The Center for Moosehead History Celebrates the Earliest Residents

Henry Perley, better known as Chief Henry Red Eagle
~Photo courtesy Moosehead Historical Society

By Shelagh Talbot

GREENVILLE— Well over fifty years ago, a group of local residents founded the Moosehead Historical Society and Museum. The acquisition of the “Ready Worker’s Community House” in 2005, which is now known as the  Center for Moosehead History has allowed the society to highlight more of the history of the Moosehead Lake region, a history that goes back thousands of years to the time of Paleo-Indian tribes and later the Red Paint People. Over the years, many artifacts have been found in the area. The quality of fishing and hunting, combined with the site of rhyolite-laden Kineo made this part of the northeastern United States special for native people. It became a great gathering place during the warmer months. Essentially the Moosehead Lake Region has been attracting tourists for ages.

The exhibit at the Center for Moosehead History contains fine examples of spear points, arrowheads, and other weapons and tools from the Paleo-Indian period to the 16th century when there was initial contact with Europeans. As late as the 1890s, local tribes camped on Kineo beaches to enjoy the fishing and socializing.

Greenville has had its share of famous Indians as well, including Louis Annance, who settled with his family at the southern end of Moosehead Lake. According to Mable Rogers Holt, writing Maine Indians In History And Legends, and, specifically in her chapter titled Aborigines at Moosehead Lake, “Louis Annance was the type – the true type – of North American Indian – tall, straight, broad-shouldered, athletic in his general make-up, copper-colored, high cheek-boned, a fine figure to look upon. Louis was an educated man, having attended Dartmouth College for two years, the tuition being free, according to a treaty once made between the English government and his tribe, the St. Francis Abanakis.” Annance was chief of this tribe as well. “He was prevented from finishing his course (of study) by the War of 1812,” according to Holt. “He spoke pure English, was an easy speaker and could converse with any educated person on almost every subject. Although he lived in the wilderness, he kept well-informed (sic) on the events of the times. He became a member of the Congregational Church in Greenville and of the Free and Accepted Masons.” During a canoe trip with his sons, the then Governor of Maine, Dr. John Hubbard was delighted to spend a day with his former Dartmouth classmate reminiscing about old times.

Holt also mentions, Mary Newall Tomah of Churchill Lake. “I remember (her) as a dignified old lady with whom I bartered vegetables or money for beautifully designed and woven baskets for various purposes, greatly prized by me,” she wrote. Mary Tomah was the grandmother of Henry Perley, better known as Chief Henry Red Eagle, of whom Holt penned, “ A full-blooded Algonquin, he is well-versed in woods lore, an experienced camp counselor, an instructor in wilderness camping. Much in demand as master of ceremonies at sportsmen’s shows, he is, more than this, an authority on Maine legends, a lecturer of note and a gifted writer, having sold more than a thousand articles and stories to prominent magazines.”

Red Eagle was much more than that. Valedictorian and Class President at Greenville High School, the young man had already achieved prominence by becoming the youngest licensed guide in the state of Maine at the age of 14. The Museum is in possession of a photograph of a teen-aged Red Eagle, impeccably dressed in suit and starched collar, holding a slide trombone. After he graduated he worked for a time at Harris Drug Store, but adventure called and he answered in a big way. He joined traveling shows, starting with the Kickapoo Medicine Show and including Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He was in the movies too – in the early days of short reels, working with such notables as Mary Pickford and Rudolph Valentino. He met his wife Wanna, an accomplished diver and swimmer appearing at the Hippodrome in New York City, while he was working with horses at Coney Island’s Dreamland. According to an article written by Dr. Everett L. Parker in the spring 2009 edition of Memories of Maine, Red Eagle once remarked, “ I got killed 90 times” in the movies. He brought Wanna with him to Greenville and she established a camp, Eagle Haven on Sugar Island for people who had been stricken with polio. The water therapy and swimming was beneficial and many, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who suffered from the disease, recognized her work.

There is so much to discover at the Center for Moosehead History. In addition to the fine Native American artifacts on display, books about the Native Americans of Moosehead Lake, including those mentioned, are available. Other displays including the Aviation Museum are equally fascinating. The building is located at 6 Lakeview Street in Greenville. Call 695-2909 for further information or visit online at