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Michigan Legends

Folktales and Lore from the Great Lakes State

Sheryl James

Publication Year: 2013

Over the course of its history, the state of Michigan has produced its share of folktales and lore. Many are familiar with the Ojibwa legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes, and most have heard a yarn or two told of Michigan’s herculean lumberjack, Paul Bunyan. But what about Detroit’s Nain Rouge, the red-eyed imp they say bedeviled the city’s earliest residents? Or Le Griffon, the Great Lakes’ original ghost ship that some believe haunts the waters to this day? Or the Bloodstoppers, Upper Peninsula folk who’ve been known to halt a wound’s bleeding with a simple touch thanks to their magic healing powers? In Michigan Legends, Sheryl James collects these and more stories of the legendary people, events, and places from Michigan’s real and imaginary past. Set in a range of historical time periods and locales as well as featuring a collage of ethnic traditions—including Native American, French, English, African American, and Finnish—these tales are a vivid sample of the state’s rich cultural heritage. This book will appeal to all Michiganders and anyone else interested in good folktales, myths, legends, or lore.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-x


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pp. xi-xii

Legends of Early Detroit

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The Nain Rouge, Demon of Detroit

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pp. 3-10

Let us step through the looking glass to a regal, royal moment long, long ago. It is 1701. We are in a castle named for St. Louis XIV of France in a place called Quebec. It is a beautiful land in New France, which is a vast, new dominion in North America encompassing present-day Canada, Michigan, and territory all the way to...

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Two Men and the 1832 Cholera Epidemic

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pp. 11-18

In Detroit’s old burying places are the graves of two men who died of cholera in Detroit in 1832, a year remembered with dread for decades by Detroiters. These men may never have met—although their meeting is not unlikely, given their positions during this terrible time—but the stories of their lives share some strange parallels...

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An Early Detroit Spirit Sighting

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pp. 19-22

Back in about 1840, when Detroit still was a tiny village sprinkled up and down the Detroit River, there lived a rough old woman who was a real character—and the last person anyone would have expected to have the experience she did....

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The Talking Mare

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pp. 23-27

Long ago, in early 1805, there stood an old, French-style house on what today is known as Woodward Avenue in Detroit. This was the home of Gabriel Godefroy, then the Indian agent in Detroit for the Pottawatomies and Chippewas. These were two of several tribes that lived largely in harmony with the early French settlers of Detroit....

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The Werewolf of Early Detroit

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pp. 28-32

A long time ago, on the shore near a place known as Grosse Pointe, an area about six miles north of the village of Detroit along Lake St. Clair, there lived a man who was a trapper. His name was Simonet, and his cabin was not far inland from the beautiful lakeshore. He had been married, but his wife had died...

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A Certain Energy at Historic Fort Wayne

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pp. 33-42

It wasn’t until after the two people played back the recording they had taken in the old Enlisted Men’s Club building at Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit that they heard the voice. It was a hollow, winded voice—an angry voice....

Tales from Michigan’s Thumb

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Paul Bunyan: Original Michigan Hero

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pp. 45-56

The Au Sable River is a thing of beauty. It runs like liquid silver through the forested countryside in the Lower Peninsula’s northeast quarter. It’s some 150 feet wide just before it empties into Lake Huron at Oscoda, Michigan. This river—every inch of its forested, sandy banks—was once a familiar place to the men ...

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The Spiritual Knowledge at Sanilac

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pp. 57-66

There is a sacred place in Michigan’s Thumb, in Sanilac County, that is known to the Anishinabe peoples—the people of the Three Fires, which include the three major tribal groups in Michigan today: the Chippewa (Ojibwe), the Ottawa, and the Potawatomi. The people of these ...

Great Lakes Ship Legends

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Le Griffon—Michigan’s Original Ghost Ship

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pp. 69-78

He was an old, old man by the time he told the story in November 1950. But the memory was vivid—a cold, hard recollection he couldn’t shake. The man’s name was Clinton Corby, and he described a day in 1935 when he was on Lake Michigan, serving on a large freighter that shipped iron ore. Her name was...

