The Red Haired Man, Pages 1-4 – New Page!

The Red-Haired Man
by Dave Rocha
based on the events of the War of 1812

Today I received a letter from the main office of my employer, The Upper Canada Gazette, based in the provincial capital at York. It was good to be away from the capital doing “field work”, but this is the letter that changed everything.

Up until today I was just a gopher and occasional field reporter for the UC Gazette. Today I became a WAR CORRESPONDENT! The letter stated that I was to attach myself to the 1st Essex and act as War Correspondent. The war was on and a defense strategy five years in the planning was about to be set in motion.

I was summoned to a meeting with the commandant of the 1st Essex, Colonel Matthew Elliott and I didn’t want to be late. Sandwich Street was nice and clean from a healthy spring downpour the night before. No doubt the rider that brought me my message got soaked to bring me the news.

The pristine house that billeted Elliott and the other officers was built just 7 years ago and looked majestic against the backdrop of the beautiful Detroit River. I knocked on the door and as expected a militia officer answered.

“I have a message for Colonel Elliott.”

The officer paused for about 3 seconds and then replied, “… and you are?”, motioning for me to enter.

“I’m the reporter for the Gazette that spoke with him earlier. I have a message from General Brock.”, I quickly answered.

From the next room I heard Elliott talking to someone in an “Indian” language and when I spoke the conversation stopped.

“Bring it here please Mr. Durocher, there’s someone here that would like to read that with me.” was Elliott’s reply.

My name was not Durocher but Da Rocha as said in my native Portuguese. I joined the 49th Regiment of Foot as a commissioned officer in the Azores when it first came over and they helped me perfect my English. I was to train with them here and when they finally got assigned to the liberation of Portugal and Spain from the tyrant Napoleon as General Brock dreamed of I would return home. That moment never came and I began to bore, resigning my commission and then moving to Montreal where I learned French. Before long the wanderlust hit me again and I moved to York being hired by the Gazette. That’s how I came to Sandwich being assigned to this backwater settlement. Given the large francophone population here I changed my last name to Durocher in an attempt to blend in.

Upon entering the room I saw that Elliott and an Indian dressed in his native garb were standing and involved in a serious discussion. The Indian scowled at me while Elliott opened and read the letter. His expression was grim at the start but changed to a smile. I had a feeling I knew was the coded message meant. Of course I had read it but being in code I did not understand the particulars. The gist being that the anticipated conflict had finally been passed in the United States and they had officially declared war. The second part had stated that some sort of plan is ready to be enacted and it was go time.

Elliott handed the letter to the Indian who apparently could read and also understood the code as he was now smiling too. The pair embraced and the Indian left scowling on the way out. Elliott sat and motioned for me to do the same.

“Durocher, I would like to re-activate your commission and assign you to an as of yet unnamed unit as a lieutenant. I want you to travel at once with some native interpreters and meet with the Red-Haired Man at Fort St. Joseph in the north.”

“In addition you are to take a small contingent of militia with you in case you encounter the enemy. Make no mistake we are now at war with the United States and our General wishes to strike first.”

“The people of Upper Canada deserve an accurate account of this epic conflict for survival so I will also be attaching an civilian artist to illustrate your journey. You must leave at once.”, and with that Elliott had me speechless.

I will do the British loyalists here proud by defending their land as tirelessly as the forces of the Duke of Wellington are doing for my people on the mainland of Europe. After packing one bag’s worth of supplies which mostly consisted of plenty of quills, ink, notebooks and grooming tools; I ran to the docks to board the HMS General Hunter which would be taking me to the location for a second briefing that would change my life forever.

The deck and crew of the Hunter were immaculate and ready for action. Each came to attention and saluted as I passed them on my way to the bridge. I nodded back with a smile to each and every one of those fine sailors. 1st Lt. Rolette the commander of the ship was conversing with Elliott as I did my best to visibly approach them without disturbing. Both men stopped talking and came to attention abruptly facing me. I also came to attention and announced, “Lt. Durocher reporting for duty.”

“At ease. Put down your stuff and come with us.” , Elliott replied, as both men descended to the lower deck. My bag hit the deck about the same time as I caught up to them both standing before a map detailing the plans for our opening moves of the war.

The men then went on to explain that the “Indian” I had met earlier was none other than Tecumseh himself. I really hate that term “Indian”, I have met Indians and these people were nothing like them. There was a rumor that the Governor of Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison had once called him the “Napoleon of the West”. Not sure what that meant but as Napoleon was in control of most of Europe, Harrison clearly feared the man. That made him the perfect ally. I was extremely anxious to meet him and expressed that to Elliott and Rolette. They both shook their heads and Elliott explained the mission for me.

Major-General Brock and Tecumseh have both sent messages to this “Red Haired Man” instructing him to gather the warriors of the Northwest and capture Fort Michilimacinac in a sneak attack after the expected declaration of war. Whomever controls the Fort controls the fur trade and the Northern most terminus of the Mississippi River which is a valuable supply route.

They were outnumbered and out gunned but this crazy sneak attack might actually work if executed properly. War had already been declared on the and a dispatch from Brock had already been sent to “The Red-Haired Man”. That was the same message that Elliott and Tecumseh had received from me. It was go time for us as well and Elliott had chosen me and my illustrator to accompany some of Tecumseh’s warriors to assist or at least be able to report the result back here at Sandwich.

Our talk was interrupted when a call came out from the bridge, “Captain! Enemy ship off the starboard bow.”

