Eel and Jack Cow, Chiefs of the Regions
North of Stoney Lake

ELCM logo by Norman Knott The ELCM logo (adapted a little for various applications) was commissioned for the Marina in the mid 90's from the late well-known Curve Lake Native artist Norman Knott. It is intended to depict the chief Eel at Eels Lake, in traditional Native appearance. Norman died in 2002.

      Eels Lake owes the origins of its name to chief "Eel Cow", who was the brother of "Handsome Jack". There are various legends surrounding "Handsome Jack" and the death of his beloved daughter "Polly Cow", thus there is a need to go back to the earliest sources of information. The earliest known literature describing Handsome Jack Cow, Polly Cow, and a mention of Eel Cow, dates to 1884, in History of the County of Peterborough by C. Pelham Mulvany et al. The following reproduces the relevant section. It is reproduced in Valley of the Trent (Toronto, 1957) in which the author notes that the story is especially significant since the author Mulvany personally interviewed numerous inhabitants of the region in the lifetime of many of the first settlers.
     Although it discusses Jack, it can be assumed that his brother Eel lived a similar way of life, but little was spoken about Eel perhaps because he was further away from settlers, and had less interaction with them.This text is the most authoritative. Other stories that have developed over the last century are more legend than fact.

     In the north-west corner of the Township of Methuen and about eight miles north-east of Stony Lake, with which it is connected by Jack's Creek, is a lake the real and common name of which is Jack's Lake, although on one map, at least it is called White Lake. It is derived its name from Handsome Jack, an Indian chief, who claimed all the streams and lands in this locality as his fishing and hunting grounds. He was considered the handsomest man among the Chippewas, then commanded by 'Cap' Paudash, of Rice Lake; he stood six feet four inches in height and weighed fully 250 pounds. He belongs to the Cow family. and among the whites was known as Jack Cow. Stony Lake, Loon Lake [Chandos Lake] in the Township of Chandos, and all streams south of Loon Lake was claimed by him as inherited property. He was most tenacious of his rights, and would invariably destroy all the traps of white men he found set on his streams. But he would allow the pale face to hunt for deer and partridge or to fish in the streams, so long as no furs were taken.
     Handsome Jack usually lived in a birch-bark wigwam, which he moved from place to place as circumstances required. Although he never missed an opportunity or rather greedily asserting his right to his streams and hunting grounds, he, nevertheless, was very hospitable top those who were friendly with him. He would often invite the whites to his wigwam and would order his squaw to prepare a good meal of rice, beaver, and partridge boiled with a little pounded corn. This was 'Te Pake', a hodge-podge mixture, somewhat akin to Irish stew. The hospitable Indian would sit by and apparently enjoy seeing the white man eat at his fireside. When the repast was finished, he would light his pipe and relate thrilling scenes of his wild life in hunting the bear, wolf, deer, and other animals with which the woods were alive.
      Handsome Jack was the father of two lovely girls named 'Baby Cow' and 'Polly Cow', both of whom inherited their father's extreme beauty and perfect symmetry of form. The latter grew up a most beautiful maiden; her soft-tinted complexion, heightened by the rose-hued blossom of health, and her long black hair reached nearly to the ground, rendered her an object of envy to other dusky damsels. She possessed a fine voice and on many a moonlight night have the pine-crowned islands of Stony Lake re-echoed the sweet melody of her quaint and weird native songs, the faint ripple of the waters keeping time as she paddled her canoe beneath the shadows of the overhanging boughs of out on the open lake in the splendour of the full moon. She was the ever-worshipped idol of her father and of many others, who were alarmed when, at the age of sixteen, she grew ill of a fever. The best efforts of the 'medicine men' were futile to stay the ravages of the disease and Handsome JAck was inconsolable. So died the beautiful Polly Cow on an evening when the setting sun shot golden shafts through the frost-bitten leaves that fluttered in the autumn wind. The old Indian chief was heart-broken. He was determined that his darling daughter should sleep in a fitting grave, and accordingly repaired to one, the most southern of the three islands at the point where the waters of Clear Lake run into Katchewanooka--the Water of Many Rapids. On this island, about ten feet from the water's edge, he dug the grave with his own hands and walled it up with stones. Then, placing the body in a birch-bark coffin, he paddled it down the lake in his canoe and buried it in the grave he prepared beneath a balsam tree, which is still standing to mark the lonely grave of Handsome Jack's daughter. The disconsolate father then cleared away the trees and brushwood between the grave and the water's edge so that the dead girl's spirit could wander there daily for water, as was the Indian belief. Night after night did the sad-hearted chief watch the grave, until he joined his daughter in the Happy Hunting Grounds in 1835. Since the occurrence of this touching incident these islands have been called Polly Cow Islands. They are only about a half a mile below the small village of Young's Point, and can be easily visited . . . . . . The squaw of Handsome Jack survived him many years, and married an Indian named Snow-storm. . . .
     The northern portion of the County of Peterborough contains chains of small lakes nearly one hundred in number. Some of these possess names of historic character, being the names of Indian chiefs by whom they were claimed, with the land surrounding them, for hunting and fishing purposes. The first worthy of mention is Eels Lake, located in the north-east corner of the Township of Anstruther. It derives its name from 'Eels' a subordinate chief of the Chippewas. Its outlet is Eels River, a deep and swift-running stream of much importance for milling and log-floating purposes which flows directly south for about forty miles until it enters Stony Lake about seven miles east of Burleigh Falls. 'Eels' was a brother of 'Handsome Jack'. In the Township of Methuen, to the south-east of Jack's Lake, is Bottle Lake. . . .
[The author continues to discuss a few other lakes of the region] ----pp 218-22, History of the County of Peterborough by C. Pelham Mulvany et al, Toronto 1884.

