Life Story of Pierre Radisson: A Novel (Part 2)

Chapter Twenty

Radisson and Groseilliers Encounter the Enemy

By the middle of June the group of adventurers ventured west down the St. Lawrence “for the common good.” There were 35 men in all, 29 Frenchmen and six natives. They departed in the middle of the night to avoid the notice of any Iroquois spies that were usually waiting on the outskirts of the colony. They stopped in Montréal where they picked up eight more Indians and two more Frenchmen. It took them two nights of paddling to get to Montreal and then they paddled to Lake St. Louis where they remained a night, allowing the Frenchment to adjust to the rigors of traveling by canoe. Their departure from Mount Royal was without the firing of the guns. Of the company, the Hurons were the most experienced fur traders. Radisson and to a lesser extent Groseilliers, were the ones who were lacking in this type of experience.

No sooner had they left Montreal when they encountered five men from different tribes who were laden with merchandise and guns. It made them very aware of the dangers surrounding them and that the presence of Iroquois were a real and constant threat along the Ottawa River. As they passed them they sang their song of war as a warning for them that they were entering dangerous waters. They made good time away from New France paddling for three days down the St. Lawrence River and into the Ottawa River. Occasionally three or four boats would go to shore to kill a wild beast for supper, risking their lives. Those who did go ashore to kill a deer for their kettle were warned by Radisson and some others to be careful because the forests were full of enemy Iroquois.

“You sound like a woman!” the hunters said, laughing at him.

Radisson mumbled to himself: “That pride has such power that they thought themselves masters of the earth! But they will see themselves soon mistaken. How that great God takes care of the most wild creatures, and wills that every man confesses his faults, gives them grace to come to obedience for the preservation of their lives and sends them a remarkable power and ordnance, which should give terror and retinue to those poor misled people from the way of assurance.”[1]

When one of these hunting parties was on shore looking for wild game, they came across a man alone in the woods who was an Iroquois. He had a hatchet in his hand and was making signs that he wanted to go with them. Most were afraid of him because he was the enemy so they approached him in fear of some plot. As they neared the man, he laid on the ground and dropped his hatchet to show that he came in peace, begging them to come nearer to him. Then he stood up naked to show he didn’t have any weapons on him.

“I am your friend. I would lose my life to save yours,” said the Iroquois. “For I might have escaped your sight, but I fear not death.” The Iroquois walked forward where he was immediately surrounded by Hurons and Radisson, who tied him up and put the Iroquois in a boat. There, tied up in the canoe, he explained to Raidsson who understood his language. As Radisson explained in his journal: “Hee shewed in deed a right captayne for saveing of men that runned to their ruine by their indiscretion & want of conduct; and what he did was out of meere piety, seeing well that they wanted wit, to goe so like a company of bucks, every one to his fancy, where his litle experience leads him, nor thinking that danger wherin they weare, shewing by their march they weare no men, for not fearing.”[2] He was trying to save the young men from death who were overeager to fight for folly of their youth.

Then he began singing his death song.

Once he was done his song, he spoke to all of them: “Brethren, the day the sun is favorable to me, appointed me to tell you that you are witnesses before I die. Neither can they escape their enemies that are spread up and down everywhere, that watches all moments their coming to destroy them. Take great courage brethren, sleep not. The enemy is at hand. They wait for you. They are so near that they see you, and hear you, and are sure that you are their prey. Therefore I was willing to die to give you notice. For my part that what I have been I am a man and commander in the wars, and took several prisoners, yet I would put myself in death’s hands to save your lives. Believe me, keep together. Spend not your powder in vain, thinking to frighten your enemy by the noise of your guns. See if the stones of your arrows be not bent or loose. Bend your bows, open your ears, and keep your hatchets sharp to cut trees to make you a fort. Do not spend much grease to grease yourselves, but keep it for your bellies. Stay not too long in the way. It’s robbery to die with conduct.”[3]

Most of who heard the Iroquois’ words did not grasp the importance of his meaning except for the Hurons who heard him, as well as Radisson who knew the Iroquois’s passion for war.

“What this man said is likely true and not a trap because I have experienced the terror of this warlike people,” said Radisson to his fellow Frenchmen, but they laughed and told him he was scared.

“The Iroquois is a dog and a hen and a woman and should be burned when they reach the Huron country,” they said. For the rest of the day they were full of exclamations of this theme, not knowing what lay in store for them right around the corner.

That night there was no fire because they already had meat ready to eat, and the canoes were turned over for makeshift tents. It could have been that way because of what the prisoner had said, since in this posture they were quite ready for a quick departure if need be. The French began to moan for the luxuries they had just left, which made Radisson think about what it’s going to be like later on during the journey.

At the break of day they left their place on the shore and paddled west along the river until they saw about twelve boats full of Iroquois in front of them. Shots were exchanged and there were lots of yelling before Radisson’s company broke up in different directions in utter confusion. The company of Huron and Frenchmen bunched together and, like ducks cowering in the face of an eagle, they heaped themselves together on shore to quickly build a fort.

With the first jolt of fear over with, they were able to cut down some trees and build a fort in two hours, ready to defend themselves from an Iroquois assault. As they waited for the Iroquois to attack them on the shore, the prisoner was brought out and then swiftly dispatched, burned and roasted and eaten. Of the 20 who were scattered and outside their fort, some returned but 13 had been killed or taken prisoner. The Iroquois decided to leave them alone and to build a fort similar to theirs. There they built a fire and ate the human flesh of their prisoners just as they had done to the man who had sacrificed his life to warn them of the impending attack.

At nightfall the Iroquois filtered out of their fort towards Radisson’s company at the sound of a low trumpet, hidden in the darkness so the Huron snuck out to one side of their fort and left some “merchandise” for the attacking Iroquois to deflect thieir attack. It worked as they took the booty that Radisson’s group had brought from New France, and then stole four of their boats so they were forced to alter their cargo. It was then that there was dissent among them as the Huron complained that the French could not swim well enough and thus put them all in danger.

Among the French there was discussion of returning.

The Frenchmen resolved to give an end to such labours and dangers. They found themselves incapable of following the wildmen who went with all the speed possible night and day for the fear that they were in. The Jesuit fathers pleaded with the Huron men to help guide them on their way but they refused, saying that the French should be able do it themselves. Radisson and Groseilliers made it clear that they would continue on their journey or die on the way. They had some tricks up their sleeve and would persevere no matter what hardship they encountered. The Huron encouraged them to stick with them. It was true they weren’t very enthusiastic about the other Frenchmen due to their lack of experience, ignorance navigating the river and in dealing with hostile Indians. So in the end, all of the Frenchmen except Radisson and Groseilliers decided to turn back to Quebec.

It was a great change in the make up of the group to see over thirty Europeans return east to the safety of Three Rivers. Just the two of them were there now with the Hurons, encouraging one another, and both willing to live and die with one another.

They traveled only at night while they were in enemy territory, enduring many labors and vexations. It was hunger that tormented them most since hunting on the shore was not allowed. The only food was fish, which was caught from a line that the Hurons had dangling from their canoes as they went along at night. They were no bigger than Radisson’s hand. Once they reached rocky shores they found shells stuck to the rock that they chiseled off the stone with rocks. They boiled all of the gooey innards (guts and all) into one big kettle full that ended up black and clammy and sticky like glue. It was nauseous but did give them some nourishment.[4] Once they were well along the Ottawa River closer to the lake of the Hurons, they were able to pick some gooseberries and blackberries though they were not yet ripe but in doing so their feet and legs were scraped with thorns in a heap of blood.

            Having taken the Ottawa River northwest from the St. Lawrence Rvier, they paddled for hundreds of miles against the stream where there was only rocks and sand and where the trees grew to great heights, until they branched off to the Mattawa River where they saw bears that they tried to force into the water to kill them but were unsuccessful. When they reached Lake Nippissing[5] there were many islands where there were deer, beavers, bears and fish, but they did not loiter. Onwards they paddled to the French River where they came to a place with such an abundance of otters that Radisson thought they might hinder their passage. Here they shot otter with arrows, choosing not to shoot them with guns because they had found some tracks that they believed were their enemy. They had travelled more than 300 leagues upstream, and had made over 60 portages to make it to the French River, where there were many streams and waterfalls along the way in a canyon of granite on both sides.

But soon they rode the easy current down the French River[6] that emptied into the northern portion of Georgian Bay. The bay was full of rocks, small islands, and fish you could see in the crystal clear water. It connected directly to Lake Huron to the south and to Lake Superior through the North Channel to the west. The Hurons found caches they had made three months before. The river route was now done. Only the open waters of the Great Lakes were before them. They prepared for the rough weather that was part of the climate of the Great Lakes system and the party split into two groups, Radisson and Groseilliers going west with seven boats and the rest paddled due south to their homes along the east coast of the Bruce Peninsula near Huronia.

Chapter Twenty-one

Reaching the Gateway to Lake Superior

Having followed the St. Lawrence River-Ottawa River-Mattawa River-Lake Nippissing-French River-Georgian Bay route to reach Lake Huron, Radisson became one of the very few European fur traders to travel what was to become the coureur de bois (later les voyageurs) route to the Great Lakes. There had been Champlain and roughly 30 Recollect missionaries and Jesuit blackrobes to take the route since 1615, but since the Iroquois invasions that began in earnest in the 1640’s it had become too dangerous for Europeans to travel. Now in 1658 relations with the enemy had created a reasonable level of peace between the two sides, though as Radisson and Groseilliers’ journey shows, there were still pockets of Iroquois who engaged in warfare against the Hurons and their allies the French.

At this point in his journey, Radisson and his party took time to mourn the loss of lives from their skirmish with the enemy. “After we mourned enough for the death of our deare countrymen that weare slained coming up, we take leave of each other with promise of amitie & good correspondence one with another, as for the continuance of peace, as for the assistance of strength, if the enemy should make an assault.”[7]

Radisson’s smaller company went west from the mouth of the French River for several days and then south along the east coast of Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world. Using the shores of the island as a windbreak, Radisson enjoyed the thick forests and open spaces on the limestone island. He was captivated with the striking beauty of the area and with the island in particular from his description in his journals. “The coast of this lake is most delightful to the mind. The land is smooth and it has woods of all sorts. In many places there are many large open fields where in, I believe, wildmen formerly lived before the destruction of the many nations that did inhabit…”[8] Radisson might have learned this from the Hurons because it was accurate. Manitoulin Island, which the natives regarded as the home of the Great Spirit (Manitou), was not populated all year. Natives used to visit the island in the summer to make offerings to Manitou, but did not inhabit the island out of respect for the Great Spirit. Many open fields dotted the island, as the geology was limestone that inhibits the robust growth of trees in some spots due to the thin amount of soil. Radisson also saw the abandoned Jesuit mission on the east coast of Manitoulin Island. It was where Paul Rageneau had been the head of the mission there and had run it from 1648 to 1650 – the same blackrobe Radisson had been with the previous year in Iroquois territory. It closed seven years’ before in 1650.

Once Radisson’s company went around the southeast corner of Manitoulin Island through Fitzwilliam Strait, he was paddling west along the northern part of Lake Huron where there were long stretches of sand dunes and beaches, namely in Carter Bay and Providence Bay. He notes the massive “banks of sand” and abundance of fish in the clear waters of Huron: “an infinite deal of fish that scarcely we are able to draw out our net. There are fishes as big as children of 2 years old.”[9]

Being situated in the middle of the Great Lakes, namely Lake Huron, Georgian Bay and Lake Superior (via the North Channel), Manitoulin Island was very windy. Radisson’s group was forced to stop their journey for several days at a time when they were moving westwards along the south shore of the island. Contrasting the countless islands of northern Georgian Bay at the mouth of the French River, there were not many islands along the south coast of the island, which Radisson made a note of, except for a few hidden in the numerous bays and streams that feed into Lake Huron. Radisson ends his description of Manitoulin Island with: “The South part is without isles, only in some bays where there are some. It is delightful to go along the side of the water in summer where you may pluck the ducks.”[10] The duck population was robust along the southwest shore of Manitoulin Island, where they passed Outer Duck Island, Great Duck Island, Middle Duck Island, Western Duck Island and Inner Duck Island at the far western end of the island the French called Isle St. Marie.[11] Due to the exposed high winds of Lake Huron, Radisson’s voyage became long and tedious.

            But soon, after many more days more of travel long the large island of Manitoulin, they finally passed through the Strait of Drummund Island and the Upper Michigan peninsula where they turned northwest into the narrow waterways heading to the great upper sea.[12] There they arrived at a large island (Sugar Island) between the shores of Michigan and Munuscong Lake. Radisson called it the Lake of the Staring Hairs because those that live there have their hair done like it was a brush turned up. “They all have a hole in their nose, which is done by a straw which is above a foot long. It barrs their faces. Their ears have ordinarily 5 holes, where one may putt the end of his finger. They use those holes in this sort: to make themselves gallant they passe through it a skrew of coper with much dexterity, and goe on the lake in that posture. When the winter comes they weare no capes because of their haire tourned up. They fill those skrews with swan’s downe, & with it their ears covered; but I dare say that the people doe not for to hold out the cold, but rather for pride, ffor their country is not so cold as the north, and other lakes that we have seene since.”[13]

            The Huron with them were living with the Octonac tribe on Lake Huron, displaced from the south shores of Lake Huron due to the Iroquois. Their arrival there caused a variety of reactions, both sad and joyful. There were some tears for the men they lost to the Iroquois on the way back from Quebec, but there were Indians interested in many of the things Radisson and Groseilliers had brought with them from New France since French merchandise had not reached this far west.

