Classic: An Allagash Love Story
From Yankee July 1986
This is about a man called Nuge and his wife Patty and a tiny slice of the Maine wilderness they claimed as their own. For nearly 50 years on Chamberlain Lake their names ran together — Nugenpatty — like one of the melodious Indian names for these waters. It is an Allagash love story, but the Allagash was always hard on love; so like many stories from the north woods, this one also begins in mystery and death.
In the summer of 1929 Lila-Beatrice (Patty) Pelkey was 25 years old and waitressing at a sporting camp on Rainbow Lake, where her brother Claudewas a guide. One day Claude, en route to Greenville for supplies, came up missing. His canoe was found upside down, floating by the shore of Chesuncook Lake. There was no proof, but everyone figured Claude had been murdered, his money stolen. He’d been raised along the Penobscot and was too expert a canoeman, too strong a swimmer to simply disappear on a calm summer’s day.
Among the men called in to search for Claude’s body was a tall, strapping man named Allen (“Nuge”) Nugent. He was 26 years old, the head lineman for Great Northern. For days at a time he’d be in the woods with his crew, stringing telephone wire through the wilderness.
Patty Pelkey’s father took a great liking to young Nugent over those long, hard days of grappling for his son’s body, days that ended at a chow line served by Patty. When Claude’s body was finally found after nearly a month of searching, Allen Nugent was invited to visit the Pelkeys at their East Millinocket home.
“Lo and behold, one Saturday Nuge popped in,” remembers Patty Nugent a lifetime later. “He came quite a few times before I had any idea he came to see me.” She told friends she thought he was the handsomest man she’d ever seen, and she took a job at Kokadjo to be closer to Nuge. Nearly every night he took her riding over the logging roads in the company truck, hoping to convince her to marry him.
“I thought an awful lot of Nuge, but I’d already been through an unfortunate marriage. My husband had been a hard man, drank an awful lot. So I swore never again. I told Nuge I had other ambitions, although I agreed we’d go together — oh, sure we’d go together — even if it caused a little gossip.”
Patty was born the middle child of five brothers and two sisters, inheriting from her mother what was once known as grit, and from her father, who cooked for lumberjacks along the thundering river drives, an unquenchable taste for the woods. All she ever wanted was to be the cook at her own sporting camp, the deeper in the woods the better. She told Nuge she’d save her money for a few years, then they’d find a place for their camps. He already was a noted guide, and Patty reasoned his sports would follow him anywhere.
In those days the unorganized townships of Maine were filled with public lots under the jurisdiction of the forestry service. A lawyer told them that if they settled on a public lot, 40 feet from high water, the land would be theirs; and if the state tried to drive them off, he’d back them for free.