The Life Story of Pierre Radisson: A Novel

Original sketch of Pierre Radisson

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

I will venture choosing to die like a man

then live like a beggar.[2]

By Peter Higgins

Published 2009

©Copyright MMXX

Author’s Note

            Pierre Radisson wrote six journals during his lifetime, four poorly translated into terrible English and two in reasonable English. The four journals that were written in choppy, difficult-to-understand English is the reason for this narrative. It is a novelization of his journals to make the incredible true story of Pierre Radisson more accessible to the average reader. Everything here is from his journals, which can be said to be true. Many historians doubt that a man could have lived such an extraordinary life as is found here in this life story, but there are no substantial reasons why one should doubt these events, especially since everything included here has been proven to be possible and correct from historical accounts.

            Most people live sedate lives in comparison to men of action, and herein lies one of the most remarkable life stories of anyone during the early years of the New World. Nothing has been invented; everything is from his journals. Only the dialogue has been invented in order to convey what likely happened nearly 400 years ago in what is today Canada and the United States. My aim is to restore his lost reputation through readers learning what this man did, what he suffered through and how his extraordinary life had a ripple effect on the establishment of civilization in North America.

            There is an ‘introduction’ to Radisson’s journal written by the editor of his first-published journals at the end of this work. I have placed it there so that the reader does not know what befalls our protagonist. One thing from this introduction that might be well placed here is that the first four journals were written in London in 1668-1669 just after the Great Fire of London when Radisson was staying with Prince Rupert at Windsor Castle during his three year’s living there. The final two journals were written in London in 1685 after he returned from the New World in 1684. The reader will see from the numerous footnotes through this biographical novel the spelling and grammatical issues with the journals, which was the impetus for this easy-to-read novel.

            Pierre Esprit Radisson was not a man who was flaked out on a couch in front of a television (or the fireplace) smoking his pipe and eating popcorn. He was a man who paddled canoes and knew the bite of the cold, the blisters from expenditure, the pain of torture, the pangs of hunger, and the chill of the damp. He was one of those rare men who chose action over repose, purpose over acquiescence, and hardship over safety. His life was a canvas of striking colours and shocking images whose achievements shaped history that are still felt to this day. And yet this man is not celebrated by any country. He is overlooked by Canada and dismissed by scholars, left alone and ignored rather than praised and appreciated by those who benefit the most from his will to power. So few in history have packed in as much exploration, endurance and perseverance as Pierre Radisson. Only the bitter cynic can dismiss his exploits as exaggerated hyperbole or fiction. This work is the celebration of his life that is long overdue.


The Relation of my Voyage, being in Bondage in the Lands of the Irokoits, which was the next yeare after my coming into Canada, in the yeare 1651, the 24th day of May.


Chapter One

Radisson’s Capture by the Iroquois

During the spring of 1652, Pierre Radisson and two friends went hunting for fowl about one mile west of Trois-Rivieres (Three Rivers) in modern-day Quebec, the farthest west settlement in New France at the time. With the mighty St. Lawrence River to their south, only the budding outpost Ville Marie on the island of Mount Royal was farther west. Perched at the lip of the frontier, it would eventually become the city of Montréal. Like all pioneers at the time, Radisson knew the Iroquois natives were close by. The Iroquois were so skilled at warfare that few Frenchmen ever ventured outside of Three Rivers for fear of being killed or captured, but that didn’t stop the young hunters from leaving the confines of their walled settlement to walk along the river and hunt for food.

 “No matter what, we have to stick together,” said Radisson to his friends. Well-armed, they entered the thick forest along the St. Lawrence River. About a mile from home they encountered a Frenchman who kept cattle.

“Could you tell us a safe way to get to good hunting grounds from here?” he asked. The farmer was surprised to see three sixteen-year-olds so far from safety.

            “By no means should you go to the foot of the mountains because that’s usually where the natives are,” he replied, shaking his head at their foohardiness. Mention of the enemy so nearby made them prime their pistols and move ahead cautiously. They had good reason to be weary of the Iroquois in the area as there was a full-on war raging between the five nations of the Iroquois and the Algonquins, which included the once-mighty Huron Indians. These two rival factions fought over control of the new and growing fur trade with the French. Lucrative trade with the Europeans meant acquisition of practical implements and tools such as hammer and nails and pots and axes, which made life easier.

            The fierce Iroquois had in recent history decimated the Hurons so that very few from the once strong nation were now left alive.

            The three of them went forward and found a clearing. Radisson pointed. Shots rang out and they shot enough birds to satisfy Radisson’s friends.

            “That’s plenty. It’s more than enough,” said one of them.

            “No, no. Let’s get some more,” said Radisson, strong-willed and daring. “It isn’t enough.”

            “We thought this might happen Pierre. You are never satisfied.”

            “Or is it because you’re both cowards and are still little boys who can’t face danger?”

            “We’re not children but we’re not going further. You’re crazy if you do.” His friends left him there to return to Three Rivers. So Radisson kept following the river west to find more game to shoot. He found more fowl and was able to shoot more but still the young Radisson went forward looking for more food. He walked to Lake St. Peter, which was nine miles from Three Rivers. Here he shot more fowl and finally considered it enough food to bring back to his family to eat, but with so much booty he decided to leave half of it in the hollow of a tree to protect it from eagles and other wild game and would return the next day. He returned to Three Rivers the same way he had come because it was safe carrying three geese, ten ducks, one crane and some teals.

            He soon arrived to where he had separated from his friends and rested there for a moment because of his heavy load. As Radisson was lying on the ground he thought he heard some sounds in the woods, which caused him to double check his pistol. Finding that his pistol girdle was wet, he discharged shot and reloaded it. Thinking it might be a deer, he went about 30 paces into the woods to find out what the noise was but didn’t find anything. When he returned to his booty he took another brook where he found more birds to shoot, but just as he prepared to kill more game he discovered the bodies of his two friends lying on the ground dead. They had been killed. Both his friends had been stripped naked and their hair was standing up. One was shot three times and had two hatchet blows on the head; the other one was stabbed with a sword and smitten with a hatchet.

Alarmed and nervous, Radisson didn’t know if the enemy was still close by watching him or not, so he move toward the water’s edge and looked closely around for Iroquois. There he saw twenty or thirty heads in the tall grass in the direction he was going. Just as he was trying to figure out how he could step around them, barking dogs suddenly surrounded him. He shot his pistols and heard a cry but was thrown to the ground by several Iroquois that had suddenly surrounded him. First they took his gun and then hit him in head, rendering him semi-conscious.

Stunned by the blow to the head, the Indians consulted with each other and then decided to cut off the heads of Radisson’s two friends and then they escorted Radisson, who was conscious but dazed, by the hair to the canoes docked on the river. The Indians’ canoes were about four miles away. At the river’s edge they erected a camp where they built a cottage and a fire to cook their meat, which was rancid and stunk. The Iroquois forced him to sit beside the fire, stripped him naked and tied him with rope around the middle where he remained in the same position all night.


In the morning the Iroquois gathered around Radisson and laughed at his white skin, which they regarded as sickly and ugly. But all the laughter stopped when a scout that was on point by the St. Lawrence River indicated that the French and their allies, the Algonquin, were coming. The Algonquins, which included the Hurons[3], were allies of the French against the Iroquois during this time that would become known in history as the Iroquois Wars. The Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga and Mohawk were all part of the Iroquois nation, who fought the Europeans to expand their territory and control the fur trade.