            Since it was now late summer/early fall, it was the best time for hunting. So they discussed putting together a team to go hunting to bolster their food reserves for the upcoming winter. This was when they learned that the Iroquois had penetrated this far north using the open waters of Lake Huron as a river road to hunt their sworn enemy the Huron. For Radisson and Groseilliers it was plain to see that these natives were destined to make peace with these marauding Iroquois because they possessed Dutch guns and French merchandise while they did not. The imbalance was stark. Radisson and his business partner both were happy to trade French goods to them to help them in their struggle against their long-sworn enemy for their own preservation. When there was trade their neighbours came also as they too were for want of the French goods. One of the returning parties learned that there were recent reports that some of the enemy were close by in some fields. There was a council held and it was decided that they should go out and stop these Iroquois from reaching the village. Radisson volunteered to join the war party so they left. After two days looking for them they found the Iroquois invaders, and on the third day attacked when they least expected it. They fought brilliantly so none escaped.

            The following day the war party returned with eight dead and three prisoners. The dead were eaten and the captured Iroquois were burned with fire in utter cruelty, which comforted the bereaved to see the enemy revenged for the death of their relations.

These Hurons and Octanac peoples wanted them to remain with them on their island but Radisson and Groseillier’s ambition was to be known by the remotest peoples on the upper sea, so with this victory Radisson had gained the confidence and trust of the Huron and the Octanac peoples. By showing them that he was willing to die in their defense, they gave them consent to go with an escort to the Nation of the Stairing Hairs farther north. So the two Frenchmen left with an escort and met these natives with the turned up hair in modern-day Sault Ste. Marie. They were welcomed with much fanfare, with these peoples saying the Frenchmen were the Gods and devils on earth. These Stairing Hairs all had holes in their noses and five holes in their ears like the others they had met. Most had never seen a Frenchman before. In many ways, it was a truly historic event in Canada’s unfolding history.

They said they should furnish them with French merchandise and that they would lead them to their enemy so that they might decimate them with their guns. When they learned that Radisson had fought with the Hurons and the Octanac peoples against the Iroquois, they asked that he fight against their enemy too. Radisson and his company agreed to fight their enemy but not right away. Radisson suggested that there should be peace between them so that the Iroquois could be vanquished. Radisson sent gifts to their allies – the Pontonatemick[14] – who then came to them at the Sault. When the Hurons and Radisson had shared some of the atrocities of the Iroquois nation, the elders of the Stairing Hairs consented to an alliance. Feasts were had and gifts exchanged with a great deal of mirth. But it was too late in the fall for a war party so Radisson and Groseilliers spent the winter on the south shores of Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior.[15]

Chapter Twenty-two

Exploring Lake Superior

            Over the span of the winter, Radisson and Groseilliers made it their business to visit with the Pontonatemick, and through them met another tribe called the Escotecke, which signified fire. Radisson said of them; they were “a faire proper nation; they are tall & bigg & very strong.”[16] They visited them in the spring and were treated to big banquets. “There they never have seen men with beards, because they pull their haires as soone as it comes out; but much more astonished when they saw our armes, especially our guns, which they worshipped by blowing smoake of tobacco instead of sacrifice.”[17]

            During the three year’s Radisson and Groseilliers were gone, they met many neighbouring nations – many of whom Radisson states he could not remember.[18] “In the last voyage that wee made I will lett you onely know what cours we runned in 3 years’ time. We desired them to lett us know their neighboring nations. They gave us the names, which I hope to describe their names in the end of this most imperfect discours, at least those that I can remember.” They met other neighbouring nations around Lake Superior, one called the “Nadoneceronon” – a strong nation with whom the Hurons and Octanacs were at war with.[19] They called themselves the “Christinos,”[20] a wandering nation that lived on what they could hunt. Their land was beyond the great inland sea[21] to the north and lived on the “side of the salt water in the north”[22] during the summer where the hunting and trapping of beaver was unsurpassed. Radisson was told that the side of the salt water where the Cree lived in the summers was 1800 miles away due to the route they must take to get there, but the inland sea intrigued him because it was salt water and a new frontier for trading. It was also possibly the Northwest Passage to India long sought by the Europeans arriving in the New World.

            The Potowatomi spoke a similar language to the Cree who were allies with these wandering hunters, and had often fought alongside them against their enemies. Radisson and Groseilliers decided not to go north but rather to explore the south shores of the great upper lake. They wanted to learn the ways of the natives on the southern shores before going north to where the Cree lived and hunted. They told Radisson that if they went north across the lake 600 leagues wide, they would need to bring their knives and guns because these Cree had destroyed their neighbouring enemies and were good at war. They referred to the Cree as the “stinkings” because Lake Winnipeg where they lived stank of swamp.

            They came to know these Potowatomi well over the two years they lived together on the south shore of the lake[23] and learned to trust their words regarding the dangers to the north, so when they seized the opportunity to go north deep into Lake Superior they were told by the Hurons and Octanacs that their enemies to the north would stand in fear because of Radisson and Groseilliers’ firepower.[24] The Octanacs that were present were so impressed by their bluster that they decided to join them on their journey north, as well as the Hurons. However both the Hurons and the Octanacs turned back to their country halfway there so the Frenchmen were left alone to go north through what Radisson described as immensely beautiful land. “We embarked ourselves on the delightfullest lake of the world.”

            Radisson is impressed with the beauty of the land around Lake Superior. He reflects:

I tooke notice of their Cottages & of the journeys of our navigation, for because that the country was so pleasant, so beautifull & fruitfull that it grieved me to see that the world could not discover such inticing countrys to live in. This I say because that the Europeans fight for a rock in the sea against one another, or for a sterill land and horrid country, that the people sent heere or there by the changement of the aire ingenders sicknesse and dies thereof. Contrarywise those kingdoms are so delicious & under so temperat a climat, plentifull of all things, the earth bringing foorth its fruit twice a yeare, the people live long & lusty & wise in their way. What conquest would that bee att litle or no cost; what laborinth of pleasure should millions of people have, instead that millions complaine of misery & poverty! What should not men reape out of the love of God in converting the souls heere, is more to be gained to heaven then what is by differences of nothing there, should not be so many dangers committed under the pretence of religion! Why so many thoesoever are hid from us by our owne faults, by our negligence, covetousnesse, & unbeliefe. It’s true, I confesse, that the accesse is difficult, but must say that we are like the Cockscombs of Paris, when first they begin to have wings, imagining that the larks will fall in their mouths roasted; but we ought [to remember] that vertue is not acquired without labour & taking great paines.

            Great pains indeed. The entry to Lake Superior lies over 1000 miles from Three Rivers and the only means of transportation is canoe. Blisters, hardships, mortal danger from the Iroquois, and food sustenance were only a few of the challenges that he had to overcome to make it to this God’s country where the beaver pelts were plentiful and where the European had yet to set foot. More than just profit from trapping beavers, they had entered into the interior of the New World that would give hope and spur on funding to explore and settle this new land. Radission and Grossielliers were among the first to travel this far west and to return with the news that there was a waterway to lands of plenty. They were to learn that the lands were lush with fertile soil to the west where eventually farms would produce food for the world.

            The climate was temperate during the summer that brought forth fruit and berries and all that was plentiful in life. The wildlife around Superior teemed with deer and buffalo and moose and fish. There were so many turkeys around that they used to throw stones at them for recreation.

            The French fur traders met with several tribes, which were, according to Radisson, sedentary and civil and amazed to see them. They conducted a lot of trading, and everywhere they went they were made much of, never lacking in food as each village furnished them with necessities for their journey. The people were strong and healthy, lived long and were wise in their ways. There were very few infirmed people due to the physical lives they lived.

            At one Cree willage on the northwest shore of the lake Radisson and Groseilliers conversed with the natives and heard again of the salt water sea in the north (Hudson Bay). The natives told them about seeing a “great white thing that was sometimes upon the water.”

“It came towards the shore with men in the top of it and made a noise like a company of swans,” they said. Radisson, unaware of Henry Hudon’s ill-fated journey to Hudson Bay, speculated that it could have been the Spaniards because the natives had found a broken barrel that the Spanish were known to use. But it irked him because he didn’t think Spain had sailed that far north. It was the British and French and Scandinavians who were looking for the Northwest Passage to reach China and India to conduct trade, not the Spanish. It was the first time Radisson and Grossielliers spoke with natives firsthand who knew the water routes to the northern saltware sea that promised so much for their financial backers back in New France and Europe. And with this knowledge they likely knew that they could change the course of history.

            These natives were called the Tatarga, which meant ‘buff.’ They wore their hair long and were hardy peoples, strong and able and fluent in the arts of living in the wild. They warred against the Cree and the Nadoneceronons every summer but generally do not do much harm to each other because Lake Superior divides the tribes – keeps them apart. Radisson endeavoured to create a lasting peace between the tribes. Having Hurons with them, they conducted their diplomacy but were not aware if the peace lasted after they had decided to leave these northern shores.

            They realized that it was impossible to canoe completely around the entire Lake Superior in 12 months, and already having been away for a long while, they decided to take their beavers and return to the French in New France. Wherever they went their bellies were full as everyone they encountered fed them and traded with them so that soon their canoes were laden with goods. They had began in the south but were returning from the north of the Lake. They were now returning with goods and information that could yield further exploration and settlement of what would become Canada.

            They paddled south from the lake back to the area around modern-day Sault Ste. Marie where it was now late summer and too late to make the long journey back to New France, so they decided to take up the invitation by the Octanacs and stay with them for the winter near the Sault.[25]

            Radisson describes the land as he paddled south to the Sault:

The Summer passed away with admiration by the diversity of the nations that we saw, as for the beauty of the shore of that sweet sea. Heere we saw fishes of divers, some like the sturgeons & have a kind of slice att the end of their nose some 3 fingers broad in the end and 2 onely neere the nose, and some 8 thumbs long, all marbled of a blakish collor. There are birds whose bills are two and 20 thumbs long. That bird swallows a whole salmon, keeps it a long time in his bill. We saw alsoe shee-goats very bigg. There is an animal somewhat lesse then a cow whose meat is exceeding good. There is no want of Staggs nor Buffes. There are so many Tourkeys that the boys throws stoanes att them for their recreation. We found no sea-serpents as we in other laks have seene, especially in that of d’Ontario and that of the stairing haires. There are some in that of the hurrons, but scarce, for the great cold in winter. They come not neere the upper lake. In that of the stairing haires I saw yong boy [who] was bitten. He tooke immediately his stony knife & with a pointed stick & cutts off the whole wound, being no other remedy for it. They are great sorcerors & turns the wheele. I shall speake of this at large in my last voyage. Most of the shores of the lake is nothing but sand. There are mountains to be seene farre in the land. There comes not so many rivers from that lake as from others; these that flow from it are deeper and broader, the trees are very bigg, but not so thick. There is a great distance from one another, & a quantitie of all sorts of fruits, but small. The vines grows all by the river side; the lemons are not so bigg as ours, and sowrer. The grape is very bigg, greene, is seene there att all times. It never snows nor freezes there, but mighty hot; yett for all that the country is not so unwholsom, ffor we seldome have seene infirmed people.[26]

Radisson and Grossielliers at the strait of two lakes where the stinkings lived that were surrounded by little islands.[27] The shores were sandy beside large mountains of rock[28] but the waters were deep enough for boats. Being of three nations,[29] when they arrived full of booty there was some arguing over who got what, but once that was ironed out Radisson and Grossielliers were invited to stay with the Nation of the Fire once again along with some Cree.

Chapter Twenty-three

The Final Winter of the Third Voyage

Their winter hosts had warred with the Nadoneseronons (Sioux) not many years before, but despite their inferior numbers they held their own against the mighty Sioux nation in battle, having guns they had traded with the French to tip the scales in their favour. The Sault said they were 30 times bigger in numbers than them but they still were not wiped out. The Sioux regarded them as their enemy because their language was spoken with the Algonquin accent, but the Cree were allies with the nation of the salt (Sault), which meant protection stretching over a hundred leagues to the north in the upper lake. Radisson states that the Sault made an alliance with the Cree because they feared the sound their guns made rather than the danger of the bullets. But this peace between the Cree and the Sault happened after a battle when over 100 Sault went north to war against the Cree and the captain of the Sault lost his eye in battle from an arrow. Afterwards, this captain praised the Cree for their battle prowess and declared a truce between the two nations.

            Radisson took note that French traders who had reached this far inland had tipped the balance of power towards the Cree and the Sault against the mighty Sioux due to their guns.

            He and Grossielliers had learned that the Iroquois had recently reached the Sault and had killed several of their number where they were so they decided to move a little farther north back on the south shores of the upper lake where they were closer to the Sioux. At first they were well received but there was mistrust between them, but once the Sault joined them there and they bumped into a few Frenchmen, they settled into their winter encampment for the cold season. Several of the Octanacks who came with Radisson’s company met some slaves that were Octanacks, but they were well fed with meat, which was a luxury since the Octanacks were not good hunters and were mainly reliant on a diet of fish. Radisson noted the contrast between the two nations as the Cree in the north were expert hunters in comparison to the Octanacks. They all settled there on the south shores of Lake Superior and were eventually joined by some Cree who wanted to know the Frenchmen and trade more with them.

