When the British had taken control of Fort Michilimackinac its new commandant Captain George Etherington sent dispatches throughout the territory commanding all French settlers to report to the fort. He wanted them to swear allegiance to the British Crown and for this he promised to take into consideration all of their needs as well as any complaints. The British would treat them as well as the French governor had.
Among the French in the area was Augustin de Langlade and his son Charles. This was the same Charles Langlade who had been at Pickawillany, Braddock’s rout and Fort William Henry. Etherington knew well of him so when the Langlades swore allegiance to the British he gave them command of the trading post at La Baye or Green Bay, Wisconsin.
At the end of the Frog Month the principle Ojibwa war chief Mineweweh and another chief named Madjeckewiss or Bad Bird gathered 400 Ojibwa warriors at Michilimackinac. Mineweweh had devised a strategem to take the fort as part of the Beaver War. They had feigned friendship with the British and offered to put on an exhibition baggataway or lacrosse on the Queen’s birthday. On June 2, 1763 they all gathered outside the fort for the spectacle. The captain and his second in command joined the Ojibwa spectators but the gates to the fort were left closed. Most of the spectators were Ojibwa women dressed in their long shawls. Little did Etherington realize that their colorful shawls concealed weapons for the warriors.
The game of lacrosse as played by the Ojibwa was a wild affair. There were little rules and the number of players on the field was only limited to the number of young men available. The ball would be struck by one side toward the opponent’s goal which was a line drawn at the end of the field. The players were struck with the sticks more than the ball so there was plenty of confusion accompanied with the din of loud whooping and yelling. With all the excitement it made for an engrossing spectator sport.
The game began and several times the ball was thrown over the stockade and inside the fort where the garrison would toss the ball back over the wall and onto the playing field. Finally the captain ordered the gates opened so the players could retrieve the ball themselves. The next time the ball was thrown into the fort the players all rushed to the spectators, took hold of their weapons and then rushed into the fort. The soldiers were shocked and slow to act. The massacre was on!
Captain Etherington and his aide Lieutenant Leslie was captured immediately. The garrison of 90 soldiers fell quickly suffering 70 killed and the other 20 taken prisoner. Etherington and Leslie were to be burned at the stake so a few days later the wood was prepared and the two were lashed to the poles.
Charles Langlade was at Michilimackinac at the time of the attack to purchase supplies for the post at Green Bay. He was not only very influential with the Ojibwa but he was also an Ottawa war chief. Of course he was not taken prisoner but it all happened so fast that he was of little help to Etherington.
He had warned the commandant earlier, and several times, that he had heard rumours of treachery by the Ojibwa from his Ottawa friends at L’Arbre Croche. They were not in favor of the Beaver War, not because they liked the British so much as they were angry that Mineweweh had not invited them to take part in the surprise attack. Etherington dismissed Langlade’s warnings because he had called in Matchikuis, a chief of the Michilimackinac Ottawa, to ask him about the rumours. Of course he denied everything. Finally the captain ordered Langlade not to bring it up again calling the rumours ” the twaddle of old women”.
Langlade had left Michilimackinac the day it fell but returned with some of the Ottawa warriors from L’Arbre Croche just in time to save the two officers from the fire. When he took charge of the two officers he rebuked Etherington saying if he had listened to the “old women’s stories” he would not be in the humiliating position he was in with most of his garrison wiped out. Then he negotiated with Mineweweh for their safety and all twenty-two prisoners were sent under an armed guard of L’Arbre Croche Ottawa to Montreal. Fort Michilimackinac was left in Mineweweh’s hands.
NEXT WEEK: The Beaver War 1763 – Part 3