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The Dispersion of the Huron

Meanwhile at Ste Marie Ragueneau and his companions learned from Huron fugitives of the fate of their comrades; and waited, hourly expecting to be attacked. The priests were attended by about twoscore armed Frenchmen. All day and all night the anxious fathers prayed and stood on guard. In the morning three hundred Huron warriors came to their relief, bringing the welcome news that the Huron were assembling in force to give battle to the invaders. These Huron were just in time to fall in with a party of Iroquois, already on the way to Ste Marie. An encounter in the woods followed. At first some of the Hurons were driven back; but straight-away others of their band rushed to the rescue; and the Iroquois in turn ran for shelter behind the shattered palisades of St Louis. The Huron followed, and finally put the enemy to rout and remained in possession of the place.

Now followed an Indian battle of almost unparalleled ferocity. Never did Huron warriors fight better than in this conflict at the death-hour of their nation. Against the Huron within the palisades came the Iroquois in force from St Ignace. All day long, in and about the walls of St Louis, the battle raged; and when night fell only twenty wounded and helpless Huron remained to continue the resistance. In the gathering darkness the Iroquois rushed in and with tomahawk and knife dispatched the remnant of the band.

But the Iroquois had no mind for further fighting, and did not attack Ste Marie. They mustered their Huron captives--old men, women, and children--tied them to stakes in the cabins of St Ignace, and set fire to the village. And, after being entertained to their satisfaction by the cries of agony which arose from their victims in the blazing cabins, they made their way southward through the forests of Huronia and disappeared.

Panic reigned throughout Huronia. After burning fifteen villages, lest they should serve as a shelter for the Iroquois, the Huron scattered far and wide. Some fled to Ste Marie, some toiled through the snows of spring to the villages of the Petun, some fled to the Neutrals and Erie, some to the Algonquin tribes of the north and west, and some even sought adoption among the Iroquois. Ste Marie stood alone, like a shepherd without sheep: mission villages, chapels, residences, flocks--all were gone. The work of over twenty years was destroyed. Sick at heart, Ragueneau looked about him for a new situation, a spot that might serve as a centre for his band of devoted missionaries as they toiled among the wanderers by lake and river and in the depths of the northern forest.

He first thought of Isle Ste Marie (Manitoulin Island) as the safest place for the headquarters of a new mission, but finally decided to go to Isle St Joseph (Christian Island), just off Huronia to the north. There, on the bay that indents the south-east corner of the island, he directed that land should be cleared for the building. The work of evacuating Ste Marie began early in May, and on the 15th of the month the buildings were set on fire. The valuables of the mission were placed in a large boat and on rafts; and, with heavy hearts, the fathers and their helpers went aboard for the journey to their new home twenty miles away.

The new Ste Marie which the Jesuits built on Isle St Joseph was in the nature of a strong fort. Its walls were of stone and cement, fourteen feet high and loopholed. At each corner there was a protecting bastion, and the entire structure was surrounded by a deep moat. It was practically impregnable against Indian attack, for it could not be undermined, set on fire, or taken by assault. A handful of men could hold it against a host of Iroquois.

About the sheltering walls of Ste Marie the Indians gathered, to the number of seven or eight thousand by the autumn of 1649. Here the missionaries continued the good work. The only outposts now were among the Algonquins along the shore of Georgian Bay, and the Petun missions of St Mathias, St Matthieu, and St Jean. But the Petun were presently to share the fate of the Huron; and Garnier and Chabanel, who were stationed at St Jean, were to perish as had Daniel, Brebeuf, and Lalemant.

During the autumn Ragueneau learned that a large body of Iroquois were working their way westward towards St Jean. He sent runners to the threatened town, and ordered Chabanel to return to Ste Marie and warned Garnier to be on his guard. On the 5th of December Chabanel set out for Ste Marie with some Petun Huron, and Garnier was left alone at St Jean. Two days later, while the warriors were out searching for their elusive foes, a band of Seneca and Mohawks swept upon the town, broke through the defenses, and proceeded to butcher the inhabitants. Garnier fell with his flock. In the thick of the slaughter, while baptizing and absolving the dying, he was smitten down with three bullet wounds and his cassock torn from his body. As he lay in agony the moans of a wounded Petun near by drew his attention. Though spent with loss of blood, though his brain reeled with the weakness of approaching death, he dragged himself to his wounded red brother, gave him absolution, and then fell to the ground in a faint. On recovering from his swoon he saw another dying convert near by and strove to reach his side, but an Iroquois rushed upon him and ended his life with a tomahawk.

