Battle of Bloody Run Informational Historic Marker

Posted on the Players Penthouse Bulding, 3321 East Jefferson


For much of the Eighteenth Century, the British and French fought each other.  Their battles in Europe were known as the Seven Years War, while their battles to control North American were known as the French and Indian War.  Both the French and English had limited numbers of troops in North American so they enlisted the Indians to fight on their side.  The French firmly established themselves in Quebec by the early 1700s and the British controlled the Atlantic colonies that became the United States at the end of the Revolutionary War.  But the British and French enlisted Indians to help them control much of what is now the American Midwest and Canada west of Quebec.   In 1759 and 1760, in definitive battles near Quebec City, British forces defeated the French.  The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763 ending both the Seven Years War in Europe and the French and Indian War on this side of the Atlantic.  France lost control of virtually all of their colonial holdings in North America but retained colonies in the Caribbean and west of the Mississippi—the land that became the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

The British anticipated peace in North American after the Treaty of Paris, but some American Indians feared that the British military victories would mean that European settlers would cross the Appalachians and take control of the lands the Indians occupied adjoining the Great Lakes.  Indians in the Midwest knew that numerous Indians living along the Atlantic shores had been slaughtered, while many of those who survived were forced off their lands. One might think that if the Indians had been well organized, they could have killed many of the Europeans who crossed the Alleghenies and thus might have preserved Indian domination of this area.  But there was a major problem: the various Indian tribes seldom cooperated with each other; indeed, there was a long history of tribes fighting with each other, so they seldom united to keep the Europeans out.

Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa is created with organizing as many as 18 Indian tribes for co-coordinated and remarkably successful attacks upon British forts in the Great Lakes area.  On November 28, 1760, the British replaced the French as the colonial power in Detroit.  Indians in the Midwest had become accustomed to dealing with the French trades who supplied them with European manufactured products.  Indeed, French men frequently cohabited with or married Indian women.  The French were, to some degree, appreciated by the Indians since French administrators provided numerous gifts to the Indians who traded furs with French merchants. French priests sought to bring the civilization of France and the benefits of Christianity to the Indians.  The British were presumed to have a much less favorable Indian policy.   British administrators in Detroit called a meeting with Indian tribal leaders for September 9, 1761.  Apparently, they viewed the numerous gifts that the French gave to Indians as bribes and let it be known that they would not continue the policy.  The favorable and generally peaceful arrangements Indians had worked out with the French would be changed.   Reading about this period, you infer that there was controversy among British Administrators.  Some  favored using military force against the Indians, but others thought that more gentle methods such as those the French used would be effective in fostering the profitable fur trade.  The British administrator responsible for Indian policies in the 1760s—Lord Jeffrey Amherst—strongly favored a militant approach.  In today’s jargon, he would be described as severely lacking in cultural sensitivity.

Pontiac foresaw a bleak future for Indians under British domination.  It is not clear whether he feared an invasion of British settlers who would drive Indians out of the Midwest or whether he feared that the Indians’ favorable trade arrangements with the French would no longer be tolerated.  He scheduled a meeting of chiefs and warriors from the Ottawa, Chippewa, Huron, and Potawatomi tribes for April 27, 1762 at a site along River Ecorse near Detroit.  Apparently, he convinced tribal leaders that they should join in a coordinated attack upon the British forts that were widely spread across the sparsely populated  region.    He believed that if the Indians were at all successful, the French would enter the war and help oust the British.  Plans for an Indian attack on the British developed in 1762 and 1763. 

In late April, 1763 Pontiac, along with 50 other Indians, entered the British fort in Detroit commanded by Henry Gladwin.  Although this was scheduled as a friendly visit, Pontiac planned the meeting to determine how his forces could storm the fort.  He devised a plan and scheduled another visit for May 9, 1763.  He assembled a larger number of braves and had them sequester weapons under blankets that they would carry into the fort.  Once inside, Pontiac would give a signal and the Indians would kill the 130 British soldiers billeted there.  However, an Indian apparently passed information to the a British commander, so when the Pontiac arrived, he found a stoutly defended fortress.

