In the spring of 1636, the chiefs and elders of the Nation of the Bear — the principal nation of the Confederacy, and that to which Ihonatiria belonged — assembled in a general council.
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“You say that the red color of the cross frightens the bird of thunder. Then paint the cross white, and see if the thunder will come.”
This was accordingly done; but the clouds still kept aloof. The Jesuits followed up their advantage.
“Your spirits cannot help you, and your sorcerers have deceived you with lies. Now ask the aid of Him who made the world, and perhaps He will listen to your prayers.” And they added, that, if the Indians would renounce their sins and obey the true God, they would make a procession daily to implore his favor towards them.
There was no want of promises. The processions were begun, as were also nine masses to St. Joseph; and, as heavy rains occurred soon after, the Indians conceived a high idea of the efficacy of the French “medicine.”
[“Nous deuons aussi beaucoup au glorieux sainct Ioseph, espoux de Nostre Dame, et protecteur des Hurons, dont nous auons touché au doigt l’assistance plusieurs fois. Ce fut vne chose remarquable, que le iour de sa feste et durant l’Octaue, les commoditez nous venoient de toutes parts.” — Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1635, 41.
The above extract is given as one out of many illustrations of the confidence with which the priests rested on the actual and direct aid of their celestial guardians. To St. Joseph, in particular, they find no words for their gratitude.]
In spite of the hostility of the sorcerers, and the transient commotion raised by the red cross, the Jesuits had gained the confidence and good-will of the Huron population. Their patience, their kindness, their intrepidity, their manifest disinterestedness, the blamelessness of their lives, and the tact which, in the utmost fervors of their zeal, never failed them, had won the hearts of these wayward savages; and chiefs of distant villages came to urge that they would make their abode with them. [Brébeuf preserves a speech made to him by one of these chiefs, as a specimen of Huron eloquence. — Relation des Hurons, 1636, 123.] As yet, the results of the mission had been faint and few; but the priests toiled on courageously, high in hope that an abundant harvest of souls would one day reward their labors.
The Jesuits had long been familiar with the ordinary rites of sepulture among the Hurons; the corpse placed in a crouching posture in the midst of the circle of friends and relatives; the long, measured wail of the mourners; the speeches in praise of the dead, and consolation to the living; the funeral feast; the gifts at the place of burial; the funeral games, where the young men of the village contended for prizes; and the long period of mourning to those next of kin. The body was usually laid on a scaffold, or, more rarely, in the earth. This, however, was not its final resting-place. At intervals of ten or twelve years, each of the four nations which composed the Huron Confederacy gathered together its dead, and conveyed them all to a common place of sepulture. Here was celebrated the great “Feast of the Dead,” — in the eyes of the Hurons, their most solemn and important ceremonial.
In the spring of 1636, the chiefs and elders of the Nation of the Bear — the principal nation of the Confederacy, and that to which Ihonatiria belonged — assembled in a general council, to prepare for the great solemnity. There was an unwonted spirit of dissension. Some causes of jealousy had arisen, and three or four of the Bear villages announced their intention of holding their Feast of the Dead apart from the rest. As such a procedure was thought abhorrent to every sense of propriety and duty, the announcement excited an intense feeling; yet Brébeuf, who was present, describes the debate which ensued as perfectly calm, and wholly free from personal abuse or recrimination. The secession, however, took place, and each party withdrew to its villages to gather and prepare its dead.
The corpses were lowered from their scaffolds, and lifted from their graves. Their coverings were removed by certain functionaries appointed for the office, and the hideous relics arranged in a row, surrounded by the weeping, shrieking, howling concourse. The spectacle was frightful. Here were all the village dead of the last twelve years. The priests, connoisseurs in such matters, regarded it as a display of mortality so edifying, that they hastened to summon their French attendants to contemplate and profit by it. Each family reclaimed its own, and immediately addressed itself to removing what remained of flesh from the bones. These, after being tenderly caressed, with tears and lamentations, were wrapped in skins and adorned with pendent robes of fur. In the belief of the mourners, they were sentient and conscious. A soul was thought still to reside in them;  and to this notion, very general among Indians, is in no small degree due that extravagant attachment to the remains of their dead, which may be said to mark the race.
[1 In the general belief, the soul took flight after the great ceremony was ended. Many thought that there were two souls, one remaining with the bones, while the other went to the land of spirits.]
These relics of mortality, together with the recent corpses, — which were allowed to remain entire, but which were also wrapped carefully in furs, — were now carried to one of the largest houses, and hung to the numerous cross-poles, which, like rafters, supported the roof. Here the concourse of mourners seated themselves at a funeral feast; and, as the squaws of the household distributed the food, a chief harangued the assembly, lamenting the loss of the deceased, and extolling their virtues. This solemnity over, the mourners began their march for Ossossané, the scene of the final rite. The bodies remaining entire were borne on a kind of litter, while the bundles of bones were slung at the shoulders of the relatives, like fagots. Thus the procession slowly defiled along the forest pathways, with which the country of the Hurons was everywhere intersected; and as they passed beneath the dull shadow of the pines, they uttered at intervals, in unison, a dreary, wailing cry, designed to imitate the voices of disembodied souls winging their way to the land of spirits, and believed to have an effect peculiarly soothing to the conscious relics which each man bore. When, at night, they stopped to rest at some village on the way, the inhabitants came forth to welcome them with a grave and mournful hospitality.
