Friday, April 20, 2018

A matter of historical record: Frontiersman Joe Wier – historical fact or folklore? By Walter Lunt

Depiction of Joe Wier's log house - Ilsely, 1856
Truth or fiction, evidenced-based or embellishment, we all enjoy a good story. Many come from our history, like the many tales of Joseph Wier: hunter, adventurer and Indian fighter. Known in history as “The Scout,” Wier (also spelled Ware, Wear, and Weare) is said to have harbored deep resentment toward the local Natives who had killed his parents during a raid on their farm in the settlement of North Yarmouth. 
In his book “Forest and Shore, Legends of the Pine Tree State” (1856), Charles P. Ilsely wrote that Wier, a loner, built his log house at Stroudwater, several miles from populous Falmouth Neck – “…he wore a cap made from the skin of an animal, a loose hunting frock, a girt about the waist with a deerskin belt and leggings and moccasins similar to those worn by the red man.”

Although there is no historical record of such an event, tradition holds that “savages” appeared at Mallison’s Falls in New Marblehead (Windham) in the summer of 1746, killing Wier’s sister and carrying off Wier’s young daughter, Mabel, who had been visiting her aunt. The Scout raced to New Marblehead, and teaming up with his young friend James Mayberry, tracked the kidnappers into the wilderness. Coming upon his daughter and a sleeping Indian in the night, Wier and Mayberry crept forward and “untied her fetters,” then struggled with the awakened Indian who was shot by Mayberry.
During their return trek to Wier’s hut at Stroudwater, the trio encountered blood curdling yells from the dark forest. Wier comforted his frightened daughter saying, “Cheer up, it is wolves. ‘Tis a dismal sound, but they won’t bother us.” A few years later Mabel and James were married, and the old Scout told James, “I am more proud to receive you as a son than if you were the King’s own.” 

Doubtless the tales of Joseph Wier are a blend of history and folklore. Call it “histo-lore.” 

Thrilling and provocative as they are, the stories seem far-fetched. They sold books however, and certainly keep a listener’s attention. One classic example is the following account of Wier’s adventure at Lewiston Falls (now Great Falls). One dark night, it seems the Scout came upon an Indian war party engaged in a water sport. Rigorously paddling their canoes upstream, they then raced each other in the swift current down to the head of the falls where a bonfire served as a warning to go ashore. Wier waited until the Indians had gone far up the river. He extinguished their fire and built a new one high in a tree beyond the falls. Deceived by Wier’s new bonfire, the paddlers were swept over the falls to their deaths.

Wier’s title, “Indian Scout,” originated from his profound hatred of all Native peoples. He would help the early settlers by scouting a vast region, collecting intelligence on their activities and whereabouts. He was known to engage them in areas from Biddeford to Falmouth and from New Marblehead to Brunswick. Many of the stories go beyond exaggeration. 

Signage at Memorial Park in Durham honors veterans and reads, in part, Joe Wier Famous Scout and Indian Fighter Ranged Here
One particularly grisly tale tells of Wier’s encounter with six Indians who approached him as he was splitting logs near his house. The visitors wanted to know where Joe Wier lived. The quick-thinking Scout said he knew and would show them when he finished opening the last log. Wier implored the Indians to pull on each side of the log while he hammered down on a wedge. Wier’s deft swing knocked the wedge out of the log, causing the seam to close and lock on his helpers’ fingers. A painful trap. Wier then proceeded to deliver six death blows with his axe.

In a story similar to the rescue of his daughter, it seems Wier had rescued two white girls from a party of Indians near Duck Pond (Highland Lake). He had waited for nightfall to untie and lead the girls away from their captors but was discovered and pursued after escaping only a short distance. The young ones were scared and slow in the retreat, so Wier decided to hide them in a shallow cave at the foot of ledges located in what is now called the Land of Nod (Road). 

The crafty Scout led the pursuers in a different direction, then circled back and took the girls to safety in New Marblehead’s Province Fort. Capt. Abraham Anderson, who headed up the Fort militia, named the area Ware’s Ledges, which are located off the Land of Nod Road at the base of Clark’s
Hill in Windham.

Ilsely’s 1856 account of Wier’s adventures, along with some creative stories handed down through oral tradition, make for some thrilling narratives. Some call them yarns. But perhaps they’re simply “histo-lore.”

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