Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Indians in Eden (continued)

A Canoe Will Do

Even after the introduction of train and steamboat transportation, some Wabanakis continued to travel all or part of the journey to Mount Desert Island by canoe, as evident in this 1893 excerpt from the Bangor Industrial Journal:

     Francis Dana, a well-known Indian hunter and guide whose home is at East Machis, having built a 16-foot birch canoe, started out last week to find a customer for it. He put to sea on Friday in his frail craft, and having no sail paddled to Bar Harbor, where he disposed of the canoe, and returned home by Saturday's steamer. The distance is sixty miles, and the water was rough.

Long-distance canoe travel did have its ups and downs, as revealed in this 1885 news bit about the Passamaquoddy tribe's priest who sometimes transported baskets from the reservation to the Mount Desert encampments:

     Rev. Mr. O'Dowd, Catholic priest at the settlement at Pleasant Point, whose visit to Bar Harbor we noticed recently, had a rough passage while returning. At Machiasport he met an Indian from Pleasant Point who was going to Eastport in a canoe. The Indian was afraid to go so far in a canoe alone, and Mr. O'Dowd, who has become accustomed to that mode of travel and can wield a paddle as well as some Indians...readily consented to go with him. Soon after they started, a heavy fog shut out the sight of land, and when night came on a storm arose, and the priest and the Indian found themselves on the ocean fifteen miles from any land, a high sea running, thick fog all around, and nothing between them and the waves but a bark! They paddled through the darkness till 11:00, the Indian much frightened and the priest nearly tired out, when they landed on a small island by chance, wet and tired. They were cared for by a fisherman.

Hyatt Verrill; author, illustrator and naturalist, wrote about his experiences with the Indians including his observations of their seafaring skills. He noted, "I have seen Passamaquoddy canoes, far out to sea, manned only by a woman and several youngsters, scudding home from the fishing banks, with a blanket for a sail, when fishing schooners were making heavy weather of it under double-reefed sails."
     "One old Indian of the tribe actually paddled and sailed his canoe from Eastport to Bridgeport, Connecticut___'merely to see my father'___and thought nothing of the feat."
     Verrill also wrote about a steamship captain seeing an Indian wildly signaling him from a canoe out of sight of land. Assuming he was in trouble, the captain stopped his ship, only to find that the Passamaquoddy paddler simply wanted matches to light his pipe.

Canoe Services and Sales

Many Mount Desert Island tourists and summer residents visited the Indian encampment in search of a guide to take them out in canoes to sight see, fish, or hunt. Some came in response to the ads Indians had posted in local papers. For example, Louis Mitchell's reocurring notice in the Mount Desert Hearld offered birch bark canoes in which he and other "experienced" Indian paddlers would "take parties to the several islands in the bay and around Mount Desert Island" or "carry sporting parties to places where porpoise and seal may be shot."

Click on the images below to view a larger size

Passamaquoddies Tom Joe Lola (front) and Lois Mitchell, c. 1905. 

Passamaquoddy Louis Mitchell, circa 1885. Mitchell gained notoriety for paddling his canoe all the way around Mount Desert Island___60 miles___in just 12 hours.  (New Brunswick Museum)

Passamaquoddy Louis Mitchell

 In the 1880's, hunting guides could be hired for $1.50-2.50 a day. "Fall hunting in Maine. Parties wishing to hunt or camp in Maine can secure an excellent guide by addressing Joe Pierpole, Princeton, Maine, the best Indian guide in Schoodic waters. Two nice birch bark canoes and good accommodations for six persons. Will warrant that good deer hunting will be found."

Most rusticators took advantage of Mount Desert Island's boating opportunities, which, for the more adventurous, included sport-hunting by canoe. Those without boats would rent them, and authentic birch bark canoes made by Wabanaki Indians were particularly prized. Built for hunting seal and porpoise in open water, these swift saltwater canoes were about eighteen feet long, sometimes more. In 1881 it cost 35 cents an hour to hire a canoe___extra for a guide. As noted in a guidebook of the day, "Indians have the principal share of the canoe business, and are thoroughly capable and trustworthy."

     "Here on the beach we found quite a colony. The lodges of the Indians are built chiefly of bark, and kept in place by large stones laid on the roofs and against the sides. A part of them spoke English. Their canoes, finely built, and worth from 25 to 50 dollars apiece, were drawn up on the sand."
Birch-Bark Canoes____Louis Mitchell of the Passamaquoddy tribe of Indians will have during the season, at the shore between Suminsby's and Steamboat Wharf, a number of birch bark canoes, in which he will take parties to the several islands in the bay and around Mount Desert Island. Carrying sporting parties to places where porpoise and seal may be shot. Guns and ammunition furnished when desired. Reliable and experienced paddlers will be provided.

Henry Richards (in stern, foreground canoe) with family members in a birch bark canoe purchased in the 1870s. Richards, a young architect at the time, was traveling to Mount Desert Island by steamer to supervise construction of a summer home for Mrs. Charles Dorr. On that same steamboat, an unidentified Wabanaki was carrying a small fleet of bark canoes to rent to Bar Harbor's burgeoning rusticator population. Before disembarking the steamer, Richards bought this canoe and two paddles for $30. It remained in his family until 2006 when his grandson presented it as a gift to the Abbe Museum.  (Abbe Museum Collection)

1 comment:

  1. The one birch bark canoe is still at the Abbe Museum - saw it on line.