The Tale of Indian Leap at Yantic Falls in Norwich
Long before English settlers purchased the 9-mile square of land upon which the City of Norwich, Connecticut sits, the land was owned and occupied by the Mohegan Tribe of Indians. They made their homes near the Great Falls of the City of Kings and were led by the great sachem, Uncas.
One of the more popular and famous stories of Chief Uncas involves The Battle of the Great Plain that took place on September 17th, 1643 between the Mohegan Tribe and the Narragansett Tribe from neighboring Rhode Island, some of which took place near what is now known as "Indian Leap".
As the story goes, Miantonomo, Sachem of the Narragansetts, led 900 of his warriors in what was to be a surprise attack on the Mohegans at Shetucket, the Mohegan capital near the City of Kings. The night before the battle, Mohegan scouts in the area observed the advancing enemy and carried the intelligence back to Uncas who formed a plan.
Uncas knew he didn't have enough warriors to battle Miantonomo but he was a brave chief and would die for his people if need be; if one man could save many then he was willing to make that sacrifice. He told his braves that he would ask Miantonomo to fight one-on-one and if Miantonomo refused, he would drop to the ground as a signal for them to fire arrows into the enemy and then charge them hoping that the surprise would give them the advantage against the higher numbers.
Chief Uncas met the Narragansett chief between the lines of battle in the area that is now known as East Great Plain and appealed to him to prevent blood loss between both tribes by a single combat between the two leaders instead. When Miantonomo contemptuously rejected Uncas' proposal, the Mohegan chief immediately dropped to the ground and the Narragansetts were met with a hail of arrows before Chief Uncas jumped to his feet and led his brave warriors in a charge.
Caught totally off-guard, the Narragansetts ran from the charging Mohegans with some fleeing along their familiar route while others, unfamiliar with the territory, unknowingly reached the high treacherous cliffs of Yantic Falls. Rather than surrender to the Mohegans, Miantonomo leapt across the gorge and managed to land on the other side, injuring his leg in the process. Others of his tribe attempted to leap the chasm but were unsuccessful and plunged to their death onto the rocks in the abyss below while others simply surrendered and became prisoners of the Mohegans.
When the pursuing Uncas arrived at the top of the gorge and saw his enemy hobbling away on the other side, he took a running start, flew over the rapids, and landed safely on the other side. It was an astounding leap that gave the area above the falls its future name and allowed Uncas to catch up to the injured Miantonomo who was then easily overcome and taken as prisoner.
Chief Uncas brought Miantonomo to the Colonial Commissioners in Hartford where he willingly gave the prisoner over to the English government and agreed to abide by their decision on how to handle him. It was agreed by the ecclesiastical counselors that it would be best for the public if Miantonomo were executed and the Narragansett chief was returned to Uncas with orders to execute him in Mohegan country.
After Miantonomo was executed, Uncas thought it would be appropriate to bury him near the place where he was originally captured and that a small pile of rocks be placed as a marker on the gravesite. To that effect, the Mohegans buried their fallen foe near the western bank of the Shetucket River, north of the present village of Greenville , and marked the spot with a pile of stones. Over the years the pile of stones grew as it was visited by warriors from many tribes as they passed by on the heavily traveled route. Sometime in the 18th century, though, a farmer who had bought the land found a mound of rocks on his property and, not knowing what it was for, used the stones to build a foundation for his house and barn.
On July 4th, 1841 a few citizens of Norwich erected a granite monument where the mound of stones once stood and dedicated it to Miantonomo in a solemn ceremony to honor the former warrior and chief.
Due to the fact that there weren't a lot of records kept about these sorts of things back then, a lot of this story has been pieced together through research from various legends and tales passed down throughout the years. I hope that I have told the story with as much accuracy as possible and that it gives you a bit of a glimpse into the history of the town in which I live and the area that I call home. Should you ever be visiting Norwich and wish to visit Miantonomo's Marker, it is located on the eastern side of Norwich off of Boswell Avenue on Elijah Street, a small dead-end. There's a marker on Boswell Avenue indicating where the monument is located.
Meanwhile back at Indian Leap, which is also known as Yantic Falls, visitors can find it located on Yantic Street near the center of town. The area is beautiful to visit regardless of the time of year.
A walkway has been built over the site which was dammed for use as power as early as the 1600s when John Elderkin developed a grist mill in the area. Over time, the Yantic River became the genesis for industrial development in Norwich as it continued to grow until the early 1900s with later industries including paper making, cotton and nails. Textile mills utilized the power of the Yantic River at both the Lower Falls and the Upper Falls which are within site of Indian Leap on the other side of the train trestle that now crosses over the Yantic River.
In addition to viewing the falls from a distance at Indian Leap, the Upper Falls can be visited by accessing Upper Heritage Falls Park off of Sherman Street where parking is available and it's an easy stroll to view the dam and the former powerhouse that unfortunately seems to be more a canvas for graffiti artists than anything else these days. I believe that at one time there was talk of turning the building into a museum but that has yet to come to fruition.
Downriver at the Lower Falls, there is a footbridge for visitors to use when viewing the falls and the gorge at Indian Leap. If you continue along the footbridge, you'll find a path that leads to another footbridge over the New England Central Railroad tracks which connects Yantic Street to Asylum Street via Monroe Street. People crossing that bridge may very well be taking the very same route that brought Miantonomo's warriors to their death when attempting to leap the gorge over the Yantic River as it leads to the west side of town.
It should be noted that when visiting either the Upper or Lower Falls of the Yantic River that caution should be used as both sets of falls can be quite dangerous. Sadly, people have died at both sites over the years and anyone going over the Lower Falls is sure to meet their death on the rocks below while many have been sucked under by the currents at the Upper Falls and drowned. The falls are best viewed from a distance as the areas around them can become slippery from mist that forms when the falls are running fast and no one should even think about swimming in the Yantic nearby either of these locations regardless of how fast or slow the river may be running. Sadly though there always seems to be some foolhardy souls that think the warnings don't apply to them and put both themselves and rescuers in danger.
As Indian Leap and the Yantic Falls are an easy walk from where I live, I find myself returning there fairly regularly to take photos as the area is beautiful regardless of the season.
That said, I'd like to think that some of my best photos are shot during the winter, though, when ice formations make the Lower Falls even prettier and the area exudes even more solitude than at other times.
Even though the battle between the Mohegans and the Narragansetts took place in this area way back in 1643 and the souls of those who leapt or fell to their death are sure to have departed long ago, sometimes if you close your eyes and just listen, over the roar of the falls you might hear the war cries as the braves approached the precipice and, determined to keep on fighting, made their leaps of faith.
And who knows? Maybe one or two of those souls may actually still be in the area ...
Indian Leap - or Uncas Leap as it's also known - is located on the upper end of the Norwich Heritage River Walkway which begins in the harbor area of downtown Norwich and follows the path of the Yantic River to the falls. For a map of the Walkway, click here.