After it was willed nearly the entirety of an Old Town man’s estate, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine plans to donate his collection of more than 1,500 Penobscot Nation artifacts to the tribe.
Before the tribe officially accepts the trove of important artifacts, however, staff at the Maine State Museum in Augusta will take temporary possession of the collection and catalog each item that belonged to the late Erick Hutchins, who died in December 2017.
The collection includes hundreds of arrowheads, spearheads, jewelry items, hand axes and other hand tools. Penobscot Nation tribal historic preservation officer Chris Sockalexis estimates many of them could be up to 4,000 years old, and that some of them likely had their origins in Nova Scotia and were traded to the Penobscot people.
“It’s really a significant archive,” Sockalexis said. “When I first got to take a look at it back in December it really was just like, ‘whoa.’ I don’t know that we have ever received a collection of this size.”
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, had no idea his organization had been named a beneficiary in Hutchins’ will until he received a letter last winter asking for the organization’s help in settling his estate. When Trahan visited Hutchins’ Old Town home last year, the first thing he noticed inside were display cases on the walls each containing between 100 and 150 arrowheads.
While working to piece together the rest of Hutchins’ collection, Trahan realized the importance of the archive, and contacted the Maine State Museum and the Penobscot Nation in order to begin cataloging it, with an eventual plan — per Hutchins’ request — to give all the items to their rightful owners.
“We knew it needed to be handled with respect and care,” Trahan said. “Luckily, he kept a ledger that documented where he found every item and other information, so that really helped us in understanding what exactly we had.”
According to Sockalexis, everything in Hutchins’ collection had been excavated or otherwise found by Hutchins personally from a number of different sites in the Old Town area along the Penobscot River watershed. Trahan said Hutchins hiked and paddled all over the region and knew many spots that historians, tribal or otherwise, had not yet explored.
“He was kind of an amateur archaeologist, and these were his dig sites,” Trahan said. “It was a real passion for him.”
Hutchins enlisted the help of Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to arrange for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to accept the archive then donate it to the Maine State Museum. The museum will then donate the archive to the Penobscot Nation.
Sockalexis said the partnership with the Maine State Museum is a first for both the tribe and the museum.
“We’re setting a new standard with the museum in terms of them working with tribes,” he said. “Given the provenance of these items, in other situations, the museum would likely have kept it. But now we get to work with them and build a relationship and bring all of this home.”
Hutchins was a longtime Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine member who owned a gun shop on Bennoch Road in Old Town. He was in his late 60s when he died, according to Trahan, though not much else is known about his personal life. He restored and repaired antique firearms, and was a renowned expert on the John Browning-designed Remington Model 8 rifles, which were produced between 1905 and 1950 and were a favorite of L.L. Bean founder Leon Leonwood Bean.
As a thank you to Hutchins, who also bequeathed a number of his other assets to the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Trahan said he had recently finished restoring a cannon Hutchins had made from scratch. He plans to display it at the organization’s office with a plaque in his memory.
“It’s just a pretty amazing gift all around,” he said.