Lacrosse as a Trojan Horse? The Fort Michilimackinac Massacre


Artistic depiction of the Fort Michilimackinac Massacre by Henry Sandham (1842-1910)

When drawing comparisons between Canada’s two national sports, lacrosse and hockey, popularity is a category that lacrosse will never beat hockey in. But how about violence? A lot has been said over the years about the violent nature of hockey, but a single hockey game has ever led to an actual massacre like lacrosse has?

Ball Players by George Catlin (c. 1844)

Lacrosse was invented as early as 1100 by North American Aboriginals. They called it “baggatiway,” but during the 17th century it underwent a name change thanks to doomed Jesuit missionary, Jean de Brébeuf, who decided lacrosse sounded better. If you have never seen a game, the basic premise is two teams with ten players each attempt to use their lacrosse sticks to throw a small rubber ball past the goalie into the opponent’s net and try to block the opposing side from doing the same. (Nothing says Canadian sports like high-speed projectiles being whipped around at the expense of people’s teeth).

Documentation by Jesuit missionary priests is how we know that the game of lacrosse has changed a lot over the centuries. Originally the game was played on a field that was anywhere between 500 meters to 3 kilometers long, it lasted anywhere from sunrise to sunset for up to three days, and the ball was made out of wood. Oh, and each team had everywhere between 100 to 1,000 players. Madness? Pretty much! Baggatiway was designed to prepare Aboriginal men for war and was considered to be a ceremonial ritual.

Indian Ball Game by George Caitlin (c. 1846-1850)

You would think that lacrosse’s ties to warfare and the fact that oh, you know, a war was going on might discourage British attendance at a game being played by people who were actively trying to kill you, but not when you’re George Etherington! The war in particular was Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763-1766). It was a loose confederation of Aboriginal nations based in the Pays d’en Haut or “the Upper Country,” (aka the Great Lakes, Illinois, and Ohio regions). These nations were not too pleased with Great Britain’s victory over France in the Seven Years War (1754-1763) as many of them had sided with the French, fearing British dominance would bring about the end of their way of life. This fear was realized when Britain began to roll out some of their anti-Aboriginal postwar policies. A number of Aboriginal leaders, (most notably Ottawa war chief Pontiac), decided to fight back.

At this point in the war, the capture of Fort Detroit was a stalemate, but four small forts had been captured by the rebels. Fort Michilimackinac (Mich-ile-mackin-aw) became the fifth. On June 2, 1763, the Ojibwe staged a game of lacrosse with the Sauks, and invited British Major Etherington and his garrison of 35 soldiers to watch. The Ojibwe told Etherington that the game would be in honour of King George III’s birthday—because you know, Aboriginals were all about celebrating the birth date of their foreign oppressor. Etherington bought it though, despite repeated warnings from the French civilians who lived in the fort and the aforementioned fact that baggatiway involves hundred of warriors. Nope, Etherington was going to have a good time and watch the game. After all, he had bet money on the Ojibwe winning. He even told the soldiers to leave their weapons behind.

When the game commenced there were around 500 men on the field in front of Fort Michilimackinac. It must have been a pretty good game to watch because none of the soldiers seemed to notice the number of Ojibwe women hanging around the fort gates, which for some reason had been left open by the soldiers, wearing heavy blankets around them as though they were dressed for January, not June. When the ball landed near the open gates, the women threw off their blankets and began handing out tomahawks and knives to the players. The warriors then rushed at and slaughtered every British soldier they could find, before taking over the fort. The French civilians inside were not harmed.

Now, Pontiac’s Rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful. The Ojibwe were forced to give Fort Michilimackinac back to the British after a year and Pontiac himself was assassinated not too long after the war—but that doesn’t make this event any less ridiculous.

So the moral of the story is:

Lacrosse Super Cool Ski Instructor Meme


Sources

Edwards, Lissa, “Deadly Lacrosse Game in Mackinac Straits at Fort Michilimackinac in 1763,” May 16, 2010. Accessed from: http://mynorth.com/2010/05/deadly-lacrosse-game-in-mackinac-straits-at-fort-michilimackinac-in-1763/

Dixon, David. Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac’s Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America (Campaigns and Commanders Series), Norman: University of Oklahoma Press: 2014.

Dowd, Gregory Evans, War under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

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3 thoughts on “Lacrosse as a Trojan Horse? The Fort Michilimackinac Massacre

  1. franbrz says:

    So interesting! The whole scenario with the British is just dumb enough to be a true story, if you know what I mean! (Semi-related: I was once hit in the side with a lacrosse ball and it HURT. Still not a game for the faint of heart.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • cadeauca says:

      I’m torn between being baffled that the British could be THAT stupid and not being surprised considering all the other blunders throughout British military history. I guess for every Wellington and Nelson, there’s an Etherington.

      Ouch! That sounds so painful. I think I only played lacrosse once. One time was enough though, I’m terrible at it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • franbrz says:

        Yeah who knows, maybe there were mitigating factors that made them more trusting of the situation? (Maybe they just really really loved lacrosse?) I am terrible at ALL sports haha, I think the ball in question was just thrown across the schoolyard or something and I happened to be caught in the crossfire. I think we did have to try playing it in gym class though!

        Liked by 1 person

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