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Belle Isle, Detroit River

 

The Snake Goddess of Belle Isle

The Ottawa Indians tell of the lovely daughter of Chief Sleeping Bear. So beautiful was the maiden that her father kept her hidden in a covered canoe on the Detroit River. Wind spirits so coveted her beauty that they blew the cover off of the small boat, which drifted downstream. The Keeper of the Water Gates soon became enamored of the girl, kidnapping her. The Wind spirits, sorry for their part the maiden's misfortune, blew and beat up the Keeper of the Water Gates until he died. The Wind spirits then sent the girl back to her father, who so feared she would be taken from him again that he placed the girl on an island in the middle of the Detroit River, calling upon the Great Spirits to surround the island with snakes for her protection. White settlers would name the island Isle St. Clair, later Rattlesnake Island, then Belle Isle. The Indian maiden still haunts these woods, often in the form of a beautiful white doe. Picnickers report the doe shyly observes them from behind trees and brush, but when approached bounds off. It's said that just as the doe disappears from sight, she transforms into a beautiful Native American maiden. In the very early days of Detroit, Belle Isle, then known as Ile Aux Cochons or Hog Island, was used by settlers to house pigs and chickens to protect them from coyotes on the mainland. Ottawas and Ojibwa tribes were the "owners" of the island.


 

During Pontiac's siege of Detroit in 1763,

The houses on Belle Isle were destroyed and the family of resident, James Fisher, was murdered. Jean Myer accused Alexis Cuillerier of drowning one of James Fisher's children. No court existed in Detroit at the time, and Cuillerier had some powerful connections and relationships, thus he was only kicked out of Detroit. After his exile, several witnesses testified in Cuillerier's behalf. Cuillerier was proven innocent and on June 4, 1769, Turnbull called him back to Detroit. On May 4, 1768, Lieutenant George McDougall, a soldier in the British garrison at Detroit, was given permission by King George III to "occupy" Belle Isle. Despite the fact that the citizens of Detroit would lose their rights to the island and have to find other means of housing cattle and other animals, McDougall purchased the island on June 5, 1769 from the Ojibwa and Ottawa owners for a total of 8 barrels of rum, 3 rolls of tobacco, 6 pounds of vermillion, and a wampum belt. Detroiters who were living on the island at the time, including Jacques Campau, J. Bte. Chapoton, Eustache Gamelin, and Pierre Reaume, wrote a letter to Captain Turnbull (commandant of Detroit) on May 18, 1769. The letter asked that Turnbull speak to General Thomas Gage and Governor Carleton and request the citizens' rights to use Belle Isle be recognized. Turnbull refused. The citizens then wrote to Gage and Carleton themselves -- again they were refused. A meeting was held on October 13, 1769 and the citizens were able to voice their opinions, but to no avail. In the spring of 1777, McDougall took full possession of the island. In 1780, the McDougall holdings on Belle Isle were appraised by order of commandant Arent Schuyler de Peyster. Peyster aimed to use the island to increase agricultural production at the post. Mrs. Dougall was paid 334, the calculated value of her holdings. After that, the King's cattle and a Mr. Riddle moved to the island.





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Aerial Photography By: Don Coles, Aerialpics.com, Detroit River Belle Isle, Michigan