Famous leap made Kent man a legend, marked historical sight

Theresa Montgomery

Brady’s Leap was the site of Samuel Brady’s escape from Native Americans after the Revolutionary War. The spot is located at the end of a walkway off Gougler Avenue.

Credit: SAMANTHA RAINWATER | DAILY KENT STATER

It’s 1780, and Captain Samuel Brady is running for his life.

Dressed in the buckskin of Brady’s Rangers, as his men were called, Brady had fled from Sandusky. The American Indians who chased him wanted to capture the man who had committed such violence against their people while protecting the growing number of settlers beginning to venture into the territory.

Trapped by the banks of the Cuyahoga River as he fled, Brady did what no one thought he would, or could. He leapt.

From the west to the east bank of the Cuyahoga, across a 22-foot gap, Brady flung himself through the air and hung onto a bush on the other side. He pulled himself up and continued his flight, but not before being shot near the hip. Wounded and bleeding, he continued to what is now Brady Lake as the Wyandots lost time crossing the river to the north at Standing Rock and to the south at the falls of the Cuyahoga. Taking refuge in the lake under a fallen tree, Brady remained submerged and out of sight, breathing through a hollow reed, until his pursuers left.

The river is wider now than in Brady’s day, dug out in the 1830s to accommodate the canal boats that would bring industry and growth to the area. When Marvin Kent laid the last spike of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad here three decades later, commerce continued to expand. The frontier Brady ranged was gone forever.

The only witnesses to the leap were Brady himself, and the Native Americans who had pursued him – and they were not about to spread word of a feat that allowed such a threat as Brady to escape.

“There are lots of variants on the story. No one really knows what happened,” Kent resident Brad Bolton said.

Bolton had read so many accounts of the legend surrounding the incident that he decided to research it himself. His conclusions can be found on the Web site for the Kent Historical Society.

“He was exceptional,” Bolton said of Brady. “Early on, in his early teens, he was recognized as quite an athlete. When he joined the Army, he was rather quickly assigned to captain.”

The first written, public account of the leap appeared in 1846 by Henry Howe, who traveled throughout the region recording what residents told him of events in their area, said Robert Wheeler, professor of history at Cleveland State.

“I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Olympics, but the current record is somewhere around 29 feet,” Wheeler said. “He didn’t have any Nike shoes, but these people out there in the wilderness are fit. Plus, if people are chasing you, and want to kill you, you’d certainly have more adrenaline pumping. He’s used to working under pressure.”

“On the other hand, he’d been running for days,” Wheeler added.

Getting to the bottom of the event is frustrating, Bolton said.

“There is no original source other than the military records, and those are very short,” he said. “Everything gets passed on by word of mouth.”

Brady’s prowess, skill and military aptitude are well documented by those who knew, lived and worked with him, as a number of written accounts in his day testify. But unanswered questions have always swirled around the larger-than-life figure.

“The numerous traditions respecting Brady’s Leap across the Cuyahoga River, and many other ‘hair-breadth escapes’ and other adventures of that old frontiersman grow more and more vague and conflicting, with the lapse of time,” wrote General Ambrose Bierce more than a century ago about the tales concerning Brady.

Visitors to the site of the leap at the northern section of Riveredge Trail, along Gougler Avenue, will now find a scarred rock. The plaque commemorating Brady’s Leap was vandalized and torn from it, said Karen Clapp of Kent Parks and Recreation Department. A marker describing Brady’s accomplishment stands beside it.

The murky waters of the Cuyahoga are silent about what they’ve seen.

Contact features correspondent Theresa Montgomery at [email protected]