American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of The Western States

Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam' Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press


AT the northernmost point of the meeting of the waters of the mighty trio of lakes which divide the States of the Middle West from the Dominion of Canada, lies an archipelago in size and beauty like that of the

"Sprinkled isles,
Lily on lily that o'erlace the sea,
And laugh their pride when the light waves
whisper 'Greece.'"

An old writer says that there are two and thirty thousand of them, great and small, clustered chiefly where Huron leans her head to meet those of Michigan and Superior, "as if they were discussing some great matter." Perhaps they are talking over the old days and the things and people they knew long ago. Perhaps they speak of the morning when, according to an old saga, the worshippers of the Rising Sun in February saw the Island like a great turtle - Nocchenemockenung - rise slowly out of the water, to become the home of the Giant Fairies of the Michsawgyegan, or Lake Country, and to be a place of refuge for the vanished peoples, whose names are as the sound of many waters for beauty and for harmony. Perhaps they tell of the wild, free life of those roving, painted bands of fishers, trappers, and hunters which make pictures of so much action and color against the ever shifting background of these seas and shores. Perhaps they tell of the coming of the Black Robes in the days when the lilies of France had no fear of the lion, of England, and the eagle of the American Republic was as yet unthought of. There are things enough of which the Lakes may speak as their waves lapse on the beach of

" This precious stone set in a silver sea."

Occupying as it does, one of the most important strategic points in the new world, it is not strange that the Island of Mackinac should have a rich and varied history, and that in its earlier Indian French form "Michilimackinac was a word familiar in the cabinets of European monarchs before it was known to people dwelling along the Atlantic." The name was given not only to pioneer settlements on either side of the Straits, but also to a vast province which reached as far south as the Ohio River and as far west as the Red River of the North. The Straits are but a dozen miles in width, and the Island but nine miles in circumference, but whether it be frozen in the long clasp of "Peboan, the Winter," when the white, endless snows are marked only by the dark accents of evergreens on islet and mainland, over which the cold stars look down, or the Northern Lights flame and fade; whether it be decked with the unspeakable splendors of its early autumn, or rejoices with the sudden coming of its tardy summer, it is a land whose beauty is indescribable, and whose spell is supreme.

The village numbers many thousand flitting folk in summer, but it has less than eight hundred permanent residents. It lies along the perfect crescent of a bay worn into the southeastern end of the Island, at the foot of the cliffs, upon which the long lines of the fort stand sentinel, and is a curious conglomeration of huge caravanserai, summer villa, shop, fish house, pier, half French, half Indian cottage, and church. Old days and new meet over and over again in the little streets, where, in the soft patois of the habitants, in the names they bear, and in many of their strongly marked faces, much of the Island's story is suggested. St. Ann's is a true daughter of the first chapels built by the old heroes of the Church. The Mission House tells of the earnest early efforts to teach the tenets and virtues of Calvinism to the savages, made by the reverend geographer, Morse, father of Morse of the electric telegraph, and Mr. Ferry, whose son, born in the village, ably represented Michigan in the Senate of the United States.

Where the fort garden now stands once stood the agency, then the centre of the vast trade of the fur companies. Within its walls Henry Schoolcraft wrote down the precious results of his studies in Indian dialect and folk lore, from which, as from a root, sprang the perfect flower of our one native epic, Hiawatha. Not to have read Hiawatha with the pine spiced winds of the north blowing upon the page, with the magnificent prospect of the Straits before one's eyes, lifted while a page is turned, and with the waves breaking into a thousand jewels against the rocks at one's feet, is hardly to have read Hiawatha at all.

The Fort is the successor of the feeble early posts set up by the pioneers of France. The great propellers and the swift winged yachts that throng the summer waters are of a kindred with the birch canoe, most poetic of all water craft, own brother to the violin by reason of the perfect beauty of its lines, having in it

"All the mystery and magic "

of the woodland and the wood life. As of old, the deep wild roses and the frail harebells cling to the cliffs; as of old, in the gorges hushed into fragrant silence by pine and larch and hemlock, arbor vitae and juniper, beech, and birch, the shy, delicate flora of the north finds shelter. As of old, the winds try their strength against the splendid masonry of the curious limestone formations for which the place is noted, the Arch Rock, the Fairy Arch, the Chimney Rock, the Sugar Loaf, Scott's Cave, Skull Cave, the Devil's Kitchen. Around each of these the legends cluster like bees about a linden tree in blossom, but how can they be forgiven whose crass stupidity gave them these commonplace titles and who have lost for us their Indian names?

