The Way Things Were
By Aaron Weaver

The Legend of Lake Sacandaga

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries many settlers arrived in an area we now call the Town of Lake Pleasant, where an old Mohawk Indian, who called himself Captain Gill, was a local trail guide. Captain Gill would help these early settlers discover the local lakes and mountains of this mysterious region, and show them fishing and hunting spots.

Even though Captain Gill lived among these early settlers, he preserved the customs of the Mohawk people. Captain Gill lived in a wigwam near the outlet of the lake, Lake Pleasant. With him lived his wife, Molly, and her daughter, Molly Jr.

Captain Gill wasn't just known for his knowledge of the Adirondack Mountains, but also for his skill in storytelling. He told hunting parties the history of his people and other nations of the Iroquois while venison roasted over a fire.

It is said that one story he may have spoken of was about a lake in the Town of Lake Pleasant. The settlers called it Round Lake, but today it's known as Lake Sacandaga. The legend kept the Iroquois' enemies away from the region for a long time. It went something like this...


before the Europeans came to this part of the world, there was a tribe whose name has been forgotten. This tribe lit their council fires on top of a hill between two lakes in the mountains of the Mohawk hunting grounds, where the Hamilton County seat now stands.

There came a cold, harsh winter when not a drop of snow fell. Much vegetation was frozen to its roots. The deer and moose migrated to the Mohawk Valley, where food was abundant. Fish seemed to disappear from the lakes, and food was impossible to find.

The members of the tribe were afraid to look for food outside their region, for they were surrounded by hostile tribes. Whole families died of starvation and diseases. The tribe was desperate need of help.

A council fire was held one evening during early spring. The young men urged that the tribe secretly head west toward Lake Ontario. The elders didn't like the idea of leaving their homeland. The chief said the winter famine was a scourge the Master of Life inflicted on his people for their crimes, and if they ran away from their punishment turmoil will follow them. Spring had come and food will be available again.

With great anger, a young warrior jumped to his feet. "They must die," he said. "They must die for their crimes in which they have just confessed. With their death will come food for our children. These old men will only slow us down on our journey anyways." With a quick swing the young man buried his tomahawk in an old man nearest him. Other young men followed his example and soon seven old tribesmen were killed.

Then there was a silence of horror and the young men realized the evil they had done. They decided to purify their crimes by offering the bodies of the seven murdered men to the Master of Life. The young men beheaded the bodies and burned them. With the heads they planned to tie their hair together like a chain and throw them into Lake Sacandaga.

The young warrior who started the massacre led a group of canoes to the center of the lake. Each canoe had a head, and when they reached the designated spot all the heads were passed to the leader. The young man created the chain by tying the locks of the heads together. With a large stone the heads were slowly guided into the lake and began to sink to the bottom.

This did not please the Master of Life. When the young man received the last head, his canoe began to sink. In a panic, his feet became entangled in the chain of heads and the man screamed as he sank into the water. The others became so frightened they quickly paddled to shore.

The next day a few bubbles were seen rising to the surface of the lake. The second day, a sullen blot remained. The third day, the blot took a greener hue and strands of black marbled its surface. On the forth day, these marks began to tremble. By the sixth day, a monstrous head floated on the water, its huge eyes watching the guilty young men on shore. On the morning of the seventh day a pair of broad wings, ribbed like those of a bat, with claws appended to each, had grown from the head.

As the young men watched the wings flapped a few times upon the waves and the head rose slowly from the lake. The tribe fled in panic as the head followed. Wherever they ran, the monster was behind them and glared at them.

One legend says the Master of Life kept the young men forever young so they would continue to suffer. They ran toward the prairies out West. It is also said the head turned them to stone, explaining why there are upright stones standing around the nearby lakes. As the years went by erosion smoothed the stones into the shape they are now.


Another Iroquois legend also tells the story of the Flying Head, which it calls Kanontsistontie. The creature lived in caves because it didn't like the sun. On stormy nights it would come out to hunt. Even though the head didn't have a body it was four times taller than the tallest man.

The creature's skin was covered with thick black hair. Its skin and hair were so thick no weapon could harm it. The creature could hover like a bee, dive for its prey or just soar through the sky. The bat-like wings grew from behind its cheeks, and its mouth was full of fangs.

One night a tribe fled its village and hid, for they had heard the Flying Head was seen. A young mother stayed behind, for she said to herself, "Someone must stop the evil beast, and I should be the one." Inside a longhouse the woman sat beside the hearth, heating some large stones within the flames. As she was doing this, the Flying Head poked through the door.

The woman pretended not to see the creature. She also pretended to eat the red glowing stones, by picking them up with a forked stick, bringing them near her mouth and then dropping them on the ground. She said out loud, "These taste so good. No one has ever tasted meat like this."

When the Flying Head heard this it went inside the longhouse and, with one gulp, swallowed all the glowing hot stones. It gave a great scream that echoed through the valley, causing the earth to shake and the trees to tremble. It kept screaming as it flew away. Never again was the Flying Head seen.

Even though this legend is hard to believe, most legends are based upon truth. There could have been a tribe that lived in the Adirondacks year-round. Also, some historians believe most monster legends are based upon eyewitness accounts of believed-to-be-extinct gigantic reptiles known as dinosaurs.

The description of the Flying Head sounds very similar to a flying reptile in the pterosaur family called a Dimorphodon.