Maiden Rock is one of the most striking landmarks of the upper Mississippi. It towers four hundred feet above Lake Pepin. Indian tradition says that the entire four hundred feet was a vertical drop from the top of the cliff to the lake. The Indians that lived there were called Dakota or Dahcotah, a very powerful Indian tribe. Dahcotah was the proper name of the Sioux. Mrs. Mary Eastman lived near these Indians for seven years. They told her many stories and legends. One of them was the Legend of Maiden Rock. What follows is her version of the legend that she tells in her book, Dahcotah, Life and Legends of the Sioux.
Wenona and Chaske were members of a band that lived on the shores of Lake Pepin. Though Wenona had many offers of marriage from Chaske, her love for another man remained firm. However, Chaske was the man whom her parents had chosen for her., so Wenona dared not marry her lover (pictured at the left). Wenona's parents tried to reason with her. They argued that Chaske was a great warrior who was also the best hunter of the tribe. They said love wasn't important. Also, they knew that Chaske would be able to hunt the deer and buffalo, and make the parents comfortable and happy in their old age. But Wenona continued to say no.
One day the Indians decided to go below Lake Pepin to hunt porcupines. Just as the people were ready to leave the village, Chaske came again. He brought presents for Wenona's family. Her parents promised that the girl would be his wife. Wenona knew it would be useless to argue. The band then began their journey down Lake Pepin. They camped for a time opposite the place now called Maiden Rock.
After a short rest the Indians decided to go further down the river. They had crossed over to the other side, and were seated nearly under Maiden Rock, when a loud cry was heard from Wenona's mother. Above them, standing on the edge of the bluff, was Wenona. She was loudly singing her death song.
The hunters started to climb the bluff, the parents begged her to go back from the edge of the rock. She cried down to her parents that they had forced her to do this. If they had allowed her to marry the man she loved, she would have been happy. Instead, they were forcing her to marry a man she hated.
By this time the hunters had nearly reached her. Turning to them with a smile of scorn, she threw herself from the rock, falling like a dead bird amidst the shouts of the hunters above, and the shrieks of the women below. By her death she proved to Chaske that she feared neither him nor death.
Wenona's body was dressed in her most beautiful clothing and placed upon a platform. She was later buried close to the spot where she died.
Shortly afterward, Wenona's family and rival lovers met sudden death. After the porcupine hunt, the Indians returned to the St. Croix River. A few weeks later, the Indians again went down the Mississippi, camping at a place called "medicine wood." Early one morning they were attacked by one thousand Chippewa warriors. The Dahcotah were unprepared to fight. The Chippewas killed nearly everyone. According to Dahcotah tradition, the lovers and parents of Wenona died in this battle.
There have been many different versions of this legend. The one told by Mrs. Mary Eastman is the most familiar and what most people claim is what really happened. Some people believe that Wenona and her lover faked the fall and secretly moved to Canada where they both lived long lives and may have even had a son. No one really knows the truth, but either way, the Legend of Maiden Rock is a beautiful story.
Click here to return to the history page
Click here to the DHS Homepage.
Most of this excerpt was taken from the pamphlet, Wisconsin Folklore: Badger History written by the State Historical Society in 1976.