Chief Pontiac’s War

On May 7th, 1763, Pontiac’s War (also known as Pontiac’s Conspiracy or Pontiac’s Rebellion) was launched by a loose confederation of Native American tribes, primarily from the Great Lakes region, the Illinois Country, and Ohio Country. Dissatisfied with British postwar policies in the Great Lakes region after the British victory in the French and Indian War, braves from numerous tribes joined the uprising in an effort to drive British soldiers and settlers out of the region. The war is named after the Odawa leader Pontiac, the most prominent of many native leaders in the conflict.

Spear-headed by an assault on Fort Detroit, British commander Maj. Henry Gladwin foiled Pontiac’s attempt at a surprise attack; romantic lore holds that Gladwin’s Seneca mistress informed him of the western Indians’ plans for an uprising. When Pontiac arrived at the fort with his men, concealing weapons under their trading blankets, they discovered the Brits at the ready. Without the element of surprise, Pontiac withdrew and instead laid siege to the fort for the rest of the Summer.

That July 31st, at what now is the site of Elmwood Cemetery in the Eastside Historic Cemetery District of Detroit, the Brits made an attempt to break Pontiac’s siege of Fort Detroit. Some 250 British troops mustered to make a surprise attack on Pontiac’s encampment, but this time it was the Chief and his braves laying in wait.

Possibly alerted by French settlers, Pontiac and his men crushed the British at Parent’s Creek 2 miles east of the fort. However, he did not slaughter the remainder of this British force which would have greatly demoralized efforts to break the Indian siege of Fort Detroit. The creek, or run, was said to have run red with the blood of the 20 dead and 34 wounded British soldiers and was henceforth known as Bloody Run.

Meanwhile, Pontiac’s allies elsewhere successfully seized 10 of 13 British forts in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions by June 20; eight forts were destroyed, and hundreds of colonists were killed or captured, with many more fleeing the region.

The western Indians’ efforts to unite all Native Americans in an attempt to free themselves of addictions to European trade goods and alcohol, guided by their spiritual leader, a Delaware chief named Neolin, appeared to be succeeding. However, promised French forces failed to come to the Indians’ aid in driving the British back to the Atlantic as hoped; together with new British efforts to mollify the Native population, the rebellion died out in 1764.

As a post-script for the Chief, the town of Pontiac was named after him and founded in 1818. In turn, Edward Murphy, a carriage-maker, founded the Oakland Motor Car Company there in 1907. In 1926, as a division of General Motors, the Pontiac nameplate replaced the Oakland moniker, and vehicles were made at two plants in Pontiac, supporting and sustaining the county seat of Oakland and elsewhere for generations.

GM eventually euthanized the brand, shuttering the factories in 2009, and the the “principal” city of the nation’s seventh-richest county remains grossly underserved, severely degraded and highly distressed.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.

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