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Before the encroachment of pale faced settlers, the entire valley of the Saco and its tributaries was peopled by the numerous Sokokis Indians. These were considered the parent tribe of the Abenaki Nation, which at one time peopled the whole of Maine. One of the most eloquent and statesmanlike of their chiefs once said in council, “We received our lands from the Great Father of Life; we hold only from Him.” Their title was unquestionable and unmolested, they roamed the valley from their village at the Lower Falls (Saco) to the settlement on the great bend, on the intervales of Fryeburg. These were in many respects a noble race of red men, evincing unmistakable evidence of having descended from a higher state, and still retained a fine sense of honor and personal dignity.
The Sokokis tribe1 was once so numerous that they could call nine hundred warriors to arms, but war and pestilence reduced their number to a, mere handful.1 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.
As early as 1615, there were two branches of the Sokokis tribe under the leadership of two subordinate chiefs. One of these communities was the Pequawket settlement and the other was at the mouth of the Great Ossipee, where before King Phillip’s War, they employed English carpenters from down river to build them a strong timber fort, having stockaded walls fourteen feet in height, to protect them against the blood-thirsty Mohawks whose corning these Indians anticipated. Upon the removal of these people 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, the other either taking the name of or giving their name to the river and lake upon which they lived.
A terrible fatal pestilence, thought to have been the small pox, which prevailed in 1617 and 1615 among the Indians of this and other tribes, swept them away by thousands, some of the tribes having become extinct from its effects. At a treaty assembled at Sagadahoc in 1720, there were delegates from the Winnesaukes, the Ossipees, and the Pequawkets. When the treaty was holden in Portsmouth in 1713, the Pequawket chiefs were present. Adeamando and Scawesco signed the articles of agreement with a cross at the treaty held at Arrowsic in 1717.
Some have assumed that the whole community of the Pequawkets lived together on the intervale at Fryeburg in a compact village. This conjecture is not true, for we find that these keen warriors had out-posts some distance above and below the village to guard against surprise. 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 the present 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. A peculiar Indian burial mound seventy-five feet long, fifty feet wide and about twenty-five feet high was discovered on the west side of Lake Ossipee and south of Lovewell’s river soon after the Revolution. This mound, which is located upon a beautiful intervals is filled with the skeletons of thousands of Indians entomed in a sitting posture and circling around a common center facing outward. These form concentric circles which were added one after another until the outer one was formed when another tier was begun above them. The bodies seem to have been packed closely together and covered with about two feet of coarse sand, while around the foot of the mound were placed stones taken from the river bed to prevent the mound from washing down. This mound is estimated to contain no less than eight or ten thousand skeletons which would seem to speak of either a numerous or a long established race in this locality.
The Pequawkets seem to have been a peaceful race when not molested by hostile tribes or encroaching settlers. There is no record of any hostile action on their part to warrant the expedition against them made by Capt. Lovewell and his company in 1725. On the other hand there is a record in the office of the Secretary of State in Boston of a petition made by John Lovewell, Josiah Farwell and Jonathan Robbins for a bounty to be paid for scalps of “enemy Indians” that they might be able to take while ranging the woods for the period of one year for that purpose. A liberal bounty was offered, and a company of forty-six men was organized by Capt. Lovewell for an expedition against the Pequawket settlement.
Saco Valley Settlements and Families. ↩