March 11, 2000
Technically, you can't call Michael Dousman a traitor. No one here at the
U. S. outpost on Michilimackinac Island this July in 1812 knows that war
was declared nearly a month ago. Rumors have been winging around the community
like blackflies, but no confirmation has been received. Dousman, a Pennsylvania
militia commander, is first and foremost a fur trader. Some of his best
friends are Canadian voyageurs. And when he puts his canoe in the water
and goes scouting for U. S. garrison commander Porter Hanks on the night
of the 16th he's not terribly startled to discover the enemy has arrived.
The day before, British captain Charles Roberts, stationed around the tip
of the Upper Peninsula at St. Joseph's Island, received a message from his
superior, Major General Isaac Brock. Knowing war has been declared but ordered
to be extremely careful by his own over-cautious superior, he only tells
Roberts to, "adopt the most prudent measures either of offense or defense
which circumstances might point out." Ambiguous, but good enough for
Roberts. He puts together a flotilla of the gunboat Caledonia loaded with
redcoats and cannon, ten batteaux crowded with Dousman's voyageur friemds,
and 70 birchbark canoes loaded with Sioux, Ottawa, Winnebago and Menominee
natives. It's this latter group which will make Dousman's choice much easier
when he encounters the small navy.
Besides a military force of around 60 men Hanks is also responsible for
the civilians in the village outside the fort's walls, entire families gathered
here for protection, not from the soldiers of the English army but from
the Indians accompanying them. All have grown up hearing of the ferocious,
savage, bloody massacres. (Of course they don't hear of the equally vicious
attacks on Indians by white men.) They do know to be afraid, be very afraid.
Dousman also has no illusions. He knows the fall of the fort will probably
end in a bloodbath. There's only one way to prevent it.
At the end of the island away from the garrison, the flotilla lands. While
the soldiers use Dousman's ox team to lug the two brass cannon to the top
of the cliff overlooking the fort, Dousman himself returns to the village,
quietly awakening each family and herding them back to the end of the island
where the landing was made. Through the night the village is slowly emptied,
a house or two at a time.
When Hanks awakes the next morning it's to an odd, ominous silence. A military
surgeon who lives in the village arrives, informs his commander of the situation.
Hanks is no fool. The guns loom overhead. Defeat will most likely mean very
unpleasant, messy deaths for his entire force, at Indian hands. And once
the killing starts it will probably spread to encompass the villagers, despite
any British efforts to halt it. He surrenders without a shot. The islanders
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.
© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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