Deadly Lacrosse Game in Mackinac Straits at Fort Michilimackinac in 1763

It happened in seconds. A frenzy of sweaty, painted bodies clamoring for the leather-wrapped chunk of wood that was the ball as it fell at the mouth of the open gate. The women opening their blankets and handing off knives and tomahawks to the athletes-turned-warriors. Shrieks, screams and blood. Etherington and his lieutenant, William Leslye, whisked off to the woods—as the other fort officer and likely the only soldier armed that day, Lieutenant Jamet, was killed. The plan so carefully laid by Minweweh and Madjeckewiss, cohorts of Pontiac, was executed flawlessly.

The attack and the events that followed were recorded in the painfully descriptive memoirs of Alexander Henry, who—at the time of the attack—was a young English fur trader staying at the fort. “Going instantly to my window I saw a crowd of Indians within the fort furiously cutting down every Englishman they found,” Henry wrote.

Henry, observing that the Indians were killing only English and sparing the French Canadians, ran next door to Langlade’s home for help. When Henry pleaded for help, the trader answered in French: “What do you want me to do about it?” Fortunately for Henry, Langlade’s Panis Indian slave girl hid him in the attic. Henry watched the scene unfold on the fort grounds below him from a hole in the attic wall.

The next day, the Indians rooted Henry from his hiding place. For the young Englishman, the following days played out in a contest of life or death. Immediately after his capture, he and other prisoners were paddled off toward Beaver Island. Quaking with the cold of a damp North wind and famished, Henry turned down the chunks of bread his captors offered him—cut with knives stained in blood that the taunting Ojibwe moistened with their spit and smeared on the bread.

Fog forced the canoe instead to the Odawa encampment at L’Arbre Croche (the present site of Cross Village)—and a surprising turn of events unfolded. Angered that they had not been invited to participate in the massacre, the Odawa seized Henry and the other captives and paddled them back to the fort where they then took control. A consultation between the tribes sent Henry and the other prisoners back to the Ojibwe.

But Henry was spared by a quirk of fate. The winter before, an Ojibwe by the name of Wawatam had unexpectedly adopted him as his brother—asserting that the Great Spirit had told him in a vision years earlier to make an Englishman his brother. Wawatam recognized Henry’s face as the face from his dream. Fortunately for Henry the Indian stepped forward now to convince his tribal leaders to spare Henry and put the trader in his charge.

Safe in Wawatam’s lodge, Henry look out the next day to see seven (by his count) of the men with whom he’d been held captive, dead—victims of a chief, who, having been away during the attack, wanted to seek his own vengeance on the English.

All told, though small discrepancies exist within accounts, at least 27 Englishmen were killed in the attack and its aftermath, and another dozen or so were still held captive.

Article Comments