Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Legend of Chocorua

If the weather holds out tomorrow, we’re off to hike Mt. Chocorua by way of the Champney Falls Trail. It is named after the influential head of the White Mountain Painters, Benjamin Champney. I think it is appropriate to take this route because of Mr. Champney as my fascination with the White Mountain Artists continues to grow and several of them focused much of their time on painting Chocorua. The route leaves the Kancamagus Highway from the north and is reportedly the easiest way to get to the top of the summit.

While not one of the highest peaks in the Whites (it’s not even a 4,000-footer), it is one of the most storied, beautiful and dramatic peaks. Its jagged pinnacle can be seen from most of the 4,000-footers. And even better, Chocorua even has its own legend.

The following appears on the Appalachian Mountain Club’s website:
If this narrative portrays the power over nature as expressed through prophesy, then the well-known legend of Chocorua conveys the power of the curse. This legend unfolds in the Sandwich Mountain range, some twenty miles south of Crawford Notch. In 1725 the Abenaki left the region after losing a battle with white soldiers, but one of their chieftains, Chocorua, would not leave because this had been the home of his people for generations and the burial ground of his ancestors. He stayed and reared his beloved young son and formed friendships with some of the neighboring white settlers in the region, including a man named Campbell.

One time Chocorua had to travel to Canada to meet with those of his people who had migrated north, and he left his son in Campbell's care. The boy found some poison that Campbell had concocted to kill a pesky fox, and he drank part of it and soon died. When Chocorua returned to find his son dead and buried, he was overcome with grief. Quickly, though, grief turned to rage and a vow of revenge. Soon after, Campbell returned to his cabin from working in the fields and found the slain bodies of his wife and children on the cabin floor.

Now it was the white man's turn for fury and revenge. He chased Chocorua to the top of the mountain that now bears his name and shot him there. But before dying, Chocorua placed a curse upon Campbell and the other white settlers. One chronicler of this legend describes the curse in most vivid terms.

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 man! (qtd. in Kilbourne, 12).

According to the legend, Chocorua's curse resulted in the poisoning of the water supply of several nearby towns, and cattle that drank the water died. Eventually those deaths were traced to the presence of muriate of lime in the water supply. Even so, this resilient legend has remained a famous part of the folklore of the White Mountains.

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