From every town of the Nation of the Bear, — except the rebellious few that had seceded, — processions like this were converging towards Ossossané. This chief town of the Hurons stood on the eastern margin of Nottawassaga Bay, encompassed with a gloomy wilderness of fir and pine. Thither, on the urgent invitation of the chiefs, the Jesuits repaired. The capacious bark houses were filled to overflowing, and the surrounding woods gleamed with camp-fires: for the processions of mourners were fast arriving, and the throng was swelled by invited guests of other tribes. Funeral games were in progress, the young men and women practising archery and other exercises, for prizes offered by the mourners in the name of their dead relatives. [Funeral games were not confined to the Hurons and Iroquois: Perrot mentions having seen them among the Ottawas. An illustrated description of them will be found in Lafitau.] Some of the chiefs conducted Brébeuf and his companions to the place prepared for the ceremony. It was a cleared area in the forest, many acres in extent. In the midst was a pit, about ten feet deep and thirty feet wide. Around it was reared a high and strong scaffolding; and on this were planted numerous upright poles, with cross-poles extended between, for hanging the funeral gifts and the remains of the dead.
Meanwhile there was a long delay. The Jesuits were lodged in a house where more than a hundred of these bundles of mortality were hanging from the rafters. Some were mere shapeless rolls; others were made up into clumsy effigies, adorned with feathers, beads, and belts of dyed porcupine-quills. Amidst this throng of the living and the dead, the priests spent a night which the imagination and the senses conspired to render almost insupportable.
At length the officiating chiefs gave the word to prepare for the ceremony. The relics were taken down, opened for the last time, and the bones caressed and fondled by the women amid paroxysms of lamentation.  Then all the processions were formed anew, and, each bearing its dead, moved towards the area prepared for the last solemn rites. As they reached the ground, they defiled in order, each to a spot assigned to it, on the outer limits of the clearing. Here the bearers of the dead laid their bundles on the ground, while those who carried the funeral gifts outspread and displayed them for the admiration of the beholders. Their number was immense, and their value relatively very great. Among them were many robes of beaver and other rich furs, collected and preserved for years, with a view to this festival. Fires were now lighted, kettles slung, and, around the entire circle of the clearing, the scene was like a fair or caravansary. This continued till three o’clock in the afternoon, when the gifts were repacked, and the bones shouldered afresh. Suddenly, at a signal from the chiefs, the crowd ran forward from every side towards the scaffold, like soldiers to the assault of a town, scaled it by rude ladders with which it was furnished, and hung their relics and their gifts to the forest of poles which surmounted it. Then the ladders were removed; and a number of chiefs, standing on the scaffold, harangued the crowd below, praising the dead, and extolling the gifts, which the relatives of the departed now bestowed, in their names, upon their surviving friends.
[1 “I’admiray la tendresse d’vne femme enuers son pere et ses enfans; elle est fille d’vn Capitaine, qui est mort fort âgé, et a esté autrefois fort considerable dans le Paďs: elle luy peignoit sa cheuelure, elle manioit ses os les vns apres les autres, auec la mesme affection que si elle luy eust voulu rendre la vie; elle luy mit aupres de luy son Atsatone8ai, c’est ŕ dire son pacquet de buchettes de Conseil, qui sont tous les liures et papiers du Paďs. Pour ses petits enfans, elle leur mit des brasselets de Pourcelaine et de rassade aux bras, et baigna leurs os de ses larmes; on ne l’en pouuoit quasi separer, mais on pressoit, et il fallut incontinent partir.” — Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636, 134.]
During these harangues, other functionaries were lining the grave throughout with rich robes of beaver-skin. Three large copper kettles were next placed in the middle,  and then ensued a scene of hideous confusion. The bodies which had been left entire were brought to the edge of the grave, flung in, and arranged in order at the bottom by ten or twelve Indians stationed there for the purpose, amid the wildest excitement and the uproar of many hundred mingled voices.  When this part of the work was done, night was fast closing in. The concourse bivouacked around the clearing, and lighted their camp-fires under the brows of the forest which hedged in the scene of the dismal solemnity. Brébeuf and his companions withdrew to the village, where, an hour before dawn, they were roused by a clamor which might have wakened the dead. One of the bundles of bones, tied to a pole on the scaffold, had chanced to fall into the grave. This accident had precipitated the closing act, and perhaps increased its frenzy. Guided by the unearthly din, and the broad glare of flames fed with heaps of fat pine logs, the priests soon reached the spot, and saw what seemed, in their eyes, an image of Hell. All around blazed countless fires, and the air resounded with discordant outcries.  The naked multitude, on, under, and around the scaffold, were flinging the remains of their dead, discharged from their envelopments of skins, pell-mell into the pit, where Brébeuf discerned men who, as the ghastly shower fell around them, arranged the bones in their places with long poles. All was soon over; earth, logs, and stones were cast upon the grave, and the clamor subsided into a funereal chant, — so dreary and lugubrious, that it seemed to the Jesuits the wail of despairing souls from the abyss of perdition. 
[1 In some of these graves, recently discovered, five or six large copper kettles have been found, in a position corresponding with the account of Brébeuf. In one, there were no less than twenty-six kettles.]
[2 “Iamais rien ce m’a mieux figuré la confusion qui est parmy les damnez. Vous eussiez veu décharger de tous costez des corps ŕ demy pourris, et de tous costez on entendoit vn horrible tintamarre de voix confuses de personnes qui parloient et ne s’entendoient pas.” — Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636, 135.]
[3 “Approchans, nous vismes tout ŕ fait une image de l’Enfer: cette grande place estoit toute remplie de feux & de flammes, & l’air retentissoit de toutes parts des voix confuses de ces Barbares,” etc. — Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636, 209 (Cramoisy).]
[4 “Se mirent ŕ chanter, mais d’un ton si lamentable & si lugubre, qu’il nous representoit l’horrible tristesse & l’abysme du desespoir dans lequel sont plongées pour iamais ces âmes malheureuses.” — Ibid., 210.]
– The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, Chapter 1 by Francis Parkman
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.