            There in the forests of the south shore they killed many beasts hunting. Hunting with the Cree, they were able to hunt deer, moose, buffalos and beaver. Here the Cree proved superior to the rest. The snow that winter was favourable so the hunting was plentiful. The forest was so thick with branches and trees that in some parts it was dark all day, but Radisson and his men adapted and learned from the Cree how to best hunt this big game. Radisson describes the “elends”[30] as: The snow that falls, being very light, hath not the strenght to stopp the eland, which is a mighty strong beast, much like a mule, having a tayle cutt off 2 or 3 or 4 thumbes long, the foot cloven like a stagge. He has a muzzle mighty bigge. I have seene some that have the nostrills so bigg that I putt into it my 2 fists att once with ease.” And then he takes some joy in describing his encounter with buffalo:

Those that uses to be where the buffes be are not so bigg, but about the bignesse of a coach horse. The wildmen call them the litle sort. As for the Buff, it is a furious animal. One must have a care of him, for every yeare he kills some Nadoneseronons. He comes for the most part in the plaines & meddows; he feeds like an ox, and the Oriniack so but seldom he galopps. I have seene of their hornes that a man could not lift them from of the ground. They are branchy & flatt in the midle, of which the wildman makes dishes that can well hold 3 quarts. These hornes fall off every yeare, & it’s a thing impossible that they will grow againe. The horns of Buffs are as those of an ox, but not so long, but bigger, & of a blackish collour; he hath a very long hairy taile; he is reddish, his haire frized & very fine. All the parts of his body much [like] unto an ox. The biggest are bigger then any ox whatsoever. Those are to be found about the lake of the Stinkings & towards the North of the same. They come not to the upper lake but by chance. It’s a pleasur to find the place of their abode, for they tourne round about compassing 2 or 3 acres of land, beating the snow with their feete, & coming to the center they lye downe & rise againe to eate the bows of trees that they can reach. They go not out of their circle that they have made untill hunger compells them.[31]

Radisson, being an adventurer and trader at heart, tried again to create a peace between the Sioux and the Cree was failed during those long winter months. The wounds were still fresh from battles they had fought the previous summer.

            Radisson and Groseilliers were very determined to make it back to Three Rivers that year in 1660. Because they were so far away and hiding from Iroquois incursions near the Sault stronghold of St. Mary’s River and Lake Superior, they chose to get an early start to their return by snowshowing across the snow to the St. Mary River area where they could build canoes for the return journey come the spring. They were pretty sure the French authorities would they they were dead because they had been gone for so long. They made gifts to the Cree and said they were their brothers and would try to make peace for them with the Sault. They traveled 50 leagues overland in the early spring over the snow that froze at night so the walking was good during the day on the frozen snow. But once the late spring hit and the snow melted the rackets on their feet[32] were laden with snow, weighing perhaps 30 pounds. And on their backs they carried their booty for trade.

            It was a tough, back-breaking trek across the snow.

            Once they arrived on the St. Mary’s River, all 150 of them, they began making boats for their journey back to New France. They caught loads of fish and replenished themselves after the long journey across the snow as they built their canoes. Soon the buds on the trees appeared and they wasted no time departing south along the river to the upper reaches of Lake Hurons where there were many islands, such as St. Joseph’s Island and Drummond Island along today’s Canada-US border. They encountered the Pontonatenick and Matonenock tribes and traded with them for some “indian meale.”[33] When they reached the first landing island (likely St. Joseph’s Island), they were received well by the elders and exchanged gifts as was the custom, hoping for some of their young to escort them across the open waters to the French. But they were met with resistence.

            “Should you bring us to be killed? The Iroquois are everywhere about the river and undoubtedly will destroy us if we go down, and afterwards our wives and those that stayed behind. Be wise brethren, and offer not to go down this year to the French. Let us keep our lives.” So despite a concerted effort to find a guide here, it was all in vain. In fact they heeded the warning and made the decision to go to Quebec the following year. Groseilliers helped with the corn and Radisson busied himself hunting.

            The winter passed with no extreme hardship, except for Groseillier becoming sick. Radisson blamed it on lack of exercise since “idlenesse contributs much to it. There is nothing comparable to exercise. It is the onely remedy of such diseases.” It was also a time when Radisson sent ambassadors to neighboring nations who at times had traded with the French coureur de bois.[34] These relations made the winter pass faster as there was rejoicing at the plans they made to trade with the French in Quebec in the coming summer.

            All this discussion about trading with the French made the Indians hunt for beavers with more gusto. Many came to their island in the spring carrying beaver pelts for trade with the French. Radisson estimates there were no fewer than 500 Hurons willing to take the journey to Quebec. Groseilliers had accumulated a lot of corn for the trip and some of the Indians had brought salted meat[35] for the journey. But just as they all were about to depart they had news of a defeat of the Hurons by the Iroquois. There was a council and most of them were against going to the French because the Iroquois were strong and patrolling the river,[36] and that such a journey should take place the following year with more men. The Iroquois, they believed, seeing that no Hurons were going down the St. Lawrence River would decide that it wasn’t worth patrolling and therefore leave the river open for travel. It was bad news for Radisson and Groseilliers because they were out of merchandise, having scarcely a knife between them, and as such were vulnerable to being killed by the Hurons. Radisson writes of their predicament: “My brother and I, feeing [sic] ourselves all out of hopes of our voyage, without our corne, which was allready bestowed, and without any merchandise, or scarce having one knife betwixt us both, so we weare in a great apprehension least that the hurrons should, as they have done often, when the ffathers weare in their country, kill a Frenchman.”[37] There were a number of Jesuit Missionaries that had been martyred than I’m sure were known to them, but also fresh in their minds was the murder of one of their adopted sons, the Frenchman Etienne Brulé, who was murdered and eaten by his Huron brothers in Penetanguishene, where Brulé had lived with the Huron for over 20 years.

            Realizing their position was not favorable for another year among the Hurons is such a far-off place, they called another council to plead their case to go east to Quebec to trade their beaver pelts with the French to get much-needed merchandise. The elders listened politely to their entreaty, and then replied in earnest.

            “Brethren, why are you such enemies to yourselves to put yourselves in the hands of those that wait for you? They will destroy you and carry you away captives. Will you have your brethren destroyed that loves you, being slained? Who then will come up and baptize our children? Stay till the next year and then you are likely to have the number of 600 men in company with you. Then you may freely go without intermission. Yee shall take the church along with you and the fathers and mothers will send their children to be taught in the way of truth of the Lord.” Radisson’s reply was that they wanted to make a public speech to see who would join them. It was granted.

            When the day came to speak, 800 men were there, with the elders sitting in a circle in the middle, and Groseilliers and Radisson in the middle of their circle. They all sat and were silent, eager to hear the words of the Frenchmen. Groseilliers spoke first.

            “Who am I? Am I a foe or friend? If I am a foe, why did you suffer me to live so long among you? If I am friend, and if you take so to be, hearken to what I shall say. You know, my uncles and brethren, that I hazarded my life going up with you; if I have no courage, why did you not tell me at my first coming here? And if you have more wit than we, why did not you use it by preserving your knives, your hatchets, and your guns, that you had from the French? You will see if the enemy will set upon you that you will be trapped like beavers in a trap, how will you defend yourselves like men that is not courageous to let yourselves be catched like beasts? How will you defend villages with beaver skins? How will you defend your wives and children from the enemy’s hands?” Groseilliers then asked Radisson to stand up. “Show them the way,” he continued, “to make war if they are able to uphold it.”

Radisson took “a gowne of castors’ skins that one of them had uppon his shoulder and did beat him with it.”[38] Then he asked them all if he was a soldier. “Those are the arms that kill, not your robes,” said Radisson. “What will your enemy say when you perish without defending yourselves? Do not you know the French way? We are used to fighting with arms and not with robes. You say that the Iroquois waits for you because some of your men were killed. It is only to make you stay until you are quite out of stock, that they dispatch you with ease. Do you think that the French will come up here when the greatest part of you is slained by your own fault? You know that they cannot come up without you. Shall they come to baptize your dead? Shall your children learn to be slaves among the Iroquois for their father’s cowardice? You call me Iroquois. Have not you seen me disposing my life with you? Who has given you your life if not the French? Now you will not venture because many of your confederates are coming to visit you and venture their lives with you. If you will deceive them you must not think that they will come another time for shy words nor desire. You have spoken of it first so do what you will. For my own part, I will venture choosing to die like a man then live like a beggar. Having not wherewithal to defend myself, farewell; I have my sack of corn ready. Take all my beavers. I shall live without you.” Radisson, when finished speaking, left them there open-mouthed.

The 800 natives sitting around the two Frenchmen were silent for a while before they spoke to one another, for Radisson had hit the nail on the head. His recourse to courage and dieing like a man rather than be slain like a beggar struck a cord with those who were present. His beating of a young brave with his beaver skin elicited the right response in the young men there, who vowed to be men and take the journey with the brave Frenchmen.

At last they came to Radisson and told him to cheer up.

“We see that you are in the right; the voyage is not broken. The young people took very ill that you have beaten them with the skin. All avowed to die like men and undertake the journey. You shall hear what the council will ordain tomorrow. They are to meet privately and you shall be called to it. Cheer up and speak as you have done, that is my council to you. For this you will remember me when you will see me in your country, for I will venture myself with you.” Radisson knew that these Hurons were languishing without proper supplies and were sitting there at risk of an invasion by the Iroquois. He played on their fears and knew they were afraid of a potential Iroquois invasion.

The next day there was no need for them to make another speech as their words had hit home the day before, and the council resolved to make the voyage. “Yee women get your husbands’ bundles ready. They are going to get wherewithal to defend themselves and to keep you alive.” They were all ready to leave in six days with roughly 500 men with them.

Chapter Twenty-four

The Return to New France

Equipped with many beaver pelts, first they ventured south down the narrow waters of St. Mary’s River to the northwestern edge of Lake Huron where, due to some intelligence they had received from some other traders, decided to paddle east along the North Channel of Lake Huron north of Manitoulin island, using the westerly winds to push them east. There they had no issues and traveled well towards the mouth of the French River in Georgian Bay where Radisson and Groseilliers had come from three years earlier. They crossed the lake (Georgian Bay) without any dangers, and fished with their nets in these crystal clear waters. When they reached the north near Kilarney, fish were abundant. They had plenty of supplies and were in want of nothing. They hid a cache of corn at the mouth of the French River despite the fact that they could see that eight Iroquois had wintered there and were therefore near. They determined that these Iroquois were the party who had slaughtered their brethren recently, causing them to lament at not departing earlier so that they might seek revenge on these warriors.

There at the mouth of the French River they also left all that was cumbersome there for the Hurons and others to pick up when they return, such as ironware and heavy tools they didn’t need for the next leg of their trip.

Now within about 500km[39] of Montréal, they found tracks of their enemies so they proceeded with caution another 30 leagues (150km) east to where they camped in cottages that were there. There they heard gunshots that evening so made haste, put out their fires and departed quickly east along the river. The next day they wisely decided not to go through the rapids there, instead sending two men ahead to scout for Iroquois. They weren’t more than a half a mile off when they could see enemy boats moving towards them, seeing the rest of the canoes as they came. The Iroquois shot at them but none were hit, but seeing that there were so many of them and that they were merchants and not a war party, the Iroquois turned around, which worried Radisson because he assumed they would tell their people that they were coming. Radisson’s group portaged and swiftly went about their business likely moving from the French River to the Mattawa River in modern-day Central Ontario where they portaged. Half the men carried their merchandise and half the men were on guard for an attack.

It was two days later that they saw 16 boats full of Iroquois coming towards them. Upon seeing the large number of Hurons in Radisson’s group, the Iroquois moved to the other side of the river. The men were scared and believed that it was the end but none voiced their fear as Radisson and Grosseillier encouraged them to be brave and show courage. Radisson insisted that they move out to the 16 canoes and confront them, staying still in their boats and sticking together at all cost. First they must put the beaver pelts “upon pearches, which could keepe us from the shott,”[40] which they did. All together they had 24 guns, which were handed out to the Hurons – the most able of the men with French weapons. The Iroquois, when they saw a united company outnumbering them five-to-one, didn’t know what to do. Again it was Radisson, knowing the Iroquois psychology and customs of war, guessed right that they would rather face the odds and move towards them than turn away, since the Iroquois wanted to get passed them to the west. If Radisson and some of the other older Hurons had not known Iroquois ways, Radisson is sure that those in his party would have run away.

Radisson and the other elder Hurons yelled at their men to paddle hard towards the Iroquois aggressively and to stay tight together, showing the intent to persecute.[41] Then the outcries and singing started. As Radisson records: “The hurrons in one side, the Algonquins att the other side, the Ottanak, the panoestigons, the Amickkoick, the Nadonicenago, the ticacon, and we both encouraged them all, crying out with a loud noise.”[42] The Iroquois began to shoot but Radisson’s company of travelers held back and did not return fire, showing that that “was the only way of fighting.” Their bravery in the face of the enemy caused the Iroquois to turn around. Radisson and company followed them for a while but then stopped. Those with him made great thanks to Radisson and Groseilliers as masters of war and called them their captains.

