Among the earliest of the French missionaries in Canada there were two who will ever be remembered for their courage and zeal. One was Charles Raymbault, whose pious energy was far superior to his bodily strength. The other was Isaac Jogues, a young man of scholarly tastes, refined in manners, and gentle in disposition. These men, hearing of wild tribes in the far Northwest, determined to go to them.
In a light canoe, with a friendly Indian as guide, they embarked on Lake Huron and set out for regions hitherto unknown. It was in June when they started. It was in September when they reached the end of their voyage. They landed at the foot of some rapids which they named the Sault de Sainte Marie (Falls of St. Mary). They were only a short distance from the outlet of that great fresh water sea which we not call Lake Superior.
At the foot of the rapids there was a village of Chippewa Indians; and on the hills farther back, nearly two thousand savages of other tribes were encamped. Every summer these people came to this place to catch whitefish from the rapids.
Raymbault was unable to go farther. Overcome by the hardships of the long voyage, his feeble body could endure no more. He was carried into the wigwam of a friendly Chippewa, and there Father Jogues nursed him with loving care.
"I had hoped," said the dying man, "to pass through this wilderness. . . . But God in his mercy has set me in the path of heaven!"—and then he ceased to breathe.
With tears and prayers Father Jogues laid the body of his brother in the grave, and then, after a very brief stay with the Chippewas, set out on his return to Canada. Early the next summer her was back at Quebec, telling of his adventures and seeking to interest others in the welfare of the tribes he had discovered in the far Northwest.
Toward the end of July he started on a visit to some missions near the foot of Lake Huron. He had with him three Frenchmen and nearly forty Indians, most of them returning to their homes in the Huron country. They embarked in twelve canoes and paddled briskly up the St. Lawrence. The country south of the great river was infested by the Iroquois, a fierce race of savages who had sworn undying hatred to the French and their Huron allies. The canoes, therefore, kept quite close to the north shore, and every place that might harbor a lurking foe was carefully avoided.
The company reached Three Rivers in safety—the only settlement at the time between Quebec and Montreal. There they rested two nights and a day; and there they were warned to be more than ever watchful against the Iroquois, whose war parties were known to be abroad. On the morning of the second day they reëembarked and soon entered that beautiful expansion of the river now known as the Lake of St. Peter.
Suddenly, when danger was least thought of, a fleet of Iroquois canoes shot out from behind a sheltering island. They were filled with savage warriors, who advanced yelling the fierce war cries of their nation. The Frenchman and Hurons were frightened almost out of their wits. They paddled for the shore, and several escaped into the woods. Father Jogues might have saved himself in the same way, had he not seen some of his friends in the clutches of the Iroquois.
"I will die with them," he said; and he gave himself up.
The victorious savages, with twenty-two prisoners, hastened to return to their own country. They paddled up the Richelieu River to Lake Champlain, and then along the western shore of that water, until they neared its southern end. There, at the mouth of a turbulent stream from the west, the Indians shouldered their canoes. They pushed onward through the woods and over the hills, dragging their prisoners with them. They made no pause until they reached another sheet of water—a small but beautiful expanse surrounded on every side by mountains. This, the most romantic of all our eastern lakes, was known to the Indians as Andiarocte, or the Place where the Great Water Ends. Father Jogue named it the Lake of the Holy Sacrament. We call it Lake George.
They pushed onward through the woods.
Suffering every kind of indignity from the cruel Iroquois,—his body beaten with their clubs, his hands mangled by their teeth, his face scorched with hot coals,—it is not likely that Father Jogues gave much attention to the beauty of the scene around him. His thoughts, we must believe, were rather with his fellow-prisoners, some of whom were in worse case even than himself.
After a short rest, the Iroquois again embarked in their canoes. With their faces turned southward, they paddled silently and without pause throughout the long summer day. Near evening they landed at the spot where Fort William Henry was to stand in later times. There they hid their canoes in the thickets; and then, elated by their success, they hastened through the woods, reaching at last the Mohawk villages on the bank of the river that is still called by the name of that fierce tribe.
The story of the cruelties inflicted upon Father Jogues is too painful to repeat. For more than a year he was made to suffer every abuse that savage ingenuity could invent. He was led from town to town and tortured for the amusement of the women and children. His life was in danger ever hour. Yet he never lost his patience, he never uttered a harsh word, he gave thanks daily that he was still alive to suffer.
"These poor men have never been taught," he said. "They know no better. God will forgive them."
Even in the midst of suffering and torture he was ready and anxious to help any one that was in trouble. He lifted up the fallen, he prayed for the sick, and asked God's blessing upon the dying.
At length some Dutch settlers at Albany became interested in his case and helped him to escape. A small sailing vessel carried him down the Hudson to Manhattan; and from that place he shortly afterward took ship for Europe.
In France this gentlest of men was received with the reverence due to one who had suffered much for God and humanity. The ladies of the court showed him every kindness, and the queen kissed his maimed hands. But these attentions counted as but little to Father Jogues. His heart was set upon returning to Canada and to his work among the Indians. Early in the following spring he was again at Quebec.
Two years later, he was permitted to do that which he had long desired. He went as a missionary to the Mohawk villages where he had endured so many cruelties. His friends protested. They savagery of the people who had caused his sufferings stirred within his heart no feelings but those of love and pity. He felt that they needed his help. "I will go to them, but I shall not return," he said, as he departed.
The fears of his friends, no less than his own farewell words, proved only too well founded. Before the end of the year he was dead—slain by the hatchet of a savage Mohawk.