Gateway to the Classics: Boy's Book of Indian Warriors by Edwin L. Sabin
Boy's Book of Indian Warriors by  Edwin L. Sabin

Piskaret the Adirondack Champion (1645–1647)

How be Brought Peace to the Forests

Piskaret was a hero. From lip to lip the story of his lone trail was repeated through the bark lodges of the Algonkins, and the long houses of the fierce Hurons, and even among the gentle nuns and gaunt priests of the brave mission settlements upon the lower St. Lawrence River.

But the nuns and priests did not favor such bloody deeds, which led only to more. Their teachings were all of peace rather than war between men. Yet each and every one of them was as bold as Piskaret, and to bring about peace would gladly go as far as he, and farther.

Now he did not lack followers. In the early spring of 1645, scarce a twelve-month after his famous lone scout, he took with him six other "Christian" Algonkin warriors, again to hunt the Iroquois.

Upon the large island in the St. Lawrence River, just below the mouth of the Algonkin's River Ottawa, the fort and mission of Montreal had been built, much to the rage of the roving Iroquois. It was the farthest up-river of the French settlements, and in the midst of the Iroquois favorite scouting grounds.

So bitter were the Iroquois, that all the fall and all the winter Montreal had been in a state of siege. Tired of such one-sided warfare, Piskaret resolved to strike another blow. The broad St. Lawrence was fast locked by the winter's ice. His small party dragged their three canoes over the level snowy surface, and on eastward across a tongue of timbered land, to the River Richelieu. This connects Lake Champlain of New York and the St. Lawrence in Canada.

The Richelieu, flowing black and deep, had opened. It was the water-trail of the Iroquois, and especially of the Mohawks. By it they made their forays north to the St. Lawrence and the camps of their enemies.

Every thicket along its banks and every curve in its course was likely to be an ambush; but the fearless Piskaret party ascended clear to Lake Champlain itself. Here they landed upon an island, concealed themselves and their canoes in the wintry forest, and waited.

One day they heard a gun-shot. Some Iroquois were about, upon the lake or upon the mainland.

"Come," spoke Piskaret, to his party. "Let us eat. It may be the last time, for we will have to die instead of run."

After they had eaten, they saw two canoes making straight for the island. Each canoe held seven Iroquois. That counted up fourteen, or two to one.

However, the Piskaret party had the advantage of position. They hid in the bushes at the place for which the canoes were heading.

"Let us each choose a man in the first canoe," directed Piskaret, "and take sure aim, and fire together." The volley by the Algonkins was so deadly that every one of the six balls killed an Iroquois. The seventh warrior dived overboard, and escaped by swimming to the other canoe. That had been swift work.

But the Iroquois were brave. Of the Mohawk tribe, these. Instead of turning about to get help, the eight warriors, whooping in rage, paddled furiously along the shore, to land at another spot and give battle.

Piskaret's Algonkins ran hard to head them off, and met the canoe again. At the shore one of the Iroquois sighted them, and stood up to fire. They shot him, so that he tumbled overboard and capsized the canoe.

The seven Mohawks were now in the water; but the water was shallow, and splashing through, they bored right in, like bulldogs.

The Piskaret Algonkins had need to shoot fast and true. The Mohawks feared nothing, and despised Algonkins. Besides, they now knew that Piskaret was before them, and his scalp they considered a great prize.

The Mohawks lost this battle. Before they could gain shelter, of their seven four had been killed, two had been captured, and there was only one who escaped.

No time was to be lost. The sounds of the battle probably had been heard.

"We have done well," said Piskaret. "Now we may run."

So they launched their canoes, and with two prisoners and eleven scalps they plied their paddles at best speed for the Richelieu.

Down the Richelieu, and down the St. Lawrence, nothing disagreeable happened, save that, when one of the Mohawks (a large, out-spoken warrior) defied the Algonkins to do their worst upon him, and called them weaklings, he was struck across the mouth, to silence him.

"Where are you taking us, then?"

"We are taking you to the French governor at Quebec. He is our father, and you belong to him, not to us."

That indeed was surprising news. Usually the Hurons and the Algonkins refused to deliver any of their prisoners to the missions or the forts, but carried them away to the torture.

The Richelieu empties into the St. Lawrence below Montreal. On down the St. Lawrence, thick with melting ice, hastened the canoes, until Quebec, the capital of the province, was within sight.

Four miles above Quebec there had been founded another mission for Christian Indians. It was named Sillery. Here a number of Algonkins had erected a village of log huts, on a flat beside the river, under the protection of a priests' house, church and hospital.

As they approached Sillery, the Piskaret party raised their eleven scalps on eleven Iong poles. While they drifted, they chanted a song of triumph, and beat time to it by striking their paddles, all together, upon the gunwales of their canoes.

The two captives, believing that the hour of torture was near, sang their own songs of defiance.

That was a strange sight, to be nearing Sillery. So the good father in charge of Sillery sent a runner to Quebec. He himself, with his assistants, joined the crowd of Algonkins gathered at the river shore.

The canoes came on. The scalps and the two prisoners were plain to be seen. Piskaret! It was the noted warrior Piskaret! Guns were being fired, whoops were being exchanged, and the mission father waited, hopeful and astonished.

