The Sad Tale How Sleeping Bear Dunes Got Its Name
28 Miles west of Traverse City and along the shores of Lake Michigan lie Sleeping Bear Dunes. It's a place where most Michiganders have visited at one time or another in their lives. Whether it was heading up to party with friends, to spend time with that 'special someone', a family outing, or just for a solo getaway – the majority of us have been there.
But have you ever wondered where the name came from? “Sleeping Bear”?
You say it was named by Native Americans?
Right. It was.
The Legend of Sleeping Bear was passed down by generations of Native Americans, explaining how the dunes were formed and the two islands off the coast: North & South Manitou.
The tale begins way over on the other side of Lake Michigan on the shores of Wisconsin. On this particular shore lived a mama bear and her two cubs. One day, a forest fire blazed through the area with no escape for the bears except in the Lake Michigan waters. They got in and began swimming their way across the lake in search of safe land. The little cubs had a hard time keeping up with mama and kept falling behind. When it became night, they were lost even further behind.
Mama bear, possibly oblivious to her cubs predicament, arrived on the Michigan shores of Lake Michigan the next morning. It was then she realized her cubs were not with her. She paused and looked out over the lake, hoping to see some sign of her youngsters but it was to no avail. She collapsed in the sand and cried herself to sleep.
She never moved from that site, constantly keeping a vigil. As the years passed, the constant lake winds kept covering mama bear with more and more sand until she was completely buried. But the Great Spirit Manitou was watching over her; Manitou created two little islands off the shore that marked the spots where the two little cubs disappeared. This way, mama bear could gaze out into the water toward the islands and imagine her two babies are there, living happily.
Next time you visit Sleeping Bear Dunes, see if you can find the exact dune where mama bear still lies, watching out for her babies.
SLEEPING BEAR DUNES, PAST AND PRESENT