It Happened in Windham: The legend of Hunting Joe


In New England’s early days, the New World was a wild place and the Colonial militia would rely heavily on scouts to patrol the vast forests of the massive frontier. Also called rangers, these rugged individuals were full-time soldiers, paid by the militia, to “range” between one outpost and another looking for signs of hostility by the native people.

Most of these frontiersmen preferred the wide open spaces to the crowds in the more populated cities. They were at home and at one with nature, had keen senses and were often very good with a rifle and a knife. This made them invaluable to both the militia and the people who settled in more remote areas.

In his book, “Forest and Shore: Legends of the Pine Tree State,” Charles Ilsley tells some stories about one such scout named Joseph Wier. Wier was so well known for his prowess with a rifle that he had earned himself the nickname “Hunting Joe.” Joe was a “strong, bold-hearted fellow,” according to Ilsley. He was tall and thin, willowy, but muscular. He wore a fur-skin hat, a loose-fitting frock tied at the waist with a deerskin belt, and leggings. Moccasins were his footwear of choice.

One of the tales in the book tells of an eventful adventure that took Joe to New Marblehead (Windham) to a spot near Mallison Falls, known as Horse Beef Falls in 1746 when the incident occurred.

While visiting Falmouth Neck (Portland) one day, Joe overheard a conversation that nearly floored him. A family by the name of Hanson living near the falls had been massacred by a band of hostile natives. This news would be alarming in any case, but it was devastating to Joe as the lady of the household was his sister and he loved her and her family dearly. To make matters even more disturbing, Joe’s own daughter, Mabel, had been spending the summer with her aunt, and word had it that a young woman had escaped death but had been taken captive by the brutal interlopers.

Desperate to find his girl, Joe quickly made his way from his small hut in the Stroudwater section of Falmouth Neck to his sister’s secluded homestead. The scene he found when he arrived was horrible. The floors were still covered in blood and the aura of death about the place was suffocating. Overcome with emotion, Joe swore to himself that he would avenge his family’s death and bring his daughter home safely.

As he was about to leave the horrifying scene, he heard a rustling in the woods and came upon a young settler named John Mayberry who had been courting Mabel. John had arrived alone. All other able-bodied men were at the Province Fort waiting to deal with any new Indian uprisings. And so, the two men set out together in search of the war party that had taken Mabel hostage.

At first, they had no trouble finding the trail, but Joe had to kill a mountain lion along the way, and after hearing the shot, the Native Americans became more cautious. This is when Joe’s talents as a scout were put to the test, and he was up to the challenge.

His sharp eye discovered a split in the war party’s trail. One of the two trails was traveled by a small party of three, and judging by the footprints, one of the three was Mabel. Joe then led John through the dense forest, teaming with wild animals and impending danger, until they at last found the girl, freed her and left her captives’ bodies to be eaten by the wolves.

The story ends with John and Mabel marrying. Joe never forgot the bravery his young son-in-law displayed during their long quest through the wilderness. At the wedding celebration, it is said that Joe grasped John’s hand and proclaimed, “I am more proud to receive you as a son than if you were the king’s own. You are worthy of the gal. May she make you a good wife.”

Haley Pal is a Windham resident and active member of the Windham Historical Society. She can be reached at [email protected]

It was near Mallison Falls that the Hanson Family was slaughtered by Indians.