The Legend of Issaqueena Falls
A legend has grown up around this elegant hundred foot waterfall near Walhalla in Oconee County South Carolina. Like all legends, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s fiction. As the first written accounts come over 100 years after the events depicted, you can imagine that many facts have been changed and embellished over the years.
The most popular version of the legend comes from JW Daniel’s epic poem “Cateechee of Keowee” written in 1898. Here he tells the story of Allen Francis, who moved to Old Cambridge, SC (now called Ninety-Six, but we’ll get to that later) in the 1790’s. Once there his father set up a mercantile and established trade routes with the Cherokee people in the village of Keowee.
Allen enjoyed accompanying his father on expeditions to trade with the Cherokee, and on one of these trips he met and fell in love with an Indian maiden. She was a young Choctaw woman captured in war and adopted my the Cherokee Chief Karuga. Although in her home land she was known as Issaqueena, she was given the Cherokee name Cateechee and lived as Karuga’s daughter.
A Desperate Midnight Ride
At some point, Issaqueena learned of a plan by her adopted father to attack the settlers at Cambridge. She stole a horse and rode the ninety-six miles from Keowee in order to warn Allen and the other settlers of the impending attack. As she rode, she named the creeks she crossed along the way by how far along the journey they where. Six Mile Creek, Twelve Mile Creek and others are still known by these names today as well as the town of Ninety-Six.
Thanks to her warning, the settlers where able to repel the attack, and afterwards she and Allen Francis where married. They settled down in Ninety-Six and began to plan their lives together, but their story wasn’t over yet. After some time, Issaqueena’s adopted father, Karuga sent braves south to capture the pair and return them to Keowee. For the next 2 and a half years, she and Allen lived among the Cherokee, but longed to be free.
Issaqueena’s Daring Escape
One fateful night they put their escape plan into motion. They intended to set out from the foot of what’s now known as Issaqueena Falls and steal off to safety. But as Allen hid at the base of the falls, Issaqueena was spotted by pursuing braves. In a hail of arrows, she jumped from the top of the falls, but miraculously didn’t plunge to her death. Instead, she landed on a ledge and hid behind the curtain of water until her pursuers left believing she had died.
She and Allen then made their way to safety in a canoe he had hidden at the base of the falls. In this version of the story, they lived happily ever after in either Ninety-Six or fled beyond Karuga’s grip to Alabama, the home of the Choctaw people.
Other versions of the legend have Issaqueena leaping off the waterfall on her way to warn the settlers in Ninety-Six. Still others tell a much darker tail with Issaqueena falling in love, not with a white trader, but an Oconee Brave. Fleeing Cherokee warriors, they chose to leap from the falls to their deaths instead of dying at the hands of they’re pursuers.
Your Visit to Issaqueena Falls
Whatever legend is true, if any, Issaqueena Falls remains a stunning site in Oconee County. Located within walking distance of Stumphouse Tunnel, the easy trek to the observation deck offers a great view of the falls.
If you want to get a closer look at the falls, an unofficial trail located on the right hand side of the observation deck leads to the base of the falls. Be warned though, the trail is steep and depending on the weather can be very slippery. It’s been worn down the side of the embankment by visitors over the years and isn’t maintained by the city of Walhalla. In fact the parks department advises visitors not to take this path, but of you do, you’ll be treated to a spectacular view of the waterfall and a strenuous climb back up.
Park admission is $5.00 and can be paid via a drop box near the park entrance. Plenty of picnic tables are available and the path to the lookout is short ant well maintained.