They put out the fire and took the most advantageous positions along the river to defend their camp, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Radisson, who was guarded by about 50 men, was given his clothes back. While the Indians relit the fire to boil their meat and mix it with a yellowish meale (corn), some of them combed his hair and greased it. Radisson was to learn later that it was to keep the mosquitoes off of him. They also painted his face with a powder mixed with water to create red paint, a vermillion color that covered the pale unhealthy white skin that the Indians disliked so much. Once this was done, they gave Radisson some half-boiled, smelly meat that he forced himself to eat so he wouldn’t be disrespectful. The meale that they had put on the rancid meat to cover the scum on it had been ground into a powder between two rocks and was tossed into burning sand.

He was barely able to eat it, but he did so he would not offend.

After his first day in captivity, they untied Radisson and forced him to sleep between them under the stars. Having slept well and awakened at the break of day, he could remember his dream that he was with the Jesuits in Quebec drinking beer, which gave him hope that he would be free some time in the future. He knew that the Dutch people lived among the Iroquois in a place called Menada (Manhattan) and in Fort Orange (Albany) where, without doubt, he could drink beer. Radisson’s dream gave him hope so despite being so altered, with paint on his face and grease in his hair and rancid meat undigested in his stomach, he resolved to endure what was before him because he believed that he would soon be drinking beer with the Dutch and the Jesuits in nearby Dutch settlements in what would one day be New York state.

The Iroquois, valuing valor and endurance above all other virtues, began treating him better that day by giving him meat not infested with worms. Before they left camp, they removed the flesh from the heads of his friends so there was only skin and hair left on the skulls. This was to preserve the heads. The flesh was put in a little pan and burnt with some grease and then laid out on hot stones to dry out.

With each man having his own canoe, Radisson counted thirty-seven canoes at the river when they left the camp. He was tied to a bar in one of the canoes and they pushed off west along the river. Leaving, all the Iroquois let out shouts and shot their guns that the Dutch had given them in trade. They all sang songs but after this they all paddled in a comfortable silence along the water. During this first day of travel, Radisson vacillated between hope and despair, all the while believing he was going to be killed at any moment. 

At sunset they came to a big camp on Richelieu Isles where there were plenty of wild game, including elk and beavers and fowl. Joining more of their tribe, there were about 250 warriors all together now.

Chagon,” they said to him, trying to cheer him up. Radisson, having studied the Huron language when he was in Three Rivers so he could become a fur trader, figured the word meant to be merry so he smiled and did his best to be cheerful. The young Iroquois men responded by combing his hair and greasing his head and painting his face red again. They tied a red leather cord in his hair, pulling his hair back off his forehead and treated him with more kindness. This was when Radisson realized that the Mohawks, the most feared and warlike of the Iroquois nation, were his kidnappers.

The next day the men busied themselves with shooting wild game, where they remained three days, soon growing more and more familiar with Radisson and leaving only one or two warriors to watch him. They took delight in his efforts to learn new words of their language, being very earnest that he pronounced the words clearly and correctly. They gave him his own stash of salt for his meat that he kept with him for the rest of his voyage. For those three days they feasted and sang songs. Each day some men in canoes left the camp to, he assumed, make war against the Algonquin and acquire more booty.

Chapter Two

How Radisson Earned Respect

The fourth day Radisson’s ‘brother’ – he who had captured him – untied him and let him paddle in his own canoe. His fellow travelers watched him sweat and struggle as he paddled and were impressed with his willingness to paddle hard beside them, so they gave him instruction on how to paddle with better technique. Side by side the Mohawks and Radisson moved along the St. Lawrence River to Richelieu River where they met a new gang of Iroquois living in small wood cottages. When they approached the Iroquois whooped and hollered and made signs of kindness to one another. They made Radisson stand up in his canoe and follow their lead by yelling and gesturing politely. Once at the camp there was one man who wanted to do mischief to Radisson but Radisson’s brother prevented it. Keeping his eye on this young man, when they ate later Radisson boiled some meat, adding salt and flour, and then gave the young man this choice piece. Thereafter the young man left him alone.

It was at this camp that the men took an interest in teaching Radisson how to sing, a logical step from all the whooping and shouting he had been doing. Since he knew some of the Huron language already, he didn’t find it too difficult. And he was a man who could carry a tune in French, so he could follow their songs well enough to be appreciated. He offered to sing a song in French to them and they all respectfully listened in deep silence and were very much moved by it. For the next two days they did not rest much due to the mirth and dancing and singing and feasting. They had put Radisson’s friends’ heads on the end of sticks and stuck them into the ground so that they danced around the heads.

Again many left in different directions in their canoes after the two-day party. When traveling on the water a canoe encountered them and a woman grabbed hold of Radisson’s hair, showing great kindness. She combed his hair with her fingers and tied a bracelet around his wrist and sang to him. He hoped that she would proceed their way but her group was heading in a different direction. It was the first time an Indian woman had shown him such kindness.

Radisson and his brother reached another camp surrounded by a thick forest. There they built a fire and provided what was necessary to cook their food. It was here that they cut Radisson’s hair off at the front crown of his head with a sharpened shell, and then they tied his greased hair up with a red leather string. They painted more paint on his face but this time it was both red and black, and then put a ‘looking glass’ into his hand and he was able to see himself reinvented. Viewing himself all smeared with red and black with locks tied up with a piece of leather, he could not help but admire his new look.

The next morning he awoke early so he nudged his brother who in turn woke up the rest of them, but they all turned over and continued to sleep in. Radisson got up on his own and went for a walk along the river unguarded, and for the first time seriously considered escaping. But he was worried that he would be caught again since there were so many Iroquois around. And if he was recaptured he was sure that they would treat him harshly. Besides, when he thought it through, he realized that a part of him had a desire to see their country.

One of the Mohawk men spotted him alone along the river.

“Hey come here Frenchman,” he called, without concern or anger. This gave him confidence that the Mohawks had accepted him. He gave Radisson a dish full of meat, which he ate like a bear. One of them noticed that he didn’t have a knife so he was given his own. Before this none of them had any reason to fear him but now, with this knife, they had. It was a gesture of trust and a symbol of acceptance.

When they pushed off the land in their canoes, Radisson was able to shoot a stag, wounding it only. Others were able to kill it with their knives. They then cut it into pieces and handed these pieces out to each canoe, and then they were on their way.

Down river at three in the afternoon they hit rapids and were forced to portage, where they reached an empty camp with cottages already built. There, Radisson chopped wood for the fire like the rest of them. The next day they killed two bears, one of which was massive. It was here that Radisson witnessed the Iroquois having a sweat lodge. After having built a fire and heating large ‘grandfather stones’ until they were red hot, they placed these stones in the middle of a pit inside an enclosure of birch bark and other sticks and bark. Inside they sweated and hollered and generally screeched for about an hour until they lumbered out of the sweat lodge and threw each other in the river. Radisson thought they were incensed but it was their custom he was to find out.[4] They feasted on the bears, giving everyone their share.