Now the chief of the Sillery Algonkins, who had been baptised to the name of Jean Baptiste, made a speech of welcome, from the shore. Standing upright in his canoe, Piskaret the champion replied. And now a squad of French soldiers, hurrying in from Quebec, added to the excitement with a volley of salute.

Piskaret landed, proud not only that he had again whipped the Iroquois, but that he had acted like a Christian toward his captives. He had not burned them nor gnawed off their finger tips. And instead of giving them over for torture by other Algonkins, he had brought them clear down the river, to the governor.

The scalp trophies were planted, like flags, over the doorways of the Sillery lodges. The two captives were placed under guard until the governor should arrive from Quebec. The happy Father Jesuit bade everybody feast and make merry, to celebrate the double victory of Piskaret.

The governor of this New France hastened up from Quebec, hopeful that at last a way had been opened to peace with the dread Iroquois.

Clad in his brilliant uniform of scarlet and lace, he sat in council at the mission house, to receive Piskaret and the captives. With him sat the Father Jesuit, the head of the mission, and around them were grouped the Christian Algonkins.

The two Mohawks were brought in, and by a long speech Piskaret surrendered them to the governor. Governor Montmagny replied, praising him for his good heart and gallant deed—and of course rewarding him with presents, also.

The two Mohawks thought that their torture was only being postponed a little, until the French were on hand to take part in it. To their minds, the council was held for the purpose of deciding upon the form of torture. They had resolved to die bravely.

But to their great astonishment, the governor told them that their lives were spared and that they were to be well treated.

Rarely before, in all the years of war between the Iroquois and other nations, had such a thing occurred. To be sure, now and then a captive had been held alive, but only after he was so much battered that he was not worth finishing, or else had been well punished and was saved out, as a reward for his bravery.

So the big man, of the two captives, rose to make a speech in reply to the offer by the governor. He addressed him as "Onontio," or, in the Mohawk tongue, "Great Mountain," which was the translation of the name Montmagny.

"Onontio," he said, "I am saved from the fire; my body is delivered from death. Onontio, you have given me my life. I thank you for it. I will never forget it. All my country will be grateful to you. The earth will be bright; the river calm and smooth; there will be peace and friendship between us. The shadow is before my eyes no longer. The spirits of my ancestors slain by the Algonkins have disappeared. Onontio, you are good: we are bad. But our anger is gone; I have no heart except for peace and rejoicing."

He danced, holding up his hands to the ceiling of the council chamber, as if to the sky. He seized a hatchet, and flourished it—but he suddenly flung the hatchet into the wood fire.

"Thus I throw down my anger! Thus I cast away the weapons of blood! Farewell, war! Now I am your friend forever!"

Naturally, Piskaret might feel much satisfied with himself, that he had followed the teachings of the priests and had spared the enemies who had fallen into his hands.

The two captives were permitted to move about freely. After a while they were sent up-river to the trading-post and fort of Three Rivers, where there was another Iroquois. Having suffered cruel torture he had been purchased by the French commander of the post.

This Iroquois, after seeing and talking with the two, was given presents, and started home, to carry peace talk from Onontio to the Five Nations. The great Onontio stood ready to return the two other prisoners, also, unharmed, if the Iroquois would agree to peace.

In about six weeks the Iroquois peace messenger came into Three Rivers with two Mohawk chiefs to represent the Mohawk nation.

Now there was much ceremony, of speeches and feasts, not only by the French of the post, but also by the Algonkins and the Hurons. The governor came up. In a grand peace council Chief Kiosaton, the head ambassador, made a long address. After each promise of good-will he passed out a broad belt of wampum, until the line upon which the belts were hung was sagging with more than fifteen.

By these beaded belts the promises were sealed.

Piskaret was here. It was necessary for him to give a present that should "wipe out the memory of the Iroquois blood he had shed," and this he did.

With high-sounding words the Mohawks left by sail-boat for the mouth of the Richelieu, to continue on south to their own country. Another council had been set, for the fall. Then the more distant tribes of the Algonkins and the Hurons should meet the Iroquois, here at Three Rivers, and seal a general peace.

At that greater council many belts of wampum were passed—to clear the sky of clouds, to smooth the rivers and lakes and trails, to break the hatchets and guns and shields, and the kettles in which prisoners were boiled; to wash faces clean of war-paint and to wipe out the memory of warriors slain.

There were dances and feasts; and in all good humor the throng broke up.

Peace seemed to have come to the forests. The Piskaret party might well consider that they had opened the way. The happy priests gave thanks to Heaven that their prayers had been answered, and that the hearts of the Iroquois, the Algonkins and the Hurons were soft to the teachings of Christianity.

Now, would the peace last?

Yes—for twelve months, with the Mohawks alone. After which, saying that the Black Robe priests had sent them a famine plague in a box, the Mohawks seized new and sharper hatchets, again sped upon the war-trail to the St. Lawrence; and smote so terribly that at last they killed, in the forest, even Piskaret himself, while singing a peace-song he started to greet them.

The Algonkin peoples and the Hurons were driven like straw in the wind. Many fled west and south, into the Great Lakes country, and beyond.

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