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In the damp and freshness of a midsummer morning, when the sun had not yet risen, but when the river and the sky were red with the glory of approaching day, the inmates of the fort at Three Rivers were roused by a tumult of joyous and exultant voices. They thronged to the shore,--priests, soldiers, traders, and officers, mingled with warriors and shrill-voiced squaws from Huron and Algonquin camps in the neighboring forest. Close at hand they saw twelve or fifteen canoes slowly drifting down the current of the St. Lawrence, manned by eighty young Indians, all singing their songs of victory, and striking their paddles against the edges of their bark vessels in cadence with their voices. Among them three Iroquois prisoners stood upright, singing loud and defiantly, as men not fearing torture or death.

A few days before, these young warriors, in part Huron and in part Algonquin, had gone out on the war-path to the River Richelieu, where they had presently found themselves entangled among several bands of Iroquois. They withdrew in the night, after a battle in the dark with an Iroquois canoe, and, as they approached Fort Richelieu, had the good fortune to discover ten of their enemy ambuscaded in a clump of bushes and fallen trees, watching to waylay some of the soldiers on their morning visit to the fishing-nets in the river hard by. They captured three of them, and carried them back in triumph.

The victors landed amid screams of exultation. Two of the prisoners were assigned to the Huron, and the third to the Algonquins, who immediately took him to their lodges near the fort at Three Rivers, and began the usual "caress," by burning his feet with red-hot stones, and cutting off his fingers. Champfleur, the commandant, went out to them with urgent remonstrance's, and at length prevailed on them to leave their victim without further injury, until Montmagny, the Governor, should arrive. He came with all dispatch,--not wholly from a motive of humanity, but partly in the hope that the three captives might be made instrumental in concluding a peace with their countrymen.

A council was held in the fort at Three Rivers. Montmagny made valuable presents to the Algonquins and the Huron, to induce them to place the prisoners in his hands. The Algonquins complied; and the unfortunate Iroquois, gashed, maimed, and scorched, was given up to the French, who treated him with the greatest kindness. But neither the Governor's gifts nor his eloquence could persuade the Huron to follow the example of their allies; and they departed for their own country with their two captives,--promising, however, not to burn them, but to use them for negotiations of peace. With this pledge, scarcely worth the breath that uttered it, Montmagny was forced to content himself. [Vimont, Relation, 1644, 45-49.]

Thus it appeared that the fortune of war did not always smile even on the Iroquois. Indeed, if there is faith in Indian tradition, there had been a time, scarcely half a century past, when the Mohawks, perhaps the fiercest and haughtiest of the confederate nations, had been nearly destroyed by the Algonquins, whom they now held in contempt.1 This people, whose inferiority arose chiefly from the want of that compact organization in which lay the strength of the Iroquois, had not lost their ancient warlike spirit; and they had one champion of whom even the audacious confederates stood in awe. His name was Piskaret; and he dwelt on that great island in the Ottawa of which Le Borgne was chief. He had lately turned Christian, in the hope of French favor and countenance,--always useful to an ambitious Indian,--and perhaps, too, with an eye to the gun and powder-horn which formed the earthly reward of the convert.2 Tradition tells marvelous stories of his exploits. Once, it is said, he entered an Iroquois town on a dark night. His first care was to seek out a hiding-place, and he soon found one in the midst of a large wood-pile.3 Next he crept into a lodge, and, finding the inmates asleep, killed them with his war-club, took their scalps, and quietly withdrew to the retreat he had prepared. In the morning a howl of lamentation and fury rose from the astonished villagers. They ranged the fields and forests in vain pursuit of the mysterious enemy, who remained all day in the wood-pile, whence, at midnight, he came forth and repeated his former exploit. On the third night, every family placed its sentinels; and Piskaret, stealthily creeping from lodge to lodge, and reconnoitring each through crevices in the bark, saw watchers everywhere. At length he descried a sentinel who had fallen asleep near the entrance of a lodge, though his companion at the other end was still awake and vigilant. He pushed aside the sheet of bark that served as a door, struck the sleeper a deadly blow, yelled his war-cry, and fled like the wind. All the village swarmed out in furious chase; but Piskaret was the swiftest runner of his time, and easily kept in advance of his pursuers. When daylight came, he showed himself from time to time to lure them on, then yelled defiance, and distanced them again. At night, all but six had given over the chase; and even these, exhausted as they were, had begun to despair. Piskaret, seeing a hollow tree, crept into it like a bear, and hid himself; while the Iroquois, losing his traces in the dark, lay down to sleep near by. At midnight he emerged from his retreat, stealthily approached his slumbering enemies, nimbly brained them all with his war-club, and then, burdened with a goodly bundle of scalps, journeyed homeward in triumph.4

