Fix Bayonets!

 Throughout Fort Mackinac’s military history, British and American soldiers were issued bayonets to complement their shoulder arms. Bayonets allowed a firearm to double as a stabbing weapon and a pike. Additionally, soldiers advancing with fixed bayonets could be a powerful psychological weapon, frightening the enemy into fleeing before contact. By the 1880s, however, bayonets had lost much of their tactical usefulness. Nonetheless, American soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac and elsewhere continued carrying these secondary weapons, and the bayonets of the late 19th century reflect an interesting time of transition for the U.S. Army.

 When the army adopted the new Springfield .45-70 rifle in 1873, a new bayonet came with it. Featuring an 18-inch long triangular blade, the Model 1873 bayonet utilized a rotating clasp to lock onto the front sight at the muzzle end of the gun barrel. From 1873 to 1878, bayonets were specifically produced for use with the new rifles. However, officials in the War Department, always eager for ways to reduce costs, realized that the government still had large stocks of surplus Model 1855 bayonets. These older weapons, produced in huge quantities to supply federal troops during the Civil War, were designed to fit .58 caliber rifled muskets. Fortuitously, officers at the Springfield Armory devised a method of cold-swaging the larger sockets of the 1855 bayonets down to fit the .45 caliber barrels of the 1873 rifles. The older bayonets could thus be utilized at little cost to the government, and no new bayonets were produced after 1878. So large was the stock of 1855 bayonets that it took a decade for the armory to finally run out of them.

 When the old bayonets were finally expended in 1888/89, the army officially adopted a ramrod bayonet. A sharpened metal rod carried within the stock just under the barrel (the traditional location for a ramrod on all earlier muzzleloading weapons), the ramrod bayonet could be extended beyond the muzzle and locked in place. This eliminated the need for soldiers to carry a separate bayonet and scabbard, since the bayonet was already integral to the rifle. The army experimented with ramrod bayonets for most of the 1880s, continually tinkering with the design and issuing small numbers of the weapon to soldiers for field testing. In 1886, Co. K of the 23rd Infantry, stationed at Fort Mackinac, received rifles with ramrod bayonets for evaluation.

 As bayonet designs evolved, so too did the scabbards to carry them. Although the ramrod bayonet eliminated the need for a separate scabbard, those weapons were not in general service until the middle of 1890. As a result, most soldiers carried their bayonets in metal scabbards hung from their belts through the 1880s. Initially, scabbards for the 1873 bayonet featured a leather frog, which simply looped over the 1¾-inch wide waist belts issued beginning in 1872. However, as soldiers increasingly preferred to wear wider cartridge belts for field service, these scabbards were no longer compatible. As a result, in 1889 the army finally adopted a new scabbard design featuring a long, thin brass hook in place of the leather loop. The hook could still easily be worn with the narrower 1872 belts, but could also be used with a woven cartridge belt.

 Even as the Army continually refined and experimented with bayonet designs, general officers and regular soldiers alike increasingly questioned the utility of the bayonet in an age when troops were trained for exceptionally long-range marksmanship. Noting that in combat the bayonet functioned only as far as a soldier could reach, Commanding General of the Army William Sherman stated that “my experience teaches me that one side or the other runs away before arm’s length is reached.” Sherman and other officers suggested that the bayonet be declared obsolete and dropped from service, but stopped short of pressing the issue as he believed bayonets might still be useful in highly specific circumstances such as riot control. In the 1870s and 1880s soldiers were deployed to suppress civil unrest, usually linked to strikes and other labor actions, and officers felt that bayonets allowed troops to “safely” disperse crowds without firing on them.

 If you would like to see original bayonets up close, feel free to ask our interpretive staff at Fort Mackinac. They carry original bayonets (to go with the original .45-70 rifles used daily for demonstration) and are happy to answer questions about them, as well as the rest of the unique uniforms and equipment utilized by the U.S. Army during the 1880s. This was a time of change and experimentation for the army. If you would like more information, or an opportunity to buy tickets to Fort Mackinac and our other museums, please visit our website.

Something Extraordinary – (Thank You, Sergeant Wingard)

The masthead for the Detroit Gazette.

The Detroit Gazette printed Wingard’s story on November 22, 1822

 On November 22, 1822, the Detroit Gazette reprinted a remarkable tale which captivated readers across the country. Originating in New Orleans, the account first appeared in the Louisiana Advertiser that September. The story was eventually printed by dozens of newspapers in at least 16 states, and the nation’s capital. It was a story which began eight years earlier, during the Battle of Mackinac Island.

 A short version from the Nov. 13, 1822 edition of the Gettysburg Compiler reads, Something Extraordinary. On the 15th of August at New Orleans, a musket ball was extracted from the body of Mr. J. Wingard, where it had remained since the 4th of August, 1814; when it was received at the battle of Mackinac, under Col. Croghan. When extricated, the part flattened by the bone was covered with a black crust, which on being dried and set fire to, exploded with a white flame similar to fresh powder, with the exception of a sulphurous [sic.] smell, from which it was entirely free.”

 Reading this improbable tale raises many questions. Who was J. Wingard? Did he really carry a musket ball (and powder) in his body for 8 years, from Mackinac Island to New Orleans? How did it happen, and what happened to him? A closer look provides some answers to this forgotten soldier’s sacrifice.

