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The “Tip of the Mitt” area has perhaps some of the richest history in the Midwest. In 1634, French explorer Jean de Nicolet was the first European to see the area, though the Native American presence here goes back far earlier. The area which is today the Straits of Mackinac was particularly important for the Ottawa and Chippewa. The straits area provided ease to transportation and it made sense to set up areas there for trading and commerce. Settlements at present-day Mackinaw City, St. Ignace, Mackinac Island, and Cheboygan all were important to trade long before the arrival of the white man.
Mackinac Island held special importance for the Native Americans of the area. According to tradition, it was the first piece of land to appear after the great flood. The Great Hare, Michibou, retrieved a grain of sand from beneath the water; he blew on it until it grew, and it became the island we see today. Resembling the shape of a turtle, the island was named Mishi-Mikinaak, meaning “Big Turtle” in Anishinaabe (Ojibwa). It is home to the Great Spirit, Gitche Manitou.
Mackinac Island became a commercial center and regional outpost for the fur trade and army during the first half of the 19th century. As the fur trade waned in the latter decades of the century, it took on a larger role as an important location for tourism. Long renowned for its natural beauty, the Island became even more popular as a destination for those looking to escape everyday life. Wishing to preserve the beauty and historic nature of the Island (and avoid scaring the horses), automobiles were banned in the downtown area in 1898 and Island-wide a few years later.