What’s in a Name? Tahquamenon Falls edition
September 1, 2012
We’ll close out Waterfall Week on Michigan in Pictures with this photo that has been the cover photo on the Absolute Michigan Facebook all week. Here’s hoping that you get a chance to enjoy one of Michigan’s nearly 200 waterfalls soon!
With a drop of nearly 50 feet, a width of over 200 feet and a maximum flow of more than 50,000 gallons of water, the Upper Tahquamenon Falls are one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. Pronounced about how it looks – like “phenomenon,” the falls gained fame way back in 1856 in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha:
Lay aside your cloak, O Birch-tree! lay aside your white-skin wrapper,
For the Summer-time is coming, and the sun is warm in heaven,
And you need no white-skin wrapper!” thus aloud cried Hiawatha
In the solitary forest, by the rushing Taquamenaw
A feature back in 2006 from the Chicago Tribune offers one popular theory for the name:
The river and its two falls (the smaller Lower Falls are further downstream) are located in the northeast part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, just miles from Lake Superior, in the 46,000-acre Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The Upper Falls is one of the largest waterfalls this side of the Mississippi in the United States. (Niagara–shared with Canada–is the largest.)The park is dense with both hardwoods and pine and filled with wildlife. Sightings of moose, gray wolves, black bears, American martens and river otters are typical, and have always been an attraction for nature lovers–including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose poem about this area recounts how Hiawatha built his canoe “by the rushing Tahquamenaw.” The spelling was a variation of Tahquamenon, which comes from an Ojibwa word meaning “dark berry.”
Origins of the Name from the Michigan DNR suggests an alternative root of the name:
The word Tahquamenon has not been as easy to trace. There have been many theories to the origins of this name, such as the color of the water of the Tahquamenon River or meaning the place of the blueberry swamps.
In his book, “Lake Superior Place Names: From Bawating to the Montreal,” Dr. Bernard C. Peters sheds additional light on the subject. Peters suggests the word Tahquamenon comes from the word Outakouaminan, which appears on a 1671 Jesuit map. The key is its location on the map. Because it is shown near an island in what now is Whitefish Bay, Peters believes the name actually refers to a shortcut across the bay.
Wherever the name came from, there’s no doubt that this is a “can’t miss” waterfall. You can get the 411 on Tahquamenon Falls at Go Waterfalling.com and see a video of the case for the falls as one of the Seven Wonders of Michigan. Also check out this great video of the falls from 1950 and see a cool old photo of the falls right here.
Lots more Tahquamenon Falls on Michigan in Pictures.