Sergeant James C. Wingard

 British forces captured Fort Mackinac during a surprise attack on July 17, 1812. More losses followed, including the surrender of Detroit in August. In January 1813, the Battle of the River Raisin, near Monroe, Michigan, resulted in a bloody and decisive British victory. The stinging defeat decimated the Kentucky Volunteer Militia and 17th U.S. Infantry. The battle gave rise to the cry, “Remember the Raisin!”

 When the news reached Kentucky, 4,000 proud Kentuckians volunteered to fight. On May 11, 1813, James C. Wingard joined the 1st Company of the 17th Regiment of U.S. Infantry as a sergeant. Upon enlistment, he was 34 years old and employed as a carpenter. Born in Maryland about 1779, Mr. Wingard stood 5’11’’ tall, with gray eyes, dark hair, and a fair complexion.

Colonel George Croghan

Lieut. Col. George Croghan led the American attack on Mackinac Island. Croghan Water Marsh is named in his honor.

 Aided by fresh Kentucky forces, Americans recorded victories in late 1813, including the recapture of Detroit. The following summer, they were ready to retake Mackinac. A letter from Detroit, written July 3, 1814, reads, “The expedition against Mackinaw will set out the first fair wind up the river; the whole commanded by the brave colonel G. Croghan and major Holmes. Their command will consist of about seven hundred men…They calculate on serious business, before we get possession of the place.”

 Delayed by a headwind, all five American gunships finally entered Lake Huron by July 13. To meet them, Sergeant Wingard led his company with other foot soldiers from Detroit to Fort Gratiot, at Port Huron. An expedition member wrote, “The land forces arrived here yesterday, having marched by land fifteen miles through a very ugly and wet country without even a path the greater part of the way.” After troops boarded the ships, the flotilla embarked on its fateful journey north.

The Battle of Mackinac Island

 American forces, commanded by Lieut. Colonel George Croghan, landed near the north shore of Mackinac Island on August 4, 1814. The battle which ensued lasted little more than an hour, but cost the Americans 75 casualties, including 13 killed and seven who later died of wounds. Injured men, along with the body of fallen Major Andrew Hunter Holmes, crowded on the U.S. Sloop of War, Niagara. On August 11, they set sail toward Detroit, including Sergeant Wingard, who carried a British musket ball lodged in his pelvis.

After the War

 Despite serious injury, Wingard remained enlisted in the service. In October 1814, he received a furlough (leave of absence) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Records indicate he was “debilitated by a wound” at the time. Sergeant James Wingard received his discharge from military at Newport, Kentucky on May 6, 1815. Thereafter, he settled in Hamilton County, Ohio, with his wife, Elizabeth.

Map of a 160-acre lot granted to James C. Wingard in Arkansas

1822 Survey map of Wingard’s 160-acre land grant in northern Arkansas.

 After the war, Mr. Wingard received an invalid pension, authorized by the U.S. Congress for wounded veterans. Initially, pensions were granted to injured commissioned and non-commissioned officers and to heirs of soldiers who died during the war. On April 16, 1816, Wingard was placed on the pension roll with an annual allowance of $30. He later received two increases, eventually earning $96 per year for his injury sustained on Mackinac Island.

 Congress also authorized land grants for War of 1812 veterans. At first, military bounty lands were limited to districts in Arkansas, Illinois, or Missouri. On March 27, 1819, Wingard applied for a 160-acre tract in northern Arkansas Territory. His claim was granted January 28, 1822.

A Beautiful White Blaze

 On August 15, 1822, James Wingard was placed on a surgeon’s table in New Orleans, Louisiana. Over the years, previous attempts failed to extract the lead lodged in his pelvic bone. When it was finally removed, doctors noticed a mysterious dark crust on its flattened surface. Being dried, the substance was scraped onto a glass plate. The longer story concludes, “a part of which…was put on a strip of white paper, the end of which was set on fire, and no sooner had the fire come in contact with the supposed powder than it exploded with a beautiful white blaze, much to the consternation of all the gentlemen present: a second trial was made with equal success.” The story fails to mention that Mr. Wingard died that day, at 43 years of age. His pension record simply notes, “Died the 15th August 1822. Original Certificate of Pension surrendered.”

 Two hundred years ago, the incredible tale of Sergeant James Wingard, a survivor of Mackinac Island’s most terrible day, was the talk at dinner tables across the nation. As families gather this Thanksgiving, may we give thanks for all veterans, even those whose stories are forgotten. Their collective courage and sacrifice provide freedoms we now enjoy, and all too often take for granted.

A postcard from of the Deer Park on Mackinac Island from the early 20th century.

White-Tailed Deer on Mackinac Island

A deer in the woods on Mackinac Island.

A curious deer near Beechwood Trail, May 2022

 Sometimes, white-tailed deer either swim the channel or walk over ice to Mackinac Island. The island’s current small herd originates from the winter of 2014, when several deer crossed the ice from St. Ignace. In 2017, a damp deer emerged from the straits near the public library. After browsing some nearby cedars, the buck waded back into Lake Huron and swam to Round Island, about one mile away.