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The Western Reserve Ghost

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pp. 79-84

Captain Benjamin Truedell woke up in a sweat. The dream had been as real as any he had had in his life, and it had unnerved him. It was the night of August 31, 1892, at Deer Park. This town no longer exists, but in 1892, it was a bustling little lumbering village that also had a Life Saving Station—Station No. 12, as they called it then, ...

Legends of Old Michilimackinac and the Upper Peninsula

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The Real Meaning of the Name Michilimackinac

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pp. 87-90

For many years, people have said that the word Michilimackinac, from which the name for Mackinac Island derives, means “large turtle” and comes from the Chippewa word Mi-she-mi-ki-nock. Mishe means “very big in size”; mikinock means “mud turtle.” Therefore, the name of island essentially means “monstrous large turtle.” ...

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The Boy Who Became a Wolf

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pp. 91-94

One day long ago, an old man lay in his lodge, very ill. He knew he was dying, and his wife and three children tried to console him as much as possible. Two of his children, a son and daughter, were in their teen years; the third, a boy, was very young. At one point, the man’s grieving family opened the door to his lodge to let in the fresh breeze from Lake Superior. This revived him enough to...

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The Magic Healing Powers of the Bloodstoppers

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pp. 95-98

Up here in the U.P., we have our own kind of people, real people who do real work. We got Swedes and Finns and old Frenchmen and Indians. We got lumberjacks, miners and farmers, and factory workers. Up here, we got our own stories too, things folks downstate wouldn’t understand or even believe. But they are true. ...

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How Corn Came to the Indians

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pp. 99-102

Most schoolchildren in Michigan learn that the early explorers and residents of the United States, including Michigan, found corn in abundance. The Indians had long existed on this nutritious food. But how did they come to have such a lifesaving food that grew in fields as far as the eye could see?...

Legends from Western Michigan

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The Safe House at Schoolcraft

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pp. 105-112

It all began somewhere in the deep forests of Indiana in the 1840s or 1850s—or so people say when they tell stories about the people, and this one family in particular, who made it to the safe house in Schoolcraft, Michigan. These were just stories, of course, which people had heard and then retold as they sat on front porches in rocking chairs some...

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Dead Shot and Lynx Eye: Brave Scouts of Early Michigan

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pp. 113-123

Less than two hundred years ago, in the 1830s, a gentleman named F. J. Littlejohn first moved to the region we know today as the southwest corner of Michigan and northwest corner of Indiana. Littlejohn, a learned man, was a surveyor and geologist in what was then rough wilderness full of Indian tribes. Littlejohn stayed in that ...

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The Great Flood, an Ojibway Legend

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pp. 124-128

For hundreds of years, researchers and observers have been fascinated by several Indian legends that bear striking similarity to stories in the Bible. Some say this may be evidence that Indians interacted with Europeans far sooner than our records claim. Others call it a spiritual phenomenon. In any case, there are several versions in Indian...

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Why Michigan’s Weather Is So Changeable

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pp. 129-131

Anyone who lives in Michigan knows that the weather can change—not just by seasons, but within seasons and even within the hour. A warm morning can suddenly give way to an afternoon of wet snow. June can be “unseasonably” hot one year and “unseasonably” cold the next. It is fair to say, in fact, that Michigan has seen...

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Why the Robin Has a Red Breast

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pp. 132-136

Long ago, in the history of the Ojibways, there was a great warrior who led his tribe to victory against all of their enemies. This warrior was stronger than any others, and even among his own tribe, no one could defeat him in wrestling or other warrior games. He was also a great and powerful runner. It was said that only the deer in the forest...

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Are We Still Creating Legends Today?

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pp. 137-140

Steeped in the legends presented here and in so many other works, it’s easy to assume that legends are, well, old—most of them very old. But if you think about it, these very stories were hardly “old” to those who, for instance, lived in the French Detroit of the early 1800s, when many of these and other legends were born. Even...

Image Credits

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pp. 141-142

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028306
E-ISBN-10: 0472028308
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051748
Print-ISBN-10: 0472071742

Page Count: 144
Illustrations: 27 B&W illustrations
Publication Year: 2013