Fannie Hardy Eckstorm wrote The Penobscot Man – a woman who so eloquently summed up the rugged individuality of Maine and it’s people in just a few short sentences when she wrote;
The question is sometimes asked why a state like Maine, so sparsely settled, poor, weak in all external aids, can send forth such throngs of masterful men, who, east and west, step to the front to lead, direct, and do. We who were brought up among pine-trees and granite know the secret of their success. It comes not wholly by taking thought: it is in the blood. Here are stories of men, the kind we have yet a-plenty, who die unknown and unnoticed; and every tale is a true one, — not the chance report of strangers, the gleanings of recent acquaintance, the aftermath of hearsay, the enlargements of a fading tradition; but the tales of men who tended me in babyhood, who crooned to me old slumber-songs, who brought me gifts from the woods, who wrought me little keepsakes, or amused my childish hours, — stories which, having gathered them from this one and that one who saw the deed, I have bound into a garland to lay upon their graves. Such tales are numberless; choice becomes invidious unless rigidly limited, and therefore, since the old West Branch Drive is no more, I have chosen solely among its members, and have strung these tales, like beads of remembrance, upon one thread, — of which we who love it never tire, — the River. These are stories told with little art. In the long run, the books that lie closest to the facts have the advantage. It is lovely to be beautiful, but it is essential to be true. The events are actual occurrences; the names, real names; the places any one may see at any time. Yet each story is not merely personal and solitary, but illustrates typically some trait of the whole class. Their virtues are not magnified, their faults are not denied; in black and white, for good or evil, they stand here as they lived.
We who were brought up among pine-trees and granite know the secret of their success – I say we do indeed!! More powerful and inspiring words have rarely been written about the ruggedness and individuality of a Mainer. If you love Maine and it’s people, have camped in the North Maine Woods, or paddled any of Maine historic rivers you need to read this book. You can read it for free here. This book epitomizes for me the aura and mystique of the Maine woods, it’s rivers so rich with history. It reminds me of paddling and walking up some unknown brook flowing into Chensuncook Lake far enough to find an old rusted out lantern on a hot summer day…a lantern that evidently was supposed to stay there as I forgot it at our next campsite. It reminds me of lazily paddling down a small stream in the North Woods scanning the bottom and pondering the history of the area – if this place could talk, what would it say? This book is what Maine is, and what it’s people are.
The story of lugging Sowadnehunk reminds me of a winter I spent trapping with my friend Peter and we would often test each other crossing thin ice and the like – one of us would have the stones to try to cross, and if successful than the other would have to try too. I can remember crawling across the thin ice of a flowing stream to spread out weight, rather than taking the long walk around.
And what about Joe Attean? You may remember him as one of Thoreau’s guides, but do you know of his death driving the last of a season’s logs down the river on July 4, 1870?
“One thing everybody knows, – there were men in that boat that could not swim; there are such in every boat. The others leaped and swam; these clung to the boat. And Joe Attien stayed with them – not clinging as they did, buried in water, not crouching and abject, waiting for the death that faced him, not a coward now, never, but paddle in hand because the water ran too deep for a pole hold standing astride his sunken boat a big caulked foot upon each gunwhale, working to the last ounce that was in him to drive the sunken wreck and the men clinging to it into some eddy or cleft of the log jams before they were carried down over the Heater and that thundering fall of the Grand Pitch…one remembers him always as standing high in the stern of his boat dying with and for his men.
They found his body floating in Shad Pond just down river. They removed his log driving boots and hung them on a pine-knot of a tree. According to Maine legend those boots still hang as a tribute to Joseph Attean former Chief of the Penobscot Nation and hero of the Maine woods. All of these places are still here as they were then. It has always been my dream to find a “kings pine” or a pair of caulked boots hanging from a tree near the river, but it hasn’t happened yet.