During the night they heard shooting so they all left the camp in a hurry. They made Radisson lie down in the canoe as they paddled hard in the darkness. Radisson slept securely until the morning where he awoke among high bullrushes, where they all remained without making a noise since they were on the lookout for the Algonquin army. Moving quietly for some days until they reached a shore with thick forest, they took their bundles on their backs and walked for a day and night into the bush until the following day they met two men with whom the Mohawks knew. They spoke a long while until about twenty women came out of the woods and gave them dried fish and Indian corn. After the men had eaten, the women took their baggage and they continued to walk deeper into the forest along a well-laid trail. They finally reached a clearing where there was a lake with good fishing, and about fifteen cabins. All the men were warmly welcomed except for Radisson.

Chapter Three

Adoption into a Mohawk Family

            A young man at the camp took to harassing Radisson.

“Come on, stand your ground,” said his brother. The young upstart grabbed his hair. The men of the village crowded around and began encouraging a fight by crying and yelping. Radisson fought him tooth and nail, getting the best of him. After the fight and thinking it was over, his adversary kicked him so Raidsson kicked him back. His French shoes, which the men had let him keep, were harder than his moccasins. The young man found himself down on the ground clutching Radisson’s wrist, but he was beat. Warriors surrounded Radisson, brought him water to wash off the blood, and fish for him to eat. They combed his hair and greased it and generally gave him more respect. No one bothered him for the two days they were there at the camp.

            In the same cabin where he stayed at that camp, Radisson found a Mohawk wounded by a gunshot. Having remembered seeing the man the day he had been captured, he feared that it was he who had wounded the warrior with his pistol. Afraid of retribution, the wounded Mohawk instead showed him extreme kindness, as much charity as a Christian might have given. Another wounded man was there who Radisson also believed he had shot. He, too, came over to him. He was sure he was going to do him harm but instead showed him a cheery countenance and gave him a box full of red paintings.

“You are my brother,” he said to Radisson. An old man entered the cabin and gave Radisson twelve pounds of tobacco, bearing it on his head, as was the custom. During their two-day stay at the camp their company continually increased from warriors returning from wars with the Huron and from fishing trips. A number of Hurons had been taken prisoner, who would be worked as slaves.

            The next day they marched a quarter mile to another village where they were greeted with nothing but cries of joy. Radisson was made to sit down in the middle of the village and stripped naked.

“You are now on your own Frenchman,” said his brother. Everyone in the village looked at him, among which an old woman and a boy with a hatchet in his hand approached. The old woman protected Radisson while the young man took him by the hand, leading him away from those young braves who wanted to strike him. The heads of his two friends were left there on stakes for the others to look at.

            They took Radisson to their cottage where the old woman showed him great kindness by giving him food. However his fear at being beaten by the young men was still with him so his appetite wasn’t robust. During the next hour a great number of people came into the dwelling, including many old men who sat around the fire and smoked. After the smoking they led Radisson to another cottage where there were more old men sitting around a fire smoking. They put him beside the fire, which caused him to think he was going to be thrown into the fire. Instead the old woman entered and began speaking loudly to the old men.

“Ho! Ho!” responded the old men. The old woman took her girdle and tied it around Radisson and brought him back to her cottage where he was told to sit where he had sat before. There she began to dance and sing around him. After she had finished, she took out a comb from a box and one of her daughters combed his hair and greased it. She removed the paint that the men had put on his face. The old woman then removed his clothes whereby she looked for lice. When she found some she would place it between her teeth and squeeze it to death. By killing the lice between her teeth she was revenging herself against the assault of the lice against his person showing an old belief that enemies of those in her family should be punished. She gave him some Indian corn to eat as she set him up with a blue coverlet, stockings and moccasins. She measured his legs to make him some leggings.

Once clothed, Radisson left the cottage with the old woman’s son and they went to many other cottages where he was fed and his face altered with jewelry and paint. He tried his best to be friendly to everyone there in the village as he was given the freedom to move freely amongst them. The old woman encouraged him to become more familiar with her two daughters, who had taken a liking to combing and greasing his hair. He hunted partridges and squirrels with the old woman’s son, and he was always sure to give the old woman any gifts or game he acquired.

Radisson lived for five weeks with the family, learning more in that time about the Iroquois than he ever could have in New France. He learned their language and was given the name of the old woman’s son who had been killed.

“Your name is Orinha,” the old woman said to him.

“What does it mean?” asked Radisson.

“It means ‘stone,’” she replied.

A few days later the old woman approached him.

“Are you French?” she asked.

“I am Panugaga,” he replied, meaning he was from the Iroquois Nation. The old woman was greatly pleased to hear this. His adoption into the family seemed complete.

Chapter Four

His Escape

Radisson’s Mohawk father gave a big feast to 300 men one day, so his sisters bathed him and greased his hair, gave him a new tunic and several wampum porcelain necklaces and bracelets made of shell beads. His brother painted his face, put feathers on his head and tied up his hair in the Mohawk fashion. His father gave him a garland for his hair, a necklace that went down to his feet and his own hatchet.

“It’s going to be hard for me to defend myself against any encounter being so laden with riches,” he said to his brother.

At the feast his father showed many demonstrations of valor, including breaking apart a kettle full of sagamite (ground corn with meat and fish) with his hatchet. They sang, as was their usual custom and were served orinacke (moose) and red deer mixed with flowers.

Chagon Orinha!” they shouted to Radisson. They sang some more well into the night until the banquet was over and they went to their quarters.

            About this time, Radisson was invited to go hunting with three friends of his in the village. They desired to go far away where the hunting was good and wanted Radisson to join them. He returned to his cabin to tell the old woman of this hunting trip, so that she gave him three pairs of moccasins, a gun, and a sack of meale. His two sisters walked him out of the village carrying his bundle until the four men took leave of them. They walked without any rest all day and for most of the next day, eating very little. When they reached a river they built a skiff in two hours by hollowing out the trunk of a tree, which was so small they hardly fit into it. They moved down the river in the small boat and came to a small lake where they went to shore and immediately found deer tracks. There they waited quietly until they found and killed the deer, which gave them food for the night.

            The next day two of the men went off to hunt and Radisson and the other man went about their business to set traps for beavers throughout the area. About three o’clock in the afternoon when they were returning to their camp, they came upon a Huron Indian singing. He motioned to them in a peaceful manner, showing them he was not an enemy. With Radisson helping with the translations, the Huron told them he was chasing a bear and that he had already lost two of his dogs to the beast. They three of them returned to the camp where they met the other two hunters who had killed a bear, two deer and two mountain cats.

            The five of them sat as the food was being boiled and the Huron spoke to Radisson in the Huron tongue.

“I was taken prisoner by the Iroquois for two years before I escaped,” said the Huron. “Thay are our sworn enemy and I couldn’t remain with them any longer being a slave.”

Radisson told him he was from Three Rivers.

“I have been to Quebec and Three Rivers. The French are building a good town there. There are many Huron there now because the Iroquois, armed with guns given to them by the Dutch, have decimated the Huron. There are so few of us left.” Without guns the Huron could not defend themselves.

            “Do you love the French?” he asked Radisson.

            “Do you love the Algonquin?” was his reply. They agreed they both loved their nations. It was then that the Huron suggested that they escape to Three Rivers together since it wasn’t that far away.

