- Travel and Places
Secrets of Extinct Cape Cod Tribe
Princess Scargo and the Nobscussets
by Bill Russo
Less than a mile from Corporation Beach in Dennis Village, where millions of vacationers have lounged on the sandbars and swum in the salty waters; is a place of solitude and secrecy that scarcely more than a few hundred visitors stumble upon during their Cape Cod Vacation.
It is the ancient burial grounds of the extinct Nobscusset Tribe which vanished a short time after 1620 when the European 'Pilgrims' arrived. There are no headstones or markers in the place of interment, which is enclosed by iron bars firmly embedded in granite posts.
There is no road to the grave site and barely a sign to point the way. A single slate marker at a wide space between posts is the only way a casual observer would know the true purpose of the shady grove.
At first glance, a visitor sees only a lush carpet of pine needles to walk upon and a row of tall hemlocks that seem to stand over the area like strong, young braves armed with bows and crudely made arrows.
Gradually an eclectic mix of pottery, beads, piles of change, a few faded dollar bills, hats, and other sundry items seem to materialize from nowhere. They are gifts left by sojourners to honor the princess and her bygone band of warriors and squaws.
Those trinkets, the burial ground, and the lake they overlook, are nearly all that is left of Princess Scargo and her people.
The only other thing that remains, is the LEGEND OF SCARGO: which will be presented in this story. It is from the book, The Ghosts of Cape Cod by Bill Russo, on Amazon and Kindle.
The grave-site is hard to find and worth the effort.
Through the Arboreal Arch and into the Glade
The Arboreal Arch is off of Route 6A, but for most tourists and even locals, the exact location remains a mystery. At the end of the story, I will list clear directions for those who wish to visit this serene, mystical, and spiritual location.
After traversing the Aboreal Arch you will be at the entrance to the burial grounds.
The glade is just off The Old King's Highway
Princess Scargo's Lake of Tears
Have you heard of the legend of Princess Scargo?
The Legend of the Lake
I never felt any ghostly presence at the burial ground. No cold spots, no eerie noises, and no ethereal braves or squaws. What I did encounter, and I believe you will too, is a peaceful and warm feeling. This silent oasis near some of Cape Cod’s busiest beaches, lends itself perfectly to meditation and relaxation.
As for Scargo Lake itself, I have had one or two things happen there, that may not qualify as paranormal, but were odd. I’ll get into that after I relate the legend of Scargo Lake and the Princess for which it is named.
The Most Beautiful Girl in the Known World
The story starts about a hundred years after Columbus and his crew stumbled onto what is now called the Americas, while trying to find a direct route from Europe to Asia.
As the year 1600 began, the people of Cape Cod had yet to be ‘discovered’. In less than a dozen seasons, the Europeans would be coming in force to occupy their land. The most famous of the early ‘explorers’ was Bartholomew Gosnold of Suffolk, England. He is credited with giving Cape Cod its name.
In the middle of the narrow sandbar that Gosnold named, was a place and a tribe, called Nobscusset. There was little of riches and resources in the village. In truth, the ragged group was the poorest and shabbiest in the land.
The Nobscussetts had a single, tiny settlement of barely 100 people. Their Chief, Sagem, was neither remarkable in appearance nor ability. The tribe survived from one moon to the next, but never prospered.
It was not so with the mighty nation of the Wampanoags. They had thirty villages from one end of the peninsula to the other. The Mashpee had a number of communities; as did the Nauset, the Massachuset, and several other tribes.
It is estimated that when Gosnold made his exploration of the sandy land, there were as many as 5,000 indigenous people on Cape Cod. Among the mightiest warriors, was Chief Massasoit. He could equip and assemble a war party faster than an arrow can fly. As an orator, he spoke words that were hotter and smokier than a campfire. All his villages grew and prospered.
Many moons in the future, when giant boats would cross the big water, it would fall to Massasoit to meet with the foreigners and wrestle out the agreements that would keep the people safe.
It was said that the Nobscussets were like poor relations next to royalty, compared to Massasoit and the other chiefs. Yet they had one asset that was treasured above all others - Princess Scargo, the daughter of Chief Sagem.
His wife had died giving birth to their only child, leaving Sagem a listless and moody man. Yet, like a rare and radiant Rosa Stellata – a desert rose - Scargo grew from barren, un-nourished soil into the most spectacular specimen of womanhood ever seen in the new world or the old.
