Niagara Falls has been around for more than 12,000 years, which means that countless millions from all walks of life have seen and talked about the wondrous sights in the Niagara region. It is understandable, then, that every new culture that has walked the trails around the Falls has imagined different and thrilling tales regarding its creation and existence.
The most fantastic story of them all concerns a young Seneca girl named Lelawala who would become immortalized in the history of Niagara Falls as first and true maid of the mist. When you visit Niagara Falls in 2015, watch the mysterious mists and remember Lelawana’s sad tale.
A Tragedy for the Ages
The traditional Iroquois legend states that Lelawala was immensely saddened by the recent death of her husband. This initial loss started an avalanche of misfortune in Lelawala’s life, and she quickly lost hope of overcoming her current sorrows. Thus, one day, Lelawala boarded her canoe and paddled into the middle of the roaring Niagara River. Singing a time-honored death hymn, the girl allowed the canoe to be caught by the rushing current, and soon Lelawala and her boat were thrown over the edge of the enormous Falls.
However, instead of finding the sweet release of death in the deep waters below, Lelawala was caught mid-descent by Heno, the god of thunder. Heno brought Lelawala to his home behind the Falls, where he and his son nursed Lelawala back to health. Once again happy and confident in her life, Lelawala fell in love with and married Heno’s youngest son, and together the family lived behind the Falls.
Yet, Lelawala had one regret in her magical life behind the thundering water: She wished to see the people of her past once more. Unfortunately, she gained this opportunity all too soon. Heno informed the girl that a great snake was traveling down the river with plans to poison the waters from which Lelawala’s people drank. Her people would die, and the great snake would feast on them. Lelawala was granted permission to warn her people, and she was able to save them from disaster before returning to her watery home.
When the snake finally visited the village, it was enraged to find the people fled to higher country. It sought to find them and carry out its devilish deed, but Heno rose up out of the crashing water and struck the beast dead with a single lightning bolt. However, the great snake’s body obstructed the river’s flow, and water began rushing directly into Heno’s home behind the falls. Heno was able to evacuate his family, Lelawala included, before the damage was complete, and they relocated to a new place in the sky. From their new home, Lelawala could watch her people every day, but she never again could visit with the people of her past.
Variations on the Story
The tale of the maid of the mist has changed with each retelling, and many scholars have unearthed different versions that paint a different picture. For example, a European deviation says that Lelawala did not willingly careen over the Falls, but rather that she was given to the gods in human sacrifice. Researchers continue to delve into histories to determine if any portion of the myth is derived from true events; however, no matter its veracity, this bit of Niagara folklore is as fascinating and epic as the three waterfalls themselves.