Radisson insisted they keep watch, as the Iroquois followed them at a distance. They were forced to make three portages that day, choosing to leave behind five boats that were not loaded with goods. Knowing these “cunning knaves” planned an ambush, they increased their numbers to counteract the threat of Radisson’s party. Scouts informed them that the Iroquois had built a fort and were waiting for them down river, which caused some among them to desire to throw away their beaver pelts and return home. Radisson made it clear that they were almost at the gates of the French inhabitation, and that his life and Groseilliers’ life were in just as much danger as theirs.

“The Iroquois know me because I ran away from their country and have slain some of their brethren,” he said to them. “And my brother here is known as the man who has long since been arming their enemy with arms.” They were at last persuaded, and with that they embarked (about 200 of them) towards the pass where the Iroquois fort stood with guns loaded and ready for battle. The rest of the company remained behind and cut down trees to build a fort, and some others brought the boats forward to the fort. Of the 200 soldiers, most were Hurons and the others were Pasnoestigons and Amickkoick, who had frequented the French colony before.

The Iroquois were lying in ambush and began to shoot. Since they were only about 150, they retreated from their hiding places into the woods to the fort, having lost five men in the fighting. Having lost none, Radisson’s natives were enthusiastic, which gave them good courage, and energy to build another fort close to theirs. Two Hurons were lightly wounded while building this other fort as the Iroquois made sallies towards them while they were busy cutting down trees to build the fort. The terrible cries of battle were bone chilling to Radisson, as the Iroquois sung like devils. Some of the Iroquois were hit with some arrows.

It was plain to see for Radisson that the battle could not go on. As he notes in his journal: “We forsee that such a batail could not hold out long for want of powder, of shott and arrows; so by the consent of my brother and the rest, made a speech in the Iroquoit language, inducing meselfe with armours that I might not be wounded with every bullett or arrow that the ennemy sent perpetually.”[43]

Then he turned and addressed his own men: “Brethren,” he said. “We came from your country and bring you to ours, not to see you perish unless we perish with you.” When he finished speaking there was nothing but howling and crying, so they brought their beaver skins and tied them eight by eight and rolled them in front for protection. The Iroquois, realizing that they must vacate their fort, went to their canoes and quickly paddled away, leaving behind all their baggage. In the fort they found some meat and kettles, broken guns and rusty hatchets.

Some of the Hurons, including Groseilliers, quickly followed the retreating Iroquois but ran into some rapids. One of the canoes tipped over and seven men went into the water, one being Groseilliers. All saved themselves from the choppy waters except Groseilliers lost his “book of annotations.” We can only assume that it was his journal and a great loss to history. Groseilliers became sick after this due to the cold water, as were the others who fell in, but soon recovered.

The journey back to Quebec took a total of four months with all the portages and with all the pelts in tow. And of course they met all sorts of people, some of whom are worth noting for historical and geographical reasons:

“We mett severall sorts of people. We conversed with them, being long time in alliance with them. By the persuation of som of them we went into the great river that divides itselfe in 2, where the hurrons with some Ottanake and the wild men that had warrs with them had retired. There is not great difference [sic] in their language, as we weare told. This nation have warrs against those of [the] forked river. It is so called because it has 2 branches, the one towards the west,[44] the other towards the South,[45] which we believe runns towards Mexico, by the tokens they gave us. Being among these people, they told us the prisoners they take tells them that they have warrs against a nation, against men that build great cabbans and have great beards and have such knives as we have had. Moreover they shewed a Decad of beads and guilded pearls that they have had from the people, which made us believe they weare Europeans. They shewed one of that nation that was taken the yeare before. We understood him not; he was much more tawny then they with whome we weare. His arms and legs weare turned outside; that was the punishment inflicted uppon him. So they doe with them that they take, and kill them with clubs and doe often eat them. They doe not burne their prisoners as those of the northern parts.”[46] It is therefore without conclusion who this prisoner was. It is likely a Metis Indian, being part slave and part Spanish. If Radisson did reach the Mississippi as per this passage in his journals, he is about ten years before Father Jacques Marquette, considered the first European to travel the Mississippi.[47]

The rest of the return journey along what is known today as Les Voyageur Route (Georgian Bay-French River-Lake Nipissing-Mattawa River-Ottawa River-St. Lawrence River) was completed with no serious incident. Radisson is quite animated when he records his arrival in Montréal after three years away in the bush with the natives. The French were overjoyed to see them return after so long, especially since the Iroquois had, since their departure, stepped up their attacks against the French “that perpetually killed and slaughtered to the very gate of the ffrench fort.”[48]

With the Iroquois so close and all around them, they remained at Montréal for three days and refreshed themselves after such a long voyage. Then 20 Frenchmen accompanied Radisson and Groseilliers on their way to see their family in Three Rivers. Radisson describes what happened: “As we doubled the point of the river of the meddows we weare sett uppon by severall of the Iroquois, but durst not come neare us, because of two small brasse pieces that the shalop carryed. We tyed our boats together and made a fort about us of castors’ skins, which kept us from all danger. We went downe the streame in that posture.”[49] The Iroquois thus left them unmolested and they arrived safely in Quebec City where they were saluted with the thundering of guns and batteries of the fort. There were three big ships about to return to France in the harbor that would have departed without any beaver pelts if it hadn’t been for Radisson and Groseilliers’ booty. They remained there for five days, given gifts by the governor and well treated by their countrymen. Then they were brought to Three Rivers on two Brigantines. Finally, after more than three years they were reunited with their family, Groseilliers with Radisson’s sister, and Radisson with his family and friends.

Despite this reunion, Iroquois were busy fortifying their numbers and lying in wait for the Hurons to return via the same route knowing the season was becoming late and that they would not stay in the French colony for the winter. When the Indians that had traveled with the two Frenchmen arrived at Three Rivers, they were greeted with great care by Radisson and Groseilliers but the Iroquois were also there and a battle ensued the next day. Radisson estimates that there were about 300 Iroquois but with more Frenchmen joining the Hurons there were about 500 soldiers ready for war. Radisson’s group chased the Iroquois about a half mile into the woods until they stopped and began fighting. Using bows and arrows and guns, they soon were low in ammunition as the Iroquois hid behind trees. When the battle was finally over, there were 11 dead of the Hurons and many wounded, but there were three of the Iroquois. The Hurons lost no time severing the heads and putting them on staves. After that they went straight back to their country without meeting anymore Iroquois, so Radisson was to learn later.

There in Three Rivers, the two men rested for the remainder of the year. They talked a lot about what they had learned from their time among the Huron around Lake Superior and Lake Huron, and particularly were hungry to find out for themselves about the bay in the north that was full of salt water that the Christinos talked about. Since it was reputed to be full of beavers, more than in the south, it was something that they were eager to explore for themselves. They decided to keep quiet about it for fear that the Cree had told them a fib, but resolved to take some action in the spring.



Fourth Voyage of Pierre Esprit Radisson


Chapter Twenty-five

The Disagreement with the Governor of Quebec

Despite trying to keep it under their belts, many people in Three Rivers came to know of their plans to go to the bay of the north where there were loads of beaver skins to be had. Radisson suggests that it was Groseilliers’ wife[50] who spilled the beans, but regardless of who it was, there were many Jesuit Fathers who approached them to join Radisson and Groseilliers on their journey to the north. It was believed by the Jesuit priests that the way to the bay of the north[51] was via the Sacgnes.[52] It was the desire of the black robes that they should become masters of trade in the north. The priests implored both Radisson and Groseilliers to escort them north to the land of castors, but only Groseilliers agreed to this demand. Radisson knew that though the trip may be easy going (relative to his previous journeys), he was also aware that the Indians up in the north made their living from trade in beaver skins and thus would not relinquish their grip on their corner of the market. It was their livelihood. So throughout the winter Radisson was targeted by the black robes to guide them north but remained uncommitted.

His estimates from what he had been able to surmise from the natives he had met during his last voyage, Radisson figured that there were three nations that must be in the path before reaching Hudson’s Bay: the Squerells, the Porquepicque, and the Montignes and Algonquins, the last two of whom live around Quebec. As far he could make out, the most difficult aspect of the trip lay not in the encountering of these tribes but was “the scant of watter and the horrid torrents and want of victuals, being no way I carry more than can serve 14 dayes’ or 3 weeks; navigation on that river.”[53] Ultimately Radisson and Groseilliers decided not to venture down the Saguenay River with the Jesuit priests. Instead they planned a return to Lake Superior. The Jesuits though went with another group looking for Hudson’s Bay up the Saguenay River with 12 Indians, six Frenchmen and the son of the governor of Three Rivers.

Radisson and Groseilliers approached the governor of Quebec about their return trip west to Lake Superior that was “for the good of the countrey.”[54] They were to go with two Hurons who had recently escaped from the Iroquois. The two natives had family and wives back there so they were eager to undertake the trip with the two Frenchmen. Their proposition to the French governor was not met as enthusiastically as they had hoped. The governor of New France insisted that they bring along two of his servants and give the governor a percentage of their profits. As Radisson writes: “My brother was vexed att such an unreasonable a demand, to take inexperted men to their ruine. All our knowledge and desir depended onely of this last voyage, besides that the governor should compare 2 of his servants to us, that have ventured our lives so many years and maintained the countrey with our generosity in the presence of all; neither was there one that had the courage to undertake what wee have done.”[55] On one hand it is understandable that the governor wanted some conditions on the journey and that he would want some of the profits for New France to ensure its survival as a colony, but on the other hand it is incredible how naive he could be to think that two of his servants would be able to endure the hardships of such a journey into the lands of the wild men. The potential ramifications of this error by the governor of Quebec can still indeed be felt today in the 21st century, as this was the beginning of the falling out that was to characterize the career of Radisson and Groseilliers, and ferment the anti-French feelings of the British that were in the New World. France would eventually lose what is now known as Canada to the British, and a huge reason for this British victory over the French was because of Pierre Radisson switching his allegiance to the British, which subsequently led to the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the establishment of Rupert’s Land.

The response to the governor was typical Radisson: we “tould him for our part we knewed what we weare, Discoverers before governors.”[56] They told the governor that they would be honored by his blessing for the journey but not with his two servants. The governor was much displeased with this reply and commanded them not to go without their leave. Radisson and Groseilliers requested that the Jesuit fathers speak to the governor on their behalf, but their addresses to the governor were slight because they themselves wanted to go to Lake Superior to spread the Christian faith for the greater glory of God. At the end of these discussions, Radisson and Groseilliers were not granted permission to leave without his two servants and therefore did not leave that summer.

They remained in this state of limbo until August when a party of Sault arrived from the nation of the Sault. They arrived at Three Rivers after experiencing great pain during their trip. Radisson sent news to Quebec who replied that they should remain there at Three Rivers until the two Jesuit priests return from the Saguenay River journey so that they can all go together. Again Radisson took time in his records to make a point of how impractical this was because the Sault did not wait for things like this. It was an answer “without reason” because “those people are not to be inticed, ffor as soone as they have done their affaire they goe.”[57] So according to Radisson, “necessity obliged us to goe.”

They spoke to the governor of Three Rivers about their situation and he backed them to go on their voyage without waiting for the priests. They rationalized that they should go forth with the Indians because it was in everyone’s interest. Nevertheless, they knew that they were leaving without the Quebec governor’s backing and therefore insisted that the governor of Three Rivers should not be blamed for his part in their departure. As per custom, Radisson gave gifts to the Sault natives, who wanted the two Frenchmen to join them on their return journey. They told the Sault that the Governor was insisting on two of his servants to join them but the Indians made it clear that they would not accept these two other servants in their party. The Sault told them that they would wait “two dayes in the Lake of St. Peter in the grasse some 6 leagues from the 3 rivers,” but they did not even bother waiting even one night. Radisson and Groseilliers left that night and embarked on their journey.

Chapter Twenty-six

Past the Deadly Iroquois

            When Radisson and Grossielliers reached the sentry standing guard at the gate of the Three Riverès fort they asked who was there. When they replied, they were recognized because “every one knows what good services we had done to the countrey, and loved us, the inhabitants as well as the souldiers.”

            “God give you a good voyage,” said the sentry.

            When they arrived at the designated place the Sault natives were not there, so they resolved to keep going to overtake them on the river. Just past Fort Richelieu they saw the Sault coming down the river. Both were off guard as they though it could be the enemy but were full of joy when they recognized each other. The Sault said that they would have waited three days and if they had not shown up they would have sent a boat to find out the reason for their delay.

            There on the shores they all took a separate canoe. From Three Rivers Radisson and Groseilliers had traveled with one other Frenchman. Here he was put into a boat with three others, all of whom were sorcerers. They took a river with swift torrents in order to avoid the enemy. For three days and nights they paddled hard, hearing the noise of guns, which they believed was from the Iroquois. There were eight boats in total in their party all spread out as they were making their way up river. It was during the third night when one of those sorcerers had a dream that he was taken by the Iroquois along with the rest in his boat. In the dream he cried out loud, waking everyone up. Of course all who were awake wanted to leave immediately, and those who were in this man’s boat wanted to return to Three Rivers because of this bad omen.

            The Indians had a council and decided to send the Frenchman back.

