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York Indian Legend Might be Real

Legends of Agamenticus

We have tried and failed to unlock the Aspinquid legend using the tools available to New England historians. But this is not really a local story. It belongs to the Mi’kuaq or the Penobscot. By the time of the death of Abinquid in 1696 almost all of the indigenous Indians of this region had been driven to Canada, leaving no one here to tell the story. Our faded Agamenticus legend is simply an echo of stories told by the Native elders to the north. And as each generation passes, that echo grows fainter, even in Halifax where traditional tales are rapidly disappearing.

"Mi’kmaq tradition very much sounds like it is describing Mt. Agamenticus," Awalt told me during our lengthy phone discussion last week.

Proving that Abinquid was buried there – short of discovering the grave itself – remains difficult, if not impossible. Awalt points out that, even in written records, his name is spelled many ways including Ahanquit, Ahenquid and Honquild.

Awalt is amused by the wild romantic fictions that have been attached to Saint Aspinquid by white Christian historians. He certainly did not, Awalt says, travel to the West Coast converting Indians along the way. The idea that Native Americans sacrificed 6,723 wild animals at his funeral, according to Awalt, is "utterly ridiculous".

Ron Nowell of York agrees. Nowell says that his own ancestors, members of the Trafton family, made up tall tales about the Indians of Agamenticus to make money off the influx of tourists starting in the 1870s.

"They picked up on that [Saint Aspinquid] story and people’s natural interest in the Indian culture, Nowell says.

Among the manufactured lore, according to Nowell, was the field of "Indian graves" displayed to tourists who paid to ride the Trafton wagon up Agamenticus hill. In fact, the graves were simply piles of stones created by an earlier generation of sheep farmers trying to carve out a living on the craggy hill. Nowell’s grandmother, who died recently at age 96, said she could hear the ringing of the sheep’s bells at night when she was young.


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Monday, January 22, 2018 
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