Indian Tale of Lake Name is One Fishy Story  
Thursday, July 28, 2011

This is the story behind the long Indian name for Webster Lake, or how it came to mean: “You fish on your side, I fish on my side, and nobody fish in the middle.”

It’s pure hokum, based on an alleged Indian treaty that allegedly settled fishing rights to the lake.

Laurence J. Daly, a long-ago editor with a revisionist bent, culled the story out of thin air, he admitted in his late years.

A Brimfield native, Mr. Daly came to Webster around 1915 to serve as editor of the Webster Times.

I know a bit about this because Mr. Daly was my first editor. He was a unique talent. He could write short or long, poetic or analytical, depending on editorial needs of the moment. There was a rhythmic meter to his language at times. Some of his stories — like that of a train crash, and the town’s dynamiting of railroad tracks to release flood waters — became classics, still mentioned by local historians from time to time.

Mr. Daly conjured the fishing treaty report on a slow news day, drawing from his imagination rather than reliable sources.

It took a while but, gradually, the You-I-Nobody fantasy built a head of steam, aired on national radio broadcasts, rewritten in newspapers everywhere, and buoyed by a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” illustration. People with Webster-area roots began mailing clips about Mr. Daly’s tale to the editor of the Webster Times, Laurence J. Daly, he recalled in my presence more than once.

The original story read:

“In the Town of Webster, Ma., near the Connecticut state line, is a very pretty lake with a very short (?) name. It is Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. It has 45 letters, fifteen of which are g’s, and nine of which are a’s. And how did a lake get such a queer name, you ask?

“Years ago Indians used to live in the locality and they liked to fish here. The lake has three divisions, the upper, the middle, and the lower. The fishing was best in the middle lake, but the two tribes of Indians living at opposite ends used to dispute over which of them had the right to fish there.

“Finally, they decided to get together and make a treaty to settle the question. So they met and agreed that those who lived at the upper end had the right to fish in the upper lake, that those who lived in the lower end could fish in the lower lake, but neither could fish in the middle lake, which decision was fortunate for the fish.

“So they named the beautiful lake after terms of that treaty. Chargoggagogg, ‘you fish on your side,’ Manchaugg, ‘I fish on my side,’ and Chaubunagungamaugg, ‘Nobody fish in the middle’ evolved.”

“The real meaning of the lake’s name, ‘Fishing Place at the Boundaries—Neutral Meeting Grounds,’ has little to commend it, outside of being the truth,” the Times editorialized. “In the idle hour that the imaginative tale of the treaty between the Indians was written, and the ridiculous interpretation of “You fish on your side, I fish on my side, and Nobody fish in the middle evolved, the writer never dreamed that the story would be taken as anything but a fanciful tale.”

Since he authored both the lake-name fantasy and the subsequent editorial response, Laurence Daly must have written the first in hope and the second in wonder.

The editorial never caused so much as a murmur, even as the fanciful tale won general acceptance. It was reiterated in January 1944 in a weekly section devoted to reports from area residents serving in the military. It was mostly a collection of letters to the weekly from area residents serving in the military.

“One soldier writes to urge that the name and its interpretation be published to prove there is really such a place. Another from overseas, says that he could silence a whole bunch of skeptics.”

Mr. Daly responded, “Officially and in accordance with all that students can find from a study of Indian lore, the meaning of the name is “Fishing Place at the Boundaries—the Neutral Meeting Ground.” However, the official meaning of the name has been tossed into the discard because of a fanciful tale written by a newspaperman some years ago, and which was enthusiastically accepted as “gospel truth” by readers. Mr. Daly presented this version time after time, but never acknowledged responsibility for the “fanciful tale.”

Harral B. Ayers, author of “The Great Trails of New England,” published in 1940, lived near the lake from 1915 to 1918, when he was executive secretary of the Webster-Dudley Chamber of Commerce. He tried to counter misstatements about the meaning of the lake name.

Living in Florida at the time, Mr. Ayers stressed: “This is the way historical truths are destroyed, and legends cultivated, and the records loaded with chaff.”

There’s probably truth in this, but decades of whimsical acceptance of the “You fish on Your side, I fish on my side, and Nobody fishes in the middle” version of the lake’s name is the absolute winner!
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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