Petite Jean (French) Falls

Petite Jean Falls, Ozarks, Arkansas /

Many, many, years ago my family (of origin) met at a place in the Ozarks.  We came from different states for a family reunion, several times.  As I remember, with hopes that it is correct, the cabins we rented were in the “Petite (the emphasis was on the first syllable, with a short “e”) Jean State Park”. These pictures are of the falls, known as “Petite Jean Falls”; 92 feet from the top to the water.  When I first hiked into the area of the falls, I saw what looked like a cathedral carved out of rock.  My voice carried across the water, doing a ricochet off the rock because of the acoustics … far beyond my comprehension.  At the top of the rock, overlooking the falls are tall pines; and my imagination produced the idea that the trees were all guarding the falls, keeping a vigil against anyone who might get out of line.  Now, for the legend.

What has been passed down through generations is that Petit Jean, a young French girl, stowed herself away on a French ship so she could follow her true love to America. Disguised as a cabin boy, she followed her love – the nobleman Chavet – on his explorations up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers.  So clever was her disguise that her true identity remained unknown to either the fiance, Chavet, or the other men on the expedition.

The Legend of Petit Jean, Petit Jean State Park

The company of explorers came to Petit Jean mountain by way of the Arkansas River.  Tragically, the girl … Petite Jean … contracted a serious fever.  It was at this point, as the “cabin boy” was being treated, that Petit Jean’s true identity became known.   Chavet and his men were not able to save young Petite Jean, and her final request was that she be carried back to the top of the mountain. Many believe that the grave of Petit Jean is near the top the mountain: a small mound of earth and stone, in a cove of the rocks, now surrounded by an iron fence.  Legend holds that her spirit still lingers atop the mountain and at the falls.

Halloween Dawn Over Petit Jean's Grave
Arkansas River from Petit Jean’s grave./

“According to local folklore, the young woman’s ghost can be seen moving silently at night on the top of Petit Jean Mountain. Strange lights have been reported in the area of her grave.”

This story represents so much to me.  For one thing, it is linked to my family.  Another, Petite Jeans is absolutely full of metaphor, mystery, and love.  Every time I walked into the big rock cathedral of Petite Jean Falls, I always felt safe there.  The place was sacred.  I know that my imagination is enormous, but I have to tell you … I am intrigued by this young French girl, who loved Chavet so much.  Maybe I wish that she was actually there, so I could visit with her.  I would hear her story, and I would weep with her.