The many facets of Wampanoag Chief Flying Eagle, Earl H. Mills Sr., sparkle like sun off the flashing Mashpee herring run in April.
One side of Mills, now 85, is the simple kid who grew up in Mashpee on Cape Cod at a time when mayflowers in the woods signaled spring’s start, and meant money in kids’ pockets when they sold the small fragrant bouquets for 15 cents by the side of the road. He talks about this in both his cookbook, “The Cape Cod Wampanoag Cookbook” and in his memoir, “Son of Mashpee, Reflections of Chief Flying Eagle, a Wampanoag.”
It was a time when a morning in the trout streams and ponds meant smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and pickerel for dinner. Cape Cod herring were corned or marinated; its roe was sauteed in bacon fat and served with parsleyed potatoes and creamed-style corn. (Today only the Wampanoag are allowed to fish for herring.) Mills’ father knew it was time to smoke the herring by the arrival of the sweet fern in the woods.
Scallop season came in the fall with cranberry picking; young Mills’ hands would be cut and bleeding after an afternoon of shucking the day’s harvest with friends, although camaraderie and ceviche sampling came with that shucking. “The Scallop Man” passed by every night during the season to collect that day’s harvest, a 10-bushel non-commercial limit. Mills says that in those days – even hand harvesting – almost everyone got their limit.
“From the time we were 8 nor 9 years old my brother Elwood and I led fishing and hunting expeditions. Like our father, grandfather and uncles before us, we prepared the boats, baited the hooks, rowed for the better part of the day, and cleaned the fish for the men who hired us as Indian guides. Our father taught us how to fly cast as well as to use a rod and reel, the clamming rake and the eel spear. He taught us how to carry a gun safely and how to clean it. He taught us how to use an ax and a bucksaw and showed us the proper way to clean and cook game. He taught us skills exactly the way his own father had taught him.”