Today In Ballsy History: The Capture Of Fort Michilimackinac


A daily feature here on The Ball Report is looking back through the hourglass of time to showcase an event that really took balls on this day. It’s June 2, and today’s story took place in 1763.

Fort Michilimackinac (don’t even try to pronounce it) stood on the northern tip of what would become Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. It was built around 1715 by the French for use as a trading post and then later took over by the British when they won the French and Indian War. The Brits weren’t as well-suited to deal with the indigenous people of the area, and in 1763 they faced a challenge from the Ojibwe people that was more than they could deal with.

The Ojibwe were part of a loose coalition of Plains Indians led by the Ottawa leader Pontiac, and they bristled under the repressive British regime. But they did a pretty good job hiding it, so fort commander Major George Etherington didn’t see anything unusual in a group of Ojibwe challenging a group of Sauk to a game of baaga’dowe (sort of like lacrosse) outside the fort’s walls.

The British soldiers streamed outside to watch the athletic contest, which the native Americans said was in honor of the King’s birthday. The garrison supported only 35 soldiers, dwarfed in number by the people outside competing, camping and trading. Just on the playing field were over 500 face-painted representatives of both tribes. And nobody noticed the women with heavy blankets draped over their bodies lurking by the open gates.

At a silent signal, the ball was kicked to the gates, and a horde of Ojibwe and Sauk players followed it. The women threw off their blankets, revealing that they were carrying an armory of knives and tomahawks, which the players armed themselves with as they stormed the fort. They murdered every Englishman they saw while leaving the French-Canadians alive. A fur trader named Alexander Henry managed to escape and bring the story to the world, but Pontiac’s rebellion would hold Fort Michilimackinac for almost a full year.