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Ontonagon County is a county of the U.S. state of Michiganmarker. As of the 2000 census, the population was 7,818. The county seat is Ontonagonmarker .

The county was set off in 1843, and organized in 1848. It had been part of Chippewamarker and Mackinacmarker counties; and it was thereafter split to create Gogebic County‎marker. See List of Michigan counties. The name is said to be derived from a Native American word "Nondon-organ" meaning "hunting river" and which appeared as named for a river called "Nantounagon" on a 1670 French map. Alternatively, it is said to be derived from the Ojibwa "onagon" which means "dish" or "bowl." See List of Michigan county name etymologies.

Perhaps, the name Ontonagon means both hunting and bowl. There is a local story that says a young maiden put a dish or bowl into the Ontonagan River to clean it. It escaped her and drifted down the river. She cried "My bowl! My bowl! Please hunt [search] for my bowl!". So, the river was called Ontonagon. The Ontonagan River Valley is, also, shaped like a basin or bowl.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 3,741 square miles (9,690 km²), of which, 1,312 square miles (3,397 km²) of it is land and 2,430 square miles (6,293 km²) of it (64.95%) is water.

Geographic features


US Highways

Michigan State Trunklines

Adjacent counties

National protected areas


As of the census of 2000, there were 7,818 people, 3,456 households, and 2,225 families residing in the county. The population density was 6 people per square mile (2/km²). There were 5,404 housing units at an average density of 4 per square mile (2/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 97.25% White, 0.03% Black or African American, 0.96% Native American, 0.18% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.31% from other races, and 1.25% from two or more races. 0.74% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 33.5% were of Finnish, 15.0% German, 6.6% Polish, 6.0% English, 5.1% Irish and 5.0% French ancestry according to Census 2000. 93.5% spoke English and 4.6% Finnish as their first language.

There were 3,456 households out of which 23.60% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.60% were married couples living together, 6.30% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.60% were non-families. 31.50% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.21 and the average family size was 2.75.

In the county the population was spread out with 20.20% under the age of 18, 4.70% from 18 to 24, 23.30% from 25 to 44, 30.20% from 45 to 64, and 21.60% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46 years. For every 100 females there were 102.70 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 101.50 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $29,552, and the median income for a family was $36,690. Males had a median income of $31,884 versus $21,121 for females. The per capita income for the county was $16,695. About 5.80% of families and 10.40% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.90% of those under age 18 and 10.10% of those age 65 or over.


The county government operates the jail, maintains rural roads, operates themajor local courts, keeps files of deeds and mortgages, maintains vital records, administerspublic health regulations, and participates with the state in the provision of welfare andother social services. The county board of commissioners controls thebudget but has only limited authority to make laws or ordinances. In Michigan, most localgovernment functions — police and fire, building and zoning, tax assessment, streetmaintenance, etc. — are the responsibility of individual cities and townships.

Ontonagon County elected officials

(information as of September 2005)

Communities and townships


Unincorporated communities



  1. My Michigan, Ontonagon genealogy.
  2. Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University, Bibliography on Ontonagon County.
  3. "Michigan Counties" from the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries.

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