In the days when New France "had two fountain heads, one in the cane brakes of Louisiana, and the other in the snows of Canada," a charter was given by Louis XIII. to the Hundred Association Company, which was thereby invested with rights almost monarchical, together with injunctions to do all that was possible for Holy Church which was consistent with the keeping of a watchful eye upon such earthly advantages as might accrue from a monopoly of the fur trade and the acquisition of new territory. It was in 1634, under the governorship of Champlain, that Jean Nicolet, a fearless explorer, well versed in woodcraft and in the speech of many aboriginal tribes, was the first paleface to see the white cliffs of Mackinac, as he was also the first to carry back to civilization tidings of a great new sea, the Lac des Ilinese, or Michigan, which he had discovered. That he perished by the capsizing of his canoe in the St. Lawrence River was a great loss to the infant colonies to whom his sixteen years' experience in frontier life would have been very valuable. The path he opened, was, however, soon followed by others. The explorers and traders, Des Grosselliers, Radisson, Perrot, and their fellows did for the world what the Jesuits, the Recollets, and the Sulpicians did for the Church. It is in the Relations sent home by the priests that we learn what were the trials overcome by those dauntless sons of "the sturdy North." Perhaps from no country but France, and in no other years than the glittering, romantic, covetous, daring, devoted years of the seventeenth century, could have come adventurers so tireless and churchmen so selfless as these. To read their simple, patient chronicles is to have new belief in man, new faith in the Church Universal, "which is the blessed company of all faithful people," and to clasp hands across years and above creeds with those courageous pioneers and with those humble saints.

The story of Mackinac is for many years the story of the French in Canada. "Not a cape was turned," says Parkman, "not a river was entered, but a Jesuit led the way." Every year the establishment of new posts pushed the realms of the Unknown Territory nearer and nearer to the sunset. Poor little posts they were, slenderly garrisoned, and feebly armed, but beside each one rose a chapel and a cross where the "bloody salvages" might learn, if they would, the religion of the fathers. The missionaries made, perhaps, but few converts to their faith, but they made many friends for their country by their kindly offices to the sick, the ageaged, theing, and the infant, by the gentleness and urbanity of their high breeding, and by the perpetual sacrifice of their lives of love and loyalty. Of their hardships we can only read between the lines of their brave, uncomplaining Relations, but what litanies of pain, sorrow, and disappointment, what Te Deums of hope and rejoicing lie in these marks, oft recurring on their queer old maps:

marque des villages sauvages
marque des etab etablissements francoiso.

By 1668 many missions were strung along the waterways. The Island was the centre of a thriving trade, had thirty native villages, and a palisaded enclosure for defence, and a year later its shores were hallowed by the feet of " The Guardian Angel of the Ottawa Mission," Father Jacques Marquette.

Here, in what he called "the home of the fishes," and "the playground of all the winds of heaven," he spent the hard winter of 1669-70, going later to the first Fort Michilimackinac, at St. Ignace, where he built a log and bark chapel, and whence he wrote the letters which reflect his pure spirit, as a clear pool reflects a star. Ever alert, ever anxious, "Ad Majoram Gloriam Dei," to hear of new countries to be brought to Him, his great opportunity came when the tribes trooped past the Island on their way to the Sault Ste. Marie and the Great Congress, convened on the 14th of June, 1671, by the hardy Perrot. The French wanted to control the frontier trade; the Indians wished a market for their furs. To both peoples pomp and ceremony were natural and dear, so here, in all the splendor of war paint and wampum, tomahawk, calumet, feathers, bows and arrows, and handsome furs came the braves of many tribes; in all the gay accoutrement of blanket surtout, scarlet cap, fringed elk skin leggins, rifle, and dagger decked sash came the coureurs des bois and the voyageurs; in the dignity of their uniforms came a handful of soldiers; with cross and cassock came the priests, to gather under a great wooden cross, to which the arms of France had been nailed, where, by a proces verbal, the overlordship of the Great West was assumed by Louis XIV.

