Connecticut River Museum Presents

Myths and legends frequently tell stories about creatures and beings whose existence challenges the normal concept of reality or who helped shape the world we live in. Stories about creator gods and goddesses, explanations for geographic formations, and tales of oddities beyond scientific explanation are an important stock of myths and legends.

In the Connecticut River Valley, there is a long history of stories of supernatural wonders. The first peoples imagined powerful spiritual beings that created the natural world and carved the path of the River, and in more
recent times people have reported elusive foxes, wily bears, and giant serpents in or around its shores. Other
stories of strange animals, healing springs, and ghostly visitations remain popular after centuries, with each
generation adding their own twist.

Hobomok and the Great Beaver

super_img

Perhaps no supernatural figure is more significant to the Connecticut River than the Native American deity called
Hobomok. Although European colonists would associate this being with the devil, Hobomok does not fit into simple categories of good and evil, and was considered responsible for both maladies and benefits.

Many surviving stories are retellings of indigenous people’s myths by whites, but native accounts do remain.
In them, Hobomok frequently appears as a giant, a spirit, and an “earthshaper,” a being whose actions establish
the natural landscape.

One such story concerns Hobomok’s role in the creation of Sugarloaf Mountain and part of the Pocumtuck
Range that descends to the Connecticut River in Deerfield, Massachusetts. This myth tells the story of Ktsi
Amiskw, a giant beaver, menacing the Pocumtuck people.

The first written account appears in a small collection of legends gathered by Phinehas Field, an antiquarian and member of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, from 1871:

The great beaver, whose pond flowed over the whole basin north of Mt. Tom, made havoc among the fish and when these failed he would come ashore and devour Indians. A pow-wow was held and Hobmock raised, who came to their relief. With a great stake in hand, he waded the river until he found the beaver, and so hotly chased him that he sought to escape by digging into the ground. Hobmock saw his plan and his whereabouts, and with his great stake jammed the beaver’s head off. The earth over the beaver’s head we call Sugarloaf, his body lies just to the north of it.

Field’s collection was addressed to George Sheldon, the president of the PVMA, who wrote a history of
Deerfield in 1895 that included another version of this story with additional details. This was followed in 1907
by Katharine Mixer Abbott, an early travel writer, who provided a more romanticized telling of the myth (and
of the Native Americans whose voice she imitated or cited) in her Old Paths and Legends of the New England Border. This version became well known thanks to the popularity of her book.

Finally, in 1910, Edward Pearson Pressey offered another account in his history of the town of Montague, using
Field’s earlier work as the source of what he called a “local Indian fairy tale.” Today, retellings continue to appear in newspapers, magazines and online articles and commentary.

While white interpretations of Hobomok and the great beaver story dominated the twentieth century, contemporary scholars have reexamined this myth, adding data from Native American sources including oral histories and traditional stories from indigenous people forced to relocate out of Deerfield. These reexaminations help to explain the ways the story is not only a myth about the creation of a physical mountain, but also a commentary on those who encroach upon and threaten native lands.

Side Note ►