Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Legends of Nonnewaug Falls

A couple years ago, I wrote something about "The Legend of Nonnewaug Falls" according to William Cothren in the History of Ancient Woodbury:

The same legend appears, in three different versions, about 50 years later in "The Town and People: a chronological compilation of contributed writings from present and past residents of the town of Woodbury, Connecticut" by Julia Minor Strong:
MAY 23, 1878.—Nonnewaug Falls. How many there are who travel in foreign lands to view the beautiful objects in nature and art, who know not that at home they can find natural scenery often superior to that which they have spent both time and money to see. Woodbury is full of beautiful views and rugged scenery, the joy of the artist's soul. Few there are who can or will appreciate that which costs them nothing but time to enjoy. Would you like to see beauty unadorned by naught save nature's gifts, go to the Falls of the Nonnewaug on through the meadows, through field and valley, till you come to the ravine down which pour the waters from the Falls. Follow the stream if you would enjoy the whole of the beautiful prospect as it spreads out before you: 'tis a rugged path, but when the object is gained you are well repaid for toil and trouble. Take your seat on the mossy bank beneath the Falls, overshadowed by birch and hemlock, and you can well spend a few hours in looking at the silvery waters as they dash over the falls and rise in a misty veil around you. Imagination carries you back to the time when the red man alone looked on the waters and the hand of man had not changed the works of his Maker. In the mirror of times long passed away, you can see again the dusky forms of warrior braves as they stood in your place and worshipped the Great Spirit who presided over the Falls and their race.

The last medicine man of his tribe lived at the Fall of the Misty Waters. He alone of his people had the power to call up the spirits of his forefathers from the misty deep and learn of them the future of his race. Here he lived with his dusky sons and dark browed daughters where the mist from the Falls rose like incense over the sacred altar. Secure from the gaze of man he carried on his incantations and called on the great Manitou to bless and protect his people or to curse the enemies of his race. It is related that, enraged because his kindred had parted with some of their lands to the Pale Face, he cursed them in his wrath. "The plough of the Pale Face shall go over the bones of Pomperaug and his kindred, the corn shall wave over your hunting grounds, your blood shall mingle with the foe, hoe his corn and till his ground.'' A prophecy fulfilled today.


Same book, same legend:
DECEMBER 4, 1897.—All classes and conditions of people have their traditions and legends. Look where you will, all countries and races from the remotest time, and now, in our own town we have our traditions. Is it not so? We have them, say what you will, and they are so interwoven with our lives that it is difficult to separate truth from the legends.

Roving tribes, of a copper-colored race, were found here by the first explorers, and it is not known how the country was peopled. The different tribes were called by various names, but almost all belonged to two great families, the Algonquin and Iroquois. Most of the tribes were divided into clans, each having a chief or sachem, without written laws, but ruled by customs and traditions.

Many of the tribes, of the North American Indians, relate in legend that the human race was destroyed by a deluge, and the gods, to repeople the earth, changed animals into men. A traveler tells us this tradition. Formerly, the father of the Indian tribes lived toward the rising sun. Being warned in a dream that a deluge was coming to destroy the earth, he constructed a raft, on which he saved himself and all animals. He floated many months, and the animals, which then had the power of speech, complained against him. At last a new earth appeared, when he stepped down on it with all those creatures, who from that time, lost their power of speech as a punishment for murmuring against him. The Seneca Indians have a superstition, that, when a young maiden dies, they imprison a young bird before it tries its powers of song, then, loading it with caresses, they let it loose over her grave, believing that the bird will not close its eyes or fold its wings, till it has flown to the spirit land and delivered its message. In some localities the crow was regarded as a sacred bird. The Indians had a tradition that the crow brought their first corn to them from Kiehtan, who lived in the Southwest. Their belief in the Great Spirit, and many allusions to it, are most touching and beautiful; also those referring to the stars, winds, birds and flowers so charmingly interwoven in the song of Hiawatha. Every place visited by them received a name, topographical or historical, preserving the memory of a great Sachem, a battle, or a feast. Then again, it indicated some natural product of the place, or the animals which resorted thither. We have many such names in our vicinity. How many mountains and other localities derived their name from some legend? It is said, that the Indians living near the White Mountains in New Hampshire never ascended them, believing the gods resided there, shown in the clouds, winds and other manifestations. They supposed that the invisible inhabitants would resent any intrusion into their sacred precincts. We are so familiar with the tradition connected with Bethel Rock it seems unnecessary to repeat it.

The ancient Sagamore Womoqui, whose lodge and wigwams of warriors were near the Nonnewaug Falls, was .deeply saddened at the thought of parting with his hunting grounds and lands, where his people had roamed in freedom long before the paleface appeared in these regions. He could see the western march of the nations, his people becoming forgetful of his counsels, fewer in numbers, the fires on their hearths burning low, and the remaining' ones joining the onward trend to distant regions. One beautiful Spring morning the aged Sagamore came from the doorway of his lodge and stood near the head of the upper cascade. The air was filled with freshness, the sun shone brightly through the trees and upon the sparkling waters below, while a cool invigorating breeze lightly stirred the leaves of the forest about him. He seemed thoughtfully to be looking far into the future, the sublime notes of his requiem are wafted over the valley, the spirit of the waters beckons to him, he cast himself into the foaming torrent, and find his resting place among his warriors by the side of the "misty waters."

We have also the traditions regarding other chiefs in this locality, who lived some years, after the white men became owners of this section of country, by rightful purchase from the Indians. Castle Rock was said to be Pomperaug's fortress, and one of the chain of "Guarding Heights." Mount Tom in Litchfield being another link, by which all the tribes on the Housatonic River could communicate in two hours, through a system of signals and cries—a primitive long distance telephone.

The Indian traditions and legends are numberless. I have only gathered a few, but perhaps enough to show their beauty and variety. They may be traditions, but many truths can be gathered from them.—Indian Traditions and Legends. WOMAN'S CLUB, WOODBURY,  KATHERINE M. WOODRUFF

Still the same book:

JUNE 24, 1900.—Historical Nonnewaug is deserving a short notice from one investigating the principal features of interest in Woodbury. The name is derived from an Indian tribe inhabiting the northern part of the town a few centuries ago. The place is one of wild and picturesque beauty, the winding river, the roaring waterfall and the unmarked grave of the chieftian, each bearing the name Nonnewaug. These self same Falls have been visited by many a tourist in recent years and pronounced as charming a view as can be found in any of our New England States. As one stands at the higher Fall the thought comes of the sad tragedy enacted here, characteristic of the Indian disposition. Nonnewaug, seeing the approach of civilization, the white men appropriating his lands as their own jumped over the Falls, thus ending his life. Many mementoes have been found from time to time of this past race.

The brook gurgles and splashes on, singing to the spirit of the Red Men as its rythm was their associate in life seeming, to say as in the words of the poet, "For men may come and men may go, but I go on forever."

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