1615, 1616. THE GREAT WAR PARTY.
The lot of the favored guest of an Indian camp or village is idleness without repose, for he is never left alone, with the repletion of incessant and inevitable feasts. Tired of this inane routine, Champlain, with some of his Frenchmen, set forth on a tour of observation. Journeying at their ease by the Indian trails, they visited, in three days, five palisaded villages. The country delighted them, with its meadows, its deep woods, its pine and cedar thickets, full of hares and partridges, its wild grapes and plums, cherries, crab-apples, nuts, and raspberries. It was the seventeenth of August when they reached the Huron metropolis, Cahiague, in the modern township of Orillia, three leagues west of the river Severn, by which Lake Simcoe pours its waters into the bay of Matchedash. A shrill clamor of rejoicing, the fixed stare of wondering squaws, and the screaming flight of terrified children hailed the arrival of Champlain. By his estimate, the place contained two hundred lodges; but they must have been relatively small, since, had they been of the enormous capacity sometimes found in these structures, Cahiague alone would have held the whole Huron population. Here was the chief rendezvous, and the town swarmed with gathering warriors. There was cheering news; for an allied nation, called Carantonans, probably identical with the Andastes, had promised to join the Hurons in the enemy's country, with five hundred men. Feasts and the war-dance consumed the days, till at length the tardy bands had all arrived; and, shouldering their canoes and scanty baggage, the naked host set forth.
At the outlet of Lake Simcoe they all stopped to fish, - their simple substitute for a commissariat. Hence, too, the intrepid Etienne Brule, at his own request, was sent with twelve Indians to hasten forward the five hundred allied warriors, - a dangerous venture, since his course must lie through the borders of the Iroquois.
He set out on the eighth of September, and on the morning of the tenth, Champlain, shivering in his blanket, awoke to see the meadows sparkling with an early frost, soon to vanish under the bright autumnal sun. The Huron fleet pursued its course along Lake Simcoe, across the portage to Balsam or Sturgeon Lake, and down the chain of lakes which form the sources of the river Trent. As the long line of canoes moved on its way, no human life was seen, no sign of friend or foe; yet at times, to the fancy of Champlain, the borders of the stream seemed decked with groves and shrubbery by the hands of man, and the walnut trees, laced with grape-vines, seemed decorations of a pleasure-ground.
They stopped and encamped for a deer-hunt. Five hundred Indians, in line, like the skirmishers of an army advancing to battle, drove the game to the end of a woody point; and the canoe-men killed them with spears and arrows as they took to the river. Champlain and his men keenly relished the sport, but paid a heavy price for their pleasure. A Frenchman, firing at a buck, brought down an Indian, and there was need of liberal gifts to console the sufferer and his friends.
The canoes now issued from the mouth of the Trent. Like a flock of venturous wild-fowl, they put boldly out upon Lake Ontario, crossed it in safety, and landed within the borders of New York, on or near the point of land west of Hungry Bay. After hiding their light craft in the woods, the warriors took up their swift and wary march, filing in silence between the woods and the lake, for four leagues along the strand. Then they struck inland, threaded the forest, crossed the outlet of Lake Oneida, and after a march of four days, were deep within the limits of the Iroquois. On the ninth of October some of their scouts met a fishing-party of this people, and captured them, - eleven in number, men, women, and children. They were brought to the camp of the exultant Hurons. As a beginning of the jubilation, a chief cut off a finger of one of the women, but desisted from further torturing on the angry protest of Champlain, reserving that pleasure for a more convenient season.
On the next day they reached an open space in the forest. The hostile town was close at hand, surrounded by rugged fields with a slovenly and savage cultivation. The young Hurons in advance saw the Iroquois at work among the pumpkins and maize, gathering their rustling harvest. Nothing could restrain the hare-brained and ungoverned crew. They screamed their war-cry and rushed in; but the Iroquois snatched their weapons, killed and wounded five or six of the assailants, and drove back the rest discomfited. Champlain and his Frenchmen were forced to interpose; and the report of their pieces from the border of the woods stopped the pursuing enemy, who withdrew to their defences, bearing with them their dead and wounded.
It appears to have been a fortified town of the Onondagas, the central tribe of the Iroquois confederacy, standing, there is some reason to believe, within the limits of Madison County, a few miles south of Lake Oneida. Champlain describes its defensive works as much stronger than those of the Huron villages. They consisted of four concentric rows of palisades, formed of trunks of trees, thirty feet high, set aslant in the earth, and intersecting each other near the top, where they supported a kind of gallery, well defended by shot-proof timber, and furnished with wooden gutters for quenching fire. A pond or lake, which washed one side of the palisade, and was led by sluices within the town, gave an ample supply of water, while the galleries were well provided with magazines of stones.