Guides from Maine's north Woods

Silas Wzokhilain -

Thoreau’s guides, Joseph Attien and Joe Polis, may be two of the most widely known, however, there have been hundreds of guides of both of local and Native American descent, who helped navigate the first explorers through the forests of northern Maine.

Lucius L. Hubbard, along with his traveling companion, artist William Ladd Taylor, hired two guides. The elder, he only gives with the name of Joe. The younger guide, was Silas Wzokhilain, who was an Abnaki of the St. Francis tribe. (shown in photo)

At the time of the expedition, Silas was thirty years old, and had spent the greater part of his early life as a hunter and trapper in the Canadian forests.

His father was the well-known Piel Pol Wzokhilain (or Pierre Paul) who had been educated at Hanover, New Hampshire, and had published several books in the Native language. Silas, as he told Hubbard, desired to escape a compulsory education his father had planned for him.

At the age of fourteen he tried to enlist for service in the civil war as a private in a Michigan regiment. Three times rejected, on account of his youth, he was finally accepted on the declaration of a recruiting officer that he was eighteen years old.

During his service he distinguished himself for neatness, bravery, and an incorruptible discharge of duty. Being offered a commission as first lieutenant, he had to decline because he could neither read nor write.

At the end of the war, he was mustered out of the service as color-guard, a slight mark of honor forced upon him by his superiors, and one from which his want of learning did not bar him.

He was described by Hubbard as short of stature, with broad shoulders, thick neck, solid frame, a marvel of strength, and as agile as a cat. For the eight year he resided at Old Town, Maine, he acquired the reputation of being the quickest and most daring log driver on the Penobscot.

This would be a high honor at a time when many men dared one another for bragging rights as best log driver. For five of the years Hubbard spent documenting the Maine woods for his guidebook, Silas served as his guide and they became good friends.

Hubbard stated, “A more devoted and thoughtful servant and friend would be hard to find. Entering into the spirit of exploration which prompted the writer's forest tours, he often devised ways to overcome obstacles, and pushed forward where others would have faltered or turned back.”

Silas, like so many of the Maine woodsmen and rivermen, including Thoreau’s guide Joe Attien, came to an untimely end.

In the spring of 1882, just a year after making his final trip with Hubbard, he fell from a lodged spruce tree while working in the woods.

He was thirty-one years of age.

You may read more about Silas and his experience as a guide and woodsman in, Woods and Lakes of Maine – A Trip from Moosehead Lake to New Brunswick in a Birch-Bark Canoe – Annotated Edition, by Lucius Hubbard, updated by local author Tommy Carbone.