Radisson was later to learn the fate of this boat. The whole boat of sorcerers, which included this Frenchman, heeded to the dream and went east back to Three Rivers but that day they ran into the enemy. They beached their boat and they split up and hid from the Iroquois. The Frenchman found a small grassy area by a natural harbor and fell asleep. Meanwhile his Indian comrades reunited by their canoe and seeing that the Iroquois were no longer around waiting for them, and thinking the Frenchmen had been caught, left along the river at night, soon arriving at Montréal. The Indians did not mention anything about the Frenchman, and then departed for Three Rivers, which was where they lived. Fourteen days later some boats had left the French colony to look for some Oriniaks and landed in the same place. There they found the Frenchman half starved from living off grapes with his gun at the ready. Since he was so weak from starvation, he could not move so the Frenchmen brought him back to Quebec where the governor imprisoned him, but the colonists saw that he had been so weakened by this experience that they soon released him. They regarded it as a gift from God that he had survived the ordeal. It did however, show how angry the Quebec governor was at the hasty departure of Radisson and Groseilliers.

Meanwhile the seven boats in Radisson’s company were moving at a fast speed west when they came upon the tracks of seven other canoes and a fire that was still burning. And from the character of the tracks they could tell that they were not of their enemy but rather of Octanaks,[58] who were most likely going to near the same destination as they: the “height of the Upper Lake.” They doubled their speed and soon caught up to these Octanaks, who had come from Mount Royal. They decided to travel together, beefing up their numbers to 14 boats, which would be better defense against any potential attack. They would also travel faster, which was desirable because the season was late and pressed them to reach Lake Superior sooner than later.

Sure enough the next day they encountered a party of Iroquois waiting for them in a makeshift fort along the river. These Iroquois had been lying in wait for the Octanaks, who they had seen some days before, so they were surprised when they realized that their numbers had doubled. Radisson’s company resolved to “give combat,” and so a council was given. It was at the council when Radisson volunteered with another native to go see their fort. “I offered myselfe with a free will, to lett them see how willing I was to defend them; that is the onely way to gaine the hearts of those wildmen.”[59] As usual, there was a method to his madness.

Radisson and the Indian went to the Iroquois fort, seeing that it was “nothing but trees one against another in a round square without sides.”[60] The Iroquois saw them approach their fort and therefore shot at them but missed. Radisson spoke to the Iroquois in their language, telling them that there was no use to shoot their guns and that they should instead use their bows and arrows. “The Iroquois saw themselves putt to it, and the evident danger that they weare in, but to late [sic] except they would runne away.”[61] The Iroquois were outnumbered so Radisson spoke to them of peace and threw necklaces of porcelain[62] over the walls of their fort. These items of jewelry were highly valued because they were rare in Iroquois country. Being impressed with such gifts of peace, and being flattered by such “faire words, to which they gave eare,” they were persuaded to remain in their fort for the night since it was too late in the day for their escape. Radisson had earned his party a free passage and was comforted by this because he was sure that some in his party would have lost their lives in the battle.

The next day Radisson’s company paddled past the fort quietly without fear of a surprise attack. Once they were passed the Iroquois fort about 200 paces, two of their boats landed on the shore where they ran into two other Iroquois boats. Both were surprised; the Iroquois boats left a bundle of beaver pelts behind in their fright and ran away to the other side of the river, as did the Indians in Radisson’s group run to their other boats downstream. They were noticeably scared so once again Radisson encouraged them to cheer up and not to despair. When Radisson learned that they had dropped a bundle of beaver pelts he realized that this party of Iroquois had just come back from the wars in the upper country and therefore were not part of the Iroquois stationed at the fort. With renewed confidence they attacked these two boats with guns shooting and arrows flying. These Iroquois fled by jumping in the river as they didn’t have time to get into their canoes. Radisson thinks they would have killed them all if two other boats had not come to their rescue from down the river. Three on the enemy’s side were slain and the rest had retreated to the fort there on the riverbank that had been made long before. Radisson’s party made the most of it by passing them by and using the discarded bundle of beaver furs for protection from flying arrows and bullets that they discharged in an effort to hinder their passage. They landed on the shore of this old fort and killed one of Radisson’s men as they landed.

The Iroquois all fortified themselves in this fort, believing themselves safe behind the walls but they were mistaken. Radisson’s company of Indians were furious to have lost a comrade so they gave assault. They again used the beaver skins as makeshift armor against their guns but the Iroquois “made more noise than hurt.”[63] Darkness covered the fort but still they attacked. Radisson concocted a bomb using a barrel full of gunpowder stuck to the end of a long pole. Not knowing how the bomb was to work, three men were lost in its execution but that did not hinder more efforts at constructing another bomb using gunpowder in the rind of a tree with a fuse. This time, with the Indians knowing how the bomb worked, they were instructed to break into the fort once the bomb exploded, hacking down the remnants of the walls with their swords and hatchets.

As this was going on, the Iroquois were singing their death song, knowing the more bombs were going to explode into smoke and noise. Once the walls were blown apart, there was hand-to-hand combat: “we are mingled pell mell, so that we could not know one another in that skirmish of blows.”[64] In the midst of this battle inside the fort, a thunderstorm lets loose torrents of rain, as if God were intervening Himself to allow the remainder of these Iroquois to escape. It was so dark that many of them standing around the fort did not know if they were going to be taken prisoner or not, so they made loud noises and slowly came together looking for shelter from the wind and rain. Some were singing their death song believing that those that were left standing there who they could not see were their enemy. Only those were brave enough to step forward to those standing around discovered that they had indeed vanquished their enemy.

They made a great fire and in great haste built up the fort again expecting the enemy to return during the night. They searched for their missing and found 11 of the enemy dead whereas there were only two dead of theirs with seven wounded “who in a short time passed all danger of life.”[65] The wounded sang the death song the loudest and were tended to by the unhurt, as the others burnt the beheaded enemy bodies and ate the flesh. As Radisson writes: “Many liked the occupation, for they filled their bellyes with the flesh of their enemies.”[66]

They burned their fallen comrades in the fire, being a custom to honor the dead in such a burial.

“At the brake of day [sic] we cooked what could accommodate us, and flung the rest away. The greatest marke of our victory was that we had 10 heads and foure prisoners, whom we embarqued in hopes to bring them into our countrey, and there to burne them att our owne leasures for the more satisfaction of our wives.”[67] They left that place of massacre with loud and horrid cries. They stopped after some time and proceeded to torture those unfortunate captives. “We plucked out their nailes one after another.”[68]

The next morning, having slept in a little bit in their boats, they asked Radisson to shoot his gun to make a great noise to mark their departure. No sooner had he shot his gun that they saw seven boats of Iroquois approaching them with about 12 soldiers in each boat. They were surprised and were not strong enough to fight off such a force. Seeing death before them, they sent two scouts forward “to know their postures” who discovered that these Iroquois were building a fort up the river. The Iroquois seemed to have perceived that their force was bigger than it was, so they capitalized on this by moving boats two at a time that were just out of range of the Iroquois in an effort to create an image of strength. They proceeded to kill their four prisoners to get rid of the evidence, as the sight of them would only serve to incite this new batch of Iroquois.

The enemy sent about forty of their troupe to find their weaknesses and strengths as Radisson was again busy bolstering the men’s spirits, insisting that they should not build another fort because it would act as a prison. If they had to retreat then they could use the nearby island as a fort and then escape at night. He reminded them that it was Iroquois country so going into the woods to get away from them was not a good idea. The Iroquois were thinking that an assault was to happen at any moment and thus kept a vigorous lookout for the attack that never came. But this served to distract them from their quiet departure just after nightfall. Without a doubt the enemy had many prisoners and booty with them and that may have been part of the reason for them not being as hungry for a fight and thus as disposed to spot them as they slipped past them during the night. “We left the Iroquoits in his fort and the feare in our breeches, for without apprehension we rowed from friday to tuesday without intermission.”[69]

Eating only salted meat, they persevered in getting away from their dreaded enemy. As Radisson writes: “It was a pitty to see our feete and leggs in blood by drawing our boats through the swift streames, where the rocks have such sharp points that there is nothing but death could make men doe what we did.”[70] They were all spent after three days of this extreme physical expenditure, so they took an “intermission” after their escape from the Iroquois. They had narrowly escaped and were not to see any more Iroquois for the rest of the trip to their destination.

Chapter Twenty-seven

To the Lake of the Stairing Haires

After 22 days of only sleeping in their boats on the move after the lake of the Castors and the river of the sorcerers,[71] they reached the first great lake.[72] There was great relief among them all as they were finally out of enemy territory. Despite being very hungry and there not being much wild game along the coast, they did find some “small fruits.” Radisson makes a point of making a remark about the native character that is worth reproducing here: “There I found the kindnesse and charity of the wildmen, ffor when they found any place of any quantity of it they called me and my brother to eat and replenish our bellys, shewing themselves far gratfuller then many Christians even to their owne relations.”[73]

There is an interesting anecdote here too as they move southwest along the east coast of Manitoulin Island towards the heart of Lake Huron. “I cannot forgett here the subtilty of one of these wildmen that was in the same boat with me. We see a castor along the watter side, that puts his head out of the watter. That wildman no sooner saw him but throwes himself out into the watter and downe to the bottom, without so much time as to give notice to any, and before many knewed of anything, he brings up the castor in his armes as a child, without fearing to be bitten. By this we see that hunger can doe much.”[74]

Then the company entered a long, narrow stretch of water where they stopped. Their camp was close to the rapids that connected Lake Huron with Lake Superior, a river known today as St. Mary’s River.[75] Once in Superior, they moved along the southwest shores where there were lots of fish the natives called “Assickmack.”[76] Many of the natives with Radisson and Groseilliers were from this area so they built some cottages and took some time to fill their stomachs, not only with whitefish but with beavers and bears. They all enjoyed it here, with Radisson calling it a “terrestriall paradise.”[77] As he states, “after so long fastning, after so great paines that we had taken, finde ourselves so well by chossing our dyet, and resting when we had a minde to it, ‘tis here that we must tast with pleasur a sweet bitt; it is the way to distinguish the sweet from the bitter.”[78] Indeed, for these travelers the rest and the full tummies must have been very sweet indeed. They had just canoed and portaged about 1000 miles.

But the season was already “far spent” so they needed to keep moving in order to get to where they wanted to go. The water was calm and the weather was fine when they arrived at a small island. At a small river Radisson asked what the name was, which he learned was called “pauabickkomesibs.”[79]

“Why?” he asked.

“Come, and I shall shew thee the reason why,” was the answer he heard. Not more than 200 paces in the woods there were many pieces of copper that were there uncovered and for the taking. He had mind to take a piece with him but he was told not to take any as there was a lot more copper for the taking where they were going.[80]

From this place they paddled along the coast of Superior, “which are most delightfull and wounderous, for it’s nature that made it so pleasant to the eye, the sperit, and the belly.”[81] They found sandy shores that reminded Radisson of Turkey, where the Turks make pilgrimages. Radisson did a lot of traveling in his lifetime, seeing much of Europe including Turkey.[82]

They saw boats ahead of them, which they caught up to because they no longer had anymore fear that it could be the Iroquois enemy. It was also a good motivator to increase speed because it was becoming very cold, particularly during the night. They were a small nation that lived in the south numbering no more than 100, including women and children. They were much impressed with the merchandise they had with them from Quebec, which included knives and hatchets and various utensils that were valuable to the natives. They shared a fire and mourned one of their warriors that had been killed. After some days they separated from each other. Radisson presented them with many gifts and was given in return a great store of meat in barrels and bear grease and moose.

Continuing along the south shore of Lake Superior they came to a great bank of rocks that the natives called “Nanitoucksinagoit,” which Radisson records as a place that signifies the devil.[83] There the natives offered tobacco and other things in veneration. The rocks were so high that the waves before it were so deep that it was almost impossible to approach the point. Radisson called it a great portal as big as a tower. A ship as big as 500 tons could pass through the arch of rock. The coast of rocks is about 25 or 30km long, and when “the lake is agitated the waves goeth in these concavities with force and make a most horrible noise, most like the shooting of great guns.”[84] He named it St. Peter after his own name because he thought he was the first Christian to ever see it.

(This claim that he and Groseilliers were the first Christians to ever see these rocks needs some verification. According to a note in the 1858 transcription of Radisson’s original journals, there is a reference to Parkman’s “Discovery of the Great West,” which refers to “two daring traders.” The full passage is as follows: “French Jesuits and fur-traders pushed deeper and deeper into the wilderness of the northern lakes. In 1641 Jacques[85] and Raynbault preached the Faith to a concourse of Indians at the outlet of Lake Superior.[86] Then came the havoc and desolation of the Iroquois war, and for years further exploration was arrested. At length, in 1658, two daring traders penetrated to Lake Superior, wintered there, and brought back the tales they had heard of the ferocious Sioux, and of a great western river on which they dwelt. Two years later the aged Jesuit Mesnard attempted to plant a mission on the shouthern shore of the lake, but perished in the forest by famine or the tomahawk. Allouez succeeded him, explored a part of Lake Superior, and heard in his turn of the Sioux and their great river, the ‘Messipi.’”[87] This independent verification of the “two daring traders” being the first to penetrate so deeply into Lake Superior adds something to the importance of the text of this biography, particularly Radisson’s account of meeting such friendly and hospitable natives who had never seen white men with hairy faces).[88]

Radisson loved the area they were in around Keweena Bay in Michigan: “a very beautiful point of sand where there are 3 beautiful islands.”[89] There they portaged across the peninsula[90] where they drained some “pools” that had been made by beavers. Once the beaver homes were broken and the water drained there were 20 leagues of ground the cross. The beaver, being such an industrious mammal, had cut down all the available trees in the area thus leaving the ground soft with mud, particularly in one spot, so that the portage across this terrain was difficult.

