Legend of Chief Chocorua
Mount Chocorua was long said to bear the name of Chief Chocorua, a fictitious Native American who, according to legends created by white colonists, lived with his young son in the area that is now Tamworth, New Hampshire, in the early 1700s. Historian Mary Ellen Lepionka has written extensively on the lack of supporting evidence for this myth, and on possible origins of the name shared now by mountain and lake.
Some versions of the legend say that Chocorua stayed behind in Tamworth after most of his fellow Pequawkets had moved north to Canada to avoid conflict with the white man following the 1725 Battle of Lovewell’s Pond in nearby Fryeburg, Maine.
The most common story is that Chocorua was particularly friendly with a settler named Cornelius Campbell and his family. One day Chocorua was called away for tribal business and asked if the Campbells could watch his young son Tuamba while he was gone. While Chocorua was gone, the boy found and drank a bottle of poison that Cornelius Campbell had made to eliminate troublesome foxes, and Chocorua returned to find his son had died. Chief Chocorua, distraught with grief, pledged revenge on the family. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Campbell returned home one afternoon to find his wife Caroline and children had been slain.
Campbell suspected Chocorua and pursued him up the mountain that today bears his name. Chocorua climbed atop the highest boulder on the summit and, knowing that death was at hand, raised his arms to the sky and shouted:
“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!”
Chocorua then leapt off the mountain and fell to his death on the rocks below.
One version of the Chief Chocorua Legend
From Battle of the Bush: Dramas & Historic Legends (published 1886), by Robert B. Caverly
Prior to the settlement of New England by the white man little or nothing is known of its history. The deeds, noble or otherwise, of the native Indians, as well as the terrible happenings of the then past, are all covered in oblivion. And, as appears from the date of the first settlements, for an hundred years its annals, as now recorded, are but little else than a narrative of conflicts fraught with thrilling incidents.
Among the events which constitute the beginning of New England’s history, the story of Chocorua, his eventful life, his death, and the terrible curse that seemed to have followed his downfall, hath been made conspicuous.
It comes down from tradition, it has been told as true by Samuel Drake, by T. Starr King, and others, poets as well as historians. This Indian, as it appears, was chief of the Pequakets, who, with his tribes, wandered in the hills of New Hampshire during the first half of the eighteenth century. His wigwams, for the most part, stood near the north shore of the great lake ; his hunting- grounds were vast, and the lofty mountain on which he finally fell by the gunshot of a white man still bears his name. Indeed, his history is as true as it is tragic.
This proud chief, who lived in romantic times, and who roamed in the wilderness of this then uncivilized world, witnessed in his day many a tragic scene. North of the Winnipisseogee was a region of country which was attractive to the wild hunter on account of its mountain cliffs, and of its limpid waters, from which a large supply of fish, also of bears and other wild game, was obtained. There this wild man, Chocorua, ruled and wandered with his tribes. The mountain of which we have spoken stands in the town of Burton, now Albany.
The story of his life and departure is this: Chocorua had a little son, and the squaw of his choice being dead, the boy was accustomed to follow the father in the deep forest, on hunting excursions. But the boy, being away from home one day, visited a white settlement, got poisoned, and returning to his wigwam fell sick and soon died. This terribly exasperated the valiant chief, as he verily believed the settlers had poisoned the lad purposely.
Cornelius Campbell, as they say, a white settler, lived near there. And in the course of a few days this white man had occasion to be away from home. But alas!
On his return he was horrified at finding all his family dead in the cot. In due time, the family being buried and the neighboring settlers having united, they pursued the chief as the murderer into this mountain, and, seeing him upon a crag of it, hailed him and commanded him to jump off. ” Me won’t,” he exclaimed, ” the Great Spirit gave Chocorua his life, and he will not throw it away at the bidding of the white man.” Upon that Campbell, raising his gun, shot him. Chocorua fell wounded fatally, and, while dying, he in doleful accents pronounced dread curses upon the English ; such a curse, as they say, still remaining there to this day, rests upon everything in and about all that region. And ever since that time the same dread condition of things has been reported, and generally credited to be the dire results which emanated from the dying maledictions of Chocorua. Such a curse as in another place we have elaborated : —
And thus the story oft is told,
Chocorua hateful here of old,
Brought maledictions many.
“Curse on yr white man’s soul,” he prayed.
Curse on yer living and the dead.
Nor give him gospel any.”
“Yr war-path let it lay in snares,
Yr fields laid low of frost and tares,
Yr pestilence supernal.
Of crimes accursed for aye to know,
Prompt penalties of pain and woe,
On all yr heads infernal!
“Vile, heartless knaves I Ye killed my boy,
My own Keoka’s darling joy,
Ere in the grave she rested;
By deadly drugs laid low he died,
Me too ye ‘ve slain ! let devils deride
Ye, tortured, damned, detested.
“Ho ! let the war-whoop lead the fight.
The torch, the tomahawk at night,
Yr habitations storming;
Drive deep the axe, the scalping blade,
Spare never a white man, child, or maid;
Give carnage to the morning.
“Great Spirit let thy lightnings flash,
Thy fiery vengeance let it dash,
Down where the paleface prowls,—
On Campbell’s head, on all he owns,
Let panthers perch upon his bones,
While hot in h—11 he howls.”
Thus prayed Chocorua, bleeding, slain;
Vengeance from thence eternal came.
Destruction dreadful, certain.
Nay, ever since from then to this,
Not a breath of hope, nor breeze of bliss.
Hath moved the woods of Burton.
Strange now in shadows stands the sun ;
The Indian hunter’s day is done,
In these New England borders.
A baleful shaft his heart hath broken,
Out from the cloud the fates betoken
Unwonted, dread disorders.
Dark on that night and hitherto,
The heavens let fall malarious dew,
Far down these murky mountains.
Of all the flowers, not one is known.
The maple leaf is dry half grown,
And death is in the fountains.
The moping owl hath ceased to hoot.
The scrub-oak falters at the root.
And the snail is lank and weary.
The fated fawn hath found his bed,
Huge hawks, high flying, drop down dead
Above that apex dreary.
Faded the vales, no fruits adorn,
The fields are pale with poisoned com.
The flocks are lean repining.
No growth the panting pastures yield,
And the staggering cattle roam the field,
Forlorn in death declining
‘T is thus we ‘re made the slaves of earth,
Mope in miasmas deep in dearth,
Sad from some bad beginning.
From cruelty to friend or foes,
Our morbid pains and mental woes
Prove but the pangs of sinning.
High now a voice is in the air,
As if Chocorua still were there,
With wood-nymphs wild attending;
‘T is heard far up the mountain side.
That plaint of earth’s down-trodden tribe,
Bleak with the zephyrs blending.
Great God, forgive our Saxon race,
Blot from thy book no more to trace,
Fraternal wrath infernal;
That taints the atmosphere we breathe,
The sky above and earth beneath.
With dearth and death eternal.