So pretty was Princess Scargo that warriors would come from either end of Cape Cod to the middle of the land where the Nobscussett village was, just to see her. Often, they brought gifts that helped sustain the people when the farming was poor as it often was in soil that was mostly salt and sand.
The village was built around a small fresh-water spring that threatened to dry up during the days of the long sun. Twelve wigwams circled the spring and formed the entire settlement.
Princess Scargo lived in the largest one, with her father, her grandmother, and her father’s brother and his family - ten people altogether. Each wigwam had between eight and twelve occupants.
If the tribe grew, they would simply add more wigwams. They were easy to make. The women would get six spruce poles and tie them together at the top with the roots. The poles would be stood up and spread out to make a cone. The covering was fashioned from large overlapping strips of birch bark. Birch trees were plentiful. It took only a few hours to get enough bark to completely cover a large wigwam.
The season of long-suns was more than two moons old when a warrior came to the village one morning not long after sunrise.
Weaquaquet Comes to Scargo
“My name is Weaquaquet, and I seek the beautiful Princess Scargo,” the tall stranger announced to the first person he saw.
Directed to the spring, he walked until he saw her, standing at the edge drawing water. She was even more beautiful than he had been told. Unlike his tribe, her skin was light and yet it was beautiful. Her long hair was the color of a night with no moon.
Her eyes were as wide as a clam shell and sparkled like a blade ready to slit a cod. She had full lips and wide hips and Weaquaquet was instantly filled with love.
“Everywhere there is a campfire, men talk of you,” Weaquaquet told her. “The old ones, the magic ones, the warriors too - all speak of your beauty and your gentle nature.
Chief Massasoit sends me to all his villages to bring his messages to his chieftans. Some distant villages are five running days away. But no matter how far I go, I hear of you.”
Scargo listened as the young warrior spoke. He was handsome like many of the young men who had come to visit her. But he had something more. His calm, smooth voice hinted at a gentle nature that she found very attractive.
By the time the sun crossed to mid-sky, Scargo and Weaquaquet had joined hearts. She took him to meet her father and Weaquaket gave Sagem the greatest of respect. He shared news from Massasoit and suggested that the great chief would be willing to offer protection and assistance to the Nobscusset people.
“I have to return to the ‘end of the earth', where my people live,” Weaquaquet announced as sunset neared. “The ‘end of the earth’ is just a single arrow-shoot wide. The Big Water surrounds us to the East, the North and the South".
"In the middle of the arrow-shoot is rich earth that grows giant food. Only as wide as 10 wigwams and as long as 20, this farm is able to grow enough food to feed two big Wampanoag villages."
"And even during the long-sun days when all the waters in the ‘end of the earth’ start to dry up, the rich-farm continues to thrive.“
Reluctantly, the young lovers parted. Weaquaquet had to return to his village where orders from Massasoit awaited him - orders that would take him on a long journey of not just moons, but whole seasons.
Before he left, he promised Scargo and Sagem that as he next passed their village on his business for Massasoit, he would bring a gift from the rich-farm. It would be a gift unlike anything they had seen. It would be a secret present of something unknown outside of the Wampanoag capital city.
Bring Your Own Food & Such - Scargo is not Commercial!
Bring plenty of Bottled Water
There is nothing sold at the tower
There is no admission fee
Bring a trinket for Scargo
Bring a Snack
The grave site has no fees!
The Mighty Wampanoag Nation
He left on a kiss from Scargo and ran non-stop to the ‘end of the earth’. So swiftly did Weaquaket run, he squeezed a two day warrior’s journey into less than one sun.
Standing on a flat stone at land's edge, with The Big Water all around him and a brisk wind whipping salt into his eyes, Weaquaquet met with Massasoit to receive his orders.
Squinting, due to a relentless sun in a cloudless sky, he gazed at Massasoit. The Chief, tall and immovable on the rock, had his face painted in war colors - half red and half black. His supple bow was in his left hand. In his right, he clutched his lucky amulet, made from the tooth of a fox. It looked for a moment like the big man was actually formed of rock and not of flesh.
Massasoit spoke and shared tribal secrets with young Weaquaquet. Through his nation, the great leader was known by many different names. The Massachuset and the Nauset called him 'Yellow Feather." The Mashpee knew him as Naumkeg. In other villages he was known by other names and other titles.
"The Massachuset do not know that Chief Yellow Feather is also Chief Naumkeg. They think that the two are different chiefs! I do this so that no people will know my true strength. But the time is coming when I will have to make myself known to all," he explained.
