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The Birth of Maine

We have all heard old things referred to as "old as the hills." If it were said "old as the hills of Maine," it would signify that the thing was very old indeed!

Much of what is now our State became solid rock and cliff and mountain in the Cambrian and Lower Silurian periods. When we look at its gray old ledges of slate and shale and the volcanic rocks which were pushed up through this first layer from the heated masses beneath, we are impressed most of all with the great age of these rocks.

Much of the soil, loose boulders and pebbles, was brought here later by the great sheet of ice which moved over this part of our continent forming the newer soil of our State. Then, little by little, living things appeared, which have left their fossil or petrified forms in some of the rocks.

To the eyes of scientists, these fossils tell the history of millions of years, and from them and the rocks, in which they are found, is read a wonderful story.

Slowly life increased and developed, until the sea had its multitudes of plant and animal forms, and on the land first simple little plants grew; then higher and more varied forms. Animal life gradually appeared on the land, developed and increased, until myriads of live things had home here.

For many years there were no human inhabitants. The birds sang as sweetly as now, while the animals of field and forest loved and enjoyed this land, smiling in the sunshine and greenness of summer, or glittering with the frosts and snows of winter.

As History is the story of mankind upon the earth, it cannot begin until man has appeared. We do not know when or how the first people came, but after long ages there were fierce warring tribes in various parts of the continent and they began to visit our beautiful streams and rugged shores.

Deposits of shells of this prehistoric age, on the beaches, with spots of charcoal here and there, show that fire was known and used by these savages who roasted and ate the shell-fish. Among the shell heaps are found rude weapons of stone and human bones, charred and cracked for the marrow, showing that these people were cannibals, eating their enemies or prisoners of war, like the fiercest African savages or some of the South Sea Islanders.

Above this deepest layer of shells is a layer of mold, showing that these fierce cannibal tribes had wandered away, perhaps had come only in great war parties for a season and without bringing their families or making homes here.
The layer of earth shows that many years had elapsed before other tribes came, finding these same favored spots, the most remarkable being on some beaches between the lower Kennebec and the Penobscot Rivers. These newer people began also to live upon the shell fish and game of the region, making other shell heaps, among which are found weapons and ornaments of better and more skillful designs. The charcoal and bones of later fires are found there, but no charred human bones, cracked by cannibals in their horrid feasts. These people no longer ate human flesh and were no longer mere untaught savages.

The Indians found by the whites dwelling within the confines of Maine, the Norridgewocks (or Abnakis), Penobscots (or Tarratines), Passamaquoddy and Malecite tribes, all have traditions of a great hero who taught them much, gave them abundant food, cleared their streams and paths for them and was good even to all the animals of the forest, to the birds and the fishes.

He is known as "Clote Scarp" among the Male-cites, as "Klas Kom Beth,'' among the Penobscots and an old Penobscot Indian gave me yet another name and version told him by a descendant of the Norridgewocks, the tribe whose remnants fled, some to Canada and some to the Penobscot tribe, when the English attacked and destroyed Norridgewock in 1724.

This old Penobscot told me of "Waban" (The Morning) of the Norridgewocks and of his deeds of might and magic very like those of Clote Scarp but he also told that Waban was the first child born on the Maine shores after the Abnakis (or Wabanakis, meaning people of the east or the dawn) migrated from central Canada, the original home of all the great Algonkin family.

One day in spring a fleet of canoes had come filled with Indians whose descendants are still left here and there over our State. There were many men, some old and crafty, some young and ardent. And they brought with them their families and goods and the skins which should cover their summer tents on the seashore, while their winter lodges were to be built up the rivers in the denser sheltering forests. The braves dressed their canoes for fish-ing and sailing, or fitted bows and arrows for hunting, while the squaws set up the tents and arranged their fires and hung up their pots and kettles, smiling their stolid smiles in their joy at finding this new homeland.

And one morning of the spring a young Indian mother brought her little son from her wigwam to see for the first time the sunlight and the beautiful world. He was the son of a great chief, fierce and brave, and his baby fists were clenched as if he already felt fierce and brave himself, ready to kill all his foes and even to eat their hearts as his ancestors had often done in their wrath. But when he looked at the trees bending above him, at the fleecy white clouds which tempted him to grasp at them, and at his mother's face, proud and loving near him, he reached only the nearest with his chubby hand and patted it softly and crowed like any little baby of the twentieth century.

His mother's heart must have rejoiced at the caress, even though she hoped he would grow fierce and blood-thirsty and kill his enemies or any who opposed him. As the child grew, he was fierce and brave; but he was different from all others. Whereas his play-mates wrung the necks of the baby gulls which never learned to run away, he stroked their downy bodies and set them free. Whereas others broke the sparrow's eggs, or crushed the field mouse children, he spared them, and he talked with all the wild things of the woods, to each in its own language.

When, in the hunt, he had killed his prey, joy of the chase seemed his, but there was neither hate nor violence in his grasp of the dead deer or waterfowl. And when as a brave he grew mightier than all others and became the greatest chieftain of them all, he taught some 'measure of mercy to the vanquished and forbade others to hate or devour the helpless dead.

So great was his power and magic that he did not die like all other old chiefs but walked away through the forests to the Great Spirit, still stalwart and strong after many, many moons of life among his people, leaving as his descendants all the tribe of Maine, strong braves and dutiful squaws, keeping always in memory their great ancestor - Waban, The Morning, the first of their race born on these shores.

He still clears the streams and forest paths for his people till the end of time and helps the wild things of the woods. He taught the young part-ridges to crouch perfectly motionless, looking like leaves among the leaves at the approach of an enemy, and when the lynx complained that all the other animals were better off than he because his eyes could not see prey unless it was moving. Waban gave him, not new eyes, but such a soft, shadowy gray coat that the other animals could not distinguish him from the shadows of the forests. "Waban" seems ''Clote Scarp," ''Klas Kom Beth" and "Hiawatha" in one.

And this Abnaki legend tells the birth of Maine with the coming of its first home-makers and its first hero who was a great warrior, but also a teacher of mercy and the ancestor of the great Bashaba of the Penobscots, of Samoset of Pemaquid and of Squanto, who prayed he might go to the "white man's heaven." Maine, as the home of mankind, had begun her long history; her first story that of the Red Man or Indian.

Mary Dunbar Devereux


Source: Maine My State, The Maine Writers Research Club, The Journal Print Shop, Lewiston, Maine, 1919

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