 Historically, deer have come to the island in other unusual ways. In the early 1830s, Henry Schoolcraft “procured a young fawn” near Green Bay and brought it to his garden at the Mackinac Indian Agency, east of today’s Marquette Park. On August 17, 1835, he wrote, “This animal grew to its full size, and revealed many interesting traits… It would walk into the hall and dining-room, when the door was open, and was once observed to step up, gracefully, and take bread from the table. It perambulated the garden walks. It would, when the back gate was shut, jump over a six feet picket fence, with the ease and lightness of a bird.”

A map showing Deer Park in 1915

Boundaries of Deer Park, 1915

 As wildlife numbers decreased through the 19th century, interest in preserving nature increased. In 1875, Mackinac National Park was created, in part to “provide against the wanton destruction of game or fish found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for any purposes of use or profit.” The Mackinac Island State Park Commission continued this mission in 1895 when Mackinac Island State Park was established. In 1901, the commission authorized a new attraction called Deer Park, north of Fort Mackinac. A tall wire fence enclosed over 10 acres, where food and shelter were provided for a herd of white-tailed deer. The herd grew substantially and was maintained for more than 40 years.

A shelter within Deer Park on Mackinac Island, circa 1915

Deer Park shelter, ca.1915

 In 1910, a white-tailed deer was captured alive while swimming near Echo Island, in the Les Cheneaux area of the eastern Upper Peninsula. Caught illegally, the large buck was “promptly, and properly, confiscated by the state game warden, who removed him to the deer colony in the state park on Mackinac Island.” Author Frank Grover described the incident, expressing hope the animal would eventually die “of old age, rather than by the sportsman’s bullet.” In 1914, Park Superintendent Frank Kenyon restored the fenced enclosure, built a concrete watering basin, and cleared underbrush within Deer Park.

A postcard from of the Deer Park on Mackinac Island from the early 20th century.

“State Park in Winter, Mackinac Isl. Mich.” Real photo post card, by Cheboygan, Michigan photographer John R. Johnson, ca. 1910-1920

 William Oates served as Michigan’s State Game, Fish and Forestry Warden from 1911-1917. In 1914, he noted more than 80% of the state’s primaeval forests were gone. At the time, the state’s deer population was estimated at 40,000 in the upper peninsula and only about 5,000 in the lower peninsula. Oates advocated for a “Buck Law,” limiting hunting to antlered males, which was passed in 1921. Throughout the early 20th century, it’s likely most Michigan residents never saw a wild deer in its native habitat.

Fallow Deer on Mackinac Island

Fallow Deer feeding from British Deer and Their Horns, 1897

European fallow deer in British Deer and Their Horns, 1897

 In 1913, lumber baron Rasmus Hanson donated land in Crawford County as military reserve for the national guard. Two years later, 80 of those acres were set aside as Michigan’s first State Game Refuge where deer, elk, wild turkeys, pheasants, and mallard ducks were raised. The reserve began with 25 white-tailed deer, and soon after, five European fallow deer were added. Fallow deer had been a popular attraction at the Belle Isle Zoo in Detroit since 1901. The herd sent to Grayling was originally imported from Germany to a park in Petoskey. The state game warden wrote, “The fallow deer is hardy and should adapt itself to the cover and food which Michigan affords.” He hoped to one day release them into the wild where they would “increase rapidly.” In 1917, Mackinac Island’s white-tailed herd was large enough to export 12 deer to the Hanson Refuge. In return, two of their nine fallow deer were shipped to Mackinac Island.

 About 30% smaller than white-tailed deer, European fallow deer retain white spots as adults. Much variation occurs in coat color of the species, with all black and all white variants. Only bucks grow antlers, which become broad and palmate when they reach 3 years of age. To date, no photos are known of fallow deer on Mackinac Island.

Deer Park’s Demise

Deer being fed in Deer Park by Clara Kenyon, wife of Park Superintendent Frank Kenyon, circa 1920s

Clara Kenyon, wife of park superintendent Frank Kenyon, feeding Mackinac’s white-tailed deer, ca.1920s

 In 1941, The Lure Book of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, advertised Deer Park among Mackinac Island’s attractions, noting, “Back of Fort Mackinac is a natural deer park. Keep your eyes open as you drive along and you will see these shy animals back in the bush.” Not long after, however, several factors caused the site to close. During the Great Depression, a lack of visitors and reduced funding greatly affected Mackinac Island. In 1944, the state park commission decided to close Deer Park for good. During their December 5th meeting, the chairman reported “deer had been turned loose on Mackinac Island and the Superintendent was given strict instructions to use all lawful means for their protection.”

 At the same time, deer were becoming common in Michigan. A decade after Deer Park opened, only about 45,000 deer roamed wild in the state. After the passage of a “Buck Law” in 1921, numbers quickly grew. In 1938, the population ranged between 800,000 and 1,000,000. By the time Deer Park closed, Michigan’s population was the largest in the United States. Today, about 2 million deer inhabit the state, and concerns of overpopulation are common.

Remnants of a fence in the Deer Park in July, 2022

Old Deer Park fence growing through a cedar tree, July 2022

 Today, Mackinac Island visitors can still find old cedar posts and rusted wire fencing along Deer Park Trail, north of Fort Mackinac. The next time you visit the island, keep an eye out for these shy woodland residents. Although deer are common today, nothing in nature can be taken for granted. Even the commonest creatures deserve attention and care to ensure healthy ecosystems and abundant biodiversity for future generations.

