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Earliest Possible Known History of Mackinac Island

 Native American Nations | Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan                    


    Again, most every historian, or annalist so-called, who writes about the Island of Mackinac and the Straits and vicinity, tells us that the definition or the meaning of the word "Michilimackinac" in the Ottawa and Chippewa language, is "large turtle," derived from the word Mi-she-mi-ki-nock in the Chippewa language. That is, "Mi-she" as one of the adnominal or adjectives in the Ottawa and Chippewa languages, which would signify tremendous in size; and "Mikinock" is the name of mud turtle--meaning, therefore, "monstrous large turtle," as the historians would have it. But we consider this to be a clear error. Where ever those annalists, or those who write about the Island of Mackinac, obtain their information as to the definition of the word Michilimackinac, I don't know, when our tradition is so direct and so clear with regard to the historical definition of that word, and is far from being derived from the word "Michimikinock," as the historians have told us. Our tradition says that when the Island was first discovered by the Ottawa, which was some time before America was known as an existing country by the white man, there was a small independent tribe, a remnant race of Indians who occupied this island, who became confederated with the Ottawa when the Ottawa were living at Manitoulin, formerly called Ottawa Island, which is situated north of Lake Huron. The Ottawa thought a good deal of this unfortunate race of people, as they were kind of interesting sort of people; but, unfortunately, they had most powerful enemies, who every now and then would come among them to make war with them. Their enemies were of the Iroquois of New York. Therefore, once in the dead of the winter while the Ottawa were having a great jubilee and war dances at their island, now Manitoulin, on account of the great conquest over the We-ne-be-goes of Wisconsin, of which I will speak more fully in subsequent chapters, during which time the Seneca of New York, of the Iroquois family of Indians, came upon the remnant race and fought them, and almost entirely annihilated them. But two escaped to tell the story, who effected their escape by flight and by hiding in one of the natural caves at the island, and therefore that was the end of this race. And according to our understanding and traditions the tribal name of those disastrous people was "Mi-shi-ne-macki naw-go," which is still existing to this day as a monument of their former existence; for the Ottawa and Chippewa named this little island "Mi-shi-ne-macki-nong" for memorial sake of those their former confederates, which word is the locative case of the Indian noun "Michinemackinawgo." Therefore, we contend, this is properly where the name Michilimackinac is originated.
     This is the earliest possible history of this little Island, as I have related, according to the Ottawa traditions; and from that time forward there have been many changes in its history, as other tribes of Indians took possession of the island, such as the Hurons and Chippewa; and still later by the whites--French, English, and Americans; and numbers of battles have been fought from time to time there, by both Indians and whites, of which I need not relate as other historians have already given us the accounts of them. But only this I would relate, because I have never yet seen the account of it: It is related in our traditions that at the time when the Chippewas occupied the island they ceded it to the United States Government, but reserved a strip of land all around the island as far as a stone throw from its water's edge as their encampment grounds when they might come to the island to trade or for other business.
     Perhaps the reader would like to know what became of those two persons who escaped from the lamented tribe Michinemackinawgoes. I will here give it just as it is related in our traditions, although this may be considered, at this age, as a fictitious story; but every Ottawa and Chippewa to this day believes it to be positively so. It is related that the two persons escaped were two young people, male and female, and they were lovers. After everything got quieted down, they fixed their snow-shoes inverted and crossed the lake on the ice, as snow was quite deep on the ice, and they went towards the north shore of Lake Huron. The object of inverting their snow-shoes was that in case any person should happen to come across their track on the ice, their track would appear as if going towards the island. They became so disgusted with human nature, it is related, that they shunned every mortal being, and just lived by themselves, selecting the wildest part of the country. Therefore, the Ottawa and Chippewa called them "Paw-gwa-tchaw-nish-naw-boy." The last time they were seen by the Ottawa, they had ten children--all boys, and all living and well. And