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Another War

 Native American Nations | The Jesuits in North America                     

 

The peace was broken, and the hounds of war turned loose. The contagion spread through all the Mohawk nation, the war-songs were sung, and the warriors took the path for Canada. The miserable colonists and their more miserable allies woke from their dream of peace to a reality of fear and horror. Again Montreal and Three Rivers were beset with murdering savages, skulking in thickets and prowling under cover of night, yet, when it came to blows, displaying a courage almost equal to the ferocity that inspired it. They plundered and burned Fort Richelieu, which its small garrison had abandoned, thus leaving the colony without even the semblance of protection. Before the spring opened, all the fighting men of the Mohawks took the war-path; but it is clear that many of them still had little heart for their bloody and perfidious work; for, of these hardy and all-enduring warriors, two-thirds gave out on the way, and returned, complaining that the season was too severe. [Lettre du P. Buteux au R. P. Lalemant. MS.] Two hundred or more kept on, divided into several bands.

On Ash-Wednesday, the French at Three Rivers were at mass in the chapel, when the Iroquois, quietly approaching, plundered two houses close to the fort, containing all the property of the neighboring inhabitants, which had been brought hither as to a place of security. They hid their booty, and then went in quest of two large parties of Christian Algonquins engaged in their winter hunt. Two Indians of the same nation, whom they captured, basely set them on the trail; and they took up the chase like hounds on the scent of game. Wrapped in furs or blanket-coats, some with gun in hand, some with bows and quivers, and all with hatchets, war-clubs, knives, or swords,--striding on snow-shoes, with bodies half bent, through the gray forests and the frozen pine-swamps, among wet, black trunks, along dark ravines and under savage hill-sides, their small, fierce eyes darting quick glances that pierced the farthest recesses of the naked woods,--the hunters of men followed the track of their human prey. At length they descried the bark wigwams of the Algonquin camp. The warriors were absent; none were here but women and children. The Iroquois surrounded the huts, and captured all the shrieking inmates. Then ten of them set out to find the traces of the absent hunters. They soon met the renowned Piskaret returning alone. As they recognized him and knew his mettle, they thought treachery better than an open attack. They therefore approached him in the attitude of friends; while he, ignorant of the rupture of the treaty, began to sing his peace-song. Scarcely had they joined him, when one of them ran a sword through his body; and, having scalped him, they returned in triumph to their companions.1 All the hunters were soon after waylaid, overpowered by numbers, and killed or taken prisoners.

Another band of the Mohawks had meanwhile pursued the other party of Algonquins, and overtaken them on the march, as, encumbered with their sledges and baggage, they were moving from one hunting-camp to another. Though taken by surprise, they made fight, and killed several of their assailants; but in a few moments their resistance was overcome, and those who survived the fray were helpless in the clutches of the enraged victors. Then began a massacre of the old, the disabled, and the infants, with the usual beating, gashing, and severing of fingers to the rest. The next day, the two bands of Mohawks, each with its troop of captives fast bound, met at an appointed spot on the Lake of St. Peter, and greeted each other with yells of exultation, with which mingled a wail of anguish, as the prisoners of either party recognized their companions in misery. They all kneeled in the midst of their savage conquerors, and one of the men, a noted convert, after a few words of exhortation, repeated in a loud voice a prayer, to which the rest responded. Then they sang an Algonquin hymn, while the Iroquois, who at first had stared in wonder, broke into laughter and derision, and at length fell upon them with renewed fury. One was burned alive on the spot. Another tried to escape, and they burned the soles of his feet that he might not repeat the attempt. Many others were maimed and mangled; and some of the women who afterwards escaped affirmed, that, in ridicule of the converts, they crucified a small child by nailing it with wooden spikes against a thick sheet of bark.

The prisoners were led to the Mohawk towns; and it is needless to repeat the monotonous and revolting tale of torture and death. The men, as usual, were burned; but the lives of the women and children were spared, in order to strengthen the conquerors by their adoption,--not, however, until both, but especially the women, had been made to endure the extremes of suffering and indignity. Several of them from time to time escaped, and reached Canada with the story of their woes. Among these was Marie, the wife of Jean Baptiste, one of the principal Algonquin converts, captured and burned with the rest. Early in June, she appeared in a canoe at Montreal, where Madame d'Ailleboust, to whom she was well known, received her with great kindness, and led her to her room in the fort. Here Marie was overcome with emotion. Madame d'Ailleboust spoke Algonquin with ease; and her words of sympathy, joined to the associations of a place where the unhappy fugitive, with her murdered husband and child, had often found a friendly welcome, so wrought upon her, that her voice was smothered with sobs.

