History From America's Most Famous Valleys
BRANT AND RED JACKET
by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.
A BATTLE IN THE WOODS.
CHAMPLAIN had, as he said, " two strings to his bow." The Montagnais Indians had promised to guide him to Hudson's Bay, and the Hurons to take him to the Great Lakes and show him copper mines. Either of these great waters might open the coveted route to India. To each tribe he had promised, in return, to fight with them their mutual enemies, the Indians of the Five Nations.
One might have seen, on a bright June day in 1610, an island at the mouth of the Richelieu alive with Indians in an unusual state of activity. The Hurons and Algonquins were expected to join them in an expedition against the Iroquois. Champlain was already there, and the ground must be cleared of trees for a dance and feast. Some French fur-traders had just arrived at the spot, doubtless hoping for brisk business on this festive day. Suddenly a solitary canoe was seen shooting down the river. On it came, as though the lives of the Indians within were at stake.
" Come quickly!" they shouted; " there is a great battle. We are more than the Iroquois, but they are behind a breastwork of logs, and we cannot conquer them."
The Indians in the canoe were messengers from the allies, who had met, but a league from their rendezvous, one of the far-reaching war-parties of the Five Nations. No sooner had they delivered their message than a fierce yell rose from the Montagnais Indians, who snatched shields and weapons and tumbled into their canoes, screaming to Champlain and the fur-traders to follow them. The latter were not so inclined, however.
" You are women, good for nothing but to make war on beaver-skins," was the taunt flung back at them as the Indians paddled away.
Champlain and four men who were already in canoes sped along with the Indians, whose boats no sooner touched shore than they disappeared in the woods. The Frenchmen, burdened with armor, could not keep up with their Indian allies, whose war-whoops grew more and more distant. They soon found themselves alone on a sultry day in the midst of a swamp, in a cloud of mosquitoes "which were so thick," says Champlain, " that we could not breathe, so cruelly did they persecute us."
Sinking knee-deep into the swampy ground, wading, clambering, tripping, angry, the battle going forward, they knew not wherein this ridiculous position did the Frenchmen find themselves. They presently spied some Indians running through the woods, to whom they called for guidance, and in a short time heard the distant howling of an Indian battle. They ran toward a rude clearing made by the Iroquois in building the breastwork behind which they were now at bay, fighting savagely. In the edges of the forest, from among the trees, fought the attacking allies. They had just made an unsuccessful onslaught on the enemy. Fierce yells of encouragement arose as the Frenchmen appeared on the scene, with an answering whoop from the savages within the barricades. A stone arrowhead split Champlain's ear and lodged in his neck. He coolly pulled it out, and turned to do the same for one of his men who had met with a like accident. In a moment more, amid-whizzing arrows, the Frenchmen ran up to the barricade and shot through the crevices at the Iroquois within. The latter had not yet overcome their terror of the bottled thunderbolt which they themselves would wield so dexterously in a few more years. At every explosion they would throw themselves flat upon the ground. Elated, the attacking Indians tore down log after log from the stout barricade. Champlain had gathered a large band of warriors at the edge of the forest for the final scaling of the barriers with a rush, when some traders, headed by a Frenchman named Des Prairies, made their appearance, eager to take part in the battle.
Champlain waited for a moment in order that the traders, as he says brutally, " might share in the sport," and then led his wild attack on to the barricade, up and over which they scrambled bravely, though sadly torn and scratched, the Iroquois within leaping and writhing under the fire of the Frenchmen. The barricade was scaled and the deadly work finished. The battle was won.
Fifteen survivors only remained to be burned by their captors. Champlain saved one prisoner from torture, but the remainder could not be rescued from their fiendish victors. A few were reserved for the squaws at home, who were even more inventive in cruelty than themselves.
It was not until three years after this battle that Champlain claimed an escort of the Indians in a voyage of discovery. This time he ascended the Ottawa River in search of a passage to the northern sea which an impostor named Vignan, who had lived some time among the Indians, pretended he had found.
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