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Commemorating the Fox Indian massacre


300 years ago Windmill Pointe was the site of a struggle for the control of the waterways and lucrative fur trade


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The view from Windmill Pointe across Lake St. Clair as it narrows to the Detroit River where the Fox Indians were surrounded and killed after fleeing Detroit. photo by Renee Landuyt.

September 13, 2012
The French and British continually fought.

"Their traditional enmity spilled over to their colonies in North America," said Jim Conway, a Grosse Pointe Historical Society trustee.

And the interest in goods from the New World was just another reason for disharmony, disputes and battles.

"The country that controlled the waterways controlled trade and the tremendous potential wealth of furs and other valuable trade materials it could produce," he said.

Of course, the Michigan territory was prime for the fur trade. And 300 years ago, Grosse Pointe figured in the struggle for dominance with the Fox Indian Massacre for which a plaque has been placed at Windmill Pointe.

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The historical marker at Windmill Pointe has a synopsis of the only battle in the Grosse Pointes. photo by Renee Landuyt.
To honor those who were killed, a memorial is at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, at the historical marker at Lakepointe and Windmill Pointe, Grosse Pointe Park. Historian of early Detroit, the Rev. Russell Koehler of St. Anne's Parish in Detroit, leads the memorial service. Parking is available on Windmill Pointe Drive.

Following the service, Elizabeth Vogel, a Grosse Pointe Historical Society trustee, explains the actions of the event at 7:30 p.m. at the Grosse Pointe Public Library, Ewald branch, 15175 E. Jefferson, Grosse Pointe Park.

The actual battle took place in the early summer of 1712 with key players Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac (Sieur de Cadillac), Louis XIV, the Fox or Outagamie and interim Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit commander Charles Renaud, Sieur du Buisson.

In a synopsis from Conway, the bloody incident goes as follows:

"In May of 1712, Detroit was an 11-year-old fortified trading post of the French regime. Cadillac had recently left, replaced by a new commander, Sieur de DuBuisson (sic). From a distance, British colonial leaders tried to use their allied Fox tribe's warriors to lay siege to French Detroit to capture it so they could control the strategic Detroit River waterway. But the siege was failing after 19 days. The Fox tribesmen realized they were gradually being destroyed as more Indian allies of the French arrived. In desperation, they decided to take their people and flee upriver.

"They only got as far as Grosse Pointe's Fox Creek and Windmill Point when they were surrounded, attacked and defeated by the French and allied tribal warrior. Today, the remaining Fox Creek and nearby Windmill Pointe Boulevard are reminders of that struggle of France and Britain in the early 1700s to control the strait of Detroit waterway and its shore now know as the Grosse Pointes."

Vogel spent the better part of six months researching the event from among other material that compiled by the Michigan Pioneer Society.

Her findings include that Cadillac successfully convinced Louis XIV of France a move to Detroit would better control the beaver fur trade, though the French leaders in Montreal and Quebec, including religious leaders such as the Jesuits, were adamantly against the idea. The Fox were enemies of many of the French-allied tribes.

"There were many controversies surrounding his leadership at Detroit, he was essentially removed," her paper said. Cadillac was appointed Governor of Louisiana in December 1710. His replacement, du Buisson was apparently not equipped to handle the arriving Fox. (The French word for fox is renard and the Native Americans called the tribe Outagamie.)

Her paper goes on to say there was no love lost between the Fox and other tribes and the Fox were betrayed by the French. Du Buisson was caught off guard when the Fox arrived.

Vogel discovered the "Fox did not lose their lives in the way we think of modern warring terms — on a battlefield. The formal battlefield was in Detroit and the Fox fled to Grand Marais where they hoped — and succeeded — in killing a few enemies." They found themselves surrounded and surrendered to the Hurons and Ottawas.

"They asked and expected quarter from the French and received none," the paper said. About 100 warriors escaped. The remaining warriors were taken captive by their Native American enemies and were killed a few at a time over several days.

Her September presentation discusses each sentence on the historical marker, bringing Grosse Pointe's only battle to a better understanding.

The historical society won't be re-enacting the battle events of May 1712, instead hosting re-actors portraying the 1700s life in Grosses Pointe and Detroit from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at Patterson Park in Grosse Pointe Park.

Re-enactors will wear clothing typical of the early 1700s, clutching muskets, laundry and farm implements. They will talk about their lives and work.

The Alliance Francaise, a French history and cultural organization, presents dancing and music typical of the 18th century. Actors will read stories from the "Legends of Le Detroit," a book published in the 19th century recounting the stories of the region. The event is free. No park passes are required and parking is available on the grounds.

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