Mount Kineo

If I wished to see a mountain or other scenery under the most favorable auspices, I would go to it in foul weather, so as to be there when it cleared up; we are then in the most suitable mood, and nature is most fresh and inspiring. There is no serenity so fair as that which is just established in a tearful eye (“The Allegash and East Branch”).

On 20 July 1857 Thoreau left Boston, Massachusetts with Edward Hoar and headed once again to the Maine woods. They reached Bangor, Maine that same evening and spent the night with his cousin George Thatcher. The following day Thoreau travelled to near-by Oldtown where he hired the Penobscot Indian Joseph Polis to serve as their guide. On 23 July the three started their journey to Moosehead Lake where Mount Kineo stands on the edge of a peninsula overlooking the lake.

View of the eastern half of the Penobscot Bay. The Penobscot Bay is the inlet for the Penobscot River. Thoreau traveled both the eastern and western branches of the Penobscot River during his excursions to the Maine woods. Photographer: Haley Quinn.

Kineo has an elevation of 1,789 feet (545 m). As they approached the mountain via the lake Polis told Thoreau and Hoar the Indian tradition surrounding Kineo’s origin. Thoreau briefly retells the story in “The Allegash and East Branch” section of The Maine Woods:

. . .the Indian repeated the tradition respecting this mountain’s having anciently been a cow moose,—how a mighty Indian hunter, whose name I forget, succeeded in killing this queen of the moose tribe with great difficultly. . .and, to his eyes, this mountain had still the form of the moose in a reclining posture, its precipitous side presenting the outline of her head (pp. 190).

Mount Kineo. Photographer: Herbert Gleason (1855-1937).

Throughout the trip Polis continued to provide Thoreau with an intimate look into Indian life:

. . .[Polis] inquired if I ever heard “Indian sing.” I replied that I had not often, and asked him if he would not favor us with a song. He readily assented, and lying on his back, with his blanket wrapped around him, he commenced a slow, somewhat nasal, yet musical chant, in his own language…He translated it to us, sentence by sentence, afterward, wishing to see if we could remember it (pp. 197-8).

Thoreau writes to his cousin George Thatcher on 11 July 1857, nine days before he left for Kineo:

Dear Cousin,
Finding myself somewhat stronger than for 2 or 3 years past, I am bent on making a leisurely & economical excursion into your woods—say in a canoe, with two companions, through Moosehead to the Allegash Lakes, and possibly down that river to the French settlements. . .

(The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, 485-6)

On 13 January 1858 Thoreau delivered a lecture—most likely about his 1857 trip to Kineo and the Maine woods—in Lynn, Massachusetts.