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Root Clubs

Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!

By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Society Museum

Root clubs were being made by Maine’s Penobscot carvers in the 1700’s and perhaps earlier. Some were used as weapons and later ones were thought to have ceremonial use. Two of these root clubs were donated to the museum recently by a local man. He explained he found them at a yard sale several years ago! It is believed the two items are authentic.

Root clubs were made from the root ball and trunk of a small birch tree. The tree was dug up with roots intact so these could be sharpened and shaped into points (called “clipping”) with some taking on a distinctive shape of an animal or of a human or spirit shape. One of donated root clubs has one root looking something like a deer with antlers.

A portion of the trunk of the small birch tree became the handle and was commonly decorated with small cuts referred to as “chip carving.” The bark was removed from all or portions of the trunk and about 2-3 feet of the trunk became the root club’s handle. Sometimes burnt work/pyrography was used to decorate the clubs and in later years paint was also added to some designs especially for tourist items.

One of the donated root clubs has small rectangle where the bark was removed and the words NORCROSS ME appear to be burned into the wood. There is also a date, Oct. 2, 1908, and three names…possibly Bowen, Philbrick, Parson. The second root club has Pemadumcook Lake and again three names (possibly Bowen, Hardy, Chase) a small space, again, where the bark had been removed. All this writing is in cursive. The date on this club is Nov. 4,1909. Were these names added at a later date or are they original? We will probably never know!

The two root clubs are currently on display at the museum along with other local Native American arrowheads from the collection of Dana Brown. Most of these artifacts were found in the Millinocket lakes area by Brown beginning when he was just a teenager. A few items are not local, but were acquired by Brown at other locales.

On sale at the museum are Marian Whitney Smith books, Katahdin Fantasies, Algonquin & Abenaki Indian Mythology and Strange Tales of Abenaki Shamanism. Also Brad Edwards recent book The Nighthawk.

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