James Baughn was the webmaster of seMissourian.com and its sister newspapers for 20 years. On the side, he maintained even more sites, including Bridgehunter.com, LandmarkHunter.com, TheCapeRock.com, and Humorix. Baughn passed away in 2020 while doing one of the things he loved most: hiking in Southeast Missouri. Here is an archive of his writing about hiking and nature in our area.
The Missouri version of Romeo and Juliet
Posted Wednesday, September 15, 2010, at 1:46 PM
A few days after running a front-page story about the "discovery" of a waterfall at Taum Sauk Mountain in 1935, the Southeast Missourian ran a follow-up story about the origin of the fall's name, Mina Sauk Falls. It's based on an Indian legend with many parallels to Romeo and Juliet. Instead of star-crossed lovers from dueling families, the Indian legend features star-crossed lovers from warring tribes.
I've read several variations of the Mina Sauk legend, but the version published by the newspaper in 1935 is the most detailed:
Rediscovered Falls of Wild Cat Mountain Recalls Indian Legends
Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian, July 19, 1935
The hidden falls of Wild Cat Mountain, in the Taum Sauk country on the Iron-Reynolds County line, rediscovered Sunday by a party of Girardeans who made an expedition to the territory, in all probability are falls made famous in early Indian legends.
The late A.H. Hinchey, Southeast Missouri's beloved champion of legendary history, while never being able to actually visit Taum Sauk Mountain and scale its crags and precipices, knew of the fact of the existence of a great waterfall in the Taum Sauk country. This fall, according to Mr. Hinchey's writings, probably was on Taum Sauk Mountain, and was named Mina-Sauk, daughter of Sauk-ton-qua, an old Indian chief, from which Taum Sauk Mountain derives its name. However, the fall found by Girardeans is the only one, and there is no ancient trace of another in the mountain's vicinity.
The location of the falls, by reason of the fact that the Taum Sauk country is rarely visited by men from the outer world, might have easily been mistaken. According to an Indian legend handed down by the Piankisha Indians the cascade was caused by Manitou, to punish the tribe of Sauk-ton-qua for the murder of a young Osage chief, the husband of Mina-Sauk, and the blood-red flowers, known as Indian pinks, which grow on either side of the falls, grew out from the blood stains of the Osage warrior. As Mr. Hinchey recorded it, following is the legend of Mina-Sauk.
The long winter had ended. Melted snow in the mountains had filled the streams, the waters of which found their way through Aux Vases and Bois Brule into the Father of Waters.
The people of Sauk-ton-qua, dwelling in the Bois Brule, were happy at the approach of warmer weather, for the winter had bheen long and they had suffered. When Sauk-ton-qua told his people that the time had come for them to leave their village in the Bois Brule, and go to their hunting grounds in the hills toward the setting sun they were made happy.
But one among the people of Sauk-ton-qua was not made happy by the old chief's mandate. Mina-Sauk, the young daughter of Sauk-ton-qua had been ill all winter. The light of her eyes had been dimmed, her happiness had departed and she had lost all interest in life.
Sauk-ton-qua knew of his daughter's illness and was unhappy because of it. But not his counsels, nor the loving care of Mina-Sauk's mother, nor the ministrations of the medicine men could bring back the bloom of health to the maiden's cheekes, nor the brightness to her eyes, for it was sickness of the heart that ailed her.
In the hunting season of the past year she had been captured by Osage warriors, enemies of Sauk-ton-qua's people, and carried to the Osage village, miles to the north.
There she became the bride of a young Osage warrior and had learned to love him dearly. Later on she was recaptured by the warriors of her father's tribe and carried back to the village in the Bois Brule.
Not the commands of her father, nor the pleading of her mother, could make Mina-Sauk forget her mate in the Osage country.
"No happiness can come of the mating of the dove and the hawk," the old chief told the maiden. "Has Mina-Sauk forgotten her love for her people and bestowed it upon the dog of an Osage?"
"Mina-Sauk has not forgotten her love for her people," the maiden replied, "but she can not forget her love for her mate. It was put into her heart by Manitou and he alone can take it away."
The people of Sauk-ton-qua went into their hunting grounds in the hills toward the setting sun. At the close of a day in the Month of Flowers, maidens returning from the stream in the valley told Sauk-ton-qua they had seen Mina-Sauk at the stream and with her was the young Osage warrior, enemy of the tribe.
Sauk-ton-qua sent out warriors to capture the Osage and to bring Mina-Sauk before him. Around the council fire that night the people Sauk-ton-qua assembled. In their midst was the young Osage brave, a prisoner, securely bound. At one side of the group was Mina-Sauk, held captive by squaws of her tribe.
After the trial of the prisoner, the chief medicine man pronounced his doom: "The Osage dog has bewitched the maiden, Mina-Sauk, until her mind has become weakened. She has forgotten her people and has turned to an enemy of her tribe. That the maiden may be freed from the spell thrown about her, let the Osage dog die."
"Let his body be thrown from the top of the mountain onto the ledge below and caught upon the uplifted spears of the warriors waiting here. Let his body be once more cast upon the spears waiting on the second ledge, and then cast into the ravine below. Then will Manitou be appeased and the evil charm lifted from the unhappy maiden."
When the medicine man had spoken Mina-Sauk broke loose from the squaws and sprang into the circle of light. "Do as he says," she cried, pointing a trembling hand at the medicine man, "and may the Manitou blast you from the face of the earth. May the Storm King come over the mountain and the people of Sauk-ton-qua be destroyed."
But in spite of her pleading, the sentence was carried out. The maiden, crazed by her grief, broke from the clutches of the old women and ran to the edge of the precipice. She uttered screams dreadful to hear and warriors shrank from her fury.
From the precipice she sprang and fell, a mangled corpse, beside her murdered mate in the ravine far below.
Then over the mountain came the Storm King. Fiercely came the wind and the mountain shook with the wrath of Manitou. The storm came quickly, raged fiercely and passed suddenly. But in its path was desolation and the people of Sauk-ton-qua had been destroyed.
Where the bolt of Manitou had struck the mountain a stream of water gushed forth, flowing over the precipice into the valley below. And on either side of the cascade flowers of blood-red hue were growing.
And today, if you would see the tears of Mina-Sauk flowing ever over the precipice, and if you go into the Taum Sauk country and go on a day in June, for it was then, in the Month of Flowers, that the waters of the cascade started and the flowers first bloomed.
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