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Traditions and Legends along the Saco

Nancy Barton is supposed to have been the first white woman who passed through the Notch of the White Hills voluntarily. She was employed to keep a boarding-house for lumbermen in Jefferson; was industrious, faithful, and toiled early and late for small wages. Her employer was taken captive by the Indians and she served them liquor until they were all helpless; then cut the thongs with which he was bound and secured his liberty. She carefully husbanded her earnings, and in time had laid down a handsome sum. She was engaged to be married to one of the workmen and arrangements were made for them to proceed to Portsmouth, her native place, where they were to be united and make a home. She trustingly, but unwisely, placed her money in the hands of her affianced, and began making preparations for her journey. This having become known to her employer, he determined not to lose so valuable a housekeeper, and to circumvent the marriage he sent her away on errands to Lancaster. This was meanness beyond description, and the result was tragic. During her absence her professed lover left the locality with a party going south, taking her money away with him. She somehow heard of this affair on the same day, and quickly matured plans for pursuit. With a bundle of clothing she hastened down the snow-covered trail, guided by the trees spotted for that purpose, and after a weary journey of thirty miles, having traveled all night through a dark forest, she reached the spot where the party had camped. The fire had gone out. Benumbed with cold, she knelt about the charred brands and tried in vain to blow from them a flame. Again she took up her weary march, fording the icy waters of the Saco several times, until exhausted nature succumbed to cold and fatigue and she sank down to rise no more. Her clothes were coated with ice and loaded with the falling snow; her curdled blood ceased to flow and death released her from her distress. A relief party had been hurried forward after the storm of snow came on, but they were too far behind to save her life; her rigid body was found buried under the drifting snow upon the south side of the stream in Bartlett, since known as “Nancy’s brook.” Her faithless lover learned of her sad fate, and being seized with keen remorse for his crime, became hopelessly insane and ended his days by a miserable death. All the particulars of this affair were related in my presence when a boy, and every recurrence of the sad story has oppressed my mind as I thought of the hellish spirit that prompted men to such desperate deeds of wickedness. Grim Justice could find no doom too dark as a penalty for such crime. The early inhabitants believed the ghost of Nancy Barton’s betrayer and robber lingered about the brookside where she perished, and that his terrible wailing lamentations were often heard there at night.

The “Crystal Cascade”

On the Ellis river, one of the tributaries of the Saco, among the mountains, there is a beautiful waterfall with which a pathetic legend is connected. When that region was inhabited only by Indians, a chief, according to the custom of his people, had made choice of a brave and stalwart Indian to become the husband of his daughter. Learning that the affections of the maiden had been given to one of a neighboring tribe who was quite worthy of her, the old chief could not fully disregard her wishes. A council was called and the old men decided that the girl should be given to the one most skillful with the bow and arrow. A target was put up and the two young warriors prepared for the contest. When all was ready, the twang of the bow-string rang out on the air, the feathered arrows sped on their errand, and he of her father’s choice was declared to be the champion. Before the shouts of his friends had died away, the two loyal-hearted lovers had joined hands and were fleeing through the forest. Swift-footed pursuers were instantly on their trail, and it became a race for life or death. Finding the pursuers likely to overtake them, when the lovers reached the edge of the precipice down which the cataract plunges, clasped in each other’s arms they threw themselves into the rushing waters; and now, as sentimental visitors watch the shining mists arise before the falls, fancy pictures two graceful and etherial forms, hand in hand, standing there. This is the legend.

The Lost Maiden

An Indian family living on the head waters of the Saco, had a daughter more beautiful than any maiden of their tribe, and who was accomplished in all the arts known to her people. When she had reached maturity, her parents sought in vain to find a young brave suitable for her husband, but none could be found worthy of so peerless a creature. Suddenly this wild flower of the mountains disappeared. Diligent was the search, and loud the mourning when no trace of her light moccasin could be found in forest or glade. By her tribe she was given up as lost. But some hunters who had penetrated far into the mountain fastnesses, discovered the missing maiden in company with a beautiful youth whose hair, like her own, flowed down to his waist. They were on the border of a limpid stream. On the approach of the intruders, the pair vanished out of sight. The parents of the maiden knew her companion to be one of the pure spirits of the mountains, and henceforth considered him to be their son. To him they called when game was scarce, and when by the streamside they signified their wishes, lo! the creatures came swimming toward them. So runs our legend, which we have taken, in part, from an early author.

The Pale-Face Captive

A wandering hunter of the Sokokis tribe had struck the trail of a party of Mohawk warriors who were returning from battle, and learned by occasional footprints found in the brookside sands that a white captive was being carried away. Following at a distance during the day the Sokokis watched the Mohawks camp behind a lofty boulder, and after they had eaten saw them bind the white girl to a tree in a sitting posture and then lie down in their blankets to sleep. Waiting until their fire had burned out, the young hunter cautiously crept behind the tree where the poor maiden was tied, and whispering assurance of safety he quickly cut the thongs from her swollen wrists and led her away. Before the morning dawned, they had covered so great a distance, and had so hidden their trail by wading in the shallow water of streams, that their pursuers did not overtake them and they reached the Indian village at the mouth of the Ossipee unharmed. Here the maiden, then quite a little girl, was treated with kindness and adopted the Indian mode of life. But tradition claims that the Mohawks knew by the broken trail of the Sokokis to what tribe he belonged, and ever after watched for opportunity to wreak vengeance upon them. This pale-faced exile never left the wigwam of the young brave who had rescued her from the bloody Mohawks, and when old and bent with the weight of years, was often seen in company with the ” up-river Indians” when going down the Saco in their canoes. She reported that she was an only child and that her parents had both been slain at the time she was taken captive.


Mohawk, Sokokis,

Jefferson Maine,

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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