Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.



IN the month of July, 1654, Le Moyne set out on his dangerous mission, accompanied by a young Frenchman and several Indians. He seems to have had the keenest enjoyment of the wild woods life. On arriving at the capitol, or, as the Indians would term it, the council-house, of the Six Nations, among the Onondagas, the Jesuit was received with the warmest welcome. Crowds of Indians came out to meet him. He was feasted upon roasted corn and bread made from the pulp of green corn, which is considered a choice dainty among the Indians. He was called brother, uncle, and cousin by the affectionate Indians. " I never had so many relatives," said he. To the Jesuit's great joy he found that many Hurons who had been adopted among the Onondagas had not forgotten the teachings of the missionaries. When representatives from the Senecas, Cayugas, and Oneidas had been summoned (the Mohawks were angry that the ambassador had not first been sent to them), a council was opened. In the midst of the councilhouse, among the assembled chiefs and warriors, Father Le Moyne knelt, praying for the protection of angels, and cursing the demons naturally supposed to attend Indians. The Jesuit, well versed in the Indian language, began his speech, imitating the flowery oratory of the savages, using the tone of a chief, and moving back and forth in the Indian manner as he spoke. He had not forgotten to bring suitable presents with him. What more natural than that the savages should have been delighted, especially as he presented them with four hatchets, emblematical of encouragement in their war with the Eries ? When Le Moyne closed his telling speech, the council - house resounded with the applauding Ho! ho! ho ! of chiefs and warriors.

Meantime the Mohawks, enraged with jealousy, and having no part in the Erie war, constantly threatened the settlements. A war-party attacked Father Le Moyne on his return journey and killed all his Indians, with the exception of an Onondaga who used such threats that he and the Jesuit were released. There were several outbreaks on the part of the Iroquois until they received a rebuff at Montreal, when they again made peace, but boldly announced their intention of still making war upon the neighboring Huron and Algonquin Indians. The French were pledged in every way to protect these allies, but they must now swallow the dose given them by the arrogant Mohawks. The intrepid Le Moyne made a trip to the Mohawk towns to soothe and flatter these dreaded Indians. Meantime the Onondagas demanded that the promised colony be planted in their country. The promise was renewed, but two of the indefatigable Jesuits were sent into the Onondaga country to gain time. Here Father Chaumonot out did the Indians in their own style of oratory. The latter were delighted. The Jesuits were answered with suspiciously wordy and affectionate protestations of friendship. Meantime the fathers saw ominous signs of the bloodthirsty mood of the Six Nations. Erie prisoners were tortured, and the adopted Hurons were killed on the most trivial provocations. The Jesuits perceived that if the French colony were founded at Onondaga it must be founded quickly. The Indians now not only offered urgent invitations, but they began to threaten. The state of the case must be set before the authorities at Quebec immediately. It was with difficulty that Father Dablon procured an escort on his dangerous return journey to the colony, over thawing ice, through slush, and in spring rains. After long and anxious council at Quebec, it was decided to found the colony at Onondaga. The Jesuits bore the expense, and the Jesuits undertook the dangerous mission. Accompanied by some forty or fifty soldiers and civilians, Huron, Onondaga, and Seneca Indians, the Jesuits set out in boats and canoes, watched from the shore by the anxious colonists.

The Mohawks were enraged with jealousy when they heard of the expedition. The Onondagas had not only stolen a march upon them, but the Mohawks, through this French colony, would lose the paying trade which they had kept up with the more western nations in arms, ammunition, beads, blankets, and brandy; they having received these articles from the Dutch. Three hundred of their braves were already on the war-path. Ambushed some thirty miles above Quebec, they let the Frenchmen's boats pass unmolested, but they fired at the Indian canoes, and falling upon as many of the Indians as they could catch, they beat and tied them. The Onondagas remonstrated with their captors for this breach of faith in members of the confederacy. The Mohawks immediately pretended to great astonishment, saying they had taken their brothers for Huron Indians. They then released them, and, passing Quebec in the nighttime, placed themselves in ambush around the cornfields of the Hurons. When the latter came to work, they succeeded in killing six and capturing eighty, the remainder seeking refuge in their fort.