Among the representatives of so many scattered savages, Father Marquette doubtless made the inquiries about and gained the knowledge concerning the Great Unknown River which served him in such good stead when, on the 17th of May, 1673, he started with Louis Joliet, five voyageurs, and in two canoes, on the voyage which made the Mississippi known to Europe. Of the honor coming from the discovery the good father never thought, but only with joy of new lands to which the message of the Cross could be carried. It is the story of a hero, the story of his short life and of his triumphant death, "alone, a Jesuit, and a Missionary," beside an obscure creek on the Michigan shore, on the 19th of May, 1675, in the eight and thirtieth year of his age. Descendants of his Ottawas and his Hurons still tell of his "bright hair, like the sun," and of the great funeral when, two years after his death, his body was brought back to St. Ignace. Whether the dust now held sacred was his or no, is of little moment. In the Book of Life, above and below, the name of Jacques Marquette has long been written, and like the blessing of peace his spirit rests upon the Northland.

In 1679, the Griffin, a little ship of sixty tons, took Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, and the garrulous, mendacious Recollet friar, Hennepin, past the Island on their way to the Great River, which they were to explore to the Gulf, and beside which the murdered body of the great Norman was to be flung. He only touched the Island, but the touch of La Salle was a royal accolade.

In 1688, La Honton, a soldier of unusual sagacity, noted the importance of the site, and in 1695 M. de la Motte Cadillac says that the fort, with its garrison of two hundred soldiers, and the village of Canadians and Indians to the number of six or seven thousand souls, made it one of the largest posts in Canada. Disputes between the commandant and the Jesuits, chiefly about the sale of liquor to the Indians, resulted in the discouragement of the priests, who, in 1705, burned their chapel and their school, and went back to Quebec. St. Ignace was then gradually abandoned for a second Michilimackinac on the southern peninsula.

When the French and English war was ended on the Plains of Abraham, George III. became indeed sovereign of the soil of Canada, but Louis XV. was lord of the hearts of too many French, half breeds, and Indians to make the transfer of allegiance easy. Loves and hates and racial sympathies are not matters for cold diplomacy, and the people of the Northwest waited longingly for a leader who should give them again the light hearted, friendly rule of the French, under which they had been far happier than they found themselves as subjects of the stern, alien English. In the person of an Ottawa chieftain, the most remarkable personage produced by the Indian race, the leader was found. In the brain of Pontiac, grim, far seeing, fearless, heroic, there arose as a prophetic vision the assurance that English encroachments upon the rights of his people would never cease so long as they held a rod of ground coveted by an English eye. To avert the evils he foresaw, he planned the capture of all forts west of Niagara, the extermination of all English settlers, and the restoration to the Great Father at Versailles of the lands he had just lost. With incredible swiftness he formed the vast conspiraty whose story has been told, once for all, in the living pages of Parkman's narrative.

Whisperings of coming trouble had been heard at Fort Michilimackinac by Major Etherington, the commandant, but none of so serious a nature as to prevent the presence of the soldiery at a great game of baggatiway which was to be played in a field near the fort by rival companies of Sacs and Chippewas, in honor of the King's birthday, August 4, 1763. The game is a very intricate and brilliant one, requiring great agility and skill, and the participation of a large number of players. As was most natural, the excitement of the onlookers was intense, and when an apparently stray ball flew high over the palisades of the unprotected fort (which had been silently invaded by a crowd of squaws with weapons hidden under their blankets) and at least four hundred players in hot pursuit swarmed over the stockade, nothing was thought amiss, until the cries appropriate to the game changed into the war whoop, and a massacre began. Of the English, all were either killed or made captive, except Alexander Henry, whose narrative curdles the blood even yet.

This event led to the abandonment of the southern fort and the establishment of one on the Island. 1

"It is now certain," writes Schoolcraft in 1834, "that the occupancy of Old Michilimackinack, the Beekwutenong of the Indians was kept up by the British until 1774; between that date and 1780 the flag was transferred . . . the principal trade went with it, the Indian intercourse likewise. Some residents lingered a few years but the place was finally abandoned, and the site is now covered with loose sand."

By the Treaty of Paris, in 1783, the Island was ceded by Great Britain to the United States. Possession was, however, withheld on one pretext or another, until 1796.

