How the quarrel began between the Iroquois and their Huron kindred no man can tell, and it is not worth while to conjecture.
Previously in The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century.
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The Council was reorganized, and now consisted of the Governor, the Superior of the Jesuits, and three of the principal inhabitants. [The Governors of Montreal and Three Rivers, when present had also seats in the Council.] These last were to be chosen every three years by the Council itself, in conjunction with the Syndics of Quebec, Montreal, and Three Rivers. The Syndic was an officer elected by the inhabitants of the community to which he belonged, to manage its affairs. Hence a slight ingredient of liberty was introduced into the new organization.
The colony, since the transfer of the fur-trade, had become a resident corporation of merchants, with the Governor and Council at its head. They were at once the directors of a trading company, a legislative assembly, a court of justice, and an executive body: more even than this, for they regulated the private affairs of families and individuals. The appointment and payment of clerks and the examining of accounts mingled with high functions of government; and the new corporation of the inhabitants seems to have been managed with very little consultation of its members. How the Father Superior acquitted himself in his capacity of director of a fur-company is nowhere recorded.
[Those curious in regard to these new regulations will find an account of them, at greater length, in Ferland and Faillon.]
As for Montreal, though it had given a Governor to the colony, its prospects were far from hopeful. The ridiculous Dauversičre, its chief founder, was sick and bankrupt; and the Associates of Montreal, once so full of zeal and so abounding in wealth, were reduced to nine persons. What it had left of vitality was in the enthusiastic Mademoiselle Mance, the earnest and disinterested soldier, Maisonneuve, and the priest, Olier, with his new Seminary of St. Sulpice.
Let us visit Quebec in midwinter. We pass the warehouses and dwellings of the lower town, and as we climb the zigzag way now called Mountain Street, the frozen river, the roofs, the summits of the cliff, and all the broad landscape below and around us glare in the sharp sunlight with a dazzling whiteness. At the top, scarcely a private house is to be seen; but, instead, a fort, a church, a hospital, a cemetery, a house of the Jesuits, and an Ursuline convent. Yet, regardless of the keen air, soldiers, Jesuits, servants, officials, women, all of the little community who are not cloistered, are abroad and astir. Despite the gloom of the times, an unwonted cheer enlivens this rocky perch of France and the Faith; for it is New-Year’s Day, and there is an active interchange of greetings and presents. Thanks to the nimble pen of the Father Superior, we know what each gave and what each received. He thus writes in his private journal: — “The soldiers went with their guns to salute Monsieur the Governor; and so did also the inhabitants in a body. He was beforehand with us, and came here at seven o’clock to wish us a happy New-Year, each in turn, one after another. I went to see him after mass. Another time we must be beforehand with him. M. Giffard also came to see us. The Hospital nuns sent us letters of compliment very early in the morning; and the Ursulines sent us some beautiful presents, with candles, rosaries, a crucifix, etc., and, at dinner time, two excellent pies. I sent them two images, in enamel, of St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier. We gave to M. Giffard Father Bonnet’s book on the life of Our Lord; to M. des Châtelets, a little volume on Eternity; to M. Bourdon, a telescope and compass; and to others, reliquaries, rosaries, medals, images, etc. I went to see M. Giffard, M. Couillard, and Mademoiselle de Repentigny. The Ursulines sent to beg that I would come and see them before the end of the day. I went, and paid my compliments also to Madame de la Peltrie, who sent us some presents. I was near leaving this out, which would have been a sad oversight. We gave a crucifix to the woman who washes the church-linen, a bottle of eau-de-vie to Abraham, four handkerchiefs to his wife, some books of devotion to others, and two handkerchiefs to Robert Hache. He asked for two more, and we gave them to him.”
[Journal des Supérieurs des Jésuites, MS. Only fragments of this curious record are extant. It was begun by Lalemant in 1645. For the privilege of having what remains of it copied I am indebted to M. Jacques Viger. The entry translated above is of Jan. 1, 1646. Of the persons named in it, Giffard was seigneur of Beauport, and a member of the Council; Des Châtelets was one of the earliest settlers, and connected by marriage with Giffard; Couillard was son-in-law of the first settler, Hébert; Mademoiselle de Repentigny was daughter of Le Gardeur de Repentigny, commander of the fleet; Madame de la Peltrie has been described already; Bourdon was chief engineer of the colony; Abraham was Abraham Martin, pilot for the King on the St. Lawrence, from whom the historic Plains of Abraham received their name. (See Ferland, Notes sur Registres, 16.) The rest were servants, or persons of humble station.]