            “My comrades will not permit me, and they promised my mother to bring me back again,” Radisson answered.

            “Well, would you rather live in bondage or have your own liberty with the French where there is good bread to be eaten? Fear not. I shall kill all three this night when they will be asleep, which will be an easy matter with their own hatchets.” Hearing them speak in Algonquin Radisson’s three Mohawk friends asked him what was said but told them some other story.

            It took Radisson some time to consider the proposal but after deliberation he accepted the offer by the Huron to escape. After all, he thought, they were mortal enemies of his country and had cut the throats of so many of his countrymen, burned and murdered them.  So with their bellies full, Radisson’s three companions went to sleep without a care.

The Huron nudged him awake thinking he was asleep, got up beside the fire and looked at them for a moment. The Huron took their hatchets from them as they slept and gave Radisson one of them. For a moment he hesitated, as he stood over one of his friends asleep beside the fire because they had never done any harm to him, but he struck him in the head with the hatchet. It cut so deeply he couldn’t disengage it from his head. His friend rose up toward Radisson but fell back suddenly and made a great noise, which almost woke up the third Mohawk. The Huron gave the third Mohawk a swift blow with his hatchet, severely wounding him so Radisson shot him dead. He was immediately sorry for what had transpired but he didn’t have time to repent.

            The Huron threw the three bodies into the river after cutting off the heads. After taking their three guns, powder and shot, their two swords and hatchets as well as their wampum jewelry and meat, they left in the canoe and crossed the river where they spent the day in the woods about a hundred paces from the water’s edge resting under their upside-down canoes to battle the mosquitoes. That night they traveled due east along the St. Lawrence River towards Three Rivers for fourteen nights since it was only safe to travel during dark. For safety they did not have a fire during their travels east as they could hear canoes passing by from where they hid during the day in the woods. Finally they arrived at Lake St. Peter at about four o’clock in the morning. They went into the woods and made a fire and boiled some of their meat about two hundred paces from the river. After eating they slept a little until Radisson was awakened by the Huron.

            “Let us cross the lake to the French,” he said.

            “But there are still many enemies lurking around the lake and the riverside,” he replied. “We should wait until dark.”

            “We are passed danger,” said the Huron. “Let us shake off the yoke of a company of whelps that have killed so many Frenchmen and blackcoats,[5] and so many of my nation. Nay, brother, if you come not, I will leave you and will go through the woods ‘till I shall be over in the French quarters.”

Radisson considered it but had his doubts. If they were taken by Iroquois being so close to home due to rashness, it would be too much for him, but on the other hand if his comrade left him and the wind rose it would take him a long time to cross the lake. And he didn’t want to be thought of as a coward by the Huron who had done so much to help him escape, so he resolved to go with him, believing that he would abandon him there in the woods if he made it to safety.

Across calm water, they made it about a third of the way towards the other side when Radisson saw a dark shadow across the water.

“It’s a company a buzzards,” said the Huron, “a kind of geese.” They went on a little more until it was clear to them that it was the enemy. They turned around in haste and paddled hard back to the shore from whence they came. No matter how hard they paddled, the Iroquois gained on them. The Huron threw the three heads of the slain Mohawk hunters into the water but when they saw the three heads in the water they paddled even harder. When they were so close to shore that they could see the bottom but still too deep to get out of the canoe, the Iroquois let go a few volleys from their muskets mortally wounding the Huron who fell dead in the canoe. The canoe was hit with holes from the bullets, which soon took on water and slowed it down. Radisson shot back with his two guns but he was cut off by one of their canoes just as his was sinking. They pulled the Huron into one of their canoes and then took Radisson to the shore where he was sure he would die without mercy.

On the shore where they built a fire, they cut out the Huron’s heart, chopped off his head, put it on the end of a stick and carried it onto their boat. They cut off some flesh from his body, broiled it in the fire and ate it. His comrade had been shot in the chin, a bullet had passed through his throat and another in his shoulder, so they only burned part of his body to eat, leaving the rest there. Radisson knew that if the Huron had only been wounded, the Iroquois would have taken delight in keeping him alive to burn him with small fires. It was a miserable end for the man who had helped him escape.

Chapter Five

Recapture and Torture

            No doubt that with the Iroquois finding the three severed heads thrown from their canoe, the punishment about to be rendered to Radisson would be harsh. It was the bitterest of pills for him to swallow when being so close to his journey’s end. So he resolved to face his suffering and torments and death with honor, being a folly to think he would survive.

            After eating his Huron companion, these Iroquois stripped him naked and tied him up in a strange manner: a rope around his neck and midsection with his elbows also tied around the rope behind his back. In this awkward position, they moved him into their boat where they asked him some questions that he did not understand. They unleashed several severe blows to the head and then ripped off one of his fingernails. In this state they left, returning to the Iroquois camp across the water to Lake St. Peter. It was a large contingent of warriors, numbering about 150 men. Radisson saw that he was not the only prisoner. The Iroquois had two Frenchmen, one Frenchwoman, 17 Hurons (men and women), and 11 heads of Algonquins. He counted that he was the 33rd victim of this war party.

            As they all moved west along the St. Lawrence River, the Hurons sang their death song, which was a mournful sound. The Iroquois placed the 12 heads of the Hurons (the twelfth being Radisson’s fellow Huron during his escape attempt) prominently in their canoes as symbols. Each prisoner was put in a canoe, most of whom showed signs of torture. In his boat Radisson spoke Iroquois with an old man who asked him what had happened to him. He told the old man about his experiences, that he had lived with the Mohawks and had gone out hunting when they met a Huron who killed his comrades while they slept but spared him. The old man believed him to some measure, which was shown in the kindness he gave to him, but the old man could not protect him against the mischief that many of the warriors wanted to do to him. Many yelled and slandered Radisson but he ignored them.

            They soon arrived at the camp on shore where Radisson had lived, and tied the prisoners to posts. By cutting long pieces of wood the length of a leg, they tied two ends together so that their heads were held as if in a trap. They did the same to their legs and elbows so that they were completely immobile. Tied in this manner without the use of their hands, they were all tormented by horse flies and deer flies and mosquitoes, biting their faces without any means of protection all night. More gangs of men arrived and tortured them. Those who tortured the prisoners the most were given wampum jewelry. One would cut off a finger and another would pluck out a nail. They put the end of the prisoners’ fingers into their burning pipes and burned serveral parts in their bodies. Some took their fingers and, with a stick, made them into something resembling a fork and then hit the backs of the hands, which caused their hands to swell.   

            Nineteen prisoners were taken to another village where they were beaten with staves and fists. Here there were many Mohawk men, women and children armed with all sorts of instruments, such as hand irons and heelskins wherein they put half a score of bullets. Others had brands and rods of thorn so that the torturers could create greater cruelty to put their prisoners through greater torment. Those in bondage began to cry: the Huron men singing their fatal song and the women making horrible cries. It was like Hell on earth. The Mohawks let out screams of joy and their wives made acclamations of mirth as they prepared to ruin the lives of those tied up in front of them. He noted that the meanest torturers tended to feast on those who cried the loudest, so he assumed a stoic manner, accepting and absorbing the blows as they came at him.

