CHAPTER XXXIII. 1650-1670. THE DESTROYERS.
[ 2 Ragueneau, Relation, 1651, 4. In the unpublished journal kept by the Superior of the Jesuits at Quebec, it is said, under date of April, 1651, that news had just come from Montreal, that, in the preceding autumn, fifteen hundred Iroquois had taken a Neutral town; that the Neutrals had afterwards attacked them, and killed two hundred of their warriors; and that twelve hundred Iroquois had again invaded the Neutral country to take their revenge. Lafitau, Moeurs des Sauvaqes, II. 176, gives, on the authority of Father Julien Garnier, a singular and improbable account of the origin of the war.
An old chief, named Kenjockety, who claimed descent from an adopted prisoner of the Neutral Nation, was recently living among the Senecas of Western New York. ]
During two or three succeeding years, the Iroquois contented themselves with harassing the French and Algonquins; but in 1653 they made treaties of peace, each of the five nations for itself, and the colonists and their red allies had an interval of rest. In the following May, an Onondaga orator, on a peace visit to Montreal, said, in a speech to the Governor, "Our young men will no more fight the French; but they are too warlike to stay at home, and this summer we shall invade the country of the Eries. The earth trembles and quakes in that quarter; but here all remains calm." [ Le Mercier, Relation, 1654, 9. ] Early in the autumn, Father Le Moyne, who had taken advantage of the peace to go on a mission to the Onondagas, returned with the tidings that the Iroquois were all on fire with this new enterprise, and were about to march against the Eries with eighteen hundred warriors. [ Le Mercier, Relation, 1654, 10. Le Moyne, in his interesting journal of his mission, repeatedly alludes to their preparations. ]
The occasion of this new war is said to have been as follows. The Eries, who it will be remembered dwelt on the south of the lake named after them, had made a treaty of peace with the Senecas, and in the preceding year had sent a deputation of thirty of their principal men to confirm it. While they were in the great Seneca town, it happened that one of that nation was killed in a casual quarrel with an Erie; whereupon his countrymen rose in a fury, and murdered the thirty deputies. Then ensued a brisk war of reprisals, in which not only the Senecas, but the other Iroquois nations, took part. The Eries captured a famous Onondaga chief, and were about to burn him, when he succeeded in convincing them of the wisdom of a course of conciliation; and they resolved to give him to the sister of one of the murdered deputies, to take the place of her lost brother. The sister, by Indian law, had it in her choice to receive him with a fraternal embrace or to burn him; but, though she was absent at the time, no one doubted that she would choose the gentler alternative. Accordingly, he was clothed in gay attire, and all the town fell to feasting in honor of his adoption. In the midst of the festivity, the sister returned. To the amazement of the Erie chiefs, she rejected with indignation their proffer of a new brother, declared that she would be revenged for her loss, and insisted that the prisoner should forthwith be burned. The chiefs remonstrated in vain, representing the danger in which such a procedure would involve the nation: the female fury was inexorable; and the unfortunate prisoner, stripped of his festal robes, was bound to the stake, and put to death. [ De Quen, Relation, 1656, 30. ] He warned his tormentors with his last breath, that they were burning not only him, but the whole Erie nation; since his countrymen would take a fiery vengeance for his fate. His words proved true; for no sooner was his story spread abroad among the Iroquois, than the confederacy resounded with war-songs from end to end, and the warriors took the field under their two great war-chiefs. Notwithstanding Le Moyne's report, their number, according to the Iroquois account, did not exceed twelve hundred.
[ This was their statement to Chaumonot and Dablon, at Onondaga, in November of this year. They added, that the number of the Eries was between three and four thousand, (Journal des PP. Chaumonot et Dablon, in Relation, 1656, 18.) In the narrative of De Quen (Ibid., 30, 31), based, of course, on Iroquois reports, the Iroquois force is also set down at twelve hundred, but that of the Eries is reduced to between two and three thousand warriors. Even this may safely be taken as an exaggeration.
Though the Eries had no fire-arms, they used poisoned arrows with great effect, discharging them, it is said, with surprising rapidity. ]
They embarked in canoes on the lake. At their approach the Eries fell back, withdrawing into the forests towards the west, till they were gathered into one body, when, fortifying themselves with palisades and felled trees, they awaited the approach of the invaders. By the lowest estimate, the Eries numbered two thousand warriors, besides women and children. But this is the report of the Iroquois, who were naturally disposed to exaggerate the force of their enemies.