Monroe, MI Snapshot 1: Oh, Ol’ Peter Navarre

The Battle of Frenchtown

Peter Navarre was, by all accounts, a heck of a guy, a jack of all trades, a true man’s man. An accomplished fur trader for the Northwest Fur Company, he moved among the Frenchmen and Indians with a deft grace. He could navigate the densest woods with ease, and built a log cabin near Toledo, south of Monroe, all by himself. Because he could. A handsome, square-jawed man, the world was his oyster, and he only had to season it to taste. He’s the kind of man us modern technology addicts could never aspire to be, a self-sufficient, god-fearing light in a dim world.

And as if that wasn’t enough, his cousin Francois Navarre, was the first permanent white settler on the River Raisin and another all-around great guy. So naturally, when the Lake Erie port of Monroe (then Frenchtown) was targeted by the British during the War of 1812, Peter dutifully lent his inestimable talents as a scout to the American forces. Hey, this was family we’re talking about here. You don’t mess with the Navarre boys.

For once, though, luck wasn’t completely on Peter’s side. Sure, American General James Winchester and his troops had taken back Monroe easily enough. They’d overwhelmed the small British militia and their Potawatomi allies in a matter of hours, and had quickly set up camp in town. However, triumphant, well-fed and – erm – thoroughly slaked as they were, the American army was totally unprepared when about 600 British regulars and almost 1,000 Indians marched in from Canada a few nights later on January 22.

Aside from a couple dutiful regiments from Kentucky, the Americans all instantly panicked. The Indian warriors, in particular, were infamous for their mercilessness, scalping victims and setting fire to homes for pleasure. Faced with such definite slaughter, it had to be hard to keep your composure.

Unless you’re Peter Navarre. He was asleep at the time  of the attack, just down the road. Awoken by the general mayhem and commotion, he knew there was only one sensible option: run. But he knew if he just took off into dead of the night, the Indians would track his footprints in the snow and tomahawk him. Unless… unless he ran barefoot, so his footprints resembled moccasin prints.

Believe it or not, it worked. He escaped across frozen Lake Erie, to live to fight another day.


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