What follows is a fascinating story that was reprinted from the Boston Globe as it appeared in the Sept. 9 edition of the MAINE WOODS, published in Phillips. Truly a heartbreaking story with an amazing ending and it took place right here in our region! The Wilbur name enjoys a long history in our “neck of the woods,” so I’d imagine that this just might be a story about one of their ancestors. Perhaps we will hear from one of them to confirm? Stay safe, everyone.

Stolen by Indians.[BOSTON GLOBE]

Published in the Maine Woods, Sept. 9, 1904

A romantic story, stranger than fiction, is that told by Joseph Wilbur of Saco, who was stolen from his home, a barren section of the state up in the Rangeley lake region, by a white renegade, brought up a brave by the Mohawk Indians to whom he was sold, married a Mohawk wife, traveled with the tribe through the forests of Canada, and hunted in the woods of Labrador, later returning to Maine where he was Identified by his mother 19 years after he was kidnapped, among 50 young men she had never seen before.

Mr. Wilbur is 79 years old. Since his return to civilized life, he has been for years employed in the York cloth mills, first as a textile operator and later as a night watchman. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted and served through it in the 5th Maine Infantry and 2nd Maine Cavalry. He was a brave soldier and participated in a number of battles. Recently, at the solicitation of friends, he applied for admittance to the soldiers’ home in Togus and has just gone to the State Home, where he will pass in comfort his declining years. Wilbur was about 2 years old when he was kidnapped, and he did not leave the Indians until he was 21. His father was a white settler in the Rangeley Lake region, now known as Phillips. A year after Joseph was stolen, his father moved to Bethel, where he resided for some years, afterward locating to Martha’s Vineyard.

There were eight children in the Wilbur family, and they used to play about the door at the little cabin in the forest while their father was toiling in the woods and their mother was busy with her housework. The rest of the chil1dren were playing one day when Joe ran up to his mother and said: ‘‘Let me play, too, Mama.”


After giving her consent, she kissed him and putting on his hat, sent him to the clearing. He wandered off in the woods and shortly after the children heard a scream and the muffled cry, ‘Mama, the bad man has got me!” This cry was followed by more screaming and then a muffled noise as if a man was trying to carry off the baby and at the same time stifle its cries. The little Wilburs rushed into the house and told their mother what had happened. She hurried into the thicket and woods in the direction the children pointed, screamed her baby’s name until she was hoarse, but her search was futile. When the father returned from his day’s work, he was told of the kidnapping of his child, and, without a mouthful of supper, he searched the woods round about until sunrise the next morning. Not a trace of the child did he find.

There is a story in the Wilbur family that the stealing of the baby was done by a murderer, who had been tried and committed to prison. He escaped and lived in the woods in that section of Maine. He devoted his time to hunting and trapping. His motive, it was averred, for stealing the baby was to cut him up for fox bait, but the child being so handsome, he hadn’t the heart ‘to do so. The man directed suspicion against himself by remarking later, (regarding) the kidnapping of the boy, that he knew more about the youngster’s disappearance than he would, ever tell. Afterward he sold the boy to the Mohawk Indians, although the price he got for the blue-eyed little chap is not known. A Mohawk brave, who died years afterward, is said to have confessed that it was in such a way that the tribe got possession of Joseph.

Short, thick set and of quite erect figure, Mr. Wilbur does not look to be a man of nearly four score years. “I was brought up,” he said, “with the other papooses of the tribe and supposed that I was one of them. They gave me the name of ‘White Jim’ and told me that my father and mother were Indians. My earliest recollection is of traveling hundreds of miles, hunting, fishing and making baskets. We camped in the wilds of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

“The Indians gave me no education; hence I have no schooling. I know little but the life of an Indian. The last few years of my life with the Mohawks I lived in Old Town, Me., where I married an Indian woman. She was old enough to be my mother. We used to be in the habit of going to a farmhouse in the vicinity after milk every morning. We made trips through Maine during the summer months with baskets and that sort of thing, which we sold. Until I saw my sisters in Biddeford on one of these trips, I never did suspect that I was not what I seemed to be.

The mother never gave up the search for her stolen child. Every day she searched the woods and barn and never saw a stack of hay that she did not have it overturned to see if her child was underneath it. It was thought at the time by everybody that the Indians had kidnapped the boy, and whenever they heard of a tribe anywhere, they would go and look to see if they had a white child with them. Some years after, two sisters of Joseph’s came to Biddeford to work in the cotton mills. When they returned from the factory one night the woman with whom they boarded told them that a tribe of Indians was in town, and she had seen a young white man with them. She suggested that it might be their long[1]lost brother.

The following morning the sisters visited the tribe of red skins in the outskirts of the city, and when they saw the white man they exclaimed together, “It’s brother, sure. Don’t you see how much he looks like father?” They entered into conversation with the young, light-skinned brave who so much resembled their father. He was dressed in the clothing of his tribe wore his hair long in Indian fashion, and, bronzed as he was, looked like a real Mohawk. His speech was that of an Indian and he showed his lack of knowledge of the English language.


In reply to the query, “Are you an Indian?”, the young man in broken English said that he was and asked why they wanted to know. They told him that their brother had been stolen by the Mohawks years ago, that he greatly resembled their father, and they believed he was their long-lost brother. The conversation caused some suspicion among the other members of the tribe and the sisters left for their boarding place. They learned what he had told him. The next day but they saw him and told him that they were convinced he was their stolen brother. Then for the first time he thought he was not a full[1]blooded Mohawk and said to the young women, “You wouldn’t have anything to do with me now even if I was your brother.” They assured him that it made no difference where or what he had been and if he would come to live with them, he, would be just as dear to them if he had lived with them all his life. They asked to see if he had a particular birthmark and sure enough the birthmark matched that of their brother.

He refused to leave the tribe at that and before the sisters could get their father to come to Biddeford and endeavor to persuade the young man to desert the redskins the tribe broke camp. “Shortly after the tribe went to Cape Elizabeth to camp. Mr. Wilbur came to Biddeford shortly after, followed the tribe of Mohawks to Portland. The father gave a man by the name of Swett a sum of money to get the young man away from the Indians. In a day or two the Portland man succeeded and after some persuasion Joseph consented to go to Bethel. Mr. Wilbur was not so sure that the young brave was his long-lost son.

One day I was crossing the bridge when I met a man who stopped me. It was my father. He told me I was his son, and he could prove it by marks on my body. One was a scar on my elbow I had received when I was a year old by upsetting kettle of hot water. I had been scalded. “The other was a birthmark on my foot that resembled a strawberry.

When they reached Bethel, they got together about 50 men and had them walk in the house two by two. He put Joseph, who he had dressed in the clothing of a white man, in the midst of them, saying that if it was his stolen boy his wife could pick him out.

When Joseph appeared, she threw her arms about his neck, and kissed him as if he was still a child. There was net a dry eye in the party. The mother said that she recognized her son by the cowlick on his forehead.

Later I went to Saco, where I worked in the York cloth mills and when the Civil war broke out, I enlisted. “My Indian wife found out where I was, and she came and lived with me for several years. Tiring of civilization she returned to her people, afterward marrying, I am told, an Indian at Gray Head. She died many year – ago. After the war I returned to Saco, where I have since been employed, much of the time as night watchman in the cotton mills.”

Mr. Wilbur’s parents moved from Bethel to Martha’s Vineyard, where they died some years ago. He has several sisters near Vineyard Haven at present.

Mr. Wilbur has always been industrious and made a good citizen. He has a large circle of friends and acquaintances in this vicinity.

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