Fort Mackinac soldiers clearing a path in front of Fort Mackinac in the 1880s.

Winter for the Soldiers at Fort Mackinac

 Wintering on Mackinac Island has always been a desolate and isolated affair. For much of its history, many well-off merchants, fur traders, and other entrepreneurs would leave the island during the winter months. The soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac though did not have this luxury and found ways to sustain themselves during those harsh months. Soldiers kept busy through various trainings and responsibilities but were often left with the harsh reality of winter in Northern Michigan. Looking at the men of the 23rd United States Infantry, companies E and K, we can see how the soldiers and the army tried to adapt to their Mackinac Island home as winter resources slowly improved.

Fort Mackinac soldiers clearing a path in front of Fort Mackinac in the 1880s.

Soldiers at Fort Mackinac clearing path in Post Garden, 1880s.

 The daily routine of Fort Mackinac changed as the days got colder. In November of 1887, Captain Greenleaf Goodale issued General Order 97, moving the first assembly of the day from 6:00 am to 6:30 am. In this same General Order, less time was allocated towards drill, and more time for fatigue duty for clearing paths, chopping firewood, and general maintenance. The high snow fall on the island could make company and battalion level drill almost impossible, and subsequent orders show a greater focus on smaller scale drills, like signal drill, school instruction, and litter-bearing for the post hospital. The garrison still conducted bi-monthly musters but these were often moved indoors in order to compensate for winter weather. In order to make up for this lack of consistent and high-quality drill, Captain Goodale directed the garrison to conduct regular battalion and company drill as soon as the weather turned warm again. He also assigned recruits to drills created especially for them to make up for lost time in winter.

Plans for a shooting range, gallery and gymnasium from 1889.

Plans for the Shooting Gallery, Drill Room and Gymnasium, which would never be constructed, 1889.

 Throughout the 1880s, the United States Army put a large focus on marksmanship skills. This program required soldiers to visit a rifle range at least twice a week over the four-month training season. Outside of the season soldiers were expected to take indoor practice, called Gallery Practice. Soldiers used 7-10 grains of black powder with modified rounded bullets (much different than the 70 grains of black powder and conical shaped bullets soldiers typically used) and shot at small, metal plates, over 30 to 50 feet. The main purpose of this practice was to improve the soldier’s trigger discipline and aiming skills. Fort Mackinac received a grant from the Army in 1887 to buy targets and lease the island’s ice rink, though it seems the soldiers never used the ice rink and stuck to practicing in the Post Barracks. Gallery Practice seems to have been one of the more effective trainings the soldiers conducted during the wintertime, as is reflected in the high number of Marksman and Sharpshooter designations earned at Fort Mackinac.

 Not only were prescribed drills and trainings inhibited by winter weather, but also the kinds of free time activities the men could enjoy. This became a concern amongst the command staff at Fort Mackinac, as the soldiers not only spent much of their time drinking but also getting out of shape. The snow made it impossible for sports like baseball to be played. The healthiest activities for soldiers to participate in were, as Assistant Surgeon C. E. Woodruff wrote, “those sports requiring expensive apparatus, as snows-shoes and toboggans.” Both Woodruff and Captain William C. Manning recommended building a gymnasium and drill hall on the Fort grounds, but these plans were ultimately denied.

The John Jacob Astor Hotel on Market Street, 1885.

The John Jacob Astor Hotel on Market Street, ca. 1885

 In their loneliness, soldiers drinking downtown risked embarrassing accidents. According to the Cheboygan Democrat, soldiers started their own “social club” in the Astor Hotel in December of 1887. Soldiers could often get a pass to go downtown to one of the saloons, leaving the army vulnerable to embarrassing drunken antics by the men. Luckily, the Army had already been looking to reduce this risk by creating “Post Canteens.” There soldiers could drink and socialize within the walls of their station under the watchful eye of their offices, served by a bartender who had to follow the Army’s regulations. In the winter of 1889, soldiers of Fort Mackinac converted the old wood quarters into a post canteen. This post canteen reduced the public incidents of the soldiers, but it did nothing to relieve the heart of the problem.

 The isolated nature of the island still plagued the men. Soldier’s still lacked activities that kept them active throughout the winter, which not only hurt their personal health but also their skills as soldiers. Unfortunately, due to the nature of Fort Mackinac’s military importance, they did not see the improvements some other stations would during this time. The soldiers of Fort Mackinac in the 1880s  had to do as many of their predecessors had, stay as warm as possible, and wait for the warm and beautiful return of summer on the Straits of Mackinac.

A Fort Mackinac cannon in winter.

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.

