"I, who was desirous of nothing but new things, made no scruple"[1]

[1] Ibid., circa p. 107

 

 
 

Chapter Six

Endurance

Radisson watched as two Hurons were tied to a rope and hung from the scaffold all night as children burned their feet, legs, thighs and groin. The children took delight torturing, and fed the prisoners diligently to keep them alive for more. They cut off the men's testicles and the women would play with them as balls. Just when the miserable captive could take no more, burning sand was put all over his body like a suit of fire. And when they are about to die they open him up and pluck out his heart. They drank some of the blood and then washed the children's heads with the rest to make them valiant. If a prisoner had endured all these torments patiently without moaning, and had defied death by singing, then they thrust burning blades all along your bones and cut off your head putting it on the end of a stick. The body was drawn and quartered which they hauled about the village. Lastly they threw the body into the water or into the field for the dogs and the crows.

For those who survived the scaffold after the rains stopped, having been abused by between two and three hundred rogues at any one time, they shot little arrows at them and then proceeded to pull out their beards and hair from those who had any. Having rekindled the fire, they took to burning the poor wretches.

With Radisson they plucked out four fingernails and made him sing, but there was nothing that he was able to sing in his current state. So they forced him to drink water mixed with a certain herb that gunsmiths used to polish their guns. This liquor brought his power of speech. The night came and he was taken to a strange cottage, but not the place of his "parents." There he stayed for an hour unmolested until a mother, and a child no older than four years old, approached him. The mother incited the child to cut off one of his fingers with a flint stone but having worked on it for some time did not have the strength to break it off. His finger remained attached to his person but was badly cut by the sawing of the flint stone, so the mother made the boy suck all the blood that ran from his finger. It was only after this last assault that he was left for the night but unable to sleep due to the great pain he was in.

The next morning he was brought back to the scaffold where he was made to sing but the old woman appeared, bidding him to be cheerful and pleading for him not to give up and die. She gave him some meat and showed Radisson great kindness, but it did not last for long. Some old men came to him, sat down beside him. One was smoking from a pewter pipe. He took Radisson's thumb and put it in the burning tobacco and smoked, having three pipes, one after the other. It caused his thumb to swell and the nail and flesh to become like a burning coal. Once he finished and left, the old woman tied his fingers with cloth and greased and combed his hair like a horse's tail.

The second day saw the end of many of the prisoner's lives, flinging some into the middle of the great fire still alive. They burned the Frenchwoman, pulled out her breasts and took the unborn child out of her belly, which they broiled and made the mother eat it. Shortly after this she died.

That day Radisson was not touched until the evening when they burned his legs and the soles of his feet. A warrior thrust a red-hot sword through his foot and then plucked out several of his toenails. In this state he remained all night. The old woman and her daughters were there for a long time supplying him with food and drink, which he did not have the stomach to eat. The old woman's husband showed up as well.

"My son Orinha, you must endure," he said, encouraging him to show courage at all costs. Just then a young boy and his father appeared. The boy began gnawing with his teeth on his thumb in an attempt to bite it off but the old woman's husband dissuaded them from completing their task.

After his adopted family left him, three men came to the scaffold to do their mischief. Strangely, one of them tied his legs to Radisson's, called for a brand of fire, laid it between his legs and Radisson's, and then began singing. Fortunately for Radisson, the brand was out on his side so it only burned his skin but the Mohawk burned himself for some purpose. Then, in this posture with legs tied to one another, they cut the rope from his hands and drew him down from the scaffold holding a knife in his face. They returned him back to the scaffold and then went on their way.

It was after this that he was left alone until midday on the third day, when he was taken to a cottage where old men sat around a fire and smoked. With a fever and in great pain, he was made to sit down and tell the old men why and how he was brought there. When his brother entered the cottage, the sight of him caused him to rejoice, as he had not seen him since his arrival. Then his father entered the cabin with new beads around his neck, a hatchet in his hand and a long-stemmed ceremonial pipe of red stones in his other hand. He sat down around the fire beside his son. Like the other old men around the fire, he had a medicine bag hanging over his shoulder. In that medicine bundle are inclosed all the things in the world that protect them from evil, having had told Radisson that he should never disoblige them in the least or to make them angry by reason he had in his power the sun, moon, the heavens, and consequently all of the earth. He knew that in his medicine bundle were tobacco, roots that heal wounds and sores, and various bones from his totem animals. The old man debated with the men there and then threw some tobacco into the fire, which they did for peace or adversity or prosperity or war. He then lit his pipe and they all smoked their pipes in silence.

