Midwest Vikings? Part 1

The title is certainly a mouthful, and to be frank there is a lot I want to say with this blog. Thus I am breaking it up into several parts. The reason for this is because I have done a fair bit of research in this area, and I want to share what I have done. I will start by talking about Viking lore associated with my home state of Michigan, and the broadening to include the Great Lakes region. I wrote a paper on the topic during my undergrad days, and I will be sharing parts of that paper, tailored of course to fit into my wider theme.

When writing the previously mentioned paper, I came across an interesting post that lead me to a lot of Michigan Viking lore. It is found here:

http://ezinearticles.com/?Viking-Mystery-in-Michigan—White-Indians&id=1511207

Needless to say this article whetted my appetite for more Michigan related Viking lore, so I quickly began hunting down the books mentioned in the article. I had to be careful though, because there is a lot of unverified claims in the article, and very few sources to back up some of the claims. A critical, skeptical eye would be needed as I move forward with my research. . The question is then, are there any facts in these tales, or are they just tales?

The first printed work available to me was “Viking Mettles” by Johan Baner, though the above mentioned article refers to him as Bauer. The work itself is a collection of poems, probably written by Baner, though I am not for certain on this point. The most interesting part to me was the foreword. After a brief introduction by the auther (Baner), follows an article written by Kendrick Kimball, who worked for the Detroit Daily News. Baner claims the article appeared in the Detroit Daily News, then in the Escanaba Daily Press and other publications as well. The date is December 28th, 1930. I am hoping to be able to locate a copy of this article when I get the chance.

In summary of the article, as posted in Baner’s book “Viking Mettles”:

* Baner claims to have found and translated a runestone from Helsingland, Sweden that detailed a saga of Vidar Viking and his voyage to Vinland (North America). It should be said that the location of Vinland has been speculated to be anywhere from Martha’s Vineyard to Newfoundland, and sometimes even further south or north. In short, Vinland is a very ambiguous location. The only professionally verified Viking settlement (to the best of my knowledge) is at L’anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland.

*Baner moved to America, first to Minnesota and then to Ashland, Wisconsin, where he edited a Swedish newspaper. Here he claims to have met a Native American who knew broken Swedish and who had the same name as one of Vidar’s companions mentioned on the Helsingland runestone. The Native American said the Swedish words were “magic” and used by their ancestors many years before. These “ancestors” were men who dressed in “ice” (assumed to be armor, by Baner) came from somewhere in a boat and had eagle’s wings on their heads.

* Baner claims (in the article, reported by Kimball) that there are other evidences of Viking visits to Lake Superior in the 11th century such as a runic inscription (never says where) and a Norse weapon discovered in Minnesota. Both were “authenticated by scientists.”

*The article then details the story of Leif’s Ericcson’s journey to North America. According to the article, sometime after Leif Vidar and his companions sailed up the St. Lawrence in search of a prophet.

*A last point of interest in the article is the part about Fred Dustin of Saginaw, who was an archaeologist went to Isle Royal with an expedition from the University of Michigan. The goal of the expedition was to try an discover the identity of the original copper miners of the area. Nothing else is said of Dustin, and I will have to look into this further.

* Near the end of the article, a quote is attributed to Baner, and he states: “I believe the Vikings instructed the Indians how to extract copper from the ground. It seems doubtful that the savages would recognize the value of copper without inspiration from some other people.” This quote can be dismissed as part of the thinking of the time. It was widely held that Native peoples could not have come up with many of their innovations on their own (because they were not as “sophisticated” as Europeans) and thus they had to be “helped” by some outside source, namely white Europeans. Europeans though of themselves as the peak of human society. Such ideas have largely been discredited. I will not detail that part of intellectual history at this time.

It is an interesting idea at least, that Vikings managed to sail up the St.Lawrence and find their way into Lake Superior. However, we must not be so quick to take all that has been said, primarily by Baner himself, at face value. There is very little outside verification of these ideas, and those that are mentioned are vague (i.e. the “scientists” that verified his claims.) Can we say anything for certain at the moment? The answer is a resounding no, and the only thing we do know is that more research is needed. So when I have more information to present, I will continue this work.

P.S If anyone has any additional information on this subject, could you please let me know or send it to me? I have copies of “Michigan Prehistory Mysteries I and II” by Sanders on the way and other sources as well, just have to write it up.

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About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

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