By Bob Romano
The Native Americans of the region did not keep written records, and for this reason it is hard to distinguish between fact and fiction when it comes to their legacy, but there are a number of tales that involve Chief Metallak.
Located deep within the northwest corner of Maine’s vast forestland, Parmachenee Lake is one of the brightest jewels in the crown of lakes and ponds that comprise the Rangeley Lakes Region. Legend has it that the lake is named after an Abenaki princess.
The Native Americans of the region did not keep written records, and for this reason it is hard to distinguish between fact and fiction when it comes to their legacy, but there are a number of tales that involve Chief Metallak. It has been documented that on many occasions, the kindly Abenaki assisted early settlers, hunters, and trappers, with many of them counting Metallak as a loyal friend. This included Enoch Lincoln, the Governor of Maine during the 1800s. One account has it that as a young brave, the future chief climbed upon the back of a moose he found sleeping in a meadow. Waking, the bull crashed through wood, field, and into a river while the young Metallak hung on for dear life. It is said he lived for 120 years, during which time the “Lone Indian of the Magalloway” named Parmachenee Lake after his only daughter.
The Magalloway River crosses the Canadian border, snaking through bog, meadow, and wood for nearly three miles before its serpentine course slips into Parmachenee Lake not far above Indian Cove, a quiet backwater frequented by moose that graze on the lush grasses and water lilies found there. At the southeast corner of the lake, the Magalloway River reemerges as a wide, slow-moving stream. A cabin is maintained by the warden’s service beside Black Cat Brook, a streamlet that enters the river within view of what had once been a wooden dam.
More than thirty years ago, I watched my wife battle her first landlocked salmon in a pool below the stone cribwork that once formed the foundation for the dam below what is known as Black Cat Cove. The fish danced upon its tail while leaping a number of times before coming to the net.
That was about the same time my wife and I became friends with Master Maine guide, Tom Rideout. Following in the sporting tradition established by men like John Danforth, Tom has hunted, trapped, and fished the Parmachenee tract since he was a young boy, and like the legendary guides of old, he enjoyed then, as he does now, to regal his sports with tales about the region.
Over dinner one night, Tom explained that the wooden structure below Black Cat Cove had been built in the early part of the 1900s to replace a more primitive dam. As we sipped our coffee, the Master Maine Guide described how the dam had been used to hold back water at the top of the ravine so that it could be released each spring to allow logs cut during the winter to be floated from Parmachenee Lake over the large boulders that rise from that stretch of the river’s surface as the Magalloway narrows for over two miles before entering the top of Aziscohos Lake.
Named after the man who conceived it, Keenan Dam was also a bridge that went across two spillways. A gravel road stretched down from one bank of the river to the other, enabling trucks to cross. Tom recounted how a number of loggers lost their lives in accidents that occurred as their trucks navigated the steep grade leading down to the bridge. This caused Jim Keenan to insist that the road be diverted to a safer crossing.
Although he was not the first white man to venture into the region, like Chief Metallak, John Danforth will be forever linked to the Parmachenee tract. While still a young man, he and his friend, Fred Barker, spent the winter of 1876 hunting and trapping in what at the time was true wilderness. They later wrote a book about their adventures entitled, Hunting and Trapping On The Upper Magalloway River and Parmachenee Lake: A Winter In The Wilderness.
Having explored the lake and the forested hills surrounding it, Danforth soon created a thriving business guiding sports from as far away as Boston, Hartford, and New York City. Wishing to make his living in this way, he’d hoped to build a sporting lodge, but was stymied by a land dispute. Not to be outdone by his competitors, Danforth constructed a floating lodge that could be moved about the lake and along the river. The lodge was christened Camp Caribou when a sport shot one of the animals that were plentiful during the 1800s. At some point, the legal issues that plagued Danforth were resolved, and he received permission to build a sporting camp on Treat’s Island located in the middle of Parmachenee Lake, where he docked his floating lodge.
A fly pattern known as the Parmachenee Belle is attributed to John Danforth’s good friend, fishing companion, and New York attorney, Henry P. Wells. This wet fly is said to imitate the fin of a brook trout. It is meant to tempt larger trout that are known to stalk smaller fish, and continues to be cast by anglers throughout Maine.
In 1890, a number of wealthy sports, including Henry Wells, formed the Parmachenee Club, with their headquarters in New York City and their clubhouse at Camp Caribou. Shortly thereafter, the members bought out Danforth’s interest. While Danforth would remain as manager, Treat’s Island became known as the Parmachenee Club.
By World War II, the large corporations that owned much of Maine’s forestland were constructing roads of dirt-and-grit to allow logging trucks access to the abundant timber found in the northern parts of the state. At the same time, gates went up preventing use of these roads by the general public. Over time, many of these gates were removed, although those barring vehicles to Parmachenee Lake and the upper portion of the Magalloway River remain.
Although landlocked salmon were introduced in the late 1800s, the region’s native brook trout have called Parmachenee Lake home since before the first Abenaki paddled their birch bark canoes across its sparkling waters. The restricted access and a catch-and-release philosophy have resulted in a superb fishery. Native brook trout exceeding twenty inches are not uncommon, and in early spring and fall trout and salmon can be found in the river’s deeper runs.
Bosebuck Mountain Camps is a traditional Maine sporting lodge located on the western shoreline of Aziscohos Lake. The owners of the camps, Mike and Wendy Yates, have a limited amount of keys to the gates, allowing their guests access to Parmachenee Lake and the upper portion of the Magalloway River.
While paddling a canoe across its sparkling waters, you’ll discover that little has changed since young Johnny Danforth spent a winter trapping and hunting the surrounding forest. Passing by Treat’s Island, you can view the cabins that once housed Henry Wells and his wealthy friends. If you look closely you may even spy a ghostly apparition waving back at you.
Passing through Indian Cove, you might spot a moose or two, and while wading the deeper pools and runs found along the upper stretches of the Magalloway River, you’ll have the chance to hook a salmon willing to dance on its tail or a brook trout that may take you into your backing.
And just maybe, when the breeze sweeps along the shoreline or a loon cries out as the sun goes down, you may turn to find Chief Metallak smiling back at you.
Now in its fourth printing, Bob’s book, Shadows in the Stream, contains stories about Parmachenee Lake, the Magalloway River and many other lakes, rivers and streams in the Rangeley Lakes Region. He can be reached at [email protected].
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