CHAPTER XXXIII. 1650-1670. THE DESTROYERS.
IROQUOIS AMBITION. - ITS VICTIMS. - THE FATE OF THE NEUTRALS. -
THE FATE OF THE ERIES. - THE WAR WITH THE ANDASTES. -
SUPREMACY OF THE IROQUOIS.
It was well for the European colonies, above all for those of England, that the wisdom of the Iroquois was but the wisdom of savages. Their sagacity is past denying; it showed itself in many ways; but it was not equal to a comprehension of their own situation and that of their race. Could they have read their destiny, and curbed their mad ambition, they might have leagued with themselves four great communities of kindred lineage, to resist the encroachments of civilization, and oppose a barrier of fire to the spread of the young colonies of the East. But their organization and their intelligence were merely the instruments of a blind frenzy, which impelled them to destroy those whom they might have made their allies in a common cause.
Of the four kindred communities, two at least, the Hurons and the Neutrals, were probably superior in numbers to the Iroquois. Either one of these, with union and leadership, could have held its ground against them, and the two united could easily have crippled them beyond the power of doing mischief. But these so-called nations were mere aggregations of villages and families, with nothing that deserved to be called a government. They were very liable to panics, because the part attacked by an enemy could never rely with confidence on prompt succor from the rest; and when once broken, they could not be rallied, because they had no centre around which to gather. The Iroquois, on the other hand, had an organization with which the ideas and habits of several generations were interwoven, and they had also sagacious leaders for peace and war. They discussed all questions of policy with the coolest deliberation, and knew how to turn to profit even imperfections in their plan of government which seemed to promise only weakness and discord. Thus, any nation, or any large town, of their confederacy, could make a separate war or a separate peace with a foreign nation, or any part of it. Some member of the league, as, for example, the Cayugas, would make a covenant of friendship with the enemy, and, while the infatuated victims were thus lulled into a delusive security, the war-parties of the other nations, often joined by the Cayuga warriors, would overwhelm them by a sudden onset. But it was not by their craft, nor by their organization, - which for military purposes was wretchedly feeble, - that this handful of savages gained a bloody supremacy. They carried all before them, because they were animated throughout, as one man, by the same audacious pride and insatiable rage for conquest. Like other Indians, they waged war on a plan altogether democratic, - that is, each man fought or not, as he saw fit; and they owed their unity and vigor of action to the homicidal frenzy that urged them all alike.
The Neutral Nation had taken no part, on either side, in the war of extermination against the Hurons; and their towns were sanctuaries where either of the contending parties might take asylum. On the other hand, they made fierce war on their western neighbors, and, a few years before, destroyed, with atrocious cruelties, a large fortified town of the Nation of Fire. [ 1 ] Their turn was now come, and their victims found fit avengers; for no sooner were the Hurons broken up and dispersed, than the Iroquois, without waiting to take breath, turned their fury on the Neutrals. At the end of the autumn of 1650, they assaulted and took one of their chief towns, said to have contained at the time more than sixteen hundred men, besides women and children; and early in the following spring, they took another town. The slaughter was prodigious, and the victors drove back troops of captives for butchery or adoption. It was the death-blow of the Neutrals. They abandoned their corn-fields and villages in the wildest terror, and dispersed themselves abroad in forests, which could not yield sustenance to such a multitude. They perished by thousands, and from that time forth the nation ceased to exist. [ 2 ]
[ 1 "Last summer," writes Lalemant in 1643, "two thousand warriors of the Neutral Nation attacked a town of the Nation of Fire, well fortified with a palisade, and defended by nine hundred warriors. They took it after a siege of ten days; killed many on the spot; and made eight hundred prisoners, men, women, and children. After burning seventy of the best warriors, they put out the eyes of the old men, and cut away their lips, and then left them to drag out a miserable existence. Behold the scourge that is depopulating all this country!" - Relation des Hurons, 1644, 98.
The Assistaeronnons, Atsistaehonnons, Mascoutins, or Nation of Fire (more correctly, perhaps, Nation of the Prairie), were a very numerous Algonquin people of the West, speaking the same language as the Sacs and Foxes. In the map of Sanson, they are placed in the southern part of Michigan; and according to the Relation of 1658, they had thirty towns. They were a stationary, and in some measure an agricultural people. They fled before their enemies to the neighborhood of Fox River in Wisconsin, where they long remained. Frequent mention of them will be found in the later Relations, and in contemporary documents. They are now extinct as a tribe. ]