Maiden Rock is a prominent landmark on the east bank of Lake Pepin. The legend connected with this spot tells of Winona, a Dakota maiden whose parents tried to force her to marry a man of their choosing when she loved another. Rather than obey, she threw herself from the rock into the waters below. The legend is related by Stephen H. Long in his narrative of a Voyage in a Six-Oared Skiff to the Falls of St. Anthony in 1817. Below is the story as it was told to him by an Indian chief.
“[A young maiden] had for a long time received the addresses of a young hunter, who had formed an unconquerable attachment to her, and for whom she entertained the strongest affection. Her parents and brothers were strenuously opposed to her choice, and warmly seconded the solicitations of a young warrior who was very much beloved by the nation for his bravery and other good qualities. To obviate her objections to the warrior as being destitute of the means of clothing and feeding her in consequence of the life he must lead in order to perform the duties of his profession, her brothers were at the expense of procuring everything that was necessary to the ease and comfort of a family, and presented them to the young warrior. This they did on the day of their arrival at the fatal spot, with the hope that their sister would readily be prevailed upon to marry the young man when all her objections to him were thus obviated. She still persisted, however, in the determination never to marry any but the object of her sincere affection, the young hunter; while her parents and brothers finding they could not accomplish their purpose by gentle means, began to treat her with severity. They insisted on her compliance with their wishes, still summoning the arguments of filial duty and affection in aid of their cause.
She replied, “[I do] not love the soldier and would live single forever rather than marry him. You call me daughter and sister, as if this should induce me to marry the man of your choice and not of my own. You say you love me, yet you have driven the only man that can make me happy far from me. He loved me; but you would not let us be happy together. He has there fore left me, he has left his parents and all his friends, and gone to bewail in the woods. He cannot partake of the pleasure of this party. He can do nothing but mourn. You are not satisfied with all this. You have not made me miserable enough. You would now compel me to marry a man I do not love. Since this is your purpose, let it be so. You will soon have no daughter or sister to torment, or beguile with your false professions of love.”
The same day was fixed upon as the day of her marriage with the warrior, and the Indians were busily occupied in gathering clay and painting themselves, preparatory for the nuptial ceremony. She, in the meantime, walked aside from the rest of the party, ascended to the top of the hill, and called aloud to her parents and brothers, upbraiding them for their unkind treatment.
“You first refused to let me marry agreeably to my own choice. You then endeavored by artifice to unite me to a man I cannot love, and now you will force me to marry him whether I will or not. You thought to allure and make me wretched, but you shall be disappointed.”
Her parents aware of her design, ran to the foot of the hill, and entreated her to desist, with all the tenderness and concern that parental fondness could suggest, rending their hair and bewailing in the bitterest manner; while her brothers attempted to gain the summit before she should execute her fatal purpose. But all in vain; she was determined and resolute. She commenced singing her death song and immediately threw herself headlong down the precipice, preferring certain and instantaneous death, to a lingering state of unhappy wedlock.”
Source: Stephen H. Long, “Voyage in a Six-Oared Skiff to the Falls of St. Anthony in 1817,” in Minnesota Historical Collections, 2:24-26.
Bertha L. Heibron, ed. With Pen and Pencil on the Frontier in 1851: The Diary and Sketches of Frank Blackwell Mayer. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986.