The History of Big Alum Lake

Chapter 11

THE STORY OF LAKE POOKOOKAPOG
by Allan Faxon
with an introduction by John C. Puffer
A special thank-you to Lori and Tom Faxon for allowing us to share Allan Faxon's story with our readers.

This is the story of Lake Pookookapog (a.k.a. Big Alum Lake) as told by a young man named Allan Faxon.  Mr. Faxon and four other boys came over from Spencer, MA and discovered the lake in July 1890.  They eventually built a log cabin which they named 'Camp Dan', believed to be the first dwelling established on the shores.  The story includes first hand accounts of exploring the lake, as well as Indian folklore surrounding its history and inhabitants.
The original document is hand written, and is still in the hands of the Faxon family.  Although not dated, I would estimate it was compiled somewhere during the 1890 and 1920 timeframe.  The document printed here is a transcription of the original.  I have strived to faithfully reproduce its contents, and hope I have done it justice.  While easier to read, it does not contain some of the wonderful drawings and hieroglyphics from the original.
For those of you who have spent any time at Lake Pookookapog, I think you will immediately be struck by how insightful this young lad was, and how he has eloquently captured the sentiment many of us share about this place.
The Faxon family has graciously allowed me to reproduce this story, and I feel honored to be able to make these stories available to you.  I hope that by doing so, you and all future generations will join others in the family of those who appreciate the special nature of this lake and its surroundings.
John C. Puffer
October 2004

The Story of Lake Pookookapog - Allan Faxon

Have you ever camped out?  Of all the mind refreshing, body resting, health-giving pastimes, this is the best.  If you haven't tried it, you have missed one of the fullest sides of life.  Take Bryant's advice ( and before this circling year ushers in the 20th century) go forth under the open sky and listen to Nature's teaching.

What boy's life is complete who has not pitched a shelter in the back yard or in the orchard and slept there with Tommy or Johnny all thru the fearful night?  Show me the boy who has not begged permission to go with other young pirates for two weeks of wild life by the shore of Frog Pond or some such place and I will prove he isn't much of a boy anyway.

Among the boys, this mania for camping out is a healthy out-cropping of that bit of savage which they inherit.  I say, blessed is that man who has preserved intact, thru toil and wrack of civilized life, that trace of the savage, that love of the woods which was descended to him from his probably arboreal ancestors.
From my boyish days, I have always loved camp life.  I remember how we youngsters had exhausted all the possibilities of the region about home, and longed for something more wild... for a land infested with wild cats and bears.  We had learned that somewhere in the unexplored parts of Sturbridge, there was a large lake, dotted with islands, its shores covered with a dense growth of pine and its waters well stocked with good horned pout.  I recall how five of us (Allan H. Faxon, Charlie Dunton, Lewis Dunton, Mellins Prouty, LeRoy Ames) tramped over from Spencer on the 2nd of July 1890, to see Alum Pond.  The day was hot and dusty and after our thirteen-mile walk, we were glad to sit down and eat our dinners.

The first thing I did was to strip off and plunge into the cool clear water.  I believe we took out enough for drinking purposes before we went in.  We were a little disappointed in the size of Alum and it had only one island.  However, we decided to camp there, and selected the east side as the best place to pitch our tents.

So for many years we have watched the seasons come and go by the shores of Alum Pond or Lake Pookookapog, and I propose to tell you what I know about that charming sheet of water.  It was by many supposed that at an early period the mineral substance known as alum had been found here, but if so it did not explain the name Pookookapog.  It has been ascertained that both of the names are of the Nipmuk dialect.  Alum signifies 'dog'; and Pookookapog is a corruption of the word "Pookookswog" which signifies 'cats.'

History has but little to tell us about Alum.  No great battles have been fought on its shores; its crystal waters have been unstained with human blood.  Only the sound of the woodsman's axe, or the crack of the hunter's rifle disturbed the solitude in the early days.  Possibly there was merry-making and feasting among the Indians in early Spring when the fishing was good.  I like to imagine how the Red men hunted, camped and fished on these shores, but all traces of them have long since disappeared.  Scarcely an arrow head remains to tell the story of a once powerful tribe.  No wild ruins, no storied urns bring back the past.

There is a pretty legend about the origin of Alum, a part of which I want to repeat.

