The Indian Footprints

Within the deep bogs and silent forests of Woodbury, along nearly impassible back roads when the weather is just right, is another world entirely. People live up here in palpable solitude. Marshes gently bleed into immortal evergreen forests that are bounded by jagged slate cliffs. The Green Mountains are the oldest mountains in the world, and Woodbury is a good look into the haunting archaic beauty and amiable stillness of the region.

It is here off one of these jarring back roads that winds around bogs and through cliff lined gulfs that two footprints stare at you on a crumbling ledge that seems to vanish into a dark forest above you. That is, if you happen to notice them. And if you do notice the fading, waist high footprints, you might become puzzled over their seemingly random existence in the middle of nowhere.

Why are they here? Who’s footprints are they? From what I know, no one really has any definite answers, but there is a local legend that works to uncover the mystery.

As what was told to me, most people who grew up in town called them The Indian Footprints, and have been there as long as anyone can remember. On both sides of the road are tall slate cliffs, and thousands of years ago, the road used to be a riverbed, and the cliffs the walls of a hungry gorge. When the water was low, you could easily cross the river, but when it was high, it rose to the top of the cliffs.

The river acted as a boundary between two rival tribes, thousands of years ago. As the story goes, in a classic Romeo and Juliet scenario, a young man and woman from the opposing clans fell in love, but their different circles forbid them to see each other.  So they planned to elope secretly at the gorge. But when the woman jumped in the river to swim over and meet her lover, the water was higher and rougher than she could put up with, and the rushing currents swept her away. The man jumped in to save her, but upon doing so, broke his legs on the rock ledge and drowned in the process. Their bodies would later turn up in present day Nelson Pond, just down the road.

The tragedy brought the two fighting tribes together at the river’s edge. The two grieving chiefs decided to commemorate the tragic event, and carve the footprints of the brave man on the ledge where he suffered his fatal fall. This act symbolized the ending of a long running feud, in hopes that no one else would ever die again because of it.

The footprints have been there ever since, or as the story goes. Over the years though, weather and water have long worked on eroding the footprints, and in 1958, a local resident took it upon himself to hand chisel the footprints back into the rocks in fear of them getting lost forever.

But perhaps a greater mystery than the origin of these stone carvings is just how to find them. Making our way through the worn village of South Woodbury amidst ponds with ink black surfaces that reflected snow dusted forests – my friend’s car slid and spun its way up and down hill top dirt roads far from the safety of cell phone reception. Miraculously, with only the aid of 2 wheel drive, we made it to the right area, and with a lot of searching amongst indistinguishable evergreens and cliffs covered with moss and snow, somehow, their outlines stood out of the rock surface.

Regardless of the authenticity, standing on that back road in Woodbury with snow tumbling down on the ground was simply beautiful, and could easily inspire a love story such as this.

The placid waters of Nelson Pond today, where their bodies were discovered by their grieving tribes-mates.

The placid waters of Nelson Pond today, where their bodies were discovered by their grieving tribes-mates.

Not related to the Indian Footprints, but related to the area; I really dig this aesthetically prime rural town in Central Vermont. Woodbury has more lakes than any other Vermont township, and around those waterbodies are tons of rocky glacier gouged hills etched with scenic gravel back roads.

Like Chartier Hill Road, which has a barn that was built in 1903, that was also built over the road.

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5 Comments on “The Indian Footprints

  1. As usual another great story. I was wondering what happened to you. Good luck with your new place.

  2. The Lawson/Ainsworth family has a long connection to this area where they established a homestead in 1818 (Betts farm today) and farmed until the death of Gerald Ainswoth in 1986. His mother was Theresa Lawson Ainsworth. Ruth Ainsworth Hudon, his sister, who like her mother and brother were born at the homestead, told me she believed that an original craving had been removed from the Cranbury Meadow site over a century ago and an ancestor had probably craved what we now see. There are also hands craved above the feet.

    Just thought I would share. We grew up with these carvings and Milan and Corinne Lawson still maintain several acres of original homestead land that borders the shoreline of Nelson Pond. Sidney Lawson, Jr.

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