every Ottawa and Chippewa believes to this day that they are still in existence and roaming in the wildest part of the land, but as supernatural beings --that is, they can be seen or unseen, just as they see fit to be; and sometimes they simply manifested themselves as being present by throwing a club or a stone at a person walking in a solitude, or by striking a dog belonging to the person walking; and sometimes by throwing a club at the lodge, night or day, or hearing their footsteps walking around the wigwam when the Indians would be camping out in an unsettled part of the country, and the dogs would bark, just as they would bark at any strange person approaching the door. And sometimes they would be tracked on snow by hunters, and if followed on their track, however recently passed, they never could be overtaken. Sometimes when an Indian would be hunting or walking in solitude, he would suddenly be seized with an unearthly fright, terribly awe stricken, apprehending some great evil. He feels very peculiar sensation from head to foot--the hair of his head standing and feeling stiff like a porcupine quill. He feels almost benumbed with fright, and yet he does not know what it is; and looking in every direction to see something, but nothing to be seen which might cause sensation of terror. Collecting himself, he would then say, "Pshaw! its nothing here to be afraid of. It's nobody else but Paw-gwa-tchaw-nish-naw-boy is approaching me. Perhaps he wanted something of me." They would then leave something on their tracks--tobacco, powder, or something else. Once in a great while they would appear, and approach the person to talk with him, and in this case, it is said, they would always begin with the sad story of their great catastrophe at the Island of Mackinac. And whoever would be so fortunate as to meet and see them and to talk with them, such person would always become a prophet to his people, either Ottawa or Chippewa. Therefore, Ottawa and Chippewa called these supernatural beings "Paw-gwa-tchaw-nish-naw-boy," which is, strictly, "Wild roaming supernatural being."
     Pine river country, in Charlevoix County, Michigan, when this country was all wild, especially near Pine Lake, was once considered as the most famous resort of these kind of unnatural beings. I was once conversing with one of the first white settlers of that portion of the country, who settled near to the place now called Boyne City, at the extreme end of the east arm of Pine Lake. In the conversation he told me that many times they had been frightened, particularly during the nights, by hearing what sounded like human footsteps around outside of their cabin; and their dog would be terrified, crouching at the doorway, snarling and growling, and sometimes fearfully barking. When daylight came, the old man would go out in order to discover what it was or if he could track anything around his cabin, but he never could discover a track of any kind. These remarkable, mischievous, audible, fanciful, appalling apprehensions were of very frequent occurrence before any other inhabitants or settlers came near to his place; but now, they do not have such apprehensions since many settlers came.
     That massacre of Mishinimackinawgoes by Seneca Indians of New York happened probably more than five or six hundred years ago. I could say much more which would be contradictory of other writers of the history of the Indians in this country. Even in the history of the United States I think there are some mistakes concerning the accounts of the Indians, particularly the accounts of our brave Tecumseh, as it is claimed that he was killed by a soldier named Johnson, upon whom they conferred the honor of having disposed of the dreaded Tecumseh. Even pictured out as being coming up with his tomahawk to strike a man who was on horseback, but being instantly shot dead with the pistol. Now I have repeatedly heard our oldest Indians, both male and female, who were present at the defeat of the British and Indians, all tell a unanimous story, saying that they came to a clearing or opening spot, and it was there where Tecumseh ordered his warriors to rally and fight the Americans once more, and in this very spot one of the American musket balls took effect in Tecumseh's leg so as to break the bone of his leg, that he could not stand up. He was sitting on the ground when he told his warriors to flee as well as they could, and furthermore said, "One of my leg is shot off! But leave me one or two guns loaded; I am going to have a last shot. Be quick and go!" That was the last word spoken by Tecumseh. As they look back, they saw the soldiers thick as swarm of bees around where Tecumseh was sitting on the ground with his broken leg, and so they did not see him any more; and, therefore, we always believe that the Indians or Americans know not who made the fatal shot on Tecumseh's leg, or what the soldiers did with him when they came up to him as he was sitting on the ground.

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