Thursday, January 5, 2023

HGB Ep. 468 - River Raisin Battlefield

Moment in Oddity - New Year's Eve in Talca, Chile (suggested by Scott Booker)

Many of us celebrate different New Year's Eve traditions. Some are familial based, being passed down from generation to generation. Others are cultural or religious in nature. A New Year's tradition that was established relatively recently, comes from Talca, Chile. Many people in this city spend New Year's Eve at their local graveyards surrounded by their deceased relatives and friends. Although to some people it may seem distressing or solemn, the locals here say that spending the night with their deceased loved ones brings peace to their souls and ensures them a lucky new year. Visitors typically bring food and drink for this tradition that began as recently as 1995. On that New Year's Eve, a family breached the graveyards' fence to spend time with their recently deceased father. The local authorities were so moved by the surviving family's act, that new laws were created so that the cemeteries were kept open on New Year's Eve from that time on. Today, people are encouraged to decorate their loved ones graves and spend the night reminiscing them. Many cultures fear death, but the community of Talca, Chile have made New Year's Eve a beautiful time of remembrance. Even so, some may say that spending New Year's Eve in a cemetery, certainly is odd.   

This Month in History - Ellis Island Opens

In January, on the 1st, in 1892, Ellis Island officially opened as an immigration station in New York Harbor. Seventeen-year-old Annie Moore, from County Cork, Ireland was the first immigrant to be processed at the new federal immigration depot. She was also accompanied by her two younger brothers. The teenager made history as the very first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island. The island is located at the mouth of the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. It served as an immigration station for more than 60 years until its closure in 1954. Ellis Island had millions of newly arriving immigrants pass through its doors during this time. It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of all American citizens can trace at least one of their relatives having passed through Ellis Island. Many immigrants left their homes in the Old World due to war, drought, famine and religious persecution, and all had hopes for greater opportunity in the New World. During the peak of Ellis Island's operation, an average of 1,900 people came through the immigration station each day. Today, it is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and visitors can tour the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. This museum is home to a variety of exhibits and houses an amazing collection of artifacts from American history.

River Raisin Battlefield (Suggested by: Tre Doyle)

The Battle of Frenchtown took place during the War of 1812 and its battlefield is the only nationally recognized American battlefield dating to the War of 1812. The greatest victory of the war for Tecumseh's confederation took place here. What happened after the Battle of Frenchtown, amounted to a massacre. In the aftermath, Native Americans were removed from the Northwest Territory. This would be the beginning of decades of Indian Removal. The battlefield is thought to be one of the most haunted locations in Michigan, more than likely because of all this negative spiritual residue. Join us as we explore the battles and hauntings connected to River Raisin National Battlefield Park! 

"Remember the Raisin" doesn't sound like much of a battle cry. "Remember the Alamo" has more of the call to arms ring to it. But there really was once such a cry that fire upped the Americans to go on to win the War of 1812. The River Raisin Battleground is located at 1403 East Elm Avenue in Monroe, Michigan. That address is actually for a house that was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 2019. This is actually a fairly young nationally recognized historic site, only becoming a part of the national park system in 2010. But the area has a long history. The spot where the battlefield lies today has played host to many cultures. This was an area rich in resources near the River Raisin and was good for growing crops and fur trading. The Pottawatomi and Wyandot Tribes had lived here before French settlers came. The French Canadians called the area La Riviere aux Raisins because of the wild grape clusters hanging from the trees over the river. The French lost the territory to the British after the French and Indian Wars. In 1796, the United States took the territory.

There was a time not long ago when Detroit, Michigan had been hit hard economically and was a struggling city. Today, it is on a comeback, but it still might be hard for people to believe that this was a city so coveted that people were willing to die for it. This is the historic setting for the War of 1812 in the Midwest. Ohio had officially become a state in 1803. Many future states were part of the Northwest Territory, including Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, parts of northeastern Minnesota and Michigan. This territory was still occupied and influenced by the British and they had a strong ally in Chief Tecumseh, who was a powerful and charismatic leader. They worked together to grow a fur business. And the Native Americans trusted the British and believed them when they said they wouldn't settle the frontier. If Americans wanted to venture into this territory, they knew they better be prepared to tussle with the British and their Indian allies. There was a dangerous tension brewing. The American government felt that they looked weak not being able to control their territory. The British, of course, wanted to hold onto what they felt should be theirs. The Native Americans just didn't want to be pushed off their ancestral lands. It was inevitable that there would be a clash. 

