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A short story by Etta Belle Walker

Natural Bridge

Title:     Natural Bridge
Author: Etta Belle Walker [More Titles by Walker]

"Who first discovered Natural Bridge?" is a question which nearly every one asks, and a second one is, "How high is it?"

The answer to the first is given in an old Indian legend which reads something like this: Long, long ago, years before the Princess Pocahontas saved the life of Captain John Smith, there was a terrible war between some of the tribes. The Shawnees were noted for their cruelty and they joined forces with the Powhatans. They roamed through Virginia and fell upon the Monocans, a more friendly tribe.

There had been a famine that year and the Monocans were weakened by hunger and many of their braves fell in battle. After a long conflict, the Monocans decided to retreat and they gave way before the enemy. But they were pursued relentlessly. The Monocans sought refuge in a strange forest and suddenly they came upon a high chasm, whose steep walls were of rock. The braves peered over and were made dizzy when they saw the great distance to the bottom below, where a swiftly running river looked like a small silver ribbon.

Even the strongest could not have jumped across the wide chasm, for it was over a hundred feet wide. Their swiftest scouts ran hither and yon, but each brought back word that there was no way around.

The Monocans were in despair and in their distress threw themselves upon the ground and cried aloud to the Great Spirit to spare their lives from the approaching enemy.

One of the braves arose and went again to the edge of the cliff. He stared down at his feet, then turned and shouted, "Our prayers have been granted us--The Great Spirit has built for us a bridge across the great abyss."

"Be careful," cried one of the men. "Send the squaws and children first to test it. If they cross in safety, then we will know it will be heavy enough to carry our weight also."

And so the women and children passed over into the shelter of the forest beyond. Even as they went they could hear the war whoops of the advancing enemy.

But the Monocans were refreshed in spirit. Their courage had returned, for was not the Great Spirit on their side? The braves quickly took positions on the bridge, each feeling he stood on sacred ground, and like the Greeks of old at Thermopylae they turned and faced their enemy and fought victoriously. From that day, we are told, they called it "The Bridge of God" and worshipped it.

The first white man to own Natural Bridge was Thomas Jefferson, and one may see the original land grant still hanging on the walls of Monticello which reads, in part:

"Know ye that for divers good causes and considerations, but more Especially for and in Consideration of the sum of Twenty Shillings of good and lawful money for our use paid to our Receiver General of our Revenues, in this our Colony and Dominion of Virginia, We have Given, Granted and Confirmed, and by these presents for us, our heirs and successors, Do give, Grant and confirm unto Thomas Jefferson, one certain Tract or parcel of land, containing 157 acres, lying and being in the County of Botetourt, including the Natural Bridge on Cedar Creek, a branch of James River ..."

We are told that George Washington surveyed the land in 1750, and while there he climbed up 23 feet and carved his initials "G. W." on the southeast walls; the guide today will try to point them out to the visitor. A story is also told that George Washington threw a stone from the bottom of Cedar Creek over the Bridge. Evidently he liked to test his strength by such sports, for it is said that he threw a Spanish dollar across the Rappahannock River opposite the town of Fredericksburg.

When this story was told to the late President Cleveland, he replied, "I do not know about that, but I am well assured he threw a sovereign across the Atlantic."

In 1927 another stone was found which scientists think proved George Washington surveyed that territory. This stone is a large one and also bears his initials which are engraved in a surveyor's cross. Evidently he measured the height of the Bridge by dropping a line from the edge of the bridge to the cross below.

Thomas Jefferson called his purchase the "most Sublime of Nature's works." He visited it many times and during his presidency, in 1802, he surveyed the place with his own hands. He later built a log cabin which contained two rooms and one of them was always kept ready for a visitor. Many famous people visited there and the list includes such men as John Marshall, James Monroe, Henry Clay, Sam Houston and Martin Van Buren. While in France, Jefferson collected many plants and shrubs which he sent to America; many of these were planted at the Bridge, and some are still in existence.

Cedar Creek, the parent of the Bridge, has been busy for thousands of years cutting a bit deeper each year.

The answer to the second question, "How high is it?," is found on a Government bench which carries a brass plate, "1,150 feet above the sea." It is 245 feet high and is 90 feet wide.

Boys and men are especially interested in the exciting story of how Dr. Chester Reeds actually measured the wonderful Bridge. He had a special basket built which was strong enough to hold him. Two hundred and fifty feet of rope was fastened to it and run through a pulley and one end of it was tied to a fence post. He was very dizzy at first and could not take pictures of the side walls of the bridge. Gradually he became accustomed to turning around and was able to get many fine ones at various angles and of the massive supporting walls, the huge slabs of limestone and some of the foliage.

Natural Bridge is a monument to the patience of Old Mother Nature and her skill as an artist. Today, one wonders at the deep gorge--by night, with modern electrification, one is spellbound by its beauty--and when sweet music fills the glen with its symphonies one's soul is lifted to the Greatest Artist of all--to God in reverence and gratitude.

[The end]
Etta Belle Walker's short story: Natural Bridge