The Great Trail Compiled by Marion H. Norton
The so-called Great Trail of the Indians extended from what is now Boston to Hartford on the Connecticut River. This was assuredly a much used Indian Trail when the white men settled on the Massachusetts shores. The Trail was direct and skillfully laid out, not alone for traveling, but for hunting, fishing and shelter. Three places, notable in Indian life, were controls for the trail that was to become the Connecticut Path: There were the salt-water inlets and beaches of the Boston bay, the central freshwater lake at Webster, and the falls and long rapids on the Connecticut River at Windsor.
Midway between Boston Bay and the Windsor Rapids was Chaubunagungamaug, known today as Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchaubunagungamaugg. It was a Lake of the Great Spirit in Indian mythology. Early records indicate that, before the coming of the colonists, the lake was an intertribal preserve. Apparently there were no Indian villages situated on the Lake until the establishment of "Chabanakongkomun," one of the Reverend John Eliot's praying towns, in 1672.
The northern Narrows was the Indian trail crossing. There, a short and easy fordway and a low-lying peninsula (Killdeer) facilitated the crossing to or from the Douglas Forest. In later years, the paths of the pioneers crossed at that Narrows before roads were laid out around the lake. The distance around the lake is about 16-miles.' One of the earliest maps of the Trail was prepared by Woodward and Saffery in 1642. It shows the Trail crossing over the lake at Webster, Mass., as previously described.
In 1660, this route still played an important part in such trunk-line arteries as the Bay Path to Springfield, and the path to Norwich and New London. But with the settlement of Woodstock in 1686 and the coming of the Hugenots to Oxford in 1688, the crossing assumed less and less importance. By 1718, when a territorial survey was made, the crossing was considered of no significance.
There is an ancient plan in the Massachusetts Archives which shows 240 acres lying north of "Chabanaguncamogue pond." Undoubtedly this was the land where Eliot had established his praying town of Chaubunagungamaug and where, subsequently, the Indian constable, Black James, lived. The plan, containing .a survey
Footnote 1: Until the 1920's, Killdeer was called, and for practical purposes was, an island. Access was over a small wooden bridge over a swampy creek, which was later filled in. Visitors at that time had used the lake steamer or boats to get to the beautiful, sandy beach, or youngsters would swim across the Narrows. Today, Killdeer is a highly residential section, chiefly of all-year homes, but evidence of early recreation remains in the sandy beach (privately owned), Smith's Cove (considered the deepest part of the lake) and a circular road, where horse-races were run in the 1800's. dated October 23, 1700, was presented in petition to the General Court. The petition, initiated by Timothy Dwight of Dedham, asked that he or his son, Josiah Dwight of Woodstock, be assigned certain of these acres for the purpose of providing, food and shelter for the mother of Black James.
An old fort is shown in the center of the plan. Indications are that, after King Philips War (1675 ), forts were built by the praying Indians who still enjoyed the indulgence of the white settlers. The only evidence of the old fort is a flat-topped hill above Cranston Print Works. This area is scheduled for excavation to make way for the continuance of Route 52. Conceivably some artifacts may be turned up, confirming the existence of the old fort at this site.
No official record of any Indian name for the lake or trail has been noted prior to 1668. At that time a treaty was signed with the Nipmuck clans and the Chaubunagungamaug clan was a party to the signing. The name in the treaty reads: Chaubunakongkomuk. Because there were no white settlements in the midland country until 1686, this -lack of an official or historical record carrying the name is understandable.
Footnote 2: Evidence of the Indian Reservation (see map) lay in a cemetery and huts, which were bought in 1887 by Honorable Charles Haggerty and deeded to the town to be preserved. Something went awry with these plans. No one seems to know. A few remaining Indian families were moved to houses on Lake Street. For years, children played in the "Indian Woods" on George Street and, on several occasions, discovered Indian artifacts. When, ten years ago, town officials sought to make a playground there, it was found that the land had been, in error or ignorance, deeded to a private family. Only two years ago, part of this land was recovered by the town and will become a playground.
Cover 1918 photo of Killdeer Island from The Narrows. Courtesy of Matt Chabot.