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Legends of The Great Falls - Part 1

Last Updated Dec-2008

Source: Newsletter of the Androscoggin Historical Society
February 1999, No.26
by Douglas I. Hodgkin
Content © 1999 Douglas I. Hodgkin
Reprinted here with permission


There are at least three stories told years ago about how a band of Native Americans were lured to their deaths over the Lewiston Falls. Two seem to be alternate versions of the same tale; because the facts vary, it is not clear what is fact, if any, or myth. The third story is probably an intentional fictional reformulation.
The first two involve one Weir or Wier who sought revenge for the deaths of his family by seeking to kill as many Native Americans as possible, so that he became a legendary terror along the Androscoggin.

Story One

The Weir family lived in Turner. When the son was between ages 16 and 20, he returned home to find that "the Indians had burned his father's cabin, killing his father and taken the family into captivity." He commenced his reign of terror. However, one day many years later, "Old Weir. . . was overpowered by a band of Indians who had been lying in ambush for him." They bound him and collected a large pile of dry wood to burn him at the stake. All left to summon the rest of the tribe, except one who remained to guard Weir at a place above the falls. The guard built a fire to guide the canoes to the shore. In the dark Weir was able to get a hand free and then called his guard to him; "then with a lightning-like motion he seized the Indian's knife from his belt and buried it in his heart." Weir extinguished the fire, hurried to a high bank below the falls, and built another fire. This misled the others to paddle too closely to the falls and all perished.

Source: A Story of Lewiston Falls
Lewiston Saturday Journal, March 24, 1888.

A picture of the Great Falls

The Great Falls of the Androscoggin River in Flood Stage c1900

Story Two

Joe Wier was a peaceful farmer, but "coming to his cabin home in the town of Scarboro, one day, he found that his entire family had been murdered and scalped by the Indians." His life then became a hunt for revenge. Once, he learned "that a party of Indians were coming down the Androscoggin river on their way to destroy a settlement down the valley. Wier came up to Lewiston and waited for events in a secluded spot." Soon a Native American came along to build the fire above the falls to guide the others. Wier clubbed him and "then ran down to the highest point on Laural [sic] Hill and built a huge bonfire." When those upstream saw this, they entered their canoes, started down the river, and soon were caught in the strong current. "Tradition says that scores of them perished and for days their bodies drifted to the shore." It is claimed that Wier's grave is in a neglected cemetery near Yarmouth Village bearing only the inscription "Joseph Wier."

Source: Lewiston Falls and Its Three Heads, Present in Photographic, Geologic and Legendary Lore
Lewiston Journal, Illustrated Magazine Section, September 3, 1921L. C. Bateman

Story Three

The third story probably was intentional fiction. It is a reprint of A Lewiston-Auburn Tradition Retold by Ervin [sic] W. Canham in the Edward Little High School Oracle.

The following is a summary:
A Native American girl was sleeping in a lean-to near Deer Rips. She heard a noise, awoke, and saw a band of Abenaki in war-paint making portage around the rips. She concluded they were on their way to massacre the settlement near the falls and then in turn they would be able to drive out her own people. She slipped out of the lean-to, hurried down-river, and soon saw the scout who had gone on ahead to light the beacon fire above the falls. As he bent about his work, she clubbed him with "a short, stubby oak branch, about two feet long." She tied him up, took a pitch-pine torch from the fire, put out the rest of the fire, and then hurried to the base of the falls. She climbed a pine tree, and ignited its upper branches. The party of six canoes sighted the fire and paddled down the river. A bolt of heat lightning revealed to the Indians too late where they were.

Source: The Old Man of The Falls
Lewiston Journal, Illustrated Magazine Section, June 5, 1920
Ervin [sic] W. Canham