The Sokokis Indians along the Saco River

The best authorities now attribute to our North American aborigines an Asiatic origin. In physical appearance, language, and traditions, the western tribes resemble the northeastern Asiatics, while the Eskimo and his cousin on the Asiatic side understand each other perfectly. The Mongolian cast of features is much more marked in the tribes on the Pacific than in those on the Atlantic coast, while the earliest traditions handed down from time immemorial by the ancient fathers, and held by the chiefs of the eastern tribes, indicate that they came by stages from the westward; and those of the western tribes, that their remote ancestors came from regions farther west.

When the early explorers came to the mouth of the Saco, they found the valley inhabited by these free-born denizens of our western hemisphere. How long these lords of the soil had held their vast inheritance when the white man came, no writer on the origin of nations, or of the prehistoric period, has attempted to state in terms with any claim to definiteness.

One of the most eloquent and statesman-like of the Saco valley chiefs once said in council: “We received our lands from the Great Father of Life; we hold only from Him.” Their right to the soil bequeathed by the Creator none could justly challenge, and in defending their claims against the encroachments of the insulting settlers they doubtless felt that they had the sanction of the Great Spirit. It certainly was a remarkable condescension that allowed the intrusive white man, without the shadow of a title, to find a foot-rest upon these shores, and greater wonder, that they were permitted to plant their homes upon the soil.

But they were, in many respects, a noble people who evinced unmistakable evidence of having descended from a higher state, and still retained a fine sense of honor and great personal dignity. Of majestic form and graceful carriage, the typical son of the forest was an object of interest who challenged the attention of every considerate beholder.

The Sokokis family was one of the most ancient in what is now the State of Maine, and were quite distinct from those living on the Salmon Falls and Piscataqua rivers farther westward. Just where the territorial line of division was cannot be determined with certainty. There is evidence to show that those several tribes recognized a code of laws by which they were governed in their relations to each other. There were, anciently, according to the relations of the chiefs, great councils held in the wilderness in which each family, or tribe, was represented by its delegated head and here the boundary of their territorial possessions and hunting grounds were prescribed, and any disputes arising from questions relating to, trespass amicably adjusted.

From the Saco river eastward all the branches of the great tribal family used the same language with slight variations peculiar to certain localities. All who inhabited this wide expanse of territory between the Saco valley and New Brunswick could readily understand each other; and yet, with one exception, not a word of their language could be found in Eliot’s Indian Bible printed in 1664. Captain Francis, an Indian of the Penobscot tribe, who was not only intelligent but well-informed in all matters relating to the history of the Maine Indians, said the Saco tribe was the parent of all the eastern families; “they are all one brother,” the old man used to say. Each tribe was younger as we proceed eastward from Saco river, and those at Passamaquoddy the youngest of all. Francis once said, ” Always I could understand these brothers when they speak, but when the Mickmacks, Algonquins, and Canadian Indians speak I cannot tell all what they say.” Governor Neptune and members of the Newell family confirmed this statement.

The Sokokis were once so numerous that they could call nine hundred warriors to arms, but wars and pestilence reduced their numbers to a mere handful. Their original principal settlement and the headquarters of their important chiefs was about the lower waters of the river.

The residence of the sagamores was on Indian Island above the lower falls. Among the names of the chiefs who dwelt hereabout were those of Capt. Sunday, the two Heagons, and Squando who succeeded Fluellen. For some years these Indians lived with the white settlers in peace and quietness, some of them acquiring a fair knowledge of the English language by their intercourse. When the increasing number of colonists encroached upon their lands, and hatred and discontent had been engendered by the ill-treatment of the whites, these Indians gradually moved up river and joined their brethren who lived in the villages at Pequawket and on the Ossipee.

We have found no evidence of hostility on the Indians’ part until they had been provoked to retaliate by some of the most inexcusable insults that could have been thought of. According to the early historians a party of rude sailors from one of the vessels lying in the harbor hailed the wife of Squando, who, with her infant child, was passing down the river in a canoe. Taking no notice of this she would have peacefully proceeded on her way, but they approached her and maliciously overturned the canoe to see, as afterwards stated, if young Indians could swim naturally like wild animals. The child instantly sank but the mother by diving brought it up alive. This babe soon after died and the parents attributed the fatality to an injury caused by the white men.

