Tradition tells how long ago a forest fire raged in what now is Wisconsin, making food scarce for a mother bear and her two cubs. Fearing for their safety, she led them on a long swim across Michi Gama to escape the flames and search for a sustenance. They swam more than fifty miles, leaving from the western shore and heading east.
The mother bear, whom we call Mishe Mokwa, reached the eastern shore and collapsed on the beach, exhausted from her ordeal. She had just enough strength left to raise her head and look across the water for her cubs. The youngsters had lagged far behind, however, and could not be seen. Soon Mishe Mokwa fell asleep. Her cubs continued to struggle as they approached shore. Finally, too young and too weak to endure, they drowned a few miles offshore, under the light of the moon.
Mishe Mokwa eventually woke and continued to wait for them, refusing to move until they arrived safely. Sadly, they never did. To this day Mishe Mokwa still watches and waits for her cubs. A mountain of sand covers her now, which is called Sleeping Bear Dune. It was believed that Manitou was so impressed by her loyalty that he created two islands where the cubs perished, called the Manitou Islands.
South Manitou Island seen from Sleeping Bear Dunes