You won’t believe these tales of the Maine woods but they are all true!

More Old Talkes of the Maine Woods croppedThe head waters of the Connecticut and Magalloway Rivers have been good hunting ground for moose and caribou, but like the region about Moosehead Lake, an indiscriminate slaughter of this noble game in season and out, has made them very scarce… Until the Game Law is enforced the hunter must penetrate the wilds of New Brunswick or Cape Breton if he would kill large game.

This is the first of many sections of More Old Tales of the Maine Woods that I highlighted. While I intended to dip into the tales, compiled by Steve Pinkham in a fascinating book, over a period of time, I couldn’t stop reading, the highlighter handy in my shirt pocket.

steve pinkhamPinkham is an historian, Maine native now living in Massachusetts, and collector of more than 25,000 articles and stories of the Maine woods. I enjoyed a very interesting conversation with Steve at the Orono Sportsman’s Show a few weeks ago.

In this book, and his earlier book Old Tales of the Maine Woods, Steve gives us an array of stories that are astonishing. Wait ‘til you read “A Good Bear Story,” originally printed in the History of Bethel, Maine.

If Steve didn’t assure me otherwise, I would think these were tall tales. Here’s one: In 1869 the Franklin Chronicle reported that there was a great rush of sportsmen to the Rangeley Lakes, and that Barden’s Hotel in Phillips “is crowded every night, with parties from Boston and New York… a party of three came out Monday, bringing with them 200 lbs. of trout.”

And this one could be a harbinger for this year. The ice was still thick on Rangeley Lake, that on May 12, 1875, a six-ox team loaded with boards, was driven across the lake.

I also took special note of this passage from “Trout Fishing in Maine,” originally published in 1873 in “The American Sportsman”:  One of our party was pretty used up by this time with the hard traveling, and the medicine chest as brought forth and its contents examined, and thimble-full of “Extractus cannabis” prescribed the medicine man. Its effects were truly astonishing, and it was voted that the same dose be taken all around.  Ahem.

Being a fan of the Rangeley River, I was interested to read an 1874 story in which the author reported, I look back to the time when I landed with an eight-ounce rod, forty-eight trout weighing fifty-six pounds in two hours fishing. Wow!

The tales are not all about fishing. This 1889 story from Forest and Stream got my attention: After 1840 for nearly twenty years moose were abundant in Maine, and it was lawful to kill them with dogs or at any time of the year; so almost everybody laid in a supply of moose meat each winter for the year, which was saved by smoking, drying or salting.

And considering that I grew up in Winthrop, the location of Androscoggin Lake, and still live in the area, I was stunned to read, Few places could be found in America that would please the hunter of today as well as the Androscoggin Lakes region of Maine. It was, in fact, a paradise for large game such as the deer, caribou, moose, and bear, as well as for the hunter.

I lived in the wrong century!

My copy of the book, already well worn, is filled with yellow-highlighted sections like this one: Few people know that in 1772… two trappers worked their way up the Dead River and built a hut at Stratton Brook. One trapper was killed by a mountain lion and the other barely escaped with his life.

Yikes! Maybe I better be satisfied with the century in which I am living.

Been to Moosehead lately? Listen to this: A great hunting excursion took place on November 12, 1848 on Sugar Island, the party consisting of over one hundred hunters. They formed a line and made a clean sweep of the island. To prevent the bears, deer, moose and smaller animals from escaping into the water, they had a string of boats ready, resulting in great slaughter.

The U.S. Humane Society would not approve!

In the next paragraph we read: That same year the Barre Gazette of Vermont, reported that five tons of salmon trout were taken from Moosehead Lake the past winter – some weighing 30 pounds each. The Pittsfield Sun reported that the total trout taken amounted to two thousand dollars’ worth of fish.

And this is just a fraction of the stories you get in these books.

I do have to report one additional passage, given its appropriateness for the 2014 referendum that would ban bear hunting with bait and dogs and bear trapping. This comes from an 1893 story in Forest and Stream: Yes, bears are pretty thick this year, but it’s rather cur’us fact that people don’t see much of ‘em in the woods… Me and my brother, we come across bear in the woods las’ winter, said my Indian guide, ‘he had hole under the roots where big spruce blow over, and we kill him with axe. We been in the woods choppin’ and don’t have no gun.

There’s a story about Alex McLain and his son Will, who built “the famous Phoenix Camps on Sourdnahunk Lake about 1896.” I now own one of the camps at Phoenix, which was turned into a condo project when the sporting camps closed around 1990. Pinkham offers a story about a Moose Warden who arrested a New Yorker who “camped three falls up at Soudnahunk Lake, and few sportsmen ever go up there.”

Don’t I wish!

Your wish should be to acquire both of these books and settle in for some good reading by the fire. I’m sure you have time to read them both before winter ends this year!





George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.