This insult and injury so exasperated Squando that he thirsted for revenge, and he determined to exert himself to the uttermost to arouse his followers and the neighboring tribes to arm themselves for a war of extermination against the whites. But this was not the only reason why they should hate the English settlers. Some of the early speculators who conducted a private business with the Indians, or had charge of the regular truck-houses along the coast, influenced more by their greed than any principle of honor, just as modern white men have been, by misrepresenting goods bartered for the red man’s valuable furs, and by defrauding them when under the influence of liquor, had driven them to desperation. These acts of injustice were not forgotten, and some of the aggressors were made to suffer for their wrongs at the hands of the Indians, when the knife was drawn, as will hereafter appear.

As early as 1615, there were two branches of the Sokokis tribe under the government of two subordinate chiefs. One of these communities was settled on the great bend of the Saco at Pequawket, now in Fryeburg, and the other at the mouth of the Great Ossipee, where, before King Philip’s war, they employed English carpenters from the settlements down river to build them a strong timber fort, having stockaded walls fourteen feet in height, to protect them against the Mohawks whose coming these Indians anticipated and dreaded.

When the Sokokis removed from the locality of their early home on the lower waters of the river to the interior, their names were changed to Pequawkets and Ossipees; the former word, meaning the crooked place, expresses exactly the character of the locality where their village stood.

A terribly fatal pestilence, thought to have been the smallpox, which prevailed in 1617 and 1618 among the Indians of this and other tribes, swept them away by thousands, some of the tribes having become extinct from its effects. The dead by hundreds remained unburied, and their bones, scattered through the forest, were found long afterwards by the white men. At a treaty assembled at Sagadahoc in 1702, there were delegates from the Winnesaukes, Ossipees, and Pequawkets. Among those present belonging to this tribe were Watorota-Menton, Heagon, and Adeawando. When the treaty was holden in Portsmouth in 17 13, the Pequawket chiefs were present. Adeawando and Scawesco signed the articles of agreement with a cross at the treaty held at Arowsic on the Kennebec in 17 17. The ranks of the Pequawkets became so thinned out at the time of Lovewell’s fight that they could muster but twenty-four warriors. Capt. John Giles, who commanded the fort at the mouth of the Saco river, and who was well acquainted with the Indian tribes of Maine, took a census of those over sixteen years of age, able to bear arms, in 1726, and reports only twenty-four fighting men. At this time Adeawando was chief.

Many of the tribe had removed to Canada at this time, and had united with the St. Francis Indians there. Adeawando was a man of great intelligence, and eloquence as a public speaker, and became very influential in the councils. He became a leading spirit after removing to Canada, where he was a favorite with the Governor General. When Capt. Phineas Stevens visited Quebec in 1752,. to redeem captives from the St. Francis Indians, Adeawando was chief speaker at the conference held there and made strong charges against the English planters on the Saco for their trespass upon the lands of his people. In his address he said: “We acknowledge no other lands as yours but your settlements wherever you have built; and we will not, under any pretext, consent that you pass beyond them. The lands we call our own have been given us by the Great Master of Life; we hold only from Him.”

In the beginning of the war with France, the remnant of the Pequawket tribes who had lingered about the home-place of their ancestors on the Saco, went to some fort occupied by the white men and expressed a desire to live with them. These, with the women and children, were permitted to remain for a considerable time in the fort; but when war had been declared against the Eastern Indians these families were removed to Boston where they were provided for by the government. A suitable place was found for them some fifty miles from the city where was good fishing and fowling. The state furnished them blankets, clothing, and other necessary provisions. Smith writes in his journal: “About twenty Saco Indians are at Boston pretending to live with us.”

When the Eastern Indians sued for peace, and promised to summon all the heads of tribes concerned in the war, these Sokokis or Pequawket Indians were present at the treaty (1749) held at Falmouth; but as it was proved that their tribe had not been involved, it was deemed unnecessary for them to sign the treaty. In 1750, a year later, Douglas wrote: “The Pequawket Indians live in two towns and have only about a dozen fighting men. These often travel to Canada by way of the Connecticut river.”

After the fall of Quebec, and white men had pushed their settlements up the Saco valley, a few members of the tribe remained about the head waters of the Connecticut until the beginning of the Revolution. The last mention of the tribe living at Pequawket was in a petition to the General Court dated at Fryeburg, in which the able-bodied men asked for guns, ammunition, and blankets, for fourteen warriors, and these became soldiers on the patriot side; they served faithfully under their commander and were liberally rewarded by the government. After the war they came back to Fryeburg and lingered with their families in the vicinity of their old homes where they were well remembered by the venerable people of the last generation. Among these were Tom Heagon, Old Philip, and Swanson. Philip, the last known chief of the Pequawkets, signed a deed in 1796, conveying northern New Hampshire, and a part of Maine, to Thomas Eames and others.