Re-opening the Archaeological Site at Michilimackinac

The House E site with all of the squares open.

Map of British features of House D showing House E cellar (F.866) to west of common wall separating Houses D & E.

Late May saw the beginning of the 64th archaeological field season at Michilimackinac. We are continuing to excavate the rowhouse unit we have been working on since 2007. We have opened three new squares where we expect to find remains of the trench for the north wall of the house. This should be as wide as the excavation for this project expands.

 The house walls do not fall exactly in line with the grid. Because of this, when we excavated the rowhouse unit to the east (House D) in the 1990s, we excavated about a foot of the current house (House E) as well. In doing so, we uncovered the edge of the root cellar in the southeast corner of House E. We reached the bottom of the western two-thirds of this cellar at the end of last season. Now we have uncovered the eastern third, which we had protected and re-buried when we backfilled House D in 1997. Our first exciting find of the season came from the east section of the cellar, most of a redware bowl with a green-glazed border. We had found a matching rim sherd in the western edge of the cellar in 2018. 

The dark crescent-shaped area is the cellar. The rocky sand is the beach underlying the fort.

Bowl with rim fragment from 2018 held in place.

Dr. William Beaumont and Alexis St. Martin

Dr. William Beaumont served at Fort Mackinac from 1820 to 1825.

On June 6, 1822, a shot rang out inside the American Fur Company’s retail store located on Mackinac Island’s Market Street. When the smoke cleared, Alexis St. Martin, a young French Canadian voyageur, lay bleeding on the floor. Although the exact cause of the accident has been lost to history, the immediate results were abundantly clear: St. Martin was grievously wounded, with a large hole blasted into the left side of his abdomen and the interior of his stomach exposed. Although St. Martin was not expected to survive, store patrons sent word to fetch Dr. William Beaumont, the post surgeon at Fort Mackinac and the only physician on Mackinac Island. Arriving minutes after the accident, Beaumont made St. Martin comfortable but judged his wound to be mortal. The doctor had St. Martin carried to the post hospital in the fort. To Beaumont’s amazement, St. Martin survived, and under the doctor’s care began healing. Together, Beaumont and St. Martin embarked upon a journey of scientific discovery that continues to shape medical care today.

Dr. Beaumont’s book.

 As St. Martin recovered from the accident, the wound slowly healed. However, instead of closing, the hole into his stomach fused to his abdominal muscles, creating a permanent opening. Beaumont realized this presented a unique opportunity to observe the digestive process inside a living person, and at the urging of the surgeon general of the army began making informal notes about what he could see inside St. Martin’s stomach as it worked to digest food. These initial observations occurred at Fort Mackinac in 1824, but grew into a series of formal experiments carried out periodically at other posts until 1833. By the time the final experiments concluded, Beaumont had gained a much clearer understanding of the human digestive process, publishing his findings as Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion. Although other physicians and scientists had previously contributed to our understanding of how our stomachs work, St. Martin’s injury allowed Beaumont to make critical observations about the mechanical and chemical processes which occur during the digestive process.

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

 To mark the 200th anniversary of the accident that set Beaumont and St. Martin on their path of discovery, a new gallery exhibit is being installed in the American Fur Company Retail Store. Opening on June 4, this new exhibit tells the story of the accident and subsequent research that transformed Beaumont into the “father of gastric physiology.” Admission to the new exhibit is included with tickets to Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac Island Native American Museum at the Biddle House. We hope you’ll join us soon to see this exciting new addition and learn more about Mackinac Island’s own contribution to medical science.

5 Things For Kids to See at Historic Fort Mackinac

Visiting historic Fort Mackinac on Michigan’s Mackinac Island is less of a lesson in history than it is an experience of it. After all, guests don’t so much learn about history by walking around quietly and reading stuff on the walls as they do step into that history for a completely interactive experience.

 No wonder kids love the fort so much!

 Of course, adults enjoy Fort Mackinac, too, whether they’re history buffs or not. Some visitors just come to see the incredible views from the bluff, go shopping in the museum store and have lunch at the Fort Mackinac Tea Room (which has an amazing kids’ menu, by the way).

 But while people of all ages have fun at Fort Mackinac, there are a handful of exhibits that are especially entertaining for kids.

