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 one of Piskaret's bold adventures in 1645, he with six companions had killed some eleven Iroquois and captured two prisoners. As they were returning to the mission settlement just above Quebec, their triumphant songs were heard. Indians and missionaries thronged upon the shore, and a squad of soldiers hastened from Quebec to delight the Indians with a salute from their guns. The eleven scalps were hung around the town, but, owing to the influence of the Jesuits, the astonished prisoners escaped all torture. This forbearance was hardly relished by the Indians.

" Oh, my father," said one woman to the Jesuit, " let me caress these prisoners a little; they have killed, burned, and eaten my father, my husband, and my children." But she was denied the sweets of revenge, and lectured on Christian forgiveness.

It was the design of the French to use the prisoners to effect a peace with the Five Nations. On the following day a council was held, attended by Montmagny, the governor, whom the Indians styled Onontio, as they did all subsequent French governors. Piskaret opened the council with a speech, giving the prisoners to the governor. Montmagny answered with a present in return. The two wondering Iroquois could with difficulty believe that their lives were saved. One of them, a fellow of magnificent size, made a speech of thanks to the governor.

" The shadow is before my eyes no longer," he said among other things. " The spirits of my ancestors slain by the Algonquins have disappeared. Onontio, you are good ; we are bad. But our anger is gone. I have no heart but for peace and rejoicing." He began singing, when he suddenly picked up a hatchet, brandished it in a way that must have made the audience wince, and threw it into the fire. " Thus I throw down my anger!" he exclaimed. "Thus I cast away the weapons of blood! Farewell, war! Now I am your friend forever!"

This prisoner was dressed in a new suit of clothes, equipped for the journey, and sent home with a message offering peace to the Iroquois, and the return of other prisoners if the Indians would come and get them. About a month after he returned to Three Rivers with two ambassadors and a fourth man, who appeared to be an Indian also. It was Couture, bronzed by exposure and dressed in Indian costume. He had come to be a man of influence among the Mohawks, and had not failed to do his utmost in favor of peace. The ambassadors were feasted abundantly and presented with pipes and tobacco.

" You may be sure that you are safe here," said the commandant to one of them who was a chief. " It is as though you were among your own people and in your own house."

" Tell your chief that he lies," answered the Indian, turning to the interpreter. The commandant was somewhat surprised. After smoking a moment, he continued: " Your chief says it is as though I were in my own country. This is not true, for there I am not so honored and caressed. He says it is as though I were in my own house; but in my own house I am sometimes very ill served, and here you feast me with all manner of good cheer."

The Indians were entertained for a week, and then a great peace-council was held, attended by Hurons and Algonquins, the Governor of Canada and officers, the Superior of the Jesuits and Father Jogues, who had returned to his labors. The speech of the Mohawk orator at this council may give us some idea of the eloquence of later Iroquois orators, like Red Jacket, who were universally admired, but whose speeches in the dull, condensed official reports are shorn of their original beauty.

In the centre of the council was a space, across which a line was strung to bear the wampum belts, which were some of them hung upon the bodies of the two Indians and part of them stored in a bag. The chief marched into this space, looked up impressively at the sun and then around at his audience.

" Onontio, give ear," said he. " 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." After a peace-song he thanked the governor for the life of the prisoner who had been returned, but with Indian subtlety rebuked him for sending the man without an escort. He now led out Couture, and, tying a belt of wampum on his arm, said, " With this 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." And the orator proceeded to represent by pantomime the journey of the Indian. The assembly was struck with his wonderful acting. He was rowing in a canoe, now he toiled with a boat on his head over a lonely carry, stopping with breath almost gone or tripping with his load. Again you could see him ascending rapids, unable to stem the rushing current, looking in despair at the dangers around, at last with a, desperate effort making the attempt. " What did you mean," resumed the chief, " by sending a man alone among these dangers? I have not done so. ' Come, nephew,' I said to the prisoner before you, ' follow me. I will see you home at the risk of my life.'"

As the orator presented each wampum-be!'- he gave it a meaning. Among others, one was to wipe out all memories which might lead to the desire for revenge. " I passed near the place where Piskaret and the Algonquins slew our warriors in the spring," said the chief. " I saw the scene of the fight where the two prisoners 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." He stooped and knocked on the ground. Then he listened a moment. " I heard the voice of my ancestors slain by the Algonquins," said he, "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.' "

He gave the fifth belt to drive away war-parties from the waters, the sixth to smooth down rapids and falls in the streams, and the seventh to quiet the waves in the lakes. The eighth was to make a clear path by land between the French and the Five Nations. The orator cut down trees, chopped off branches, cleared away brush, and filled up holes, all in pantomime. " Look," he exclaimed, " the road is open, smooth, and straight." He stooped, felt of the ground, and announced that there was " neither thorn nor stone nor log in the way." Belt after : belt followed, each with its particular meaning.; The fifteenth was to say that the Indians had always intended to send Jogues home. " If he had but been patient," said the chief, " I would have brought him back myself. Now I know not what has befallen him. Perhaps he is drowned." Jogues smiled, and whispered 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."

The council ended in a general dance of all the Indians present. Thus was a hollow peace concluded between the French and the Mohawks; for though the orator had pretended otherwise, this was the only one of the Five Nations concerned in the council. It was a frequent trick in this singular confederacy to offer peace by the hands of one of its nations, and to strike by the hands of another. The restless warriors of the Mohawks, however, were not long to be restrained. Lying as they did nearest to Canada, the Mohawks chiefly led in this war, while the other nations busied themselves in subjugating nearer neighbors.

Father Jogues was the first to fall in the renewed war. Ordered by his Superior to return to the country of the Mohawks, to help bind the peace and to start a mission, he at first recoiled, but bravely undertook the task. At the advice of a Christian Indian, he did not at first preach, as the Christian religion would have the effect of angering the savages, since it overturned all that they thought dear; neither did he wear his long gown, for, said the Indian, " that preaches as well as your lips." Father Jogues made one journey into the Mohawk country, and left his chest, locked, in the care of the Indians, having first shown them the contents. The superstitious Indians nevertheless suspected that this box contained some pestilence. This was enough to inflame the smouldering hatred. When Jogues returned to start his mission, well knowing that he was going to his death, he was received with beating and abuse, although there was a large party in his favor. He was invited to dinner at an Indian's cabin. As he stooped to enter the door, a warrior stood ready with a hatchet. A friendly Indian held out his arm to protect the gentle priest, but the descending hatchet cut through his arm and sank into the head of Father Jogues. And this is how the Mission of Martyrs, as it was to have been called, was attempted among the Mohawks.

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