This is but one of several stories that tradition has preserved of his exploits; and, with all reasonable allowances, it is certain that the crafty and valiant Algonquin was the model of an Indian warrior. That which follows rests on a far safer basis.

Early in the spring of 1645, Piskaret, with six other converted Indians, some of them better Christians than he, set out on a war-party, and, after dragging their canoes over the frozen St. Lawrence, launched them on the open stream of the Richelieu. They ascended to Lake Champlain, and hid themselves in the leafless forests of a large island, watching patiently for their human prey. One day they heard a distant shot. "Come, friends," said Piskaret, "let us get our dinner: perhaps it will be the last, for we must dine before we run." Having dined to their contentment, the philosophic warriors prepared for action. One of them went to reconnoitre, and soon reported that two canoes full of Iroquois were approaching the island. Piskaret and his followers crouched in the bushes at the point for which the canoes were making, and, as the foremost drew near, each chose his mark, and fired with such good effect that, of seven warriors, all but one were killed. The survivor jumped overboard, and swam for the other canoe, where he was taken in. It now contained eight Iroquois, who, far from attempting to escape, paddled in haste for a distant part of the shore, in order to land, give battle, and avenge their slain comrades. But the Algonquins, running through the woods, reached the landing before them, and, as one of them rose to fire, they shot him. In his fall he overset the canoe. The water was shallow, and the submerged warriors, presently finding foothold, waded towards the shore, and made desperate fight. The Algonquins had the advantage of position, and used it so well, that they killed all but three of their enemies, and captured two of the survivors. Next they sought out the bodies, carefully scalped them, and set out in triumph on their return. To the credit of their Jesuit teachers, they treated their prisoners with a forbearance hitherto without example. One of them, who was defiant and abusive, received a blow to silence him; but no further indignity was offered to either.

[According to Marie de l'Incarnation, Lettre, 14 Sept., 1645, Piskaret was for torturing the captives; but a convert, named Bernard by the French, protested against it.]

As the successful warriors approached the little mission settlement of Sillery, immediately above Quebec, they raised their song of triumph, and beat time with their paddles on the edges of their canoes; while, from eleven poles raised aloft, eleven fresh scalps fluttered in the wind. The Father Jesuit and all his flock were gathered on the strand to welcome them. The Indians fired their guns, and screeched in jubilation; one Jean Baptiste, a Christian chief of Sillery, made a speech from the shore; Piskaret replied, standing upright in his canoe; and, to crown the occasion, a squad of soldiers, marching in haste from Quebec, fired a salute of musketry, to the boundless delight of the Indians. Much to the surprise of the two captives, there was no running of the gantlet, no gnawing off of finger-nails or cutting off of fingers; but the scalps were hung, like little flags, over the entrances of the lodges, and all Sillery betook itself to feasting and rejoicing. [Vimont, Relation, 1645, 19-21.] One old woman, indeed, came to the Jesuit with a pathetic appeal: "Oh, my Father! let me caress these prisoners a little: they have killed, burned, and eaten my father, my husband, and my children." But the missionary, answered with a lecture on the duty of forgiveness. [Vimont, Relation, 1645, 21, 22.]

