The first white man known to have visited Michigan's Lower Peninsula was trapper-explorer Adrien Jolliet, who came to the peninsula's eastern shores in 1669. Fur trappers may have preceded them, but it was in 1675 that the first non-Indians were recorded to have seen the Sleeping Bear area. They were Pierre Porteret and Jacques Largilier, attendants of Father Jacques Marquette, the famous French Jesuit missionary who established missions in 1668 at Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace in 1671.
Porteret and Largilier had accompanied Marquette on his last canoe voyage from St. Ignace to start a mission among the Illinois Indians. They went south by the customary route along the western shore on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan, but made the northward return trip along the lake's eastern shore after Marquette became mortally ill and wanted to take advantage of northwardly currents to return to St. Ignace before he died. The route was relatively unknown to the French because seventeenth century intertribal warfare as well as Iroquois animosity toward the French, made much of Michigan's Lower Peninsula inhospitable.
According to Father Claude Dablon, superior of the Jesuits in Canada, it was the first trip along Lake Michigan's eastern shore for Marquette, who was very ill to the point of having to be carried by his companions. They continued north after Marquette died at age 38 on May 18, 1675 at the mouth of a river near the Dunes. The location of his death is either Ludington or Frankfort.
During the late 1600s, several french and Canadian explorers traveled the eastern coast of Lake Michigan and began to map the shore and islands. Included in this group was Louis Jolliet, La Salle and Tonty, and St. Cosme.
In 1721, Jesuit historian-explorer Pierre Franscois Xavier Charlevoix described a large dune along Lake Michigan's Eastern shore as a "kind of bush" shaped like a reclining animal. His journal said "The French call it L'ours qui dort (the sleeping bear).
This web page is an excerpt from Sleeping Bear - Yesterday & Today, George Weeks, which is available at the park bookstores and the Village Bookstore in Glen Arbor.
Last updated: April 10, 2015