During this silence they brought in the remaining prisoners: seven women and two men and ten children, the children all between the ages of three to twelve years old. None of them had their hands tied except Radisson. A man stood up and made a speech, eschewing with his arms up to heaven and generally working himself into a sweat in earnest discourse. Having finished, another stood up and made a speech to all those present in the cabin. They gave the remaining prisoners freedom except for two children, who were killed with hatchets, and a 50-year old woman, who were all thrown out of the cabin. Only he was left there without his freedom.

Radisson's father stood up and spoke for about an hour, working himself into a sweat. His eyes were hollow, and he appeared to Radisson mad, naming often the Algonquins, which made him believe he spoke in his behalf. The old woman then appeared when her husband was finished speaking, carrying two wampum necklaces: one in her hand and the other around her like a belt. As soon as she entered the cabin she began dancing and singing, flinging off one of her necklaces into the middle of the cabin, having made many turns from one end of the cabin to the other. When she was done her dance, she took one of the necklaces and gave it to Radisson, and then left. Then his brother stood up with his hatchet in his hand, sang a military song and then departed. Finally his father stood up a second time, sang and then left.

Those that remained held council and spoke to one another for a very long time, throwing tobacco into the fire and making exclamations. There were about forty men who stayed and regarded him still tied up until finally those who had left returned, which included his mother, father, brother and sisters. They sat down and his father smoked his pipe again and then made another speech. Then he took the wampum necklace off of Radisson, threw it at the feet of an old man, and then cut the cord that held him. His father bid him to stand and sing, which he did with all his heart. And while he sang those present whooped and hollered on all sides.

"Be ever cheerful, my son!" said his father. Radisson's mother, sisters and the rest of their friends sung and danced. His father took him by the arm and brought him to his cabin with whooping and shouting all around them, bidding him to take great courage. Soon after his mother and her friends entered the cabin, which caused him to know that his live was saved.
 
 
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More About The Life of Radisson
 
There is so much to Pierre Radisson's life it's tough to provide an just look.
 
He had only been living in France two years when he was kidnapped and tortured by the Mohawks when he was 17. This started the Frenchman on a path that would lead him to places no white man had ever stepped. Radisson spent the 1850s canoeing west along the St Lawrence River to the Great Lakes via what would become les voyageurs route. Having learned the native tongue from two years of Mohawk captivity, he worked as a translator with his brother-in-law Grosseilliers and became fur traders. They travelled as far as Lake Superior and played a leading role in establishing an economically viable business enteprise. He sailed north to the Hudsons Bay and founded Fort Rupert and Fort Churchill as trading posts and founded the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. All this and he died penniless and forgotten in London England in 1710. This biography is written more as a novel so the action is fast, and it all the material is based on all six of his first-hand journals that he left behind to history.
 

 

 

 
 

Chapter Sixteen

Conspiracy to Kill the French

When they had time to converse with the French at Onondaga, he learned the fate of those left behind just after their departure from Montreal. The group behind them did embark after Radisson's expedition had left, following close behind them all the way to the fort. When that had arrived at the island where the massacre of the six French had taken place, they had found a Huron woman half starved from hunger. She had watched Radisson's group pass and then had scourged the area for leftover food but could find only grapes. She had resolved to face her own death until they noticed her hiding in a hollowed-out tree trunk. The Jesuit father, seeing that she was a converted Christian, took special care of her until she saw a man load his gun. She was convinced that she was going to be killed and ran off again. They could not find her and continued on their way to Onondaga.

Now that the original group was reunited at their appointed destination, there were many French who were keen on returning to Quebec because of a strong feeling of suspicion and mistrust among them towards the Iroquois. After six weeks of recovering from the fever that had hit them at the camp, thirteen Frenchmen and one Jesuit father decided to return. Radisson was part of the party that would take them part of the way back. It was a somewhat tearful farewell as everyone was aware of the potential perils they faced journeying back to the safety of the colony.

On the way back to Onondaga, Radisson's escort group stopped off at an Iroquois village and heard that three renegade Hurons had found the starving woman. Not seeing that she was of their own nation, they stripped her naked, as was their custom when finding someone lost in the woods, and brought her to the Jesuit father who had first found her some time before. The blackrobe was living in this village and he considered it a miracle of God that she had been found again. But despite the special attention the father gave her, the Iroquois who traveled from Montreal with the Frenchmen took her as their slave.

