Recalling Princess Goldenrod

Betty Djerf, the daughter of Penobscot Indian Princess Goldenrod, listens to longtime residents share stories about her mother at the Raymond-Casco Historical Society Museum on Saturday. (De Busk Photo) ABOUT THE MUSEUM The Raymond-Casco Historical Society’s Museum is open from 1 to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. The exhibit of Princess Goldenrod has been expanded with new donations of her articles from her daughter, Betty Djerf. In addition to the museum building, a large garage houses about 30 vintage vehicles. The museum is located off Route 302 near the Casco-Naples line. Also, check out the historical society and museum on Facebook.

Betty Djerf, the daughter of Penobscot Indian Princess Goldenrod, listens to longtime residents share stories about her mother at the Raymond-Casco Historical Society Museum on Saturday. (De Busk Photo)
ABOUT THE MUSEUM
The Raymond-Casco Historical Society’s Museum is open from 1 to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. The exhibit of Princess Goldenrod has been expanded with new donations of her articles from her daughter, Betty Djerf. In addition to the museum building, a large garage houses about 30 vintage vehicles. The museum is located off Route 302 near the Casco-Naples line. Also, check out the historical society and museum on Facebook.

 

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Mention the name Princess Goldenrod to any longtime area resident. Likely, he or she will have a story to tell.

Or, at least the person will recall the teepee gift shop on Meadow Road (Route 121) that moved to Route 302, and later was relocated to its original spot.

Who better to talk about Princess Goldenrod than her daughter, Betty Djerf?

“She was a pioneer. She was a woman’s libber, before we even knew what that meant,” Djerf said.

“She loved the limelight. She never missed an opportunity to meet the most famous person that might be around,” she said, listing some of those celebrities including Princess Grace.

“As a young girl, she was in a movie. She was interviewed on the radio at every city where she had an exhibit,” she said. “If television had been around at the time, she would have been on that, too.”

Djerf spoke to a crowd of about 60 people at the Raymond-Casco Historical Society’s Museum on Saturday.

She donated some of her mother’s articles to the museum to be displayed with the other artifacts of Princess Goldenrod’s life in Raymond. The new additions to the display include the bell from the teepee, a walking stick, a painted war club, and a bracelet and a necklace.

“I am amazed at how many people remember her. I wasn’t expecting that many people to show up and share their stories with me,” Djerf said.

Djerf’s talk focused mostly on the cottage industry her mother operated with husband Fred Wayne from the 1930s through the 1960s.

“It was unusual for a woman to have a business back then,” she said.

Historical society member Pam Grant said, “I thought the program was great.”

“Betty was very touched that so many people thought so much of her mother, respected her, and remembered her,” Grant said.

Naples resident Alice Fogg recollected doing piece work for Goldenrod — putting together drums during a time that her husband had hurt his back and was temporarily out of work.

According to Djerf, Goldenrod “provided work for at least a dozen people at any given time. There could be eight or nine families” that benefited from making the items that were sold during the summer season.

Princess Goldenrod and her employees sold the Maine-made products and told the Penobscot Indian stories at fairs, carnivals and sportsmen’s tradeshows from New York City to Boston. In addition, she made rounds at local campgrounds selling the items that interested tourists.

“My mother would return home flush with her earnings and reinvest the money in raw materials” for the drums, baskets, tomahawks and bow and arrows.

“About mid-winter, everyone would run out of raw materials and she would run out of money. So, she would mortgage the home. She did that several times,” Djerf said.

“All of this went on for years, in the meantime, she sent me to Fryeburg Academy,” she said.

It wasn’t until later in life, when Djerf helped her mother with the financial end of the business, that she discovered a box full of cancelled mortgage notes. She had to ask about it several times before getting an honest answer. Her mother had mortgaged the home every winter, and had paid off that loan at the end of each summer.

Djerf was 10 years old when she moved to Raymond with her mother.

Goldenrod set up a wigwam on Meadow Road. She sold furs, blankets, handmade moccasins, woven baskets, and toy-type products like tomahawks, bow and arrows, and drums.

“Our home was always a hub of activity,” she said.

She recollected the colorful dyed materials hanging on the clotheslines outside the cabin, and the constant productivity in the yard.

The young Djerf made tiny woven baskets, painted drums, and ran to the teepee when prospective customers rang the bell.

“Even though I was in high school, I had to work. It was the New England ethic: Always work, stay busy, and keep out of trouble,” she said.

Djerf described in detail how the drums were “manufactured.”

“One family would be given sheets of rawhide and tin templates with holes in them. They would trace templates, and hand-cut out with scissors. They would put the rawhide in water, to keep pliable, because it was very stiff,” she said. “Another family was given soft hides, cotton batting and string. Meanwhile, they went out in the woods, collecting branches or sticks.”

During the winter evenings, they would wind cotton around the end of the branches, cover it with hide and tie it off with a string to make the drumsticks.

“Another family, in the meantime, would take the round raw hide to cut into strips so they could lace up the drums,” she explained.

At the shop in Raymond, trucks would deliver long tubes that were stacked in the yard. Goldenrod would hire Penobscot Indians from the reservation in Old Town. The workers would cut the tubes into widths with a band saw. The tubes were delivered to the families to complete the drums.

Her mother put the most saleable items in a warehouse, and shipped them in crates to the various exhibits in Providence, New York City or Boston.

“The Indians who traveled with her loved the life on the road,” she said.

In the mid- to late 1960s, her mother met her second husband, who was a Piute Indian from Nevada. He was a gorgeous looking Indian, and the couple spent time traveling around the United States.

When she returned to Maine, the cottage-style industry had dried up and the fairs once held in big cities had become smaller and more localized. So, the couple hit the road again — on an elongated honeymoon, seeing other sights that interested them.

Later, Goldenrod and her husband retired in Raymond.

“I have been a go-getter throughout my career, but my mother had such vision. She originally thought of the idea of a gift shop. In her travels, she saw this industry that was a possibility,” she said.

 

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