Marker #31 The Chocorua Legend

22 02 2010

#31 The Chocuroua Legend

Marker Text:

In several versions the legend’s sequence relates the mysterious death of Chocorua’s son while in the care of a settler named Campbell. Suspicious of the cause, the Pequawket chieftain took revenge on the settler’s family. Then, in retaliation, Campbell killed Chocorua on the peak of the mountain now bearing the Indian’s name.

This marker is located on Rt 16 in Tamworth, near the northern end of Lake Chocorua.  It was erected in 1965.


Town-Seal-RGB[1]Anyone who has driven up Rt 16 toward Conway from Ossipee has probably seen the  bare rocky crag that is the peak of Mount Chocorua (Cho-KOO-roo-wa). It’s a favorite climb for day hikers and offers terrific views from the exposed summit.  The Mountain, the Chief and the Legend all pre-date the founding of the town of Tamworth in 1766.

The conflict of the French and Indian war of the early 1700s faded by1720, but tension remained between the French and British colonists over the Acadia region.  Begining in 1721 Dummer’s War would involve the Ossipee and Tamworth area.  That topic is for an upcoming marker, but it’s important to try to get the timing right on The Chocorua Legend.

There are many tellings of this legend.  In some Chocorua is a loner, in others a survivor of Dummer’s war. Sometime’s he has a son, and sometime’s he doesn’t.  He is Hero, villain, or innocent bystander. But the ending is always the same.

#31 zpic7 Mount Chocorua, looking north across a frozen Lake Chocorua.  January 2010

For 40 years before the legend of Chocorua the French and English colonists fought over land in New England. It was in this new environment of settlers and war that he lived most of his life as the local tribes gave way to – and were used by – the newcomers.

Chocorua, however had always had friendly relations with the English.  Richard Andros, in his poem from Chocorua and other sketches (1838) describes a weary, beaten and sick man who has lost all family and tribe to the pestilence and war, before finding a sympathetic woman living alone in her cabin.  She nurses him to health and he pledges eternal friendship with the white man.

In the 1835 Lady’s Cabinet Album  (a reader to excite the ladies of the day)  Chocorua is a local icon well known around the small settlement near the mountain with a young son.  He befriends a family with children his own sons age, the Campbell’s, before tragedy strikes.  Cornelius Campbell and his wife Caroline had fled England after the return of Charles II.  Soon after arriving in Boston they tired of the crowds of the city and set out to find a place a place to settle into a more peaceful life.


Chocorua spent his entire life on and around “his” mountain.  It happened that one day he was called to a tribal meeting and left his son in the care of the Campbell’s.  Chocorua’s son and the Campbell children were  fast friends and often were found sampling the treats and foods that Caroline prepared. 

Wolves and foxes were a problem in the area often terrorizing the livestock of the Campbell’s.  Despite his best attempts with traps and rifle, Cornelius had little luck in stopping them.  Finally he prepared a poison that would end the problem once and for all.  But it seems he forgot to heed the advice “Keep out of reach of children.”  Chocorua’s son, mistaking the bottle for a liquid treat prepared by Caroline, sampled the poison.

51866W6EBYL._SL500_AA240_[1] It was a slow death. The Campbell’s fretted over the boy all that day and through the night trying in vain to help him.  By morning he had fallen into a deep sleep from which he would never wake.  They  buried him near a stone at the edge of the forest.

On his return Chocorua was devastated.  He retreated to his mountain feeling betrayed. The anger inside him would build even as he grieved for his son and revenge became his only thought.  He would stay in isolation until the time was right.

One bright morning Cornelius loaded his wagon with corn to take to the mill some 10 miles away.  While he was away Chocorua struck.  He butchered  Caroline and the children in the cabin then retreated once more to his mountain.

Cornelius would return home to a forever changed life.

In such a mind, grief, like all other emotions, was tempestuous. … the remembrance of their love clung to him like the death grapple of a drowning man, sinking him down, down, into darkness and death. This was followed by a calm a thousand times more terrible—the creeping agony of despair, that brings with it no power of resistance.

