CHAPTER XXXI. 1650-1652. THE HURON MISSION ABANDONED.
FAMINE AND THE TOMAHAWK. - A NEW ASYLUM. -
VOYAGE OF THE REFUGEES TO QUEBEC. - MEETING WITH BRESSANI. -
DESPERATE COURAGE OF THE IROQUOIS. - INROADS AND BATTLES. -
DEATH OF BUTEUX.
As spring approached, the starving multitude on Isle St. Joseph grew reckless with hunger. Along the main shore, in spots where the sun lay warm, the spring fisheries had already begun, and the melting snow was uncovering the acorns in the woods. There was danger everywhere, for bands of Iroquois were again on the track of their prey. [ 1 ] The miserable Hurons, gnawed with inexorable famine, stood in the dilemma of a deadly peril and an assured death. They chose the former; and, early in March, began to leave their island and cross to the main-land, to gather what sustenance they could. The ice was still thick, but the advancing season had softened it; and, as a body of them were crossing, it broke under their feet. Some were drowned; while others dragged themselves out, drenched and pierced with cold, to die miserably on the frozen lake, before they could reach a shelter. Other parties, more fortunate, gained the shore safely, and began their fishing, divided into companies of from eight or ten to a hundred persons. But the Iroquois were in wait for them. A large band of warriors had already made their way, through ice and snow, from their towns in Central New York. They surprised the Huron fishermen, surrounded them, and cut them in pieces without resistance, - tracking out the various parties of their victims, and hunting down fugitives with such persistency and skill, that, of all who had gone over to the main, the Jesuits knew of but one who escaped. [ 2 ]
[ 1 "Mais le Printemps estant venu, les Iroquois nous furent encore plus cruels; et ce sont eux qui vrayement ont ruine toutes nos esperances, et qui ont fait vn lieu d'horreur, vne terre de sang et de carnage, vn theatre de cruaute et vn sepulchre de carcasses decharnees par les langueurs d'vne longue famine, d'vn pais de benediction, d'vne terre de Saintete et d'vn lieu qui n'auoit plus rien de barbare, depuis que le sang respandu pour son amour auoit rendu tout son peuple Chrestien." - Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1650, 23. ]
[ 2 "Le iour de l'Annonciation, vingt-cinquiesme de Mars, vne armee d'Iroquois ayans marche prez de deux cents lieues de pais, a trauers les glaces et les neges, trauersans les montagnes et les forests pleines d'horreur, surprirent au commencement de la nuit le camp de nos Chrestiens, et en firent vne cruelle boucherie. Il sembloit que le Ciel conduisit toutes leurs demarches et qu'ils eurent vn Ange pour guide: car ils diuiserent leurs troupes auec tant de bon-heur, qu'ils trouuerent en moins de deux iours, toutes les bandes de nos Chrestiens qui estoient dispersees ca et la, esloignees les vnes des autres de six, sept et huit lieues, cent personnes en vn lieu, en vn autre cinquante; et mesme il y auoit quelques familles solitaires, qui s'estoient escartees en des lieux moins connus et hors de tout chemin. Chose estrange! de tout ce monde dissipe, vn seul homme s'eschappa, qui vint nous en apporter les nouuelles." - Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1650, 23, 24. ]
"My pen," writes Ragueneau, "has no ink black enough to describe the fury of the Iroquois." Still the goadings of famine were relentless and irresistible. "It is said," adds the Father Superior, "that hunger will drive wolves from the forest. So, too, our starving Hurons were driven out of a town which had become an abode of horror. It was the end of Lent. Alas, if these poor Christians could have had but acorns and water to keep their fast upon! On Easter Day we caused them to make a general confession. On the following morning they went away, leaving us all their little possessions; and most of them declared publicly that they made us their heirs, knowing well that they were near their end. And, in fact, only a few days passed before we heard of the disaster which we had foreseen. These poor people fell into ambuscades of our Iroquois enemies. Some were killed on the spot; some were dragged into captivity; women and children were burned. A few made their escape, and spread dismay and panic everywhere. A week after, another band was overtaken by the same fate. Go where they would, they met with slaughter on all sides. Famine pursued them, or they encountered an enemy more cruel than cruelty itself; and, to crown their misery, they heard that two great armies of Iroquois were on the way to exterminate them. . . . Despair was universal." [ Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1650, 24. ]
The Jesuits at St. Joseph knew not what course to take. The doom of their flock seemed inevitable. When dismay and despondency were at their height, two of the principal Huron chiefs came to the fort, and asked an interview with Ragueneau and his companions. They told them that the Indians had held a council the night before, and resolved to abandon the island. Some would disperse in the most remote and inaccessible forests; others would take refuge in a distant spot, apparently the Grand Manitoulin Island; others would try to reach the Andastes; and others would seek safety in adoption and incorporation with the Iroquois themselves.