Photo Credit Philip Schwarz Photography
In my mind’s eye I can see it. The turn off Highway 53. The long winding narrow road through the trees that seems to go on and on without a hint that a beach and the wide expanse of the lake lay just beyond. There is a Native burial ground almost at the break in the trees to the right where people have left mementoes.
“Wisconsin Point (three miles in length) and Minnesota Point (seven miles) located in Superior, Wisconsin make up the largest freshwater sandbar in the world. They were formed by two rivers. The French traders who approached the west end of Lake Superior would eventually start calling the larger river on the right the St. Louis River (after the King of France) although the Ojibwe’s name for it was “Gichigami-ziibi” meaning “Great Lake River.” The stream on the left was called the Nemadji River (after the Ojibwe word “ne-madji-tic-guay-och” for “Left Hand River”). The Nemadji River marks the boundary between the parishes of St. Francis Xavier and St. Anthony.
Fr. Claude Jean Allouez, S.J. (1622-1689) camped on the shore of Wisconsin Point in 1666 while ministering to the Ojibwe. The following year, he would establish a mission along Bluff Creek near the shore of the bay. Frustrated though with few Ojibwe willing to join the Catholic faith, he abandoned his evangelization efforts in about 1669.
Today, near the Superior entry lighthouse at Wisconsin Point, a stone marker states:
“Here was the burial ground of the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa people dating from the 17th century. It was removed in 1919 to St. Francis cemetery, Superior.”
Actually, only about 180 remains from the most identifiable graves were moved (including at least one chief– Chief Joseph Osaugie (1802-1876). Sadly though, once placed in a mass grave at St. Francis Xavier cemetery, they were improperly cared for over the years. For example, when the slope of land on which they were reburied had been undercut by construction of a road, bones and decayed clothing could be seen spilling toward the river. As far as what happened to the 100 unidentified graves that were left on Wisconsin point? Some say Chief Osaugie’s descendants know their location, but they are not about to give up their dead.”
I spent many a somber moment pausing there, listening to the whispers of the trees and the quiet breeze until I could almost see the days when no white person had set foot on that land. From here you can smell the water. A quick walk up brings you to the golden beach which stretches for a fair ways until it curves round out of sight.
I lay here nights on the soft sand watching the aurora borealis while the waves washed up on the sand. I walked barefoot in the wash, my footsteps disappearing in the waves as if I had never trod there. I loved the feeling of the cold water on my feet and I would gaze over the water to the blue line on the horizon wondering what lay on the other side of the blue line. Now I am on the other side of the blue line looking homewards, missing the sight of great red ore oats with their distinctive long shape and white trim cruising out to the wide lake beyond.
The lighthouse lies on the end of s great long break wall that is really a long pile of rocks; precarious to walk on when the weather is wet and with a little effort it is well worth it to achieve the lighthouse at last on its concrete block. My soul wanders when I lean up against the short wall on the other side of the lighthouse; across that endless expanse of blue something in me rears up, this sense of wandering and possibility, wildness and passion. I love this great inland sea that is beautiful in its calm and unpredictability; where I went agate hunting on its beach as a young woman and sat on the great driftwood logs with a little fire going at night listening to the fire pop and hiss, smoke floating upwards, while the water and the waves sliding forever in and out spoke to me in their languages speaking of time and eternity and ages long past when no human being was there, and when the first humans to live there fished and lived and loved.
I stand on Erie’s shore sometimes, in Hamburg, New York. I fulfilled the wanderlust of my younger years; I know what is on the other side of that far blue horizon line and 30 years on the other side I hear the great water that lives further northwest calling to me. It is the song of home.