Lacrosse: The National Game of Canada/Chapter 4

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Nothing adds more to the interest manifested in scenery, than its association with remarkable events in the history of the country. Such associations hover over the Plains of Abraham, Chateauguay, Queenstown Heights, and Ridgeway, with a classic reminiscence; sweep away from present view noble cities, and revive the dense forest and the Indian village. Deadly struggles are re-enacted on battle fields where now the clover blooms, and "lowing herds wind slowly o'er the lea." Old chateaux, forts, and windmills bring to mind traditional occurences connected with the Indian and French regime; and the pure Indian,—now a nonentity—stalks forth in his degenerate posterity, a subject of curiosity, but a blot on the escutcheon of "paleface" humanity.

The same associations are interwoven with the original game of Lacrosse, in a most thrilling tragedy of colonial history, which occurred about four months after the signing of the Treaty of Peace at Paris in 1763, between the Sovereigns of England, France and Spain,—we refer to the surprise and massacre of the British garrison of Fort Michillimackinac, by a party of Indian Lacrosse players, during a grand exhibition game before the Fort.

To thoroughly understand the occurrence we must retrace our view to the motives which prompted the massacre,—the prologue, as it were, of the tragedy.

In the contests between England and France for dominion on this continent, the red men of the forest were always found convenient and willing auxiliaries; treacherous and unstable, 'tis true, but faithful in following their instinct for war, on whichever side they fought. When the country was first discovered, the Indian tribes had been at war with each other for unknown years; the arrow and the tomahawk had decimated numerous tribes, and the chief end of the red skins was to develop the instincts of war, and accumulate scalps in preference to the richest furs.

On the 13th of September, 1759, was fought the battle which sealed the fate of Canada, and though the colony was virtually conquered when Quebec was taken, the French still garrisoned the rest of the country. On the 8th of September, 1760, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, the last of the French governors, signed the capitulation of Canada; and the arrival at Montreal on the same day of the three armies of Sir Jeffrey Amherst, Col. Haviland, and Gen. Murray, consummated the surrender. The western outposts, however, still hoisted the fleur de lys, and a provincial officer. Major Robert Rogers, was commissioned by Amherst, on the 12th of September, to ascend the lakes with a body of hunters and back-woodsmen called "Rogers' Rangers," and take possession in the name of the King of England, of Detroit, Michillimackinac, and the other posts included in the capitulation. Rogers coveted the duty assigned him; it suited his mood exactly; and on the 13th he left with 200 men in fifteen whale boats, and was intercepted where now stands the city of Cleveland, Ohio, by Pontiac, the Indian lord of the country. Rogers told him of the capitulation and the object of his expedition, and Pontiac expressed his desire to live at peace with the English, though he had been a firm ally of the French. As a tangible proof of his sincerity he saved Ro«j;ers and his men from an im[)endin;i; onslau<^ht of 400 Detroit Indians. Arriving at Detroit, where the news of the capitul- ation had preceded him, Rogers demanded its sur- render, and " the fleur de ly» was lowered from the flag-start', and the cross of St. George rose aloft in its place, while seven hundred Indian warriors, lately the active allies of France, greeted the sight with a burst of triumphant yells," The forts Miami, Oua- tanon, Michillimackinac, St. Marie, Green Bay and St. Joseph were next severally surrendered, and the capitulation was complete.

England had now an opportunity of making her domhiion permanently secure by a policy of con- ciliation and probity, but the same blunders of government, the same absolute lawlessness and unrestrained individual liberty to abuse the natives, which hastened the decline of French rule, alienated tlie favor of the Indian from the English, and depriv- ed them of moral and physical authority.

It must be borne in mind that the chain of forts extendhig from Lake Michigan to Niagara were built by the French under the pretence that they were to be used as trading houses, for the mutual interest of the government and the natives. From these forts the Indians derived inestimable advan- tages. Jesuit missionaries worked themselves into the sympathies of the Indians ; French officers and soldiers appeared to assimilate themselves to manj of their wild habits, and, like Frontenac, occasionally arrayed themselves in the garb of Indian warriors, and joined in the war dance v/ith that art of accom- modation so illustrative of French character. The French became savages," says Charlevois, " instead of the savages becoming French." French com- merce ornamented every wigwam ; the mirrors of Paris pleased the vanity while they reflected the features of stately warrior and dark-eyed squaw ; yet French power was never relaxed, for while they courted the favor of the natives they showed their might, and while " caressing with one hand held a drawn ^word in the other." Indian vanity and love for '* presents ' was sagaciously fed; the novelties of Euroj)e wera lavishly distributed ; even guns, ammunition and clothing were given with a genero- aity which won the he j.rt of the red-skin. A French- man might have sle|)t as soundly and securely in any Indian wigwam as on the softest couch of "la belle France."

