Thus did New France rush into collision with the redoubted warriors of the Iroquois. Here the long conflict France versus Iroquois began.
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At night, the victors led out one of the prisoners, told him that he was to die by fire, and ordered him to sing his death-song if he dared. Then they began the torture, and presently scalped their victim alive, when Champlain, sickening at the sight, begged leave to shoot him. They refused, and he turned away in anger and disgust; on which they called him back and told him to do as he pleased. He turned again, and a shot from his arquebuse put the wretch out of misery.
The scene filled him with horror; but a few months later, on the Place de la Greve at Paris, he might have witnessed tortures equally revolting and equally vindictive, inflicted on the regicide Ravaillac by the sentence of grave and learned judges.
The allies made a prompt retreat from the scene of their triumph. Three or four days brought them to the mouth of the Richelien. Here they separated; the Hurons and Algonquins made for the Ottawa, their homeward route, each with a share of prisoners for future torments. At parting, they invited Champlain to visit their towns and aid them again in their wars, an invitation which this paladin of the woods failed not to accept.
The companions now remaining to him were the Montagnais. In their camp on the Richelien, one of them dreamed that a war party of Iroquois was close upon them; on which, in a torrent of rain, they left their huts, paddled in dismay to the islands above the Lake of St. Peter, and hid themselves all night in the rushes. In the morning they took heart, emerged from their hiding-places, descended to Quebec, and went thence to Tadoussac, whither Champlain accompanied them. Here the squaws, stark naked, swam out to the canoes to receive the heads of the dead Iroquois, and, hanging them from their necks, danced in triumph along the shore, One of the heads and a pair of arms were then bestowed on Champlain, — touching memorials of gratitude, which, however, he was by no means to keep for himself, but to present to the King.
Thus did New France rush into collision with the redoubted warriors of the Five Nations. Here was the beginning, and in some measure doubtless the cause, of a long suite of murderous conflicts, bearing havoc and flame to generations yet unborn. Champlain had invaded the tiger’s den; and now, in smothered fury, the patient savage would lie biding his day of blood.
1610-1612. WAR. — TRADE. — DISCOVERY
Champlain and Pontgrave returned to France, while Pierre Chauvin of Dieppe held Quebec in their absence. The King was at Fontainebleau, — it was a few months before his assassination, — and here Champlain recounted his adventures, to the great satisfaction of the lively monarch. He gave him also, not the head of the dead Iroquois, but a belt wrought in embroidery of dyed quills of the Canada porcupine, together with two small birds of scarlet plumage, and the skull of a gar-fish.
De Monts was at court, striving for a renewal of his monopoly. His efforts failed; on which, with great spirit but little discretion, he resolved to push his enterprise without it. Early in the spring of 1610, the ship was ready, and Champlain and Pontgrave were on board, when a violent illness seized the former, reducing him to the most miserable of all conflicts, the battle of the eager spirit against the treacherous and failing flesh. Having partially recovered, he put to sea, giddy and weak, in wretched plight for the hard career of toil and battle which the New World offered him. The voyage was prosperous, no other mishap occurring than that of an ardent youth of St. Malo, who drank the health of Pontgrave with such persistent enthusiasm that he fell overboard and was drowned.
There were ships at Tadoussac, fast loading with furs; and boats, too, higher up the river, anticipating the trade, and draining De Monts’s resources in advance. Champlain, who was left free to fight and explore wherever he should see fit, had provided, to use his own phrase, “two strings to his bow.” On the one hand, the Montagnais had promised to guide him northward to Hudson’s Bay; on the other, the Hurons were to show him the Great Lakes, with the mines of copper on their shores; and to each the same reward was promised, — to join them against the common foe, the Iroquois. The rendezvous was at the mouth of the river Richelien. Thither the Hurons were to descend in force, together with Algonquins of the Ottawa; and thither Champlain now repaired, while around his boat swarmed a multitude of Montagnais canoes, filled with warriors whose lank hair streamed loose in the wind.
There is an island in the St. Lawrence near the mouth of the Richelien. On the nineteenth of June it was swarming with busy and clamorous savages, Champlain’s Montagnais allies, cutting down the trees and clearing the ground for a dance and a feast; for they were hourly expecting the Algonquin warriors, and were eager to welcome them with befitting honors. But suddenly, far out on the river, they saw an advancing canoe. Now on this side, now on that, the flashing paddles urged it forward as if death were on its track; and as it drew near, the Indians on board cried out that the Algonquins were in the forest, a league distant, engaged with a hundred warriors of the Iroquois, who, outnumbered, were fighting savagely within a barricade of trees. The air was split with shrill outcries. The Montagnais snatched their weapons, — shields, bows, arrows, war-clubs, sword-blades made fast to poles, — and ran headlong to their canoes, impeding each other in their haste, screeching to Champlain to follow, and invoking with no less vehemence the aid of certain fur-traders, just arrived in four boats from below. These, as it was not their cue to fight, lent them a deaf ear; on which, in disgust and scorn, they paddled off, calling to the recusants that they were women, fit for nothing but to make war on beaver-skins.