On the next day, Montmagny came to Sillery, and there was a grand council in the house of the Jesuits. Piskaret, in a solemn harangue, delivered his captives to the Governor, who replied with a speech of compliment and an ample gift. The two Iroquois were present, seated with a seeming imperturbability, but great anxiety of heart; and when at length they comprehended that their lives were safe, one of them, a man of great size and symmetry, rose and addressed Montmagny:--

"Onontio,5 I am saved from the fire; my body is delivered from death. Onontio, you have given me my life. I thank you for it. I will never forget it. All my country will be grateful to you. The earth will be bright; the river calm and smooth; there will be peace and friendship between us. The shadow is before my eyes no longer. The spirits of my ancestors slain by the Algonquins have disappeared. Onontio, you are good: we are bad. But our anger is gone; I have no heart but for peace and rejoicing." As he said this, he began to dance, holding his hands upraised, as if apostrophizing the sky. Suddenly he snatched a hatchet, brandished it for a moment like a madman, and then flung it into the fire, saying, as he did so, "Thus I throw down my anger! thus I cast away the weapons of blood! Farewell, war! Now I am your friend forever!"6

The two prisoners were allowed to roam at will about the settlement, withheld from escaping by an Indian point of honor. Montmagny soon after sent them to Three Rivers, where the Iroquois taken during the last summer had remained all winter. Champfleur, the commandant, now received orders to clothe, equip, and send him home, with a message to his nation that Onontio made them a present of his life, and that he had still two prisoners in his hands, whom he would also give them, if they saw fit to embrace this opportunity of making peace with the French and their Indian allies.

This was at the end of May. On the fifth of July following, the liberated Iroquois reappeared at Three Rivers, bringing with him two men of renown, ambassadors of the Mohawk nation. There was a fourth man of the party, and, as they approached, the Frenchmen on the shore recognized, to their great delight, Guillaume Couture, the young man captured three years before with Father Jogues, and long since given up as dead. In dress and appearance he was an Iroquois. He had gained a great influence over his captors, and this embassy of peace was due in good measure to his persuasions. [Marie de l'Incarnation, Lettre, 14 Sept., 1645.]

The chief of the Iroquois, Kiotsaton, a tall savage, covered from head to foot with belts of wampum, stood erect in the prow of the sail-boat which had brought him and his companions from Richelieu, and in a loud voice announced himself as the accredited envoy of his nation. The boat fired a swivel, the fort replied with a cannon-shot, and the envoys landed in state. Kiotsaton and his colleague were conducted to the room of the commandant, where, seated on the floor, they were regaled sumptuously, and presented in due course with pipes of tobacco. They had never before seen anything so civilized, and were delighted with their entertainment. "We are glad to see you," said Champfleur to Kiotsaton; "you may be sure that you are safe here. It is as if you were among your own people, and in your own house."

"Tell your chief that he lies," replied the honored guest, addressing the interpreter.

Champfleur, though he probably knew that this was but an Indian mode of expressing dissent, showed some little surprise; when Kiotsaton, after tranquilly smoking for a moment, proceeded:--"Your chief says it is as if I were in my own country. This is not true; for there I am not so honored and caressed. He says it is as if I were in my own house; but in my own house I am some times very ill served, and here you feast me with all manner of good cheer." From this and many other replies, the French conceived that they had to do with a man of esprit. [Vimont, Relation, 1645, 24.]

He undoubtedly belonged to that class of professed orators who, though rarely or never claiming the honors of hereditary chieftainship, had great influence among the Iroquois, and were employed in all affairs of embassy and negotiation. They had memories trained to an astonishing tenacity, were perfect in all the conventional metaphors in which the language of Indian diplomacy and rhetoric mainly consisted, knew by heart the traditions of the nation, and were adepts in the parliamentary usages, which, among the Iroquois, were held little less than sacred.

The ambassadors were feasted for a week, not only by the French, but also by the Huron and Algonquins; and then the grand peace council took place. Montmagny had come up from Quebec, and with him the chief men of the colony. It was a bright midsummer day; and the sun beat hot upon the parched area of the fort, where awnings were spread to shelter the assembly. On one side sat Montmagny, with officers and others who attended him. Near him was Vimont, Superior of the Mission, and other Jesuits,--Jogues among the rest. Immediately before them sat the Iroquois, on sheets of spruce-bark spread on the ground like mats: for they had insisted on being near the French, as a sign of the extreme love they had of late conceived towards them. On the opposite side of the area were the Algonquins, in their several divisions of the Algonquins proper, the Montagnais, and the Atticamegues,7 sitting, lying, or squatting on the ground. On the right hand and on the left were Huron mingled with Frenchmen. In the midst was a large open space like the arena of a prize-ring; and here were planted two poles with a line stretched from one to the other, on which, in due time, were to be hung the wampum belts that represented the words of the orator. For the present, these belts were in part hung about the persons of the two ambassadors, and in part stored in a bag carried by one of them.