With the change of dominion came a change of conduct. No longer were the forts attractive : the Indians were snubbed and abused hy the red-coats > their savage conceit and dignity was outraged and contemned. English fur traders cheated them ; settlers invaded their best lands, and cut down their forests. "Who goes there?" and a musket at the charge was now the orthodox reception at the forts ; conciliation was turned to insult, flattery to repulsion, and the usual "presents" altogether ceased. The difl:erence was not so much a premeditated invention of the government to injure the Indian, as it was a difference in the nature of the new rulers. The English were blunt and stern, because it was their nature ; they truckled to no one ; asked no favours and gave none. There Avas an element of diplomacy, however, in the French conduct towards the Indians, which served them better than resort to the logic of the bayonet, and it would have l)een wiser for British su[)remacy, and have averted several disasters Avhich followed the defeat of the French, had their con- nliatoi'y policy been adopted.

By active misrepresentation the French added fuel to the flame of Indian discontent. The tribes were incited by them to take up arms, under the fear of be- ing exterminated by the English ; and were assured that the araiies of the King of France, were on their way up the St. Lawrence and Mississippi, to defend and aid them, and, what seemed the most moving argument, to bring them ship loads of " presents." Indeed, we have always thought that there was something of French diplomacy and p[<^neralship in the conspiracy which has been named after and attributed to Pontiac. It has always seemed to us as if it was too comprehensive, too methodical, too vast for his conception ; and though he was made the responsible histrument of its accomplishment, it exhibits the genius of a master mind in tactics, a flavor of Napoleonic strategy ; as if the generalship which failed to preserve the country had conceiv ed a briUiant plan of revenge.

Several plots to destroy the English garrisons between 1761 and 1762 were discovered and frus- trated ; but at the clos'3 of the latter year, was planned the " Conspiracy of Pontiac."

Pontiac wa3 the great high chief of the Ottawas, and head of the confederacy formed by that tribe, the Ojibways and Pottawattamies. He is repre- sented as of the average height, very dark red complexion, bold and determined expression : and when we remember that the Indian chief had no legal authority over his men ; that, though he was followed and acknowledged as leader, there was none of that respect and distinction which exists between the officers and men of an army, we may have some idea of his pre-eminent ability. None of his con- temporaries or imitators were ec^ual to him, or ever held such sway. Eighteen nations chose him as their united leader : his individuality was marked ; he was Pontiac and no one else. Ilis speeches, if correctly reported, — which we doubt of all Indian speeches, — prove him to have been of a higher sphere of thought than his race has usually produced ; but he was as genuine a savage as ever trod the forest, or scalped a skull. There was a contagion in his courage, and his greatness raised the reputation for valor of the tribes who fought with him ; but we ))elieve that the hifluence of the French, and the powers they brought to bear upon him, had nnu^h to do in training a character which has been made so famous in the annals of Indian history and the early associations of Lacrosse.

The war belt of ])lack and purple wampum had been sent to all the nations of the Ohio and its triluitaries, the upper lakes, the borders of the river Ottawa, and the mouth of the Mississippi, and with the exception of the Iro(j[uois confederacy — except the Senecas who joined the rest, — all tlio tribes accepted the hivitation and prepared for war. Pontiac held several councils of the warriors ; the plans were discussed and decided upon, but nothnig was said of the ball-})lay snare. It would seem as if that portion of the plan was a new ruse decidci pon after the failure of the first attempt upon Detroit ; as the scheme there tried, and which was frustrated through the revelations of an Ojibway girl, was to obtain admittance to the fort, and during a council meeting, suddenly fall upon and massacre the officers, while the Indians outside would fill upon the garrison. The next aftei'noon, to calm the appre- hensions of the garrison, Pontiac summoned the players of the different ti'ibes to a game of biill, on the common adjacent to the fort ; and it is possible that it was this occasion which suggested the ball-play ruse. On the following' morning (9th of May) he sought entrance to the fort for himself and all his warriors, but was refused such a carte blanche, though offered a personal admittance. Seeing his designs thus detected, he forgot dissimulation, and with a savage expression on his face, turned and left, while his warriors, yelling like fiends, took immediate revenge by massacring the few English settlers who lived near the fort and its vicinity. Pontiac, however, had no hand in this, as he had crossed the river in a canoe to the Ottawa village, where he gave vent to his threats of vengeance.

A general attack now ensued, and the inmates of the chain of forts had a sleepless time, and a terrible fate in view; but "Britons, you know," said a letter from Detroit, "never shrink. We always appeared gay to spite the rascals."

Passing over the rout of Lieut. Cuyler's detachment, and the capture of Forts Sandusky, St. Joseph, Ouatanon, Miami, Presqu' Isle, and the posts of Le Bœuf and Venago, Niagara not having been attacked, and Pittsburgh having been saved by Col. Bradstreet, let us take up the thread of our narrative at Michillimackhiac, the third of the fated garrisons to fall.