These who knew and reverenced him, feared that the spark of reason was for ever extinguished. But it rekindled again; and with it came a wild, demoniac spirit of revenge. The death-groan of Chocorua would make him smile in his dreams …

There was no need to guess where Chocorua may have gone.  There was only one place he would go – his mountain. Campbell assembled a party of men to go after him and headed for the mountain. They pursued Chocura and drove him to the top of the mountain, finally cornering him at the edge of a cliff.  Campbell leveled his rifle and ordered Chocorua to jump.

choc1 Chocorua refused saying “The Great Spirit gave life to Chocorua; and Chocorua will not throw it away at the command of a white man!”  Campbell fired, wounding Chocorua in the neck. 

Chocorua reeled from the shot, teetering on the edge of the precipice, but he recovered enough to raise both hands bravely and in a defiant voice said, “A curse upon ye, white men!  May the Great Spirit curse ye when he speaks in the clouds, and his words are fire!  Chocorua had a son—and ye killed him while the sky looked bright!  Lightning blast your crops!  Wind and fire destroy your dwellings!  The Evil Spirit breathe death upon your cattle!  Your graves lie in the war-path of the Indian! Panthers howl, and wolves fatten over your bones!  Chocorua goes to the Great Spirit—his curse stays with the white men!”

His curse completed Chocura threw himself over the cliff and fell to his death.


The curse above is from the Lady’s Cabinet Album, and is repeated in a current book “Cursed in New England”.  There is another version in Andros’ poem that reads;

Great spirit, hear!
If innocence can aught avail with thee,
Let not my blood go down, without revenge,
To earth! but may my curse rest on this spot
Forever! and each thing—each living thing,
Perish upon these hills! and blight, and death,
And desolation wrap the scene!

The Lady’s album (The story by Lydia Maria Childs) speaks of Chocorua falling down dead and  Andros has him jumping. So it is with legends.  No doubt there was a Chocorua at the time, and the Campbell’s were certainly real enough.  Trying to track down the details is like playing “Telephone” across centuries.


Marker #11 First Ascent of Mount Washington

12 11 2009


Marker Text:

Darby Field, a New Hampshire settler, accomplished this feat in 1642 from a southerly approach. Partly guided by Indians and with only primitive equipment at his disposal, he is thus alleged to be the originator of all Mount Washington ascensions.

This Marker is located on the Northbound side of Rt. 16 about 1/3rd of a mile North of the Pinkham Notch AMC headquarters.  It was erected in 1963.


Darby Field (1610-1649) was one of the early settlers of New Hampshire.  We know that he was present to accompany Captain Neal on a first exploratory trip into the interior of New Hampshire in 1632.

Field probably arrived in New Hampshire in 1631.  A bit of information from Sanborne (p307) indicates that he was soldier, sent to assist the exploration of New Hampshire:

"By the bark Warwick, we send you a factor to take care of the trade goods; also a soldier for discovery." "This soldier," says Mr. Potter, "was doubtless Darby Field, an Irishman who, with Captain Neal and Henry Jocelyn, discovered the White Mountains in 1632."

By 1635-38, he had settled in what is now Durham on the South side of the Oyster River (at the time, part of Exeter).

We have seen that the men of Dover collectively bought land of the Indians in 1635. Soon after that date they elected their governor, but what powers were conferred upon him can not now be told. They granted land before the year 1640 to several men at Oyster River, where Darby Field was in quiet possession of the "Point" earlier than 1639.

…On the other hand Darby Field, Ambrose Gibbons, Thomas Stevenson, William Williams and probably others then living on the south side of Oyster River, in what is now Durham …

Stackpole Vol 1 pp 29-30

His journey to the top of Mount Washington is not well documented  The best description comes from the Journal of Governor John Wentworth, (Volume 2, p62-63).  I’ll break the narrative down, and let’s see if we can’t follow Darby’s Trip.

“One Darby Field, an Irishman, living about Pascataquack, being accompanied with two Indians, went to the top of the white hill.  He made his journey in 18 days.”

Field and two guides head off.  Later, we will see he enlisted further help.

“His relation at his return was, that it was about one hundred miles from Saco, that after 40 miles travel he did, for the most part, ascend…”

Surprisingly accurate! A Google map search from Saco, ME to Mt. Washington gives 3 routes by car: 87, 91, and 115 miles.  Various accounts say he “paddled up the Saco River”. Conway NH is 32 miles (by car) from the Mountain.  From what comes next, we can guess where he might have been.

“for the most part, ascend, and within 12 miles of the top was neither tree nor grass, but low savins, which they went upon the top of sometimes, but a continual ascent upon rocks, on a ridge between two valleys filled with snow, out of which came two branches of Saco river, which met at the foot of the hill where was an Indian town of some 200 people.”

