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 survive.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.

© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte