Romantic tragedies like Romeo & Juliet can cause heart throb, no doubt, but we all know death as a result of unrequited love is better left in fairytales. In fact, our very own Lover's Leap in Cameron Park is probably the result of an Victorian American creation of a Native American love story.
There are a handful of lookout spots named "Lover's Leap," but perhaps the most well-known is the one in Cameron Park. The stories surrounding each Lover's Leap location vary slightly, but they typically revolve around the suicide of at least one person in a couple facing a tragedy. One early version of the legend of Lover's Leap in Cameron Park told by Lamar West in 1912 says, "quick Wah-Wah-Tee and her lover, in the last embrace of love and death, sprang from the cliff into the maddened waves below, since which dreadful night it has been known as Lovers Leap."
Why are Native Americans the focus of this tragedy? Probably because Victorian Wacoans sought romanticized stories about their Native American predecessors, the Waco tribe. Many postcards and Chamber of Commerce brochures featured the legend, insinuating that it was something of a marketing scheme for Victorian Waco.
Writer Ellis Harper Butler recalls his day putting together brochures for small towns in this excerpt from Harper's Monthly:
"Lover's Leap was a good card, always," Butler writes. "There 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. It was always safe to ask where Lover's Leap was when we struck a town, because there always was one if there was a side hill ten feet high. And it was always the same Indian lover and his dusky sweetheart and her cruel father that took part in the ancient tragedy."
In one Waco Tribune-Herald article, writer J.B. Smith explains that our local legend is echoed in the sentiments of some of Mark Twain's writing. "A man tells him of how the doomed Indian maiden, named Winona, jumps off a high cliff, while her disapproving parents stand below. She lands on them and crushes them to death but walks away and later marries her love. Twain praises this version as a 'distinct improvement upon the threadbare form of Indian legend.'"
In many ways, this perpetuated tall tale echoes many of the themes we all love about Shakespeare's tragedy: we are all aware of its fictitious nature, but there's something to be said for young love so pure it cannot be separated in death.