A Brief History of Bois Blanc Island
By Chris McAfee

     Mysteries and misconceptions about Bois Blanc Island abound. Many have stood on the shores of the Straits of Mackinac and wondered, “What is that island like?”   Perhaps that is why the editors of Traverse Magazine report that their largest selling issue by far was the one which featured “The Straits’ Other Island, Bois Blanc” on the cover. Once on a carriage tour of Mackinac, I asked the driver about “that island out  there,” and he replied, “Oh, only millionaires and rattlesnakes live there.”

   Perhaps the most common misconception is that Bois Blanc, meaning ‘white wood’ in French, was named for its birch trees.    The name actually refers to the basswood tree,  which is white under its bark and was much prized by early settlers for the strong ropes and mats that could be made from  the inner bark. Bois Blanc is the largest of the three islands in the Straits of Mackinac, joining Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, yet is the least known. It’s much smaller neighbor, Mackinac Island, has garnered the lion’s share of fame and fortune, both now and historically (that’s just fine with most of us islanders – we like our peace and quiet).

      The first answer to the mystery as to why Mackinac Island rose to prominence is that it literally did rise. Glaciers retreated from the area about 9000 B.C., and the land rose once the huge weight of the ice was removed.  At the time Mackinac Island rose to the surface Bois Blanc Island was still under water.   Water levels rose and fell over the years.   If one thinks the low water levels of 2000 and 2001 were bad, consider that between 6000-3000 B.C., the Straits of Mackinac was a river connecting two lakes.  Mackinac Island’s commanding presence in the center of the Straits, as well as its smaller size and greater heights, made it much easier to defend. Too, with its high ground, it was not subjected to the swarms of mosquitoes, black flies and no-see-ums that infested the lower, swampier land of Bois Blanc Island. Somethings never change! Anthropological exploration at the Juntunen Site on the west end of the island confirmed that Bois Blanc Island was occupied as early as 60 A.D. However, most of the “habitation debris” dated from about 800 to 1400 A.D. Evidence suggests that these settlements were seasonal (again, some things never change) and that these early inhabitants were drawn here for the large numbers of fish in the surrounding waters. These were not the only artifacts that were discovered on the island. Not a little excitement was generated in 1888 by the discovery of five complete skeletons, placed in a sitting position in a circle on land across the road from the old Pines Hotel site.


Link to History of Bois Blanc Island Lighthouse



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