History’s Gem of the Month – Michigan’s Mystic Dunes; Where Wily Paw-Puk-Keewis Danced
By Arthur W. Stace
Date and source unknown
NOTE: I found this newspaper article in the Gitche Gumee Museum’s archive. At the beginning of the article, it states that this is number 27 in a series of touring articles dealing with the Dunes of Michigan.
Four score years ago Henry Wadsworth Longfellow gave to the reading world his rhythmic “Hiawatha,” epic of th Northland Indians. Ever since that time children and grown-ups of the English speaking world have read in succeeding generation of the “Dunes of Nagow Wudjoo,” where Pau-Puk-Keewis, the mischief maker “whom the people called the “Storm Fool” danced at Hiawath’s wedding to Minnehaha, Laughing Water.
“On the shores of Gitche Gumee,
On the dunes of Nagow Wudjoo
By the shinning Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the lodge of Pau-Puk-Keewis.
It was he who in his frenzy
Whirled those drifting sands together,
On the dunes of Nagow Wudjoo,
When among the guests assembled
He so merrily and madly
Danced at Hiawatha’s wedding,
Danced the Beggars’ Dance to please them.”
How many Michigan children and how many Michigan grown-ups, reading the “Song of Hiawatha” have known that the “Dunes of Nagow Wudjoo, by the Shining Big-Sea-Water” are the dunes on the Grand Marais shore of Lake Superior in their own home state?
How many tourists speeding along M-28 and Us-2, main east and west arteries of travel in the Upper Peninsula – and mistakenly thinking that in so doing they are really seeing the Upper Peninsula – know that 25 miles north of M-28 and 42 miles north of US-2 are massed some of the most astonishing, most breath-taking dunes on the North American Continent?
Lonely, Remote Shore
The reason that the “dunes of Nagow Wudjoo” are little known in spite of the immortal and international publicity given them by Longfellow is that they are on a remote, deserted coast of Lake Superior, unfrequented by present-day travelers.
They were, perhaps, better known to the travelers of Indian days, of missionary days, of trader days, of pioneer days than to the far more numerous tourists of today because in those far-off times the principal means of transportation was by water. The canoes of the Indians, the barges of the traders, the sailing craft and steamboats of explorers and pioneers passed along the shore. The these tourists of primeval Michigan the towering dunes atop the bluff extending from Grand Marais harbor to Au Sable Point were outstanding landmarks. They were in sharp contrast to the steep, jagged cliffs of the Pictured Rocks, their immediate scenic neighbors on the shore to the west.
The dunes impressed themselves on the minds of the Indians. They impressed themselves on Henry Schoolcraft, explorer, student and collector of Indian lore. It was from Schoolcraft’s writings that Longfellow is said to have derived the descriptions and the legends he embodied in word music in “Hiawatha.”
The “dunes of Nagoe Wudjou” were on a lonely shore in Hiawatha’s time, in Schoolcraft’s time. They are on a lonely shore today. The exploring tourist may reach then by way of Highway M-77 to Grand Marais, thence by a local road to Grand Sable Lake two miles to the west.
NOTE: The photo in the article was quite faded without contrast, so I substituted my own photographs.
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Gitche Gumee Museum.
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Grand Marais, Michigan 49839