According to research done by author John Craig about steamships on Stony Lake, Handsome Jack was a close friend of one of the Young sons. In his book By The Sound of Her Whistle (1966) he provides the following additional information about Handsome Jack.

     . . . . . . . . The Indians, led by Handsome Jack in his canoe at their head, brought the body of Polly Cow down through Stoney and Clear Lakes to a small island, the most southerly of three, just below the rapids at Youngs Point. Handsome Jack's friend "Nathaway", was the only white man to accompany this strange and sad flotilla down the lake. . . . .

      . . . . . . . . . . Then he brought his daughter's body from Young's Point in a birch-bark coffin which Pat Young and his brother Matt had helped the Indian Chief build. . . . . .

     . . . . . . . . .Afterwards, Handsome Jack stayed with the Youngs for a time, and while there he would never consent to sleep in a bed inside the Young's cabin, but lay on the ground beside the front step even on the cold late autumn nights. Every evening soon after dusk, he would push off from the Point in his birch bark canoe, and paddle down to the island to keep watch over his beloved daughter's grave, keeping this up until the first thin ice of winter made it impossible.

---( p 76-78 By The Sound of Her Whistle John Craig, 1966 )

     Craig continues to discuss another unrelated story, in this case the origins of the name "Lovesick Lake". It has no relation to the story of Polly Cow, but over time the stories have gotten mixed together . As John Craig explains, the "Lovesick Lake" story, told originally to Colonel Stickland in 1852, relates to a handsome young Indian named Richard Fawn who fell desperately in love with a blue-eyed Irish maiden named Katherine. In spite of seeking her love in all the approved manner of Indian courtship, she had no interest in the Indian's attentions and married a young immigrant farmer. As a result this young Native retired to an island on Lovesick Lake determined to die of his love, until his friends found him and persuaded him to come home.
     In the earliest text by author Pelvan Mulvany, he mentions how Jack Cow claimed all the territory north of Stoney Lake according to their tradition of inheritance, which was very similar to the way in European traditions land was passed down within families. It follows that the regions towards the north, those frequented by Eel and his extended family, were part of the same Cow extended family territory.
     But Indian territory was not defined by fences etc as in Europe. Among canoe-using nomadic people, territories were quite naturally defined by water systems. A territory was unlikely to extend from one water basin to another, since it was always easiest for canoes to remain in one water basin. In the North Kawartha region, once we go beyond Paudash Lake, the waters start flowing towards the Ottawa River, the traditional territory of the Ottawa Valley Algonquins. Thus the Kawartha Natives and Ottawa Valley Natives, formed different bands, tribes, according to how geography dictated it. Thus it was Nature's arrangement of water flow that defined territories for canoe-travelling hunters, and it was the families of the territories thus defined, who maintained the territories that remained in their families through many generations, and thus had to use it wisely to keep it healthy in the long term. This fact is the main reason the Natives were by nature conservationists! They knew that if they ruined their family territory, their sons and daughters could not go elsewhere since neighbouring places were territories claimed by other families and there would be confrontations if one intruded on the territory of another!
     It is said that Handsome Jack was part of the Crane clan, hence also his brother Eel; which is interesting because the Stony Lake Petroglyphs , in the center of his territory, feature a large crane image in its center. Did Jack Cow or an ancestor put it there? The ethnographic literature reveals there was use of a totem image to designate identity or ownership, and thus it would not be out of the question that a totem animal image could have been placed at the Petroglyphs to signify its identity or ownership. Historical records show that the Crane clan was the leader clan of the Mississaugas..
     Obviously the surname "Cow" was one that was given to some ancestor by government agent or missionary. Similarly the first name "Jack" was a name adopted for use in the colonial framework. A Native had an Indian name too, which was given to them shortly after birth often from a dream the mother had. It was the name which one retained during life and which had a very real significance because it had spiritual value.
     We do not know what the Indian name of Jack Cow was, but it can be assumed that the name of his brother, Eel or Eels, was an English translation of his Indian name. The Ojibwa word for 'eel' was piimsae thus his name was probably something of that nature.
     Thus Eel and the extended family he headed must have frequented Eels Lake, as well as places south towards Stoney Lake, moving in an annual cycle from one traditional camping site to another, each one with its particular activity -- fishing, collecting maple syrup, harvesting wild rice, berry-picking, hunting, etc -- but always ending up at Rice Lake where all the extended families, clans, are known to have congregated annually in late summer on the north side of Rice Lake, to reaffirm their larger social order.
      Where might the Eels clan have camped while they were at Eels Lake? It is known that the north side of water bodies was always favoured, so as to get the rays of the morning side. Some say that they camped at the point where today the annual regatta is held. Someone said that arrowheads have been found there .

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