No vacation in Michigan is complete without a pocketful of Petoskey stones. You'll hear ooh's and aah's around the campfire as collectors, young and old, share their finds. We Michiganders know the stone by sight, but surprisingly, very few know the origins of this ubiquitous stone.
Petoskey stones dated back to the Devonian era nearly 350 million years ago. They are actually bits of colonial rugose coral that have been fossilized in the warm Michigan seas. Michigan was quite a bit different back then.
The Devonian period saw the rise of vertebrates. Geographically, what is now Michigan was near the equator, and a warm shallow sea covered the state. This warm, sunny sea was an ideal habitat for marine life. A Devonian reef had sheltered clams, cephalopods, corals, crinoids, trilobites, fish, and many other life forms.
One such coral was the rugose. The soft living tissue of the coral was
called a polyp. At the center of this was the area where food was taken in, or the mouth. Surrounding the opening were tentacles that were used for gathering food and drawing it into the mouth. The living coral that turned into the Petoskey stone thrived on plankton that lived in the warm sea.
Calcite, silica, and other minerals have replaced the first elements of each cell. Each separate chamber, then, on each Petoskey stone, was a member of a thriving colony of living corals. For that reason, the Petoskey stone is called a colony coral. This dark spot, or eye, has been filled with silt petrified after falling into the openings.
The wind and waves and sand cause a polishing effect, and for this reason, stones found on the shores of Little Traverse Bay have a more polished look naturally.
According to legend, a descendant of French nobility named Antoine Carre visited what is now the Petoskey area and became a fur trader with the John Jacob Astor Fur Company. In time, he met and married an Ottawa (or Odawa) princess. Carre became known to the tribe as Neaatooshing. He was eventually adopted by the tribe and made Chief.
In the spring of 1787, after having spent the winter near what is now Chicago, Chief Neaatooshing and his royal family started home. On the way, the party camped on the banks of the Kalamazoo River. During the night, a son was born to the Chief. As the sun rose, its rays fell on the face of the new baby. Seeing the sunshine on his son's face, the Chief proclaimed, "His name shall be Petosegay. He shall become an important person. " The translation of the name is "rising sun," "rays of dawn," or "sunbeams of promise."
In the summer of 1873, just a few years before the death of Petosegay, a city came into being on his land along the bay at Bear Creek. The site was a field overgrown with June grass. Only a few nondescript structures existed, and a population of no more than 50 or 60. The city was named Petoskey, an English adaptation of Petosegay. Thus they honored someone who gave his land, name, and heritage of "sunbeams of promise."