LEGENDS OF MICHIGAN
Mishipeshu, the Guardian of the Sacred Copper
Written by Michigan’s Otherside
Mishipeshu. Try and say that word fast three times. If this Ojibwe word for “great lynx,” is too hard for you to pronounce, you can also just call it a “water panther.” We all know how much cats love water so perhaps this contributes to the angry temperament of this menacing looking creature. Its origins begin with the Native Americans of the Lake Superior/Upper Great Lakes region who told stories about this fierce guardian and its one goal: protect the sacred copper of the Upper Peninsula.
And that’s pretty easy to do when you look like a cross between a dinosaur and a mountain lion. Mishipeshu has the head and paws of a big cat, scales, spikes along its back and a large reptilian tail. It even has horns akin to a deer for added freakiness.

The ancient stories say it lives on Michipicoten Island on the Canadian side of Lake Superior and has the magical ability to cause nasty storms. It’s usually associated with more bad things in life than good – such as death and destruction – but people believed in the past that as long as an offering was made to the creature, this could perhaps keep it calm if one had to travel by water. It’s also been known to hold a grudge against the mythical Thunderbirds that rule the sky according to some Native American beliefs. Like a Michigan version of Godzilla VS Mothra.

Ojibwe pictograph of Mishipeshu from Lake Superior Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada
During the 19th century in Michigan, many ships carrying materials such as copper went down during storms. One of the more popular wrecks on Lake Superior was the Algoma that went down during a heavy snowstorm near Isle Royale on November 7, 1885. The ship struck ground and broke into two. Around 60 people were on board and 46 passengers and crew died. The ship had supposedly been carrying U.P. copper among its many supplies.

Most of these ships went down for perfectly logical and natural reasons that are just inevitable misfortunes of sailing the Great Lakes. But this website isn’t necessarily devoted to the logical, so I mean…let’s just say it could have also been Mishipeshu, guarding that copper.

The wreck of the Algoma in 1885.

Image source – Great Lakes Drive
The Algoma shipwreck is still the largest loss of life ever on Lake Superior. 
Most of these ships went down for perfectly logical and natural reasons that are just inevitable misfortunes of sailing the Great Lakes. But this website isn’t necessarily devoted to the logical, so I mean…let’s just say it could have also been Mishipeshu, guarding that copper.

Another tale that involves the wrath of the water panther tells about four Native American men who decided to go to Michipicoten Island and deliberately take the island’s copper to help them heat their food faster. Of course, this didn’t end well for the men and only one made it back to shore with just enough life left in him to tell the others what happened before he died.

Mishipeshu is an important and powerful animal to many Native American tribes of the Great Lakes region. No one has wanted to anger this creature…like ever. It’s been said that anyone who stole the copper had misfortune befall them which pretty much meant death. There wasn’t much creative variation in what horribleness awaited a copper taker. Just death. Perhaps that’s what happened to the mysterious Michigan copper culture no one can figure out. They all fell victim to Mishipeshu for their copper greed! Legend or real creature, bring an offering of peace the next time you are in Lake Superior and honor old Mishipeshu just to be on the safe side.