When I first came up to the Great North Woods to check out my new home at Umbagog Lake State Park, I got on a pontoon boat for a tour of the water. One of the first stops on our tour was Dutton’s Island, named after Mr. Dutton who built a mansion in the middle of it at the turn of the 19th century. According to the tour guide, Ian Drew from the wildlife refuge, before Mr. Dutton acquired the island it used to be called Metallic Island. I never asked why, but I assumed it got that name because they found lots of metal ore on the island, or something other. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later, when I finally moved to Umbagog Lake and began researching the history of the area, that I learned it wasn’t ‘Metallic’ Island, but Metallak Island. There were several landmarks with that name too; Metallak pond, Metallak Mountain, Metallak Point, Metallak brook, and there were even plans to build a Metallak hotel, but it got destroyed in the construction process. This soon became a huge obsession of mine. Who or what is a Metallak, and why is it so important?
Ask any of the locals in the Great North Woods (GNW) about Metallak and you will soon learn the legend of Metallak, the lonesome chief of the Cooshauke Indians. Legend says he was a friend of the white settlers, he was a skilled hunter who lived off the land, he was blind in one eye, no, both eyes, he rode on the back of a moose until he killed it with only a knife, and he lived until the young age of 120. Now, I was really hooked. With each new story I heard I needed to know more, so I took to the books. Finding some hard evidence about Chief Metallak proved to be a difficult task because it wasn’t until later in his life that people started to record much of anything about him. At one point, during the mid-1800s, Metallak became such a celebrity, that people published their own accounts of meeting the lonesome chief, whether it was true or not.
The reason Metallak is known as the lonesome chief is because the majority of his people died from small pox, died from the French and Indian War, or just simply left their homeland. Metallak was determined to stay on his people’s land, and lived on Metallak Island on Umbagog Lake from time to time. He was friendly to his white brothers, and taught them some skills of his people, such as hunting and trapping. According to Peter Smith Bean, Metallak was a friend of the family and would often visit for dinner and a drink. He did go blind in one eye, when he poked himself with a needle while sewing up a pair of moccasins. Eventually he lost sight in his other eye when he was much older and clumsy. He slipped and fell on a stump near his camp and a splinter stuck him in the eye. He was then later found by some trappers who brought him up into Canada to be fixed up. Wishing to return to his own camp, he hired a young man to guide him back home, but the guide wound up taking Metallak’s money and left him in Stewartstown, NH where he would spend the next couple of years a pauper until he finally passed away. Now, this is just a brief telling of the life of Metallak, and you can find plenty of more stories about his life on the internet.
Whether these stories are true, or not, Metallak left a big impact on the northern woods of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and even Canada. The impact is so great, that a small monument was placed on his burial site in the North Hill Cemetery in Stewartstown, New Hampshire. I took it upon myself to visit and pay my respects to the great legend. From Errol, it is a little under an hour’s drive just passed Beaver Brook Falls on Route 145. Eventually, you will come across a green sign, which was placed in honor of Metallak, and marks the road that you take to find the cemetery. That is the easy way. I had the pleasure of getting lost, and asking for directions from a local. This lead me down a round-a-bout way on a road started out all nice and smooth, but quickly turned into an off road adventure that my fourteen year old sedan was not too happy about. Large pot holes and huge chunks of gravel lead the way. The further I got, the more I wanted to turn around in fear of getting stranded. Until I turned one last bend and found the cemetery!
I was surprised at what good condition it was in, considering the road, not knowing there was a much shorter and well groomed road just a bit further down, as mentioned above. I got out of my car and walked to the entrance that was marked with a nice metal portrait of who I assumed to be Metallak. The cemetery is pretty small, but holds many graves, some from the 1830s. I wandered around trying to read the weathered inscriptions of families long deceased, when I finally found Metallak’s stone. Of course it was set aside from the others, typical of the lonesome chief. As I approached I was taken aback at all the things that people had left in honor of Metallak. There was a walking stick with all kinds of beads and bandanas draping from it, lots of coins, beautiful rocks, shells, and a carving of a Native American paddling in a canoe. With my journey at an end, I stood at Metallak’s grave and felt at peace. Whoever Metallak was, the lonesome chief of the Cooshauke tribe is no longer lonely and will forever live in the memories of those he has touched through magnificent tales about him.