Sunday, September 22, 2013

Metallak, the Lone Indian of the Magalloway - Dispatches from Maine

Found at the grave of Metallak, North Hill Cemetery, Stewartstown, NH
Over this past week I was exploring the back country of western Maine and northern New Hampshire scouting locales to be used in a novella I am currently outlining.  I am also developing a suitable “fakelore” to reasonably mirror the rather rich folklore bred in these hills and valleys not far below the Canadian border.  I have been traveling these back roads and trails for years and have come to know this area pretty well, or just about as well as anyone from away can fathom the topography and history of this region.  Yet this time I wanted to look at it from the perception of a writer seeking suitable loci for a new writing project.  So I found myself driving some dirt roads I have not been down before, and tracking down stories for which I knew only the scarcest of details.  One of these stories is that of Metallak, the Lone Indian of the Magalloway.

I learned of Metallak on my first trip to the area about 20 years ago when I spotted a historical marker along New Hampshire Route 145 north of Colebrook.  It briefly describes Metallak as one of the last Native Americans in this area who died at age 120 in 1847, his grave located not far from that spot.  I have driven by this sign countless times over the years, but have never looked or explored any further . . . until this past week.  I finally turned off Route 145 and drove up the shaded dirt road in search of Metallak’s grave.  I found it situated in the lonely corner of North Hill Cemetery where most of the graves date from the mid 19th century.  It was time to learn the rest of the story.
A hunter, trapper, fisherman and guide well-known to many of the early settlers to this region, it is generally believed that Metallak was born on the upper Androscoggin River circa 1750, some say to an Abenaki chief named Piel (Peter) and a Native woman, Marie Michelle. He supposedly spent his early years in Canada with the people of the Androscoggin tribe, also known as Arosaguntacook, in the Abenaki nation which had been driven out of Maine sometime after King Philip's War (1675-1676). Metallak and his people, many who had converted to Catholicism and allied themselves with the French, settled primarily at Odenak, a village of les Abenaqui near the mission at St. François-du-Sales, on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River. This village and mission were burned by Rogers' Rangers, an irregular British provincial force, during the Seven Years War (also known as the French and Indian War) on October 4, 1759.  Perhaps by this time Metallak had already returned to southern Canada, near the border and the upper Androscoggin.  No one knows for sure.

Although there is a great deal of contradicting speculation about Metallak’s personal life, popular folklore tells us that he was twice married, first around 1798 to a Marie Eunice, a Native woman in Canada also known as Mollyeunice or Keoka.  Almost nothing is known about her.  She and Metallak supposedly had a child who, according to one tale, was brutally killed by a wolf after which Metallak ritually slaughtered every wolf he encountered for the rest of his like.  There are tales of other children but nothing is known about any of them.  Keoka did not remain faithful to Metallak, and he cast her aside and left his tribe and Canada and returned to the lakes of northwestern Maine. 

Shortly thereafter, and perhaps as early as 1800, Metallak married Marie Angelique, also called Molly Oozalluc or Molly Molasses because of her fondness for the viscous syrup, and they had two sons - Parmagummet (Parmagininut or Olumbo) and Wilumpa (Antoine) - and a daughter, Parmachenee.  Metallak was by all accounts devoted to Molly Oozalluc as they shared their brief life together raising their children at camps along the shores of Lake Umbagog, which straddles the Maine-New Hampshire border, and the Richardson Lakes, further to the east, in Maine.  They moved about frequently during the seasons hunting, fishing and gathering, with a fair amount of territory between their summer and winter camps.

Molly Oozalluc died around 1806 while she and Metallak were wintering on Lake Umbagog.  The story goes that he wrapped her body in birch bark and preserved it through smoking.  When spring finally arrived and the ice left Umbagog, Metallak took Molly in his canoe and buried her in a secret location on the Richardson Lake.   Moll's Rock, a favorite fishing spot to this day on Lake Umbagog, is named for her.

After her death, Metallak fished and trapped his native territory, dividing his time among his camps on Lake Umbagog, at the narrows in Richardson Lake near which a long sandy point still bears his name, and one on the upper Magalloway River.  He made occasional visits to Andover, New Pennacook (Rumford) and Sudbury, Canada (Bethel), all located in a wide valley among the hills and mountains of western Maine, and there he would trade his furs and pelts for provisions before returning to the woods and lakes.

His two sons are said to have gone to Canada around 1812 and there joined the British army.  It is doubtful that they ever saw their father again.  There are other stories that one son returned home only briefly before leaving again.  Parmachenee reportedly married and raised a family near Lennoxville, in Québec.

Earlier in his life, an accident blinded Metallak in one eye. His advanced age and this handicap did not seem to slow him down as he continued to trap and fish.  At some point in the mid 1830s, while gathering wood near his camp on the Upper Magalloway, he injured and blinded his other eye.  Some settlers from the Middle Magalloway found him at his camp farther up the river without food, water or fire. They brought him by sled to their settlement below Mount Aziscohos eventually notifying Parmachenee of her  father's condition and she came to take him back to Canada.

Despite his advanced age and blindness, Metallak was not happy in the civilized world of his daughter and he hired a young boy to take him back to the land where he had spent much of his life.  This is where he chose to die.  The boy deserted him in Stewartstown, New Hampshire, just below the newly defined international border, and Metallak lived his remaining years as a public charge, allowing others to provide for his modest needs just as he had helped the settlers of the Androscoggin and Magalloway settlements.  He died in Stewartstown around 1850.  His age was suspected to be somewhere between 100 and 120.  He is buried in the local North Hill Cemetery beneath a stone donated by a John H. Emerson, and erected on or near Metallak’s grave in 1915.  

Metallak has long been considered the last survivor of a band of Cooashaukes (Cowasuck) of the Abenaki Nation inhabiting N’Dakinna, the Native American homeland encompassing the upper reaches of the Androscoggin and Magalloway watersheds in northwestern Maine and northern New Hampshire. To this day Metallak is fondly remembered as a loyal friend to his own people, as well as to the many settlers, farmers, hunters, and trappers with whom he shared this isolated region. Many streams, ponds, hills, and other landmarks throughout the upper Androscoggin and Magalloway watersheds still bear his name. Yet Metallak never assimilated the ways of his neighbors, remaining the “Lone Indian of the Magalloway.”

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1 comment:

  1. So, is his daughter named after the lake, or vice versa?

    Oxford County is very special to my husband and I, and I love hearing stories about the Magalloway watershed :)

    We were engaged on Long Pond, honeymooned at Bosebuck Mountain Camps, and spend precious vacation time there every year, always exploring the woods and logging roads as far as the gates will let us go :)