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 American’s 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 and spikes along its back and a large tail that gives it a reptilian look. 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 cold 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 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.
During 19th century Michigan, many ships carrying materials such as copper went down during storms or after hitting reefs. One of the more popular wrecks was the Algoma that went down in Lake Superior near Isle Royale on November 7, 1885, with 60 people on board after striking a reef in the early hours of the morning. Fourteen people did not make it. 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.
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 copper culture no one can figure out. They 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.