Wilderness Camps in Maine | An Allagash Love Story
He made her knitting needles from telephone wire and copper found at an abandoned logging camp, and Patty readied for winter, unraveling sweaters, using the yarn to knit stockings and mittens. Nuge’s uncle taught her a secret family pattern, and she’d spend hours knitting “Patty caps” that she would line up every fall to sell to hunters. “There are hundreds of my Patty caps in these woods,” she says.
In November they had their first paying guests — hunters drawn by Nuge’s reputation as a deer guide. They paid $10 a day per man for Patty’s cooking and the privilege of sleeping on a bare cabin floor with their coats for bedding. The business was finally started, but the Main Forestry Service, which administered the land, wanted them out.
“We asked for a lease,” Patty says with a trace of anger lingering through time, “but they just wanted to drive us out. They tried to stop us from cutting timber, but we went right on cutting what we needed for the camps. They didn’t know what to make of us. They figured we had some big money man backing us, what with Nuge having guided and knowing so many rich folks.
“A telephone line ran through the woods back then, and after awhile Nuge got us a phone and hooked us in. At least we could talk to the dam keepers, and it was company. The forestry service kept coming down and cutting us off. And Nuge, he’d just wait a few minutes for them to leave. Then he’d hook right back on. After eight years I guess they thought we were here to stay. They gave us a lease, $10 a year. I told Nuge we’d have them eating out of our hands, and before long all the state officials and the governor were having big to-do’s at Nugent’s Camps!”
When winter came Patty sewed parkas from the tent fly off the raft, fished through the ice, and wore double sets of long underwear when she did the wash. At Christmas the dam keeper at Lock Dam, seven miles distant, and at Telos, 12 miles, came for dinner along with Dave Hannah, and Patty served stuffed partridge and deer hearts. Now and again they’d snowshoe to Chesuncook Village, 17 miles away, to pick up mail. Nuge made tables and beds and carved sinks for the camps, and they survived, barely, on small loans from Patty’s father…
By 1938 they finished building the camps, including the cabin where Patty lives today. And luck — or fate — dealt them a curious break. For it was then that Dave Hannah died and Nuge was freed from his promise and could finally trap the country.
“Nuge started me on weasel,” she says. “They weren’t bringing too much then. He figured if I cut the skin we wouldn’t have lost too much. Then we went to bobcat and fox, and when I mastered those, to beaver. Skinned them right in this room by kerosene lantern and I never cut them.”
Nuge ran over 100 miles of trapline. He’d be gone two weeks at a time, living off beaver and muskrat stew, sleeping in tiny, outlying cabins he built along the route. Each day the dam keepers, like worried aunts, phoned Patty. “They needn’t have worried,” Patty says. “I didn’t have a care in the world then. There was nothing I didn’t feel I could handle.”
She set her beaver traps around the ponds, mink traps around the edges of streams, and bobcat traps back in the woods. There were a lot more trappers in the country back then, but there were a lot more animals, too. Come spring Nuge hauled the furs to Chesuncook, then to the buyers in Greenville. “We’d never have made it without the trapping,” she says. “One year we made over $4,800. That came in awful handy.”
One year Nuge told her he wanted to give her a coat of her choice, beaver or otter. “That winter,” she says, “we were getting a dollar an inch for beaver and they were all running large. I said I’d take the otter ’cause it was cheaper.” They took the skins and a pattern to a furrier, paid $200, and waited. When the coat arrived, a note was attached. The furrier was offering $2,000. “I asked Nuge and he said, ‘It’s yours. You decide!’ Well, I didn’t sell the coat. You know what they say about otter? It makes chorus girls’ mink look like floor mats.” She laughs. “Not that I had as many places to wear it as a chorus girl”…