There is an important Native American legend that connects the Sleeping Bear Dunes in Northern Michigan to the Grosse Pointes. This connection is important because it serves as an explanation for a very important decision made by Chief Pontiac in 1762.
First we need to begin with the legend of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, which are sand dunes located in northern Michigan on Lake Michigan. There many variations and interpretations of the legend, but overall the story is a simple and lovely one.
In northern Wisconsin, a mother bear and her two cubs were starving due to a great famine. Overcome with hunger, they jumped into the lake and swam for the Michigan shoreline in hopes of finding food. The mother bear encouraged her cubs as they swam the long distance, but it was a difficult journey. They were close to Michigan—a mere 12 miles out—when the first cub was overcome with fatigue and drowned. The mother bear continued onward with the other cub, but despite her efforts, after only another two miles her other baby cub drowned.
Both of her beloved cubs now gone, she struggled to the beach and found a resting place. She looked out over the churning waters of Lake Michigan where her babies had perished. As she looked, two islands appeared out of the water. It was a gift from the Algonquin and Ojibwa deity, the Great Spirit Manitou, to mark the graves of the cubs.
Manitou created a dune of sand along the shoreline to represent the mother cub and the love she had for her baby cubs.
In another version, the cubs both sank beneath the water, and the mother bear waited at the shoreline for them. Manitou marked that spot as her eternal vigil, and covered her in sand.
Today, this area is known as the Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore, which includes the two islands—North Manitou and South Manitou islands—and is located in Leelanau County, Michigan.
In August, Good Morning America had a contest, and the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore was voted the most beautiful place in America. Josh Elliot noted that, "It looks like nothing else in America."
From the Dunes to the Pointes
Native American lore also says that Manitou had a hand in creating the islands in the Detroit River. The northern-most one is Peche Island, the tip of which is directly across from Windmill Pointe Park and just graces Lake St. Clair.
This legend was preserved by Legends of Le Detroit by Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin.
“The spirit that inhabited the Sand Mountains called the 'Sleeping Bear,' had a daughter who was endowed with such seductive beauty and matchless perfection that the mother feared she would be stolen. The spirit hid her in a box, tying it by a long string to a stake on the beach, and every day would draw the box in to feed the fair maiden and comb her yellow tresses.”
The story continues that the South Wind saw her one day and that the gentle wooing of the South Wind gave birth to a beautiful, but short Indian Summer. The North and West Winds heard of a mysterious beauty through their zephyr spies and at once the winds were at war with one another. A massive storm began, and the thread that held the box to the stake snapped where it “drifted along borne by the waves to the lodge of the Prophet, the Keeper of the Gate of the Lakes, who resided at the outlet of Lake Huron.” The Prophet then “joyfully received as his bride this beautiful waif of the foamy billows.”
The story did not end here, however. The legend continues that Pandora was not pleased with this situation, and revived the storm. The storm swept away the home and land of the Prophet and these traveled from Lake Huron through Lake St. Clair and became the islands in the Detroit River where “the old Prophet was buried beneath Isle au Peche which became the Mecca of the Ottawa warriors.” Manitou's beautiful daughter was sent to Belle Isle where she was guarded by rattlesnakes.
Isle au Peche, or Peche Island, is located in the northern-most part of the Detroit River where it meets Lake St. Clair. Peche Island is now in Canadian waters, but is easily visible from Windmill Pointe Park, and is a quick kayak ride away.
As it is with legends, there are discrepancies, and I am not sure how the ancient Greek Goddess Pandora made her way into a Native American tale, but the important part to the history is this.
In 1762, Chief Pontiac visited Peche Island after a foreboding that came in the form of an unusual weather occurrence. He chose to visit Peche Island to seek counsel from the Prophet of the Great Lakes, who was said to be buried there.
The unusual weather resulted in what has been called "Detroit's Dark Day." The story of Detroit's Dark Day will follow next week,