“The ground became trembling by this means: the castor drowning great soyles with dead water, herein growes mosse which is 2 foot thick or there abouts, and when you think to goe safe and dry, if you take not great care you sink downe to our head or to the midle of your body. When you are out of one hole you find yourselfe in another. This I speake by experience, for I meselfe have bin catched often. But the wildmen warned me, which saved me; that is, that when the mosse should breake under I should cast my whole body into the watter on sudaine. I must with my hands hold the mosse, and goe soe like a frog, then to draw my boat after me.”[91]

Radisson estimates that this portage saved them eight days of travel: five days going up to the point and three days coming down. (This conforms to the measurements of Keweenaw Peninsula).

Radisson noted he passed a great island that was across from the end point of this peninsula that took from sunrise to sunset to reach on a day of fair weather.[92]

It was only five more days of travel before they arrived at a group of cottages where there were Christinos (Cree) that were overjoyed of their arrival. They said that he and Groseilliers were indeed honourable and courageous men to have returned after they had said they would. Radisson gave them “great guifts, which caused some suspicion, for it is a very jealous nation.”[93] But they did not stay long, which removed that jealousy from festering. They continued west and met some other Sault who joined them in hope of receiving some knives as gifts from the Frenchmen. They finally arrived at what must be Chequemegon Bay.[94]

Here was a natural fort with rocks that were like pyramids, so Radisson and Groseilliers established a camp while the natives they had traveled with from Three Rivers still had another five days to go inland to meet their wives. Carrying their large bundles for five days overland was too hard a task for the Frenchmen so they decided to build a fort there on the west side of the bay and wait for their native comrades to return. The Indians feared that they may be at war with the Nadoneceronons (The Sioux) and thus were not sure about the fate of their wives and children.

“Brethren, we resolve to stay here, being not accustomed to make any carriage on our backs as you are,” said Radisson. “Go and look for your wives. We will build us a fort here. And seeing that you are not able to carry all your merchandise at once, we will keep it for you, and will stay here waiting for you for 14 days. Before this time expires you will send to us if your wives be alive, and if you find them they will fetch what you leave here and what we have. For their pains they shall receive gifts from us.[95] So you will see us in your country. If they be dead, we will spend all to be revenged, and will gather up the whole country for the next spring, for that purpose to destroy those that were the causers of their death, and you shall see our strength and valor. Although there are 7000 fighting men in one village, you’ll see we will make them run away, and you shall kill them to your best liking by the very noise of our arms and our presence, who are the Gods of the earth among those people.” The Indians were nonetheless skeptical at Radisson’s resolution to revenge if their wives were dead.

Starved for food, the two Frenchmen built their fort in earnest. It was triangular in shape made of stakes, with one side against the steep rocky shore and branches covering as a roof. It took two days to build it but once done, Groseilliers stayed to man the fort while Radisson went out to find food. Through the woods and across a meadow four miles he found a pool covered with buzzards. “The poore creatures, seeing me flat uppon the ground, thought I was a beast as well as they, so they come neare me, whisling [sic] like gosslings, thinking to frighten me. The whistling that I made them heare was another musick then theirs. There I killed 3 and the rest scared, which nevertheless came to that place againe to see what sudaine sicknesse befeled their comrades. I shott againe; two payed for their curiosity.”[96] The five large birds lasted them five days, which to such hungry men were “to us more then tenne thousand pistoles.”

Chapter Twenty-eight

“Every one prepares to see what they never before have seen”

There at Chequemegon Bay, Wisconsin they remained for 12 days without any news, but during this time they had visitors. Many admired the workmanship of their fort, with its three walls and fireplace in the middle with the sleeping quarters along the west wall. But most of all the Indians were in awe of their weapons, which included: “5 guns, two musquetons, 3 fowling-peeces, 3 paire of great pistoletts, and 2 paire of pocket ons, and every one his sword and daggar.”[97] In Radisson’s philosophy about all these arms, “we might say that a Coward was not well enough armed. Mistrust neverthelesse is the mother of safety, and the occasion makes the thief.”[98]

It proved safe in their fort with all these goods to guard, and there was plenty of food for Radisson to hunt so they passed the 12 days eating and hunting and entertaining visitors, who also brought them meat. The only scare they had was when a fox or a squirrel entered the fort for food. And one of the buzzards flew away with Radisson’s bracer,[99] which caused him a lot of trouble. He found it a few days later a mile and a half away in the hole of a tree half ripped up. Then on the twelfth day some 50 young natives approached them with their old companions from their trip from New France. “We gave them leave to come into our fort, but they are astonied [sic], calling us every foot devils to have made such a machine.”[100]

They brought Radisson and Groseilliers more victuals but they had plenty to spare, especially after Radisson killed a moose and had the proper equipment to shoot fowls. The natives seldom ate fowl because it was too difficult to kill with their arrows so most of the eating done by the natives at their three-walled fort were buzzards. After remaining at the fort for another three days, in which the wives showed up and who particularly enjoyed the fowl, over 400 persons came to the fort to see them off on the five-day hike into the woods to their companions’ cottages. But before they left their fort on the shore of Lake Superior to go into the heart of what is now the border of Minneota and Michigan, they had to retrieve most of their merchandise that they had buried in the ground and hidden under water in order to not appear as a valuable target to any Indians that may come by and regard them as better dead than alive.

They also piled the canoes around the fort for added protection since these boats were soon to be broken by the oncoming cold weather. Some they tied together to put in the fire, which served to provide light and frighten those natives who may have thought about stealing the merchandise that was now back in the fort. At this moment Radisson felt the pride and confidence of a true explorer of his age. “We weare Cesars, being nobody to contradict us. We went away free from any burden, whilst those poore miserable [natives] thought themselves happy to carry our Equipage, for the hope that they had that we should give them a brasse ring, or an awle, or an needle.”[101] Indeed at this moment in their lives, with 400 natives surrounding them, they stood at the forefront of what it is to be a true explorer in the New World, with proven companions and helpful tools, and safe in their fort built with their own hands.

They marched for four days into the woods, until at last they came to the cabins. They remained outside the camp that night, waiting until the next morning to make their grand entrance. “We 2 poore adventurers for the honneur of our countrey, or of those that shall deserve it from that day; the nimblest and stoutest went before to warne before the people that we should make our entry to-morrow. Every one prepares to see what they never before have seene.”[102] How few people in world history, particularly in modern history, have ever felt this overwhelming anticipation of meeting a people who had never seen his kind before? And with Radisson and Groseilliers’ accumulated knowledge and understanding of the culture of the Red Man in the New World, they were able to prepare gifts that would be appreciated and remembered for years to come.

 The next day the two Frenchmen entered the village of about 100 cabins. Remember that Radisson and Groseilliers had already proven their competence, loyalty and courage journeying with the strongest men of this village, as well as fighting against their most hated enemy, so they had a warm welcome.

There is nothing but cryes. The women throw themselves backwards uppon the ground, thinking to give us tokens of friendship and of welcome. We destinated 3 presents, one for the men, one for the women, and the other for the children, to the end that they should remember that journey; that we should be spoaken of a hundred years after, if other Europeans should not come in those quarters and be liberal to them, which will hardly come to passe. The first was a kettle, two hatchets, and 6 knives, and a blade for a sword. The kettle was to call all nations that weare their friends to the feast which is made for the remembrance of the death; that is, they make it once in seven years; it’s a renewing of ffriendshippe. The hatchetts were to encourage the yong people to strengthen themselves in all places, to preserve their wives, and shew themselves men by knocking the heads of their ennemyes with the said hattchetts. The knives weare to shew that the ffrench weare great and mighty, and their confederates and friends. The sword was to signifie that we would be masters both of peace and warrs, being willing to healpe and relieve them, and to destroy our Ennemyes with our armes. The second guift was of 2 and 20 awles, 50 needles, 2 gratters of castors, 2 ivory combs and 2 wooden ones, with red painte, 6 looking-glasses[103] of tin. The awles signifieth to take good courage, that we should keepe their lives, and that they with their husbands should come downe to the ffrench when time and season should permit. The needles for to make them robes of castor, because the ffrench loved them. The 2 gratters weare to dresse the skins; the combes, the paint, to make themselves beautifull; the looking-glasses to admire themselves. The 3rd guift was of brasse rings, of small bells and rasades of divers couleurs, and given in this manner. We sent a man to make all the children come together. When they weare there we throw these things over their heads. You would admire what a beat was among them, every one striving to have the best. This was done uppon this consideration, that they should be allwayes under our protection, giving them wherewithall to make them merry and remember us when they should be men.”[104]

This done, Radisson and Groseilliers were called to a council of welcome and a feast of friendship. There was mourning for the dead promptly followed by a dance to forget about all the sorrow. More gifts followed here also, with Radisson and Groseilliers giving four more gifts to the council, “which they tooke willingly and did us good, that gave us authority among the whole nation. We knewed their councels, and made them doe whatsoever we thought best. This was a great advantage for us, you must think.”[105]

They were put up in the lodge of the “chieftest captayne” who had accompanied them from New France, but they didn’t care for the cabin. The chief wondered about this but chose not to speak “because we weare demi-gods.” They instead stayed at the cottage of an ancient and witty man that had had a great family with many children. His wife was old but still fair. They were from the nation called the “Malhonmines,” or what may be called “oats” or “grain.” Here Radisson was adopted into the family. “I tooke this man for my ffather and the woman for my mother, soe the children consequently brothers and sisters. They adopted me. I gave every one a guift, and they to mee.”[106]

Chapter Twenty-nine


The winter arrived and with it the men took up hunting duty. Because the game was scarce, each hunting group of two or three went into different places in the forest to increase their chances of returning home with food. Then during a span of time stretching two and half months, they split up and went afar to their neighboring nations to inform them that the feast of death was to happen five moons[107] from then. It was a celebration of peace and union, and a time for all the tribes to be together as one. It happened once every seven years.[108] And while they were each carrying such a message, they constructed raketts[109] and hunted many bears. Radisson boasts that they killed so many bears in two moons that they would have bear grease for a thousand moons.

When they met at the rendezvous point after two and half months there was a tremendous amount of snow. Fortunately at this place there were cottages built already that helped keep them out of the incessant snow, but it snowed so much that they were forced to make bigger snowshoes, some six feet long and a foot and a half broad. They remained at these cottages for two weeks but because of the deep snow they made a lot of noise when they moved atop the snow and therefore hunting was difficult. It grew worse and worse with every passing day.

They soon left and came across the Octanaks, who only numbered about 150 in their tribe. The two Frenchmen stayed with them. To augment their misery, they learned that they had had a falling out with the Hurons on the island they had passed some years before on the lake of the Stairing Haires,[110] and that last summer they had made wars against them. They were worse off than Radisson’s group. It was quite extraordinary to read Radisson’s description of these miserable people after the Hurons had attacked them the previous summer. For them surviving the winter was doubtful.

Having no huntsmen, they are reduced to famine… They are the coursedest, unablest, the unfamous and cowarliest people that I have seene amongst fower score nations that I have frequented… Every one cryes out for hungar; the women become baren, and drie like wood. You men must eate the cord, being you have no more strength to make use of the bow. Children, you must die… Here comes a new family of these poore people dayly to us, halfe dead, for they have but the skin and boans. How shall we have the strength to make a hole in the snow to lay us downe, seeing we have it not to hale our rackets after us, nor to cutt a litle wood to make a fire to keepe us from the rigour of the cold, which is extreame in those Countryes in it season. Oh! if the musick that we heare could give us recreation, we wanted not any lamentable musick nor sad spectacle. In the morning the husband looks uppon his wife, the Brother his sister, the cozen the cozen, the Oncle the nevew. That weare for the most part found deade. They languish with cryes and hideous noise that it was able to make the haire starre on the heads that have any apprehension. Good God, have mercy on so many poore innocent people…”[111]

Being such a small tribe and having been decimated by angry Hurons, and being so isolated in such a severely cold climate must account for this state of affairs he thought to himself, particularly the apparent mismanagement of their dire situation. Still Radisson thought to himself, having dogs there who also were also a mouth to feed didn’t ring wise for a people starving.

The worst of the 40 some odd Indian nations Radisson had come across in his adventures, he was witnessing the extinction of a tribe. Eating the cords on their bows and eating bark were the extreme manifestation of survival. Radisson describes the art of eating the bark of a tree: “The greatest subsistence that we can have is of rind[112] tree which growes like ivie about the trees; but to swallow it, we cutt the stick some 2 foot long, tying it in faggot, and boyle it, and when it boyles one houre or two the rind or skinne comes off with ease, which we take and drie it in the smoake and then reduce it into powder betwixt two graine-stoans,[113] and putting the kettle with the same watter uppon the fire, we make it a kind of broath, which nourished us, but becam thirstier and drier then the woode we eate.”[114] Living off of bark and water was always believed to be fictional extremism, but here it is recorded back in 1662 by a people staring at death in the face.

