“Which will you choose,” demanded the priest of a dying woman, “Heaven or Hell?” “Hell, if my children are there, as you say,” returned the mother.
Previously in The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century.
Our special project presenting the definitive account of France in Canada by Francis Parkman, one of America’s greatest historians.
All turned with longing eyes towards the mission of the Hurons; for here the largest harvest promised to repay their labor, and here hardships and dangers most abounded. Two Jesuits, Pijart and Le Mercier, had been sent thither in 1635; and in midsummer of the next year three more arrived, — Jogues, Chatelain, and Garnier. When, after their long and lonely journey, they reached Ihonatiria one by one, they were received by their brethren with scanty fare indeed, but with a fervor of affectionate welcome which more than made amends; for among these priests, united in a community of faith and enthusiasm, there was far more than the genial comradeship of men joined in a common enterprise of self-devotion and peril.  On their way, they had met Daniel and Davost descending to Quebec, to establish there a seminary of Huron children, — a project long cherished by Brébeuf and his companions.
[1 “Ie luy preparay de ce que nous auions, pour le receuoir, mais quel festin! vne poignée de petit poisson sec auec vn peu de farine; i’enuoyay chercher quelques nouueaux espics, que nous luy fismes rostir ŕ la façon du pays; mais il est vray que dans son cur et ŕ l’entendre, il ne fit iamais meilleure chere. La ioye qui se ressent ŕ ces entreueuës semble estre quelque image du contentement des bien-heureux ŕ leur arriuée dans le Ciel, tant elle est pleine de suauité.” — Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1637, 106.]
Scarcely had the new-comers arrived, when they were attacked by a contagious fever, which turned their mission-house into a hospital. Jogues, Garnier, and Chatelain fell ill in turn; and two of their domestics also were soon prostrated, though the only one of the number who could hunt fortunately escaped. Those who remained in health attended the sick, and the sufferers vied with each other in efforts often beyond their strength to relieve their companions in misfortune.  The disease in no case proved fatal; but scarcely had health begun to return to their household, when an unforeseen calamity demanded the exertion of all their energies.
[2 Lettre de Brébeuf au T. R. P. Mutio Vitelleschi, 20 Mai, 1637, in Carayon, 157. Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1637, 120, 123.]
The pestilence, which for two years past had from time to time visited the Huron towns, now returned with tenfold violence, and with it soon appeared a new and fearful scourge, — the small-pox. Terror was universal. The contagion increased as autumn advanced; and when winter came, far from ceasing, as the priests had hoped, its ravages were appalling. The season of Huron festivity was turned to a season of mourning; and such was the despondency and dismay, that suicide became frequent. The Jesuits, singly or in pairs, journeyed in the depth of winter from village to village, ministering to the sick, and seeking to commend their religious teachings by their efforts to relieve bodily distress. Happily, perhaps, for their patients, they had no medicine but a little senna. A few raisins were left, however; and one or two of these, with a spoonful of sweetened water, were always eagerly accepted by the sufferers, who thought them endowed with some mysterious and sovereign efficacy. No house was left unvisited. As the missionary, physician at once to body and soul, entered one of these smoky dens, he saw the inmates, their heads muffled in their robes of skins, seated around the fires in silent dejection. Everywhere was heard the wail of sick and dying children; and on or under the platforms at the sides of the house crouched squalid men and women, in all the stages of the distemper. The Father approached, made inquiries, spoke words of kindness, administered his harmless remedies, or offered a bowl of broth made from game brought in by the Frenchman who hunted for the mission. 
[3 Game was so scarce in the Huron country, that it was greatly prized as a luxury. Le Mercier speaks of an Indian, sixty years of age, who walked twelve miles to taste the wild-fowl killed by the French hunter. The ordinary food was corn, beans, pumpkins, and fish.]
The body cared for, he next addressed himself to the soul. “This life is short, and very miserable. It matters little whether we live or die.” The patient remained silent, or grumbled his dissent. The Jesuit, after enlarging for a time, in broken Huron, on the brevity and nothingness of mortal weal or woe, passed next to the joys of Heaven and the pains of Hell, which he set forth with his best rhetoric. His pictures of infernal fires and torturing devils were readily comprehended, if the listener had consciousness enough to comprehend anything; but with respect to the advantages of the French Paradise, he was slow of conviction. “I wish to go where my relations and ancestors have gone,” was a common reply. “Heaven is a good place for Frenchmen,” said another; “but I wish to be among Indians, for the French will give me nothing to eat when I get there.” 