In order to control the Great Lakes region, a country had to possess Detroit. Detroit controlled the river corridor into Lake Erie that lead into the Upper Great Lakes. America couldn't expand without holding Detroit. On June 18, 1812, the United States Congress declared war with Great Britain. This tension in the Great Lakes region was one of the three reasons America gave for making this decision. The British had established an economic blockade of France and forced many  neutral American seamen into the British Royal Navy against their will were the other two reasons. In support of the declaration, the River Raisin militia was called into service. Their job was to build a road linking Detroit with Ohio. In July, Brigadier General William Hull arrived with his troops in Detroit and they began preparation for invading Canada.

After seven days, Hull and his troops did just that. They invaded British-held Canada and set their sites on capturing Fort Malden\Amherstburg in what is today Ontario. They accomplished that, but didn't hold it for long. The British and their Native American allies pushed the American forces back to Detroit. By August, Britain had Detroit under siege and the completely incompetent Hull realized he had no choice but to surrender the fort in Detroit. This gave British Major General Isaac Brock the entire Michigan territory. Things were quiet until November of 1812 when talk of an American invasion to take back Michigan and Detroit was being spread. A troop of Canadian militiamen were sent to the River Raisin settlement with one small cannon to prepare for this battle. This settlement was Frenchtown and it sat 30 miles southwest of Detroit on the Raisin River where it flowed into lake Erie. French Canadians had settled the area in 1784. This would eventually become the village of Monroe in 1817.

General James Winchester was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and he was tasked with preparing for a winter campaign to take back Detroit. He arrived in Maumee Rapids (what would become Toledo) in January of 1813. The General sent 550 of his men from the 1st and 5th Kentucky Volunteer Regiments, under the command of colonels William Lewis and John Allen to the River Raisin, after the settlement requested help when the British took control. When these troops arrived on January 18, 1813, the first Battle at the River Raisin began. The American forces were unsuccessful against the stronger Canadian Militia and Confederacy Warriors. The battle dissolved into skirmishes that took place throughout the woods surrounding Frenchtown and left 13 Americans dead with 54 wounded. Casualties on the other side were not reported, but this was considered a win for the Kentucky forces. Atrocities took place with Kentuckians scalping some of the Native Americans. Repayment would eventually come for that. 

The Second Battle of River Raisin began on January 22nd and this would be the main Battle of Frenchtown. General Winchester had arrived with more troops on January 20, 1813, bringing the number of American troops close to 1,000. The British were reinforcing as well at Fort Malden in Canada and several more tribes joined the Native Confederation. This included the Wyandot, Shawnee, Potawatomi, Odawa, Ojibwe, Delaware, Miami, Winnebago, Creek, Kickapoo, Sac and Fox. There were 600 British Canadians and 800 Native Warriors that arrived at River Raisin before dawn on the 22nd. Despite the fairly large group, the American sentries didn't see them. The group formed an arc about 300 yards to the north of the settlement with the British regulars and artillery in the center and the Native Confederation flanking on both sides. Another detachment of Native Warriors took a forward position at 250 yards. The group prepared to attack, but before they could, an American sentry finally saw them and played a reveille and then fired a shot into the head line, killing the lead grenadier. This got the American forces awake and scrambling. 

The British artillery fired a strong volley and started charging at Frenchtown. They were met with a puncheon fence that had a force of Kentuckians behind it that were solidly protected and they were able to fire at will. They were unrelenting and the British were forced to retreat. The U.S. 17th Infantry that was on the right flank was having a very different experience. The Canadian militia was pounding them and the Wyandot fighters took cover in nearby buildings and were able to fire into the American encampment. General Winchester was apparently caught off guard too because he was still back at his headquarters. He arrived when the battle was well under way and ordered the infantrymen to fall back to the north bank of the river. The Kentuckians had already gathered there and the group attempted a stand that didn't last long. 