“You know of only thirty villages of our people, but there are many more. The Wampanoag nation stretches not for five days run, but for ten times five days run."
" My two brothers are Chiefs of villages in a land far away where there are hills so high it takes half a sun to climb them."
"I have picked you Weaquaquet, to take twenty braves with you and visit my brothers and all my villages as far away as the nation of the Mohegan.”
“When you return, you must bring all of my Sachems to the ‘end of the earth’. We will meet here to talk about the Big Water.”
“What about the Big Water?,” Weaquaquet wondered.
“Do not speak of it to the Chiefs, but the magic men have told me there are giant boats on the Big Water and they are coming to our shore. A giant boat is so big that it would take more than two hundred canoes to fill its belly."
"This is why I must reveal myself to all the tribes and unify all my nations."
Massasoit’s brothers Quadequina and Pokanoket were his main Sachems to the West (often Sachems were called Kings) - but he had at least seven other Sachems and dozens of minor leaders in all parts of the known world. Visiting every settlement would require Weaquaquet to devote as many as three seasons to his mission.
“I will go as soon as you like my Chief. But I have met and fallen in love with Princess Scargo of the Nobscussetts. May I take her a gift from the rich-farm?”
“You may take her anything,” the chief replied. “and when you return I will give you and Scargo a wedding next to rich-land right here in ‘end of the earth’. It will be a wedding fit for a sachem and his princess - for a king is what I will make you when you return from your mission, with all my chiefs.”
Weaquaquet looked at ‘Yellow Feather’ and realized perhaps for the first time, that Massasoit would be spoken about by people for as long as there is campfire, and fellowship, and pipes to smoke. He had lived under the Chief’s protection for all his life but only just now realized what an incredible leader the huge, rock-faced man was.
Sunrise, the next morning, found Weaquaquet directing his braves loading supplies for the journey. The last thing they did before leaving was to go to the garden of ‘rich-land’ to find a present for the princess.
Scargo sat by the small spring which was nearly dry as the end of the long-sun days approached. Slowly she ran her hand through her hair, lifted her arm and watched as the wind snatched it from her skin and blew black, silken strands straight out like so many arrows from a hunter’s bow.
Her skin was the shade of the lightest of the maple leaves, in that time when they have changed color after the long-sun days, just before they are ready to fall off and signal the start of the white-blanket days - the dreary period when the village is covered by a cold, snowy shawl.
The laziness of the hot day was erased by the bustle of a large group of warriors who entered Nobscussett bearing many bundles. At the head of the group was her handsome Weaquaquet.
“We have brought food and skins and tools to help your people in the white-blanket days,” he told Scargo as his Braves began offering bundles to Chief Sagem. “And I have something special for you. If you accept it, then it will seal our engagement. It will remind you of me and it will grow just as my love for you. When I return, we shall marry.”
At that moment, from a clearing in the woods, two Braves appeared carrying a massive orange pumpkin. It was as wide as a cow is long and almost as tall. The huge vegetable was placed in front of Scargo who examined it.
The pumpkin had been hollowed out and filled with water. Swimming inside were four shimmering fish.
“I will be back when these fingerlings are the size of your hand. Will you wait for me?”
“I will,” replied the beautiful princess. “I will keep these silvery creatures alive and growing like my love for you.”
Forging the Alliance
After dining and smoking a pipe with Sagem, Weaquaquet and his warriors left on their mission. Through knee deep snow in short-sun, and blistering heat in long-sun; the men followed Yellow Feather’s directive.
They traveled to village after village laying the groundwork for the historic alliance - that in future would save the people from slaughter by the big-boat people.
The magic men said that the strangers could carry in their hands, fire-sticks so powerful, one burst could do the work of 25 arrows in bringing down a fox, a bear or a moose.
The Nobscussett are Dying
For her part, Scargo, fed the fish every day through the short sun and into the long-sun that followed. As the fish began to grow, the massive pumpkin, grown in the magic earth of rich-land, began to deteriorate. She released the fish into the village’s tiny spring.
The long-sun days wore on. After two moons, the spring was almost dry and the four fish had barely enough water to keep covered. One morning when she went out to the spring she saw to her horror that one of the shimmering fish had died. The next morning another was lifeless.
“Father, Father,” she moaned. “Please come to the Spring. Please help me. My fish are dying.”
“I don’t know what to do daughter,” Sagem said sadly. “It has been many moons since your Weaquaquet left. Do you really believe he is coming back?”
Through sobs and tears that ran the length of her face, Scargo wept, “He’s coming. He will be here before the arrival of short-sun days. But we must keep the fish alive,” she begged.