Holiday Traditions of the 17th and 18th Centuries are Alive at A Colonial Christmas at Colonial Michilimackinac

Historic Interpreters getting ready to celebrate Christmas at Michilimackinac The sun sets on the Straits of Mackinac. Fires crackle in stone hearths. The smell of treats and warm beverages fill the crisp winter air. Laughter, conversation, and more can be heard emanating from inside the palisaded walls. It’s A Colonial Christmas Saturday, December 10, at Colonial Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City.

 From 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. (last admission at 6:30 p.m.) the holiday traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries are alive for all to explore. As visitors enter through the secondary entrance off Straits Ave under boughs and decorations, lanterns will light the path to the palisaded walls, as the historic residents of Michilimackinac invite you into their homes to celebrate.

 “A Colonial Christmas is a chance to dig deeper into the lives of the historic residents of Michilimackinac and explore even more of this history of the Straits of Mackinac,” said Mackinac State Historic Parks director Steve Brisson. “We hope our visitors find it to be an enriching and fun event that will help us all appreciate the history of holiday traditions.”

 Upon entering the South Southwest Rowhouse, travelers will be welcomed with hot chocolate and the chance to look at available wares (and purchase tickets to the event, if you don’t already have one). Upon exiting the Rowhouse, more lanterns will light the paths, while the smell of treats and the fires burning in the fireplaces indicate the buildings to enter. You are now on your own to explore at your own pace.

 At the Merchant’s House you’ll find coriander cookies and seats around the fire, where you’ll learn about Réveillon, the French tradition of eating a night-time meal after Midnight Mass, including many desserts. In the Northwest Rowhouse the French celebration of New Year will also be observed, as it played a major part of the holiday festivities. Here you can sample the King’s Cake, but be on the lookout for the ‘bean’ that will make you king for the day.

An interpreter hanging greenery at Michilimackinac In the Barracks you’ll learn of British and German military traditions, as the soldiers may have celebrated the holidays with feasting, storytelling, and games. Here you’ll be able to sample tea cakes and learn about the tradition of the Christmas pie. British holiday traditions will continue in the British Trader’s House, as 18th century stories will be told while guests sample comfit. Ghost stories will be told in the Soldier’s House, which was a popular holiday tradition.

 Wassailing will take place in the Priest’s House, where hot wassail will be available as you make your way into Ste. Anne’s Church, which will be dressed for Christmas Mass and you’ll learn about the first Christmas at Mackinac.

 The celebration continues outside, as popcorn will be available on the porch of the Guardhouse. Over on the parade ground you’re encouraged to join a game of Trap Ball, a game played all year, but especially during the holiday season.

 Finally, down in the Treasures from the Sand exhibit, you’ll learn how the soldiers and fur traders decorated their houses for the holidays and have a chance to make your very own decoration to help decorate your own house.

 Admission to A Colonial Christmas is $10 per adult, $6 children ages 5-12, and free for children 4 and under and Mackinac Associates members (excluding Heritage Level). Tickets are available now online at www.mackinacparks.com/a-colonial-christmas/. Tickets will also be available upon arrival. Last admission is at 6:30 p.m. Call 231-436-4100 for more information.

 Visitors are encouraged to dress warmly, as the buildings at Colonial Michilimackinac are not insulated for the cold weather. Restrooms will be available in the South Southwest Rowhouse.

 Much of Colonial Michilimackinac has been reconstructed based on archaeological excavations, including its 13 buildings and structures, many of which will be open featuring special activities during A Colonial Christmas. The fort and fur trading village was founded by the French in 1715 and is depicted today as it was in the 1770s when occupied by the British. Colonial Michilimackinac will open for the 2023 season on May 10.

Three people on bikes heading to the G. Mennen Williams Mackinac Celebration.

Friends Preserving and Sharing Mackinac’s Heritage

Looking back over the last forty years since receiving their official 501(c)3 non-profit designation in 1982, Mackinac Associates has funded an outstanding list of projects supporting Mackinac State Historic Parks. Funds raised through Mackinac Associates from membership fees, appeals, sponsorships, and other gifts assist in in preserving the rich history and natural beauty of the Straits of Mackinac.

Members are welcomed by staff to a special event at Fort Mackinac in the early days of Mackinac Associates’ 40-year history.

 Mackinac evokes so many memories of a special place that has allowed individuals, families, and friends to create memories and unique experiences. In managing Mackinac Island State Park, which encompasses over 80% of Mackinac Island, Michilimackinac and Mill Creek State Parks in Mackinaw City, and all the buildings and sites contained within those boundaries, Mackinac State Historic Parks has the unique ability to protect and preserve the most treasured natural and historical resources in the Straits of Mackinac.

 What started as a group of a dozen local residents and friends of the park in the late 1970s has grown into a friend’s group made up of more than 2,000 members dedicated to our mission: “Friends preserving and sharing Mackinac’s heritage.” Members can be proud they are part of an organization that has provided over $2 million to support projects in every area of museum operation, making possible park improvements, interpretive programs, publications, exhibits, and natural history education over the last 40 years.

A new sign at the entrance to the Dr. Beaumont Museum.

The entrance to the new exhibit at the American Fur Co. Retail Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum.

