CHAPTER XXVI. 1648. ANTOINE DANIEL.
HURON TRADERS. - BATTLE AT THREE RIVERS. - ST. JOSEPH. -
ONSET OF THE IROQUOIS. - DEATH OF DANIEL. - THE TOWN DESTROYED.
In the summer of 1647 the Hurons dared not go down to the French settlements, but in the following year they took heart, and resolved at all risks to make the attempt; for the kettles, hatchets, and knives of the traders had become necessaries of life. Two hundred and fifty of their best warriors therefore embarked, under five valiant chiefs. They made the voyage in safety, approached Three Rivers on the seventeenth of July, and, running their canoes ashore among the bulrushes, began to grease their hair, paint their faces, and otherwise adorn themselves, that they might appear after a befitting fashion at the fort. While they were thus engaged, the alarm was sounded. Some of their warriors had discovered a large body of Iroquois, who for several days had been lurking in the forest, unknown to the French garrison, watching their opportunity to strike a blow. The Hurons snatched their arms, and, half-greased and painted, ran to meet them. The Iroquois received them with a volley. They fell flat to avoid the shot, then leaped up with a furious yell, and sent back a shower of arrows and bullets. The Iroquois, who were outnumbered, gave way and fled, excepting a few who for a time made fight with their knives. The Hurons pursued. Many prisoners were taken, and many dead left on the field. [ Lalemant, Relation, 1648, 11. The Jesuit Bressani had come down with the Hurons, and was with them in the fight. ] The rout of the enemy was complete; and when their trade was ended, the Hurons returned home in triumph, decorated with the laurels and the scalps of victory. As it proved, it would have been well, had they remained there to defend their families and firesides.
The oft-mentioned town of Teanaustaye, or St. Joseph, lay on the south-eastern frontier of the Huron country, near the foot of a range of forest-covered hills, and about fifteen miles from Sainte Marie. It had been the chief town of the nation, and its population, by the Indian standard, was still large; for it had four hundred families, and at least two thousand inhabitants. It was well fortified with palisades, after the Huron manner, and was esteemed the chief bulwark of the country. Here countless Iroquois had been burned and devoured. Its people had been truculent and intractable heathen, but many of them had surrendered to the Faith, and for four years past Father Daniel had preached among them with excellent results.
On the morning of the fourth of July, when the forest around basked lazily in the early sun, you might have mounted the rising ground on which the town stood, and passed unchallenged through the opening in the palisade. Within, you would have seen the crowded dwellings of bark, shaped like the arched coverings of huge baggage-wagons, and decorated with the totems or armorial devices of their owners daubed on the outside with paint. Here some squalid wolfish dog lay sleeping in the sun, a group of Huron girls chatted together in the shade, old squaws pounded corn in large wooden mortars, idle youths gambled with cherry stones on a wooden platter, and naked infants crawled in the dust. Scarcely a warrior was to be seen. Some were absent in quest of game or of Iroquois scalps, and some had gone with the trading-party to the French settlements. You followed the foul passage-ways among the houses, and at length came to the church. It was full to the door. Daniel had just finished the mass, and his flock still knelt at their devotions. It was but the day before that he had returned to them, warmed with new fervor, from his meditations in retreat at Sainte Marie. Suddenly an uproar of voices, shrill with terror, burst upon the languid silence of the town. "The Iroquois! the Iroquois!" A crowd of hostile warriors had issued from the forest, and were rushing across the clearing, towards the opening in the palisade. Daniel ran out of the church, and hurried to the point of danger. Some snatched weapons; some rushed to and fro in the madness of a blind panic. The priest rallied the defenders; promised Heaven to those who died for their homes and their faith; then hastened from house to house, calling on unbelievers to repent and receive baptism, to snatch them from the Hell that yawned to ingulf them. They crowded around him, imploring to be saved; and, immersing his handkerchief in a bowl of water, he shook it over them, and baptized them by aspersion. They pursued him, as he ran again to the church, where he found a throng of women, children, and old men, gathered as in a sanctuary. Some cried for baptism, some held out their children to receive it, some begged for absolution, and some wailed in terror and despair. "Brothers," he exclaimed again and again, as he shook the baptismal drops from his handkerchief, - "brothers, to-day we shall be in Heaven."