Can a myth come into existence spontaneously? Can a story, utterly truthless, obtain widespread belief through hundreds of years, and thus become a tradition?
At the close of a five-years' residence among the hunters, lumbermen and river-drivers of the Northern Maine forests, in connection with the lumbering business of my uncle's firm, I find myself puzzling at these questions, as I recall the persistent and ever-recurring tales and accounts which everywhere come to my ears, of that strange being, or animal, which the Indians used to call "Pomoola," and which the white woodsmen have translated "Indian Devil."
As nearly as can be gathered from the legends of the Pequankets, Androscoggins and Penobscots, Pomoola was a beast, a man and a devil, in whimsical trinity (a savage relative of the old Greek Cerberus, perhaps), possessing certain supernatural and fiendish powers, and thus capable of doing infinite mischief if offended. With this fanciful character the savages seem to have invested something they did actually see and meet occasionally in those regions.
Katahdin and the neighboring mountains was a locality especially infested by it. Indeed, the summit of Katahdin has been sacred to Pomoola from earliest times. No Indian, in his senses, would venture to ascend it. The Schoodic Lake region was another of its haunts.
Numberless are the stories of the strange tricks and antics of this curious devil of the woods and lakes.
I have heard woodsmen, plain sensible bodies, who were neither "long-sighted" nor "biscoes," and who were clothed in their right minds, undoubtedly, tell the story, straight-forward and honest enough to silence the most skeptical; not of what they had heard, either, but of what they had actually seen.
It would seem well-nigh impossible that these accounts should originate in nothing. If verbal testimony could substantiate them, enough could be collected to establish, in law, the existence of a whole legion of Fomoolas. Now setting all superstition aside, will not this array of testimony warrant the following question: May there not have existed, and perhaps be at present existing, in the great forest region to the northward, some creature, "wild man," or something of the sort, not down in the books, which has been the kernel of the "Indian Devil?"
I have my own little story to tell (for I did see something rather queer one day); and right here seems to be the place for it, after remarking that some have thought the "Indian Devil" was merely the Felis Concolor or catamount. This is entirely a mistake, arising, perhaps, from the well-known dread the savages had for the cougar.
During the winter of '07, the headquarters and general depot of our lumbering gangs was at the head of the Chesuncook, along narrowish lake to the northwest of Katahdin. The logs went down this lake with the spring freshets, into the west branch of the Penobscot. And during tho frozen season it offered an easy open thoroughfare up into the forest. From this point the various "camps" within a radius of twenty and twenty-five miles took their provisions. One of the most distant of these had been established at the head of the Caucomgomac, a smaller lake, some twenty miles to the northward. And during the month of February, a "row in camp," from the incompetency of the "boss," had made it necessary to pay off and discharge a part of the hands; and I was sent up from Bangor for that purpose, having for guide and escort (I was but seventeen then) an old hunter named Hughy Clives.
The trip up to the "Head of the Chesuncook" occupied a week; and after resting a day at the supply camp, we started on for the camp on the Caucomgomac.
The trail ran through an almost unbroken wilderness; and the snow lay from four to five feet deep. But on our snowshoes we didn't mind the depth; the main thing was to keep out of the brush. And hence it seemed a great relief to come out just as the sun was setting, upon the foot of the Caucomgomac, stretching away, in a broad frozen plain, ten miles to tho northward. As the camp was no more than a mile in from the "head," Clives had anticipated getting up there early in the evening. To him the distance was as nothing; but to me it now seemed infinite. It was my first whole day on snowshoes, and my legs had not taken kindly to the length and novelty of the performance. And despite all my attempts to disguise the fact, I knew that Cllves saw that I was about used up.
"Think you can hold out, youngster?" said the old fellow, looking round to me with a hard grin. "How's your wind? Think you can straddle the lake? Or will you have to dig a hole in the snow here, and burrow like a rabbit? Nice chance there under those little hemlocks."
I still preferred going on to burrowing. We struck out upon the lake, and had soon left its black spruce-lined shore a mile to the rearward.
Meanwhile the twilight had deepened. The sky was clear, and in the west deep red; but that startling phenomenon peculiar to frozen waters, and said to indicate a storm, the moaning and groaning of the air beneath the ice, began with frightful distinctness. Never had I heard such sounds before. It seemed as if a thousand demons in agony were gurgling and drowning beneath us. Now a wild sigh would struggle up from the depths and echo to a distant moan, when, anon, a deep fearful groan would sweep along, making the thick ice shiver and vibrate like a drumhead.
But Clives only laughed at my apprehensions that the lake must be breaking up, and was saying that this was a common enough thing to hear on these waters, when a short gruff bark from "Vete" (Hughy's hound) caused us to look suddenly around. Some thirty or forty rods to the rearward, and barely distinguishable in the rapidly-falling dusk, a dark object was coming on behind us. We both took it for a man, with the first glance.
"Strange though," muttered Clives, hastily examining the cap on his rifles. "Must have come up pretty quick, too. Looked round not five minutes ago; saw nothing then."
Strange indeed. Unpromising, too. I had quite a large sum in currency about me, for the payment of the gang. The circumstance of being followed in the dark was not pleasant. But then, we were two to his one; some one out like ourselves, perhaps. "Somebody out hunting, I suppose," said I.
"Possible," said Cllves, walking on, with one eye turned back over his shoulder. "Barely possible. Don't often fall in with a man so, in here though."
