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.

Chapter Four


CHAMPLAIN saw his Indian allies "like brute beasts, without faith, without law, without religion, without God." He returned from one of his voyages to France with four Recollet friars, inflamed with zeal to carry the true faith into the wilderness.

Meantime the Indian tribes otherwise separated agreed in importuning Champlain for aid against the common enemy, the Five Nations. It was the policy of New France to give this aid, and Champlain was ever ready for new adventure and fresh discovery, He attended a council of Ottawa and Huron Indians, at which they agreed to furnish about twenty-five hundred men, to which Champlain promised to add all he could command, and with this force they planned to strike a blow at the very heart of the redoubtable Five Nations. Champlain went to Quebec to make preparations and when he returned to Montreal, where the council had been held, he found that the fickle Indians had vanished. One of the friars, Father Joseph Le Caron, determined to spend the winter among the savages, had gone with them, accompanied by twelve well-armed Frenchmen.

With Champlain, a project once undertaken was pursued to the end. Taking with him two Indians, Etienne Brule, his interpreter, and one other Frenchman, he ascended the Ottawa and its tributary, the Mattawan. He crossed the Indian carry from this stream to Lake Nipissing, where lived a band of Indians of this name, afterwards called " the Sorcerers" on account of their special devotion to witchcraft and medicine-men. Champlain's party descended the outlet of this lake, and here they suffered much from hunger; for the improvident Indians had swallowed the provisions destined for the whole journey, and now bore the consequent hunger stoically enough, no doubt. The party lived for days on blueberries and raspberries, which they fortunately found in abundance. One day their eyes were greeted with the sight of Lake Huron, which was perhaps the north sea described by Vignan, he having heard doubtless of its wide expanse from the Indians. In their light canoes the party soon reached a Huron town surrounded by Indian corn, pumpkins, and sunflowers. Here the travellers were bountifully feasted. They moved from town to town until they reached the one of their destination, guarded by a triple palisade thirty-five feet high. At this place Friar Le Caron had his winter home, a cabin of bark. The friar and Champlain embraced when they met.

Mass was celebrated by the Frenchmen. Meantime day after day passed in feasting and idleness. Champlain became restless, and with some of his men explored the neighboring- country. At last the Hurons and their allies had assembled. More were to join them in the country of the Iroquois. The army set out, stopping at one place to fish and at another to hunt deer. Five hundred Indians formed in line, and, closing in around the deer, drove them on to a point where Indians in canoes slaughtered them as fast as they took to the water. The interpreter, Etienne Brule, voluntarily heading a party of twelve Indians to hasten the allies to the place of rendezvous, had parted from the main band.

Crossing Lake Ontario, the Indians hid their canoes, and the army began its rapid silent filing through the woods. For four days this steady march was continued through the country of the Five Nations, one Iroquois fishing-party of men, women, and children being captured. They at last came upon the Seneca town of their destination. Skulking behind trees on the edge of the forest, they could see the Senecas gathering their harvests of Indian corn and pumpkins. Nothing could restrain the impetuosity of the Hurons. With a wild war-whoop they rushed upon their enemies, who, in turn, fiercely defended themselves and routed the attacking party. Champlain and his companions were obliged to interfere from the edge of the forest with a brisk fire, which forced the Senecas to retreat within their town ; not, however, until they had secured their dead and wounded.

The disordered and impulsive attack had now closed the way to any further surprise; and this castle of the Senecas was very formidable. Before the besiegers rose the palisaded walls, four rows deep and thirty feet in height, surmounted by a shielded gallery. The town stood upon the shore of a pond or lake, and water was let into it from this by means of sluices, while gutters were supplied upon the palisades for use in case of fire.

Champlain berated his allies soundly, around the evening campfires, for their inconsiderate attack. On the following morning they all set vigorously to work under his guidance. Trees were hewed down, and from them a rude wooden tower was built, higher than the palisades of the Seneca town. Great movable wooden shields, under cover of which the walls of the town could be fired, were made in imitation of those used in the middle ages. One can imagine the astonishment of the Iroquois warriors as they watched this work. In a few hours all was done, and the assault began. Two hundred of the strongest Indians bravely dragged the tower to within a pike's length of the town. Three Frenchmen mounted to the top of this structure and opened fire upon the inmates. The elated besiegers were frantic; nothing could control them. Shouting, leaping, and dancing in every form of disorder, their arrows rattled around the well-defended town, from which they were answered with showers of stones. In their eagerness they abandoned the movable shields designed to cover attempts to fire the palisades. One bold warrior ran forward, unshielded, with firebrands. He was followed by others with combustible material. A fire was built at the foot of the palisades, but floods of water quickly descended upon it from above. Champlain tried to muster his forces into something like order. It was of no use. Every warrior had his own opinion as to what should be done. Every warrior shouted, and Champlain could not hear his own voice in the confusion.