But it did end. During the first two weeks with this tribe, Radisson’s group ate their dogs and returned into the woods retracing their steps to find the carcasses of the animals they had killed. These were boiled three or four times to get substance out of it. Furthermore, any bones left from these carcasses, as well as those from the crows and dogs, were ground up into powder. “So putt all that together halfe foot within grounde, and so makes a fire uppon it, We covered all that very well with earth, soe seeling the heat, and boyled them againe and gave more froth then before.”[115] Hunger, indeed starvation, will make man do almost anything to find nourishment, so Radisson and his companions took “the skins that weare reserved to make us shoose, cloath, and stokins, yea, most of the skins of our cottages, the castor’s skins,” and “burned the haire on the coals; the rest goes downe throats, eating heartily these things most abhorred. We went so eagerly to it that our gums did bleede like one newly wounded. The wood was our food the rest of sorrowfull time.”[116] Eating the animal skins reserved for shoes and clothing until their gums bled is a picture of determination here in Wisconsin nearly 50 years after the death of Shakespeare in London.

They searched for roots but the ground was frozen two or three feet deep and had five or six feet of snow above it so scavenging for the roots of plants was too difficult. Finally, they “became the very Image of death. We mistook ourselves very often, taking the living for the dead and the dead for the living.”[117] When there were dead found in a cabin, they were only strong enough to take the body four paces out into the snow. All told there were over 500 dead, men, women and children.

After this prolonged series of blizzards and snowstorms the weather began to warm so that the wind and rain fell and hardened the snow into a firm carpet, which enabled them to leave their village without the need of their snowshoes. The warmer weather gave them renewed strength and the hope to hunt wild game just as their bodies had had enough pain and suffering. Those who still had bows for their arrows killed a number of skinny deer that furnished them. Overjoyed with food, nonetheless eating food of substance wasn’t easy for most. “Our gutts became very straight by our long fasting, that they could not centaine[118] the quantity that some putt in them.”[119]

It is here, at this point in his records that Radisson mentions one of the most quoted passages in his history. Just when they were on the verge of starving to death and their bodies so ravaged from lack of sustenance, the Indians regarded Groseilliers as a devil. This was because his thick beard covered his emaciated face so that he remained relatively healthy looking. In Radisson’s own hand, it is written down as this: “Seeing my brother allwayes in the same condition, they said that some Devill brought him wherewithall to eate; but if they had seene his body they should be of another opinion. The beard that covered his face made as if he had not altered his face. For me that had no beard,[120] they said I loved them, because I lived as well as they.”[121] It took them two days to recover enough strength to begin walking again.

When the warm weather began to fortify and remain, eschewing the incessant snows that marked such a trying winter, two men from a strange country came to their cottages with a dog. All those in Radisson’s cottage devised ways to catch and eat the dog. They offered gifts and tried all different sorts of approaches but these two men, who were Nadoneseronons,[122] were very attached to their dog and wouldn’t let them take it. Then one night, Radisson went out of his cabin to near their cabin “to doe what discretion permitts me not to speake,”[123] when the dog came towards him. Radisson lured the dog into the woods and slit its throat, bringing the dead dog back to his cabin to be boiled and eaten, each person in his cabin getting an equal serving. Even the blood spilled in the snow was used when Indians scooped up the red snow and boiled it for seasoning in their kettle.

Chapter Thirty


            Two months later it was time for the big feast. Eight ambassadors from the nation of Nadoneseronons[124] came for a visit, with each man bringing their two wives and plenty of food, which included grain, oats and corn as a token of their friendship. Adhering to customs long since adopted for this feast of peace, these visitors greased their feet and legs, while they painted their visitors with red paint. Radisson and his companions were stripped naked and “put uppon us cloath of buffe and of white castors.”[125] After they did this the Nadoneseronons wept on their heads so that tears fell on them. The ceremonial peace pipe was then smoked, but these pipes were not their usual pipes. They were only used in ceremony and symbolized peace and harmony between heaven and earth. After this their new clothes and armor[126] were perfumed. The final event in this process was throwing a great amount of tobacco on the fire. With all this done, there was a cemented peace between the two nations.[127]

            The next morning they were called to sit around the fire and smoke more tobacco. Radisson asked to borrow their ceremonial “calumet,” since it was not lawful to bring a peace pipe out of the country of the tribe. It was here that Radisson took pains to describe that this was no ordinary pipe. It was made of red stone, as big as a fist and as long as a hand. Its stem was made of a reed five feet long and as thick as a thumb with an eagle feather tied to the end. Radisson removed the tail of eagle feathers and replaced it with 12 “iron bows” in the same manner as the eagle feathers. Everyone around the fire smoked their own pipes in silence. Finally, the interpreter for Radisson translated his words to these Nadoneseronons:

            “Brethren, we have accepted your gifts. You are called here to know our will and pleasure that is such: first, we take you for our bethren by taking you into our protection, and for to show you we, instead of the eagle’s tail, have put some of our armor, to the end that no enemy shall approach it to break the affinity that we make now with you.” Radisson then removed the iron[128] from the bows and lifted them up, telling them that these 12 points will pass over the whole world to defend and destroy their enemies, which are now theirs too. He grabbed the hatchets that were in the ground and raised them, telling them that they will kill their enemies and that they were now welcome to seek protection at any of their forts if they need to. All of this was done to ensure they come in peace and in assurance to the rendezvous point to celebrate the feast of the dead. With all this done, Radisson took some gunpowder and threw it into the fire just as they had with their tobacco, but he threw a little more than he thought he had in his hand and the effect was dramatic. The fire blew up and the Indians that were there being honored as friends were frightened and ran away in all directions. The intention was not to imply skills of sorcery but rather “to make them believe that it was some of our Tobacco, and make them smoake as they made us smoake.” In Radisson’s own words, “hearing such a noise, and they seeing that fire fled of every side, without any further delay or looke for so much time as looke for the dore of the cottage, one runne one way, another an other way, ffor they never saw a sacrifice of tobacco so violent. They went all away, and we onely stayed in the place. We followed them to reassure them of their faintings. We visited them in their apartments, where they received [us] all trembling for feare, believing realy by that same meanes that we weare the Devils of the earth.”[129]

            Despite this incident, there was eight days of feasting.

Chapter Thirty-one

The Feast of the Dead

The time came for the rendezvous for the big feast.[130] Some 18 nations arrived for the celebration, totaling a number of about 500 people. It was decided at the first council to build a fort, which was started immediately. It was a big one, measuring approximately 600 paces in both length and breadth. It was situated in a large meadow with a stream where deer were unafraid to go to water themselves. Some 30 men from the nation of the beef[131] arrived, having nothing but bows and arrows, with very short garments, to be the nimbler in chasing the stags. “The Iron of their arrows weare made of stagg’s pointed horens very neatly. They weare all proper men, and dressed with paint. They were the discoverers and the foreguard.”[132] They traveled light with their bows and arrows and hunted wild game.

In each of the cabins there were ten or twelve companies or families. Covered with tree boughs and piled with wood for the fire, the natives present ate and rested as some of the notables made speeches. They said that the elders of the village would arrive tomorrow to renew the friendships with the other nations present, and to secure a new friendship with the French. When a speech was done the speaker would shoot an arrow in the air and then cry aloud. Then that night many were scattered in the different cabins as everyone expected a lot of people to arrive the next day. Many of these people would build the tents[133] that they carried with them on their journey to the feast.

Sure enough they all arrived the following day with a lot of pomp and ceremony. “This made me thinke of the Intrance that the Polanders did in Paris, saving that they had not so many Jewells, but instead of them they had so many feathers.”[134] This festival, that occurred every seven (or ten) years was recorded in detail by Radisson, and deserves to be read as he describes it because it reads as a living history of how the natives actually were back then untouched by European goods through trade:

The ffirst weare yong people with their bows and arrows and Buckler on their shoulders, uppon which weare represented all manner of figures according to their knowledge, as of the sun and moone, of terrestriall beasts, about its feathers very artificialy painted. Most of the men their faces weare all over dabbed with severall collours. Their hair turned up like a Crowne, and weare cutt very even, but rather so burned, for the fire is their cicers.[135] They leave a tuff of haire upon their Crowne of their heads, tye it, and putt att the end of it some small pearles or some Turkey stones, to bind their heads. They have a role commonly made of a snake’s skin, where they tye severall bear’s paws, or give a forme to some bitts of buff’s horns,[136] and put it about the said role. They grease themselves with very thick grease, and mingle it in reddish earth, which they bourne, as we our breeks. With this stuffe they gett their haire to stand up. They cutt some downe of Swan or other fowle that hath a white feather, and cover with it the crowne of their heads. Their ears are pierced in 5 places; the holes are so bigg that your little finger might passe through. They have yallow waire[137] that they make with copper, made like a starr or a half moone, and there hang it. Many have Turkeys. They are cloathed with Oriniack and staggs’ skins, but very light. Every one had the skin of a crow hanging att their guirdles. Their stokens all inbrodered with pearles and with their own porke-pick worke. They have very handsome shoose laced very thick all over with a peece sowen att the side of the heele, which was of a haire of Buff, which trailed above halfe a foot upon the earth, or rather on the snow. They had swords and knives of a foot and a halfe long, and hattchetts very ingeniously done, and clubs of wood made like backswords; some made of a round head that I admired it. When they kille their enemy they cutt off the tuffe of haire and tye it about their armes. After all, they have a white robe made of Castor’s skins painted. Those having passed through the midle of ours, that weare ranged att every side of the way. The Elders came with great gravitie and modestie, covered with buff coats which hung downe to the grounde. Every one had in his hand a pipe of Councell sett with precious jewels. They had a sack on their shoulders, and that that holds it grows in the midle of their stomacks and on their shoulders. In this sacke all the world is inclosed. Their face is not painted, but their heads dressed as the foremost. Then the woman laden like unto so many mules, their burdens made a greater sheu then they themselves; but I suppose the weight was not equivolent to its bignesse. They weare conducted to the appointed place, where the women unfolded their bundles, and slang their skins whereof their tents are made, so that they had houses [in] less then half an hour.

This passage is full of details that are today obscured by stereotypes and images that are not accurate of how the Red Man actually dressed. From the hair to the garments and weapons, it is a painting of words straight from the horses’ mouth; from a Frenchman who was born in France and who had seen many nations of Indians in his travels already in his short life. All men had pipes and all women carried the bulk of bundles. The teepees were put up in 30 minutes and the pride taken in their appearance was immense.

There was a big, main cabin where every one congregated and where a large fire was made. The captain of the Indians that were with Radisson and Groseilliers made a speech of thanksgiving, which was followed by the two Frenchmen being introduced with more pomp. The next passage, as quoted directly from his journals, reveals the American Indian who respectfully accepted and honored these new visitors to their land. It was not a hostile and savage people, but rather a strong, proud and sensitive people who valued mutual respect, honor and martial courage:

First they come to make a sacrifice to the French, being Gods and masters of all things, as of peace, as warrs; making the knives, the hattchetts, and the kettles rattle etc. That they came purposely to putt themselves under their protection. Moreover, that they came to bring them back againe to their country, having by their means destroyed their Ennemyes abroad and neere. So Said, they present us with guifts of Castors’ Skins, assuring us that the mountains weare elevated, the valleys risen, the ways very smooth,[138] the bows of trees cutt downe to goe with more ease, and bridges erected over rivers, for not to wett our feete; that the dores of their villages, cottages of their wives and daughters,[139] weare open at any time to receive us, being wee kept them live by our merchandise. The Second guift was, yet they would die in their alliance, and that to certifie to all nations by continuing the peace, and weare willing to receive and assist them in their countrey, being well satisfied they weare come to celebrat the feast of the dead.[140] The 3rd guift was for to have one of the doors of the fort opened, if neede required, to receive and keepe them from the Christinos that come to destroy them; being allwayes men, and the heavens made them so, that they weare obliged to goe before to defend their country and their wives, which is the dearest thing they had in the world, and in all times they weare esteemed stout and true soldiers, and that yett they would make it appeare by going to meet them; and that they would not degenerat, but shew by their actions that they weare as valiant as their fore ffathers. The 4th guift was presented to us, which [was] of Buff Skins, to desire our assistance ffor being masters of their lives, and could dispose of them as we would, as well of the peace as of the warrs and that we might very well see that they did well to goe defend their owne countrey; that the true means to gett the victory was to have a thunder.[141]

After this the feast began in earnest. They made a place at the fire where, in the middle, Radisson and Groseilliers were seated a bit higher and more elevated than the others. Four beautiful women brought bear skins for them to sit on and then four elders handed them pipes for them to smoke. An old man “thanked the sun that never was a day to him so happy as when he saw those terrible men whose words makes the earth quacke, and sang a while.”[142] When he was done this, he approached them and covered them with his vestment, being now all naked except for his feet and his legs.

“Yee are masters over us,” said the old man. “Dead or alive you have the power over us, and may dispose of us as your pleasure.” This said he hands Radisson the pipe and a coal to kindle it. Once the pipe was smoked, Radisson stood up and sang. And then, through the interpreter, he spoke thus:

“We will save and keep your lives, as we take you as our brethren. I also want to say that we are short of artillery, having only 12 guns. We will use our long swords and our knives as our defense if need require us to do so.”