 Mackinac Associates helps fund projects both large and small and this past year was no exception with nearly $200,000 in projects sponsored across Mackinac State Historic Parks sites and operations. On Mackinac Island, updates to the American Fur Company Store included a brand-new exhibit highlighting Fort Mackinac surgeon Dr. William Beaumont’s famous experiments and the scientific process about the digestive system brough about by the accidental shooting of French-Canadian voyageur Alexis St. Martin in 1822. Additional projects on the island included electrical upgrades for the Schoolhouse building at Fort Mackinac, projectors and touchscreens updates and installations within exhibits, and furthering the dendroarchaeology study on the McGulpin House, one of the island’s oldest structures.

 At our mainland sites, Mackinac Associates’ 2022 Spring Appeal announced the Parks’ newest reconstruction project – the Southwest Rowhouse addition at Colonial Michilimackinac. Originally built in the 1730s and extensively rebuilt in the 1760s, archaeologists excavated the remains of the rowhouse in 1960-63, and a portion of the building was reconstructed in 1968. Continuing with the reconstruction of an addition on the east end of the rowhouse will assist in better interpreting Michilimackinac during the 1770s. This past spring’s fundraising effort completed the first step in this reconstruction process, the creation of an architectural design plan to move the project forward.

A person riding the zip line at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park.

Annual Mackinac Associates members receive a 15% discount on the Forest Adventure Experience at Mill Creek.

 Additional projects were completed at Colonial Michilimackinac with the help of Mackinac Associates included the relocation of the Blacksmith Shop to a more historically correct location outside the palisade walls, and the purchasing of supplies for the shop. Funding was also given toward improvement planning for the Michilimackinac State Park day-use area at the base of the Mackinac Bridge, which will include future updates to this iconic and scenic space. At Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park located 3.5 miles east of Mackinaw City, improvements were made to the zipline, part of the park’s Forest Adventure Experience where guests can “fly” 425 feet down the Eagle’s Flight Zip Line over the creek bed.

 Mackinac Associates was also able to assist with marketing, interpretation, and wayfinding projects this year, including the replacement and upgrading of signage throughout Mackinac State Historic Park sites, new cocktail tables for special events, and digital advertising to welcome new and returning visitors to the Parks.

Three people on bikes heading to the G. Mennen Williams Mackinac Celebration.

Marie Bunker, Adrienne Rilenge, and Lauren Rilenge following the 2022 G. Mennen Williams Member Celebration. Image by Kara Beth Photography.

 As we look back on the 40-year history of Mackinac Associates, members can treasure the fact that they have a direct hand in helping to protect, preserve, and present Mackinac’s rich historic and natural resources. If you have a fondness for Mackinac Island and the Straits of Mackinac, we hope you will consider showing that support by joining Mackinac Associates to help make the next 40 years just as successful as the last.

 Mackinac Associates members receive a wide range of educational and social benefits, including unlimited admission to all Mackinac State Historic Parks sites, 15% discount at all museum stores, a subscription to the Curiosities newsletter, and invitations to member exclusive events*. For more information on membership, giving, and benefits, please visit www.mackinacassociates.com.

*Mackinac Heritage Season Pass is valid towards site admission only and does not include discounts or special events.

Whitefish – Deer of the Lakes

“The great business of life at Mackinac was looking out upon the lake and munching the fish,

and I felt when there that I would not have the heart to look at a fish in the face for years to come.

In fact we all began to feel decidedly fishy before we left the island.”

                                                                                                               – The Venango Spectator, October 21, 1857

Before the Straits of Mackinac became a center of international fur trade, its waters were renowned by generations of Native Americans as an abundant fishery. Of the many species in these freshwater seas, the delicate whitefish, usually weighing 3-5 pounds, was the most prized catch of all. The importance of fish at the Straits was noted early, with French Jesuit Jacques Marquette writing in 1673, “This place is the most noted in these regions for the abundance of its fisheries; for, according to the Indian saying, ‘this is the home of the fishes.’ Elsewhere, although they exist in large numbers, it is not properly their ‘home,’ which is in the neighborhood of Missilimackinac.” Whitefish are called adikameg in Ojibwe or Anishnaabemowin, effectively translating as reindeer (or deer) of the lakes.

Whitefish (left) in the Codex canadensis by French Jesuit Louis Nichols c.1700

Normally living in cold, deep water, lake whitefish spawn on shallow shoals each autumn, where they lay and fertilize their eggs. For centuries, whitefish have been widely regarded as the best-tasting and most important of all fishes in the lakes. Writing from St. Ignace in 1688, Louis Armand, Baron de Lahontan wrote, “You can scarce believe, Sir, what vast sholes [sic.] of white Fish are catch’d about the middle of the Channel, between the Continent and the Isle of Missilimackinac. The Outaouas and the Hurons could never subsist here, without the Fishery… This sort of white Fish in my opinion, is the only one in all these Lakes that can be call’d good; and indeed it goes beyond all other sorts of River Fish.” About 1695, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac noted “the pleasure of seeing as many as a hundred whitefish caught in a single haul of a net. This is the most delicate fish of the lakes…”

Many early travelers repeated similar exultations. Although sturgeon and trout were larger, whitefish were most prized. In 1721, Jesuit Pierre Francois-Xavier de Charlevoix, the first historian of New France, wrote, “The Michillimackinac live entirely by fishing, and there is perhaps no place in the world where they are in greater plenty… the most famous of all is the white-fish; it is nearly the size and figure of a mackerel [sic.], and whether fresh or salted, nothing of a fish-kind can exceed it. The Indians tell you that it was Michabou who taught their ancestors to fish, invented nets of which he took the idea from Arachne’s, or the spider’s web.”

