History of the Petoskey Stone

The name Petoskey Stone likely came about because it was found and sold as a souvenir from the Petoskey area. The name Petoskey appears to have originated late in the 18th century. Its roots stem from an Ottawa Indian legend. 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 Indian princess. Carre became know to the Indians as Neatooshing. Eventually he was adopted by the tribe and was made chief.

In the spring of 1787, after having spent the winter near what is now Chicago, Chief Neatooshing and his royal family started home. Enroute, 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. Noting the glorious sunshine on his son’s face. The Chief proclaimed, “His name shall be Petosegay ( or Bedosegay, there are several versions). He shall become an important person. “The translation of the name is “rising sun,” “rays of dawn,” or “sunbeams of promise”. True to his father’s predication, Petosegay became an important person. He was a fur trader and merchant who acquired much land and wealth. His appearance was outstanding. Ultimately, he wed the young daughter of Chief Pokozeegun, a great Ottawa Chief from the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. They had two daughters and eight sons.
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 buildings existed. The population was 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 the heritage of “sunbeams of promise”.

Today, Petoskey is a growing city with all of the comforts of modem life and an appreciation of the past. This is where Petoskey Stones are found. For those who look, Petoskey Stones are along the beaches, inland in gravel deposits, and sold in gift shops.

The most often asked question is, “What is a Petoskey Stone?” A Petoskey is a fossil colonial coral. These corals lived in warm, shallow seas that covered Michigan during Devonian time, some 350 million years ago.

Almost a century after the founding of Petoskey, on June 28, 1965, Governor George Romney signed a bill that made the Petoskey Stone Michigan’s official State Stone. It was fitting that Miss Ella Jane Petoskey, the only living grandchild of Chief Petosegay, was present at the formal signing. The legislation is very general. The bill simply states that the Petoskey stone is the State Stone. The designation ofHexagonaria percarinata was made by Dr. Edwin C. Stumm in 1969. Dr. Stumm made this distinction based on his extensive knowledge of fossils.

This specific fossil coral is found only in the rock strata known as the Alpena Limestone. The Alpena Limestone is part of the Traverse Group of Devonian age. The Alpena Limestone is a mixture of lime stones and shales. The outcrops of these rocks are restricted to the Little Traverse Bay area near Petoskey.

The Alpena Limestone is only part of the Devonian in Michigan. Devonian age rocks form the bedrock for much of the northern Lower Peninsula. Devonian rocks outcrop at less than three percent of the surface of the United States. Michigan’s average is much higher. Much of what is known about the Devonian is interpreted from the fossil record.

At least seven different species of the genus Hexagonaria are found in Devonian rocks in Michigan. The Petoskey Stone genera of corals are found in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Canada, Germany, England and even Asia.