Often the patient was stolidly silent; sometimes he was hopelessly perverse and contradictory. Again, Nature triumphed over Grace. “Which will you choose,” demanded the priest of a dying woman, “Heaven or Hell?” “Hell, if my children are there, as you say,” returned the mother. “Do they hunt in Heaven, or make war, or go to feasts?” asked an anxious inquirer. “Oh, no!” replied the Father. “Then,” returned the querist, “I will not go. It is not good to be lazy.” But above all other obstacles was the dread of starvation in the regions of the blest. Nor, when the dying Indian had been induced at last to express a desire for Paradise, was it an easy matter to bring him to a due contrition for his sins; for he would deny with indignation that he had ever committed any. When at length, as sometimes happened, all these difficulties gave way, and the patient had been brought to what seemed to his instructor a fitting frame for baptism, the priest, with contentment at his heart, brought water in a cup or in the hollow of his hand, touched his forehead with the mystic drop, and snatched him from an eternity of woe. But the convert, even after his baptism, did not always manifest a satisfactory spiritual condition. “Why did you baptize that Iroquois?” asked one of the dying neophytes, speaking of the prisoner recently tortured; “he will get to Heaven before us, and, when he sees us coming, he will drive us out.” 
[4 It was scarcely possible to convince the Indians, that there was but one God for themselves and the whites. The proposition was met by such arguments as this: “If we had been of one father, we should know how to make knives and coats as well as you.” — Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1637, 147.]
[5 Most of the above traits are drawn from Le Mercier’s report of 1637. The rest are from Brébeuf.]
Thus did these worthy priests, too conscientious to let these unfortunates die in peace, follow them with benevolent persecutions to the hour of their death.
It was clear to the Fathers, that their ministrations were valued solely because their religion was supposed by many to be a “medicine,” or charm, efficacious against famine, disease, and death. They themselves, indeed, firmly believed that saints and angels were always at hand with temporal succors for the faithful. At their intercession, St. Joseph had interposed to procure a happy delivery to a squaw in protracted pains of childbirth;  and they never doubted, that, in the hour of need, the celestial powers would confound the unbeliever with intervention direct and manifest. At the town of Wenrio, the people, after trying in vain all the feasts, dances, and preposterous ceremonies by which their medicine-men sought to stop the pest, resolved to essay the “medicine” of the French, and, to that end, called the priests to a council. “What must we do, that your God may take pity on us?” Brébeuf’s answer was uncompromising: —
“Believe in Him; keep His commandments; abjure your faith in dreams; take but one wife, and be true to her; give up your superstitious feasts; renounce your assemblies of debauchery; eat no human flesh; never give feasts to demons; and make a vow, that, if God will deliver you from this pest, you will build a chapel to offer Him thanksgiving and praise.” 
[6 Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636, 89. Another woman was delivered on touching a relic of St. Ignatius. Ibid., 90.]
[7 Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1637, 114, 116 (Cramoisy).]
The terms were too hard. They would fain bargain to be let off with building the chapel alone; but Brébeuf would bate them nothing, and the council broke up in despair.
Priests and Sorcerers
At Ossossané, a few miles distant, the people, in a frenzy of terror, accepted the conditions, and promised to renounce their superstitions and reform their manners. It was a labor of Hercules, a cleansing of Augean stables; but the scared savages were ready to make any promise that might stay the pestilence. One of their principal sorcerers proclaimed in a loud voice through the streets of the town, that the God of the French was their master, and that thenceforth all must live according to His will. “What consolation,” exclaims Le Mercier, “to see God glorified by the lips of an imp of Satan!”
[8 Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1637, 127, 128 (Cramoisy).]
Their joy was short. The proclamation was on the twelfth of December. On the twenty-first, a noted sorcerer came to Ossossané. He was of a dwarfish, hump-backed figure, — most rare among this symmetrical people, — with a vicious face, and a dress consisting of a torn and shabby robe of beaver-skin. Scarcely had he arrived, when, with ten or twelve other savages, he ensconced himself in a kennel of bark made for the occasion. In the midst were placed several stones, heated red-hot. On these the sorcerer threw tobacco, producing a stifling fumigation; in the midst of which, for a full half-hour, he sang, at the top of his throat, those boastful, yet meaningless, rhapsodies of which Indian magical songs are composed. Then came a grand “medicine-feast”; and the disappointed Jesuits saw plainly that the objects of their spiritual care, unwilling to throw away any chance of cure, were bent on invoking aid from God and the Devil at once.
– 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.