During the six days Radisson stayed in this village, there was another incident among these Iroquois. There was a man who was warned for his insolence because he had not conferred with the chief of the village. The man had taken two women as slaves that included the women's two children. As was custom among them, any captives must be presented to the council so the chief can decide what to do with them. This man chose not to consult with the council so the elders confronted him.

"Who are these slaves," they asked.

"They're mine," he answered. The man's uncle replied to him.

"Nephew, you must know that all slaves, men as well as women, are first brought before the council, and we alone dispose of them." The uncle gave a nod to some soldiers who stood nearby, and they took the two women and knocked them in the head, murdering them. One of the soldiers took the child, put his foot on the child's head, grabbed the child's legs with his hands and then turned the body so that the head was twisted off from the body. Another soldier took the other child from its mother's breast by the feet and knocked its head against the trunk of a tree. During his time living among the Iroquois, Radisson had seen others like these captives slain because they could not serve properly or because children hindered their mothers from working hard.

Just before Radisson's escort group planned to leave the village that was five miles from the French fort, they heard about the Huron who had escaped from the massacre on the island. After suffering in the forests from hunger and privation for many weeks, he had arrived in the village and spoke of wrathful revenge against the French, especially against the Jesuit fathers. He said that fathers had betrayed the Hurons, and that he would bestow the same upon them if he ever met a Frenchman again. He thanked heaven that he was still alive and warned the Iroquois not to let the French build a fort in their country. He reminded them what had happened to the Nation of the Stags who had let the French build a fort in their country only to be decimated by disease, which was the result of their sorcery. In a society that had an insatiable thirst for war, Radisson was concerned to hear these words so close to where he was now living in Onondaga.

They were barely into autumn when Radisson and some other Frenchmen heard that the Iroquois were conspiring treason against the French. They learned that the Iroquois planned to raise an army of 500 men from their own nation as well as warriors from the Anojot to assist them. They believed they could take the fort with ease because they were esteemed to be the best fighters of all the Indian nations, and because if they made a concerted effort to appease the French by giving them gifts and keeping the peace it could be a surprise attack. Most of the French didn't know the Iroquois language but since Radisson understood both the language and customs, he knew they were preparing for an assault. Their daily exercises were feasting, singing war songs, throwing their hatchets and breaking kettles.

"We must resolve to be on our guard being in the middle of our enemy's land," he said to his countrymen. "For this purpose we must begin to make provisions for the future." Radisson caught wind that a group of Anojot was marching toward their fort to declare open war on the French. He knew this tribe often attacked Frenchmen around Montreal who wandered off too far from the safety of the settlement. He saw the only sensible thing they could do was to leave, but the problem was that they had no boats.

The French who were in the fort had their spies in the villages that surrounded Onondaga, many of whom were the Jesuit priests who administered to the natives at their own peril. Radisson too visited the elders at the council by giving gifts and hearing from them bits and pieces of information that gave the French a good idea that the council had discussed the problem of the French, and thus wanted to ask some questions directly to the Jesuit fathers, who they regarded as sorcerers and medicine men. From these answers they would make a decision about what would happen to the French.

Knowing that the Iroquois were planning on a visit to the fort, they prepared to hide the evidence that they were building boats. They built a double floor in the hall of the fort to build the ship so that the Onandoga, being ignorant of their way of building, could not take any notice of their cunning. It was successful so they continued to build the boats without their knowledge, making an effort to keep up relations with the Iroquois in the meantime. These boats were big so only two were required to transport the entire population of the fort. (The boats were based on the measurements stated in the Old Testament when Noah was given the precise measurements for the ark. Proportionally decressing these measurements, the boats would have a large bottom that would be big enough to carry everyone from the fort as well as their things). It was Radisson's opinion that the Iroquois wouldn't suspect their plan because Quebec was too far and too difficult to reach, being full of rapids and swift rivers.

Chapter Seventeen

Fleeing the Fort

The French planned to flee the fort in the spring when the ice had melted. They were able to get through the winter with some scares, as there were a few skirmishes involving guards at the fort but nothing that couldn't be healed with a few gifts.

