Crossing "Deaths Door"


Birchbark CanoeingBuilder
Alan is ready to cross the legendary "Deaths Door" from Washington Island to North Port on the mainland ~~

Early Washington Island History

Early explorers, such as Jean Nicolet in 1635, came to this area of Northeastern Wisconsin followed by traders and missionaries. Prior to 1850 these islands provided a perfect home for the Potawatomi Indians since there was ideal protection against all enemies. Washington Island and the neighboring Islands are separated from mainland Door County by Death’s Door Passage which name springs from the popular legend:

“When the vicious Winnebagos came to the Door County peninsula they found it occupied by the generous Potawatomi, who offered to share the land. The Winnebagos refused, and attacked the less-numerous Potawatomi at every chance. The abused minority withdrew to the nearby islands, but even here faced the threat of invasion by the Winnebago. The islanders planned a surprise counter-attack across the water and sent three spies ahead to kindle a beacon to guide their canoes to a safe landing.

The spies were caught. Under torture one finally told their secret plans. The Winnebagos lit a fire one dark and windy night on a steep bluff which offered only danger. Meanwhile, they dispatched a canoe detachment by a roundabout route to attack the islanders’ camp.

As the misdirected Potawatomi urged their canoes toward the fire, a great increase in wind and waves cut off all choice of turning back. Their frail craft were broken against the rocky bluff. Some braves drowned, the rest were soon tomahawked by the waiting enemy.

For their part, the Winnebagos in canoes all were swamped by the seas, and all drowned in the passage. Their tribesman watched at land’s end a full day, until finally the wrecked canoes washed up on the shore. They took this loss as an omen that they must never again try to cross the ‘Door of Death,’ as it was afterward called.”


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