History From America's Most Famous Valleys
The Indian In His Wigwam
Characteristics of The Red Race of America
From Original Notes and Manuscripts
By Henry R. Schoolcraft
Dewitt & Davenport
This is a lengthy book and covers many of the Red Race who
are not native to New York State. Pertinent parts of the book will be posted.
Thanks to Pamela Wozniak and David Collins for loaning this book for the purpose of using it on our website.
EARLY INDIAN BIOGRAPHY
THERE lived, a noted, chief on the north hanks of the St. Lawrence in the latter part of the 16th century, who was called, by the Iroquois, Piskaret, but the true pronunciation of whose name, by his own people, was Bisconace, or the Little Blaze. Names are often arbitrarily bestowed, by the Indians, from some trivial circumstance in domestic life, or hunting, as mere nick names, which take the place of the real names : for it is a practice among this people to conceal their real names, from a subtle, superstitious notion, that, if so known, they will be under the power of priestly incantation, or some other evil influence.
What the real name of this man was, if it differed, from the above, is not known, as this was his only appellation. He was an Adirondak: that is to say, one of the race of people who were called Adirondaks by the Iroquois, but Algonquins by the French. And as the Algonquins and Iroquois, had lately became deadly enemies and were so then, the distinction to which Bisconace rose, was in the conducting of the war which his people waged against the Iroquois, or Five Nations.
It seems, from the accounts of both English and French authors, that the Algonquins, at the period of the first settlement of the St. Lawrence, were by far the most advanced in arts and knowledge, and most distinguished for skill in war and hunting, of all the nations in North America. This at least is certain, that no chief, far or near, enjoyed, as high a reputation for daring valor and skill as Bisconace. He is spoken of in this light by all who name him; he was so fierce, subtle and indomitable that he became the terror of his enemies, who were startled at the very mention of his name. Bisconace lived on the north banks of the St. Lawrence, below Montreal, and carried on his wars against the Indians inhabiting the northern parts of the present state of New York, often proceeding by the course of the River Sorel.
The period of the Adirondak supremacy, embraced, the close of the l5th century and the beginning of the 16th, and at this time the people began to derive great power and boldness, from the possession of fire arms, with which the French supplied them, before their southern and western neighbours came to participate in this great improvement, this striking era of the Red man, in the art of war. Colden is thought to be a little out, in the great estimate he furnishes of the power, influence, and advances of this great family of the Red Race. The French naturally puffed them up a good. deal; but we may admit that they were most expert warriors and hunters, and. manufactured, arms and canoes, with great skill. They were the prominent enemies of the Five Nations; and like all enemies at a distance had a formidable name. The word Adirondak is one of Iroquois origin; but the French, who always gave their own names to the Tribes, and had a policy in so doing, called them Algonquins-a term whose origin is involved in some obscurity. For a time, they prevailed against their enemies south of the St. Lawrence, but the latter were soon furnished with arms by the Dutch, who entered the Hudson in 1609, and their allies, the Iracoson, or Iroquois, soon assumed that rank in war which, if they had before lacked, raised them to so high a point of preeminence. It was in that early period of the history of these nations that Bisconace exerted his power.
Where a people have neither history nor biography, there is but little hope that tradition will long preserve the memory of events. Some of the acts of this chief are known through the earlier colonial writers. So great was the confidence inspired in the breast of this chief, by the use of fire arms, that he pushed into the Iroquois country like a mad man, and performed some feats against a people armed with bows only, which are astonishing.
With only four chiefs to aid him, he left Trois Rivieres, on one occasion, in a single canoe, with fifteen loaded muskets, thus giving three pieces, to each man. Each piece was charged with two balls, joined by a small chain ten inches long. Soon after entering the Sorel river, he encountered five bark canoes of Iroquois, each having ten men. To cloak his ruse he pretended to give himself up for lost, in view of such a disparity of numbers; and he and his companions began to sing their death song. They had no sooner got near their enemies, however, than they began to pour in their chain-shot, riddling the frail canoes of the enemy, who tumbled into the water, and sank under the active blows of their adversaries. Some he saved to grace his triumphant return, and these were tortured at the stake.