     The story says that on the hill at the north end of the valley where the pond narrows, there once lived a tribe of Indians. The sachem of this tribe was Winnepecannough, and he had a daughter whose name was Oolnah. It goes without saying that she was beautiful and of course she attracted the attention of many lusty young braves for miles around, any one of whom would have given all his wampum to carry off the coveted prize to his wigwam.
     The young woman, like many other young women, spurned all advances. It looked as if she was doomed to become an old maid. But appearances were deceitful even at that time: she hadn’t met her fate. At last, however, a brave young scalper came out of the East to visit the sachem and patch up some kind of a treaty. This Indian’s name was Macondah. The story says that he put up overnight with the old chieftain. There was Oolnah. It was a case of love at first sight. Her heart was never her own after that.
     Now when the time of Macondah’s departure arrived, when the feasts, dances and games were all over, and the princely ambassador of a powerful nation, with his retinue of braves was about to say goodbye, then the great scalp hunter Macondah stood forward and said,  ‘Great father and chief of a nation of warriors! Macondah is about to depart to the land of his fathers, to say to them that he found the Mogansets with straight tongues, big hearts and open hands: that he ate with them, drank with them, and with them smoked the calumet of peace. Macondah is ready for his long homeward journey of many suns. But ere again his path again winds through the forest, he would crave a boon. While in the lodge of the great chief, his eye looked upon the comely form of Oolnah, whose voice is like the music of running waters. His heard has become soft as a woman’t toward the bright-eyed maid, and he would bear her to his distant lodge, to become the wife of one who will some day be proud and happy to lay at her feet the honors of a valiant chief.’
     This speech did not seem to meet with favor, judging from the frowns of the other warriors who had also been suitors for the fair maiden’s hand. The chief read this frown and replied that the boon was greater than he could grant. Macondah was very much taken aback at this answer, and muttered something about being unworthy of so bright a destiny. He was turning away sad-hearted when Oolnah herself, who had overheard the conversation came forth stately and queenlike and standing between her father and her lover said, "The ears of Oolnah have been open: she has heard the brave Macondah crave a boon which the great chieftain of the Mogansets has declined to grant. Let Oolnah’s voice join with Macondah’s for she would go with him who would take away her heart. Macondah goes alone! Oolnah will never more hear the music of the birds, the breeze and the running streams, because there is no music for her who is without heart. She will nevermore behold the beauty of the heavens and of the earth, because there is no beauty for her whose heart is away. All music, all beauty, all joy are in the heart and Macondah has the heart of Oolnah.’
     Thereupon, the chief called a council and had Macondah wait without. The young prince improved the opportunity to talk with his sweetheart and to lay plans for the future. The lovers feared an adverse decision. Accordingly they had resolved not to remain apart. If Macondah departed without Oolnah, he was to return at midnight, to the great spring by the oak, in the valley, where she was to meet him and they would join their fortunes forever.  
    The judges decided that the lovers must part, never to meet again on penalty of death. Farewells were said, and the warriors departed. But when they were outside the village Macondah shot a blood-stained arrow in the encampment as a sign the treaty was broken.
    That night Macondah arose and stole back to the trysting place to meet his sweetheart. It was a pretty spot at the foot of a huge oak. Oolnah stole silently away from her lodge but was followed stealthily by a jealous rival, who had devined her purpose.
    The lovers met by the spring, and rushed into each others arms. The rival ran behind Macondah and stabbed him in the back. Macondah fell dead. Oolnah uttered such a cry that the whole village was aroused, and rushed to the scene. They found the poor girl standing over the corpse of her lover holding the bloody knife. In a few solemn words she unbraided her father for his cruelty in seeking to separate them. Then with a cry to Macondah she plunged the knife into her own heart and fell back into the spring beside her lover.
     While all stood aghast, rumblings were heard beneath, the earth heaved and shook, then opened and sank, taking all with it. The bright waters rolled over the fearful scene to wash away the stain of crime and blood.  This is the origin of Lake Pookookapog.
 I have never pulled up any tomahawks or bows and arrows when fishing to confirm the truth of this legend.

