One of Michigan’s Oldest Courses Scoured for War Relics

One of the oldest nine-hole golf courses in Michigan (the oldest is Charlevoix, which opened in 1896) has been getting a lot of divots dug from it lately, but the chunks of turf are not being extracted by golf clubs. Instead, work crews have been meticulously digging out and replacing divots of sod on the fairways of the 104-year-old Wawashkamo Golf Club on Mackinac Island in search of relics left over from an 1814 battle.

The archaeological project came about after the members decided to make improvements to the club. Wawashkamo’s clubhouse is in need of renovations, including a new septic system. Before work could begin, however, research was required to ensure the project didn’t harm any historical artifacts. The “dig” at Wawashkamo is part of a study supported by a $249,000 grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In 1814, American and British forces were engaged in a heated battle that left 26 American soldiers dead and 38 wounded. The British and its Native American allies reported no casualties. Archaeologists are hoping to get a better understanding of the battle by removing clumps of dirt and sifting through them with metal-detecting equipment.

In an article in the May 25, 2002, Ann Arbor News, G. Michael Pratt visualized how the battle unfolded while standing near the clubhouse. “We pretty much know that the British are here, and the Americans are coming from over there,” Pratt said, pointing across a ridge to the north. The director for the Center for Historic and Military Archaeology at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio, added, “Somebody came up that hill, shooting and dropping army buttons.”

The metal studs from the Brits’ fancy blue and red uniforms were always coming off in the heat of battle, and now serve Pratt and his assistants in their reconstruction of a turbulent event that took place nearly 200 years ago. Also abetting Pratt’s cause are bullets and musket balls unearthed during the search. Records show which weapons were used by certain troops, thus allowing the researchers to re-enact the battle sequences. About 250 pieces have been dug up since they began work.

Pratt’s team also used a cadaver-sniffing dog to help them identify several locations of human remains. British reports indicated that as many as 17 dead U.S. soldiers were buried immediately after the battle. The efforts seem to be paying off. “We knew of course the battlefield was out there, but there had never been anything done to confirm the accounts that were written way back when,” said Carol Rearick, president of the Wawashkamo Restoration and Preservation Fund. When all the research is completed, Rearick’s group hopes to commemorate the battle with some sort of memorial.

The battlefield has been well preserved since the fighting stopped. It was farmed until the late 19th century, and converted to a golf course in 1898. The Scottish-style layout involved very little earthmoving when it was built as it followed the existing contours of the land. “In 1894, this was already a farm,” said Lynn Evans, staff archaeologist for the Mackinac State Historic parks. “The topography is the same. There were actually fewer trees then.”