Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

A Story of Niagara

Many years ago, the falls of Niagara, then in the midst of a great wilderness, and a long way from the homes of the white people, seemed even more wonderful than they do now. In those days, travelers from other countries made long journeys through the woods to see this wonderful waterfall. Indians lived about it, and there was a fort near by, belonging to the French.

Wild swans, geese, and ducks used to swim in the Niagara River. Sometimes great flocks of them lost their lives by going over the falls. Water fowl are fond of floating on smooth, moving water. The wild geese and ducks would take great delight in finding themselves shooting down toward the falls. Sometimes they would try to rise and fly when it was too late.

Niagara Falles


In the autumn the soldiers of the fort used to get their meat by taking from the water below the falls the ducks and geese that had been killed in this way. Sometimes they would find a deer or a bear that had been carried over in trying to swim across the river above the falls.

In the midst of the falls is an island. Many years ago two Indians were hunting far above the falls. They had with them a little brandy, which they drank. This made them sleepy, and they lay down and went to sleep in their canoe, which was tied to the shore. The canoe got loose from the shore, and floated down the stream farther and farther, until it came near to the island which is in the falls.

The roar of the falls awakened one of them. He cried out to the other, "We are lost!" But by hard work they succeeded in landing the canoe at the island.

At first they were very glad, but after a while they thought it might have been better if they had gone over the falls. They had now no choice but to die of hunger on the island, or to throw themselves into the water.

At the lower end of the island there is no water running over the falls. The Indians stripped the bark from a linden or basswood tree. This bark is very tough and strong. They made a kind of rope ladder of it. They made it so long that it reached to the water below the falls. The upper end of this bark ladder they tied fast to a great tree that grew on the island. The other end they let down to the water below the falls.

Then they went down this ladder until they came to the bottom. The water was roaring on both sides of them, but they had a place to stand. Here they rested a little while. The water in front of them was not rapid. They jumped into it, intending to swim ashore. But the water that pours in from the falls on each side, runs back against the rocks in this place. Every time the Indians tried to swim, they were thrown back against the rocks from which they started. At last they were so much bruised and scratched, they were obliged to give up this plan. So they climbed back up their bark stairs to the island, not knowing what to do.

After a while they saw other Indians on the shore. They cried out to these to come and help them. The other Indians did not know what to do. They had no way of getting to the island. If they had tried to get there in a canoe, they would have been carried over the falls themselves. They went to the fort, and told the commander about it. He had poles made, and pointed with iron. He persuaded two Indians to take these poles, and walk with them to the island.

These two Indians took leave of all their friends as if they were going to die. Each of them took two poles in his hands. They set these poles against the bottom of the river to keep themselves steady, while they waded through the water. It was a very dangerous thing to do, but at last they got to the island. Then they gave a pole to each of the two Indians, and all four of them started back again. By the help of the poles they managed to get to the shore in safety.