Little Christiana's Journey Through The Maine Woods in 1813
Little Christiana Wormwood was playing school, teaching baby Sally to say: “I live in the town of Alfred, County of York, District of Maine, State of Massachusetts.”
She was interrupted by a stranger, a tall man with a pleasant face who, courteously lifting his hat, addressed her mother, “Mrs. Wormwood, I believe? I am Samuel Cook of Houlton and bring you a letter from your husband.”
“I am so glad to see you, Mr. Cook. It is a long time since I have heard from my husband.”
“He is all right, Madam, and doing well at his work. While you read your letter I will get acquainted with these little folks. I have some just their size at home.” Then she read:
Houlton, Maine, July 4, 1813
My dear Wife:
I am taking advantage of Mr. S. Cook's trip to Western Maine to send you news of my welfare. I am doing well here, and think this new country is the place for us to settle. If you all are well, Mr. Cook will bring you when he returns, and I hope to see you before winter. Baby Sally must be quite a girl now. Tell Christiana Father hopes she grows good as fast as she grows tall. Much love to them both. I must tell you of my adventures coming from Bangor to Houlton last year. I hired an Old Town Indian, who said he knew the road through the woods, to pilot me. We paddled up the Penobscot and Mattawamkeag Rivers. The fellow did not know much English, and after a while I thought he did not know much about the way. At a carrying place there was a sort of path which I thought I understood him to say led to Houlton, that it was but a day's journey away and he could direct me so that I could find my way alone. So I sent him back and went on with food for one day in my saddlebags and my pack of joiners tools on my back. After leaving the stream, there was no path and I wandered some days in the woods. Exhausted, I left my tools on a “horseback” between a pond and a stream, and struggled on one day more, following the stream, climbing over a waterfall and through tangled swamps. Suddenly I came out in a clearing of Dr. Rice in Houlton, who took care of me. In a few days I was completely recovered. Mr. Kendall went back six or seven miles with me and got my tools in Hodgdon.
You will have no such experience as Mr. Cook is familiar with the trail and will conduct you safe over. I built a house for Dr. Rice and am building for Mr. Aaron Putnam now. You will like the people here very much. Good-bye until we meet.
Your loving husband,
The children were talking with their new friend. “Do bears live where our new home is to be?” asked Christiana.
“Yes, Christiana, but brave girls needn't be afraid of bears. I know a woman who saw a bear trying to steal her pig. She caught up a gun, but it was not loaded, so she took a pitchfork and threatened bear. Old Mr. Bear, rising on his hind feet, looked between his paws with a horrid grin, as if to stand the attack, but between the squealing of the pig and the persistent threats of the pitchfork, he ran away. The men and boys running in from the fields followed and killed the bear.”
“What a hard trip my husband had! How shall we go?” asked Mrs. Wormwood. “Our people went by boat from Boston up the River St. John to within twelve miles of their destination,” said Mr. Cook. “Because of this war and the enemy's vessels off the coast, we must go overland to Old Town, then by canoe up the Penobscot and across to the St. John. It is a long journey but perfectly safe. All the Indians we meet will be the peaceful Penobscot Indians, the Tarratines.”
“Is there danger from the Indians in the new settlement?”
“Both the English and American settlers have been very much afraid of Indian raids. But the British after the Revolution pursued the Indians to their retreats, and removed the fierce St. Francis tribe to lands far beyond the St. Lawrence and the Mallecites to the Tobique. When you heard war was declared between England and America, the Tobique Indians put on their war-paint and started out to destroy the little settlement at Houlton. English soldiers from the Woodstock garrison met and disarmed them, putting them back on their reservation under strict orders not to cross the Aroostook River, even on a hunting party.”
“Have women and children been over this trail?”
“No, but we will take you safe through the great woods. Now when can you be ready to start?”
“In a few days, Mr. Cook.”
So, on Sept.1st, 1813, Christiana and little Sally and their mother set out on their long journey in Mr. Cook's wagon. They stayed a few days in Saco at their grandmother's, and Christiana's Uncle John Pattison went as far as Portland with them.
They stopped one day at the Elm House. From the steps Christiana saw a stately pageant, as, to the peal of the minute guns, the bodies of the two captains killed the day before in the naval battle off the harbor were borne to their last resting place on Munjoy Hill. In its dignity and solemnity the military funeral was very impressive and Christiana never forgot the coffins covered, one with the American, the other with the British flag, and the strange uniforms of the British soldiers as, with arms reversed and muffled drums, they followed the funeral car. In the afternoon Mr. Cook went on board the Enterprise and Boxer down in the harbor.