The insolent Mohawks now passed before Quebec in broad daylight, displaying their booty and forcing their captives, many of whom were girls, to dance in the canoes. Some of the Mohawks even landed and plundered the houses in the neighborhood of Quebec from which the inhabitants had fled. Still the French dared not make a move. With a part of their colony in the very heart of the Six Nations they were helpless. The captives were carried to the Mohawk towns; six of them were burned and the remainder were adopted.

Meanwhile the adventurous little band of colonists were making their way to Onondaga. The Indians of their party came upon a band of Mohawks, whom they robbed, venting on them their revenge for the indignities they had received at the hands of their nation. At another time they heard a loud wail in the woods. Beating their drums to announce that they were Frenchmen, they were answered by the appearance of a frightfully scarred and emaciated Huron. He had been through the first stage of Mohawk burnings and torture; his tormentors had lain down to sleep, prepared to continue their amusement when they awakened. The poor savage had managed to escape from his bonds, and had fled, naked as he was, to the woods. He had wandered for fifteen days, living upon what wild strawberries he could find. The French fed the happy fellow and gave him a canoe, that he might reach his home in safety.

Before the adventurers had neared their destination their provisions were gone, fishing had failed them, most of their Indians had deserted, and the Father Superior was sick. They were forced to live upon the dried and weather-beaten cranberries of the last year's growth which they found. It was with faint and discouraged hearts that they began the ascent of the Oswego, when they were met by three canoes laden with corn and salmon, sent by the Onondagas as a welcome. The adventurers landed at Onondaga Lake with impressive pomp. Their five minature cannons were fired, and the party approached the shore four canoes abreast, headed by their white banner embroidered with the name of Jesus. The " black robes," as the Indians called the Jesuits, among the bright, glittering costumes of the soldiers, the picturesque dress of woodsmen, and the gala paint and ornaments of the Indians made a bright show.

The Frenchmen immediately began the erection of their fort on the lake shore. The Jesuits, with an escort of soldiers, went on to Onondaga, some fifteen miles farther. Here a national council was held, attended by Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. The French were feasted and wondered at. Some Mohawks alone showed a sarcastic turn of mind, but they were quickly put down by the ready wit of Father Chaumonot. Here the Jesuits attended the council, here a tiny chapel was built, and the missionary work went forward.

Meantime, in spite of heat, mosquitoes, and sickness, a palisaded fort arose at Onondaga Lake; and the banner of France was planted deep within the continent, where it might bid defiance to the encroachments of the Dutch.

In their first affectionate reception the Jesuits had thought that if the Indians should murder them it would be " from fickleness, and not from premeditated treachery," but daily intimacy with the savages soon showed them the unsafe ground on which they trod. Still the fathers labored, hoped, and endured, travelling on their missionary labors among all the tribes of the confederacy except the Mohawk. The Jesuits found that their influence was mostly with the women, and upon this they founded great hopes, as women were very influential among the Iroquois, holding a council of their own and sending a delegate to the councils of the sachems.

The remnant of the Hurons had abandoned the island of Orleans and fortified themselves at Quebec, under the very walls of the fort. But in the spring following the establishment of the French in the Iroquois country those insatiable tyrants, the Mohawks, descended upon the remaining band to carry it into bondage. Still the weak commander of the French made no resistance, and the Mohawks, becoming more and more overbearing as they found their power, sent insolent messages to the fort and demanded boats in which to carry off their captives. No boats were to be found, however, and the Indians were forced to make some, into which they loaded as many as they could of the unhappy Hurons.

The Onondagas were furious with jealousy when they found the Mohawks thus getting the advantage over them. A band of their warriors immediately went down to Quebec and brought home most of the remainder of the Hurons. The Five Nations were now seething with savage passions. A chief who had been for a fourth time rebuffed in his courtship of a converted Huron girl killed her with one blow of his tomahawk. This was followed by the massacre of seven more captives in the very face of one of the Jesuits.

The next year was a desperate one with the colony at Onondaga. The entire force of Mohawk warriors poured out in a war upon the Algonquins of Canada. Meanwhile war-belts were circulating. An army of twelve hundred warriors from all of the Five Nations was gathering. The settlements upon the St. Lawrence were a prey to Iroquois depredations. " They approach like foxes," said a Jesuit, "attack like lions, and disappear like birds." Three Frenchmen were killed near Montreal. Meantime, a man of more force was in command at Quebec. He seized twelve Iroquois to serve as hostages. The Indians were enraged. They demanded the release of the prisoners, but they received a very decided refusal.

