers, in Georgia, which, during the winter season, is about three hundred miles in circumference. The Creek Indians believe that in the centre of this lake there is an island of such extraordinary beauty, that if they could only possess it, they would immediately be made happy. There believe it is inhabited by the most beautiful of all God’s creatures, - and that they are as lovely as the angels. It is to them what Elysium was to the ancients, and heaven to the moderns. It is to them a Fairy-land. They believe that at some future period they will be in the possession of that island – which is, to them, the same as being in Paradise. They believe that the women are descendants of some great tribe, and some say that when they approach that Eden of terrestrial bliss, the island continues to move on from them, so that no one has ever before had the fortune to arrive at that wished-for haven.

They say that there are great chiefs there, who are kings over the immortal rattle-snakes, whose heads are crowned with “carbuncles” of such excessive brightness, that they dazzle the island for nine miles around. They say that the great snake, which has this large diamond in his head, leads the rest of the serpents by mowing down the grass before him, by the breath of his nostrils. The Cherokees believe that if they could possess that beautiful “carbuncle” they could immediately buy the whole world.

They believe that the stones on that island make the most exquisite music, and that the beautiful beings who inhabit it, have the power, like Orpheus, of controlling that music whenever they please.

The musical stones, which are called on the banks of the Oronoco, Laxas de Musica, are called shells in the poem.

At a later date, I’ll introduce some other incarnations of the lovely Indian maiden named Nacoochee, but for now, here she is a’la Chivers:

Oh! Had you seen her thus beneath the moon,
Her snow-white bosom heaving like the sea!
As some tall mountain spread with snow at noon,
Her dark, long locks all sweeping lavishly –
As each soft breeze came fondling them for me!
Her dark bright eyes upturned upon the sky,
With two pearl tear-drops fringing them, to be
A living truth that she was born to die!-
Oh! Had you seen her thus, how deep had been the sigh!

Gracious! To think that this was the sort of thing that the League for Sanity in Poetry was attempting to protect and preserve!