It was a strange and miserable spectacle to behold the savages of this continent at the time when the knell of their common ruin had already sounded. Civilization had gained a foothold on their borders. The long and gloomy reign of barbarism was drawing near its close, and their united efforts could scarcely have availed to sustain it. Yet, in this crisis of their destiny, these doomed tribes were tearing each other’s throats in a wolfish fury, joined to an intelligence that served little purpose but mutual destruction.
How the quarrel began between the Iroquois and their Huron kindred no man can tell, and it is not worth while to conjecture. At this time, the ruling passion of the savage Confederates was the annihilation of this rival people and of their Algonquin allies, — if the understanding between the Hurons and these incoherent hordes can be called an alliance. United, they far outnumbered the Iroquois. Indeed, the Hurons alone were not much inferior in force; for, by the largest estimates, the strength of the five Iroquois nations must now have been considerably less than three thousand warriors. Their true superiority was a moral one. They were in one of those transports of pride, self-confidence, and rage for ascendency, which, in a savage people, marks an era of conquest. With all the defects of their organization, it was far better than that of their neighbors. There were bickerings, jealousies, plottings, and counter plottings, separate wars and separate treaties, among the five members of the league; yet nothing could sunder them. The bonds that united them were like cords of India-rubber: they would stretch, and the parts would be seemingly disjoined, only to return to their old union with the recoil. Such was the elastic strength of those relations of clanship which were the life of the league.
[See ante, Introduction.]
The first meeting of white men with the Hurons found them at blows with the Iroquois; and from that time forward, the war raged with increasing fury. Small scalping-parties infested the Huron forests, killing squaws in the cornfields, or entering villages at midnight to tomahawk their sleeping inhabitants. Often, too, invasions were made in force. Sometimes towns were set upon and burned, and sometimes there were deadly conflicts in the depths of the forests and the passes of the hills. The invaders were not always successful. A bloody rebuff and a sharp retaliation now and then requited them. Thus, in 1638, a war-party of a hundred Iroquois met in the forest a band of three hundred Huron and Algonquin warriors. They might have retreated, and the greater number were for doing so; but Ononkwaya, an Oneida chief, refused. “Look!” he said, “the sky is clear; the Sun beholds us. If there were clouds to hide our shame from his sight, we might fly; but, as it is, we must fight while we can.” They stood their ground for a time, but were soon overborne. Four or five escaped; but the rest were surrounded, and killed or taken. This year, Fortune smiled on the Hurons; and they took, in all, more than a hundred prisoners, who were distributed among their various towns, to be burned. These scenes, with them, occurred always in the night; and it was held to be of the last importance that the torture should be protracted from sunset till dawn. The too valiant Ononkwaya was among the victims. Even in death he took his revenge; for it was thought an augury of disaster to the victors, if no cry of pain could he extorted from the sufferer, and, on the present occasion, he displayed an unflinching courage, rare even among Indian warriors. His execution took place at the town of Teanaustayé, called St. Joseph by the Jesuits. The Fathers could not save his life, but, what was more to the purpose, they baptized him. On the scaffold where he was burned, he wrought himself into a fury which seemed to render him insensible to pain. Thinking him nearly spent, his tormentors scalped him, when, to their amazement, he leaped up, snatched the brands that had been the instruments of his torture, drove the screeching crowd from the scaffold, and held them all at bay, while they pelted him from below with sticks, stones, and showers of live coals. At length he made a false step and fell to the ground, when they seized him and threw him into the fire. He instantly leaped out, covered with blood, cinders, and ashes, and rushed upon them, with a blazing brand in each hand. The crowd gave way before him, and he ran towards the town, as if to set it on fire. They threw a pole across his way, which tripped him and flung him headlong to the earth, on which they all fell upon him, cut off his hands and feet, and again threw him into the fire. He rolled himself out, and crawled forward on his elbows and knees, glaring upon them with such unutterable ferocity that they recoiled once more, till, seeing that he was helpless, they threw themselves upon him, and cut off his head.
[Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1639, 68. It was this chief whose severed hand was thrown to the Jesuits. See ante, chapter 11 (page 137).]
When the Iroquois could not win by force, they were sometimes more successful with treachery. In the summer of 1645, two war-parties of the hostile nations met in the forest. The Hurons bore themselves so well that they had nearly gained the day, when the Iroquois called for a parley, displayed a great number of wampum-belts, and said that they wished to treat for peace. The Hurons had the folly to consent. The chiefs on both sides sat down to a council, during which the Iroquois, seizing a favorable moment, fell upon their dupes and routed them completely, killing and capturing a considerable number.
[Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1646, 55.]
– The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, Chapter 23 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.