The sand on the beach shoring the east edge of the lake is dark and mixed with pebbles. The grains make a crunching sound under your feet as you walk, a steady wind gusts in over the water, and angled ridges break gently on the shore. Less than a mile across the lake’s elliptical shape the western edge presents a green forest in Spring and Summer, a bare marshy woodland in Winter after the vibrant Fall leaves have faded. On the southeast edge where the drive ends and the walking trail curves into the trees, a quiet waterfall sheds a light stream over a layered wall of rock maybe three stories high. The waterfall, according to legend, was the site of a young woman’s suicide many years ago.
The Northern route of the Trail of Tears arcs just south of St. Louis, the route the Cherokee were forced to walk after white settlers forced them out of their territories in the Southeastern United States. Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Indians walked the Trail as well, beginning in 1830, their routes heading west although somewhat farther south. By 1837, forty-six thousand Native Americans had been removed from their homelands, making twenty-five million acres of land available for the settlers. Exact statistics are unknown, but roughly four of the sixteen thousand Cherokee died on the journey, and thousands more from the other tribes.
The woman who killed herself by jumping off the waterfall was a Native American. The legend says she jumped because the man she loved, a French tradesman, had broken her heart, which is how the lake got its name, Creve Coeur. Above the waterfall a creek runs down through the hills where an outdoor archery range is set up now. I used to climb up the rocky path and duck down beside the stream and write, before an arrow hummed loudly overhead one day and made me reconsider. Once, in the middle of writing a poem, I caught a glimpse of a woman running toward the stone ledge and leaping off, only to be joined at the peak of her jump by two winged angels, one on either side, who took hold of her arms and lifted her away into heaven.