            When news came out that Radisson had killed three of their own, many appeared to contribute to his own pain in revenge for these slayings more than the others. At this point, as he looked into this crowd before him, Radisson saw the old woman who had adopted him as well as her daughters. She pushed her way forward directly towards him and clutched hold of his hair desperately.

Orinha!” she said to him. The old woman drew him out from the line of prisoners and put him into the hands of her husband.

“Have courage my son,” he said. He brought him to his cabin where he was made to sit down. There in the cabin, the father spoke to him.

            “You are senseless,” he said. “You were my son and you rendered yourself our enemy. You love not your mother, nor do you love your father that gave you your life. And you notwithstanding would kill me.” Then the father looked to his daughters.

“Be merry and give him something to eat.” Radisson’s heart trembled with fear, which took away his appetite, but knowing that the Mohawks were a people who shunned mercy and valued courage and boldness, he ate his food showing his own fortitude and backbone. He told the family gathered around of what had happened to him in the best terms possible, mixing the story with Iroquois as well as Huron words. He explained how it was not him who had killed, but the Huron they had met. Everyone listened intently, as he hoped this would save his life.

            When he was done a great number of men entered the cabin and stood around him with his hands still tied.

“This prisoner must come with us and pay the price of killing our men,” they said loudly. The old man resisted but the men had their way, taking Radisson with them. Seeing this, the old woman cried out and lamented on his impending death as he was led to the public platform of execution where the other prisoners were bleeding and burned. Beside him was one of the Frenchmen who had been beaten so badly that he was hardly breathing. Seeing that he could not bear it anymore, they cut off his head and threw it into the fire.

            They made Radisson go up the scaffold where there were five men, three women and two children captives, all Hurons. They tried to sing in between their cries of pain as he was tied there beside them. Just as he was about to be tortured again, it started to rain. Most of the torturers retired to avoid the rain except for one band of hell that remained to learn the true art of barbary. Seeing themselves all alone, these devils invented a thousand ways of wickedness to ensure the suffering of those tied up on the scaffold. They put hatchets, swords and instruments of iron into fire and burned human flesh to the bone. Ripping off fingernails was their favorite thing, burning the raw skin with burning coals. When the fingertips swelled up, they bit them with their teeth. They stopped the bleeding with a brand, which little by little would draw out the veins and sinews, then pull the veins from the fingers and cut them with pieces of red-hot iron. Squeezing the fingers between two stones to draw the marrow out of the bones, they removed all the flesh and put the fingers into a dishful of red-hot sand. While doing this they tied the wrist with two cords, one to pull the fleshless finger into the burning sand and the other to pull it out.

            Some cut pieces of flesh from all parts of your body, broil them and then get you to eat it. They would thrust a burning stick into your mouth so you could eat it. They broke your teeth with a stone or club, and hung a half-dozen blazing hot hatchets around your neck. They roasted your legs with brands of fire and made holes in the flesh in your legs where they inserted melted lead and gunpower and then gave it fire to spark artificial life. You were made to pick up the dropped pieces of lead or flesh with the stumps of your fingers. And if you couldn’t sing they made you quack like a hen.

            For the Mohawks torture was retribution against their tribal brethren, and therefore justified.[6] But it was also a way for the victim to redeem their sins so they would graduate to the spirit world free of the stains of unredeemed sin.

Chapter Six


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “Be ever cheerful, my son!” said his father. Radisson’s mother, sisters and the rest of their friends sung and danced. His father took him by the arm and brought him to his cabin with whooping and shouting all around them, bidding him to take great courage. Soon after his mother and her friends entered the cabin, which caused him to know that his live was saved.

Chapter Seven


            Their first care was to feed him meat. He hadn’t eaten anything all that third day that caused him to have a fierce hunger so that he ate with urgency. His mother began at once to heal his wounds, which caused his injuries to break out in pain anew. She cleaned them and scraped them with her knife and often thrust a stick into them, and then took water from her mouth and spit on his cuts to make them clean. His father went into the forest to get roots that were chewed by his daughter, which his mother applied like plaster to his injuries. The next day all the swelling was gone but the pain was worse. In a fortnight all his wounds were healed except his feet, which took a whole month to get better. During this time his nails began to grow back too. Only his middle finger was left lame after it had been squeezed between two stones. And during his recovery, there were many who were friendly to him now, but Radisson did not want the friendly attention.

            He spent the winter with his adopted family in the village, his family loving and embracing him as before his flight. He spent his time, after he healed, hunting. One of his sisters took good care of him by grooming him and feeding him, and his mother kept him brave. Every month his father sent for a new white shirt from a village where there were Flemish living there, but he wasn’t allowed to go to the Flemish village with his brother. He persevered however in his current situation as his family cared for him and he hunted and learned the language and learned their ways. He took part in the feasting and singing and dancing that accompanied war victories over the Algonquins and French, which celebrated the murdering and slaughtering of his own people. During these feasts his father shook his hatchet in the air against the Hurons, encouraging and instructing the young to revenge the deaths of so many Iroquois. Radisson was inclined to show he wanted to help with these revengeful outings against their mortal enemy in order to make himself loved and embraced further by the Mohawks, but he stopped short of this for fear they might mistrust him.

            There came a time when his brother was bestowed the honor of being allowed to go out to these foreign nations and vanquish the enemy of the Iroquois nation. It was then that Radisson asked his father if he too could fight on behalf of the tribe.

            “What am I?” he asked.

            “You are Mohawk as I am Mohawk,” his father answered.

            “Then let me revenge my kindred,” said Radisson. “I love my brother. Let me die with him. I would die with you. But you will not let me because I will have to go against the French. Let me go with my brother. The prisoners and the heads that I shall bring back will bring joy to my mother and sisters, and at my return will make me take up the hatchet against those in Quebec, Three Rivers and Montréal. In declaring to them that it is I who kills them, you shall know that I am your son, worthy to bear that title that you gave me when you adopted me.” At hearing these words, his father let out a great cry.

            “You have great courage, Orinha. Your brother died in war, not in the cabin. He had the courage of a man, not of a woman. I will go to avenge his death. If I die, then you can avenge my death.” With these last words, it was his cue to leave. Radisson left with great hope that if he were granted the chance to war with the French then he might have the chance to escape. If not then he would still have the chance to explore the great country of the Iroquois that was north of New Amsterdam [Manhatten] and south of the St. Lawrence River.

            So for the rest of the winter he prepared for his journey to war against the enemies of the Iroquois nation, despite the opposition of his mother. But it was not her decision because her husband had the authority to decide such matters. He was a great commander of the tribe in war, and had suffered two gunshot wounds and had taken seven arrows from battle. He was about sixty years old, tall and with a fine wit for a man his age. He had fathered nine children: four males and five females. Two girls had died and three sons had died in war. One of these sons had spent three years at war with thirteen warriors battling against the fiery nation of the Huron that lay beyond the great lake. The father had killed nineteen men with his own hands, showing marks on his right thigh for as many as he had killed.

