Mark Twain wrote in the nineteenth century that there were fifty locations along the Mississippi River that claimed the title of lover’s leap. In fact, they are spread out not only across this country, but others as well. Nobody knows where, or even if there was a place where this legend springs from, a single source that inspired the memory that named the rest.
The legend is eerily similar across the country, usually involving native Americans, star crossed love, and either a leap to join a lover who has been lost to death or other circumstances, or a leap together to avoid separation. Even the native Americans it seems had a gothic heart.
Lover’s leap atop Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga is no exception. A Chickasaw warrior named Sautee loved a beautiful Cherokee maiden named Nacoochee. Their two tribes were at war, and the two lovers were found out. The Cherokees sent out a raiding party which captured Sautee and hauled him to the ledge atop Lookout Mountain and threw him off to his death. While they were celebrating their deed, Nacoochee slipped unnoticed to the edge of the cliff. Her family couldn’t reach her in time, and the last word she spoke before leaping to her doom was “Sautee.”
It’s possible that there is an element of truth to this story, for there are two nearly lost towns in the valley below which bear the names Sautee and Nacoochee, whose histories stretch back farther than the Tennessee theme park.
My own guess is that for as long as there have been lovers, love has been seen as a leap. You’re putting the ultimate trust into another person, despite all the odds. You have to mean it, and be willing to hold onto that trust even in the face of loss. It’s a leap of faith, and if done with a pure heart, there is no turning back. For far too many, when love is lost, it’s better to seek oblivion than to carry on.
My own favorite tale of a lover’s leap is from another place altogether, where the young brave was simply not in his love’s class, and had brought shame to her and her family. He leapt, but the breeze lifted him and carried him back to his lover’s arms, for in the end, love recognizes no class, no status. It simply is, in life and in death. Even the wind knows that and sometimes carries us back to where we belong.