The Americans ran in retreat, but the British forces were unrelenting and another skirmish broke out on the south side of the river. Within minutes, the American line was pulverized. It was a devastating loss for the Americans. General Winchester and several officers were captured, along with 147 of the American forces. There was a large loss of life with 220 killed. Many more were injured. Only 33 men managed to escape. At Frenchtown, the Kentuckians behind the fence were still putting up a fight and holding. The British tried three separate frontal attacks and were repelled every time taking heavy casualties on the third one. This was the British 41st Regiment of Foot and Provincial Marines and they had 24 killed and 158 wounded. The Kentuckians had about a fourth of the casualties, so of course, they thought the Americans were winning the Battle of Frenchtown. They had no idea the other forces had gone into full retreat and were being beaten badly. 

The captured General Winchester was brought before British General Henry Proctor who asked Winchester to have hi men surrender. Winchester refused and pointed out that he couldn't give orders since he was a prisoner. Proctor then told Winchester that the Kentuckians would be burned out and slaughtered by a large force of Tecumseh's Confederation. The American General agreed to send a message, but the Kentuckians balked at the suggestion. They thought they could win with many of the men pleading with the officers not to surrender. They said they would rather die on the battlefield. Major George Madison saw the situation differently. He knew they were beaten and had two choices: to surrender to the British or, as he put it, “be massacred in cold blood.” He held out to make sure they received good terms in regards to prisoners, care of the wounded and protection from the Confederacy Warriors. When the details were hammered out, Madison surrendered.

The British had lost a third of the forces they had at Frenchtown - around 185 men - but that was small compared to the Americans' 901 casualties. And it was about to get worse. The British left behind the Americans who were too wounded to walk and the River Raisin Massacre was about to happen. The Native Warriors were angry and they still had an axe to grind. They returned to Frenchtown the morning after the battle and plundered the settlement, burning everything in their wake. A doctor at the settlement, Dr. Gustavus Bower, described what happened that morning writing, "They did not molest any person or thing upon their first approach, but kept sauntering about until there were a large number collected, (one or two hundred) at which time they commenced plundering the houses of the inhabitants and the massacre of the wounded prisoners." Numbers are hard to gauge, but anywhere between thirty and a 100 people were killed and scalped. Others were taken as prisoners. 

Major General William Henry Harrison described the massacre as a "national calamity." Survivors described the killings as brutal, but very orderly and without emotion. The wounded who could not travel were the first to die. Anyone who couldn't keep up with the march to Fort Malden were killed. Another survivor said that the road to the fort was left littered with bodies. News of the massacre overshadowed the Battle of Frenchtown and spread across the entire country. This is when "Remember the Raisin" became a battle cry, especially for Kentuckians who had lost so much during the battle and massacre. Many more Kentuckians enlisted as a result. All the American dead from the battle and this massacre were left unburied as people feared more attacks from the Native Americans. The River Raisin area wouldn't be liberated until September when Colonel Richard M. Johnson's Kentucky cavalry arrived at the settlement.

The British were riding high on their victory, but that didn't last for long. "Remember the Raisin" had reinvigorated the Americans. Major General William Henry Harrison went to Fort Meigs, not far from Frenchtown, and repelled the British. The Americans continued to have victories in the Lower Great Lakes and the British had to abandon Detroit. General Harrison then invaded Canada, won the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813 and killed the great leader Tecumseh. The British gave up their American-owned territory in the Great Lakes region, but retained Canada. The War of 1812 was over. In honor of this battle, nine counties in Kentucky are named for officers who fought in it. Only one of them actually survived the battle. The battlefield was named as a Michigan Historic Site on February 18, 1956. In December of 1982, the battlefield received national recognition and protection. In 2010, the area became River Raisin National Battlefield Park. There are only four National Battlefield Parks in America and this is the only one from the War of 1812.

This battlefield at River Raisin has made it into some top ten most haunted lists for the state of Michigan. It's no wonder with the emotional baggage of this battle. Native Americans were understandably filled with resentment and seeking vengeance before the battle began. During the heat of any war, atrocities are committed by all sides. And that happened here. Settlers drove off Natives and scalped them and the indigenous people retaliated. The sentiments that this stirred nationally lead to the Native Americans being driven out of the Northwest Territory and eventually the Indian Removal Act would be passed and most tribes would be removed from their ancestral lands and marched west. There is a lot of negative spiritual residue in the wake of this one small battle during the War of 1812. The area is also one with a lot of lore attached to it, mainly due to the French Canadians that settled the area. 