This preserved whitefish skeleton, was discovered by archaeologists at Fort Michilimackinac.

While French and British residents preferred domestic fare, they readily ate fish and wild game when necessary, particularly during lean winter months. In 1761, British fur trader Alexander Henry noted high prices of grain and beef “led me to be very industrious in fishing… White-fish, which exceed the trout, as a delicious and nutritious food, are here in astonishing numbers.” Having small, delicate mouths and a habit of schooling, they were most easily caught in gill nets, mainly in fall and winter. Detailing the process, Henry continued, “The white-fish is taken in nets, which are set under the ice… The fish, running against the net, entangle their gills in the meshes, and are thus detained till taken up.”

While important locally for centuries, fish at Mackinac didn’t gain economic importance until the 1830’s, when commercial fishing replaced the fur trade as the predominant industry. In his 1835 Gazetteer of the State of Michigan, author John T. Blois bragged, “The numbers, varieties, and excellent quality of the lake fish are worthy of notice. It is believed no fresh waters known, can in any respect bear comparison… Their quantities are surprising, and apparently so inexhaustible, as to warrant the belief, that were a population of millions to inhabit the lake shores, they would furnish an ample supply of this article of food, without any sensible diminution.”

In 1836, about 1,200 barrels of whitefish and trout were taken at Mackinac. In just 20 years, the number skyrocketed to 20,000 barrels annually at the Straits, with comparable increases throughout the Great Lakes. In 1857, Mackinac’s fish-munching “Viator” wrote, “The staple article of trade is fish… These fish are taken in exceedingly deep water in what are called gill nets…The net is then sunk in 300 feet of water and left over night, when it is drawn up, and the fish are found fastened by their gills. They are then, opened and cured on the schooners, brought to the dock, inspected and barreled, when they are fit for the market. It does not add to one’s appetite for white fish, to see them piled up by cart loads on the dock, and to notice the decidedly filthy odor, that fills the whole atmosphere.”

In his 1860 publication, Old Mackinac, Or Fortress of the Lakes, W.P. Strickland wrote, “White-fish are more highly prized than any other kind found in our waters, being the decidedly the most delicious in a fresh state, and when packed command a higher price than any other by $1 per bbl… They were once so numerous that eight thousand were taken at a single haul. At present a haul of one or two thousand is thought a very good one. In all the rivers they are growing scarce very gradually, but surely. The ratio of decrease cannot be arrived at with any degree of precision.”

The decline, recovery and future threats to Great Lakes fisheries are a long tale for another time. Restocking and other 20th century conservation efforts resulted in stabilized populations, along with efforts to restore Native American fishing rights granted by 19th century treaties. Today’s commercial fishery sustainably harvests more than eight million pounds of lake whitefish each year. Residents and guests alike continue to enjoy this humble, tasty member of the salmon family at restaurants, markets, and fisheries throughout northern Michigan.

Celebrating 75 Years of This Time for Keeps

 Seventy-five years ago, October 17, 1947, This Time for Keeps was released in theaters. The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical picture was the third of 19 “water ballet” extravaganzas starring national swimming champion Esther Williams. The film was produced by Joe Pasternak who had been impressed by the beauty of Mackinac Island featured in an MGM “Fitzpatrick Traveltalk” short in 1944. He decided then that he would feature the island in his next Williams picture.

 While the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-back-girl story is primarily set in New York, it bounces twice to Mackinac Island. All the New York scenes and Mackinac Island interiors were shot at the MGM studios in Culver City, California. However, crews were dispatched in February and July to shoot exterior scenes on the island. The winter shoots included establishing and background shots of various locations in the movie. Some of these included doubles for the stars. The July scenes brought several of the principals to the island including Williams, leading man Johnnie Johnston, Lauritz Melchior, Sharon McManus, and Jimmy Durante. Scenes were shot on the Coal Dock, the front of the Stewart Woodfill residence, downtown street scenes, the exterior of Grand Hotel, and, of course, the Grand Hotel pool. A lovely montage of island scenes to the tune of “When It’s Lilac Time on Mackinac Island,” originally written for the Fitzpatrick Traveltalk, introduces the final segment of the picture.

 Williams was fitted with 10 specially designed bathing suits for the film by the MGM costume designer. In her autobiography Williams noted that, as the story was set in the Northwoods, one of the suits was made from lumberjack plaid flannel. Unfortunately, it absorbed water like crazy. When she dove into the Grand Hotel pool for the first time, the suit dragged her to the bottom, and she could barely keep her head above water. She finally had to reach around, tug at the zipper and slip out of it! There were many crew members and tourists surrounding the pool. Williams quickly swam to the edge where her wardrobe assistant cut a hole in a large towel and dropped it over her head like a poncho.

 All the actors and crew enjoyed their time on the island, and Williams was remembered by island residents for her grace, good humor, and charm. She returned to the island in 1987 when the pool was named in her honor.

 While the critical reviews were mixed, the picture was a hit at the box office, netting a $1.7 million profit ($23.4 million in 2022 dollars). The film brought priceless publicity to the island as it was just emerging from the 15-year slump of the Great Depression and World War II. This Time for Keeps is not as well remembered today as 1980s Somewhere in Time. However, unlike the latter picture, it actually focused the story on Mackinac Island itself and provides some stunning Technicolor footage of the island as it appeared more than 75 years ago.