In a sense Chabanel was less fortunate than Garnier. On the day following the massacre of St Jean he was hastening along the well-beaten trail towards Ste Marie, when the sound of Iroquois war-cries in the distance alarmed his guides, and all deserted him save one. This one did worse, for he slew the priest and cast his body into the Nottawasaga river. This murderer, an apostate Huron, afterwards confessed the crime, declaring that he had committed it because nothing but misfortune had befallen him ever since he and his family had embraced Christianity.

For some months after the death of Garnier and Chabanel the Jesuits maintained the mission of St Mathias among the Petun in the Blue Hills. Here Father Adrien Greslon labored until January 1650, and Father Leonard Garreau until the following spring. Garreau was then recalled, leaving not a missionary on the mainland in the Huron or the Petun country.

The French and Indians on Isle St Joseph, though safe from attack, were really prisoners on the island. Mohawks and Seneca remained in the forests near by, ready to pounce on any who ventured to the mainland. When winter bridged with ice the channel between the island and the main shore, it was necessary for the soldiers of the mission to stand incessantly on guard. And now another enemy than the Iroquois stalked among the fugitives. The fathers had abundant food for themselves and their assistants; but the Huron, in their hurried flight, had made no provision for the winter. The famishing hordes subsisted on acorns and roots, and even greedily devoured the dead bodies of dogs and foxes. Disease joined forces with famine, and by spring fully half the Huron at Ste Marie had perished. Some fishing and hunting parties left the island in search of food, but few returned.

It soon appeared that for the Huron to remain on the island meant extinction. Two of the leading chiefs waited on Father Ragueneau and begged him to move the remnant of their people to Quebec, where under the sheltering walls of the fortress they might keep together as a people. It was a bitter draught for the Jesuits; but there was no other course. They made ready for the migration; and on the 10th of June (1650) the thirteen priests and four lay brothers of the mission, with their donnes, hired men, and soldiers, in all sixty French, and about three hundred Huron, entered canoes and headed for the French River. On their way down the Ottawa they met Father Bressani, who had gone to Quebec in the previous autumn for supplies, and who now joined the retreating party. And on the 28th of July, after a journey of fifty days, all arrived safely at the capital of New France.

[Footnote: For a time the Huron encamped in the vicinity of the Hotel-Dieu. In the spring of 1651 they moved to the island of Orleans. Five years later their settlement was raided by Mohawks and seventy-one were killed or taken prisoner. The island was abandoned and shelter sought in Quebec under the guns of Fort St Louis, and here they remained until 1668, when they removed to Beauport. In the following year they were placed at Notre-Dame-de-Foy, about four miles from Quebec. In 1673 a site affording more land was given them on the St Charles river about nine miles from the fortress. Here at Old Lorette a chapel was built for them and here they remained for twenty-four years. In 1697 they moved to New Lorette--Jeune Lorette--in the seigneury of St Michel, and at this place, by the rapids of the St Charles, four or five hundred of this once numerous tribe may still be found.]

The war-lust of the Five Nations remained still unsatiated. They continued to harass the Petun, who finally fled in terror, most of them to Mackinaw Island. Still in dread of the Iroquois, they moved thence to the western end of Lake Superior; but here they came into conflict with the Sioux, and had to migrate once more. A band of them finally moved to Detroit and Sandusky, where, under the name of Wyandot, we find them figuring in history at a later period. The Iroquois then found occasion for quarrels with the Neutrals, the Erie, and the Andastes; and soon practically all the Indian tribes from the shores of Maine to the Mississippi and as far south as the Carolinas were under tribute to the Five Nations. Only the Algonquin tribes of Michigan and Wisconsin and the tribes of the far north had not suffered from these bloodthirsty conquerors.

The Huron mission was ended. For a quarter of a century the Jesuits had struggled to build up a spiritual empire among the heathen of North America, but, to all appearances, they had struggled in vain. In all twenty-five fathers had toiled in Huronia. Of these, as we have seen, four had been murdered by the Iroquois and one by an apostate Huron. Nor was this the whole story of martyrdom. Six years after the dispersion Leonard Garreau was to die by an Iroquois bullet while journeying up the Lake of Two Mountains on his way to the Algonquin missions of the west. Another of the fathers, Rene Menard, while following a party of Algonquins to the wilds of Wisconsin, lost his way in the forest and perished from exposure or starvation; and Anne de Noue, Brebeuf's earliest comrade in Huronia, in an effort to bring assistance to a party of French soldiers storm-bound on Lake St Peter, was frozen to death. But misfortune did not cool the zeal of the Jesuits. Into the depths of the forest they went with their wandering flocks, and raised the Cross by lake and stream as far west as the Mississippi and as far north as Hudson Bay. Already they had found their way into the Long Houses of the Iroquois.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Jesuit Missions, A Chronicle of the Cross in the Wilderness, 1915

 

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