Here are five places to see on a visit to Fort Mackinac with the family:

  • Kids’ Quarters – Located in the Officers’ Stone Quarters, which dates to 1780 and is the oldest surviving building in all of Michigan, the Kids’ Quarters is one of the newest exhibits at Fort Mackinac. The exhibit space features hands-on displays and interactive games that give visitors of all ages a look at what soldier and civilian life was like at Fort Mackinac. For example, there’s a dress-up area where kids can try on uniforms from all eras of the fort’s history and a music area where guests can listen to the music that was played at Fort Mackinac.
  • Post Hospital – The way people live has changed a lot over the past 200 years, and perhaps medical practices have changed as much as anything. That’s why it’s an eye-opening experience to check out the “Military Medicine at Mackinac: 1780-1895” exhibit at Fort Mackinac’s Post Hospital. You can see what it was like for soldiers and civilians at the fort to go to the doctor, and there’s a lot of interactive gadgets for kids to play with including microscopes and stethoscopes.
  • Guardhouse – While Fort Mackinac was “a desirable station” for many soldiers who lived there in the 19th century, everybody didn’t always get along with each other even during times of peace. A visit to the Guardhouse offers a glimpse into military justice at Fort Mackinac. For example, you can hear actual court martial cases and feel like you’re right in the same room as the accused. It’s pretty interesting to find out some of the things that soldiers were put on trial for in the 1800s!
  • Drill Program – Back in 2022 after a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Drill Program invites visitors of all ages to participate in basic soldier drills on the Parade Ground at Fort Mackinac. Can you march in a straight line? Turn about-face 180 degrees? The Drill Program is an engaging way to experience history at Fort Mackinac. And it’s especially fun for kids, who often are better at the drills than their parents!
  • Reading Room – New for 2022, the Reading Room at Fort Mackinac offers guests an immersive experience in the educational aspects of life as a soldier in the 1880s. Visitors can page through newspapers of the time or use interactive touch screens to scan through the kinds of periodicals that Fort Mackinac soldiers read. Both kids and adults can step back into history and get a sense of why the Army thought it was so important to have Reading Rooms at its forts in the late 19th century.

 There are 14 original buildings preserved at Fort Mackinac, and each of the rest of them also have something of interest for kids. There’s a movie in the North Blockhouse that puts visitors amid the confusion, fear and drama of the British capture of Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812, for example, and period settings and galleries in the Office that showcase the training and duties of Fort Mackinac’s officers.

 Both kids and kids at heart also love watching and hearing the daily cannon blasts from Fort Mackinac. In fact, kids and other visitors ages 13 and up can even sign up to fire the Fort Mackinac cannon on the morning of their visit!

 Fort Mackinac opened for the 2022 season on May 3 and will welcome guests daily through Oct. 23. Buy tickets here for your entire family to visit to Fort Mackinac this year.

Natural Springs of Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is blessed with a number of natural springs which percolate through limestone bedrock. An 1882 tourist booklet, Mackinac Island, Wave-Washed Tourists’ Paradise of the Unsalted Seas, boasted of “living streams of pure water, cooled down to the temperature of forty-four degrees, gushing from its lime-rock precipices.” A few of these, such as Dwightwood Spring and Croghan Water, are well known by many of today’s visitors. Others, such as Wishing Spring, Wawatam Brook, and La Salle Spring, are less familiar or forgotten. When you do encounter a natural spring, please enjoy the view, but remember untreated water is considered unsafe for drinking.

Sinclair’s map of Mackinac Island, 1779

 A Fine Spring

As the British settled Mackinac Island from 1780-1781, water was viewed as a valuable resource. Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair noted “a fine spring of water” on a map he drew after visiting the island in 1779. He wrote his superiors, “Our Village will be washed on one side by a fine Spring which with some care may be brought to turn a mill at least one day in seven.”

More pressing priorities meant Sinclair never built his water-powered mill on Mackinac Island. The spring he referred to once fed a small trickle of water  named Wawatam Brook for 20th century guidebooks. The brook originated near the Grand Hotel and emptied into a small lake now called Hanks Pond, which serves a water feature on the Jewel Golf Course.

 La Salle Spring

This 1829 survey map shows La Salle Spring

A second natural spring once trickled into Hanks Pond, originating below Fort Mackinac’s West Blockhouse. Eventually christened La Salle Spring, it became a reliable source of water for Island residents and soldiers alike. In his 1895 book, Mackinac, Formerly Michilimackinac, Dr. John R. Bailey noted that log piping was used for feeding water to town, supplying “stores, warehouses, and dwellings of the fur company.”

In 1881, a steam-powered pump was installed which elevated water from the spring through ½ inch lead pipes to a reservoir located in the second story of the North Blockhouse. From this high point, it then flowed through pipes into various fort buildings. In Annals of Fort Mackinac, author Dwight H. Kelton enlightened his readers, “This innovation on the old-time water-wagon was made… in accordance with a plan devised by, and executed under the direction of Lieut. D.H. Kelton, Post Quartermaster. Water was first pumped October 11, 1881.”