            Finally, when the snows started to melt, his father invited a number of people to a feast where he announced that he would go fight against the Algonquins and the French, but that his two sons, which included Radisson, would go to war against their enemy in the west. He asked a captain in the tribe to take care of them both but especially Orinha, so that he would always be by his side. Radisson was not at the feast as he was with his brother and sisters fishing, but was told about it by his mother when he returned. His bags were all packed and he was ready to leave to war, but he was also saddened to take leave of his mother and sisters. Two days later, there was a great military banquet given to the ten who would leave on the voyage. They feasted as was their custom, and sang songs of valor. The next day his sisters carried his bags a long way until they finally bid him and their brother adieu, the sisters telling him to be of stout heart.

Chapter Eight

Going On the Warpath

They embarked on their journey with Huron slaves carrying their bags for seven days through great snows and through dense forests wearing snowshoes. The rivers were still frozen so crossing them was easy. They arrived in an Oneida village where they stayed two days. A young man joined them and they ventured to a village of the Onondaga where they stayed four days. Being given invitations to eat nine or ten times a day, they still hadn’t touched their own provisions that they carried because their bellies were full of deer meat, corn meal and eels. Radisson brought with him six pounds of gunpowder, fifteen pounds of shot, two shirts, a hat, eight pairs of moccasins, cloth to make breeches, and about a thousand beads of wampum for necklaces and jewelry to barter. His brother carried the same amount of goods. He wore a new tunic that hung off him like a mantle. Each wore a wampum necklace and a collar with a thread of nettles that were to be used to tie up prisoners they captured. He also carried a gun, a hatchet and a dagger.

From the Onondaga village they journeyed three days until they came to a Seneca village where they stayed a night. After another day’s walk they arrived at the last village of their confederates: the Cayuga nation. Here the group of eleven men stayed two days and got rid of the Huron slaves who carried their bundles. They found themselves in a great plain where there were no trees, and where they saw many deer but did not kill them. They went through three more villages of the Cayuga where many were surprised to see a Frenchman among the group, which Radisson understood by their exclamations. He grew lean from the voyage and persevered with the snowshoes, which required great effort for him to master. After ten days march they came to the eastern shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, where there were also mountains and plains. There was a river that was a mile wide [Niagara River] where they camped for ten days, making a few skiffs out of walnut trees. They made three skiffs that could hold three of them each, and one smaller skiff that could hold two. In four days they came to a lake that was partially frozen and windy, where they stayed for two weeks. The southerly winds warmed and melted the ice so that brooks turned to rivers and the ice cleared the way for a six-day journey across the lake, staying on the shores at night.

Coming to a river, they paddled and portaged about ninety miles until they came to a lake some nine miles in length.[7] Storing their boats in the woods, they went into the forest for three days, crossing rivers and creeks until they reached a violent river. Here they made a bridge using trees and crossed it, keeping their weapons on their backs to keep them dry. They went up this river for two days where they found and killed deer. It was here at the mouth of this river where the captain of the group ordered them to build a small fort and to keep silent. They then embarked on a reconnaissance mission of the area, as the captain knew the enemy was near and their village was close by.

The following day they had a council, decided two of them to look for tracks that led in the direction of their fort, and the other nine to scout the village. Radisson and the youngest of the group were to look for tracks so they took a skiff and went down a small, muddy river that was difficult going. After the better part of a day they found themselves at the mouth of a small lake where they spotted two women. His companion suggested that they kill them but Radisson objected.

“Since they are women it is likely men are not far away and therefore we will be forced to shoot,” he said. “We are alone so why risk being discovered for the risk of two women? Moreover it’s almost night so what do we do when it turns dark?”

“You speak well,” his companion replied. “Let us hide ourselves in the woods for the night for we cannot go down the river at night. At break of day we return to the fort.”

That night, without any provisions, they were forced to lie under a rotten tree. It rained heavily but with all the rain the water level of the river was much higher and thus better to travel back to their fort.

The entire company left the fort in the morning, following the way Radisson had taken the day before. They found one woman carrying wood, and tracked her finding five men and four women fishing on a nearby river. Then, like starved wolves, the eleven Iroquois massacred the Huron. They plundered booty from the dead that included fish, deerskins and girdles made of goat hair, the last two of which Radisson’s companions held in very high esteem. Two from the group found the Hurons’ cabin made of rushes where they found an old woman and two children. They thought it charity to send them into the other world and thus killed them, pushing their bodies into the lake for the fish. Thence they all left carrying their booty and reached a lakeside where they found a trail leading to a village. The company went deep into the woods where they ate the stolen fish and slept secure and hidden in the forest.

In the morning they laid an ambush on the village but no one appeared so the warriors waited in the woods for the Hurons to return from the fields. Soon there were twenty men and women who returned to the Huron camp passing very close to them hiding in the brush. Still undetected until four men and three women noticed them. In the ambush the eleven Iroquois killed them and captured three women and killed two men from the group, with the remainder escaping. News of this ambush spread throughout the area so they ran away with four prisoners and four heads. Because swift running was imperative to stay safe from the revenging enemy, the women were killed because they weren’t fast enough. Their corpses were thrown into a river and left in haste. For two days they fled until finally, having seen no one following them, they rested on an open field and questioned their prisoners. Despite a large number of Huron words in their language, they could not understand what they said.

Traveling back to their makeshift fort by the river, they spotted two men hunting but decided against attacking them for fear that there were more around. Moving east for three days they found a great open space all burnt and windblown where they could see ten miles all around them. Being secure there, they forced the prisoners to sing their death song as they lit a fire and feasted on the turkeys that had killed en route and the other food they carried with them. Now, without anyone following them, the group resolved to remain there to seek more booty but after two weeks they didn’t see anyone. Since they had only killed two deer for victuals, they were forced to gather the dung of the stags and boil it with the meat, which made it all very bitter. Since good stomachs make good favor, they were forced to kill their prisoners and eat their flesh. In this act, Radisson became a cannibal, crossing a line he could never erase.[8]

Chapter Nine

The War Continues

            After eating the prisoners they had taken, the company found a village where they killed a woman with her child. When retreating from the village, about thirty men and women spotted them. In the skirmish that ensued, the Iroquois’ guns proved to be the deciding factor. They lost one of their men in the skirmish.[9] Taking five prisoners and killing two, most of the party escaped. Confiscating their booty, they found it to be a good haul: two sacks of corn, deerskins, a few pipes, some red and green stones, some tobacco powder, small loaves of bread, garters and necklaces made of goat’s hair, some girdles, a small amount of coin from that country, and bows and arrows and clubs. On their heads they wore snakeskins with bear’s paws, and some of them had very long hair. Radisson’s company left for their fort, eating very little on the way.

Once back at their fort, they hunted for meat and slept, leaving the next day with all their new possessions in two big canoes and one small one. Paddling hard back to Iroquois land and trying to stay quiet with all their booty still in enemy territory, they finally reached the mouth of a large lake where they stopped to hunt salmon and sturgeon, filling their boats now that they were out of danger. More relaxed, they hunted as they moved east, finding two women who had escaped Sanoutin’s country, which was part of the Iroquois nation. They were tied up by Radisson’s group and enslaved.

