Pamola: Beware the Winged Creature of Katahdin
Pamola might be my favorite Maine creature. He’s a dangerous and powerful winged creature who lives atop Mount Katahdin, Maine's tallest mountain. Traditionally the indigenous Penobscot people would not ascend above the treeline on Katahdin out of respect and fear of Pamola. Any who tried would be turned back by howling winds sent by Pamola or they were carried off by him never to be heard from again. Similar taboos about summiting Mount Washington existed for the Abenaki people of New Hampshire, likely for similar reasons. In 1804, the first recorded summiting of Katahdin occurred when a party lead by Charles Turner Jr. and two unnamed Penobscot guides reached it and returned to tell about it.
In a letter by Turner about his expedition he describes the guides’ description: “They say that Pamola is very great and very strong indeed (...) shape and feet like an eagle, and that he can take up a moose with one of his claws.” Other recorded traditional Wabanki stories describe Pamola as having a large head and eyes, and a keen intelligence allowing him to communicate and interact with people. Fannie Hardy Eckstorm’s 1924 “Katahdin Legends” was an excellent source in researching historic records of Pamola. But the only stories of Pamola actually written directly by a Wabanki person is “Night Wings,” a 2009 novel by Abenaki writer Joseph Bruchac.
However, the most widely known “version” of Pamola is the one described by Leroy Dudley, a Katahdin Guide from the late 1890’s until his death in 1942. His tales of Pamola describe him as a fearsome winged giant with a human body, a moose’s head, eagle talons, and a long beard. It is Dudley’s version you can see on Boy Scout patches and beer labels. Sadly many authors have confused Pamola with hairy humanoid monsters and big cats, neither of these descriptions has any association with Pamola other than simple mistaken identification.
If you like myths and legends about mysterious creatures like Pamola. You'll love my new book Mythical Creatures of Maine. It's a field guide to over 40 mysterious creatures from the folklore of the Wabanaki, French Canadians, Lumberjacks, Sailors, and Maine Guides.