Pontiac and his forces retreated, but Pontiac decided to lay siege to Fort Detroit.  He also ordered that Indians in the area kill English settlers, but spare the French.  This was the beginning of what is known as Pontiac’s Rebellion.  The Indians were remarkably successful in driving the British from many or most of their Midwestern forts including:

                     Fort Sandusky (Sandusky, Ohio)
                 Fort St. Joseph (Niles, Michigan)
                 Fort Miami (Fort Wayne, Indiana)
                 Fort Presque Isle (Erie, Pennsylvania)
                 Fort Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Michigan)
                 Fort Quiatenon (Lafayette, Indiana)
                 Fort Verango   (Franklin, Pennsylvania)
                 Fort Edward Augustus (Green Bay, Wisconsin)

Indians laid siege to but never captured the two largest British forts, Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt in today’s Pittsburgh.  Their siege of the Detroit fort began in May, 1763.

Realizing Indians organized under Pontiac’s guidance might accomplish what the French could not, the British sent reinforcements.  In June, 1763, Captain James Dalyell sailed on the Detroit River to Fort Detroit.  The Indians lacked naval vessels to block water access to the fort.  Captain Dalyell decided that he would end the Indians’ siege of the British Fort by attacking their encampment which was about two miles north of the fort in what is now Elmwood Cemetery—close to the intersection of East Jefferson and Mt. Elliott.  Under cover of darkness on the morning of July 21, 1763, Captain Dalyell led 247 men to attack Pontiac’s forces.  However, Pontiac had been alerted, perhaps by French settlers allied with the Indians.  When the British came off a small bridge spanning Parent Creek close to where the Players Club building that you see in the picture was located, they were surrounded and attacked by Indians.  It was a one-sided massacre.  Captain Dalyell and quite a few of the British were killed.  Indeed, there was so much carnage that Parent Creek was said to have become red from all the British blood that flowed into it; hence the name—Battle of Bloody Run. I have seen publications that say as few as 60 British soldier made it back to Fort Detroit after the carnage, but other reports suggest as few as 19 British troops were killed.   The British recognized this was a major defeat with a substantial loss of British troops.  Pontiac continued his siege of Fort Detroit throughout the summer and fall of 1763.

By November, 1763, Pontiac realized that he could not easily maintain his siege of the fort.  Apparently, members of the many tribes then affiliated with Pontiac wanted to leave before winter.   Pontiac sought peace terms, but the British refused.  Pontiac and his forces then withdrew and moved west.  By the summer of 1764, Pontiac’s Rebellion was coming to an end.  The British assembled two large forces—from Fort Niagara and from Fort Pitt, I believe—and marched them into Ohio where they enforced a peace with Indians.  This strategy may have ended the unity of Indian tribes that Pontiac developed.  It is also possible that most Indians needed to trade with the British.  That is, Indians by this time were well incorporated into the European economic system and needed European-manufactured products—especially guns and ammunition—to sustain their life style.  Trading furs to the British just as they did to the French may have seemed both reasonable and necessary.  By 1765, Pontiac’s Rebellion was over and the British maintained their rule over the American Midwest.  In 1767, Pontiac formally signed something of a peace accord with the British in Detroit who gave some minimal formal recognition to Indians’ rights to own land.   Chief Pontiac moved to Cahokia near St. Louis and became a trader, but was murdered by another Indian in 1769.

It is accurate, I think, to state that our knowledge of Pontiac and his rebellion is far from complete.  In the early 1851. the distinguished American historian, Francis Parkman, wrote a book, The Conspiracy of Pontiac,  praising Pontiac as a great leader of Indians who valiantly fought for the rights of the tribes and who sought to overturn British colonialism, almost in a manner similar to the American colonies successful fight against British domination.  This helped to make Chief Pontiac something of a national hero.  That is, he was portrayed as an early Revolutionary fighting British oppression.  He and his name have been honored throughout the Midwest since that time, but it is not clear that Francis Parkman and other historians had access to any convincing evidence of accomplishments attributed to Chief Pontiac.

State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P25,024  Listed August 23, 1956
State of Michigan Hisotric Marker: Put in place February 14, 1977
Photograph: Ren Farley
Description updated: November, 2009


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