When all was ready, Kiotsaton arose, strode into the open space, and, raising his tall figure erect, stood looking for a moment at the sun. Then he gazed around on the assembly, took a wampum belt in his hand, and began:--

["Onontio, give ear. I am the mouth of all my nation. When you listen to me, you listen to all the Iroquois. There is no evil in my heart. My song is a song of peace. We have many war-songs in our country; but we have thrown them all away, and now we sing of nothing but gladness and rejoicing."]

Hereupon he began to sing, his countrymen joining with him. He walked to and fro, gesticulated towards the sky, and seemed to apostrophize the sun; then, turning towards the Governor, resumed his harangue. First he thanked him for the life of the Iroquois prisoner released in the spring, but blamed him for sending him home without company or escort. Then he led forth the young Frenchman, Guillaume Couture, and tied a wampum belt to his arm.

"With this," he said, "I give you back this prisoner. I did not say to him, 'Nephew, take a canoe and go home to Quebec.' I should have been without sense, had I done so. I should have been troubled in my heart, lest some evil might befall him. The prisoner whom you sent back to us suffered every kind of danger and hardship on the way." Here he proceeded to represent the difficulties of the journey in pantomime, "so natural," says Father Vimont, "that no actor in France could equal it." He counterfeited the lonely traveler toiling up some rocky portage track, with a load of baggage on his head, now stopping as if half spent, and now tripping against a stone. Next he was in his canoe, vainly trying to urge it against the swift current, looking around in despair on the foaming rapids, then recovering courage, and paddling desperately for his life. "What did you mean," demanded the orator, resuming his harangue, "by sending a man alone among these dangers? I have not done so. 'Come, nephew,' I said to the prisoner there before you,"--pointing to Couture,--"'follow me: I will see you home at the risk of my life.'" And to confirm his words, he hung another belt on the line.

The third belt was to declare that the nation of the speaker had sent presents to the other nations to recall their war-parties, in view of the approaching peace. The fourth was an assurance that the memory of the slain Iroquois no longer stirred the living to vengeance. "I passed near the place where Piskaret and the Algonquins slew our warriors in the spring. I saw the scene of the fight where the two prisoners here were taken. I passed quickly; I would not look on the blood of my people. Their bodies lie there still; I turned away my eyes, that I might not be angry." Then, stooping, he struck the ground and seemed to listen. "I heard the voice of my ancestors, slain by the Algonquins, crying to me in a tone of affection, 'My grandson, my grandson, restrain your anger: think no more of us, for you cannot deliver us from death; think of the living; rescue them from the knife and the fire.' When I heard these voices, I went on my way, and journeyed hither to deliver those whom you still hold in captivity."

The fifth, sixth, and seventh belts were to open the passage by water from the French to the Iroquois, to chase hostile canoes from the river, smooth away the rapids and cataracts, and calm the waves of the lake. The eighth cleared the path by land. "You would have said," writes Vimont, "that he was cutting down trees, hacking off branches, dragging away bushes, and filling up holes."--"Look!" exclaimed the orator, when he had ended this pantomime, "the road is open, smooth, and straight"; and he bent towards the earth, as if to see that no impediment remained. "There is no thorn, or stone, or log in the way. Now you may see the smoke of our villages from Quebec to the heart of our country."

Another belt, of unusual size and beauty, was to bind the Iroquois, the French, and their Indian allies together as one man. As he presented it, the orator led forth a Frenchman and an Algonquin from among his auditors, and, linking his arms with theirs, pressed them closely to his sides, in token of indissoluble union.

The next belt invited the French to feast with the Iroquois. "Our country is full of fish, venison, moose, beaver, and game of every kind. Leave these filthy swine that run about among your houses, feeding on garbage, and come and eat good food with us. The road is open; there is no danger."