Champlain and four of his men were in the canoes. They shot across the intervening water, and, as their prows grated on the pebbles, each warrior flung down his paddle, snatched his weapons, and ran into the woods. The five Frenchmen followed, striving vainly to keep pace with the naked, light-limbed rabble, bounding like shadows through the forest. They quickly disappeared. Even their shrill cries grew faint, till Champlain and his men, discomforted and vexed, found themselves deserted in the midst of a swamp. The day was sultry, the forest air heavy, close, and filled with hosts of mosquitoes, “so thick,” says the chief sufferer, “that we could scarcely draw breath, and it was wonderful how cruelly they persecuted us.” Through black mud, spongy moss, water knee-deep, over fallen trees, among slimy logs and entangling roots, tripped by vines, lashed by recoiling boughs, panting under their steel head-pieces and heavy corselets, the Frenchmen struggled on, bewildered and indignant. At length they descried two Indians running in the distance, and shouted to them in desperation, that, if they wanted their aid, they must guide them to the enemy.
At length they could hear the yells of the combatants; there was light in the forest before them, and they issued into a partial clearing made by the Iroquois axemen near the river. Champlain saw their barricade. Trees were piled into a circular breastwork, trunks, boughs, and matted foliage forming a strong defense, within which the Iroquois stood savagely at bay. Around them flocked the allies, half hidden in the edges of the forest, like hounds around a wild boar, eager, clamorous, yet afraid to rush in. They had attacked, and had met a bloody rebuff. All their hope was now in the French; and when they saw them, a yell arose from hundreds of throats that outdid the wilderness voices whence its tones were borrowed, — the whoop of the homed owl, the scream of the cougar, the howl of starved wolves on a winter night. A fierce response pealed from the desperate band within; and, amid a storm of arrows from both sides, the Frenchmen threw themselves into the fray, firing at random through the fence of trunks, boughs, and drooping leaves, with which the Iroquois had encircled themselves. Champlain felt a stone-headed arrow splitting his ear and tearing through the muscles of his neck, he drew it out, and, the moment after, did a similar office for one of his men. But the Iroquois had not recovered from their first terror at the arquebuse; and when the mysterious and terrible assailants, clad in steel and armed with thunder-bolts, ran up to the barricade, thrust their pieces through the openings, and shot death among the crowd within, they could not control their fright, but with every report threw themselves flat on the ground. Animated with unwonted valor, the allies, covered by their large shields, began to drag out the felled trees of the barricade, while others, under Champlain’s direction, gathered at the edge of the forest, preparing to close the affair with a final rush. New actors soon appeared on the scene. These were a boat’s crew of the fur-traders under a young man of St. Malo, one Des Prairies, who, when he heard the firing, could not resist the impulse to join the fight. On seeing them, Champlain checked the assault, in order, as he says, that the new-comers might have their share in the sport. The traders opened fire, with great zest and no less execution; while the Iroquois, now wild with terror, leaped and writhed to dodge the shot which tore through their frail armor of twigs. Champlain gave the signal; the crowd ran to the barricade, dragged down the boughs or clambered over them, and bore themselves, in his own words, “so well and manfully,” that, though scratched and torn by the sharp points, they quickly forced an entrance. The French ceased their fire, and, followed by a smaller body of Indians, scaled the barricade on the farther side. Now, amid howlings, shouts, and screeches, the work was finished. Some of the Iroquois were cut down as they stood, hewing with their war-clubs, and foaming like slaughtered tigers; some climbed the barrier and were killed by the furious crowd without; some were drowned in the river; while fifteen, the only survivors, were made prisoners. “By the grace of God,” writes Champlain, “behold the battle won!” Drunk with ferocious ecstasy, the conquerors scalped the dead and gathered fagots for the living; while some of the fur-traders, too late to bear part in the fight, robbed the carcasses of their blood-bedrenched robes of beaver-skin amid the derision of the surrounding Indians.
That night, the torture fires blazed along the shore. Champlain saved one prisoner from their clutches, but nothing could save the rest. One body was quartered and eaten. “As for the rest of the prisoners,” says Champlain, “they were kept to be put to death by the women and girls, who in this respect are no less inhuman than the men, and, indeed, much more so; for by their subtlety they invent more cruel tortures, and take pleasure in it.”
On the next day, a large band of Hurons appeared at the rendezvous, greatly vexed that they had come too late. The shores were thickly studded with Indian huts, and the woods were full of them. Here were warriors of three designations, including many subordinate tribes, and representing three grades of savage society, — the Hurons, the Algonquins of the Ottawa, and the Montagnais; afterwards styled by a Franciscan friar, than whom few men better knew them, the nobles, the burghers, and the peasantry and paupers of the forest. Many of them, from the remote interior, had never before seen a white man; and, wrapped like statues in their robes, they stood gazing on the French with a fixed stare of wild and wondering eyes.
– Pioneers of France in the New World Part II, Chapter 11 by Francis Parkman
This was how the long conflice France versus Iroquois began.
The below is from Francis Parkman’s Introduction.
If, at times, it may seem that range has been allowed to fancy, it is so in appearance only; since the minutest details of narrative or description rest on authentic documents or on personal observation.
Faithfulness to the truth of history involves far more than a research, however patient and scrupulous, into special facts. Such facts may be detailed with the most minute exactness, and yet the narrative, taken as a whole, may be unmeaning or untrue. The narrator must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time. He must study events in their bearings near and remote; in the character, habits, and manners of those who took part in them, he must himself be, as it were, a sharer or a spectator of the action he describes.
With respect to that special research which, if inadequate, is still in the most emphatic sense indispensable, it has been the writer’s aim to exhaust the existing material of every subject treated. While it would be folly to claim success in such an attempt, he has reason to hope that, so far at least as relates to the present volume, nothing of much importance has escaped him. With respect to the general preparation just alluded to, he has long been too fond of his theme to neglect any means within his reach of making his conception of it distinct and true.