Wednesday, February 4, 2009

LaSalle and Hugh Heward III - Ambush at the Grand

Continuing with LaSalle's 1680 cross-peninsula trek:
The night of April 2-3 turned cold and their wet-from-wading clothes froze "stiff as a stick" in LaSalle's words. So they had to build a fire in the morning to thaw out the clothes. (They were camped on a knoll near the west bank of the Grand River,.which runs from south to north where they were north of present day Jackson. There are swamps on both sides) The Mascoutens, waiting in ambush on the east bank, saw the fire and tried to attack but the ice that had formed wouldn't hold them. LaSalle's party, taking shelter behind trees with their muskets, palavered across the river and convinced the Mascoutens that they were friendly Frenchmen, not Iroquois. The Mascoutens departed and LaSalle's group crossed the Grand. He did not tell how.
On April 22 1790, Hugh Heward and his seven French-Canadians on their way toward Lake Michigan, paddled down the Grand past the site of LaSalle's encounter with the Mascoutens.
On a spring day in 1990, 200 years later, I stood on the Berry Road Bridge a few rods downstream of where I think that encounter took place, admiring the Grand and thinking back to those days. There were about a dozen beautiful male wood ducks swimming around. A magical moment.
LaSalle's party continued east still mostly wading in marshes. On April 4, two men became so ill they could walk no farther. I figure they would have been about at the Portage Lake Swamp north of Waterloo. LaSalle said he went forward looking for a river leading to Lake Erie. From his description it sounds as if he found the Indian trail (now traced by North Territorial Road and Island Lake Road) which led to the Huron River at present day Dexter. The location where his straight-to-the-east path would have intersected the Indian trail is about at Lyndon Center.
LaSalle probably didn't recognize it, but shortly before he hit the Indian trail he had crossed the Lake Michigan/Lake Erie drainage divide. Also he would have been only about 4 miles southeast of the ancient Indian portage which Heward's party was to cross 110 years later.
Here again the Heward party would have crossed or traced LaSalle's path. Dexter is where Mill Creek joins the Huron. It was at that confluence that Heward, having no Indian guide, took what he later called the"wrong fork" and paddled up Mill Creek, instead of the Huron mainstream, looking for the portage to the Grand River watershed.
They wandered around for five days trying to find the portage before they gave up. Later, when Heward finally got an Indian guide to lead them to the portage (up the Huron to Portage Lake, then Little Portage Lake, then upstream on Portage Creek through Hell, and then finally on up Portage Creek to the portage southeast of Stockbridge) he came back down the same Indian trail to Dexter that LaSalle took 110 years before. He was on his way to the French settlement at present day Ypsilanti for more corn. Returning to the portage with the corn he would have traced LaSalle's path again, only backwards, from Dexter to Lyndon Center. Got all that?
Later, after they has crossed the portage and gone down the Portage River towards the Grand, Heward's party would have crossed LaSalle's eastward path through the marshes. My best guess is that it might have been near the Farm Museum on Waterloo-Munith Road at the headwater marsh of the Portage River in Waterloo Township of Jackson County. 
When all of  LaSalle's party arrived at the Huron (near Dexter) he decided that they should build an elm-bark canoe and launch it on the Huron to go down to Lake Erie. This was a hell of a project for a party of five Frenchmen, two of whom were incapacitated, and one Indian to undertake. How to make a temporary canoe from the bark of the American elm was apparently well known to explorers and Indians but with no tools bigger than knives and hatchets and a cooking pot to boil water it had to be a daunting task, nevertheless they did it. How they did it is another story that I will tell in some detail in later messages.

Once the canoe was finished and paddles carved they loaded up men and gear and launched on the bosom of the Huron. Here are LaSalle's words on what happened next:
" the river was almost everywhere encumbered by heaps of wood which the swollen waters carried down or cast into its bed, we got weary of carrying our baggage every moment when the masses of wood prevented the canoe from passing; moreover the river made enormous bends, and we observed after five days rowing we had made less progress than we usually made in a day's march."
They thereupon abandoned the canoe, and the sick men having recovered, walked cross-country to the Detroit River and Lake Erie. I believe they would have left the river about at French Landing where the Huron makes a turn from flowing easterly to southeasterly. If I am right in that speculation it means Heward's crew going upstream in 1790 traced LaSalle's downsteam route from there to Dexter.
Hugh Heward's journal makes no mention of floodwood or downed trees being any impediment to their upstream progress on the Huron. I can't believe the Huron cleaned its self up over the years so I assume he just didn't consider the woody debris problem worth recording. 
When LaSalle reached the Detroit River, he left two men behind to build a canoe to go to Michilimackinac. The remainder of the party rafted across the river to present-day Ontario and walked cross-country to Lake Erie near Pt. Pele, built another canoe and paddled along the shore to Niagara, arriving on Easter Sunday, April 22,1680.
We don't know how or when Hugh returned to Detroit from the Mississippi but we do know that after the Americans took over Detroit he went to York (Toronto). He died there in 1803.
NEXT: LaSalle's elm-bark canoe

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