Well I’ll be a Monkey’s Uncas
Yantic Falls, Norwich
November 14, 2008
[Note: For my Waterfalls pages, I’m using the town designation used by the Connecticut Waterfalls 2013 guidebook. But that doesn’t matter on this page. What does matter to you, especially if you’re actually going through reading the waterfalls stuff, is that I wrote this page way back when and it’s a “real” waterfall page, not one of the ones I wrote because of the book.]
As I’ve written in the past, Connecticut is not home to many impressive waterfalls. The few noteworthy ones we have won’t wow many people from out of state… Unless they’re from, say, Delaware or something. Here, there’s a nice little park next to the falls and a bridge crossing over the top. Of course, people die here all the time but close viewing is still shockingly allowed. (See what I found there at bottom.)
But the thing about Connecticut is that being an old state with a rich history, lots of our sites have a cool story attached to them. Yantic Falls is one such place to be sure.
If you don’t know, there seems to be a “Death by leaping” legend to just about every waterfall and river cliff in Connecticut. We even have a Lover’s Leap State Park. At least the legend here at Indian Leap is cooler than the swishy love stories I’ve written about in the past.
Yantic falls was a favorite encampment of the Mohegan Indians. In 1643 Uncas, Sachem of the Mohegans, led his warriors in a battle against their rival tribe the Narragansetts. During the battle, the Narragansetts were pursued by the Mohegans. Legend has it that a band of Narragansetts, unfamiliar with the territory, unknowingly reached the high treacherous escarpment of the Falls. The Narragansetts, rather than surrender, attempted to leap the chasm. Unsuccessful, they plunged to their deaths into the abyss below.
That’s pretty rad. Now, the chasm is about a hundred feet wide so I don’t know why those crazy Narragansetts thought they could make it, but perhaps there’s more to this story? (A story which, as you remember, was sort of played out in the movie version of James Fenimore Cooper’s version of Uncas’s life in “Last of the Mohicans.”)
From “Are We There Yet” – which is essentially a Norwich-only version of CTMQ – we get the deeper, cooler story.
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. 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, 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.
Miantonomo was executed and buried in Shetucket, where a marker stands today. But he didn’t live in Connecticut, so we don’t care about him. We’re all about Uncas – who happens to be buried here in Norwich (CTMQ Visit here).
a 150 years after Uncas became the last of the Mohegans (except for the few multi-billionaires who now own the massive Mohegan Sun casino down the road), Yantic Falls became the genesis for industrial development in Norwich. Industrial development continued to grow until the early 1900s. Later industries at the falls included paper making, cotton and nails.
The mills harnessed the falls and it’s now sort of half natural. The top is clearly a dammed up portion but after falling a few feet, it appears to be the original natural falls. Sort of unique that way I think. Also unique is the gorge below the falls; something very rare here in Connecticut.
While I was at the little parking lot below the falls, I looked down and admit I was a bit startled to find this:
But I think the picture is pretty cool in a weird way.
Are We There Yet? blog