 Croghan Water

Croghan Water, 2021

The north-central portion of Mackinac Island once featured the Island’s largest farm. By 1804, Michael Dousman harvested hay, raised cattle, and even built a horse-powered mill and distillery there. In 1814, the Battle of Mackinac Island was fought on Dousman’s hay fields. Today, links of the Wawashkamo Golf Club cover much of the site.

Dousman’s distillery was situated near a flowing spring of cool water. On early maps, it was simply labeled “Cold Spring.”  In 1913, the spring was renamed Croghan Water, in honor Colonel George Croghan, commander of American forces during the 1814 battle.

 Wishing Spring

Wishing Spring, ca. 1910

This spring was the first which became a popular tourist destination. Once located near Devil’s Kitchen, it was also known as Lover’s Rest or Fairy Spring. During her 1872 visit to the site, novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson offered a token knot of ribbon and wished for health during the year.

Rev. Frank O’Brien summarized the site in the 1916 guide, Names and Places of Interest on Mackinac Island, Michigan. He wrote, This Wishing Spring is within a fragrant, fairy grotto. The water, clear as crystal, flows from above, dripping, cool and refreshing. If you drink and wish, and keep the secret for three days, tradition says you will get whatever you wish.”

 Dwightwood Spring

Dwightwood Spring, ca. 1909

This well-known spring is located along Lake Shore Boulevard (M-185), near the southeast corner of Mackinac Island. In 1909, Edwin O. Wood donated funds for a canopy, fountain, and benches in memory of his son, Dwight Hulbert Wood, who perished after his bicycle was struck by a horse-drawn fire engine in Flint, Michigan.

That July, a dedication ceremony was held to christen Dwightwood Spring. During the ceremony, park superintendent Benjamin Franklin Emery noted the site was dedicated “to preserve the work of nature, to make the spring accessible, to prove a shelter in time of storm, to be a resting place for the weary, long to be remembered after leaving the beautiful Island shores.”

 An Invitation

The springs above represent just a few of Mackinac Island’s “living streams of pure water” which bubble up from its limestone bedrock. During your next visit, you’re invited to seek out these peaceful places, enjoy their quiet beauty, and discover special plants and animals that thrive there. Perhaps, like Ms. Woolson, you’ll feel inspired. “Now I am a sensible, middle-aged woman,” she wrote, “but something in the moonlight bewitched me, and I consented, much to the delight of my niece.”

Boats Boats Boats!

 When thinking about the Great Lakes fur trade, most people will imagine French Canadian voyageurs paddling huge birchbark canoes filled with tons of furs or trade goods. Canoes were absolutely an integral part of the fur trade, and provided a vital link between Michilimackinac and other communities around the Great Lakes. However, they were by no means the only watercraft on the lakes, and a great deal of people and goods were moved by a type of large rowboat called a bateau.

 In the 18th century, there were few standardized plans for batteaux. Although the British Admiralty used a standard 30-foot design for vessels destined for military service in Canada, individual batteaux might range from less than 20 feet long to over 30, and there were regional variations in design. All shared a few common features: a flat bottom without a keel, heavier stems at the bow and stern, and butted plank construction. Relatively easy to build so long as appropriate woodworking tools were on hand, a bateau could be knocked together without the need for skill ship carpenters or shipyards. A bateau could be paddled, poled, or propelled under sail, but generally the vessels were powered by large wooden oars.

 While canoes (and sailing vessels) were absolutely workhorses of the Great Lakes in the 18th century, in many instances there were more batteaux on the lakes and rivers than other types of watercraft. In 1778, for example, 374 batteaux set out from Montreal for Michilimackinac and other western posts, while only 152 canoes left the city for the summer trading season. Individual merchants might own or hire several batteaux. Michilimackinac merchant John Askin, for instance, dispatched 10 batteaux in 1777, while  trading partners Thomas Smith, William Taylor, and Edward Ripley sent 16 more to Detroit and Michilimackinac. A 1778 inventory of Askin’s estate included both a “Common batea[u]” and a “Small fish [bateau],” both presumably for personal use rather than heavy trade.

