Mississippi Marriage Misfortune: Tragedy at Tower Rock

A fascinating story took place on April 9th in East Perry County, and the characters in the story had absolutely nothing to do with the Lutheran immigration.  However, its timing came awfully close to corresponding with the arrival of the German Lutherans into Perry County.  It took place in 1839.

According to Zion on the Mississippi, a few of the members of the Gesellschaft began arriving in early April at the property that recently had been purchased by the group.  One passage from this book says the following:

“Adolph and Sophie Fischer, for instance, arrived at the colony’s landing place on April 11, 1839, to work for four “bits” and three “bits” respectively per day.”

This would have been two days after today’s story.  We also know from Zion on the Mississippi, that the leader of the immigration, Rev. Martin Stephan, left St. Louis to go to Perry County on April 26th.

So today’s story took place just days before the Germans arrived on the scene.  Much of the information for this story comes from a book published in 1968 titled, Tower Rock (la Roche de la Croix).  Our own Vernon Meyr was involved in the production of this booklet, including providing the photo on the cover.  The authors were Jess F. Thilenius and Felix E. Snider.


In this book, you will find the following map which can be helpful in understanding the particulars of this story.


One more final picture before I begin telling today’s story.  This painting is said to have been done at the end of 1838.  The painting was done by Karl Bodmer.  Therefore, this painting was done the year prior to today’s episode.

Karl_Bodmer_Travels_in_America_(9) Tower Rock
Tower Rock, View on the Mississippi – Karl Bodmer

Now on to the story.  April 9, 1839 was a Tuesday.  John Randolph Davis and his fiance’, Penelope Pike, of Grand Tower, Illinois, just across the river from Tower Rock, had made arrangements to have a wedding ceremony like no one else’s.  They wanted to be married atop Tower Rock, that magnificent stately rock formation on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River.  They had managed to find a pastor who agreed to perform the ceremony at that location.  His name was Rev. Josiah Maxwell.  The bride’s parents, the groom’s mother, and three slaves went along for this special wedding.

I might interject here that this time of the year is often a dangerous time to be on the river.  Flooding often takes place, and in fact, as I write this today, the Mississippi River is about at flood stage.

Here is an old photo which shows what the wedding party may have seen from the top of Tower Rock, looking at the Missouri shore.

Taken from top of Tower Rock X

The story goes that shortly after the ceremony ended, the party started back toward Grand Tower, Illinois.  My guess is that the slaves were along to do the rowing.  The boat got caught up in a strong current and was sucked down into a whirlpool.  (Whirlpools are still sighted around Tower Rock today.)  All of the wedding party drowned……except one slave.  One version of the story says he survived by clinging to the side of the boat.  Another version states that he was swept beneath the surface to the center of the river where he was thrust up to the surface and picked up by a passing fisherman.  Needless to say, this wedding which was planned to be a happy celebration turned into an incredibly sad tragedy.

Here are a few more old photos of Tower Rock taken from the Missouri side of the river.

I searched everywhere I could, and found no family history of any of the named folks in this story.  I found no one by these names in any nearby cemeteries.  I’m relatively sure their bodies were not recovered.  However, there is another part to this story……or should I say another legend?

There is a story which says that on the day of the wedding, April 9, 1839, a baby was born who was the niece of the groom, John Randolph Davis.  She was given the name of the bride, Penelope Davis.  (I also could not find documented evidence of this person or this birth.)  It is said that on her 20th birthday, in 1859, Penelope threw a party on the top of Tower Rock.  It was sort of a memorial birthday party.  One of the guests was the surviving slave.

The story goes on to say that this gathering of folks atop Tower Rock were flabbergasted when the original wedding party arose out of the Mississippi River.  Rev. Maxwell gave Penelope a parchment scroll, and then the entire mysterious group once again disappeared into the river.  When she read the message, it said that a great war was imminent where father would fight against son, brother against brother, and Penelope would experience great sadness.

A few years later, in 1861, it is said that two of Penelope’s brothers were fighting in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek outside Springfield, Missouri.  Thomas Davis was fighting for the Union Army, and his brother, Noah was fighting for the Confederacy.  Thomas was assigned to picket duty when he was fired upon.  Thomas returned fire and heard a body fall.  His satisfaction turned to dismay when he found that he had killed his brother, Noah.

Once again, I have to say that I was unable to find any documentation for this account.  I did find a story of two Davis brothers who both fought in this battle, but they were both Union soldiers and neither one was killed.  Also their first names were not Thomas or Noah.

Whether you agree with all the details of this story or not, I think you would agree that it does make for a pretty good story.

One final picture.  This drawing is titled Grand Tower & Devil’s Bake Oven.  It is attributed to J.C.Wild in 1841.



7 thoughts on “Mississippi Marriage Misfortune: Tragedy at Tower Rock

  1. I love these kind of “legend” stories. It’s like a true novel. Thanks Warren for writing your blog on this legend.

      1. I was at SIUC library, and found a different account in an older book from the 60s or 70s. A story referenced from the Cairo Delta was printed in 1848.

        A young indian boy from the Wyandotte tribe fell in love with a fox tribe girl, who was a chiefs daughter, who was promised to a Fox warrior. They had a battle on top of tower rock.. the chief made a final judgement that the girl would marry the fox warrior, in which she lept off the rock into the whirlpool, then the wyandotte lept in trying to save her, both died

  2. Just like running bear and little white dove there ceremony took place on top of tower rock But she was to be married to someone else because running Bears smoke ring didn’t go the highest so they both jumped off and died in the giant Eddie or Whirlpool

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