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Garnier and Chabanel

 Native American Nations | The Jesuits in North America                   


Late in the preceding autumn the Iroquois had taken the war-path in force. At the end of November, two escaped prisoners came to Isle St. Joseph with the news that a band of three hundred warriors was hovering in the Huron forests, doubtful whether to invade the island or to attack the towns of the Tobacco Nation in the valleys of the Blue Mountains. The Father Superior, Ragueneau, sent a runner thither in all haste, to warn the inhabitants of their danger.

There were at this time two missions in the Tobacco Nation, St. Jean and St. Matthias,1 the latter under the charge of the Jesuits Garreau and Grelon, and the former under that of Garnier and Chabanel. St. Jean, the principal seat of the mission of the same name, was a town of five or six hundred families. Its population was, moreover, greatly augmented by the bands of fugitive Huron who had taken refuge there. When the warriors were warned by Ragueneau's messenger of a probable attack from the Iroquois, they were far from being daunted, but, confiding in their numbers, awaited the enemy in one of those fits of valor which characterize the unstable courage of the savage. At St. Jean all was paint, feathers, and uproar,--singing, dancing, howling, and stamping. Quivers were filled, knives whetted, and tomahawks sharpened; but when, after two days of eager expectancy, the enemy did not appear, the warriors lost patience. Thinking, and probably with reason, that the Iroquois were afraid of them, they resolved to sally forth, and take the offensive. With yelps and whoops they defiled into the forest, where the branches were gray and bare, and the ground thickly covered with snow. They pushed on rapidly till the following day, but could not discover their wary enemy, who had made a wide circuit, and was approaching the town from another quarter. By ill luck, the Iroquois captured a Tobacco Indian and his squaw, straggling in the forest not far from St. Jean; and the two prisoners, to propitiate them, told them the defenseless condition of the place, where none remained but women, children, and old men. The delighted Iroquois no longer hesitated, but silently and swiftly pushed on towards the town.

It was two o'clock in the afternoon of the seventh of December. [Bressani, Relation Abrégée, 264.] Chabanel had left the place a day or two before, in obedience to a message from Ragueneau, and Garnier was here alone. He was making his rounds among the houses, visiting the sick and instructing his converts, when the horrible din of the war-whoop rose from the borders of the clearing, and, on the instant, the town was mad with terror. Children and girls rushed to and fro, blind with fright; women snatched their infants, and fled they knew not whither. Garnier ran to his chapel, where a few of his converts had sought asylum. He gave them his benediction, exhorted them to hold fast to the Faith, and bade them fly while there was yet time. For himself, he hastened back to the houses, running from one to another, and giving absolution or baptism to all whom he found. An Iroquois met him, shot him with three balls through the body and thigh, tore off his cassock, and rushed on in pursuit of the fugitives. Garnier lay for a moment on the ground, as if stunned; then, recovering his senses, he was seen to rise into a kneeling posture. At a little distance from him lay a Huron, mortally wounded, but still showing signs of life. With the Heaven that awaited him glowing before his fading vision, the priest dragged himself towards the dying Indian, to give him absolution; but his strength failed, and he fell again to the earth. He rose once more, and again crept forward, when a party of Iroquois rushed upon him, split his head with two blows of a hatchet, stripped him, and left his body on the ground.2 At this time the whole town was on fire. The invaders, fearing that the absent warriors might return and take their revenge, hastened to finish their work, scattered firebrands every where, and threw children alive into the burning houses. They killed many of the fugitives, captured many more, and then made a hasty retreat through the forest with their prisoners, butchering such of them as lagged on the way. St. Jean lay a waste of smoking ruins thickly strewn with blackened corpses of the slain.

Towards evening, parties of fugitives reached St. Matthias, with tidings of the catastrophe. The town was wild with alarm, and all stood on the watch, in expectation of an attack; but when, in the morning, scouts came in and reported the retreat of the Iroquois, Garreau and Grelon set out with a party of converts to visit the scene of havoc. For a long time they looked in vain for the body of Garnier; but at length they found him lying where he had fallen,--so scorched and disfigured, that he was recognized with difficulty. The two priests wrapped his body in a part of their own clothing; the Indian converts dug a grave on the spot where his church had stood; and here they buried him. Thus, at the age of forty-four, died Charles Garnier, the favorite child of wealthy and noble parents, nursed in Parisian luxury and ease, then living and dying, a more than willing exile, amid the hardships and horrors of the Huron wilderness. His life and his death are his best eulogy. Brébeuf was the lion of the Huron mission, and Garnier was the lamb; but the lamb was as fearless as the lion.

[Garnier's devotion to the mission was absolute. He took little or no interest in the news from France, which, at intervals of from one to three years, found its way to the Huron towns. His companion Bressani says, that he would walk thirty or forty miles in the hottest summer day, to baptize some dying Indian, when the country was infested by the enemy. On similar errands, he would sometimes pass the night alone in the forest in the depth of winter. He was anxious to fall into the hands of the Iroquois, that he might preach the Faith to them even out of the midst of the fire. In one of his unpublished letters he writes, "Praised be our Lord, who punishes me for my sins by depriving me of this crown" (the crown of martyrdom). After the death of Brébeuf and Lalemant, he writes to his brother--

"Hélas! Mon cher frère, si ma conscience ne me convainquait et ne me confondait de mon infidélité au service de notre bon maître, je pourrais espérer quelque faveur approchante de celles qu'il a faites aux bien-heureux martyrs avec qui j'avais le bien de converser souvent, étant dans les mêmes occasions et dangers qu'ils étaient, mais sa justice me fait craindre que je ne demeure toujours indigne d'une telle couronne."

