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Squandro was sachem of the Sokokis tribe in 1675, an American Indian tribe that lived near the Saco River at Saco in Maine. Squandro gained respect among whites because his tribe lived in peace with white settlers for about 50 years. Legend dictates that Squandro returned a white girl who had been captured in a previous raid and reared by his tribe. Dignified and solemn, Squandro was believed to have powers of sorcery and magic. Due to white settlers killing his son and perhaps his wife, Squandro uttered the "Saco Curse" and carried out the first blow in King Philip's War.[1]

Saco curse[edit]

In the summer of 1675, three sailors from an English ship that was anchored at the mouth of the Saco River departed by rowboat, approaching the Indians retreat at Factory Island. When the sailors saw Squandro's pregnant wife and infant son Menewee, they decided to test the European belief that an Indian baby can dog paddle upon birth as do animals. The belief stemmed from the natives' dog paddle style as opposed to the European breaststroke. The three sailors attacked the two Native Americans, throwing Squandro's infant son into the Saco River in front of the child's mother. The infant sank and the mother dove in and retrieved him. However, the infant soon died due to the incident. Another version of the legend states that both the pregnant mother and child died. Chief Squandro mourned for three days, then in a fit of rage he cursed the river, saying that the river would "claim three lives a year until all white men fled its banks" to replace the lives of the three lost that day. This also ignited violence between the tribe and white settlers and led to the first blow in King Philip's War when Squandro influenced a band of Androscoggins to attack white Saco settlers.[2]

As recently as 1947, residents of the area hesitated to go near the Saco River's waters for fear of the curse of Squandro until after at least three people had drowned each summer. During that time, a year passed with no drownings, and the Maine Sunday Telegram proclaimed that the curse was broken with the headline "Saco River Outlives Curse of Indian Chief." However, local belief holds strong to this day. The history of the incident and its involvement in the war is rarely disputed, but many view the curse with skepticism. It is conceivable that over the span of the river from its beginning in New Hampshire, at least three lives were lost each year since the curse. Though the story began in the 17th century, there is no existing record of the curse until the late 1880s during the Colonial Revival Movement.[3]

The curse may have roots in a natural phenomenon, but one not unique to the river, called "under-tow" by locals. Due to the rivers' narrow historical course, flowing through many rather deep gorges, there remains a much stronger current nearer the rivers' bed than nearer its surface, even in relatively shallow stretches. The problem is compounded by the fact that dams along the river caused several of the deeper gorges to fill to a rather surprising depth, such as the stretch just west and north of Pleasant Point Park in Buxton, Maine caused by the reservoir of the Skelton Dam, also known as "Indian's Cellar" because of the many rock overhangs the river had carved into the local granite, and that are now submerged.

In his book "Secret of Pooduck Island", Alfred Noyes featured an appearance by Squandro's ghost, omitting the R from his name however and spelling it Squando. The ghost spoke in a remote and profound manner, alluding to an intervention by Glooskap that prevented him from using a magic pipe to wish the white man purged from North America: it might cost him the life of his wife. The ghost gives the character Solo a wampum rosary made by a mysterious figure, never named, that is likely Glooskap himself in the guise of a Maine trapper: this same character frequently speaks to Solo by words heard on the wind. The ghost is represented as eternally searching for his wife and child's souls, a form of Purgatory.