The Snake God Of Belle Isle

: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

The Indian demi-god, Sleeping Bear, had a daughter so beautiful that he

kept her out of the sight of men in a covered boat that swung on Detroit

River, tied to a tree on shore; but the Winds, having seen her when her

father had visited her with food, contended so fiercely to possess her

that the little cable was snapped and the boat danced on to the keeper of

the water-gates, who lived at the outlet of Lake Huron. The keeper,

filled with admiration for the girl's beauty, claimed the boat and its

charming freight, but he had barely received her into his lodge when the

angry Winds fell upon him, buffeting him so sorely that he died, and was

buried on Peach Island (properly Isle au Peche), where his spirit

remained for generations--an oracle sought by Indians before emprise in

war. His voice had the sound of wind among the reeds, and its meanings

could not be told except by those who had prepared themselves by fasting

and meditation to receive them. Before planning his campaign against the

English, Pontiac fasted here for seven days to clear his ear and hear

the wisdom of the sighing voice.

But the Winds were not satisfied with the slaying of the keeper. They

tore away his meadows and swept them out as islands. They smashed the

damsel's boat and the little bark became Belle Isle. Here Manitou placed

the girl, and set a girdle of vicious snakes around the shore to guard

her and to put a stop to further contests. These islands in the straits

seem to have been favorite places of exile and theatres of

transformation. The Three Sisters are so called because of three Indian

women who so scolded and wrangled that their father was obliged to

separate them and put one on each of the islands for the sake of peace.

It was at Belle Isle that the red men had put up and worshipped a natural

stone image. Hearing of this idol, on reaching Detroit, Dollier and De

Galinee crossed over to it, tore it down, smashed it, flung the bigger

piece of it into the river, and erected a cross in its place. The sunken

portion of the idol called aloud to the faithful, who had assembled to

wonder at the audacity of the white men and witness their expected

punishment by Manitou, and told them to cast in the other portions. They

did so, and all the fragments united and became a monster serpent that

kept the place from further intrusion. Later, when La Salle ascended the

straits in his ship, the Griffin, the Indians on shore invoked the help

of this, their manitou, and strange forms arose from the water that

pushed the ship into the north, her crew vainly singing hymns with a hope

of staying the demoniac power.