This part can be confusing, I’ll reverse this a bit.  Let’s start with the Indian town.  As best I can guess, this could be the confluence of the Saco and Ellis Rivers in Bartlett New Hampshire, near the Base of Mount Kearsarge.  The Abenaki name of the Mountain, is “Pequawket.” This little fact leads to:

In 1642 Darby Field paddled up the Saco River in a canoe. This was over 300 years ago. He told about seeing thousands of acres at Pigwacket, an Indian town, This Indian town included all the land which is now Conway and Fryeburg, Maine.

It’s probably safe to say that the Indian town was in and around present day Mt. Washington Valley.  Now lets check the first part of the last quote:

…and within 12 miles of the top was neither tree nor grass, but low savins, which they went upon the top of sometimes, but a continual ascent upon rocks,…

This would indicate that they began the climb, and cleared the tree line.  However, we have to look at the next portion of the narrative:

Some of them accompanied him within 8 miles of the top, but durst go no further, telling him that no Indian ever dared to go higher, and that he would die if he went. So they staid there till his return, and his two Indians took courage by his example and went with him.

Some of the Indians from the town accompanied Field on his trek to the top, but at abut 8 miles, they would go no further.  Field and his 2 guides from Exeter went on alone.  This makes you wonder about the whole 12 mile comment 3 paragraphs above.  There is no place in the Presidential Range that I know of that opens up above the tree line, and stays above, with 12 miles to go to the top of Mt. Washington.  And you know me, I love maps  So lets stick one in here!  Any hikers that know this area, leave a comment correcting me please!

mt wash topo

Click the map, and you can go to the Topographic map of the area, click the MyTopo button and explore!

The best route I can come up with probably started somewhere around Piknham Notch and went up the current Boott Spur trail, taking our intrepid band of explorers first to Boott Spur, which gives a clear view South to : “…which they went upon the top of sometimes, but a continual ascent upon rocks, on a ridge between two valleys filled with snow, out of which came two branches of Saco river, which met at the foot of the hill where was an Indian town…”  it would be easily visible on a clear day.  That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

“They went divers times through the thick clouds for a good space, and within 4 miles of the top they had no clouds, but very cold. By the way, among the rocks, there were two ponds, one a blackish water and the other reddish. The top of all was plain about 60 feet square.”

This almost sounds like they went by the Lakes of the Clouds, but it could have been some puddles.  Up through the clouds with dropping temperatures they finally reach the top where Wentworth describes what Field saw.

Mount Washington Observatory 

On the north side there was such a precipice, as they could scarce discern to the bottom [Great Gulf –Mike]. They had neither cloud nor wind on the top, and moderate heat.

All the country about him seemed a level, except here and there a hill rising above the rest, but far beneath them [probably the Presidential Range]. He saw to the north a great water which he judged to be about 100 miles broad, but could see no land beyond it.

The sea by Saco seemed as if it had been within 20 miles. He saw also a sea to the eastward, which he judged to be the gulf of Canada: he saw some great waters in parts to the westward, which he judged to be the great lake which Canada river comes out of [Probably Lake Champlain] .

He found there much muscovy glass,[Mica Formations] they could rive out pieces of 40 feet long and 7 or 8 broad.

More than 350 years ago, before the distances Field was seeing had hardly been explored, it’s to be expected that he would base his observations on the few watery landmarks that were known at the time.  All in all, it was a wonderful observation.

When he came back to the Indians, he found them drying themselves by the fire, for they had a great tempest of wind and rain.

Welcome to New England.  Don’t like the weather?  Wait around a bit, it’ll change.

About a month after he went again with five or six in his company, then they had some wind on the top, and some clouds above them which hid the sun. They brought some stones which they supposed had been diamonds, but they were most crystal. See after, another relation more true and exact.

And here the Narrative ends. Think for a moment how the Wilderness must have seemed 350 years ago to the early settlers and Darby Field.  No towns beyond the coast, no roads or settlements.  Just forest and Native American tribes.  It must have been quite a trip.

Finally, my video of Darby Field’s expedition, using the Google Earth Trip Function.  I hope you enjoy it!


This was a great marker to research.  Bonus point to anyone that can identify the Music in the above Video.  Leave a comment!