There was another belt to scatter the clouds, that the sun might shine on the hearts of the Indians and the French, and reveal their sincerity and truth to all; then others still, to confirm the Huron in thoughts of peace. By the fifteenth belt, Kiotsaton declared that the Iroquois had always wished to send home Jogues and Bressani to their friends, and had meant to do so; but that Jogues was stolen from them by the Dutch, and they had given Bressani to them because he desired it. "If he had but been patient," added the ambassador, "I would have brought him back myself. Now I know not what has befallen him. Perhaps he is drowned. Perhaps he is dead." Here Jogues said, with a smile, to the Jesuits near him, "They had the pile laid to burn me. They would have killed me a hundred times, if God had not saved my life."

Two or three more belts were hung on the line, each with its appropriate speech; and, then the speaker closed his harangue: "I go to spend what remains of the summer in my own country, in games and dances and rejoicing for the blessing of peace." He had interspersed his discourse throughout with now a song and now a dance; and the council ended in a general dancing, in which Iroquois, Huron, Algonquins, Montagnais, Atticamegues, and French, all took part, after their respective fashions.

In spite of one or two palpable falsehoods that embellished his oratory, the Jesuits were delighted with him. "Every one admitted," says Vimont, "that he was eloquent and pathetic. In short, he showed himself an excellent actor, for one who has had no instructor but Nature. I gathered only a few fragments of his speech from the mouth of the interpreter, who gave us but broken portions of it, and did not translate consecutively."

[Vimont describes the council at length in the Relation of 1645. Marie de l'Incarnation also describes it in a letter to her son, of Sept. 14, 1645. She evidently gained her information from Vimont and the other Jesuits present.]

Two days after, another council was called, when the Governor gave his answer, accepting the proffered peace, and confirming his acceptance by gifts of considerable value. He demanded as a condition, that the Indian allies of the French should be left unmolested, until their principal chiefs, who were not then present, should make a formal treaty with the Iroquois in behalf of their several nations. Piskaret then made a present to wipe away the remembrance of the Iroquois he had slaughtered, and the assembly was dissolved.

In the evening, Vimont invited the ambassadors to the mission-house, and gave each of them a sack of tobacco and a pipe. In return, Kiotsaton made him a speech: "When I left my country, I gave up my life; I went to meet death, and I owe it to you that I am yet alive. I thank you that I still see the sun; I thank you for all your words and acts of kindness; I thank you for your gifts. You have covered me with them from head to foot. You left nothing free but my mouth; and now you have stopped that with a handsome pipe, and regaled it with the taste of the herb we love. I bid you farewell,--not for a long time, for you will hear from us soon. Even if we should be drowned on our way home, the winds and the waves will bear witness to our countrymen of your favors; and I am sure that some good spirit has gone before us to tell them of the good news that we are about to bring." [Vimont, Relation, 1645, 28.]

On the next day, he and his companion set forth on their return. Kiotsaton, when he saw his party embarked, turned to the French and Indians who lined the shore, and said with a loud voice, "Farewell, brothers! I am one of your relations now." Then turning to the Governor,--"Onontio, your name will be great over all the earth. When I came hither, I never thought to carry back my head, I never thought to come out of your doors alive; and now I return loaded with honors, gifts, and kindness." "Brothers,"--to the Indians,--"obey Onontio and the French. Their hearts and their thoughts are good. Be friends with them, and do as they do. You shall hear from us soon."

The Indians whooped and fired their guns; there was a cannon-shot from the fort; and the sail-boat that bore the distinguished visitors moved on its way towards the Richelieu.

But the work was not done. There must be more councils, speeches, wampum-belts, and gifts of all kinds,--more feasts, dances, songs, and uproar. The Indians gathered at Three Rivers were not sufficient in numbers or in influence to represent their several tribes; and more were on their way. The principal men of the Huron were to come down this year, with Algonquins of many tribes, from the North and the Northwest; and Kiotsaton had promised that Iroquois ambassadors, duly empowered, should meet them at Three Rivers, and make a solemn peace with them all, under the eye of Onontio. But what hope was there that this swarm of fickle and wayward savages could be gathered together at one time and at one place,--or that, being there, they could be restrained from cutting each other's throats? Yet so it was; and in this happy event the Jesuits saw the interposition of God, wrought upon by the prayers of those pious souls in France who daily and nightly besieged Heaven with supplications for the welfare of the Canadian missions. [Vimont, Relation, 1645, 29.]