Now with five prisoners and twenty-two heads, the group traveled for nine days through dangerous places along the Niagara River reaching the precipice and horrible falling waters of Niagara Falls. Forced to portage with all their accumulated goods proved to be difficult but they made it to a large lake where they made more canoes, which alleviated the problem of weighed down boats. Radisson paddled with his brother in their own canoe with a male and female prisoner, four heads and much booty. Wandering several days past many islands, the group killed many bears and deer before going down a river to a place where they laid many beaver traps, eventually taking about two hundred beavers. They fleeced off the skins and then kept moving east, running into some huntsmen who gave them news of their friends and family. They made haste to return to their village carrying all their luggage, proud of their success.

After four more days of travel they stayed with many Iroquois at a camp where there were many women, including Radisson’s two sisters who came to meet them. They gave the girls two enemy heads but Radisson kept the woman slave for a present for his adopted mother. He learned that his father had still not returned from his war party against the French. There was nothing but singing and dancing upon his return. He had twenty beavers for his share, with two skins full of bear oil and deer grease. He gave his sisters six deerskins for them to make themselves coats, keeping the grease for his mother who valued it highly. They made their slaves carry the booty back to their village, all the way people made much of Radisson, giving him respect deserving of a returning warrior. His two sisters fed him meat every time they rested, or painted his face or greased his hair. At night they took pains to pull off his stockings and made him lie down by them, covering him with their coats as if the weather was cold.

Chapter Ten

The Hollanders

            The villagers gave the same scourging to the prisoners when they arrived as they had given Radisson when he had been brought back as a captive. This time however, Radisson was welcomed warmly. As he came near the village, a multitude of people came to meet them with great excitement, most of the rejoicing being for him.

Dodcon!” they called him with pride, a word meaning ‘devil,’ something of great veneration to the tribe only earned through valour.[10] He showed great modesty, as warriors of the tribe do, as his mother greeted him with leaping and singing, accepting the woman slave he offered her to make sure she was not tortured like the others. Radisson’s brother gave her two heads, which she accepted proudly. His brother’s prisoner was burned and killed that day, and they divided up their booty, with Radisson getting his share of necklaces, girdles and pendants. Like a hero he entered a period of feasting after returning from the warpath against the Hurons, getting particular attention from the women of the tribe.

            Having fattened up as much as he could, feasting and dancing and generally being full of mirth, there was talk about going to war against the Hollanders that lived in Fort Orange. Regular trade with them for beaver pelts had existed for some time, being only a day’s journey from their village.

            On the way to Fort Orange they arrived at a small settlement full of Dutchmen who looked down their noses at them. Radisson and his Mohawk brethren raided the village, looting their cupboards of food, and drank the wine they had there. Some of the Indians quarreled and fought with swords among themselves without any misdeed to Radisson.[11] 

            After four days traveling they reached Fort Orange, where they were very well received because of the beavers they had to trade. In return they were given prunes and raisons and tobacco. When Radisson and his brother went into the fort, he was still not recognized as a Frenchman. He met a Frenchman who spoke to him in the Iroquois language. This French trader knew the regular Mohawks who traded at the fort, and having never seen Radisson’s face before, wondered if he were a stranger.

            “I don’t think I’ve seen you before,” said the Frenchman. “Is this your first time here?”

            “Yes,” Radisson replied, also speaking in the Iroquois language.

            “How did you fall in with these men?” Radisson didn’t answer him as he thought the Frenchman was being too forward and disrespectful.

            “God damn Indians. Never get a straight answer from them. Always savages. Always dishonest!” The Frenchman spoke in French, to which Radisson replied in French.

            “It’s wise you say that in French because you would lose your head if you didn’t.”  When the Frenchman heard the fluent French coming from his mouth, he couldn’t believe it as Radisson was decked out with red paint and greased hair and the general regalia of an Indian. The Frenchman rejoiced and embraced him, crying out with such a stir that he thought him senseless.

            “It’s a shame,” said the Frenchman, “that you have come to this, dressed and living as a wild man with a company of wolves.” This caused Radisson to blush so much that he thought it matched the deep ochre red of the paint on his face. Both the French and the Dutch at the fort gathered around him and forced him to drink from their bottles.

            “Listen Frenchman, if you need our service just ask,” said one of the Dutchmen.

            “I don’t need your help,” Radisson said. The Dutch and French followed him into the streets in a great squadron as if he were a monster of nature or a rare thing to be seen. Flemish women drew him into their houses as by force, giving him bread and meat and drink and tobacco.[12]

Radisson went to see the governor of the fort, and told him of the life he led, of which he admired.

“I can buy you from the Mohawks if you want,” he offered.

“No, I don’t want to leave my family. They have been very kind to me. It would be loathsome of me to leave them.” He also thought it wiser to wait for a better opportunity to escape to his country that was so far away. But he also believed that it was now his destiny to discover many wild nations, so he remitted himself to fortune and adventure as a thing ordained by God.

            Overladened with abundant booty, they left the fort to live out the winter with their wives and sagamite hoping for a peaceful winter without any attacks by Algonquins or Europeans. Leaving Fort Orange many were sad seeing Radisson depart in a company of wolves, as the Frenchman had said. The truth was that Radisson felt sad leaving the fort and the people he had met. He could not stop thinking of the kindness the French had showed him at the fort, and the generous warmth of the Flemish women. He wondered why he had chosen to stay with such a barbarous nation who was the enemy to both God and man.[13]

            It only took two weeks after returning to the Mohawk village for him to regret his decision not to escape to the Dutch. In his filthy and cramped quarters he began to ponder an escape to Fort Orange and wondered how long it would take him to go alone. He knew now that with the Mohawks showing so much trust in him that he had a much better chance to get away and not be pursued than before.[14]

Finally he resolved to return to the warmth of the Flemish women who had been so nice to him as he now believed he could never be safe among a nation so full of revenge. He began to wonder what kind of revenge would happen to him if the Algonquins and French defeated them in a battle. He bitterly regretted letting a good opportunity slip through his fingers, which made him even more determined to make it right. His father was still away fighting the French so he waited for the right time to flee.

A painting of what Fort Orange would have looked like

Chapter Eleven

Escape to Fort Orange

The time finally came during late August when he left with his hatchet and knife into the woods to get some wood to fortify a better defense of the village. Radisson asked his brother if he wanted to come with him but he was busy courting a girl whose father happened to be French. He left for the woods at eight o’clock in the morning on the 29th of August, 1653, alone without any provisions and immediately fled towards the Dutch fort along the well-worn trail that the traders took. He followed the direction of the trail but kept off of it, very determined not to be discovered as he very well knew what lay in store for him if he was caught. He ran all day and all night without any food, becoming completely exhausted by the break of day. But the fear of death was what made him overcome his fatigue. The blue sky and the fresh air invigorated him throughout the second day until late afternoon when he came to a clearing in the woods and found a man chopping wood. He saw Radisson as a Mohawk because of the style of his hair and so brought him to his house assuming that he wanted to trade beaver pelts.

“My beaver pelts are hidden nearby,” he said to the man. “I can get them tomorrow morning.” Since it was late in the day the man trusted his word and fed him some food.

            “I am Mohawk but I lived among the French for a while,” Radisson told the man, choosing to play his hand close to his chest. “And I have something very important to tell the governor.” The man thought for some moments and then gave him paper and a pen to write down what he pleased. The man was surprised to see a savage able to write.

