They came out of the east and slaughtered the small, peaceful settlement on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron. The cause of this blood feud is unknown, but the story of battle has been passed down through the oral history of Michigan’s Ottawa and Ojibwe (Chippewa) Nations.

Centuries ago, the Ottawa were settling along the eastern shore of Lake Huron and its islands. Already settled on what we today call Mackinac Island, they expanded their territory down the chain of islands. When they came to Manitoulin Island, the Ottawa found a small, unnamed tribe already living there.

The two tribes cohabitated peaceably; the Ottawas on the shore and the small tribe on the island freely intermingling with one another in commerce and celebrations. Manitoulin Island was the hopeful sanctuary for the small remnant from the blood-feud sworn against them by the powerful Senecas from the east.

However, their ancient enemy found the small tribe, attacked and wiped them out. The story of this massacre is immortalized in the oral history of the Ottawa and Chippewa.

We have to make sense of events. Our stories are interpretation of things that profoundly change us. Mythology is the narrative that preserves our memory and understanding of bigger things.

And so the story goes …

… when the people of the island were attacked, a young brave took his bride and hid her in a cave. As he turned to return to the battle, she pleaded with him to stay. He was firm in that he could not abandon his brothers as they fought.

But his young wife was also firm. If he returned to the battle, she would too. How could she possibly live after losing everything if it meant losing him too? The young man reluctantly stayed with his wife. The battle ended and their people were dead.

The young couple left the island and chose to live alone in the forests and not in the company of their Ottawa brothers. It is said they became a large family who never died but instead became supernatural beings that inhabit the forests.

These spirits make themselves known with the toss of a stick or a stone, the sound of footsteps with nobody there, the sudden apprehension of being watched and other strange happenings like dogs suddenly barking for no reason.

Rather than be frightened in such moments, the Ottawa and Ojibwe taught their children to remember the atrocity that consumed the small tribe of Manitoulin Island without fear. Remember, and learn.

Mackinac (as in the island and county) is an abbreviation of the Ojibwe word Michilimackinac (as in the fort) meaning “Great Turtle.” But there are tribal elders who say “Mackinac” comes from an even older word, “Mi-shi-ne-macki-naw-go,” which refers not to giant turtles but to an ancient, ill-fated tribe whose spirits still dwell in the forests.

I didn’t know this story years ago when I backpacked Pictured Rocks. I had the strongest sensation of being watched although I was alone on the forested trail. There was the constant sound of dropping sticks.

In camp, I knew I was being watched. Among other things, all night long there were footsteps snapping twigs and crunching leaves around my tent along with the constant dropping of sticks from the trees. The next morning I got the hell out of there.

I don’t believe in ghosts. I do not.

But that doesn’t always work.