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Burial grounds where spirit houses are still maintained are very rare often in undisclosed locations. Oddly, there is a burial ground inside Pentoga Park near Crystal Falls, Michigan. That park includes a campground and is southeast of Iron River between Caspian and Alpha at 1630 County Rd 424. Iron County purchased the land for this park in 1924 as a tribute to the Native Americans that congregated here and to preserve their burial grounds.

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Spirit Houses

The historical museum in Caspian, Michigan contains a number of unique exhibits. One item seems unremarkable, but it tells a story that is nearly forgotten. A small wooden crate or box with a peaked roof sits near a wall with a photograph above it. It is made of unpainted wood and is an exhibit that many visitors simply walk by. This plain looking box is actually a replica of a Native American “spirit house”. It is difficult to find information about these “houses”. It should be noted, again, that these structures are tombs. Their construction and maintenance are part of sacred ceremonial activity. It is considered bad manners, an insult and disrespectful, to question Native Americans about these ceremonies and structures.

 

Spirit Houses

With that caveat in place, here is a description of the “spirit houses”.

According to the inscription at a Chippewa burial ground at Chicaugon Lake:
“After death, the Indian’s body was clothed in his finest clothes, wrapped in birch-bark and together with his earthly belongings, his most prized possessions, was buried. A small shelter was built over the grave in the shape of a house, which was to protect him from the elements, and prevent wild animals from digging up his body. At one end of the shelter, a small opening was inserted so food could be placed inside to sustain him on his way to the Happy Hunting Grounds. A small staff was erected near the entrance on which was placed the totem of his family. The Indian placed the home of the soul in the sun, either in the East where it came from, or in the West, where it made its bed. Thus, we find, the Indians always buried their dead facing the West or the setting sun.”

Protected by a split rail fence the wooden burial structures have endured time to protect and mark the graves of the ancient Ojibwa.