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.



SOME of the incidents sufficiently illustrate the whole of the long wars of the Iroquois, which devastated nation after nation of Indians and cramped and harassed the French colony, cutting off the trade with friendly tribes upon which it depended, and making victims of many of her bravest men. The Five Nations, and especially the Mohawks, had now become all too familiar with fire arms through their trade with the Dutch, with whom they were on very friendly terms.

The experiences of Father Jogues, a gentle and scholarly Jesuit, were those of many other captives. The missionary, accompanied by two devoted young laymen, Goupil and Couture, with some eleven canoes of Huron Indians, was on his way to the home of these savages, where a mission had been planted. As they ascended the St. Lawrence, the Iroquois war-whoop resounded through the still air, and canoes shot forth from their hiding, place along the banks. Many of the Hurons deserted their companions, though some stood their ground and fought with the French. But more Iroquois appeared from the opposite shore, and the little band took refuge in flight. Goupil and several Christian Hurons were captured. Father Jogues had escaped into the rushes; but when he saw his flock in the clutches of the enemy, he returned and gave himself up. Couture also returned, resolved to share the fate of his friends. The Indians rushed at him; one of them attempted to shoot him, but his gun missed fire, and couture, in his turn, shot the savage down. The others rushed upon the young man, tore off his clothes, ran a sword through his hand, and gnawed and mutilated his fingers. The tender-hearted Jesuit, springing toward his companion, threw his arms, around his neck; in a moment more the Indians laid him senseless with their heavy blows. When he returned to consciousness, they cut and bit his hands like those of his friend.

Those who had been in pursuit of the flying Indians soon returned with a number of captives, and the party departed, after having killed at a blow an old man whom Jogues had just baptized with his mutilated hands, and who had refused to leave the spot. Through the Richelieu they journeyed to Lake Champlain, the prisoners tormented with their wounds and the attacks of mosquitoes. On the lake they met a large band of Iroquois bound for battle. There was mutual rejoicing among the Indians, and the prisoners were forced to run the gauntlet for the amusement of these warriors. Father Jogues fell senseless in the midst of this torture, bruised and bleeding from head to foot. Fire was subsequently applied to his body in various places, and his hands again underwent torture. The brave Christian Huron chief, also a captive, was treated with even more horrible barbarity.

The poor, bruised Jesuit was the first white man who saw the waters of Lake George, to which he gave its ancient name of Lac St. Sacrement. At the head of the lake, the Indians started out by foot, the wounded prisoners staggering under heavy loads, while both captives and captors suffered greatly from hunger. As they neared the first Mohawk town, they were greeted by exultant crowds of savages, and were immediately forced to run the gauntlet. In this race Jogues once fell fainting, but recovered his feet and ran on. The Frenchmen had received the heaviest blows, and were bruised and mangled from head to foot. On reaching the town, the prisoners were placed on a scaffold amid a taunting crowd. For a few moments they took, breath, when a chief shouted to the others to come and "caress" the prisoners.

This was a common phrase among the Indians for the tortures to which they put their enemies. The Indians now fell upon the captives, putting them to every conceivable form of mutilation and torment which would still leave them alive. After this they were taken down, laid upon their backs, and their hands and feet tied to stakes driven in the ground, the universal mode among the Indians of chaining a prisoner. Here the savage children continue their torture by placing hot ashes and live coals upon their bodies.

The programme was much the same in each of the three fortified towns of the Mohawks ; for the Indians must exhibit their captives to all their countrymen. Once Jogues was hung by the wrists, but as he was on the point of fainting, an Indian pitied him and cut him down. Cruel as these savages were, they were not always without the impulse of pity. But the torturing of prisoners, and even cannibalism, were a part of the barbarous customs which were so inexorable among the Indians. The custom of torture was always perpetuated by the desire for retaliation and the necessity for revenge in the Indian superstition. In every Iroquois town were many Indians who had lost friends by the most horrible death at the hands of the enemy. It was a part of their heathenism that these friends were believed to be happier in the future life if their death were revenged. Thus prisoners must be sacrificed not only to satisfy the natural barbarity of the community, but also to quiet the injured relatives in another world. In every suffering the missionary Jesuits never forgot their trust. Believing that souls could only be saved by baptism, they took every opportunity thus to insure a happy future for the heathen around them. Father Jogues, with tortured and fainting body, was on the scaffold when four fresh Huron captives were brought in and placed beside him. He immediately set to work to convert his fellow-sufferers, and, with a few drops of rain which he found on an ear of green corn which was thrown to him, Jogues baptized two of them. When the party were moving for another town, he baptized the other two while passing through a brook.

