Happy Halloween … and the Indian Drum


Happy Halloween, photo by Julie

Happy Halloween everyone! I shared this story a few years ago, but since we’re back up on northern Lake Michigan at a time when the witch of November is rousing, why not share it again? In 1915, William MacHarg & Edwin Balmer wrote a book called The Indian Drum. The whole book is available online along with 53,000+ more books at Project Gutenberg. Chapter I begins:

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.

Read on at Project Gutenberg.

View Julie’s photo bigger and see more in her Holidays slideshow.

See 700 more Halloween photos in the Absolute Michigan photo group  and more haunted, Halloween fun on Michigan in Pictures.

Haunted Michigan: The Devil’s Grist

Just another pretty face

Just Another Pretty Face, photo by Gary Tucker

In the spring of 1712, the English sent a war party of Fox & Macoutin to try and take Fort Pontchartrain in Detroit from the French. Over 1000 were massacred by tribes loyal to the French near Windmill Point at the mouth of the Detroit River on Lake St. Clair, effectively destroying the Fox nation.

My new favorite book, Legends of Le Détroit by Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin with illustrations by Miss Isabella Stewart, details the episode. If I were you, I would click over to the book right now and read it there – it’s not nearly as long as Tuesday’s tale ;)

We’ll join the story…

Years after the dreadful massacre which converted the beautiful spot called Presque Isle into the grave of the Fox nation, a stone mill was built there by a French settler, who came to reside with his sister Josette, undaunted by the ourrent traditions which peopled it with the spirits of the departed warriors. Jean was a quiet, morose man, different from the laughing, careless, pleasure-loving Canadian, — for rare were his visits, to the fort, and it was noticed that he never lingered over his cidre, nor spoke to the smiling, piquante daughters of the habitants.

…Josette was much older than her brother, and by dint of thrift and economy had saved enough to become a half owner in the mill. … Naught disturbed the monotony of their lives ; each day was but a repetition. The river flowed calmly on, the birds sang their songs – for nature has no moods, they belong to man alone.

At last Josette fell sick. Jean attended her as carefully as he could, and like a prudent man, would frequently ask her to whom she would leave her interest in the mill. Irritable from suffering, she became annoyed at his importunities, accused him of taking care of her for the sake of obtaining her money, and told him ‘she would leave it to the devil.” Jean tried in his clumsy fashion, to soothe her. He sent for some of his kindred to reason with her, but they only infuriated her the more, and she solemnly declared that not one of them should have her share in the mill, but “she would sooner leave it to the devil.”

Josette recovered, however, and with that perversity born of stubbornness, would not relent. A few months afterwards she was found dead in her bed, having died suddenly. That same night, whilst the candles threw their dim shadowy light in the room of the dead, a furious storm arose, lashing the waves against the shore, the winds howling fiercely around the point, the black clouds chasing each other across the lowering skies, as lurid gleams of lightning and deafening reverberations of thunder, made all the habitants shudder while they crossed themselves and told their beads. All at once there came so tremendous a shock that it seemed to swallow the island. The old stone mill was rent in twain. A pungent smell of sulphur filled the air, and a fiendish, laugh was heard loud above the raging storm from the shattered ruins. The arch fiend had come to claim his share.

For years afterwards when a northeast storm blew from the lake, making night hideous by its echoing peals of thunder, it was said that a hairy figure, with a horned head and forked tail tipped with fire, his mouth and eyes darting forth ruddy flame, could be seen in the mill, trying to put together the ruined machinery to grind the devil’s grist. And the lonely wayfarer to Grosse Pointe would see the marshes around Presque Isle all illuminated by flames, called by the hab- itants feu-follet (Will-o’-the-Wisp), which would try to inveigle the unhappy traveler and bring him to help grind the devil’s grist.

View the photo background big and see more of Gary’s haunted photos at that link.

More ghost stories & haunted tales on Michigan in Pictures!