Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Legend of Chocorua

The White Mountains were first inhabited by humans about 12,000 years ago, after the last ice age. These first peoples had migrated from the west and were the forebears of those whom Columbus would mistakenly call Indians. The region was rich with wildlife, fish, and edible plants. Formal “Tribes” began to form about 3000-4000 BC.

There were two overlapping groups of Native Americans in this region: the Penacooks and the Penobscots, with the Penacooks being dominant as the Penobscots were located largely in what would later become the State of Maine.

Both were tribal branches within the regional Abenaki nation.

In the early 1600s the Penacook confederation had 17 tribes, all of whom spoke the Algonquin language. Because there was no written form of this language, much of what we now know of their life is derived from the records of European colonists. The tribes resided along the Pemigewasset and Merrimack watershed and near Great Bay.

The Pequawkets, Chocorua’s tribe, were originally part of the Penobscot tribal confederation, but became allied with the Penacooks after the Europeans began to settle the White Mountains.
Chocorua was a Sachem, or chief, who led his small band after most of the Pequawkets had moved north into Canada to avoid conflict with the white man.

Chocorua, a proud and courageous man, refused to go. He was unwilling to leave the land of his ancestors. He had raised his son Tuamba to believe that the land belonged to all of the great spirit’s creatures. He remained and made efforts to live in harmony with the new settlers, despite their differences.

He befriended settler Cornelius Campbell and his family. Setting in motion one of the great tragedies of Native American history.

Chocorua trusted the Campbells enough to put Tuamba in their care while he went north for a tribal pow-wow. According to the legend, while Chocorua was away, Tuamba ate some poison that was meant to kill marauding wolves and died.

Some time later, while Cornelius was away from the farm, Chocorua returned to find his son had died. Stricken with grief and anger. he killed Cornelius' wife and young son. Returning to his mountains heartsick at the loss of his beloved Tuamba, Chocorua must have known that this story was not over.

When Cornelius discovered that his family had been slain, he knew that Chocorua was responsible and set off to avenge his loved ones. Cornelius pursued Chocorua to the top of the highest mountain peak, the peak that now bears the name of Chocorua. Chocorua climbed atop the highest boulder on the summit and, knowing that death was at hand, raised his arms to the sky and is said to have shouted, "Evil spirits breathe death upon the cattle of the white man! Wind and fire destroy your dwellings! Panthers and wolves howl and grow fat on your bones. Chocorua goes now to the Great Spirit!" Chocorua then leapt off the mountain and fell to his death on the rocks below.

Two years later, the body of Cornelius was found dead, partially eaten by wolves. One hundred years to the day of his death a devastating plague killed all the cattle from Albany to Conway, New Hampshire. The cause of this plague has been explained by scientists, of course, but those of us inclined to the romance of the mountains still believe that the curse of Chocorua was involved.

Swans on Scamman Pond

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