Les Feu Follet

The following is excerpted from Were-Wolves and Will-O-The-Wisps: French Tales of Mackinac Retold, written and illustrated by Dirk Gringhuis. The stories in this book are the basis for Fort Fright, an annual event that takes place in October. Fort Fright 2022 takes place October 7-8 – click here for tickets

Les Feu Follet

 Marie and her husband Robert along with their baby, Jean, lived in their home outside of Fort Michilimackinac. One warm summer day, Marie’s cousin, young Jacques from Montreal, came to pay a visit. Marie was delighted when Robert suggested that he take a day’s trip to meet with some courerurs de bois near the Ottawa Indian village of L’Arbre Croche, the Crooked Tree, Marie was quite content to stay at home with her young cousin, the baby and a Pani woman servant. Panis were Indian slaves, prisoners taken in Indian wars who served as domestics.

 All went well until evening when storm clouds began to form over the lake and white caps showed their plumes far out in the lead coloered water.

 The women watched it approach the cabin. Now the sky was very dark except for the brilliant lightning forking lakeward. Marie began to worry about Robert and asked the Pani woman to split some slivers off the Christmas Log (always preserved year by year) and to throw them on the fire to prevent the thunder from falling. She then glanced at the door and was relieved to see a branch of white torn still in place. This bush was thought to be a divine lightning rod. The custom had probably come from the fact that thorns such as these had crowned the Saviour’s head.

 Gradually the rumble of thunder and the lightning passed. By not it was dark. Marie’s fears began to rise once more as her husband failed to return. Going to the window she peered into the darkness. Suddenly all were startled by a shrill whistle. Even Jean in his crib, began to cry. Quickly, Marie slammed the shutters clossed, and bolted them. “I saw the feu follet dancing over the fields, if I had not shut it out it would have entered and strangled us!” she cried. “Le Bon Dieu preserve Robert this night!”

 Her cousin tried to comfort her. “Do not fear, Robert your husband can take care of himself.” he said. “If you like, now that the rain has stopped, we can go looking for him.” A sturdy young man, he moved toward the door confidently trying to ease his cousin’s fears. Jean was sound asleep and the Pani woman was a good nursemaid. Marie made up her mind. Robert was never late, something must have happened on the trail.

 “Let us go,” she said, wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and handed a lantern to Jacques. “I know the path well.”

 As they walked Jacques, trying to keep her mind from her missing husband asked, “What are the feu follet like at Michilimackinac, cousin?”

 “They are not always dangerous and they appear as lights above swampland. When twin lights are seen in the twilight, they are called Castor and Pollus and this is a happy omen.”

 “This I had not heard,” said Jacques, lantern held high, watching the dim trail ahead.

 “But,” Marie continued, “When a single light appears it is named Helene. Then he who sees it must throw himself on the ground and cover his face. For the light holds an evil magic that lures the traveler to desert bogs or steep ravines then leaves him there to die … But Robert does not believe in them” Jacques shook his head. “Grand-pere who came from Caen in Normandy said that the feu follet there, are male and female and are supposed to be those who have sinned against purity. Therefore the Normans call maidens who have sinned, fourolle, such as ‘fourolle Jeanne’ or ‘fourelle Mignonette’. The Evil One gives them power to turn themselves into bright lights leading travelers to their deaths.”

 Marie shuddered.

 “Perhaps it is time we shouted for Robert” said Jacques. Together they called out his name again and again, for now the ground was getting miry and frogs croaked dismally close by. The lantern threw weird shapes against the dark trees, and Marie held her shawl tighter around her shoulders. Still there was no answer. Desperate, the young wife uttered one last despairing cry. It was answered instantly by a pistol shot. With a shout they both sprang forward through the underbrush. There in the swamp was a figure up to his waist in the sucking mud. It was Robert.

 Together they made a bridge with their hands and soon the weary traveler was in his wife’s tearful embrace.

 As they made their way happily homeward, he told his story. Returning later than expected from the village, he had become lost in the storm. All at once he had seen a light and followed it only to plunge into the swamp. He cried out for help until he grew hoarse and all he heard was the mocking laughing of goblins. At last, when he thought all hope gone, he had heard his wife’s final cry. It was then he had fired his pistol.

 “Perhaps now, mon cheri, you will believe in les feu follet?” asked Marie.

 Robert nodded, thoughtfully, “You were right, ma petite. I believe!”

Colonial Michilimackinac Fall Garden Round-up 2022

 As the season for growing things begins to wind down, the interpretive staff at Colonial Michilimackinac are thinking back on a fabulous season of gardening. We have had good vegetables and lovely flowers that were used to decorate the dinner table. Fresh herbs like parsley and chives added flavor to fish and other foods at our daily food programs.

Garlic

 The summer of 2022 was an especially good year for root vegetables. Garlic, onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and radishes all grew great and are being used in our daily food programs. Some of them are still going strong and will be left in the ground until next spring to be dug as soon as the ground thaws. Leaving them in the soil is a very easy way of keeping them. Other methods included lifting vegetables and placing them in carefully packed layers of damp sand in a crate or a barrel and stored in a cellar to keep them until use.