On another occasion he undertook an enterprize alone. Being well acquainted with the Iroquois country, he set out, about the time the snow began to melt, taking the precaution to put the hinder part of his snow-shoes forward to mislead the enemy, in case his track should be discovered. As a further precaution, he avoided the plain forest paths, keeping along the ridges add high stony grounds, where the snow was melting, that his track might be often lost. When he came near to one of the Villages of the Five Nations, he hid himself till night. He then crept forth, and entered a lodge, where he found every soul asleep. Having killed them all, he took their scalps, and went back to his lurking place. The next day the people of the village searched in vain for the perpetrator. At night he again sallied forth, and repeated the act, on another lodge, with equal secrecy and success. Again the villagers searched, but could find no traces of his footsteps. They determined, however, to set a watch. Piskaret, anticipating this, gathered up his scalps, and stole forth slyly, but found the inhabitants of every lodge on the alert, save one, where the sentinel had fallen asleep. This man he despatched and scalped, but alarmed the rest, who rose in the pursuit. He was, however, under no great fears of being overtaken. One of the causes of his great confidence in himself was found in the fact that he was the swiftest runner known. He eluded them often, sometimes, however, lingering to draw them on, and tire them out. When he had played this trick, he hid himself. His pursuers, finding they had let him escape, encamped, thinking themselves in safety, but they had no sooner fallen asleep, than he stole forth from his-lurking place, and despatched every one of them. He added their scalps to his bundle of trophies, and then returned.
Recitals of this kind flew from village to village, and gave him the greatest reputation for courage, adroitness and fleetness.
The Five Nations were, however, early noted for their skill in stratagem, and owed their early rise to it. They were at this era engaged in their long, fierce and finally triumphant war against the Algonquins and Wyandots, or to adopt the ancient terms, the Adirondaks and Quatoghies. These latter they defeated in a great battle, fought within two miles of Quebec. In this battle the French, who were in reality weak in number, were neutral. Their neutrality, on this occasion, happened in this way. They had urged the reception of priests upon the Five Nations, through whose influence, they hoped to prevail over that people, and to wrest western New York from the power of the Dutch and English. As soon as a number of these missionaries of the sword and cross had insinuated themselves among the Five Nations, the latter seized them, as hostages ; and, under a threat of their execution, kept the French quiet in this decisive battle. This scheme had succeeded so well, that it taught the Five Nations the value of negociation ; and they determined, the next year, to try another. Pretending that they were now well satisfied with their triumph on the St. Lawrence, they sent word that they meant to make a formidable visit to Yonnendio, this being the official name they bestowed on the governor of Canada. Such visits they always made with great pomp and show; and on this occasion, they came with 1000 or 1200 men. On the way to Quebec, near the river Nicolet, their scouts met Piskaret, whom they cajoled, and kept in utter ignorance of the large force behind until they had drawn out of him an important piece of information, and then put him to death. They cut off his head, and carried it to the Iroquois army. To have killed him, was regarded as an assurance of ultimate victory. These scouts also carried to the army the information, which they had obtained, that the Adirondaks were divided into two bodies, one of which hunted on the river Nicolet, and the other at a place called Wabmeke, on the north side of the St. Lawrence. They immediately divided their forces, fell upon each body at unawares and cut them both to pieces.
This is the great triumph to which Charlevoix, in his history of New France, alludes. It was the turning point in the war against the confederated Wyandots, and Algonquins, and, in effect, drove both nations, in the end, effectually out of the St. Lawrence valley. The former fled to Lake Huron, to which they imparted their name. Some of the Adirondaks took shelter near Quebec, under the care of the Jesuits; the larger number went up the Ottawas, to the region of Lake Nipising; the Atawairos fled to a large chain of islands in Lake Huron, called the Menaloulins; other bands scattered in other directions. Each one had some local name; and all, it is probable, were well enough pleased to hide their defeat by the Five Nations, under local and geographical designations. But they had no peace in their refuge. The spirit of revenge burned in the breast of the Iroquois, particularly against their kindred tribe, the Wyandots, whom they pursued into Lake Huron, drove them from their refuge at Michilimackinac, and pushed them even to Lake Superior, where for many years this ancient tribe continued to dwell.
The pernicious examples of white men, who have conducted the Indian trade, their immoral habits, injustice, and disregard of truth, and open licentiousness, have created the deepest prejudice in the minds of the Red men against the whole European race.
The Indian only thinks when he is forced to think, by circumstances. Fear, hunger and self-preservation, are the three prominent causes of his thoughts. Affection and reverence for the dead, come next.
Abstract thought is the characteristic of civilization. If teachers could induce the Indians to think on subjects not before known to them, or but imperfectly known, they would adopt one of the most efficacious means of civilizing them.
Christianity is ultraism to an Indian It is so opposed to his natural desires, that he at first, hates it, and decries it. Opposite states of feeling, however, affect him, precisely as they do white men. What he at first hates, he may as suddenly love and embrace.
Christianity is not propagated by ratiocination, it is the result of feeling's and affections on the will and understanding. Hence an Indian can become a Christian.
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