Legend of the Crooked Tree

The Crooked Tree Petoskey

The Crooked Tree, photo by Robert Carter

Robert writes: Huge and ancient . . . this locally famous ‘Crooked Tree’ sits beside one of the roads near my home. “Crooked Tree”: “Crooked Tree Arts Center”, “Crooked Tree Breadworks”, “Crooked Tree Golf Club”, “Crooked Tree Septic Service”, “Crooked Tree This and Crooked Tree That”. This may not be the actual tree from which they take their names . . . but it is the most crooked tree I’ve come across in my travels, and it jumps out at everyone as they drive past.

Robert is correct that this isn’t the original. The Crooked Tree; Indian legends and a short history of the Little Traverse Bay region is available online and tells the story of the original Crooked Tree:

A tall, crooked pine tree overhanging a high bluff, served to designate what was probably the most important Indian village in the north, prior to the advent of the white man. “Wau-go-naw-ki-sa” the Crooked Tree could be seen for many miles by the occupants of approaching canoes. After rounding the northwestern extremity of what is now Emmet county, in the state of Michigan, on their way south, it was a familiar sight, and one that never failed to bring exultations of joy from the brave and daring Ottawas.

Just where the Crooked Tree stood we have been unable to ascertain; but tradition says it was in the vicinity of Middle Village of the present day. According to the legend it was bent by Na-na-bo-jo. Formerly it was straight, but as the great hunter and chieftain was climbing the hill one day at this point, with his canoe over his head, the end of the boat caught on the tree and gave him a bad fall. In anger he struck the tree a blow with his fist and bent it over. Where he hit the trunk a large swelling came out, and henceforward every knot or growth protruding from a tree was called “Na-na-bo-jo’s Fist.”

Read on for some cool stories from the area including some about the tree-punching Na-na-bo-jo!

View Robert’s photo bigger and see more in his My Petoskey slideshow.

7 thoughts on “Legend of the Crooked Tree

  1. One of my favorite horror novels of all time, which I read way back when I was like 7 years old (My mom gave it to me) is called Crooked Tree, by Robert C. Wilson. It takes place right here in good ole Michigan! (I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved it so much.)

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    1. I always wanted to read that – will have to pick it up. Another good book is The Indian Drum by William MacHarg & Edwin Balmer from 1915. Here’s the opening passage:

      Near the northern end of Lake Michigan, where the bluff-bowed ore-carriers and the big, low-lying, wheat-laden steel freighters from Lake Superior push out from the Straits of Mackinac and dispute the right of way, in the island divided channel, with the white-and-gold, electric lighted, wireless equipped passenger steamers bound for Detroit and Buffalo, there is a copse of pine and hemlock back from the shingly beach. From this copse—dark, blue, primeval, silent at most times as when the Great Manitou ruled his inland waters—there comes at time of storm a sound like the booming of an old Indian drum. This drum beat, so the tradition says, whenever the lake took a life; and, as a sign perhaps that it is still the Manitou who rules the waters in spite of all the commerce of the cities, the drum still beats its roll for every ship lost on the lake, one beat for every life.

      So—men say—they heard and counted the beatings of the drum to thirty-five upon the hour when, as afterward they learned, the great steel steamer Wenota sank with twenty-four of its crew and eleven passengers; so—men say—they heard the requiem of the five who went down with the schooner Grant; and of the seventeen lost with the Susan Hart; and so of a score of ships more. Once only, it is told, has the drum counted wrong.

      At the height of the great storm of December, 1895, the drum beat the roll of a sinking ship. One, two, three—the hearers counted the drum beats, time and again, in their intermitted booming, to twenty-four. They waited, therefore, for report of a ship lost with twenty-four lives; no such news came. The new steel freighter Miwaka, on her maiden trip during the storm with twenty-five—not twenty-four—aboard never made her port; no news was ever heard from her; no wreckage ever was found. On this account, throughout the families whose fathers, brothers, and sons were the officers and crew of the Miwaka, there stirred for a time a desperate belief that one of the men on the Miwaka was saved; that somewhere, somehow, he was alive and might return. The day of the destruction of the Miwaka was fixed as December fifth by the time at which she passed the government lookout at the Straits; the hour was fixed as five o’clock in the morning only by the sounding of the drum.

      The region, filled with Indian legend and with memories of wrecks, encourages such beliefs as this. To northward and to westward a half dozen warning lights—Ile-aux-Galets (“Skilligalee” the lake men call it), Waugaushance, Beaver, and Fox Islands—gleam spectrally where the bone-white shingle outcrops above the water, or blur ghostlike in the haze; on the dark knolls topping the glistening sand bluffs to northward, Chippewas and Ottawas, a century and a half ago, quarreled over the prisoners after the massacre at Fort Mackinac; to southward, where other hills frown down upon Little Traverse Bay, the black-robed priests in their chapel chant the same masses their predecessors chanted to the Indians of that time. So, whatever may be the origin of that drum, its meaning is not questioned by the forlorn descendants of those Indians, who now make beadwork and sweet-grass baskets for their summer trade, or by the more credulous of the white fishermen and farmers; men whose word on any other subject would receive unquestioning credence will tell you they have heard the drum.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Cool! I will check that out! If you decide to read Crooked Tree, my advice is to find an older copy. Wilson released a revised edition some years back, where he sort of modernized the story, so characters in it had cell phones and some other small changes. I don’t know why, but I felt like it took away something from the book. (No disrespect meant for the author.) Maybe it’s only because I’d read the book first when I was a little kid in the early 80’s. (I feel the same way about the so called “Special Edition” Star Wars movies.)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I have read the above listed book and have it in my bookcase. It belonged to my grandmother who always loved and reread it. Many years ago I came across a later book titled “The Land of the Crooked Tree” by U>P> Hedrick, 1948. It is a good read about the area around that fantastic part of northern Michigan the Jesuit missionaries called L’Arbre Croche. It reads like a novel and describes life lived in the area throughout time. If you love history and Michigan, find it , read it, and pass it on.

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  4. I thank “Michigan in Pictures” for selecting one of my images to be featured. It is always somehow rewarding when one of your images is singled out for recognition somehow. By the way . . . the tree shown here is only 3 or 4 feet tall, but quite tall for its kind.

    Liked by 2 people

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