The Deadliest Game: Fort Michilimackinac Massacre of 1763

British Troops at Fort Michilimackinac by Robert F Carter

British Troops at Fort Michilimackinac, photo by Robert F Carter

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the most dramatic event at Fort Michilimackinac. On June 2, 1763 the fort was captured by Ojibwa & Sauk warriors, who gathered under the guise of playing a huge game of baggatiway. Elizabeth Edwards of Traverse Magazine has an in-depth article about the massacre that begins:

Under an unusually hot sun on a late spring day on the Straits of Mackinac, British Major George Etherington, commandant of Fort Michilimackinac, was suffering from an acute case of cultural blindness. And there was no excuse for it. Relaxed at the sidelines of a rousing game of baggatiway (similar to lacrosse) outside the fort, the major should have seen the danger signs in this Ojibwe versus Sauk contest of sweaty, half-naked bodies painted with white clay and charcoal.

The 30-year-old officer was born in the colonies, and most likely grew up on stories of Indian uprisings. He’d even served in the just-ending French and Indian War, in which the English had wrested control of North America from the French—a victory that had put this previously French fort in Etherington’s care. Though the major had been raised on American soil and had fought on it, he was still English. And in that country, a battle was a battle, and a sporting event was a sporting event.

Perhaps that explains why the major missed the clues…

Definitely read on for much more at Traverse! Every Memorial Weekend on Saturday, Sunday & Monday, they re-enact this event and much more of the fort’s history in the  annual Fort Michilimackinac Pageant. Next Sunday (June 2) they will commemorate the 250th anniversary of the attack at Michilimackinac at the fort as they open the new South Southwest Rowhouse.

Robert has some more good information about the events at the fort including a link to the painting The Conspiracy – Fort Michilimackinac by Robert Griffing that imagines the planning of the massacre. See his photo background bigtacular and see more in his My Neighborhood slideshow.

More from the Straits of Mackinac & Mackinac Island on Michigan in Pictures.

6 thoughts on “The Deadliest Game: Fort Michilimackinac Massacre of 1763

  1. I saw the pageant for the first time this year, it was pretty awesome <3 I had been in it previous years, but it's a completely different view to watch rather than partake..

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  2. Sounds like the writer is trying to make the massacre the fort commanders fault, just like later year advisors have tried to make it seem that Pearl Harbor was America’s fault. To suggest that it was the fort commanders fault shows a complete lack of understanding of history, people, and the American Indian people. It also tries to shift blame from the American Indian people to the British. Only in bizarro lib unreality are people responsible for their own murders, and the people who actually committed the murders not responsible.

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  3. I am well versed in this historical event. “Acute case of cultural blindness” sounds like a phrase regurgitated from some leftist professor. No, Major Etherington and his Lieutenants Leslie and Jamet were merely assigned to a post by Jeffery Amherst. While the a British certainly treated the Huron, Ottawa, Chippewa etc differently than the French, it was a policy decision based on spoils of war, not this “acute cultural blindness” this writer asserts. It was nothing more than a well planned attack during Pontiac’s Rebellion. The British merely let their guard down. Good grief, what has our educational system become?!?!

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    1. Happy to give you a chance to grid your axe, Alex. Wondering what you think the next paragraphs say about Etherington’s cultural vision but thinking Etherington isn’t the only one struggling with cultural blindness.

      “Perhaps that explains why the major missed the clues. Though well armed, his garrison of 35 or so soldiers was vastly outnumbered by the hundreds of Indians encamped around it, there to exchange furs for wares—steel tomahawks and knives included—from French Canadian traders. That there’d been a run on tomahawks of late didn’t seem to worry the major. And he was only irritated by warnings from the many French Canadians who lived at the fort that the Indians were planning an uprising. He threatened to have the next person who spread similar gossip locked up down at Fort Detroit. The unwitting Etherington had not yet heard that Fort Detroit was under siege, attacked several weeks before by a coalition of tribes led by Pontiac, the Odawa chief. Foreseeing that English domination spelled the end of his people’s lifestyle, Pontiac had just begun his famous rebellion.

      Etherington even refused to listen to the warnings of the esteemed fur trader Charles Langlade—a man of French-Indian blood who had fought alongside the Indians since he was a young boy and was widely revered by them. It must have taxed Langlade’s charity to warn the major, as England’s control of North America meant the French monopoly over the fur trade was over. But Langlade had seen what terrors his Native American cousins could unleash on their enemies. Evidently, protecting his business interests was not worth shedding that much blood. For his magnanimity, Langlade suffered a scolding from Etherington.”

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  4. To me this has nothing to do with “cultural blindness” rather a tactical blindness…or a preparedness blindness. He didn’t need to be culturally aware that the Indians of the area despised the British, he was, after all a soldier who had fought in battle…he was well aware of their potential as warriors and their potential for savagery. I am curious as to what about their culture should he have been aware of that would have prevented this brilliant plan? Maybe I am missing your definition of cultural blindness? To me Etherington was merely overconfident and bullheaded.

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