The Last Abenaqui Chief At Bellows Falls, Vermont

 

During the period of years just previous to the coming of the white settlers in 1753 to the vicinity of what was then known as the "Great Falls," now Bellows Falls, in the Connecticut river, large numbers of the tribe of Indians known as the "Abenaquis" had come here from their northern homes in the spring of each year because of the excellent fishing below and in the falls. Their stay here was only temporary, there being no history of permanent Indian settlements in this immediate vicinity.

During all the first half of the last century small parties of more civilized and peaceable Abenaqui Indians used to visit Bellows Falls nearly every summer, coming from their homes in Canada and New York state. They came down the Connecticut in their canoes, usually bringing supplies of baskets and other trinkets which they had manufactured during the previous winters, which they sold to citizens of Bellows Falls and to the then large number of summer visitors. They usually encamped on Pine hill, which was north of the village and extended as far north as the residence of the late F. E. Proctor at the extreme north end of Green street. Sometimes they built their wigwams on the beach south of the falls, at times on the Vermont side, at others on the New Hampshire side. The men spent much time fishing in the river and hunting on the hills on both sides of the river, while the squaws carried on the mercantile branch of their business.

The last remnant of this tribe came to Bellows Falls early in the summer, about 1856, in their birchbark canoes. The party consisted of a chief, who was very old and infirm, a young wife and their sons, one about twenty and the other about nine years old, and others.

On the occasion of this last visit they made their camp on Levi Chapin's meadow a short distance above the dam and near the mouth of "Governor's brook," where now stands a part of the village of North Walpole. They built their wigwams in true Indian fashion, of poles, covering them with bark and the skins of wild animals, and during the whole summer the place was of much interest to all in this vicinity. Residents of 25 years ago well remembered them and the interest which all took in them.

The older son spoke good English and was a manly appearing youth. lie was an expert in the use of his rifle and shot gun and collected considerable money from visitors by giving exhibitions of his marksmanship. The little boy was a shy, bare-headed, bushy-haired little savage. The chief himself was very intelligent and conversed interestingly with his visitors. He had fought with the English in different wars and gave many startling incidents connected with his early life and wild mode of living. He had been to England three times and he wore a large silver medal presented to him by King George III in acknowledgment of his services. He was very proud of this, and lost no opportunity to exhibit it to his callers. It bore the king's profile in relief and an appropriate inscription.

Levi Chapin, who was at that time the principal resident of North Walpole, at one time asked if he believed that all the races of men sprang from Adam. With great dignity and deliberation as well as dramatic eloquence he pointed to Mt. Kilburn, saying, "You see yonder mountain-you find the bear there, you find the wild cat there, you find the deer there, you find the Indian there," indicating in this way his belief that the Great Spirit had created the Indian with the other wild creatures to inhabit the mountains from which the white man had driven them.

Late in the season the weather grew cold and the party prepared to return to Canada before the river was frozen over, but the old chief wished to die beside the "Great Falls," and be buried with his fathers. After long continued discussion his wife left him in his wigwam with his two sons, and went north with others of the party. The wigwam was removed to the higher ground near River Street about opposite the former location of Taylor's livery stable.

As the weather grew colder the skins with which the hut was covered gave poor shelter from the late autumn storms. Mr. Chapin and other residents took much interest in the old warrior and carried him food and bedding. Mr. Chapin arranged with the Walpole selectmen and overseer of the poor, George Huntington, to send some lumber with which to construct a suitable shelter. This, however, was never built for the night after the materials were brought the old chief died.

In his last hour he called his elder son to his side and with his finger on his wrist showed how his pulse beat slowly and unsteadily. "I'm going to the Great Spirit," he said, feebly. He gave to his son the medal and the old rifle be had carried in the wars and charged him to wear the one and keep the other as long as he should live. Funeral services were held at the house of Levi Chapin, Rev. John M. Stow, pastor of the Congregational church at Walpole, officiating, and this last local representative of the original tribe of Abenaqui Indians was buried in what was then the Rockingham Town burying-ground, now known as Restland cemetery, on the terraces in the west part of the village of Bellows Falls. No stone was erected to mark the spot, and the old representative of the proud tribe of Abenaquis rests in a grave the location of which cannot be pointed out.

Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.

 

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