 The British military also heavily employed batteaux to move personnel and supplies around the lakes and connect far-flung posts like Michilimackinac and Detroit. As somewhat disposable craft exposed to relatively heavy work, these batteaux required regular repair and maintenance. In 1771 Capt. George Turnbull received £85 for mending boats, making oars, and burning pitch at Michilimackinac. By 1778, Sergeant Amos Langdon of the 8th Regiment was issued nails from the engineer’s stores to repair the King’s batteaus and the wharf. Although somewhat more cumbersome than a canoe, a bateau could efficiently cover great distance at speed. In late September 1778, an express canoe traveled from Michilimackinac to Montreal in 10 to 14 days, while a batteau rowed by eight “active men” could go to the city and return to Michilimackinac by November 10, making a 6 week round trip. However, supplies to maintain the boats could be difficult to procure, making repairs difficult. In 1779, Major Arent DePeyster, Michilimackinac’s commanding officer, unsuccessfully requested pitch and oakum to repair batteaux. A year later, DePeyster sent pitch and oakum up from Detroit to repair the batteaus at Michilimackinac, telling Lt. Gov. Patrick Sinclair that these materials were previously hard to get. Boat repairs could be a thankless task. In 1774, Lt. Col. John Caldwell, commanding the 8th Regiment at Fort Niagara, complained that “The old ones [batteaus] have been so often repaired since I came here that it is throwing money away to attempt repairing them again.” Apparently the old adage about a boat being a hole in the water is somewhat older than expected.

 Today, a 22-foot bateau is part of the small interpretive fleet at Colonial Michilimackinac (we also have a 28-foot north canoe and a 35-foot Montreal canoe). We use all of these vessels to interpret the vital relationship between Michilimackinac and the surrounding waters of the Great Lakes, and our interpretive staff maintains these boats and utilizes them for special events. This summer, we will have three Maritime Michilimackinac weekends focusing on the roles and chores of sailors, voyageurs, and others working to maintain Michilimackinac’s marine links to the outside world. Weather permitting, our staff will use our bateau and canoes to get out on the water, so we hope you’ll join us for these special events!

 

Archaeology at Fort Mackinac – Three Blacksmith Shops

The third blacksmith shop is the building on the front left of the photo.

One of the “missing” buildings at Fort Mackinac is the blacksmith shop. Military records, maps, and even a photograph indicate that a series of three blacksmith shops was present just inside the north sally port for most of the fort’s military service.

 An archaeological project to search for their remains was undertaken as part of the centennial celebration of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission in 1995 and the bicentennial of the arrival of American troops in 1996. The excavations were carried out as University of South Florida [USF] field schools under the direction of Dr. Roger T. Grange, Jr. Ford Motor Company sponsored the project. Information for this post was drawn from Dr. Grange’s unpublished reports and Sheila Stewart’s USF master’s thesis on the third blacksmith shop.

 Although the services of a blacksmith would have been required during the construction of Fort Mackinac, the location of his shop is not known. Based on the dates and nationalities of the military buttons excavated during this project, it appears that the first shop near the sally port was built by the Americans in the late 1790s. The remains of the first shop, especially the forge base, were preserved well enough to determine the basic layout of the shop. In addition to making and repairing tools and hardware for the construction and maintenance of fort buildings, and keeping arms in good repair, the blacksmith would have provided services to the Indian Department. The services of a blacksmith were commonly included in treaties with Native American nations.

USF field school students excavate around the stone foundation of the second blacksmith shop.

 By 1828 the blacksmith shop was in poor condition, so it was dismantled and rebuilt in approximately the same location. Of the three shops, the second had the most substantial foundation, stone walls which are preserved below the fort’s sod today.

 The second blacksmith shop was destroyed by a major fire, which started in the nearby bakehouse, in 1858. The clearing of the fire rubble removed most of the artifacts and features from this era.

 Almost immediately after the fire, a third blacksmith shop was built in the same area. It sat on cornerstones, two of which survived, and its dimensions were partially determined archaeologically by the dripline in the gravel indicating the roofline. By analyzing artifact distribution and soil chemistry, Stewart was able to determine the shop layout, including the forge area, anvil mold, work area, and coal and metal storage areas. The artifacts from the third shop also reflect how the role of the blacksmith changed with the Industrial Revolution. By the 1870s the U.S. Army was using mass-produced weapons with interchangeable parts, so gun repair was no longer a major component of a military smith’s work. Hand-forged tools and hardware were replaced by cast iron and steel. Across the continent, not just in military garrisons, farrier work (shoeing horses) became the main task of blacksmiths. In 1875, this change led to a new blacksmith shop being built near the fort stables, which were located in what is now Marquette Park. The shop in the fort was used for storage for a few years but was dismantled by 1879.

Although this “spread eagle with shield” button design was used from 1854-1902, its back mark of HORSTMANN BROS & CO/PHILA dates it to 1859-1863, within the date range of the third shop.]

 Today there are no visible remains of the blacksmith shops within the walls of Fort Mackinac, but the stone foundations lie below the grass just outside the barracks restrooms. Stop and imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of the blacksmith the next time you visit. Fort Mackinac opens for the season on May 3, 2022.