The Legend of the Sleeping Bear

Years and years ago, in the great forest that covered the place that is now named Wisconsin, lived Mishe Mokwa (Mother Bear) and her two cubs. One day, a roaring fire swept through the woods, burning everything from horizon to horizon and driving Mishe Mokwa, her cubs and all the animals before it. Soon they came to a place where they could go no further, the great Lake Michigan.

Like all bears, Mishe Mokwa and her cubs were powerful swimmers, and at her urging they plunged into the lake. Mishe Mokwa knew there would be no food after the fire was spent, so she kept the light and smoke of the fire behind them and swam east. Now bears are powerful swimmers, and Mishe Mokwa and her cubs were fat from the bounty of the forest so they were able to swim through that day and through the night. Somewhere in the dark she lost them.

Late in the next day, she sighted the tall white dunes of Michigan. When she reached the shore and looked back, her cubs were nowhere to be seen. She called to them with no answer, finally climbing the dunes to look back. As the sky turned red with sunset, she saw her cubs struggling far offshore through the cold waters. Her heart broke as first one and then the other slipped beneath the waves.

Heartbroken and exhausted, she lay upon the dune for days and days, watching the places where her cubs had perished. Gitche Manitou was moved by her sorrow and faithfulness and raised two islands, North Manitou and South Manitou to celebrate the bravery of the cubs. Knowing that her heart would never mend, Gitche Manitou laid a slumber upon Mishe Mokwa and drew the sand over her like a blanket.

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