Onontio, give ear. I am the mouth of all my nation. When you listen to me, you listen to all the Iroquois.
Previously in The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century.
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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.
[1: 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.
[2: 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 Hurons 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,  sitting, lying, or squatting on the ground. On the right hand and on the left were Hurons 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.
[3: The Atticamegues, or tribe of the White Fish, dwelt in the forests north of Three Rivers. They much resembled their Montagnais kindred.]
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 traveller 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 Hurons 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, Hurons, Algonquins, Montagnais, Atticamegues, and French, all took part, after their respective fashions.
– The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, Chapter 19 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.