'Worumbo!' was the cry of natives and newcomers
Not all who answered the invitation of Lady Liberty and came as immigrants to replenish America were as uncouth as the inscription on the statue suggests. To illustrate: Consider Otto Stewich, who came to America as a young man and was not poor or abused. Otto was a German-speaking Silesian Pole who was recruited to come to work in the Worumbo woolen mill at Lisbon Falls in the state of Maine because he was already an expert woolen weaver.Skip to next paragraph
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This mill was named for Chief Worumbo, a Sachem of the Sabattis family of the Kennebec tribe, the native American of consequence in the Lisbon Falls area. The Worumbo woolen mill was then operated by a Mr. Gutman, who was himself an immigrant from
the Rhineland and pleased that his trademark meant the highest quality. It was good local history and would also have pleased Chief Worumbo.
In the early days of settlement, Chief Worumbo was friendly. But in Queen Anne's time his judgment erred, and one night he made an attempt to raid the English settlement at Lisbon Falls.
The English settlers expected his attack and contrived a deception. They built a big fire on the top of a tall
pine tree. In the darkness of night, Chief Worumbo presumed that the blaze was on the level of the settlement and his war canoe of braves and himself were swept to perdition into the turmoil below the falls.
In operating his mill, Mr. Gutman went to Europe on occasion to recruit weavers, and in this way hired Otto to come to America. Otto arrived in Hoboken, N.J., first-class on a North German Lloyd steamship, no filthy steerage. He had money in his pocket and a good job assured, and was to be met at the dock by Dan Kelley, the Worumbo paymaster, who had railroad tickets for Lisbon Falls.
Alas! Mr. Kelley was delayed by a mishap to his train in Connecticut and did not arrive to meet Otto. Otto accordingly disembarked onto an empty Hoboken wharf somewhere in the middle of the night. For the next several hours he walked back and forth on the wharf expecting to be met. To make himself known he kept yelling in a loud voice the only English word he knew which was "WORUMBO."
Otto, of course, did not know that Worumbo was a proper Indian name, nor did the resident wharfinger - who thought Otto to be a waterfront rummy and dismissed him as such. Otto was alone in a new world.
Dan Kelley arrived the next morning and found Otto at his first Worumbo, and brought him to Maine where Otto lived the rest of his life as a respected Worumbo weaver, teaching young people to weave as fine cloth as he did. I make the point that not all immigrants from Europe arrived in America poor and needy.
Lisbon Township had been Yankee pretty much until now. My great-grandfather was its first settler, but the arrival of many Europeans like Otto quickly gave it an international population. The Gallup polls at the beginning could survey any 10 Lisbon citizens at random and tell you how the United States would vote for president.
Lisbon's German population was considerable, thanks to Mr. Gutman, but it was exceeded by Hungarians (generally known as Slovaks). It was an interesting town to grow up in, as our children found out. Otto Stewich's son and our son were boyhood chums. Our daughter played with the Karkos kids. Our next-door neighbor was from France by way of Nova Scotia.
Industrially, the Worumbo mill was our mainstay, and its product was the finest woolens to be had. Every time new blue uniforms were ordered by the US Navy, half the people in town had blue arms from the official dye only Worumbo knew how to mix. The dyer was a recruit named Baumer found by Mr. Gutman, and the dye could not be duplicated by any other maker. Only Worumbo quality suited the Navy.
This prosperity continued into the middle 1900s, well after the Statue of Liberty immigrants had been assimilated and the northern textile industry had moved to the south.
The American Indians in our area pretty much subsided with Worumbo. He persists only as a remembrance trademark of the finest woolen fabric ever woven. His family tribe gave its name to the Sabattis River, which flows out of Sabattis Pond into the Androscoggin River. It is a pleasant canoe trip if you avoid the falls of the Androscoggin.
Speaking of which, I bring you up to date on the very latest information about Worumbo. The chief is remembered well in local history, and every Lisbon Falls child pays tribute to his memory. For generations, the town schoolteachers have told them what to do: Go to the bridge that crosses the Androscoggin above the falls where Worumbo and his braves were drowned. Stamp your foot on the bridge three times at midnight and call down into the whirling torrents, "Worumbo, Worumbo, Worumbo," as Otto Stewich did at Hoboken and add, "Chief, what are you doing down there?" Every child in Lisbon Falls knows that Chief Worumbo will promptly answer nothing. It is the same answer Otto got in Hoboken.