Leaving Portland Sept. 7, they drove to Winthrop where they rested one day, then out to the Kennebec River. After passing through Albion the turnpike came to an end. The rest of the way to Old Town was a rough road, grubbed out of the forest.
At Old Town, their journey by land ended. Joe Goodenough, who had come thus far with Mr. Cook on his outward trip, was waiting for them with canoes and two Indians. The travelers stayed a day and a half at the tavern kept by Jackson Davis, a Quaker. Christiana was so much amused to hear Mrs. Davis say to a boy who had been sent after the cows and came back without them. “Thee go again, and pluck thine eyes open.”
At last they embarked on the brown waters of the Penobscot, and slipped by Indian Island and the cleared farms into the great forest through which they must follow the winding water courses for many days.
Chrisitana enjoyed the change from wagon to canoe, and the old mossy woods with their wavering spots of sun and shadow. The last house was at Shunkhaze stream, where they thought of spending the night, but the family seemed so poor with so many neglected children that Mrs. Wormwood told Mr. Cook she would rather camp on the shore. A tent of quilts was made for her. The men had a bed of boughs before a crackling fire. They spent eleven nights this way. Camping out nights was a novelty to Christiana and Sally, and an Indian was a sight they had never seen before. Young Peopold, a handsome young fellow, joked and sang and danced for them. Old Mattanis was a strong, brawny brave who helped paddle the heavily laden Indian barks.
They spent the night at Gordon's Falls. The fourth day they followed the meanderings of the Mattawamkeag, delighted with the beauty of the scenery, the enormous, towering pines, the banks and table lands covered with shrubbery and giving the appearance of a cultivated garden, the golden autumn leaves carpeting the surface and fringing the shores, the pointed firs everywhere. They heard the woodpecker's death drum to nests of bugs and knots of worms and the squirrels chattering and winding up their clocks in their throats. At Baskehegan Falls they got the finest fattest trout they ever ate. When they left the Baskehegan near Danforth everything had to be carried over to the Chiputneticook Lakes, where they stopped for the night.
“Not far from here,” said Mr. Cook, “A spotted line marks the trail of about forty miles through the woods to Houlton.” Mr. Cook carried little Sally in his arms over all the portages. Christiana walked with her mother. The children wearied of the journey and Christiana said, “Mother I did not know there were so many trees in the whole world!” Here old Mattanis went astray and it was quite dark before he rejoined the company. Asked what he would have done had he not found the camp he said, “O, spoze me starve three days, then eatum sable,” as if by that time nothing would come amiss.
In the morning they launched on Grand Lakes which looks to be oceanic to the children. A squall arose and beat against the frail barks, but it soon passed. Next day they went through the Thoroughfare and across the east side of North Lake. On the Thoroughfare they over took a party of six men who had started sooner than they to cross North Lake. When Christiana and Sally got across the lake there was the men's campfire and some fish already cooked, with a note attached stating they were left “for Mother and the little ones.” From North Lake a carry was made to the nearest Eel River Lake, whence they proceeded down Eel River to the St. John.
It was cold and frosty in the morning. Most of the bright leaves had fallen. There were rains and one dull, cheerless morning after a cold night little Christiana's courage failed at one of the carrying places. She was so tired she sat down and refused to go on.
“Mother,” she said, “I know we shall die here anyway, for we can never get out of this dreadful wood!”
“Don't be discouraged,” said kind Mr. Cook, “in two or three days more we shall be home.”
Going six miles up the St. John they met Mr. Wormwood with horses. The men whom they had seen at the Thoroughfare had arrived two days ahead of them and informed Mr. Wormwood of his family's approach. Christiana was delighted to see her father, but little Sally clung to good Mr. Cook whose strong arms had carried her so many miles. They spent the night at Mr. Wolverton's farm. Next morning, October 10, they went with the horses, through the woods by the spotted line to Houlton.
The first farm was Mr. Cook's, and out of a big log house came Polly and Willy and little Fanny Cook to meet their father. The Wormwood family stayed one night with the Cooks, then went two miles farther across the Meduxenekeag Stream to Aaron Putnam's new frame house, where Mr. Wormwood had secured rooms for his family. Christiana was nine years old and Sally was three, at this time. Christiana lived 81 years in Houlton and saw the forest give way to fertile fields and pleasant villages. She never forgot her journey through the Great North Woods and often told her children's children about it as I have told it to you.