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A Lake Superior Legend

Researchers interested in local and regional history and popular culture, including folklore, will find Frank Leslie’s Weekly full of unique information covering many phases of America’s history and cultural diversity.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly includes many legends and folklore. The legend below is from an anonymous writer’s experience visiting Lake Superior in the summer of 1864. It recounts a Lake Superior Chippewa legend as to why the lake water is so cold year round.

A Lake Superior Legend

IN the summer of 1864, while in the Lake Superior country, I took a notion, one day, to have a swim. So, donning a light bathing dress, I dropped into the water. The plunge almost took my breath away. I had anticipated coldness, but I had not anticipated such icy coldness as this. The Lake Superior [Chippewa] Indians rarely bathe. The reason they assign is, that the water of the lake is never warm. A great many years ago the waters of the mighty lake were warm in the summer season. The Indians were the sole inhabitants of the land in those days. Manabozho was a great manitou (good spirit), and the Lake Superior [Chippewa] tribes were his favorite children. But sometimes Manabozho used to put on his seven-league boots, and stride away over the mountains on a visit to his mighty brother of the setting sun. He had gone on such a journey one melting day in July, and the Indians lay in their forests, dreaming dreams about the fairy-land of the East.

There was a bad spirit who hated the Indians fiercely. This bad spirit was a monstrous snake. He was very much afraid of the good manitou, Manabozho, and when Manabozho was at home the bad spirit staid in his fiery lake, away back in the forest.

But now Manabozho was gone on a journey. So the bad spirit resolved to take advantage of his absence to destroy the tribes whom he hated. He had a large number of demons in his service, who were ready for any work he might set them. He dispatched an army of these demons to annihilate the Indians. For his part, he set himself to watch for Manabozho, in case that good manitou should return unexpectedly.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, published from 1855 to 1922, was an American illustrated news publication started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

The Indians saw the army of demons coming, and, knowing that in the absence of their chief they were powerless to fight against them, they gathered their women and children together, and paddled away in their canoes across the lake. The demons could not swim, and had a great dislike to the water, and when they saw the Indians paddling away, they howled in their rage, and belched forth great clouds of flame and smoke. But as soon as the Indians had safely reached an island, a thick covering of ice suddenly overspread the lake, and the demons, yelling with joy, rushed upon it. When they were all safely upon the ice-bridge, it parted as suddenly as it had appeared, and became an ice-craft, and floated hither and thither. The demons were in great distress, being unable to go to either shore. And now the form of Manabozho rose to view. Manabozho understood the situation at once, and stretching out his mighty arm, larger than a pine tree, roared with a voice louder than thunder, “Sink, sink, and rise no more!” And the raft sunk, and the demons perished, and the Indians came back and worshiped Manabozho. And this is why the waters of Lake Superior are so cold.

Source: Frank Leslie’s Weekly, August 7, 1869
Top Image: Basaltic columns, Lake Superior, undated.

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