The legends surrounding
Death's Door portray grim scenes worthy of the passage's name.
They tell of a huge Indian war party pummeled to death against
its rocky shores. They recount the last voyages of innumerable
wooden ships pulverized by swirling currents and howling winds.
But like a fierce squall that blurs the line between sea and
sky, the potent legacy of Death's Door obscures the line between
fact and fancy.
Death's Door is the
chief navigational passage between the Bay of Green Bay and
Lake Michigan. It lies between the northeast end of Wisconsin's
Door Peninsula and the rocky shores of Pilot, Plum, Detroit,
and Washington islands.
The precise origins
of the passage's name remain shrouded in legend. One story
recounts the destruction of a large Native American war party
in a sudden storm. Early French and American travelers' accounts
contain similar stories. However, these earliest written accounts
mention nothing of a war party per se. They say only
that "there were a hundred Indians dashed against these rocks
and killed in a single storm" (an 1835 account), or that a
band of Indians, travelling in canoes to a French trading
post, were resting on a rock shelf in the Door when a sudden
storm trapped and drowned them.
A French document
from 1728 refers to the passage as Cap a la Mort .
Thus, any actual events that may have inspired the name must
have occurred before 1728. One author contends that a frightful
legend was concocted by the French to discourage English exploration.
This French connection is reflected in modern charts that
identify the passage as Porte des Morts.