He contented himself with the most wretched fare during the last years of famine, living in good measure on roots and acorns; "although," says Ragueneau, "he had been the cherished son of a rich and noble house, on whom all the affection of his father had centred, and who had been nourished on food very different from that of swine."--Relation des Hurons, 1650, 12.

For his character, see Ragueneau, Bressani, Tanner, and Alegambe, who devotes many pages to the description of his religious traits; but the complexion of his mind is best reflected in his private letters.]

When, on the following morning, the warriors of St. Jean returned from their rash and bootless sally, and saw the ashes of their desolated homes and the ghastly relics of their murdered families, they seated themselves amid the ruin, silent and motionless as statues of bronze, with heads bowed down and eyes fixed on the ground. Thus they remained through half the day. Tears and wailing were for women; this was the mourning of warriors.

Garnier's colleague, Chabanel, had been recalled from St. Jean by an order from the Father Superior, who thought it needless to expose the life of more than one priest in a position of so much danger. He stopped on his way at St. Matthias, and on the morning of the seventh of December, the day of the attack, left that town with seven or eight Christian Huron. The journey was rough and difficult. They proceeded through the forest about eighteen miles, and then encamped in the snow. The Indians fell asleep; but Chabanel, from an apprehension of danger, or some other cause, remained awake. About midnight he heard a strange sound in the distance,--a confusion of fierce voices, mingled with songs and outcries. It was the Iroquois on their retreat with their prisoners, some of whom were defiantly singing their war-songs, after the Indian custom. Chabanel waked his companions, who instantly took flight. He tried to follow, but could not keep pace with the light-footed savages, who returned to St. Matthias, and told what had occurred. They said, however, that Chabanel had left them and taken an opposite direction, in order to reach Isle St. Joseph. His brother priests were for some time ignorant of what had befallen him. At length a Huron Indian, who had been converted, but afterward apostatized, gave out that he had met him in the forest, and aided him with his canoe to cross a river which lay in his path. Some supposed that he had lost his way, and died of cold and hunger; but others were of a different opinion. Their suspicion was confirmed some time afterwards by the renegade Huron, who confessed that he had killed Chabanel and thrown his body into the river, after robbing him of his clothes, his hat, the blanket or mantle which was strapped to his shoulders, and the bag in which he carried his books and papers. He declared that his motive was hatred of the Faith, which had caused the ruin of the Hurons. [Mémoires touchant la Mort et les Vertus des Pères, etc., MS.] The priest had prepared himself for a worse fate. Before leaving Sainte Marie on the Wye, to go to his post in the Tobacco Nation, he had written to his brother to regard him as a victim destined to the fires of the Iroquois. [Abrégé de la Vie du P. Noël Chabanel, MS.] He added, that, though he was naturally timid, he was now wholly indifferent to danger; and he expressed the belief that only a superhuman power could have wrought such a change in him.

["Ie suis fort apprehensif de mon naturel; toutefois, maintenant que ie vay au plus grand danger et qu'il me semble que la mort n'est pas esloignée, ie ne sens plus de crainte. Cette disposition ne vient pas de moy."--Relation des Hurons, 1650, 18.

The following is the vow made by Chabanel, at a time when his disgust at the Indian mode of life beset him with temptations to ask to be recalled from the mission. It is translated from the Latin original:--

"My Lord Jesus Christ, who, in the admirable disposition of thy paternal providence, hast willed that I, although most unworthy, should be a co-laborer with the holy Apostles in this vineyard of the Hurons,--I, Noël Chabanel, impelled by the desire of fulfilling thy holy will in advancing the conversion of the savages of this land to thy faith, do vow, in the presence of the most holy sacrament of thy precious body and blood, which is God's tabernacle among men, to remain perpetually attached to this mission of the Hurons, understanding all things according to the interpretation and disposal of the Superiors of the Society of Jesus. Therefore I entreat thee to receive me as the perpetual servant of this mission, and to render me worthy of so sublime a ministry. Amen. This twentieth day of June, 1647."]

Garreau and Grelon, in their mission of St. Matthias, were exposed to other dangers than those of the Iroquois. A report was spread, not only that they were magicians, but that they had a secret understanding with the enemy. A nocturnal council was called, and their death was decreed. In the morning, a furious crowd gathered before a lodge which they were about to enter, screeching and yelling after the manner of Indians when they compel a prisoner to run the gantlet. The two priests, giving no sign of fear, passed through the crowd and entered the lodge unharmed. Hatchets were brandished over them, but no one would be the first to strike. Their converts were amazed at their escape, and they themselves ascribed it to the interposition of a protecting Providence. The Huron missionaries were doubly in danger,--not more from the Iroquois than from the blind rage of those who should have been their friends.

[Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1650, 20. One of these two missionaries, Garreau, was afterwards killed by the Iroquois, who shot him through the spine, in 1656, near Montreal.--De Quen, Relation, 1656, 41.]

1 The Indian name of St. Jean was Etarita; and that of St. Matthias, Ekarenniondi.

2 The above particulars of Garnier's death rest on the evidence of a Christian Huron woman, named Marthe, who saw him shot down, and also saw his attempt to reach the dying Indian. She was herself struck down immediately after with a war-club, but remained alive, and escaped in the confusion. She died three months later, at Isle St. Joseph, from the effects of the injuries she had received, after reaffirming the truth of her story to Ragueneau, who was with her, and who questioned her on the subject. (Mémoires touchant la Mort et les Vertus des Pères Garnier, etc., MS.). Ragueneau also speaks of her in Relation des Hurons, 1650, 9. --The priests Grelon and Garreau found the body stripped naked, with three gunshot wounds in the abdomen and thigh, and two deep hatchet wounds in the head.]

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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867

Jesuits in North America


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