With Halloween just around the corner, it seems like a good time to check out a few intriguing references to the devil in nearby place names. 

Devil’s Den, Devil’s Slide, Devil’s Bridge, Devil’s Island, Devil’s Footprint — these are a few that live on in local folklore.

Usually, they have a connection to mystery or difficulty, and the Devil’s Den on Sabattus Mountain certainly falls into that category.

It’s a well-known landmark, but don’t look for it on maps. Devil’s Den is a cave near the top of Sabattus Mountain, on the southwest side, and the climb to it is very steep. In front of the cave is a 6-foot-wide shelf of rock. The opening is a crack at a 45-degree slant just wide enough to permit a person to roll into an inner chamber where they can stand erect.

Apparently, my grandparents had some curiosity about Devil’s Den. It was almost 100 years ago when they set out from Auburn on a family field trip with my father and my aunt. My father was a teenager. My aunt was probably 8 or 10 years old, but she recalled the trip in a column she wrote in the Lewiston Evening Journal magazine section in 1975.

“When my father and brother took mother and me to the foot of Sabattus Mountain, I spoiled the expedition to the cave by setting up a howl,” she wrote. “Mother had to stay back and calm me. I just knew that the men would be kidnapped by the devil who lived in the cave on the mountain. As it turned out, they missed the trail and never did see the hole.”

In 1901, H.C. Hunter wrote a poem about that Devil’s Den. It told of a pirate treasure hidden there in the devil’s keeping. Local people made many trips to explore the mountain and its storied cave, but detailed descriptions of exploration are not easy to find. More common are the legends associated with the cave.

The early settlers said a panther once made its den there. Those animals were once known as Indian devils, so that was thought to be the source of the cave’s name.

There’s another story about an old Indian fighter, Joe Weir, who hid out in the cave and made it “hot as the Devil” for the native inhabitants of the area. While hiding there, it’s said he accidentally shot Chief Sabatis, the celebrated friendly leader of the local tribe, and legend says Weir regretted his action the rest of his life.

Romance is the theme of another tale dealing with the cave. My aunt’s column said a popular chief of the Anasagunticooks fell in love with a Sagadahoc maiden. Her father objected because he had already chosen a bridegroom for her from among his tribe. The lovers eloped by paddling up the Kennebec as far as Cobbosseecontee River, the present site of Gardiner. Then they went up Purgatory Stream, across Shorey and Buker ponds to Jimmy Pond and up Weir Stream.

They left their canoe there and traveled the two miles to the Devil’s Den on foot. Hiding in the cave from the girl’s enraged father for weeks, maybe months, they lived on game and fish.

The size of the cave also reached legendary proportions. Stories told about a rear exit on Oak Hill, two miles away, but a passage through the mountain to the level of the lake was pure myth.

The Devil’s Footprint is the subject of another Maine legend. A boulder in a wall around a cemetery near the North Manchester Meeting House bears an imprint of a three-toed foot. Long ago, when the road was under construction, workers encountered a rock that defied all efforts to move it.

A worker said, “I’d give my soul to the devil to move this rock,” according to the local tale. The next day, when the crew returned to the site, the rock was easily loosened and the man who had cried out in frustration was never seen again.

The boulder, with a reddish footprint shape within it, can be seen along the cemetery wall.

Of course, such legends grow, and it’s been said that cloaked figures and ghostly children are seen at the site, and voices tell visitors to get out, or no doubt, “there will be the devil to pay.”

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by email at [email protected]


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