One of Scargo's tears fell from her eye, ran down to her chin and dropped into the water of the spring causing a small ripple that drew both remaining fish to it.
They nibbled at the salty tear and began joyfully splashing in the inch or two of water that remained. Before the tear, they had been dull and lifeless, but after touching the ripple of the tear, the fish shimmered anew.
Never a man moved much to talk, or to action - Sagem found inspiration in the weeping and in the fish.
He knew in an instant what he had to do.
Running to the large rock next to the spring, he leaped on top of it like a young panther and shouted: “People of Nobscusset, Our spring is dying, our fish were almost lifeless and in two or maybe three days time, we will have no water and our whole nation will die.”
Surprised villagers gathered around the rock to listen to their chief. It was the first time in anyone’s memory the sachem had ever spoken like a chief and the first time for sure that he had mounted the rock--that long ago with other chiefs, had been a council rock.
“My daughter is crying big tears. She weeps for Weaquaquet who is far away. She cries for the fish who have no water, and for the tiny village of Nobscussett. But today, we will save our nation. We will transform our little spring into a lake. Our strongest bowman will shoot an arrow from the edge of the spring. Where that arrow lands will be the other end of our lake. We will get clam shells from the Big Water and dig our lake into the shape of a fish. When we are done, we will have a lake big enough to revive our tribe and make it grow.”
“Chief Sagem, how will we fill this lake with water?,” several of the people asked at once.
“We will fill it with my daughter’s tears. It will rise to the level of the shore and will never go dry,” Sagem affirmed.
In three days of digging with clamshells, the one hundred men, women and children of the Nobscussett nation did indeed dig Scargo Lake and like a miracle - in the hot, dry afternoon - Scargo's lake swelled with clear, cold water. It filled to the top and changed the Princess's tears to laughter.
Read on to find out how this photo may prove the legend!
The Proof that the Legend is Real!
The two fish not only survived but multiplied. Their descendants swim in Scargo Lake today. Weaquaquet returned from his mission and helped ‘Yellow Feather’ form a strong alliance that would hold for more than three score years. The alliance kept all the people safe from the big-boat strangers.
The alliance helped the strangers just when the land was about to defeat them and send them back across the big water.
Some of the elders say even today (almost 400 years later) that the Strangers never would have survived if it had not been for the help of Massasoit.
The young lovers married and had many children. Both survive today in spirit at their lakes. Weaquaquet at his, in what is called Centerville and Scargo in her lake in the town of Dennis.
I have never seen the ghost of Princess Scargo or Weaquaquet. Yet, sitting alongside her quiet lake, I have on numerous occasions had unusual feelings of peace and contentment.
Many visitors to the pond express similar sentiments. Locals who live on the shores of the pond, as well as visitors, often remark that while they are swimming or resting on the sand, they sense a certain magical feeling and though they cannot claim to see her, they feel Scargo’s presence.
As to the lake itself, the legend says that it was hollowed out by clamshell and filled with the tears of Scargo. The scientists say that glaciers dug and filled her lake.
In the early 1900’s a stone tower was built. It still stands today. For free, you can go up the 28 foot tower which rests at the top of one of the tallest hills in all of Cape Cod.
The legend says that hill was made from the dirt scooped out by the clamshells when the lake was made by Scargo and her family. Scientists doubt that. They believe that a glacier gouged out the lake.
A question for the scientists. Why is Scargo Hill nearly the only steep hill in the middle of Cape Cod - as well as its tallest?
There are dozens of other lakes in the area but none has a hill beside it! The legend says that the Nobscussetts created the hill from the dirt they scooped out when they were digging the lake.
One thing is for sure….if you go up to the top of Scargo tower and look out over the sea, you can see all the way to Provincetown almost forty miles distant.
You can see the famous Provincetown Monument erected to commemorate the Pilgrims landing there and meeting Yellow Feather himself in 1620.
You can see miles and miles out upon the big-water. You can see where Cape Cod is connected by three bridges to the state of Massachusetts.
Oh yes….you can see something else...and it is perhaps the proof that the tale of Scargo is real!
Just as in the legend: Scargo Lake is in the shape of one of the fish that Weaquaquet gave to his princess!
I don’t believe that the scientists have a theory on that!
