An enormous stone face peers from a cliff on Mount Pemigewasset, in Franconia, New Hampshire. It sits not far from where its brother rock, The Old Man of the Mountains, once ruled the valley from his own prominence.
The website, “Hike New England,” states that this “Indian Head” cliff face was not even noticed until 1901, when a fire cleared the trees and revealed the rock formation’s ‘chin.’ Mount Pemigewasset itself is considered a ‘high spur of Mt. Kinsman.’
It did not take long for it to become a tourist stop. The Indian Head Resort website states that in 1913 the area became known as Indian Head estates, providing 10 campsites, which evolved into cabins, to a modern hotel. What started as an accompanying wooden observation tower, eventually was built of metal, improved, and then moved across the street.
For hikers, there are two trails up Mount Pemigewasset–the Indian Head Trail (that takes you near to the profile cliff) and the Mount Pemigewasset Trail. Both of the trails are the same length, they converge just below the summit. The Mount Pemigewasset Trail is preferable because it has easy parking (and nearby bathroom facilities) at The Flume Visitor Center.
An 1898 guide book describes the hike thusly: “The path is quite steep, but is quite quickly ascended through the cool and ancient forest. The path emerges on a line of ledges, whence a striking view is obtained of the Notch, and the rugged shoulders of Lafayette, and to the south the pleasant hills and farms of the Pemigewasset Valley. A most impressive cliff on the west of the summit falls vertically two hundred to three hundred feet to the top of the forest trees which are themselves, sixty to one hundred feet high. The view on a moonlight night from the top of this vast cliff is awe inspiring.”
Why was this profile named Indian Head?
Good question! The answer might be as simple as “because the mountain is shaped like the profile of a Native American.” However, it could be the profile of any man. For one possible answer, I point to history.
John Stark is a name revered in New Hampshire. When he was in his early 20s, John Stark with his brother William, David Stinson and Amos Eastman were hunting and trapping one winter on the headwaters of the Pemigewasset, in what is now known as Franconia, in the area of current day Indian Head. They were surrounded and attacked by Indians. John Stark fought back at every instance, allowing his brother William to escape, but along with Eastman, he was taken to Canada. A story is told of John Stark’s bravery that day and later when he ran a gauntlet. The two were eventually ransomed, $60 for Eastman and $103 for Stark.
Starting in the 1920s “Indian Head” was being promoted in newspapers and travel magazines. A 1938 newspaper reported “Here at the Indian Head Village one also sees the famous Indian head in the mountain…and the more you gaze, the clearer the old chief’s profile becomes. Here, too, is a huge restaurant which, in the busy season, feeds hundreds of tourist daily.”
POEM: FRANCONIA FROM THE PEMIGEWASSET
One more, O Mountains of the North, unveil
Your brows, and lay your cloudy mantles by!
And once more, ere the eyes that seek ye fail,
Uplift against the blue walls of the sky
Your mighty shapes, and let the sunshine weave
Its golden net-work in your belting woods,
Smile down in rainbows from your falling floods,
And on your kingly brows at morn and eve
Set crowns of fire! So shall my soul receive
Haply the secret of your calm and strength,
Your unforgotten beauty inter-fuse
My common life, your glorious shapes and hues
And sun-dropped splendors at my bidding come,
Loom vast through dreams, and stretch in billowy length
From the sea-level of my lowland home!
They rise before me! Last night’s thunder-gust
Roared not in vain: for, where its lightnings thrust
Their tongues of fire, the great peaks seem so near,
Burned clean of mist, so starkly bold and clear,
I almost pause the wind in the pines to hear,
The loose rock’s fall, the steps of browsing deer.
The clouds that shattered on yon side-worn walls
And splintered on the rocks their spears of rain
Have set in play a thousand waterfalls,
Making the dusk and silence of the woods
Glad with the laughter of the chasing floods
And luminous with blown spray and silver gleams,
While, in the vales below, the dry-lipped streams
Sing to the freshened meadow-lands again.
So, let me hope, the battle-storm that beats
The land with hail and fire may pass away
With its spent thunders at the break of day,
Like last night’s clouds, and leave, as it retreats,
A greener earth and fairer sky behind
blown crystal-clear by Freedom’s Northern wind!
–The Atlantic Monthly, Vol IX, March 1862, No. LIII
[poem not identified in the magazine, however it is by John Greenleaf Whittier. ]