The curtain of history falls before a sad scene. A popular author has written: ” Long and valiantly did they contend for the inheritance received from their ancestors, but fate had decided against them. With unavailing regret these children of the forest looked upon the ruins of their once pleasant homes for the last time, and turned their faces away.” From time immemorial the tribe had held undisputed possession of the Saco valley where, upon the rich and mellow intervales, they had harvested their ripened corn. They were brave, great hunters, and ready for war. Before the battle with Lovewell they had been prosperous, and might have survived to multiply their numbers and perpetuate their name, but this conflict convinced them that nothing less than absolute extermination, and the possession of the last acre of their land, would satisfy the avarice of the whites, and, broken in spirit, they scattered the smoking brands of their campfire and sadly, silently vanished away.

An Indian Burial Mound

On the west side of Ossipee lake and south of Lovewell’s river, situated upon a beautiful intervale, may be seen a remarkable prehistoric mound which was filled with the skeletons of many thousands of Indians. This elevation was, when first discovered by white men, about twenty-five feet in height^ seventy-five in length, and fifty in width. As the mound had been protected by a wall at the base to prevent washing, the circumference remains about the same. Soon after the Revolution, Daniel Smith, Esq., commenced to clear a farm here, and was probably the first white man who saw the singular mound. When its existence became known great curiosity was excited and hundreds went to view the place. At length two physicians went there for the purpose of procuring some skeletons, if any could be found sufficiently preserved to be of any value. But they found the proprietor of the land averse to this, and he positively refused to have anything removed. After much persuasion he consented to have an excavation made sufficiently large to ascertain the character of the internal structure of the mound; a work he watchfully superintended. It had been supposed that each warrior’s pipe, tomahawk, and wampum, had been buried at his side, but so far as has been revealed, only one tomahawk was found. All the bodies were found to be in a sitting position, reclining around a common center, facing outward. From the appearance of the remains it seemed evident that the bodies were packed hard against each other, leaving but little space between them to be filled with earth. Having begun at the middle, when one circle had been filled another was started on the outside of it, and so on until the base tier had reached a sufficient circumference; then a second tier was begun above it. There is no means of ascertaining how long this mound had been used as a place of interment by the tribe inhabiting that region. Either the tribe must have numbered many thousand at an early day, or their dead had been buried here for thousands of years. Judging from the space occupied by each skeleton, those present when the excavation was made estimated that no less than eight or ten thousand bodies must have been deposited within the mound. The outer covering of the elevation was of coarse sand taken from the plains about one hundred rods distant on the west side of Lovewell’s river, and seems to have been about two feet in thickness originally. The stones laid about the base to prevent the mound from being washed down by rains, are round, smooth, and water-worn; these were carried from the bed of the river and their exact counterpart may be seen there today. Here we find a prehistoric problem suggestive of much thought. About it the contemplative mind finds much obscurity. Unanswerable questions will arise. Had the scattered families of the great tribe inhabiting the territory adjacent carried their dead through the deep, dark forest pathways for many a weary league to this great tribal tomb? What tradition of ancestors, superstition, or religious sentiment, could have impelled these sons of the wilderness to do this? What solemn burial ceremonies attended the mounding of these bodies of their departed kindred as they were deposited in this thickly populated chamber of mortality? What must have been the emotions of these dusky warriors as they viewed the sepulcher of their fathers; the place where they, too, must take their position in the silent circle of the dead!

To us there is a weird fascination about this singular burial mound, this voiceless monument of antiquity, and we can only wish some record of its origin, and the number of years it had been used, as definite as that found in the sacred volume concerning the cave of Machpelah purchased by Abraham for a place of burial, had been left. But all our speculations must be unavailing and we allow the curtain to fall and hide from the mental view that which must remain a mystery “until the day dawns and the shadows flee away.”

Indian Wigwams and Villages

The American aborigines were fine students of nature and were familiar with natural phenomena. When they built their houses they displayed more wisdom than the white man who boasted of superior skill. These wigwams were never erected on land that would be reached by the swelling streams in spring-flood. Some have assumed that the whole community of the Pequawkets lived together in a compact village on the intervale at Fryeburg, but this was not true; these keen warriors had their outposts some distance above and below to guard against surprise. Had Lovewell known the habits of these Indians better, he would not have been drawn into the trap as he was. While the larger body of the Indians lived on the great water-loop, there were clusters of houses in various places down the Saco valley. One of these hamlets was situated just south of Indian Hill in North Conway, and consisted of about twenty lodges. In what is now the town of Hiram, not far from the mouth of the Great Ossipee river, there is a high bluff upon the top of which there is a nearly level plateau of about two acres in extent where several families of the Sokokis Indians once lived, and there the elevated circles, covered annually with rank grass, long marked the places where their wigwams stood.

