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Loverís Leap

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Knowing 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 Graphic:

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.


The 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.


A 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.


West 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

Texasí 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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