It is the hallowed responsibility of the historian, and not the raconteur, to embellish the fictions of fact and prepare them to edify the future and amuse schoolchildren. Meantime our history books are laden with many-told tales that aren't so, or have a quality of absurdity unworthy of academic acceptance. The historian can do this, and does, but if the raconteur dares to alter the structure of a witticism, some 83,000 people will jump up and shout, "That ain't the way I heered it, bub!"
My example has to do with the historical oddity with the Pilgrim Fathers and how the Indians taught them to plant each hill of corn over an alewife, to offer encouragement as organic fertilizer. The alewife is a spring-spawning salt-water fish in the herring clan that can be taken easily in quantity along the North Atlantic just about corn-planting time. The historians have worked this into our heritage to show that the Indian was a good friend.
Knowing nothing about Colonial agronomy, or anything else, the historian deftly left the corn-hill alewife to demonstrate the Amerind tendencies of good-neighbor policy, and, missing the point, left us thinking anything can be so when some historian says it is.
I beg humbly to differ.
Since the days of Captain Standish, when the corn-hill alewife became a total fact, scholars have been considering it in every way but the right one. Treatises abound on the nitrogen content of the alewife and to what extent the Indians used it. It makes a dreary procession of scientific conjecture predicated on the academic belief that history is always right.
The real importance of the corn-hill alewife is not in the history books and never had the slightest academic attention. It shows us the Massachusetts Indian of 1621 was a jolly comedian. The Englishman was green as grass, untutored in anything wild and remote, and the Indian was safe on his own turf and ready for fun. So Massasoit or Squanto or somebody else with a straight face told Captain Standish to plant corn with fish.
The Indian who perpetrated this did not mention the consequences. He did not state that once the Pilgrims planted their corn every raccoon, bobcat, skunk, fisher, lynx, fox, owl, and resident scavenger within 500 miles of Plymouth would come that night and dig up the nourishing alewives and thus incapacitate the seed corn adjacent thereto. The proof is in the Pilgrim journals for anybody to read. It says, tersely, "Then they planted their gardens again, and guarded them at night." They had learned a lot about Indians, who were probably slapping their thighs and rocking with hilarity.
I mention this now because I can't tell you for sure if Ed Grant was or was not a skedaddler. He might have been. A skedaddler was a draft dodger in the Civil War, and some of them avoided fighting by going into the Maine wilderness. On the north side of Kennebago Lake in David Township (unorganized) you can find Skedaddle Cove, and Ed Grant was in that vicinity soon after the Civil War to become a legend to out-legend Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, and Daniel Boone combined.
And as an honest raconteur, Ed Grant left us a compendium of high quality that surpasses the esteemed veracities of Ananias and the Baron Munchausen. As a literary genius he stands alone, and as samples of his success I bring a few matters to mind.
First was Ed's pet trout. Having trained a small brook trout to live without water, Ed kept him in an empty rain barrel. They had many a pleasant frolic together. People would listen for hours while Ed told about them. But the adventures ended when the trout fell in the brook one day and drowned.
Possibly the historian has neglected reworking Ed into acceptable history only because his yarns seem to have done that by themselves. In his rowing race with the two Harvard students, Ed lost because the speed of his boat created friction against the water and started a fire. As Ed saved himself by swimming ashore, the Harvard boys gained an easy victory. (I do not know why, but historically the Harvard Boy has always generated laughter in the Maine woods.)
ED used to take a 20-foot guide's canoe and pole down Kennebago Stream to Cupsuptic Landing where he would pick up the schoolmarm who would teach in the area's very remote school district that winter, boarding with the Grant family.
In those days the state had to send in a teacher to wilderness locations where children had no access to public schools. So Ed was poling the canoe and teacher back to camp. Impressed with his dexterity the new teacher said, "0h, Mr. Grant, I believe you know every rock in this river!" "Yes, I do," said Mr. Grant, and just then there was a magnificent crunch! And Ed added, "There's one of them now."
Another time Ed was bringing another teacher up river and she was chattering preposterous absurdities, and Ed shortly realized she was a birdbrain and would be out of place in his district. She certainly needed a great many things not covered by her diploma. So at Gravel Bank Pool Ed tipped over the canoe, and in the next 20 minutes the young lady learned a great many things she had never studied before. When Ed got her warm again by a rousing fire he wiped the canoe dry and got her in it. And as he picked up his settin' pole he said, "I think, Miss Prim, that you may be ready to teach school after all." The raconteurs say she was, but the historian thinks Ed was joking and has not refurbished this into reliable history.