Rolette ordered a warning shot fired and started pointing at people around the bridge which included myself and my journalistic illustrator Private Reaume. Reaume was much taller than I and was already attired in his green ranger coat as I was. The Captain then joined the selected men in one of the boats before lowered down to the river.

Excitement was building amongst the chosen men in the boat as we sailed towards the merchant vessel.
We then saw the name of the vessel as we approached, the men rowing with haste. Captain Rolette then addressed us as he handed out grapples and rope.

“Men we are about to claim this vessel in the name of the King, please represent yourself accordingly.”

“HUZZAH!”, we all replied as we let loose our grapples and began to board the CUYAHOGA PACKET.

As soon as we were all on deck their captain approached and addressed us, “What may we help you with this fine day gentlemen? I don’t believe that we are breaking any regulations. We are just a supply and mail ship carrying the ill and the band instruments of General Hull, new commander of the army of the northwest.”

Rolette whispered something to one of his men and with that the officers and the ill soldiers below decks were transferred to the Hunter. The captured men were very cooperative as they said very loudly that they would cooperate as long they were released once they cleared customs at Fort Malden.

Once they were gone with a puzzled look, I quietly asked Rolette why they thought they had to clear customs. Rolette explained to the boarding party that the crew and soldiers knew that war was coming but had not yet received word that it had been declared.

“You remaining sailors have been impressed into the service of His Royal Highness King George’s Royal Navy.”, Rolette commanded as some of the crew of the Hunter joined the new British sailors.

Reaume being a musician as well as an artist grabbed a commandeered bugle and began to play “God Save the King”. Several more crew members grabbed instruments and made some of the captured crew play along as both ships sailed to and moored at Fort Amherstburg.

I approached Reaume and enlisted his help in examining and cataloguing the captured booty. It took nearly all night but was well worth it. Shock and amazement abounded as we discovered that not only did none of the fighting men of American Northwest know that the war was on but we actually captured all of Hull’s personal mail including the detailed plan of invasion for the entire war!.

When we presented our findings to Rolette and Elliott at the fort, they both laughed out loud at our good fortune. General Brock would be informed at once. Reaume and I were in the meantime to meet with Tecumseh across the river to inform him of our findings and be briefed on our mission up north.

We wasted no time packing a canoe and crossing to the native camp at Bois Blanc Island directly across from the fort.
Upon arrival we were greeted by a British Ranger dressed in the standard green woolen tunic, cotton shirt and trousers. The ranger who had two horses by the reins for Reaume and myself came to attention and saluted us we approached him.

“Greetings sirs, my name is Sergeant Drouillard of 1st Essex and I have been assigned to you as your sergeant at arms for this mission and beyond.”

I spoke as I shook his hand, “ I’m Lieutenant first class Durocher and this is my second Ensign Reaume, it’ll be an honour working with you Sergean…”, I was interupted before finishing by a flying tackle by a redhaired native woman in full war-grab, wielding paired tomahawks. She managed to get astride me while putting her tomahawks away and proceeding to embrace me tightly before I recognized her.

“Aurelia!”, I managed to squeeze out of my winded body. I had been seeing a wealthy Sioux girl who operated a fur trading post in Detroit earlier in the spring. I couldn’t pronounce her Sioux name so I took to calling her Aurelia which is a latin name meaning made of gold which shows how much she meant to me. She had told me she was the mixed blood daughter of a Scottish fur trader and a Sioux woman and it dawned on me that perhaps she is related to this so-called, Red-Haired man.

The Sargent continued, “Aurelia who you have already met will be our guide, appointed by Tecumseh, to teach us how to survive, navigate and fight in this wild land. Two other warriors will join our merry band at Tecumseh’s council fire which we will escort you to now.”

We walked for about ten minutes through the woods till we reached a clearing with dozens of native tents assembled around a communal fire which was blazing almost 10 feet into the night sky. Also surrounding the fire were dozens of native warriors listening to a speech by none other than the great Tecumseh himself. Now that I had seen him again I think I may have had other run-ins with the great chief without knowing who he was. Not quite sure where or when yet but it was about to be painfully pointed out to me.

“Speaking of the Long Knife that will poison us and then slaughter us.”, Tecumseh targeted right at me.

“Believe me Sir, I am no Long Knife!”, I vehemently protested the characterization. Who was he to question my allegiance. “Rest assured Monsieur Tecumseh that I am assuredly NOT an American.”

“That is obvious by your accent, Frenchman. Tell me your story and I will share mine. Then and only then will I decide if you are welcome at my fire.”, the great Chief declared poignantly. I hesitated for a moment or two and perhaps with a little trepidation lest I risk offending this great man. Taking a deep breath I stilled my nerves and explained to him where I was from and the plight of my country in the face of subjugation by the French and liberation in progress by the Duke of Wellington on the Iberian peninsula where Portugal is located. He was intrigued by the story of the Royal Navy saving our as he would put it our great mother across the big water, Queen Maria I of Portugal by evacuating her and her court first to my birthplace, Terçeira in the Açores or Azores and then ultimately to Brazil in early 1808.

“I am sorry for calling you a Frenchman, your people were forced into the same situation as my people are facing here. Ally with the British or live under the rule of an invader? Why do you wear their uniform? Are you a slave of theirs now?”

“I am most certainly not. The British gave us arms and taught us how to use them and my newly liberated people are helping General Wellesley free the rest of Spain from the yoke of French tyranny and felt I could do my part here to help your people do the same.”

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