"At any rate he means to come up with us," said I; for although we were now walking quite rapidly, the distance between us was visibly lessening.
"That's plain enough," replied Hughy; "and to tell the truth, youngster," looking uneasily at me, "on your account I should like to know what's wanted before he comes much nearer."
"You'll have to find out in a hurry, then," said I, with another glance behind. "He's coming up at a great rate, surely."
"Hallo! Hallo there!" shouted Hughy, cracking his rifle. The stranger was now no more than a hundred yards distant; but for all reply (that we heard), raised his arms and brandished them wildly about his head. "Who are you? What do you want?" shouted Clives again. And again those wild gesticulations.
"Well, by Jehu!" exclaimed the old man. "What signs and motions! Must be a dumb man. Stopped, though, hasn't he? Why in the world don't he answer?"
"Perhaps he did," said I. "The ice makes such a noise we may not have heard him."
"Humph! perhaps! But he don't act right, and I've a mind to let a ball fly after him."
"Set Vete on him," suggested I. "Here Vete, my boy, go for him?"
But Vete, a fine dare-devil of a hound, only winced and stuck the closer, almost tripping us up in his efforts to keep near.
It grew darker momentarily; and as nothing could be got out of the stranger, at this distance, save those inexplicable gestures, and since, to tell the truth, we didn't care about going back to cultivate his acquaintance, we at length started on again.
"Can't make him out at all," muttered Clives. "Shouldn't be surprised to hear a ball go by any minute. But I don't quite like to fire first. Perhaps he'll go back, now he finds we've got our eye on him."
And for a while we fancied he had gone back; but a moment later discerned him flitting along after us, sometimes coming up within fifty yards, then halting till invisible in the darkness.
Several miles were thus passed over. What with the sighing and gurgling under the ice, and that mysterious object flitting along behind us, the situation was a rather singular one, to say the least. Presently the moon began to shine up over the forest-clad mountains to the eastward; and a little broad bright disk peered up over the distant ridge. Things were thus revealed in a much clearer light. In the darkness our pursuer had at times assumed gigantic proportions. It now seemed the figure of a medium-sized man.
"But he's bare-beaded," said I, as this fact became apparent in the moonlight.
"No gun, either," said Hughy. "And that must be a mighty snug-fitting suit of clothes he's got on. Hallo! Hallo there! you man in tights! What's wanted?"
Thus called to, the curious object halted, gestured as before, then dropping on all fours, ran off to the left of us, coursing along with amazing swiftness, and describing a broad semicircle, came around to a point directly in front of us, some fifty rods ahead. We stood still in our amazement.
Arriving at this point the creature began to dig in the snow, throwing it up in silvery wreaths, and in a few moments had buried itself from our view, save a black crest peeping up over the edge of the drift.
"Good heavens!" I at length ejaculated. "What running! That was never a man!"
"No, that was never a man," repeated Hughy.
"But what is it?" cried I. "What can it be?"
"You saw it run?" said Hughy, interrogatively.
"Saw it run! I guess I saw it run! I never saw anything run like it! Must have been a spook."
"And you saw it beckon and make signs?" continued Hughy, reflectively.
"Of course I did -- a dozen times. What in the world are you driving at?"
"Well, youngster," the old man went on, "that's an Indian Devil. This is the third one I've seen; or the third time I've seen it; for maybe it's the same one. The last time was eight years ago, down on the Junior Lake. I might have known what this was at first; but I didn't think till I saw it run."
"But what's to be done?" said I. "Going to fire at it?"
"Fire at it? No, not for the world."
"Won[']t it meddle with us?"
"Not if we let it alone, and go on about our business."
"But it has got square in our path."
"We must go round it, then."
"Isn't that being a little cowardly?"
"Young man, you don't know what you're talking about."
In short, Clives would hear to nothing like offensive operations against the creature, devil, or whatever it was. The old fellow was pretty stoutly tinged with the superstitions of the region in which his life had passed. There was no help for it. Turning aside, we made a wide detour around the hole in which the creature was crouching, quite similar to the one it had made to get in front of us, and then walked quickly on again. But our tricksy pursuer was not yet done with us. Before we had got a quarter of a mile away, we again beheld him careering around us as before, and again concealing himself in the snow.
To be playing at such a game of bopeep, on a wintry lake, after being on my feet all day, was anything but amusing to me. And not having the fear of Pomoola sufficiently before my eyes, perhaps, I should certainly have risked a shot at him. Indeed, I'm of the opinion that a well-directed rifle-ball would not only have cleared up the "Indian Devil" mystery then and there, but would have added a new and important specimen to some zoological collection. It was undoubtedly a beast, "wild man," or something like that. The track (for it did leave a track) was that of a large longish foot, pressed down deeply into the snow. But to have fired at it would have been doing violence to Hughy's prejudices. We again "made our manners to the devil" by sheering round his hole, and repeated the same programme twice more before reaching the head of the lake. After entering the woods again, we caught several glimpses of it dodging among the trees; but lost sight of it for good about half a mile below the camp.
And thus ended my adventure with an "Indian Devil." I know I did see something queer. And I respectfully add this to a legion of very similar stories which one may hear any evening at a logging camp.
BACK TO COVER PAGE
BACK TO INDEX
Comments/report typos to
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
BILL & SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All other Original Work ©1996-2007 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners