Myth Monday: The Princess Who Cried, or The Creation of Scargo Lake (Native American Legend)
By Kara Newcastle
Holy crap, I actually have time to write?!
That aside, this is a story I’ve been dying to get to ever since I found out about it at the end of this past summer. I really love the beaches in Dennis, and in order to get to my favorite ones, you have to drive past a place called Scargo Hill. At the top of said hill, there’s a big thirty-foot tall tower, built out of old cobblestones, looking like something the Templar Knights built (it’s not, though as a child I had fun pretending it was.) If you can stomach climbing up the winding metal staircase, at the top you can get a great view of the area, particularly of the freshwater Scargo Lake.
Scargo Lake has two beaches that you can visit, one of which is called “Princess Beach.” For years, I wonder why it was called that, and this past summer I decided I was going to find out. And I’m so glad I did! This is a great story, and, as happens so freakin’ often in mythology, there are many different versions of the legend. I choose the one I liked the best to share with you. (There’s only one version I found that named both her father and her lover. I was a little skeptical about the authenticity of the names, so I kept her father’s name the same but changed Scargo’s lover’s. If I find out anything, I’ll change them to the correct names.)
Hundreds of years ago, the sachem Mashantam ruled over his tribe, the Nobscussett, in the woodlands not far from Cape Cod Bay. The tribe at that time was small, just about one hundred people and the most beautiful of them was the sachem’s only child, his daughter Scargo. She was flawless both in visage and character, exceedingly sweet and kind, and because she felt such duty for her people, Scargo was placed as the caretaker of the freshwater spring that provided her village with drinking water.
Late in the spring, warriors from neighboring villages came to visit, sent by the great chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag Nation to bring words of peace. One of these warriors, a bold and dashing young hunter named Megedagik, parted from his company just long enough to visit the freshwater spring by the Nobscussett village. As he came upon the little pond, he froze in place, struck dumb by the sight of a beautiful young woman kneeling down by the spring, collecting water to bring to her father. The girl glanced up as he approached, and she smiled at his stunned expression.
“Here for a drink?” she asked.
It took the warrior a second to remember that he had a voice. “Uh … yes. Yes, I am.” He cleared his throat and thrust out his chest, hoping to regain his composure after being caught gawking at the girl. “I am Megedagik I come with my brothers to bring greetings from Great Massasoit.”
The girl’s smile grew even brighter. “Then you met my father?”
Megedagik felt his heart falter for a moment. “Your … father? The sachem Mashantam?”
“That’s the one.” The girl stood up. “I’m Scargo.”
Scargo giggled. “You said that already.”
Any other time Megedagik would have turned himself inside out over making such a flub in front of a girl as lovely as Scargo, but he found himself smiling at her sweet laugh. Forgetting all about his drink, Megedagik walked with Scargo back to her village, talking and laughing with her the entire way. By that night, the pair were smitten, and by the next day, they were hopelessly in love.
Much to the princess and the warrior’s dismay, Megedagik could only stay a short time, as he and his fellow warriors had to continue their mission. The morning that he had to leave, Megedagik wrapped the trembling Scargo in his arms and pulled her tight against him.
“I promise I’ll come back,” he whispered into her silken black hair, “and when I do, we’ll marry right away. Until then, just stay strong. I’ll send you a present soon.”
Bitter though she was at the thought of letting him go, Scargo was brave, and she held back her tears, waving goodbye to Megedagik and his men until they vanished deep into the woods. Her father Mashantam and the other villagers comforted Scargo as much as they could, for they all knew how much she loved Megedagik.
Less than a day later, two strangers arrived in Scargo’s village. People emerged from their wigwams, staring dumbstruck as the two men, puffing and muttering mightily, staggered to carry the bright orange object up to Mashantam and Scargo’s home.
Alerted by their bemused warriors, the chief, and his daughter hurried out of their house, stopping short as the two men, wheezing in exhaustion, very carefully lowered a massive pumpkin down to the ground.
Groaning, one of the strangers straightened up, planting his hands on the small of his back and flexing his spine back. “Princess Scargo,” he panted, “this is a gift for you, sent by Megedagik. He says—agh, sorry, something just popped—that as long as the fish are alive, he will be protected and come back to you soon.”
Jumping at the sound of her true love’s name, Scargo hurried forward to inspect the pumpkin—and she cried out in delight. The massive gourd had been hollowed out and filled to the brim with clear water. Swirling around inside were four gorgeously shimmering fish, the likes of which no one had ever seen before.
“I will do everything I can to keep them alive,” Princess Scargo said as her father and their people bent to watch the fish. “If they are safe, then Megedagik will be safe.”
The villagers and the sachem were all charmed by the unusual gift, and over the days many people would visit Scargo and ask her how her pretty fish fared. Scargo would answer happily that the fish were healthy and that she couldn’t wait to show Megedagik when he returned.
As the weeks passed, summer arrived, promising to be brutally hot and dry. Scargo and the villagers moved the hollowed pumpkin to the shade of the trees to protect the fish, but soon the fish grew larger, and larger, taking up more and more room in the pumpkin. Seeing that her beloved pets were uncomfortable, Scargo decided to move them to the little pond by the spring. There they thrived … for a little while.
As the summer progressed with no rain and days of intensely blazing sun, the spring began to dry up. Scargo watched in horror as the little pond began to shrink, and her dear fish began to die, one after the other, until only one was left. This one was very big, and every day that passed, there was less water for it to swim in. It would not have long.
Scargo was devastated. Try as she might, there was nothing she could do to help her pet. Overcome with grief at her loss, shame that she had not fulfilled her promise, the realization that her people were running out of water to drink, and a growing fear that Megedagik would not return, Scargo collapsed by the dying spring and sobbed. She cried for so long and for so hard, that her father Mashantam’s heart broke for her, and he called his people together.
“My friends,” the sachem said, “my daughter is weeping. Yes, she weeps for her pets, she weeps for her lover, but she also weeps for all of us. We must find more water.”
The Nobscusset all winced, all feeling sorry for the sweet girl, but not knowing how to solve the problem of lost water. When they voiced this, Mashtantam held up his hands for silence.
“I have an idea,” he said. “We will dig a lake. Our finest hunter will shoot arrows in four directions. Where the arrows land, that will be as far as the lake goes. We will all dig out the land using clam shells.”
The people were perplexed. “That seems like a good idea,” they said cautiously. “But where will we get water to fill it?”
The sachem nodded. “Scargo’s tears will fill it.”
The village immediately went to work. Their best hunter shot arrows into four directions, and everyone immediately began digging, scooping out earth with clamshells, piling it up to form the hill overlooking the lake. They fashioned the shape of the new lake in the form of a great fish, to honor the creatures that Megedagik had sent their beloved princess.
The only person who did not work was the poor Princess Scargo, who lay there, weeping. As soon as the land was carved away, Scargo’s tears poured into the lake, filling it within hours with crystal clear, fresh water. When the princess saw what her people had worked to achieve, her tears finally stopped, and they released her last fish into the water. As soon as it slid beneath the surface, the fish magically spawned, creating hundreds more just like itself.
Realizing that calamity had been averted, Scargo was at last comforted and happy again. Before that fiery summer ended, Megedagik returned and he and Scargo were married, much to the joy of her people. Together they built their home and raised their children on the shores of the lake that now bears her name—Scargo.
Like I said, there are many versions of this story. Some have Scargo herself and her friends digging out the lake, some have her just sitting at the top of Scargo Hill, with her tears pooling down at the bottom. Sometimes it’s one fish that rapidly outgrows the pumpkin, sometimes Scargo finds out that her lover was killed in battle and that’s why she cries so much. Some stories say that Scargo cried so many tears that she eventually drowned in them, and transformed into the lake fish that fed her people. Another storyteller mentioned that “Scargo” actually means “skunk,” and the lake is supposed to be in the shape of a skunk. Obviously, I chose the nicer of the many versions. (There’s also one about the giant Maushop—known as Moshop around here, based on what I found—digging out the land to build a hill for him to sit on, and when he lights his pipe, the smoke causes a thunderstorm to fill the lake. You can read a bit more about Maushop in my blog about Granny Squannit here!) There are other, modern stories about the lake, including one about the ghost of a woman with long dark hair seen crying at the water’s edge at dusk … could it be Princess Scargo?
If you’re ever in the area, stop by Scargo Lake or Scargo Hill Tower. It’s a really beautiful location—just follow all the rules, please!