See the Pilgrim Memorial in P-town from the Tower
My Scargo Adventure - and How to Find the Burial Grounds
I’ve said that I have never seen the ghost of Princess Scargo, yet have felt an usual sense of serenity while visiting her lake. During a fierce storm a few years ago, I had another experience that does not prove the magical qualities of the lake or of Scargo, but was fascinating and certainly out of the sphere of ‘normalcy’.
Like many Cape Codders, I love a good Nor’easter. More than one time, I have found myself clinging onto the rocks of a jetty on Haigus Beach in Dennis Port - in gale winds with seas as high as rooftops, just to get a close-up breath of the storm soaked air.’’
It is truly awe inspiring to drive your car to the parking lot of West Dennis Beach during a ferocious display of nature’s nasty temper. The road at the beach, runs like an island through the sand for a full mile, with ocean in front and behind.
If you drive to the end of the parking lot and face your vehicle towards Hyannis, the torment soon makes you forget that you are in a car as the heavy wind buffets you from all sides. On occasion the cyclonic wind lifts your car an inch or so in the air and rocks it from side to side.
Visibility is limited to a hundred feet or less. The road disappears as whitecaps wash over it. This experience of being in your vehicle while the storm bashes it, is as close as you can get to the seafaring experience the ancient salts had while riding out such a storm in a three masted schooner of old.
In recent years, because of gale loving fools like me, the local police departments have begun closing the gates of the Cape Cod beaches during bad weather – preventing the storm riding that I so much love.
During a mini hurricane some years back, a friend and I tried to get into West Dennis beach but its heavy iron gates would not allow my car to get by. It was the same thing at Sea Street Beach, and Corporation Beach, Even the unguarded, tiny Depot Street Beach was blocked off.
We decided to head for fresh water and Scargo Beach. Success! The entrance to Scargo had not been barred. We drove to the parking lot and got out of the vehicle.
Instantly, we noticed that we had left behind the torment of the hurricane. The waters of Scargo were almost as calm and mild as the laziest of summer days.
In the distance we could see large trees doing the death dance with the gale force winds. But the trees surrounding Scargo were dancing nothing more than a gentle waltz, and the surface of the lake was nearly as smooth as glass. For more than an hour, my friend and I waded and swam in the warm water. We ate a picnic lunch before going back home to South Dennis.
As soon as we drove out of the Scargo lot, it was as if we had left sanctuary. Toppled trees and limbs littered the roadway. They had fallen during the attack of gusts reaching more than 70 miles per hour. Power lines were down, ambulances, and repair crews were the only other vehicles on the road. Electrical power had been lost to most homes and businesses.
And yet, Scargo Lake had been nearly as mild and gentle as a kitten. I know that this doesn’t really show that the area is endowed with magical powers, but the story is true and it was a delightful interlude in a fierce storm.
Now, as promised here are the directions to the enchanted Nobscussett Burial Ground. Coming from the Mid-Cape Highway, Route six, take exit 9B. This will bring you to Route 134, the Cross-Dennis Highway. Continue on 134 until it ends at the Old King’s Highway, Route 6-A. Take a left turn. You’ll pass Scargo Hill Road, Paddock’s Path, Doctor Lord’s Road, and Seaside Avenue. Next, look for the Osprey Road sign-post. Affixed to the post, as shown in the photos, is the rectangular sign pointing the way to the grave site.
Look for these signs....
The Wind Across Scargo
Finish your tour of the burial grounds and the lake with a trip to the tower.
Pull over to the side of the road when you see Osprey Lane, for you are as close to Scargo’s resting place as you can drive. Stand by the sign and look across the street. You will see the arboreal entrance.
Park your car on the side of the road and walk through the verdant arch and you will soon be transported back in time some 300 years. You’ll see the odd assortment of gifts left for the princess. Perhaps, you will leave something yourself. Walk to the furthest iron posts and you’ll have a perfect view of the great 60 acre Kettle Pond that really does seem to have been dug with clam shells and filled with the tears of a real princess.
After spending some time with Scargo and her relatives, it’s highly recommended to visit Scargo Tower. You may not see any ghosts, but from the top you will see Provincetown and the Big Water.
Enter the tower, walk up the metal spiral stairs, and you’ll soon be atop the highest spot on the Mid Cape and perhaps all of Cape Cod.
You have been reading one of the chapters of GHOSTS OF CAPE COD, by Bill Russo. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. Bill Russo is also the author of The Creature From the Bridgewater Triangle which has been in the top ten of New England Tales for two years. His story was also shown on national television in Monsters and Mysteries in America and in "America's Bermuda Triangle" as well as in the award winning documentary, "The Bridgewater Triangle".