But the anti-Mormon sentiment that led to Smith’s murder remained boiling, and Strang soon began to take the heat. As Young’s followers set out on the long journey to Utah, Strang realized he was going to need his own secluded fortress to hide in. Fortunately, he remembered passing the perfect spot on a ferry years earlier. His name was beaver island.
The battle for the big beaver
Beaver Island, also known as Big Beaver, is a large, fertile island in northern Lake Michigan. In 1848, it was populated by a handful of Irish fishermen and about twenty Amerindian families. Strang hit the place like a hurricane, quickly displacing nearly 2,000 of his followers on the island. The Strangites simply seized any unoccupied land, correctly believing that the US government would eventually give them squatter rights. Most of the fishermen found themselves expelled, while Strang launched a remarkably unsuccessful mission to convert Native Americans.
All this was watched with horror by the inhabitants of neighboring Mackinac Island, accustomed to dominating trade on the lake. Not only did the newcomers threaten to force them out of the growing fishing industry, but Strang also attempted to ban the sale of liquor to natives, threatening the divine right to trade of Mackinac merchants . five hundred whiskey for 50 cents of fish. Strang also gave his followers the right to seize or “consecrate” all unguarded Gentile fishing nets. Confrontation was inevitable and Strang failed to calm the tensions by to announce, “I will execute with my own hand the sentence of death against all… who attempt to disturb us… I wish all men to understand that we hold these lands in right of no government.” Before long, the two islands were at war.