Carrots peeking out

 Beans and peas, unfortunately, were largely a wash this summer. The woodland voles, ground squirrels and mice were much quicker at getting to them than the people. We did plant some late peas that are just starting to blossom, so we might still get one patch this year, but not nearly as much as we usually count on. The only beans that have done really well are our our scarlet runner beans. The scarlet runners are magnificent plants and draw in hummingbirds and loads of pollinators. They produce pods that are sometimes up to ten inches long with burgundy and black seeds inside. The seeds will be collected once they are fully mature and some will be used to plant the garden next season. What we do not use for planting, we will use for our food programs.

Pea blossom

 While the beans and peas did not do well, our squash and pumpkins made up for it by bounds. They will soon be taken off the vines and set to cure in the sun. This hardens the outer rind and helps to keep them from going to mush. They will be used for our programs and either kept whole or dried for long-term use. Residents living inside the walls of Michilimackinac would have acquired larger, field crops like pumpkins and squash from the Anishnaabe. Roasting, stewing and baking them were common ways of preparing them for the table.

Scarlet runners

 It has been a good year of planting and caring for the outdoor spaces at Colonial Michilimackinac. We still have a lot of work to do and are still planting and planning for next year. For more information, or to purchase tickets to visit, please see our website.

Spooky Specters and Lurking Lutins Await at Fort Fright October 7-8

 Be wary of were-wolves and look out for lutins as you walk the lantern-lit path along the shore of Lake Michigan to Colonial Michilimackinac for Fort Fright the evenings of October 7 and 8, 2022.

 From 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (last admission at 8:30 p.m.), eighteenth-century French-Canadian folklore comes to life. Visitors must tread lightly on the path along the shoreline, because as the sun sets on the horizon, all manner of monsters take over the fort and eagerly await your arrival inside. There are campfires glowing in the night where a voyageur tells eerie tales and warns you of the terror that might await you before you approach the guarded gates of Colonial Michilimackinac. You are now on your own to enter the wooden palisade, a frightening world of fun and phantoms wrapped into one.

 As you venture inside the gate, British Redcoats of a different order patrol the wooden fort. Look closer to see they’re not ordinary soldiers, but skeletons with bony fingers outstretched beckoning you to enter.

 More campfires crackle inside the fort, but there are friendly faces around these. French fur traders and voyageurs are telling more tales, singing songs played to traditional music of the 1700s, and visiting with guests. The fires offer a respite from the mythical creatures that prefer other places, like the upper stories of the wooden buildings where they throw open shutters and cackle, howl or prowl around the palisade.

 Other frightening features include the Demon Walk boasting vicious monsters waiting to trick you out of fortune and pull you into the underworld and the Werewolf Walk, where the most terrifying of the creatures in the fort prowl and hunt for you in the dark. A tour of the haunted rowhouse, a custom designed exhibit for this occasion, will not be easily forgotten.

 In other wooden buildings within the fort and fur trading village, colonial residents serve warm autumn treats like homemade cookies and toffee. Guests can learn about death and burial in the 1700s, and the various traditions and ceremonies for the dead from over 250 years ago in the church. In addition to creatures, colonial residents with friendly faces roam the village, following the lantern-lit paths that wind throughout the fort, a unique nighttime atmosphere available only on these two nights.

 Fort Fright isn’t meant to simply scare visitors. There’s an eerie but real background to the event, which stems from French-Canadian tales that were passed on from person-to-person as voyageurs and other people traveled. As such, there’s a strong history of oral tradition behind Fort Fright. That oral history is shared around campfires much in the same way it was shared over two-and-a-half centuries ago.

 The characters that roam Fort Fright, such as were-wolves, lutins, and Le Dame Blanche, meaning White Lady (Ghost), are drawn from a book called Were-Wolves and Will-o-the-Wisps: French Tales of Mackinac Retold by Dirk Gringhuis. The collection of short stores, published by Mackinac State Historic Parks, is based on French-Canadian folktales brought to the Mackinac Straits area by the voyageurs during the height of the French fur trade. The stories and chilling ambiance shared at Fort Fright often have modern day counterparts, but they are still new and different with many twists. By combining the nuances of the oral history and live interpretation of the terrifying characters, Mackinac State Historic Parks is able to create a fun and, at times, spooky atmosphere for all ages. It’s the stories and the individuals sharing them that make this such a chilling and memorable experience—leaving you to wonder if that noise you hear is really just the wind, or perhaps something far more frightening. Priced at $6, the book is sold during the event and can also be purchased prior to Fort Fright at the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center or by calling 231-436-4100.

 Admission to Fort Fright is $11 per adult, $7 children ages 5-12, and free for children 4 and under and Mackinac Associates members (excluding Heritage Level). Tickets are available now online, or pre-purchase your family’s tickets beginning October 1 in the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor’s Center. Visitors who purchase in advance will be able to enter through a shorter line, indicated by the “Mackinac Associates and Pre-Paid Tickets Here” sign. Last admission on both nights is at 8:30 p.m. Call 231-436-4100 for more information.

 Much of Colonial Michilimackinac has been reconstructed based on archaeological excavations, including its 13 buildings and structures, many of which will be open and featuring special activities during Fort Fright. The fort and fur trading village was founded by the French in 1715 and is depicted today as it was in the 1770s when occupied by the British.