Now about Princess Noccalula: Even though Noccalula Falls Park does not include the falls—or the statue of the princess—they do claim her legend and have one version of it printed on the back of their park map. This version was written and embellished over several years by Anne Mathilde Bilbro (1870 to 1958), a composer and musician as well as a writer who was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1983.
One earlier version, written by a Virginia newspaperman, appeared in the Gadsden Times in 1869. Titled “Black Creek Falls,” this 68 line poem told how a young Cherokee woman named Winona leaped to her death rather than submit to a “painted band of fierce pursuers” who chased her up a perilous path near the falls, apparently with intent to ravish. Interestingly, the name Winona is an anglicized version of a Dakota Sioux word meaning “first-born daughter.” A very pretty name, but as far as I can determine, the Dakota Sioux never sent any of their first-born daughters to Alabama. Unlike Bilbro’s version, this one did not mention a forceful father or a forced marriage.
Bilbro’s version presents the Cherokee as gentle and learned people (except for Papa apparently) and the Creeks as their fierce and powerful enemy. The Cherokee chief’s young daughter Noccalula was “famed far and wide for her beauty and loveliness of character.” She was in love with a young brave in her own tribe, but Papa wanted to marry her off to a Creek chief who promised much wampum, horses, and blankets in exchange for her hand. Noccalula’s father drove her lover from the tribe, signed the marriage agreement with the Creek chief, and had a great feast prepared for the wedding day. However, Noccalula had the last word. Arrayed in festive wedding robes, she slipped away to the falls and ended her misery with a leap into the chasm below.