She had once before been a prisoner of the Iroquois, at the town of Onondaga. When she and her companions in misfortune had reached the Mohawk towns, she was recognized by several Onondagas who chanced to be there, and who, partly by threats and partly by promises, induced her to return with them to the scene of her former captivity, where they assured her of good treatment. With their aid, she escaped from the Mohawks, and set out with them for Onondaga. On their way, they passed the great town of the Oneidas; and her conductors, fearing that certain Mohawks who were there would lay claim to her, found a hiding-place for her in the forest, where they gave her food, and told her to wait their return. She lay concealed all day, and at night approached the town, under cover of darkness. A dull red glare of flames rose above the jagged tops of the palisade that encompassed it; and, from the pandemonium within, an uproar of screams, yells, and bursts of laughter told her that they were burning one of her captive countrymen. She gazed and listened, shivering with cold and aghast with horror. The thought possessed her that she would soon share his fate, and she resolved to fly. The ground was still covered with snow, and her footprints would infallibly have betrayed her, if she had not, instead of turning towards home, followed the beaten Indian path westward. She journeyed on, confused and irresolute, and tortured between terror and hunger. At length she approached Onondaga, a few miles from the present city of Syracuse, and hid herself in a dense thicket of spruce or cedar, whence she crept forth at night, to grope in the half-melted snow for a few ears of corn, left from the last year's harvest. She saw many Indians from her lurking-place, and once a tall savage, with an axe on his shoulder, advanced directly towards the spot where she lay: but, in the extremity of her fright, she murmured a prayer, on which he turned and changed his course. The fate that awaited her, if she remained,--for a fugitive could not hope for mercy,--and the scarcely less terrible dangers of the pitiless wilderness between her and Canada, filled her with despair, for she was half dead already with hunger and cold. She tied her girdle to the bough of a tree, and hung herself from it by the neck. The cord broke. She repeated the attempt with the same result, and then the thought came to her that God meant to save her life. The snow by this time had melted in the forests, and she began her journey for home, with a few handfuls of corn as her only provision. She directed her course by the sun, and for food dug roots, peeled the soft inner bark of trees, and sometimes caught tortoises in the muddy brooks. She had the good fortune to find a hatchet in a deserted camp, and with it made one of those wooden implements which the Indians used for kindling fire by friction. This saved her from her worst suffering; for she had no covering but a thin tunic, which left her legs and arms bare, and exposed her at night to tortures of cold. She built her fire in some deep nook of the forest, warmed herself, cooked what food she had found, told her rosary on her fingers, and slept till daylight, when she always threw water on the embers, lest the rising smoke should attract attention. Once she discovered a party of Iroquois hunters; but she lay concealed, and they passed without seeing her. She followed their trail back, and found their bark canoe, which they had hidden near the bank of a river. It was too large for her use; but, as she was a practiced canoe-maker, she reduced it to a convenient size, embarked in it, and descended the stream. At length she reached the St. Lawrence, and paddled with the current towards Montreal. On islands and rocky shores she found eggs of water-fowl in abundance; and she speared fish with a sharpened pole, hardened at the point with fire. She even killed deer, by driving them into the water, chasing them in her canoe, and striking them on the head with her hatchet. When she landed at Montreal, her canoe had still a good store of eggs and dried venison.

[This story is taken from the Relation of 1647, and the letter of Marie de l'Incarnation to her son, before cited. The woman must have descended the great rapids of Lachine in her canoe: a feat demanding no ordinary nerve and skill.]

Her journey from Onondaga had occupied about two months, under hardships which no woman but a squaw could have survived. Escapes not less remarkable of several other women are chronicled in the records of this year; and one of them, with a notable feat of arms which attended it, calls for a brief notice.

