Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

The Founding of Quebec

The little colony at Port Royal had to be given up, but in less than a year Champlain was back again. This time he did not go to Acadie but to the St. Lawrence. Up the great river he sailed, until he reached a place called, in the Indian language, Kebec, which means narrows. There, on 3rd July 1608 a.d. , he landed. The first tree was felled upon that wild and unknown river bank, and on the rocky heights above, the foundations of the first house of the town of Quebec were dug. Once again a few brave, white men built their home, and settled down to live far from their friends, among the wild Indians.

The Red Indians were divided roughly into two great tribes, the Iroquois and the Algonquins. These two tribes hated each other bitterly and were nearly always at war. Both the Iroquois and the Algonquins were divided into clans or families, each clan having its own name. But in war they all took sides, either with the Iroquois or with the Algonquins. The Iroquois are sometimes called the Five Nations, from the five chief clans of which they were made up. They are also sometimes called the Long House from the shape of their huts.

The Red Indians were among the most fierce and cruel of all savages. After a battle they held wild orgies, at which the prisoners were tortured with dreadful cruelty, and which often ended with a sickening feast upon the dead bodies of the enemy. One of the horrible things they did was to scalp their enemies, that is, with their stone hatchets, called tomahawks, they would cut off part of the skin of the head with the hair upon it. The more scalps a warrior could gather the greater and braver was he thought. Often a chiefs cloak would be decorated with a fringe of the scalps which he had taken.

Before the Indians went to battle, they would paint their faces and bodies and often shave their heads, but the "scalp lock" was always left as a kind of challenge and defiance to the enemy.

Champlain was filled with two great ideas; to found a colony, by means of which the fur trade might be carried on, and to explore and claim for France the vast unknown regions of Canada. He saw that to do this he must be friendly with one or other of the tribes of Indians. The Algonquins had their homes along the St. Lawrence and around Quebec, so Champlain made friends with them, and promised to help them in their battles against the Iroquois. But Champlain did not know then, as he found out later, that the Iroquois were far stronger and more clever than the Algonquins.

About a year after the founding of Quebec, Champlain set out with the Algonquins to help them against their enemies, as he had promised. They travelled together, Champlain and two or three Frenchmen in a flat-bottomed boat and the Indians in their canoes, far up the River Richlieu and along the lake since called Lake Champlain. All went well for some time. Then one day the Red Men had a quarrel among themselves, and in hot anger more than half of them went home, leaving only about sixty braves to fight the enemy. These however went on, nothing daunted, every day coming nearer and nearer the country of the Iroquois. Then they travelled with great caution, paddling up the river during the night, and hiding in the forests the most of the day. At last one evening they saw a great crowd of canoes filled with savages coming towards them. These were Iroquois. Each side greeted the other with yells of hatred. They did not, however, begin to fight at once, but spent the night dancing, singing, and shouting insults at each other.

When day came Champlain and his few white men lay down in the bottom of the canoes to watch the savages land and begin the fight. Both sides advanced slowly, uttering their horrible war shout or scalp cry, "aw-oh-aw-oh-aw-o-o-o-o-h." But suddenly the ranks of the Algonquins opened, and Champlain with his loaded gun marched down the centre. The Iroquois, who had never before seen a white man, paused in fear and astonishment. Champlain took aim, fired, and two chiefs fell dead. Then the fear which took hold upon the savages was great indeed. What was this awful thunder and lightning which struck men dead in a moment? They knew not. Never before had they seen such magic. Champlain paused to reload, and one of his men fired. Again a savage fell dead. Then fear was turned into wild terror. The Red Men took to their heels and ran madly to the shelter of the forest, pursued by their shrieking, victorious enemies.

So ended the first battle between the French and the Indians. It was fought at a place called Ticonderoga, which means the meeting of the waters, and which afterwards became famous for another great battle.

The Algonquins took many prisoners, whom they treated with abominable cruelty. Champlain at last cried out in horror against it, and himself shot one prisoner dead, rather than see him tortured more.

To the French this battle was but the firing of a few shots. To the Iroquois it meant the beginning of a bitter hatred, a hatred which was never to be allowed to sleep. Ever after this day they were the enemies of the French and the friends of their old foes, the English.

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