The ancient route to Michilliraackinac, and the one followed in 1708 by the English fur traders was up the Ottawa, and along a suc- cession of small lakes and rivers ; or by Detroit and the lakes of St. Clair and Huron. Some years ago, Parkman made a personal examination of that fort, where, says he, " the stumps of the pickets and the foundations jf the houses may still be traced." Michillimackinac — an Algonc^uin word, signifying the Great Turtle, and applied also to a neighboring island — was one of the three and most important northern posts, founded by the French at an early date, as a military key and a centre for the fur trade from the Mississippi and the North-west. The Jesuits had a mission there in 1(371. Early in the spring of 17G3, Pontiac had invited the Ojibways of Michillimackinac to join him in the great con- spiracy, and they eagerly accepted.

It vras impossible that such a grand scheme could mature without detection, but the English officers treated the rumours brought to them by friendly Indians and Canadians, with extraordinary unconcern and sang froid. None of the forts had better warning of the threatening danger than Michillimackinac. A Canadian told Capt. Etherington, the commandant, the whole plan; and Henry the trader, to whose "Travels" we are much indebted for the particulars of the massacre, was personally warned by an Algonquin, named Wawatam. Henry communicated the warning to the commandant, but the latter paid it no regard whatever.

At the time of which we write the fort was occupied by thirty-five men of H. M. 55th and 80th regiments, and other inhabitants to the number of about ninety souls. The Indians at Michillimackinac had more freedom of intercourse with the fort than at any of the other posts. They strolled in and out at leisure, and though challenged after dusk, they were free to enter during the day. On the afternoon previous to the massacre it was full of Ojibways and Ottawas, professing unusual friendship.

The garrison was never more profoundly at peace than on the early morning of the 4th of June, 1763. It was the birthday of King George; and here, in the heart of the forest, the love of country and sovereign was that day to be celebrated: the soldiers were allowed more freedom than usual, while Indians and a multitude of their squaws and children flocked about the doors and gate.

An invitation of apparent friendliness from the Ojibways was sent to the fort, to witness a grand game of baggataway, as Lacrosse was then called, between them and the Sacs, on the plain in front. They had played it very often before among themselves for the amusement of the garrison, but this game was intended to be especially interesting in honor of the day. The gates were opened wide; the soldiers were lying and standing about in groups in undress—the majority without arms. Capt. Etherington and Lieut. Leslie were standing close to the gate,—the latter betting that the Ojibways would win. The cross of St. George floated proudly from the flag-staff, and the little garrison felt that though thousands of miles from home, they could honor the birthday of their king. Indian warriors, French, and a large number of squaws were mixed up in little groups, lying and sitting on the ground near the fort.

The players, nearly naked, and each carrying one of the sticks shown on page 11, separated from the crowd and spread out over tli3 plain. A single post was planted for goal ; and without further ceremony, one of the chiefs advanced to the centre, flung np the ball, and at once retreated. Jimnc- diately a wild scene of struggling and confusion ensued, as the little bone of conteiition was struck at, caught, carried and thrown from one side to the other. Every player yelled at the top of his voice, and with frantic leaps and dashes, chased and fought for the l)all, tumbling over each other, kicking, and wrestling with might and main. The spectators roared with laughter ; the garrison forgot all else but watcliing the sport. Several times the ball shot high hito the air, and descending fell inside the pickets, much to the delight of the garrison, Avho then had a near view of the struggle. Gradually the l)ody of players neared the fort, pell-mell after the ball. Suddenly it again soared hito the air, and fell near the pickets of the fort, while the players made a rush to the gate, followed by the warriors who were spectators ; the war whoop rang over the plain ; the ball-sticks were flung away ; the stjuaws threv/ open their blankets, and the players snatched the tomahawks and other weapons they had concealed there. Led by Miniavavana—a man of fifty years of age, le Grand Sauteur, or Great Ojibway as he was called by the French—they fell upon the defenceless garrison, cutting down the soldiers and traders without mercy. Not a Frenchman, many of whom stood calmly looking on, was touched. Henry, who gives a vivid description of the scene, witnessed the fate of several of his countrymen. "Capt. Etherington and Lieut. Leslie were seized and led away to the woods. Lieut. Jamet was instantly killed, and fifteen rank and file, and a trader named Tracy. They wounded two, and took the rest of the garrison prisoners, five of whom they have since killed. They made prisoners of all the English traders, and robbed them of everything they had." About twenty men escaped the massacre. While the joy-bells in England rang out in honor of King George, one little band of loyal men in the wilds of America, thus perished in cold blood in the uniform of His Majesty. Fortunately for those taken prisoners, the Ottawas, who were jealous because the Ojibways attacked the fort without asking them to share in the onslaught, took Capt. Etherington, Lieut. Leslie, and eleven men from the latter. They were afterwards released, and on the 18th of July left L'Arbe Coche, and arrived in Montreal on the 12th of August.

We will not follow the campaigns under Bouquet and Bradstreet to subdue the Indians. Between fighting and treaty making, peace was eventually declared, and the spirit of the red-skin broken.