The Legend of Forked Mountain
Many trails converge on the sacred Valley of Vapors bringing Indians of all tribes from north, south, east and west. When they made their camps in this Valley of Peace where the healing waters flowed, they lay down their weapons and sat together around fires at night, smoking the calumet has brothers telling stories of long ago. Here, friendship was often established among the various groups, but ancient rivalries persisted and sometimes led to events that recall the tragic story of Romero and Juliet; for this was a romantic place where young people, far from their homelands, met and fell in love. This is the tale of one such unfortunate couple as told by white storytellers who lived near the strange mountain with two peaks that overlooks the Ouachita Forest near Hollis.
Once in the valley of Manataka, a lovely maiden from the south caught the eye of a brave warrior from the north. Even though their tribes were different, the two seemed to belong together. He was tall and straight and strong; she, gentle and loving as well as beautiful. When they looked into each other’s eyes, they felt as though their spirits were joined and could never more be parted. But her father was a powerful chief who could not think of giving his daughter to a stranger who would take her away. As the days passed, the two lovers grew closer and closer. They spent all their time together, bathing in the magic waters, gathering healing herbs and berries in the forest, fishing in the streams, and sitting by the campfires at night.
When her jealous father saw them so much together, he could not accept the thought that they might be joined forever and vowed to separate them. He could not kill the young lover or make war on his tribe because they were in the Valley of Peace where the Great Spirit had decreed that no blood should be spilled. Therefore, he called his people together and prepared them to leave the very next day.
The young lovers, hearing this, were distraught. So strong was their love that they knew they could not live without one another. In desperation, they slipped away during the night and, taking two swift horses, fled toward the north hoping to find a friendly village where they could be married and live happily together. All night they rode, and all the next day until, exhausted, they came to a tall mountain and could go no farther. Leaving their horses, they climbed as far as they could go and hid among the rocks to rest.
That morning when the chief had made ready to leave the valley he found his daughter missing. In a great fury, he took his strongest men and flew in pursuit of the couple, following their tracks up the trail to the north until he came upon their horses at the foot of the mountain. When he looked high up to the top, he saw the lovers asleep in each other’s arms under a rocky shelter. Remembering his vow to separate them, the angry chief called upon the Great Spirit to help him.
There was a great clash of thunder and a lightning bolt split the mountain at it summit. The two younger lovers disappeared, but the Great Spirit took pity on their love. The maiden’s spirit remained in one peak and the brave’s took its place in the other, forever joined at the base.
“The Legend of Forked Mountain” by Sandra Long and Marcus Phillips is from the “Indian Folklore Atlas of Hot Springs National Park” (1994).