After three hours the attack was abandoned. Seventeen Indians were wounded, and Champlain himself was disabled with two arrows in his legs. The savages were now as disheartened as they had been elated. It was a gloomy concourse which sat around the evening campfire. Champlain urged a renewed attack, but the Indians would not budge; so easily is Indian courage damped. They resolved to wait the arrival of the five hundred allies who were expected to meet them here. For five days they waited, spending the time in skirmishing, and then the fickle army filed away, attacked fiercely in the rear by the Senecas. The wounded were carried off doubled up into baskets and strapped upon the backs of Indians. We can imagine the impatience of Champlain, who was still among the wounded, and who, as he says, could "no more move than an infant in swaddling clothes." Never was a man perhaps in a more uncomfortable position. " I lost all patience," says he, " and as soon as I could bear my weight I got out of this prison, or, to speak plainly, out of hell."

Meantime where was Etienne Brule, the intrepid messenger to the allies? After leaving the main body of warriors, he and his companions had crossed Lake Huron and picked their way through the forests, avoiding paths and trails, for they were in the Seneca country. They nevertheless succeeded in making some Iroquois prisoners, which they carried to the town where the allies-probably Eries-lived. Here, though but three days march from the besieged town, the Frenchman must needs be feasted and entertained, and when the battleground was reached the besiegers were gone.

Brule must spend the winter among the Indians, but, adventurer as he was, he was not averse to this. He spent his time in exploring a large river, probably the Susquehanna.

In the spring several Indians offered to accompany him to the country of the Hurons on his homeward journey. As they were marching through the enemies' country a band of Iroquois suddenly rushed upon them. The party scattered. Brule ran from his pursuers deep into the woods and found himself alone and saved, but only, as it seemed, to die of hunger. For days he wandered, and at last came upon an Indian footpath. Preferring to risk the Iroquois rather than to starve, he followed the path. He saw ahead three Indians bearing freshly-caught fish. Brule called to them in the Huron language, which was allied to the Iroquois. Astonished at his strange costume and arms, his pale face and beard, the Indians began to run from him. But the starving Frenchman flung down his arms and told the story of his hunger. The Indians turned back, smoked a peace pipe with him, led him to their village, and fed him. He was surrounded by an amazed crowd of Iroquois.

" Where did you come from ?" said they. " Are you not one of the men of iron who make war on us?"

" No," answered Brule, " I am of a nation better than the French, and friends to the Five Nations." But the Indians did not believe him. The evidence was against him, and they determined to burn their victim. The chief endeavored to save his life, but the bloodthirsty savages must have their way. Brule was tied to a tree, tortured with -firebrands, and his beard was pulled out by the handful. The prisoner wore around his neck an Agnus Dei. One of the Indians asked what it was, and tried to snatch it.

"If you touch that," said Brule, "you and all your people will die."

But the Indian was determined to touch it. It was one of those oppressive, sultry days which precede a thunder-storm. Brule solemnly pointed to the black clouds, which had swept unnoticed into the sky, as signs of the anger of his God. A fierce storm broke, and the savages, struck with superstitious fear, fled. Their victim must have been indeed grateful, as he stood under the drenching shower still bound to the tree. The friendly chief returned, after a time, and set him free. From this time on Brule was their companion at feast and dance, and doubtless spared no pains to make himself agreeable to his Iroquois hosts. When at last he escaped, and reached again his home in the little colony, his face was marked with he scars of his burning, and he was probably then dubbed Etienne Brule, or Etienne the Burned, the name by which he has come down to us in history.

Champlain himself had had his adventures ere he returned to Quebec. On reaching the home of the Huron Indians, the chief would fain have allowed him an escort, but the warriors, in the freedom of Indian democracy, were none of them inclined to undertake the guidance of Champlain. He, too, must spend the winter with the Indians. He accompanied them on their fall hunt. At one time he was lost. He had wandered away to shoot a bird of bright plumage. For several days he travelled through the woods, despairing of ever finding the camps of his friends. He at last found a tiny stream which he resolved to follow, hoping it might lead to the river on which the Indians were encamped. He followed this stream, walked around the borders of a lake into which it ran, followed it again as it ran out, and at length came upon the very camp he was seeking, to the great joy of the Indians, who never allowed Champlain to go off alone again.

The winter was spent in voyages of discovery, in which the explorer sought to extend the trade of his colony. He was at one time called upon to settle an Indian quarrel which threatened to result seriously. The Hurons had presented the Ottawas with an Iroquois prisoner, that they might have the pleasure of torturing him. The latter Indians, however, adopted the Iroquois and treated him kindly. The Hurons were enraged, and one of their warriors stabbed the prisoner in the very face of the chiefs who had adopted him, and they, in turn, shot the murderer through and through with arrows. This seemed likely to be a fruitful source of trouble, and war between the tribes would cut off much of the colony's trade with the Indians. A collision had already taken place when Champlain was called on to act as umpire. He met the hostile chiefs in solemn council, spoke to them of the folly of division among themselves when the common enemy, the Five Nations, stood ready to destroy them. He urged them to shake hands and be brothers again. Peace was made, gifts of wampum were exchanged in reparation for all injuries done, and the chiefs of both nations smoked together again. Champlain at last reached Quebec, where he was received as one risen from the dead.

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