When the second war with England began, it was natural that one of the first points to be attacked should be the fort so commandingly situated. Far, from all base of supplies and

The deed for the Island, bought from its Indian owners in 1781 by George III. for L5000, was long in possession of Dr. John R. Bailey, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel U. S. V., and author of a most interesting monograph on Mackinac. It is from its pages, and by his kind permission, that the Indian signatures to the document are here reproduced all possibility of rapid communication, the oftrepeated appeals of General Hull for an effective garrison at this and other important points were totally disregarded in Washington. Only fifty seven soldiers were in residence in Mackinac when the British forces, 1021 strong, landed before dawn on the 17th of July, 1812, on a point nearly opposite St. Ignace. By eleven o'clock Captain Roberts sent a flag of truce, and a demand of surrender to Lieutenant Porter Hanks, who had had "no intimation" that a war between the powers had been declared until that moment. After considering the futility of resistance, and a consultation with the American traders in the village, with the valor which was ever bettered by discretion, he capitulated.

In August, 1814, an attempt was made to retake the Island. A battle was fought near the scene of the British landing two years before, in which battle Major Holmes and twelve privates were killed, and many men were wounded or missing. The routed Americans, under Colonel Croghan, withdrew to their ships. The Island finally passed into the keeping of the United States in 1815

Then followed the great days of the fur companies, when the place was astir with a life so gay and vivid that only to hear of it stirs the blood of the untamed savage which centrides of the repressions of civilization have not routed from our' hearts. Hundreds of hardy, ill paid engages, hundreds of happy go lucky, hard working voyageurs and coureurs des bois and hundreds of Indians crowded into the hundreds of tents set up along the beach; into the log houses of the primitive village, and into the huge barracks of the company, which counted and weighed the rich peltries they had gathered, paying them in return the miserable wages which in dancing, gambling, drinking, fighting, feasting and sleeping, were spent long before the bateaux freighted with the poor necessities for the fast coming winter were again rowed out toward the wilderness, the brave chansons of the oarsmen growing fainter and fainter as the boats passed steadily out of sight.

An incident but little known connects the Island with one of the great mysteries of history, the fate of the little son of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette. That the Dauphin did not die in the Temple, but had been secretly conveyed to America and had been placed among the Indians, was believed by persons whose opinions were entitled to respect; but that he might be found in the person of the Rev. Eleazar Williams, a half breed missionary of the Protestant Episcopal Church among the tribes about Green Bay, was a supposition stranger than any fiction. The story is too long to tell here,2 but as it touches Mackinac at a single point, it must have a line in this chapter.

On the wharf of the moon shaped bay, one bright day in October, 1841, a crowd was gathered to see the Prince de Joinville, son of Louis Philippe, then reigning in France, who was on his way to Green Bay, and who had stopped off at Mackinac to visit some of the natural curiosities of the place. A salute had been fired in honor of the royal sailor with true republican fervor, and while the steamer which had brought him waited his pleasure, the village was en fête. Waiting on the dock, and also about to embark for Green Bay, was the Rev. Eleazar Williams, who, before the boat left the bay, was, at the request of the Prince, presented to his Highness. The acquaintance thus begun led to disclosures which, if true, make the identity of the Dauphin and the missionary all but certain.

Wrapped in a legend, the Island of Mackinac comes into sight. With a thousand legends, its old fields, its cliffs, its caves, its gorges, its wooded glens, its shores, and its far, dim distances are haunted. With a thousand mysteries and bewilderments and witcheries it holds captive all who come within reach of its magic. With a mystery, which too may be but a legend, our story closes, as the light that smites the waters of the Straits into a myriad of glittering flakes paints on the sunset sky the old, old golden track which the Indians loved to call "the Path that leads Homeward."

1.The deed for the Island, bought from its Indian owners in 1781 by George III. for L5000, was long in possession of Dr. John R. Bailey, Brevet Lieutenant Colonel U. S. V., and author of a most interesting monograph on Mackinac. It is from its pages, and by his kind permission, that the Indian signatures to the document are here reproduced.

2 For an admirable statement of the facts bearing upon this interesting problem, the reader is asked to turn to My Notebook of the French Revolution, by Mrs. Elizabeth Wormeley Latimer (A. C. McClurg & Co.). The book upon which Mrs. Latimer has chiefly based her account, The Lost Prince, by the Rev. Mr. Hanson, has long been out of print, and is almost inaccessible.

Historic towns of the Western States

Return to History at Rays Place