From the number of stone weapons and implements found in other localities on the river, it is evident that there were at some time either villages or solitary lodges there. At the falls where the West Buxton village now stands the Indians of this tribe came at stated seasons to spear salmon with which the Saco then abounded; and when the first settlers in the upper section of the Little Falls Plantation came there to hew down the forest and populate the town, they found a well-worn trail that followed the river bank to a point near the well-known Decker Landing, and thence turned abruptly westward over the ridge near the present highway, and down across the Thornton lot, so called, thence near the farm afterwards owned bv Cyrus Bean to the foot of the Killick pond, and so on across the plains to the Little Ossipee. On the line of this old trail, and on the Joseph Decker farm, there were many indications of a settlement of Indians when the land was cleared; subsequently some remarkably fine stone axes, tomahawks, pestles, and arrowheads were plowed up. These were accidentally lost by a gentleman to whom they had been presented. Not far from the site of this Indian village one or two bodies were found one hundred years ago.

The Indians constructed their houses with a light frame of poles converging at the top, and covered these with bark and skins. Within this circular enclosure men, women, children, dogs, and some small cattle domiciled promiscuously. The fires were kindled in the center against a flat stone that leaned against the middle pole, and the smoke, carried by the draft from the door, emerged at the top of the hut and floated away. Here the cooking was done by the squaws, and here the men, when not on the warpath, or engaged in the chase, dressed the skins of animals for their clothing and packed their peltry for the trading post. Lodges owned and occupied by the chiefs and medicine men were usually larger, more pretentious, and ornamented without with rude figures of wild animals. These were the red man’s council rooms and here the wise and grave old fathers sat in a circle and smoked their carved stone pipes and determined the action to be taken by the braves when menaced by the insolent pale-face.

Indian Weapons and Implements

Many of these were made from materials that have not decayed, and we have a fair collection of local discovery to aid us in our description. Their stone axes were of various forms and sizes. Nearly all, however, had a deep groove cut below the poll for the handle. It has been supposed, by the farmers along the river who have found these, that the Indians twisted strong withes around them which served for a handle, but this is not the fact. The axes were driven through a small sapling of some firm wood and allowed to remain until it had grown so closely into the groove cut for the purpose that the stone was immovable; then the tree was cut down, and a section worked to the proper size for the handle. If the handle was split, the axe must be driven through another sapling, or was laid aside. A few such have been found, almost overgrown by the wood of large forest trees in which they had been left by the Indians, and for some reason were never afterwards put to use. These axes and hatchets were usually made from a very hard and greenish colored stone, now seldom found in the Saco valley. We have examined specimens that were eight inches in length and nearly four in width at the edge. These had at the top a nearly round poll; weight about four pounds. We have no means of knowing how these stone axes were dressed into such symmetrical form, save by the tradition related by Captain Francis of the Oldtown tribe. A farmer at whose home he had dined, when returning from a hunting excursion, handed him one of these large stone axes and asked him how it was reduced from the rough piece to its perfect form. The old fellow shrugged his shoulders, laughed, and said: “Dunno; mighty big rub.” We could fancy the patient red man slowly hewing this with the still harder flint tool, but when we ask how that was moulded into regular form, we are lost in wonder. The result is good evidence of the possibility, but the process must be catalogued with the “lost arts.”

We have seen stone pestles as round and symmetrical as if turned in the cabinet-maker’s lathe, three inches in diameter at the larger end and a foot in length; gouges, two inches broad, concaved and convexed, with the edge a perfect segment of the circle, armed with a formidable handle from the same piece of stone. War clubs, spears, and arrows were pointed with scales of flint and bits of hard sea-shell; some of them were wrought into ingenious forms, having a shank, or start, that was driven into the wood of spear shaft, or arrow. We take pleasure in illustrating this chapter with plate views, having facsimiles of a collection of these Indian weapons and tools that were found on the banks of the Saco river.


Ridlon, G. T., Sr. Saco Yalley Settlements And Families: Historical, Biographical, Genealogical, Traditional, and Legendary. Embracing the most important events on the Saco River, from their plantation to the present, with memorials of the families and individuals instrumental in their settlement, advancement and prosperity. Portland, ME: Published by the author. 1895.

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