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.

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.

Creating the Village of Mackinac Island

Join us for a guided tour going through the creation of the village of Mackinac in the 1780s. This guided tour, led by Mackinac State Historic Parks’ Interpretation Coordinator Jack Swartzinski, will take guests through downtown Mackinac Island, laying out how the Village of Mackinac came to be, contrasting current locations with how they would have looked in the early 1800s. Tour will begin at Windermere Point. This is a free tour – donations welcome. Wear comfortable walking shoes. Tour should last about an hour. #thisismackinac

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.

 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. 

 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.

Equinox Audience with Forest King

A towering white pine, Forest King marked the trail to Arch Rock a century ago. On this date in 1889, Mackinac’s ancient trees harbored the last flock of Passenger Pigeons ever seen on Mackinac Island. During this walk with Park Naturalist, Kyle Bagnall, we’ll search for today’s forest giants and listen for secrets they tell. Meet at the Avenue of Flags, behind Fort Mackinac, for an autumn journey down woodland island pathways.

This is a free event – donations welcome! #thisismackinac

Hardwood Nature Hike

Join Kyle Bagnall, Park Naturalist, as we explore Mackinac Island State Park’s newest interpretive pathway, the Hardwood Nature Trail. Starting at the Avenue of Flags (behind Fort Mackinac), we’ll walk about ¾ mile to a woodland loop through Mackinac’s changing hardwood forest. Along the way, we’ll find wildflowers, such as trillium & trout lily, and watch for migrating songbirds & other wildlife. New interpretive panels, installed in late 2021, were generously funded by the Chippewa/Luce/Mackinac Conservation District. This is a free event – donations welcome! #thisismackinac

Twilight Turtle Trek

Mackinac Island Turtle Trek – A lantern-lit ski and snowshoeing trek through some of Mackinac Island’s natural winter wonderland. The trail begins at Greany Grove (corner of Arch Rock Road and Huron Road) with a bonfire and hot chocolate. The trail is groomed, track set, lit by lanterns and approximately two miles long. This is a free event sponsored by Mackinac State Historic Parks, Mackinac Island Community Foundation and the Mackinac Island Ski Club.

Twilight Turtle Trek

Mackinac Island Turtle Trek – A lantern-lit ski and snowshoeing trek through some of Mackinac Island’s natural winter wonderland. The trail begins at Greany Grove (corner of Arch Rock Road and Huron Road) with a bonfire and hot chocolate. The trail is groomed, track set, lit by lanterns and approximately two miles long. This is a free event sponsored by Mackinac State Historic Parks, Mackinac Island Community Foundation and the Mackinac Island Ski Club.

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.

The Curious Mind of Thomas Nuttall

“To converse, as it were, with nature, to admire the wisdom and beauty of creation,

has ever been, and I hope ever will be, to me a favourite pursuit.”

     Thomas Nuttall (1821)

 On August 12, 1810, Thomas Nuttall stepped ashore on Mackinac Island, becoming the first trained botanist to explore northern Michigan. A native of Yorkshire, England, Nuttall arrived in America in 1808, intent on learning as much as possible about living things in the New World, whether they had leaves, petals, scales, fur, or feathers. Like many of his European counterparts, Nuttall was interested in Native American culture, North American geology, and the continent’s winding waterways. His wide-ranging travels led him from gardens of America’s leading scientists, through the Great Lakes, along the continent’s greatest rivers, over mountains, and all the way to California, Hawaii, and South America.

Thomas Nuttall (1786–1859)

 This extraordinary explorer kept journals of his adventures (unfortunately omitting his journey from Detroit to Green Bay), and published several books which detailed his scientific discoveries. At Detroit, he recorded the start of his journey to Mackinac, writing, “On July 29th, I left Detroit for Michilimakinak in a birch bark canoe accompanied by the surveyor of the territory.” The surveyor was Aaron Greeley, headed to measure private land claims at the straits, including those of John Campbell at Mill Creek, and Michael Dousman on Mackinac Island.

 Nuttall botanized at the Straits for several days before hitching a ride with a group of traders bound for John Jacob Astor’s ill-fated fur trading post, Astoria, located in modern-day Oregon. In his book Astoria, author Washington Irving described the enthusiastic 25-year-old botanist as he appeared in March 1811, while his group ascended the Missouri river. Depicted just seven months after leaving Mackinac Island, one can easily imagine Nuttall shared similar experiences with Aaron Greeley along the Lake Huron coastline.

 “Mr. Nuttall seems to have been exclusively devoted to his scientific pursuits. He was a zealous botanist, and all his enthusiasm was awakened at beholding a new world… Whenever the boats landed at meal times, or for any temporary purpose, he would spring on shore and set out on a hunt for new specimens. Every plant or flower of a rare or unknown species was eagerly seized as a prize. Delighted with the treasures spreading themselves out before him, he went groping and stumbling along among a wilderness of sweets, forgetful of every thing but his immediate pursuit, and had often to be sought after when the boats were about to resume their course.”

Listed as #13 in his lengthy list of “brambles,” Thomas Nuttall described the thimbleberry, growing “shrubby and unarmed… on the island of Michilimackinak, lake Huron.”

 Nuttall retreated to England to avoid the War of 1812, then returned to Philadelphia in 1815. After three years collecting more specimens and organizing his collections, he published, The Genera of North American Plants, and a Catalogue of the Species, to the Year 1817. This important two-volume work included 60 species of plants from the Great Lakes region, about a third of which were new to science. Those from the Straits of Mackinac included thimbleberry, dwarf lake iris, twinflower, beach pea, and birdseye primrose.

 In March 1823, Thomas Nuttall accepted a position as Curator of the Botanic Garden at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the course of his residence, he was encouraged to write about birds, which he had studied since his arrival in America. The result was A Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and Canada. Published in two volumes, The Land Birds (1832) and The Water Birds (1834) were affordable and popular, featuring simple woodcut illustrations, which the author lamented were “not sufficiently numerous, in consequence of their cost.” In 1832, Ralph Waldo Emerson recommended the work to a friend, writing, “there is a beautiful book on American birds by Mr. Nuttall that every one who lives in the country ought to read.”

Woodcut from Nuttall’s Ornithology (1834). Nuttall saw Wood Ducks near Detroit before his trip to Mackinac Island in 1810.

 The intrepid botanist endured numerous collecting trips over the next decade, often at severe cost to his personal health and safety, as he crisscrossed North America and beyond. In 1841, he sailed back to England to live on an estate, “Nutgrove,” inherited from his uncle. There, he spent the last 17 years of his life before succumbing to illness on September 10, 1859, at the age of 73.

 The complete accomplishments of Thomas Nuttall greatly eclipse his brief visit to the Straits of Mackinac in 1810. More than 200 years later, perhaps the most lasting legacy of this humble, hard-working botanist is his self-described “fervid curiosity” and intense love of nature which continues to inspire curious wanderers in the 21st century.