Attack on Michilimackinac: action packed!
August 20, 2008
I've really enjoyed exploring Indian heritage the past few years.
I could hop right to the punchline for this book, but really there's a lot of background here, so first things first...
I've had a strong connection to the Straits area of Michigan for decades, mostly via the backways. A couple years ago I finally went in thru the frontdoor and visited the Fort as a trailer-pulling tourist with kids. I discovered the astonishingly deep gift shop under the Bridge: there are books there you can't find in grad libraries.
And I know why that book section is as good as it is.
The first time I got away from home on my own I did it by bike and soon ended up tenting out with pals on Mackinaw Island as guests of a highschool buddy's family. I didn't know his dad, Dr. David Armour, was the park superintendent. The next year I worked on the Island and kept in touch with the superintendent and his family.
I later came to realize that the whole Island and mainland fort system came to be archeologically dug-up and expanded (to include a couple Tall Ship restorations even) and was well-run due to this superintendent fellow, yet he always had time for me and made a place at their dinner table often.
Many years later, when I asked at that Bridge bookstore about how this great book selection came to be, I was told by the cashier, as I thought I would be, that "Dr. Armour sees to all this, of course." Hands-on even in retirement.
The main book I chose to read was a slender, popularizing volume edited by Dr. Armour. I never knew he did books, too. A quiet guy. Or perhaps I was too noisy. I see that he did this book when he was 30 years old, right when he took on the Island job. Neat.
"Attack on Michilimackinac" is the edited adventure of Alexander Henry. It's amazing and about 100 pages long.
I hadn't thought in a long time about the fort attack that I learned about as a kid. After the French were defeated, the English initiated rude, crude and lousy relations with the Indians---no thanks for the help in the war, no presents, no respect of customs. The French had done all these very well and ended up merging cultures. The English were bastards, in short. Soon enough the Indians faked them out with a game of lacrosse in front of the fort then massacred the English soldiers and took the fort, leaving the French/Canadians alone.
Alex Henry had been made a blood brother by a respected Indian, who managed to spare his life.
Henry had come to the fort as a 21-year-old carrying trading goods in a voyageur canoe from Montreal. The story is fresh, clear and riveting from start to finish. It would make an astounding movie. (A northwoods friend agrees and says he reads the full journal every winter.)
You learn all about voyageurs (they went about a year of paddling there and back on a quart of cornmeal a day; their canoes carried about 4 tons), the various Indian nations, their relations to each other and to French and English.
Our hero has about a dozen close calls with both nature and the Indians. He's offered human-hand soup after the fort massacre, no less. Every time he and his adoptive family run into other Indians they get along fine but if some bad luck comes up the other people will strongly suggest the prompt sacrificing of the new guy who obviously brought the bad luck, nothing personal.
I doubt you'll read a better condensing of that time and its action. And did you catch his age? This long distance coldcall sales trip was his first foray into the world after leaving home. What a doozy! I had a lot of new experiences on that first bike tour when we tented on the Island, but ol' Alex had a few more!
A main thing to me is what Henry says in the Intro: he's just telling what happened and doing his best to withhold all opinion. And that's what he does. He's not teaching us Indian whys and wherefores. There's no explanation or judgement. Just nonstop action. We can draw our own conclusions.
It includes some nifty little 60's-style sketches throughout.