Radisson's familiarity with the psychology and culture of the Iroquois nation gave him the idea of how they would escape. Since he could hold a tune, he secured a guitar for him to play during the feast since the Indians valued music in any form. He devised a plan whereby all the Iroquois of the surrounding villages would be invited to a great feast to emphasize that they had no greater friends than the French. All were invited and all accepted to attend the feast. Those of the fort made sure that the Jesuit father and two Frenchmen who lived a distance from the fort were included in this feast because this Jesuit father was part of the escape plan. After two days of feasting and singing, the Indians departed and with them the two Frenchmen and the Jesuit priest, but the priest feigned a fall and pretended to break his arm. Thus he was transported into the fort where they made a plaster cast for him and ordered to remain there in bed to recover. Since the Indians loved the padre, many came to the fort to visit him and give him gifts to encourage him to heal. The two Frenchmen also visited the priest at the fort crying for his safe return to health, but they were not part of the plot. This added to the realism of the plan, and was a crucial reason the Indians did not suspect anything.

Such as the situation was, the French resolved to have another feast that would act as a decoy to their departure. This feast was to mark the successful recovery of the Jesuit father, as the elders sent messengers daily to check up on how he was doing. When the boats were ready and the French at the fort were all packed with their bundles for the journey, they sent word that the priest was well and that the feast was to celebrate his return to good health. No Indians were allowed into the fort the day of thee feast because of the preparations. They were told they couldn't enter because it was French custom "not to show the splendor of their banquets before they were presented at the table."

 Once the trumpets sounded there were nothing but outcries and the clapping of hands as large kettles full of beaten Indian corn dressed with minced meat was served. All attended the big banquet and were encouraged to sing and dance so that it was done with gusto. The French made a point of keeping them awake just as the bird-catcher teaches the bird to sing and not fly away. The wisest began his speech, thanking heaven for the food and the French who are so generous.

"They eat as many as wolves, having eyes bigger then bellies," he said. The next course are kettles full of broiled ducks and buzzards, and turtles that had been caught in their fishing nets. They hooped and exclaimed at the victuals and gorged on the fowl. Then came the fish and eels and salmon and carps, which gave them new stomach. Were they to burst, here they would show their courage." A number of the French entertained them with singing and dancing, as was their custom. But finally the main course arrived: venison with bear oil and thickened flour. (Bear oil was actually bear root, the sedative bears eat before hibernating for the winter months).

The feasting was having an affect on most of the natives present. One beat his belly and another shook his head, and another made funny faces, while others moved their eyes up and down as another tightened his mouth to keep in what he had eaten. Anything to endure the feast. Radisson played guitar to make it a special occasion.

"Cheer up like brave men," said the Frenchmen, who were beginning to fall asleep. "If your sleep overcomes you, you must awake! Come, sound the drum! Is it not now to strum the guitar? Come, make a noise! Trumpet blow and make thy cheeks swell, to make the belly swell also."

The French competed to see who could make the greatest noise. But finally the wild men cannot endure anymore. Postures began to slouch.

"Skenon!" they cry out. "Enough! We can bear no more!"

"Hunnay!" replied the Frenchmen. "We are going. We are weary and will sleep also."

"Be it so!" replied the exhausted Iroquois. They left the Iroquois sleeping and quietly returned to the fort a short distance away. There they tied the rope at the gate where the sentry stood to the foot of a hog.

There were a total of 53 French who were in the two big boats and canoes leaving Onondaga. When they left in their boats the water had frozen overnight so the going was tough to break the ice with their staves to push through. The ice ended when they reached the mouth of the small river where they went down with the current of a bigger river until they eventually reached Lake Ontario. They kept watch but did not see any Iroquois chasing them in revenge. Radisson was to learn later that the Iroquois rested for seven days before discovering their absence. Every time they went to the fort and rang the bell it tugged on the hog that was still tied to the rope.

They passed what Radisson now called "the isle of murder" where the Huron woman was found half-starved. They all knew it was the island because the Huron woman was with them. (She had been asked days before to join them because she was Christian). They had bad weather during their journey back to New France. Since it was much colder going north, the ice was hazardous for them to navigate. One of their vessels ran aground but they were able to free it up and guide it to a small natural harbor. Of the four in the canoe, three died of hypothermia trying to swim ashore but one survived.

Six weeks passed by the time they reached Montreal. There was still a lot of ice and the going was very rough but they were able to make it through the troublesome spots and there rested among their countrymen in Montreal. It was the end of March by the time their pains were over and had reached Quebec. For Radisson, 14 days later he was back in Three Rivers where he was reunited with his family and his brother-in-law Grosseilliers. There he only remained a month until he left with Grosseilliers for a voyage into the interior of the New World that was to change the course of history.

 

 
 

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