When he finished speaking, Radisson again threw a handful of gunpowder on the fire, creating the awesome display of magic to all those who witnessed it. The sparks of smoke and the loud noise reaffirmed his role as Master and God, and further secured their bonds of alliance between these two people. At this point during the proceedings the eating began, with Radisson hungry and eager to note the unique and tasty way of how the corn was prepared by these people of the plains, and how the corn swelled when it is put in the pot thus expanding so much that it can satisfy a man’s hunger. Two maidens then arrived with more pipes to smoke, and it was only then that they retired to their cabin to sleep.

[1] Ibid., Third Voyage. pp. 63-64

[2] Ibid., Third Voyage.

[3] Ibid., Third Voyage.

[4] “I think if any bird had lighted upon the excrements of the said stuff, they had stuckt to it as if it weare glue.” Ibid., Third Voyage.

[5] Lake of Castors Radisson calls it.

[6] 30 leagues in length.

[7] Ibid., Third Voyage.

[8] Ibid., Third Voyage. p. 67

[9] Ibid., Third Voyage. p. 67

[10] Ibid., p. 67

[11] During the early days of New France the French called Manitoulin Island Isle de St. Marie.

[12] Radisson refers to Lake Superior as ‘the upper sea’ because that is its literal translation from the French.

[13] Ibid., Third Voyage.

[14] The Potowatomi tribe.

[15] A note here to say that some scholars and historians believe Radisson and Groseilliers in fact travelled around the western shores of Lake Superior and did not canoe to Hudson Bay. I believe the canoeing around the shores of Lake Superior around the western shores and along the northern shores to Thunder Bay and across to Batchewana Bay was more difficult and less likely than they returning to St. Mary’s River and going north to where they could portage to Nelson River where they could use the current going downstream to Hudson Bay. There return was very likely the Hayes River that is flatter and easier to paddle that reaches Lake Winnipeg and then the river system back to St. Mary’s River along the North Channel of Lake Huron to the French River and then back to Three Rivers.

[16] Ibid., Third Voyage.

[17] Ibid., Third Voyage.

[18] It is important to note that Radisson did not keep a journal while traveling. He wrote his six journals while staying with Prince Rupert in London, England a decade later as historical documentation of this period in early Candian history, so there are parts of this third voyage where it lacks the same detail found in his first two voyages. His first two adventures were naturally a more vivid experience to the young Frenchman in comparison to the long voyage of three years with his business partner. Some scholars claim, such as Grace Lee Nute in her Caesars of the Wilderness, that Radission invented this third voyage to seek funding for the as-yet-to-be-funded exploration into the Hudson’s Bay. To this author this notion is preposperous. Men like Pierre Radisson do not invent fiction. Their lives are so extraordinary that their exploits are read in disbelief by many, especially cranky old academics who never set foot in a canoe. It is very natural for Radisson to forget the tedium and long days of survival during three years living and trading around Lake Superior, especially when he didn’t have proper notes to refer to and that most of it all was in other languages. If this exploration around Lake Superior was fabricated, how then could he know how to canoe and portage his way to Hudson’s Bay? The same disbelief was experienced by literary critics when Henri Charrière published his life story in Papillon. Some men live extraordinary lives. Period. This story is a novelization based purely on the journals he wrote. Pierre Radisson was the Real McCoy. He didn’t need to invent fiction; his life as non-fiction reads like fiction – that is the point here.

[19] The mighty Sioux Nation.

[20] The Cree Nation.

[21] North and northwest of Lake Superior.

[22] The Hudson’s Bay.

[23] “I can assure you I liked noe country as I have that wherein we wintered; ffor whatever a man could desire was to be had in great plenty; viz. staggs, fishes in abundance, & all sort of meat, corne enough.” – Ibid., Third Voyage.

[24] Guns.

[25] They were “five fine days” from Sault Ste. Marie, who were known as the nation of the salt.

[26] There is a passage during his second voyage when he describes an encounter with what sounds like an alligator. Historians have dismissed this as hyperbole but there has been a lot of speculation as to whether it was a true encounter or fiction.

[27] St. Mary’s River that connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron.

[28] Describes perfectly the eastern shores of Lake Superior where there are large sandy beaches beside massive granite mountains of the Canadian Shield.

[29] Namely French, Huron and Octonac.

[30] From the Dutch word ‘eelanden’ for moose.

[31] Ibid., Third Voyage.

[32] Snow shoes.

[33] These two tribes are still not known to historians.

[34] Literally ‘runners of the woods.’

[35] Modern-day equivalent to beef jerky

[36] Primarily the St. Lawrence River

[37] Ibid., p. 73

[38] Ibid., p. 74

[39] 100 leagues.

[40] They hung the beaver pelts from makeshift masts in their boats that was enough to give them protection from the enemy’s guns from distance. It was a brilliant move that enabled them to avoid bloodshed.

[41] Radisson’s words

[42] Ibid., p. 76

[43] Ibid., Third Voyage, p. 77

[44] This is likely the Missouri River

[45] And this one is likely the Mississippi River

[46] Ibid., p. 77

[47] A word about Jacques Marquette: He was a Jesuit priest who was born in France and then went to Quebec. He, like the other Black Robes before him, took the Gospel to the natives of the New World but his destiny lay in following the Mississippi all the way down to about 150km shy of the Gulf of Mexico. There are numerous towns and places named after him throughout the areas around the river, particularly in Michigan and Wisconsin.

[48] Ibid., p. 78

[49] Ibid., p. 78

[50] That is, Radisson’s half-sister

[51] Hereafter called by its modern-day name: Hudson’s Bay

[52] That is, the Saguenay River, east of Trois Rivieres going northwest from the St. Lawrence River.

[53] Ibid., p. 80

[54] Ibid., p. 80

[55] Ibid., p. 80

[56] Ibid., p. 81

[57] Ibid., p. 81

[58] The Octanaks are likely the Ottawa nation.

[59] Ibid., p. 82

[60] Ibid., p. 82

[61] Ibid., p. 82

[62] Necklaces made of shells.

[63] Ibid., p. 84

[64] Ibid., p. 84

[65] Ibid., p. 84

[66] Ibid., p. 84

[67] Ibid., p. 84

[68] Ibid., p. 84

[69] Ibid., p. 85 This non-stop paddling gives some idea of how scared and tired of battle they were already, still quite early in their journey west to Lake Superior.

[70] Ibid., p. 85

[71] That is, Lake Nipissing and the French River.

[72] Lake Huron but it was technically modern-day Georgian Bay.

[73] Ibid., p. 86

[74] Ibid., p. 86

[75] There is a natural bay on St. Joseph’s Island along the St. Mary’s River where les voyageur stopped and traded for centuries. This is the likely spot where they stayed. It is also the location of Fort St. Joseph built centuries later by the British that was instrumental in the British victory against the Americans in the War of 1812.

[76] Or whitefish. There is a town called Whitefish Point on a peninsula named Whitefish Point on a bay with the name Whitefish Bay just to the south west of Sault Ste. Marie on the American side of Lake Superior.

[77] In this area of Whitefish Point there is a town named Paradise.

[78] Ibid., p. 86

[79] That is, “small river of copper”

[80] Along the southern shore of Lake Superior there is a harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula called Copper Harbor.

[81] Ibid. p. 87

[82] This place in Turkey he refers to may be Cappadocia but it is only speculation. The sandy banks in the southeast pocket of Lake Superior is likely the Sandy Island Provincial Nature Reserve near modern-day Batchawana Bay and Whitefish Point.

[83] This is the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore just east of Marquette in Michigan.

[84] Ibid., p. 88

[85] Jesuit Father Isaac Jogues.

[86] This would be Sault Ste. Marie

[87] Introduction to Parkman’s “Discovery of the Great West,” 1820, Ibid., p. 88

[88] Radisson also makes a similar comment how it was the Iroquois who had prevented the French from a more robust exploration of the Great Lakes region in this part of his journals. Speaking of the “coursed Iroquoits,” he writes the following passage that echoes the same sentiments mentioned in Parkman’s assertion of the hindrance of the Iroquois: “What hath that poore nation [Hurons] done to thee [Iroquois], and being so far from they country? Yet if they had the same liberty that in former dayes they have had, we poore ffrench should not goe further with our heads except we had a strong army. Those great lakes had not so soone comed to our knowledge if it had not ben for those brutish people; two men had not found out the truth of these seas so cheape; the interest and the glorie could not doe what terror doth att the end.” In short it was the courage of Radisson and Groseilliers had that enabled them to overcome the terror of the Iroquois to discover this area of the New World, which was done at the risk of literally losing their heads.

[89] Ibid., p. 88

[90] Likely near the present-day town of Houghton

[91] Ibid., p. 88

[92] This must be Isle Royale, a national park and part of Michigan State. He adds this information to prove that he was in this area though he states that they did not go there as it was farther from the end of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

[93] Ibid., p. 89

[94] At the Apostle Islands Peninsula near modern-day Ashland, Wisconsin.

[95] Women were generally used to carry bundles so it was a common request to ask the wives of these men to help with their merchandise.

[96] Ibid., p. 90

[97] Ibid., p. 90. This list of weapons is interesting, both for the show of technology to the natives and for their protection against enemies and starvation. The “guns” would be rifles, “musketons” would be muskets, “fowling-peeces” would be a rifle that shoots buckshot (pre-cursor to the shotgun), “pistoletts” being pistols and the “pocket ons” are the small pistols.

[98] Ibid., p. 90

[99] A bracer is an arm or wrist guard worn by archers or fencers.

[100] Ibid., p. 90

[101] Ibid., p. 91. This is an oft-quoted passage from his journals, and illustrates the tremendous sense of self-esteem they must feel at having made the journey so many thousands of miles from Three Rivers in Quebec, and being loaded with valuable booty for trade with a people who had never seen a European before and had never envisaged such tools that had such a worthwhile application to the native life.

[102] Ibid., p. 91

[103] Small tin mirrors.

[104] Ibid., p. 92

[105] Ibid., p. 92

[106] Ibid., p. 92. It’s clear Radisson has a knack for being welcomed through utilizing the custom of gift-giving, but this also ensured his survival so far from any recourse to European life. It is important to note that Radisson was about 24 year’s old at this point in time.

[107] That is, five months.

[108] Though according to other scholarly notes, this was a feast (a celebration of the dead) that happened every 10 years.

[109] Snowshoes.

[110] Lake Superior.

[111] Ibid., p. 93-94 This scene of desperation was written by someone who had a good idea of hardship. In fact his journals employed a good amount of understatement throughout all six of his voyages.

[112] That is, bark.

[113] That is, grindstones

[114] Ibid., p. 94

[115] Ibid., p. 94

[116] Ibid., p. 94

[117] Ibid., p. 94

[118] That is, contain.

[119] Ibid., p. 95

[120] Refer to his captivity and torture with the Mohawks when he was a teenager, when they pulled out the hair on his face. The only painting or sketch of Pierre-Esprit Radisson shows him clean shaven except for a flowing moustache.

[121] Ibid., p. 95

[122] Sioux.

[123] This vague reference to an action done at night may be a bowel movement though it could be many things.

[124] Radisson calls the Sioux “the Nation of the beefe” because of the hunted buffalo.

[125] Ibid., p. 95. This is likely clothes of buffalo robes and white beaver skins, though it is unclear what white beavers are referring to. It is likely that the beaver skins are worn as armor as they are tough to pierce with either arrows or bullets.

[126] That is, beaver skins.

[127] Between the Sioux and the Ottawa nations.

[128] This must be interpreted as: removing the arrows from the bows. Therefore, the word “iron” here used by Radisson refers to the iron-tipped arrows.

[129] Ibid., p. 96 The ripple effect of this one event was to spread among the nations across the continent of the New World that the white man were socerers who had magic, opening the doors to both respect and suspicion in the decades and centuries to come.

[130] Radisson’ description of the Feast of the Dead is one of the best recorded in the early history of the New World.

[131] As noted earlier, the Sioux Indians.

[132] Ibid., p. 96

[133] These ‘tents’ would be teepees.

[134] Ibid., p. 97

[135] That is, scissors. This solves a mystery of how they cut their hair.

[136] That is, buffalo horns.

[137] That is, yellow colored wire.

[138] These would mean flatlands or prairies.

[139] There were many reports from early explorers of how liberal the natives were about sharing their wives and daughters sexually, and therefore this likely indicated an open invitation to their ‘bed.’

[140] A modern-day parallel to this feast is perhaps the United Nations, how countries today declare past sins forgiven and move forward in peace as allies.

[141] Ibid., p. 98. At the end here when he refers to “thunder,” the Indians from the plains are talking about guns, which they call “miniskiock.” There is a lot in this speech for scholars and for those interested in history and particularly in North American history and its peoples. The French were welcomed as Gods and as masters of all things. The kettles and knives and guns and other merchandise were appreciated for both its technological expertise as well as its obvious practical applications to life. It can also be noted here that there was no racism. Clearly, in light of Groseilliers’ beard and the color of their skin, the Frenchmen were of a different race but they were not looked down upon or treated as inferior. There is an overwhelming feeling of equality and respect here that may not always be as forthright in many other meetings between Europeans and other races throughout the world during the age of exploration.

[142] Ibid., p. 98