The young man Couture had gained the admiration of these fierce warriors for his courage, notwithstanding their rage at him for killing one of their number. After passing through the most horrible tortures, he was adopted into an Indian family in the place of a dead relative. A council was held over Jogues and Goupil, but no decision was arrived at. The captives were taken back to the first Mohawk town, to live in slavery and constant danger of their lives. Meanwhile Jogues baptized dying infants, and the young man taught children to make the sign of the cross. The Indians, superstitious as they were, were often roused to suspicion by this mysterious sign. Goupil had made it on the forehead of a grandchild of an old Indian who was his master, and who seeing it, and having been told by some Dutchman that the sign of the cross had to do with the devil, believed that the child had been bewitched. A suspicion of witchcraft among the Indians will inevitably cause the death of the suspected person, and none dare take his part lest he also be proclaimed a witch. Jogues and Goupil had gone into the woods for a walk, praying and consoling one another in the living martyrdom which they endured. As they returned toward the town, they were met and joined by two young warriors with an evil look on their stolid faces. As they neared the village, a hatchet suddenly gleamed from beneath the blanket of one of the Indians, and Goupil fell to the ground with the name of Jesus on his lips. We cannot but be glad that the young man's death was so merciful. Jogues kneeled beside his friend, praying and awaiting a like death, when the Indians suddenly told him to go home. Having seen the body of his friend dragged through the town, Jogues spent the night in grief over his bereavement. In the morning, caring little for his, own life, the Jesuit started to seek his friend's remains.

" Where are you going so fast ?" demanded the old Indian who had caused Goupil's death. " Don't you see those fierce young braves who are watching to kill you ?"

But Jogues cared not, and the old man, probably unwilling to lose a slave who was not a witch, took with him another Indian, and followed the Jesuit to protect him against the bloodthirsty young men. Jogues found the poor mangled body in a neighboring ravine, where a little stream ran. He drew it into the brook and covered it with stones, that the dogs might not get at it, hoping to escape from the town and bury it where it would not be disturbed. A severe storm swelled the little stream to a flood, and when Jogues crept forth in the early morning to seek his dead, he found the body gone. He waded into the icy water, he looked among the rocks and in the forest, but he could not find the corpse. The gentle-hearted priest kneeled by the roaring brook, and, with tears and groans, chanted the service of the dead. Long months afterwards he found the bones of his friend in a lonesome spot where the pitiless Indians had thrown the body, and Jogues had the satisfaction of gathering them up and hiding them.

After the death of his companion, the Jesuit would gladly have died also, and indeed he was momentarily threatened with death. The gentle, studious priest was no object of admiration to the wild warriors. They could appreciate the brave Couture, who had killed one of his captors before he was taken, but this meek man who slaved for them like a squaw, who refused to eat their meat because they had offered it to their gods, who crouched silent and miserable in his ragged skins at their fireside, bearing abuse and burdens patiently, but rising to stern and reckless indignation when they ridiculed his religion-this man was a despicable object to the Mohawk braves, and was especially hated by the women.

Once when Jogues was absent from the village with a fishing-party, a messenger arrived pretending that signs of the enemy had been seen, but in reality telling Jogues' master that a war-party which had gone out against the French was defeated and destroyed, and that vengeance must be wreaked on the head of the Jesuit. But on reaching the town, the party found that fresh news had arrived: the warriors were safe and on their journey of triumph, with many prisoners. Jogues' life was saved for this time, but he would rather have died than to witness the tortures and death of captives, sometimes converted Indians and allies of the French, and sometimes his own countrymen. Thus Jogues lived, to be sacrificed if Iroquois arms failed, but saved if they were victorious. Meantime he had been now nearly a year among the Mohawks, and as they had no fear of his escaping, the Jesuit was allowed to occupy himself with his old missionary labors. Jogues found himself more happy, and began to think that his sufferings had been providential. He wandered from town to town, converting doomed captives and baptizing some seventy Iroquois children.

At one time the Indians took Jogues with them to a fishing-place, twenty miles below the Dutch post, Fort Orange, where Albany now stands. While here the scrupulous Jesuit heard that a fresh war-party had returned to the Mohawk town, and that two prisoners had been burned. Jogues begged to be allowed to return lest there should yet be work for him to do among the captives. He was finally sent up the river in a returning Iroquois canoe. The Indians whom he was with stopped to trade at Fort Orange, a rough log building surrounded by a Dutch hamlet, whose inhabitants need have no fear of the Mohawks and wandered in the forests with perfect safety. The Dutch had heard of the Jesuit's captivity, and had made many kindly efforts to secure his release, but the Indians had refused to give him up even for quite a valuable amount of goods.

