Anyone who researches Maine history closely enough will learn that Maine has been inhabited by people for 10,000 years. This makes many of the Native American stories told about this area as than merely good campfire stories. It can be said that these are oral relics from times predating the pyramids of Egypt or Stonehenge. Like these Old World monuments, these stories are changed and eroded by time, though in different ways than stone could be changed by wind and water.
There is a being of legend more chilling than any bogeyman you are likely to encounter, a being whom western scholars once deemed to be The Devil. He was a practitioner of the blackest kind of magic: a sorcerer who would have gladly scoured the battlefield to make magical items from the body parts of the war dead. He was believed to be so powerful, that he could cast a spell just by looking into the eyes of his victim. He was feared by tribes all throughout Maine and Quebec for his supernatural prowess and vindictive ways, his name only whispered by the elders as a kind of warning.
He would play morbid tricks on those foolish enough to seek him out in his remote campsite on Musquicook Mountain next to the Allagash River, leaving lost souls to haunt the dark nights in the farmlands and forests of Arostook County in northern Maine, well into modern times.
In the Abenaki language, his name was “Madahodo.” The name translates into “Great Devil”.
Surprisingly, he is not mentioned frequently. There may be many reasons why this is so, but one that comes to mind is that he was so widely feared, few dared to even utter his name. He may have been so feared, that he wasn’t even told in late night campfire stories. Not surprisingly, some academics from the 1800’s mention him either as a name that is synonymous with the Devil or as a cannibalistic giant who preys on the elderly on Grand Manan Island. What is peculiar about this version, is that it is related to the Delaware tribe. This implies contact with their distant northern neighbors, since there are many different shared stories and many different names for the same mythic being (such as The Kiwakwa).
Another book, “The First Council Fire” , says that Madahodo demonstrated his strength at the first council meeting of elders by giving the bull moose it’s odd antlers and it’s unusual humpback by hitting the aggressive animal on the head. The Great Spirit punished Madahodo for his misdeed by zapping him into a pile of ash. Not even this was enough to destroy him, however. It did give him a permanent odor of burning ash, however. Whether this version was influenced by Christian missionaries centuries ago or not is up to the reader to decide.
Perhaps the most vivid description of Madahodo, with more specific place names and a retelling by master Native American Storytellers, gives a more humanized but still disturbing description. The story from Seven Eyes and Seven Legs, does not place Madahodo either on the already well known coastline or in a mythic, remote past. The story is set in the 1930’s and Madahodo’s whereabouts are located on Musquicook Mountain near the Allagash River in Aroostook County Maine. Described as insane by some, he was an old and very frightening looking man who would sneak upon and frighten foolish visitors, then send them off with mocking and impatient words hinting at a horrifying fate.
In the chapter entitled “Madahodo the Skull Decorator”, the foolish visitors who dare to intrude on Madahodo’s lair are a white anthropologist named Dr. John B., and his guide, Raoul. Dr. John B. wants to not only learn about the ways of shamanism, but wishes to obtain two morbid items: a shrunken head and a decorated skull. Madahodo is said to be a shaman who is knowledgeable about making these macabre items and Dr. John B. is determined to get them, offering amounts of money that in the depression were extravagant.
In the end, Madahodo knows ahead of time what Dr. John B. has come for, and gives it to him in a way one would never expect. For a decorated skull, Dr. John is given the skull of his own guide, which talks and sings even after it is stripped of flesh. As for the shrunken head, Dr. John is horrified to discover that his own head has been shrunken down to the size of an apple, complete with a high pitched voice. The authors state in an afterward that the shrunken-headed Dr. John was seen wandering the Arostook woods well into the 1980’s. They suggested that the white man was made to live an unnaturally long life to prolong his torment.
Today, the ill-fated, three day trip of Dr. John would take less than a day. There are a great deal of main and back roads leading through miles and miles of woods. Just before reaching the Allagash wilderness and river, the roads will lead through the St. John River valley and follow along the course of the river for most of the ride. If Dr. John were to take the trip today, he would have been wise to stop by one of the many churches that sit in the valley for some holy talismans. Indeed, a splash of holy water or the medal of a saint might have been invaluable against a black magician like this one.
Just like the once forbidden Mt. Katahdin, however, the Allagash wilderness and river is widely traversed by certified guides and their customers. Since Madahodo’s story is not widely told, the grim reputation of the Allagash has faded into obscurity, but it is in dark obscurity that the idea of supernatural evil thrives. They say that the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled is convincing the world he doesn’t exist. Madahodo may have done the Devil one better and convinced the world to forget his name entirely. With no one fearing his name anymore, no one would ever see him or his curses coming.
Seven Eyes, Seven Legs: Supernatural Stories of the Abenaki, by Tsonakwa and Yolaikia (For fans of Native American art and mythology, this is a must-have book).