Eight Algonquins, in one of those fits of desperate valor which sometimes occur in Indians, entered at midnight a camp where thirty or forty Iroquois warriors were buried in sleep, and with quick, sharp blows of their tomahawks began to brain them as they lay. They killed ten of them on the spot, and wounded many more. The rest, panic-stricken and bewildered by the surprise and the thick darkness, fled into the forest, leaving all they had in the hands of the victors, including a number of Algonquin captives, of whom one had been unwittingly killed by his countrymen in the confusion. Another captive, a woman, had escaped on a previous night. They had stretched her on her back, with limbs extended, and bound her wrists and ankles to four stakes firmly driven into the earth,--their ordinary mode of securing prisoners. Then, as usual, they all fell asleep. She presently became aware that the cord that bound one of her wrists was somewhat loose, and, by long and painful efforts, she freed her hand. To release the other hand and her feet was then comparatively easy. She cautiously rose. Around her, breathing in deep sleep, lay stretched the dark forms of the unconscious warriors, scarcely visible in the gloom. She stepped over them to the entrance of the hut; and here, as she was passing out, she descried a hatchet on the ground. The temptation was too strong for her Indian nature. She seized it, and struck again and again, with all her force, on the skull of the Iroquois who lay at the entrance. The sound of the blows, and the convulsive struggles of the victim, roused the sleepers. They sprang up, groping in the dark, and demanding of each other what was the matter. At length they lighted a roll of birch-bark, found their prisoner gone and their comrade dead, and rushed out in a rage in search of the fugitive. She, meanwhile, instead of running away, had hid herself in the hollow of a tree, which she had observed the evening before. Her pursuers ran through the dark woods, shouting and whooping to each other; and when all had passed, she crept from her hiding-place, and fled in an opposite direction. In the morning they found her tracks and followed them. On the second day they had overtaken and surrounded her, when, hearing their cries on all sides, she gave up all hope. But near at hand, in the thickest depths of the forest, the beavers had dammed a brook and formed a pond, full of gnawed stumps, dead fallen trees, rank weeds, and tangled bushes. She plunged in, and, swimming and wading, found a hiding-place, where her body was concealed by the water, and her head by the masses of dead and living vegetation. Her pursuers were at fault, and, after a long search, gave up the chase in despair. Shivering, naked, and half-starved, she crawled out from her wild asylum, and resumed her flight. By day, the briers and bushes tore her unprotected limbs; by night, she shivered with cold, and the mosquitoes and small black gnats of the forest persecuted her with torments which the modern sportsman will appreciate. She subsisted on such roots, bark, reptiles, or other small animals, as her Indian habits enabled her to gather on her way. She crossed streams by swimming, or on rafts of driftwood, lashed together with strips of linden-bark; and at length reached the St. Lawrence, where, with the aid of her hatchet, she made a canoe. Her home was on the Ottawa, and she was ignorant of the great river, or, at least, of this part of it. She had scarcely even seen a Frenchman, but had heard of the French as friends, and knew that their dwellings were on the banks of the St. Lawrence. This was her only guide; and she drifted on her way, doubtful whether the vast current would bear her to the abodes of the living or to the land of souls. She passed the watery wilderness of the Lake of St. Peter, and presently descried a Huron canoe. Fearing that it was an enemy, she hid herself, and resumed her voyage in the evening, when she soon came in sight of the wooden buildings and palisades of Three Rivers. Several Huron saw her at the same moment, and made towards her; on which she leaped ashore and hid in the bushes, whence, being entirely without clothing, she would not come out till one of them threw her his coat. Having wrapped herself in it, she went with them to the fort and the house of the Jesuits, in a wretched state of emaciation, but in high spirits at the happy issue of her voyage. [Lalemant, Relation, 1647, 15, 16.]

Such stories might be multiplied; but these will suffice. Nor is it necessary to dwell further on the bloody record of inroads, butcheries, and tortures. We have seen enough to show the nature of the scourge that now fell without mercy on the Indians and the French of Canada. There was no safety but in the imprisonment of palisades and ramparts. A deep dejection sank on the white and red men alike; but the Jesuits would not despair.

"Do not imagine," writes the Father Superior, "that the rage of the Iroquois, and the loss of many Christians and many catechumens, can bring to nought the mystery of the cross of Jesus Christ, and the efficacy of his blood. We shall die; we shall be captured, burned, butchered: be it so. Those who die in their beds do not always die the best death. I see none of our company cast down. On the contrary, they ask leave to go up to the Huron, and some of them protest that the fires of the Iroquois are one of their motives for the journey." [Lalemant, Relation, 1647, 8.]


1 Lalemant, Relation, 1647, 4. Marie de l'Incarnation, Lettre à son Fils. Québec, . . . 1647. Perrot's account, drawn from tradition, is different, though not essentially so.]


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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867

Jesuits in North America

 

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