First came a band of Montagnais; next followed Nipissings, Atticamegues, and Algonquins of the Ottawa, their canoes deep-laden with furs. Then, on the tenth of September, appeared the great fleet of the Hurons, sixty canoes, bearing a host of warriors, among whom the French recognized the tattered black cassock of Father Jerome Lalemant. There were twenty French soldiers, too, returning from the Huron country, whither they had been sent the year before, to guard the Fathers and their flock.

Three Rivers swarmed like an ant-hill with savages. The shore was lined with canoes; the forests and the fields were alive with busy camps. The trade was brisk; and in its attendant speeches, feasts, and dances, there was no respite.

But where were the Iroquois? Montmagny and the Jesuits grew very anxious. In a few days more the concourse would begin to disperse, and the golden moment be lost. It was a great relief when a canoe appeared with tidings that the promised embassy was on its way; and yet more, when, on the seventeenth, four Iroquois approached the shore, and, in a loud voice, announced themselves as envoys of their nation. The tumult was prodigious. Montmagny's soldiers formed a double rank, and the savage rabble, with wild eyes and faces smeared with grease and paint, stared over the shoulders and between the gun-barrels of the musketeers, as the ambassadors of their deadliest foe stalked, with unmoved visages, towards the fort.

Now council followed council, with an insufferable prolixity of speech-making. There were belts to wipe out the memory of the slain; belts to clear the sky, smooth the rivers, and calm the lakes; a belt to take the hatchet from the hands of the Iroquois; another to take away their guns; another to take away their shields; another to wash the war-paint from their faces; and another to break the kettle in which they boiled their prisoners. [Vimont, Relation, 1645, 34.] In short, there were belts past numbering, each with its meaning, sometimes literal, sometimes figurative, but all bearing upon the great work of peace. At length all was ended. The dances ceased, the songs and the whoops died away, and the great muster dispersed,--some to their smoky lodges on the distant shores of Lake Huron, and some to frozen hunting-grounds in northern forests.

There was peace in this dark and blood-stained wilderness. The lynx, the panther, and the wolf had made a covenant of love; but who should be their surety? A doubt and a fear mingled with the joy of the Jesuit Fathers; and to their thanksgivings to God they joined a prayer, that the hand which had given might still be stretched forth to preserve.

1 Relation, 1660, 6 (anonymous).
Both Parrot and La Potherie recount traditions of the ancient superiority of the Algonquins over the Iroquois, who formerly, it is said, dwelt near Montreal and Three Rivers, whence the Algonquins expelled them. They withdrew, first to the neighborhood of Lake Erie, then to that of Lake Ontario, their historic seat. There is much to support the conjecture that the Indians found by Cartier at Montreal in 1535 were Iroquois (See "Pioneers of France," 189.) That they belonged to the same family of tribes is certain. For the traditions alluded to, see Perrot, 9, 12, 79, and La Potherie, I. 288-295.

2 "Simon Pieskaret . . . n'estoit Chrestien qu'en apparence et par police."--Lalemant, Relation, 1647, 68.--He afterwards became a convert in earnest.

3 Both the Iroquois and the Hurons collected great quantities of wood in their villages in the autumn.

4 This story is told by La Potherie, I. 299, and, more briefly, by Perrot, 107. La Potherie, writing more than half a century after the time in question, represents the Iroquois as habitually in awe of the Algonquins. In this all the contemporary writers contradict him.

5 Onontio, Great Mountain, a translation of Montmagny's name. It was the Iroquois name ever after for the Governor of Canada. In the same manner, Onas, Feather or Quill, became the official name of William Penn, and all succeeding Governors of Pennsylvania. We have seen that the Iroquois hereditary chiefs had official names, which are the same to-day that they were at the period of this narrative.

6 Vimont, Relation, 1645, 22, 23. He adds, that, "if these people are barbarous in deed, they have thoughts worthy of Greeks and Romans."

7 The Atticamegues, or tribe of the White Fish, dwelt in the forests north of Three Rivers. They much resembled their Montagnais kindred.

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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867

Jesuits in North America


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