Some time before, an Indian about to set out on the war-path had offered to take a letter from Jogues to the commandant at Three Rivers, hoping, doubtless, to do some act of treachery under the pretence of a parley. Jogues well understood the meaning of this, and probably knew in what danger his own life would be if the Indians were offended. Nevertheless he wrote the letter, in a mixture of French, Latin, and Huron, giving an account of the state of things among the Indians of the Five Nations. This letter was presented at a new French fort at the mouth of the Richelieu. After reading the letter, the commandant of the fort turned his cannon on the bearers, who fled precipitately, leaving behind them baggage and guns. The discomfited warriors were now determined to take their revenge on the Jesuit, who heard of their determination at Fort Orange.

This was nothing more than Jogues had expected. He was about to bravely turn his face toward the Mohawk town, when some of the Dutch objected, advising him to escape a certain death, and offering him passage to France in a small vessel which lay in the river. Jogues objected that his escape might excite the enmity of the Indians; against the Dutch, but still the Dutchmen urged, and the Jesuit resolved to think and pray over the matter. With many misgivings lest he should desert his duty, Jogues at last accepted the kind offer.

A boat was to be left for him on the shore ; meantime the Jesuit must watch his chance and escape from his masters. Jogues slept with the Indians in a large barn-like building, without partition, where a Dutch farmer, his Mohawk wife, half-breed children, and cattle all lodged. Going out in the night to reconnoitre, the Jesuit was attacked and bitten in the leg by the farmer's dog. The man came out, brought him in, bandaged his leg, and securely fastened the door. All night long Jogues lay awake, tormented with the pain of the bite and with the excitement which human nature could not but feel at the hope of escaping from so unhappy a life. Before light a farm-hand entered with a lantern. The Indians were still asleep, and by signs the Jesuit implored the assistance of the man in escaping. The Dutchman kindly led him out, reassured the dogs, and showed Jogues the road to the river, half a mile away. Suffering great pain from his bite, he found the boat so high up on the sands that it was only with desperate efforts that he at last worked it into the water and rowed to the vessel. Here he was kindly received and hidden in the hold. For two days he lived in this stifling place. Meantime the Indians searched every house in the hamlet. They at last came to the vessel, and now Jogues was transferred at night to the fort. Here he was given in charge of a miser, who hid him in one end of the garret in which he lived. Food was sent to him, but the miser devoured the most of it, and Jogues was in a state of half starvation.

The Indians were bound not to give up the Jesuit. The vessel sailed, and for six weeks Jogues lived in the miser's garret behind a rough board partition, with great chinks through which he could see the Mohawks come and go; for in the other end of the garret the miser, like most of the other settlers, kept a store of Indian necessaries and luxuries, with which he kept up a trade with the Mohawks. To prevent the Indians from seeing him through the rude partition, Jogues was obliged to creep behind some barrels in a corner whenever they entered, and here he would remain in a cramped position for hours at a time, His injured leg became dangerously sore, but he was relieved by the aid of a surgeon from the fort. The Dutch minister also visited him and treated him with liberality and kindness.

A large ransom was finally paid the Indians by the Dutch, and the Jesuit sailed for Manhattan, now New York, treated everywhere with the utmost kindness, provided with a suit of Dutch cloth, and passage given him in a small vessel bound for Europe. Even this voyage was not without its hardships, Jogues sleeping on a coil of rope and suffering from cold, robbed of his hat and coat by desperadoes at an English port; but assisted by some French sailors, he finally landed on the coast of Brittany. Entering a cottage, he inquired for the nearest church. The peasants, who took him for some poor Irishman, asked him to come to supper with them when he returned from church. The Jesuit gladly accepted the invitation, and, after having joyfully taken the communion, again he entered the peasants' cottage. They at once noticed his maimed and distorted hands, and inquired how he could have been so injured. Great was their surprise when he told them his story. When Jogues reached the Jesuit college at Rennes and begged to see the rector, he appeared so much like a beggar that the porter was not willing to admit him until he said that he brought news from Canada.

The story of his captivity among the Mohawks had reached France. The rector questioned the poor man about Canada, and finally said, "Do you know Father Jogues?" " I knew him very well," said Jogues.

"The Iroquois have taken him," said the rector. " Is he dead ? Have they murdered him ?"

"No," answered the Jesuit, falling on his knees; "he is alive and at liberty, and I am he."

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