There is one bit of actual history that is rather interesting.  In fact, it is the only thing that relieves the dull background of the past conditions of this section and connects it with the present.  During our early struggles with the Indians when tomahawks and arrows were a constant menace, when every man went armed to the teeth, there was one brave man who went about doing much good in his great way.  I speak of the Rev. John Eliot.  This apostle carried other weapons for conquering the Indians.  Kindness of heart, an earnest desire that these savages should enjoy the privileges of civilized life, Sir Eliot to undertake the stupendous task that probably could never be accomplished.

You know about the Natick village.  It was Eliot's intention to push out farther into the wilderness and establish a new village.  Beyond the rocky hillsides of Brookfield and lying toward the South was a chain of lakes:  Podunk, Quaboag, and Alum, about whose shores lived the Quaboag Indians, a tribe of the great Nipmuck nation.  Thsi was for the most part an untrod wilderness, and no English settlers had as yet located there.  The Rev. Mr. Eliot occasionally traveled thru this country, a distance of 70 miles from his Roxbury home, for the benevolent and Christian purpose of training the Indians the gospet.  To this end he gathered the natives together and held religious meetings, conducted like those of th English, with prayers, singing, and preaching.  History says the Indians were much interested in these services, and when Mr. Eliot was on a visit in 1655, two of the native chiefs Nattallooweeken and Nakin gave him a tract of 1000 acres on the shores of Pookookapog Lake.  This land, which was given to Eliot on Sept. 27, 1655, was surveyed Aug. 26, 1715.  On June 17 and 22, 1714, the General Assembly of Mass Province had voted to confirm this grant and ordered the survey.  The Eliot Grant was confirmed in council on December 5, 1715.  Joseph Dudley was the Governor of the Province at that time.

Mr. Chase and I went around this plot and re-established to our own satisfaction the corner stones.  We were greatly helped by the stone walks, as in many instances they follow the lines originally laid down.  We started at the point near the pond, following the old wall straight up over Mt. Dan.  From the summit we obtained an extended view of the valley in which the greater part of the tract lies.  We followed along the road to the NW corner, which we thought we could make out by the aid of a stone wall running in a straight line toward the top of Mt. Dan.  We followed another wall south to the road, continuing along this until we reached the cart path and then plunged into a wild tangle of underbrush from which we emerged triumphant to gaze upon a large slab of stone standing on the westerly side of the ridge of rocks.  This was the southwest cornerstone.  To Mr. Chase belongs the honor of discovering this needle in the hay-mow.  It was an impressive moment.  I was carried quickly back 285 years.  I saw those hardy pioneers cutting their way thru this wilderness to lay down and establish these boundaries which we were now so laboriously trying to discover.  We then started for the South-East corner, following along what is said to be the original Bay Path, a few traces of which remain to this day.  There is an old cellar-hole where once stood a house by the side of the Path.  The track winds thru the pasture by the rear of Monahans house, crosses Long Pond coming out in front of the Griffin House.  This structure was built facing the Path and stands with its back-door toward the highway.  I can fancy that this house afforded comfort and shelter to many a weary traveler in those days when electric cars, autos, and bicycles were in an embryo state and existed only as wheels or some other form of witchcraft.
When a band of young savages whooped down upon the shores of Alum Pond in the summer of 1890, there was little evidence then of that mushroom, the modern summer cottage.  Who would have predicted that in 10 years the tide of civilization would set in against its shores that those quiet woods and waters once sacred to the God and would soon echo and re-echo to the shouts of hoi polloi.  But so it has been.  From one small cottage in 1890 the number has grown to 16 in 10 years.  When the new geographies are made Pookookapog will be printed in large letters, as the fashionable summer resort.

Nowadays, people are getting out-of-doors into the woods.  I think the last ten years have seen a marked change in this respect among town people.  Country folk don't camp-out much, but the town boy, shut up in the dingy office, longs to get out in the bright fields, to plunge into the cool waters, to lie in the pleasant shade by his favorite spring and breathe the sweet odor of the pines.  I am glad it is so.  What a dreary life out friends would lead with no bright pictures of  happy summer days to gladden their mind's eye, while those dreary ledger columns toppled over against each other, or when the cash was two cents short.  History repeats itself.  Our forefathers camped in tents or rude cabins of necessity.  What a strong, hardy set of men and women they were!  Now we hot-house plants have to go to the woods and get close down to old Mother Earth in order to renew that strength lost in the treadmill of so-called civilization.