Affairs grew more and more threatening at the Onondaga mission. The young warriors, less crafty than their elders, displayed the prevailing thirst for blood. Huron captives were murdered from time to time. Rumors often came to the ears of the French that a plot was afoot and that their lives were in jeopardy. At last a dying Indian, doubtless attended at his deathbed by the Jesuits, holding out hopes of heaven and threatening with future punishment, confessed that the French were to be taken prisoners. The Five Nations would then descend upon Quebec, torture their French prisoners in the eyes of the inhabitants, and thus force them to such terms as the Indians might choose. This plot would already have been carried out had it not been for the detention of the twelve hostages at Quebec, which somewhat embarrassed the plotters.

The French at Onondaga sent hasty messengers to bring in the Jesuits from the mission outposts. The little band was all soon gathered within the palisaded house at the lake. Around them encamped the watchful Indians. That dissembled friendliness prevailed which always precedes an Indian massacre. The Jesuits were not to be outdone in dissimulation. An observer would have supposed the Indians, who lounged in and out of , the fort as usual, and the Jesuits, who dispensed their wonted hospitality, to be the firmest and most unsuspicious of friends.

The colony must make a speedy escape or it was lost. It seemed impossible to effect escape in the faces of the suspicious Onondagas, and, first of all, the Frenchmen were without boats. The Jesuits laid their plans. There was an empty loft above their mission-house. Here the colony's carpenters were set to work to secretly build two large boats. It must have been a difficult task to procure the material and do the work without arousing suspicions in the minds of the surrounding Indians. The boats were built, however, and now the most dangerous problem yet remained to be solved, how the boats were to be launched and the escape effected.

There was an institution among the Indians known as the medicine-feast. It was celebrated in behalf of some Indian who was believed to be thus saved from some supernatural trouble, and who took no part in the feast himself. The especial characteristic of the feast was that the feasters were obliged to eat until the object of their anxieties consented that they should stop. The efficacy of this superstitious institution seemed to have consisted in the amount eaten, and Indians were sometimes known thus to have ruined their health for life in behalf of some friend. The Jesuits had always denounced the medicine-feast as an institution of the devil, but they now planned to take advantage of the superstition of the savages within whose clutches they were. A young Frenchman who had been adopted by an Indian went and told his adopted father that he had dreamed that he would soon die, unless a medicine" feast were given in his behalf. Dreams were oracles among the Indians, and they immediately set a day for the ceremony. The French killed their hogs and robbed their store to furnish a plentiful feast. When the appointed night came, the festivities were begun with dancing and games, at which the Jesuits offered rewards. Soon the great steaming kettles were brought in, and each Indian filled the wooden bowl which he had brought with him and fell to work, The feast was accompanied by the French musicians with drum, trumpet, and cymbal. We may be sure they redoubled their noise when they knew that those not present at the feast were stealing down the stairs of the mission-house, and out to the lake shore with the boats which were to save them. The Indians continued to gorge. Again and again they begged the young Frenchman to release them.

" Will you let me die ?" cried he. And the Indians continued to eat. It was nearing midnight. At last the young man said: " That will do, you have eaten enough; my life is saved. Now you can sleep till we come in the morning and call you to prayers."

One of the Frenchmen played softly on the violin, and the stuffed Indians were soon engaged in sleeping off the excesses of the feast. Now the Frenchmen slipped away from the sleeping assembly and stole down to the lake shore, where they found the rest of their companions already in the boats. It was a March night, and the snow was falling. The winter's ice was broken up, but the lake was covered with a thin coating. Men in the foremost boat broke a road through this crust with clubs, and the boats rowed swiftly for the outlet.

When the Indians waked in the morning from their heavy slumbers, they wondered that they were not summoned to prayers, and were amazed at the stillness which reigned about the mission house and within the palisades of the little fort. Those who had lived here for nearly two years had now left Onondaga Lake far behind. After a time the Indians broke into the Frenchmen's buildings, but found them deserted. They searched for footsteps, but the falling snow had obliterated the tracks of the night before. They knew that the Frenchmen had no boats, and they concluded that the Jesuits had by magic flown away through the air with their followers.

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