There are hundreds of places in the U.S. of A. that have come to be called “Lover’s Leap.” These are places where some heartstruck young man or lady whose “one true love” was somehow taken away just couldn’t stand to go on alone anymore, and so found their peace for ever after by leaping off some high precipice to their doom. Often the restless spirit of the one who jumped would stay around to haunt the place, so perhaps they don’t always find the peace they sought after all.
There is at least one such “Lover’s Leap” right here in Pennsylvania. It’s in the Montour County town of Danville, where a high rocky outcrop juts far above the Susquehanna River. Let me tell you about it.
Prior to the settlement of this region by European colonists, this part of Pennsylvania was home to native Americans, principally of the Delaware or Lenni Lenape tribe, who themselves had been displaced westward from their ancestral homes closer to the Delaware River. An Indian maiden, whose name has been lost to time, as the story was never written down until years later, was in the forest on a summer’s day hunting for mushrooms and other foodstuffs for her family. Although game brought back by the hunters of the tribe was an important part of their diet, so were the crops grown and tended and the nuts and berries and other fruits of the forest gathered by the wives and daughters.
Hearing footsteps along a path, the maiden looked up to see a tall and brawny brave, not of her own Delaware tribe, but of the Shawnee, who also claimed much of what would become central Pennsylvania as their own. While not mortal enemies, the Delaware and Shawnee at that time had little relations with each other, and wanted none. The maiden and the brave, startled at first by each other’s sudden appearance, soon began a quitet chatting. Suffice it to say, they each found a spark of attraction, and in the days and weeks following, managed to accidentally meet again on many occasions. Needless to say, they were soon quite smitten with each other.
Back at her village, the young maiden said nothing of her new friendship. As she was nearly the age for marrying by the tribal customs, her father, a lesser chieftain, had, as was also their custom, selected the man that she was expected to marry. When he told his daughter of his decision, she wailed and pleaded, but her father would not change his mind. At that point, he only thought that his daughter was not yet willing to marry anyone, as he had no idea she had found her own intended in the Shawnee brave.
Her father let her wail and protest, thinking that she would shortly see the wisdom of his choice and the folly of resisting it. But there was no change of heart. “Why, daughter, why, won’t you marry the man I have found for you. Don’t you realize that I want only what is best for you?” asked her father, in the time-honored tradition of parents who are sure that they know best.
“Because I love another,” she finally told him. When she confessed that her chosen lover was of the Shawnee tribe, the chieftain threatened an all-out war between the tribes. “No, no, no,” he told his daughter. “This shall not come to pass.”
Two days later, the young girl rose early and slipped from the village unseen. She traveled through the pre-dawn darkness to visit her longed-for friend, telling him of her father’s plans. He too, he told her, had been told that such a marriage between the tribes could not be allowed. The couple decided that if they could not be together in this life, they would leave it together.
Which brings us to the high cliffs there in Danville, not far from where a Burger-King restaurant sits some three hundred years later. The maiden and her Shawnee brave hiked there to the top of the precipice, and holding hands, stepped off the cliff into eternity.
No one came to look for the Shawnee brave, but the maiden’s father, when he found her gone, sent a search party to find her and bring her home. They did find her, but at the bottom of the cliff – at the base of “Lover’s Leap.”