Simpler lives and simpler recreations!  That has been the cry of those discerning ones who have seen into the heart of things.  And no more fitting place can be found to enjoy out-of-door life than at Alum Pond.  I have often heard persons speak slightingly of Pookookapog, but I am sure that no one who has camped there for two weeks can fail to be impressed with the quiet beauty of the place.  Its chief charm is in its naturalness.  Of course the woods along the shore have been hacked down by the ruthless axe of the lumberman.  I have looked in vain for a primeval tree.  However, there ar a few here and there.  One noteworthy group of pines stands near the dam.  Then on the sides of Mt. Dan are some mighty specimens of pine, hemlock, and chestnut which are probably over 150 years old.  On the East shore is a long belt of pines, beautiful with its dark green in winter, but still more beautiful in summer with the ever-changing lights and reflections in the water.

While the hand of man has changed the shores so much, the pond remains about as it did when ages ago the great glacier scooped out its hollow bed.  Of this glacial action there is abundant evidence in the profusion of boulders of amorphous rock that lie along the shores and in the water.  You have only to take a boat and row around the shores to satisfy yourself that some remarkable events took place during the ice age.  Huge piles of rocks at the North End lead you to wonder at the mighty force which broke them from some mountain at the North and dropped them in this kettle-hole.  You will also note the steepness of the shores which pitch into dark depths.  According to the old settlers, this pond has no bottom.  I have found the deepest place to be about 40 feet.  Like most ponds in this section, Alum is dammed, but the curse seems to affect it but little.  Several years ago the Fiskdale Mills Co. laid a siphon in the pond by which nearly all the water could be drawn out, but the farmers could stand no such high-handed rapacity.  A perpetual injunction was placed on the siphon, so that we now have this beautiful sheet of water saved for our own use and behoof forever.

Do not fail to climb Mt. Dan where the fine view will surely repay you for your exertions.  Off to the North the blue Monadnock lifts its sharp peak above the horizon, and nearer looms the graceful Wachusett.  Numerous towns, with their clusters of white houses, checker the vast expanse of green.  While at your feet lies the blue lake, the pleasant eye of the woods.  Then descend to the Log Cabin, Camp Dan, Eliot Park, our humble home where you may rest, enjoy the scenery, listen to our fish stories and hear our camp songs.  Yes, we boys love old Alum and the secret of our attachment is our long acquaintance with the pond.  You may read of the great lakes of other countries and place and doubtless take great pleasure in visiting them, but the greatest are not always the best to live with.  We have seen and explored every nook and cranny of the pond in the last ten years.  I could tell you how our boyish attachment for each other has ripened into brotherly love but I cannot say how much this camp life, how much this friendship has had to do with the making of us.  Its influence has been for the best.  No one could take a 20 years' course of Nature study at Alum and then go out into the larger school of life any less better fitted for his life's work.

Thus it is that Alum has been my teacher.  I have learned to know the birds, the flowers, the fishes, the insects (especially mosquitoes), and everything that goes to make up life in the woods.  I have seen old Alum at all seasons of the year.  When the howling winter's wind has piled huge drifts of snow about the cabin door, when the lake was covered with a sheet of ice two feet thick wiich cracked and boomed like thunder.  I have sat within the cabin beside the roaring fire and contentedly watched the fury of the storm without.  I have seen the wintry sounds give place to warm breaths from the South and Springtime robe the shade trees with white blossoms and tinge the forest with green.  I have heard the great chorus of stylas, peeping merrily to the time of Spring and have listened to songs of the wood thrush and gerry.

Then I have watched the budding Spring blossom into summer, those happy days when life is at full tide.  All too quickly do those days of fishing, swimming and boating fade away into autumn.  Autumn with its chestnuts and walnuts, grapes and apples with its pleasant evenings 'round the fireside,its frosty mornings, its gay leaves, its drumming partridges and its smoky days; at once the gayest and saddest of the seasons.  Until at last the trees are bare, and the witch hazel glows a golden farewell to the waning year.  Then nothing breaks the silence save the chickadee's note or the still sound of the first snowflakes upon the withered leaves.

"If thou art worn and hard beset
with sorrows that thou wouldst forget;
If thou wouldst read a lesson that will keep
thy heart from fainting, and thy soul from sleep;
go to the woods and hills.
No tears dim the sweet look that Nature wears."
                                                      - Longfellow

Introduction, Chapters:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14