The early maps.

How Moosehead Lake got its name.

Did you know that Maine’s largest lake wasn’t always named Moosehead Lake? How the lake received its name has long been a puzzle, especially since it wasn’t until around 1874 that an accurate survey outline of the lake was drawn. It may have taken much longer if not for Greenville Guide, Hiram Mansell. Without the woodsman’s knowledge of Mansell, map maker John Way Jr., might not have lived to complete his survey. Before telling the story of Hiram and John, we first must cover the history of the maps of Moosehead Lake.

There are many theories on how and when Moosehead Lake received its name. In 1926, Maine historian Fannie Hardy Eckstorm contributed an article to “Sprague’s Journal of Maine History,” analyzing the “1764 Chadwick Survey of Maine.” Eckstorm references Chadwick’s journal in which he wrote the name of the lake as, “Moose Hills Lake,” even though the tiny circle on his map was labeled, Lake Sebem. Eckstorm concludes the reference to “Moose Hills Lake” was with regards to the mountains Kineo and the two Spencers. This naming is consistent with the 1761 map from Montresor, which has the lake as, “Moose-Deer Lake,” and “Lac Orignal” and Kineo as, “Mount Orignal,” (Orignal being French for moose). However, Montresor’s drawing was not accurate to scale or outline. His labeling is likely based on the legend of Glusgehbeh, who killed a large cow moose in the area. Mount Kineo is said to be this stooping moose, as seen from the south. The story of Glusgehbeh, the moose, her calf moose, and the original Indian naming of the Spencer Mountains is given in Hubbard’s, “Woods and Lakes of Maine - Annotated Edition (Tommy Carbone).” But just how and when did the name change from something of ‘Moose Hills Lake,’ or from “Moose-Deer Lake,” to “Moosehead Lake?” We know that based on the maps, the name Moosehead was being applied to the lake before an accurate outline for the lake had been drawn on a map an outline which certainly resembles the head of a moose. This is a puzzle for which many a historian has never had an accurate answer. I do not claim to have the Maine history knowledge of the likes of Fannie Hardy Eckstorm when it comes to Indian names or place names in Maine. What we can analyze is the history that is known from maps, journals, and legends. It seems likely the naming of the lake, ‘Moosehead,’ was independent of the drawn outline. Early names for the lake, in the late 1700s took the form of, Keseben, likely from, K’chi-sebam, meaning “the big lake.” Other spellings were Sebaim, Xsebem, or K’sebem. The derivation is the same as Maine lakes Sebago and Sebec, with the meaning of, ‘wide extent of water.’ Lucius Hubbard noted during the 1800s that the Augusta Land Office had used the names, Seboumook, Sebaumock, Seeboumock, and Seboumock, all referring to Moosehead Lake. The Penobscot Indians who populated the region called the lake Xsebem. The Abnakis referred to the waterway as Sebamook.