Lake Pepin is a widening of the Mississippi river. It is about twenty miles in length, and from one to two miles wide.
The country along its banks is barren. The lake has little current, but is dangerous for steamboats in a high wind. It is not deep, and abounds in fish, particularly the sturgeon. On its shores the traveller gathers white and red agates, and sometimes specimens streaked with veins of gold color. The lover reads the motto from his mistress’ seal, not thinking that the beautiful stone which made the impression, was found on the banks of Lake Pepin.
At the south end of the lake, the Chippeway river empties into the Mississippi.
The Maiden’s rock is a high bluff, whose top seems to lean over towards the water. With this rock is associated one of the most interesting traditions of the Sioux.
But the incident is well-known. Almost every one has read it a dozen times, and always differently told. Some represent the maiden as delivering an oration from the top of the rock, long enough for an address at a college celebration. It has been stated that she fell into the water, a circumstance which the relative situation of the rock and river would render impossible.
Writers have pretended, too, that the heroine of the rock was a Winnebago. It is a mistake, the maiden was a Dahcotah.
It was from the Dahcotahs that I obtained the incident, and they believe that it really occurred. They are offended if you suggest the possibility of its being a fiction. Indeed they fix a date to it, reckoning by the occurrences of great battles, or other events worthy of notice.
But to the story—and I wish I could throw into it the feeling, and energy of the old medicine woman who related it.
About one hundred and fifty years ago, the band of Dahcotahs to which Wenona belonged, lived near Fort Snelling. Their village was on the site now occupied by Good Road’s band.
The whole band made preparations to go below Lake Pepin, after porcupines. These animals are of great value among the Dahcotahs; their flesh is considered excellent as an article of food, and the women stain their quills to ornament the dresses of the men, their mocassins, and many other articles in use among them. A young girl of this band had received repeated offers of marriage from a Dahcotah, whom she hated with the same degree of intensity that she loved his rival.
She dared not marry the object of her choice, for she knew it would subject herself and him to the persecutions of her family. She declared she never would consent to be the wife of the man whom her parents had chosen for her, though he was young and brave, and, what is most valued by the friends of an Indian girl, he was said to be the best hunter of the tribe.