William Tell refused to bow in respect before a hat set up in Altdorf by Hapsburg invaders. When Gessler, the Austrian governor, decreed that Tell should shoot an apple off his son's head using a crossbow, he obliged. He then turned his crossbow on Gessler and was arrested and bundled onto a ship. The weather turned stormy and Tell escaped by leaping from the boat onto a platform rock, now known as Tell's Rock. He set off for Kusshacht where he ambushed and killed Gessler on a lonely wooded stretch of road.

William Tell became the personification of Swiss independence and liberty.