Tracking the Sleeping Bear

Tracking the Sleeping Bear is a lengthy essay that includes: 1) documented versions of the so-called “Legend of Sleeping Bear” from the 1890s until its heavy commercial popularization; 2) alternative legends relating to Sleeping Bear Dune and the Manitou Islands; 3) authentic Anishinaabe landscape origin stories from the vicinity of the upper Great Lakes; 4) historical accounts touching upon Sleeping Bear and the Manitous; 5) discussion of where the tracks lead. This is a difficult topic, because the popularity of the “Legend of Sleeping Bear” stems from its close resemblance to romantic “fakelore” (see also my essay on Fakelore and the Ethics of Children’s Literature) but the earliest documented versions, although not until the late nineteenth century, did come from within the Little Traverse Odawa community. (Updated 5/30/20, 12/22 with more biography of Sophia Bailly Graveraet)

Below are the slides for a May 20, 2021, virtual-presentation of Tracking the Sleeping Bear for the Leelanau Historical Society. While preparing the lecture, I revised the translation of Chief Penesi’s An Odawa Obtains Medicine (Wampum Bear) and also a side-by-side bilingual version, using “practical orthography” for Anishinaabe-mowin. The study of Wampum Bear in Tracking the Sleeping Bear (essay) is necessarily incomplete, so I have added a separate translation-study of An Odawa Obtains Medicine, with much more from Schoolcraft’s Wampum Bear (for Longfellow fans, Mudjikewis is pretty much of a coward).

Oral and Written Histories of Odawa and Chippewa Settlement of Northwest Michigan is a spinoff from Tracking the Sleeping Bear. The topic had become too long and cumbersome for something that was only tangentially relevant to the “Legend of Sleeping Bear,” and in pursuing the research, it became clear that historians of the Grand Traverse region had relied on secondary sources they treated as primary, had largely ignored the written documents from French and British periods (many in Michigan Pioneer an Historical Collections), and had been insufficiently critical of the oral histories.

June 2022 revision: Besides minor editing and correcting a few errors, I have added the full excerpt of traveling back up the west Michigan shore by the Cass Expedition. A closer look suggests that the three Chippewa bands located from Manistee to Carp River (Leland) did not yet have permanent villages in 1820, though they did by 1833. I also did a little more with the confusion over the identification of Mascouten, probably meaning Little Prairie, with Fire People, as they were called by the Huron. Strangely, when Des Groseilliers encountered them near Green Bay in 1654, he referred to a “nation called Escotecke, which signified fire.” Des Groseilliers was traveling with Huron and Odawa. “Ishkode” is “fire” in modern Ojibwe-Odawa. The word is slightly different in the Meskwaki-Sauk-Kickapoo Algonquian language group to which Mascouten belonged.

February 2023, major revision to include Mission Period, roughly 1838-1855, incorporating much material from National and Presbyterian Society archives. There follows a 200 plus page compilation of these sources that is intended to read like an epistolary novel, except nothing is made up (by me). I am reminded of North of 60.

Musings on Leelanau County’s Name (revised 2/4/22)

L’Arbre Croche Place Name

Seddie Powers Smith (a.k.a. Faustine). Complete packet of documents, also on file at Leelanau Historical Society. As a young woman, Seddie-Faustine spent a summer teaching school at Onumunese Village, wrote a letter and intriguing poems. Many holes in her biography. A novel waiting for someone to write.

Sometimes my impatience with Schoolcraft gets the better of me. The claims about Jane Johnston Schoolcraft’s maternal family—long line of descent from first-born-sons of the ruling Caribou totem, a grandfather who was not only the greatest of all possible warriors but of everything else, a great-grandfather who was beside Montcalm at his death—rubs me the same way as it did some in her community. But stripping out the hype and family pride, there is some important history.

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