The Battle of Bloody Run and Pontiac’s Tree

On July 31, 1763, a stretch of Parent’s Creek, on the present site of Elmwood Cemetery, ran red with blood.  Chief Pontiac, leading an alliance of several tribes, had begun a siege on the British in Fort Detroit on May 7th.  On July 31st, a group of about 260 British soldiers intent on breaking the siege attacked Pontiac’s nearby encampment along the creek.  Pontiac’s forces fought off their attackers, killing commanding officer Captain James Dalyell in the process.  In reference to the battle’s carnage, Parent’s Creek earned a new name–Bloody Run.  Today, much of the stream runs underground, having been incorporated into the sewer system over the years.

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In the decades after the conflict, a nearby old tree at Jefferson Avenue and Adair Street became associated with the battle in the imaginations of Detroiters, and became popularly known as Pontiac’s Tree.  The exact connections between the tree and the battle are unknown. Those writing long after the tree was gone often poetically described the tree as being pockmarked by bullet holes, a detail suspiciously absent from earlier accounts. One postcard from the Detroit Historical Society’s collection even falsely asserts that the tree marks the spot where Pontiac died in the battle! In reality Pontiac survived his siege, only to be murdered in 1769 in what is today Illinois. The above 3D animated GIF, made from one of Jex Bardwell’s stereoscopic photo cards of Detroit, shows the tree around 1875.  Despite the legends surrounding it, the tree was cut down on June 2, 1886.  The site would soon after become home to another local landmark–the World’s Largest Stove. -B.R.