Monday, November 29, 2021

A Brief History of Lake Superior's Fabulous Apostle Islands (Lake Superior Pearls & Perils, Part One)

In just another month, I will be celebrating the release of Song for the Hunter, a new novel set in a place which people from all over the world have come to admire and enjoy, the magnificent Apostle Islands. The archipelago of twenty-two islands (no, not twelve!) sits off the Bayfield Peninsula, the most northern point in Wisconsin. Twenty-one of the islands as well as part of the mainland are protected by the National Park Service making the area part of the Lake Superior National Shoreline. The Apostle Islands have a vast history of culture and commerce. Let's take a short overview.

Lake Superior is truly an inland sea. It is wild and unpredictable, a blue gem covering 31,700 square miles. It averages 483 feet deep, but at its deepest point is nearly three times that at 1333 feet. By surface, it is the largest lake in the world, and it holds more water than all the other Great Lakes combined, plus three more Lake Eeries. Are you amazed yet? Having claimed hundreds of shipwrecks (including the famous Edmund Fitzgerald which sunk during a horrific storm on my 14th birthday), the lake is said to have taken more than 10,000 lives, and those are the ones history tells us about. Now consider... 

Wild Lake Superior photo courtesy of Dan Grisdale Photography

The islands have been home to the Ojibwe people for some 600 years, at least. Some say thousands. In any event, they consider these islands to be a sacred place, and commerce has traveled the lake by canoe for centuries. Then came the fur traders and voyageurs. 10,000 lives gone to a watery grave probably falls far short of the actual number, or so I would imagine.

Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior (1869) Frances Anne Hopkins

Although Frenchman Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix is credited for giving the islands their current name--purportedly either to honor Jesus' twelve apostles or to recognize the twelve largest islands--the natives place name for the islands has always been Wenabozho ominisan. Wenabozho is the name of a cultural hero who, they claim, made the islands. The Ojibwe's main village was on Madeline Island, the largest of the islands (and where the adventures in my new novel largely take place). The Ojibwe name for the island is Moningwunakauning which means "home of the yellow-breasted woodpecker". From their village there, and from other villages on the mainland, the people were able to fish all year round, hunt game and collect wild rice in the fall, gather furs in winter, collect maple syrup in the spring, and gather wild edible food all summer long.

Apostle Island Sea Caves, Image by David Hamilton from Pixabay

Europeans also found safety and refuge from Lake Superior's wild waters, as well as gathering resources among the islands. One of Wisconsin's oldest settlements is there on Madeline Island, established by Jesuit priests Claude Allouez and Jacques Marquette in the 1660s. It soon became home to a French trading post, and later when American's won the war against France, was turned over from the North West Company to American Fur Company jurisdiction. 

Historical marker located on Hwy 13 between Washburn and Bayfield WI, looking from the mainland shore toward the island.

Madeline Island, Big Bay State Part;
View from my hero's campsite in Song for the Hunter

Stories of exploration, intrigue, heroism, and intrigue abound about the region both on the water and on shore. Between the French explorers, the fur traders, the voyageurs, and the missionaries, it is a region ripe with history as well as natural beauty. And all this before we even get to the era of the Great Lakes fishing and shipping fleets! (I'll share some of these stories in future posts of Lake Superior Pearls and Perils).

I hope this wets your appetite for a look into the area or maybe a planned vacation to the islands sometime! At the very least, I hope you'll investigate my upcoming book Song for the Hunter. There is also a 2018 novel set one year prior titled Mist O'er the Voyageur.

If you have or plan to read either book, I'd be happy to send you a novelette (pdf or mobi) set between the two stories--a sort of extended epilogue to Mist and a prequel to Song called The Long-Awaited Spring. Just drop me a note with your request and an email address!

Until the next historic tale of Pearls & Perils on the lake,
Song for the Hunter, coming January 4, 2022, pre-order available:

Wed to a trading company partner to escape life in Montreal under her harsh father's thumb, Camilla Bonnet finds herself tragically widowed and pregnant in the Upper Country frontier. When her brother fails to return for her from Fort William, she is cast on the mercy of the trading post owner's family. She also draws comfort from Bemidii Marchal, a M├ętis hunter who soothes away her misgivings as he finds his own refuge on Lake Superior's Madeline Island.

Bemidii’s thoughts of courting a maiden are cut short when he raises his knife against a company man at Fort William’s Great Rendezvous. No one will believe he killed to protect his sister—least of all the beautiful Frenchwoman on Madeline Island who stirs his affections—not when she learns that her brother is dead and Bemidii stands accused of his murder. As the sharp blade of truth divides them, will Bemidii survive the justice of powerful men who are a law unto themselves?

JOIN ME at a Christmas Extravaganza Facebook Party next week to try and win a copy of the book, not to mention a spree of other prizes!


  1. Thanks for the post! I imagine it's a beautiful area from your description! And I look forward to your continuing tour!

    1. Thank you for the sweet comment! Yes, it's a beautiful place, to be sure.

  2. A wonderful post! We've been to Lakes Erie, Ontario, and Huron (and Huron felt huge!). I can't imagine what Superior is like. I look forward to your new book.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I haven't seen all of the Great Lakes, but the three I have are amazing, each in their own wonderful way.

  3. such an interesting post. thanks for sharing. I love this cover, and it sounds like a fabulous story congratulations quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Lori. I appreciate it!