The French Canadians believed that the River Raisin settlement had Le Feu Follet wandering around. This is a legendary spirit in French folklore that is similar to the Will-o'-the-Wisp. One resident decades ago shared a tale of having to take a rowboat from Johnson Island to get to the mainland. As they crossed the River Raisin, a huge ball of fire settled on one end of the boat." They started paddling quickly to get away from the ball of light. These are thought to be bewitched balls of light that are the souls of dead sinners that try to lure victims to going over cliffs or drowning in lakes. The founding family of River Raisin were the Navarres and the daughter Monique was in love with a man named William Macomb, Jr. She and her brother Robert went to visit William in the nearby town, but when they arrived, he wasn't there. His servant said that he was worried because he should've been home by then. Monique was afraid that William was lost because of the Le Feu Follet. The group went in search of him and were about to give up when they heard a pistol shoot. They followed the sound to a murky swamp and saw a body lying in the water and struggling. When they pulled it out, they saw it was William and he was still alive. He told the group he had been walking home when he lost his way and then saw this sudden bright light which led him into the swamp.

There were also the River Raisin Lutins. Lutins were these little creatures that were green in color believed to be the spirits of dead horsemen doing penance. People claimed that was why they only seemed interested in horses. The Lutins would steal horses and ride them furiously through the night. They would then return the horses all dirty and full of burrs. Sometimes they would ride the same horse so often that the animal became unusable for the farmer. Le Loup-Garou was also hanging out in the woods. This was a werewolf-like creature and we actually covered the Louisiana version of this, the Rougarou, on Ep. 65. This creature lures its victim into the woods and then transforms into an animal, which can be anything from a mouse to a wolf. The creature was actually a human that was bound to the Devil and could only be freed by bloodletting. Sometimes Le Loup-Garous would invite their victim to hit them, so that they might bleed and be freed. 

Many residents along E. Elm Ave. where the battlefield is located have reported seeing strange things. There is a young female spirit in a billowing white dress that has been seen in wooded areas and other parts of the battlefield. People believe she is searching for a killed lover. Ghost Hunters of Southern Michigan reportedly caught EVPs and a full-bodied apparition on camera. Visitors to River Raisin have seen strange orbs at night and apparitions of soldiers. There have been the sounds of battle and the screams of agony from wounded and dying men. One of these soldiers has been seen riding a horse. Connie on TripAdvisor reported that her husband was scratched by something unseen.

Richard Ellison of Dead Serious Paranormal in Monroe is quoted in saying, "I could still notice my surroundings, but what I was seeing is very hard to describe. I could hear screaming and loud chant-like noises, but my vision was a blur. It was like watching something while being underwater. I remember snapping out of it, but I don't know how long I was doing this." Richard explained that he felt like a soldier from the conflict had taken over his mind or something and given him visions of the battle. In 2007, a skeptic named Jesse Mayo joined a group investigating the battlefield before it became a national park and he managed to capture weird sounds like a battle and a few EVP.

There was an elderly Monroe woman who lived near the battlefield that had an experience. She said that she had dropped a treat for her dog on the floor and it had gone under the couch, so she crouched down to retrieve it and when she started to look up, she saw a man dressed in 1800's attire and when she looked up further to see his face, the man disappeared. She also has claimed to have objects fly across her living room and she has also heard unexplained noises.

Inside the museum there is a sacred Native American pipe that had belonged to Kiowa Chief Santana. People claim that spirits linger at this display and reveal themselves as little orbs of light.

A volunteer at the park, Sherri Schreiner, was working in the Visitor Center cleaning shortly after the NPS acquired the building when she had an experience. All of the doors were locked for her safety because she was working alone. She said, "I was just working away, when I was startled to hear a violent crashing and running from the upstairs front room down the hall, down the stairs and out the back door. It sounded like whatever it was, was slamming against the walls as it made its way out the back door." Sherri went to go see if she could figure out what happened. The locked back door was now wide open. She decided to ask previous occupants if they had ever had anything weird happen to them and they said they had. When she described what happened to her, they said that they had similar experiences with something running down the hallway. The former residents had even set up booby traps to see if they could capture whoever was making the commotion.

The War of 1812 is practically a forgotten war. Not many people have heard of the Battle of Frenchtown. And perhaps that is why hauntings continue at this location, to remind people of a dark place in our history. Is the River Raisin Battlefield haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes: 

Hidden History of Monroe County, Michigan by Shawna Lynn Mazur 

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