“I will personally take it to the governor for you tonight,” said the man. Upon receiving the written message from Radisson, he promised to make haste to the fort and return promptly, agreeing not to tell anyone of his being there. The fort was only two short miles away.

When the man was gone, his wife showed him good countenance and appeared to offer herself to him, but he refused for fear of being ensnared, especially when he was so close to escape. During the night he heard some Indians singing nearby, which scared Radisson out of his mind. He was convinced they were from his village and were about to seize him. This enticed him to declare to the woman that his nation would kill him because he loved the French and the Flemish more than they, and that he had resolved to remain with the French. Thus understanding his fear, she hid him behind some sacks of wheat in a corner for the better part of an hour until the noise stopped.

A little later that same night the man returned with four Frenchmen, one of whom was the man who had first met him during his last visit to the fort.

“Very happy to see you again,” said the Frenchman. “Here, take this suit.” He handed him a suit in order to disguise himself against any Iroquois spotting him as he traveled the two miles to the safety of the fort. He didn’t have anything to give the couple that had taken him in to thank them for their help in saving him from torture and death.

Radisson didn’t encounter any Indians on the way to the fort and was greeted warmly the next day by the governor. From his French, he assumed the governor of the Dutch fort was a Frenchman. The governor was generous by giving Radisson European clothes. It was on this day that he met the Jesuit priest Father Noncet, a blackrobe who wrote of his encounter with this young Frenchman who had been living among the Indians. The priest absolved Radisson of his sins and showed him great compassion that Radisson valued and needed during his three-day stay within the fort. There were many Mohawks from his village who came to the fort looking for Radisson three days after he had arrived, including his mother, brother and sisters. If his father had been there, he would have looked harder and been more determined to find him, so he was grateful for his absence.

“Orinha!” yelled his sisters, parading up and down the streets. “Orinha we want you to come home!” they persisted, lamenting at his absence. Many wondered how and why they loved him so much, as they could not appreciate the bond that had developed during his year and a half captivity.

The governor bid him off to a bigger town in the Dutch colony called New Amsterdam,[15] where three weeks later he disembarked for Holland. After six weeks at sea and some boisterous weather, Pierre-Esprit Radisson arrived in Amsterdam on January 4th, 1654. From there he went to his hometown of Rochelle in France where he stayed for the winter and then left on a ship for New France to join his family in the spring.


The Second Voyage made in the Upper Country of the Iroquoits.


Chapter Twelve

Becoming an Interpreter for the Jesuits

            Radisson was happy to return to his family and countrymen in New France. They had long thought he was dead so seeing him when he arrived in Three Rivers caused them all to celebrate and to look at each other in thankfulness to the Lord for his safe delivery after two years of his disappearance. Radisson lived a domestic life in Three Rivers helping out at his family farm, building their homestead for a couple of years but the wanderlust that had spurred him on to go hunting nine miles west of the village that day in 1652 with his two friends soon began to resurface. The beautiful country he had seen while living as a Mohawk and the adventure he had had caused him restlessness, often dreaming of a life outside the confines of European sensibility and the limitations of small town living.

In his absence, peace had been made with the Iroquois nation, which was the reason why he did not stay long with his family. The French had recently established a “new plantation” in the upper country of the Iroquois in Onondaga country, some 120 miles north of the low country where he had spent his time as captive with the Mohawks. He realized that he had developed a deep love and respect for the people who had taken him in, and his desire to be among them again was too great to quell. It was still a great distance from the village and people of his adopted village in the low country so he wouldn’t likely run into his old family, but the languages were so similar between the upper and lower countries of the Iroquois nation that he could understand them.

During this time the Jesuit priests were embarking on a concerted effort to convert the natives to the Christian doctrine in these parts, so Radisson offered his services as guide and interpreter to the blackrobes to aid them in their pursuit. As was their custom, they kindly accepted his offer. A mission with Father Paul Ragueneau was departing in the spring of 1657 so he was once again off to the land of the Iroquois except this time he was going on his own free will.

            It was during this period while waiting for the mission to commence to Onandoga that Radisson learned from the Hurons living in Three Rivers about some of their history, which had traditionally been handed down by word of mouth. He learned of a river that led to a great saltwater lake in the north.[16] Radisson was told when the first group of Hurons traveled north into the dense forests to hunt, that winter came sooner than expected and that they were forced to take to the water and find a waterway back to whence they came as it would save them time. Soon this group hit mountains of ice and lost many boats but persevered along the river towards the rising sun, eventually finding an opening that led to Hudson Bay – the great saltwater sea. They hugged the coastline until they found a river leading southeast, moving swiftly before the cold slowed them down. It was here the Hurons encountered tribes of Indians whose language they had never heard.[17] They learned that they were enemies of the Iroquois, which gave them favor in the eyes of the Huron. Having a mutual enemy, this unknown tribe north of the far-eastern shores of the St. Lawrence River gave them shelter and food during the winter before the warmer weather returned and they were able to reach the St. Lawrence River and paddle back to their homeland around Lake Huron.

Radisson also learned that the 1649 massacre of Hurons by the Iroquois had left the Hurons severely devastated. Their numbers, once as high as thirty thousand 20 years ago, were now less than one thousand so the Iroquois lost no time in invading their lands for trapping beaver.[18] For the most part the Hurons were assimilated into neighboring tribes, with many moving to New France. The early Jesuits had converted the Hurons to Christianity beginning in 1625 at the Jesuit mission in Midland on Georgian Bay, which had established a long alliance between the two peoples.[19] 

The Iroquois made peace in 1654 with the Hurons but not the Algonquin nation. But when Radisson embarked on his role as interpreter for the Jesuit mission, they had to go to Montréal but their Iroquois guides chose not to go with them. This was due to the fact that many Algonquin tribes lived among the French in Montréal. This was why the Iroquois that would bring the French Missionaries to Onandoga refused to travel to enemy territory.

Montréal had become the farthest outpost of the French colony at the time.

When the time came to commence the mission, Radisson had been in Montréal for 15 days waiting for their Iroquois guides to take them into their country when an incident happened that would have grave consequences. Just before reaching the shores of Montréal where the French and the Hurons were waiting for them, one of the Iroquois canoes shipwrecked and sank, leading to the drowning of seven men. The Iroquois immediately sat down to have a council about the incident and initially decided that they should extract revenge against the French and the Hurons when they were back on their own land because it was them who they were coming for. Then there was debate about the French. Since they now had a fort in their country and had a “strong guard” that could “cause affairs” to them, they decided to revenge only the Hurons.

            When they arrived in Montréal to fetch Radisson’s company of travelers their speech was contrary to their intent, promising friendship to all those who they escorted to Onondaga. They exchanged gifts and then set out to find some more canoes because the Hurons who had come to Montréal had taken a French ship. Thereupon thirty boats were secured for the trip since the group numbered about eighty Iroquois, one hundred Huron women and twelve Huron men, and twenty French with two of these twenty being Jesuit priests.

            The going was tough the first day due to all the supplies they brought with them. Camping on the shores of the St. Lawrence, the Iroquois were impatient so about thirty of their number left the camp for Quebec to make war against the Algonquin that were there. It was right after the war party of Iroquois left that the remaining Iroquois decided not to carry the Jesuit’s “merchandise” and therefore left it behind. The French were obliged to remain behind with one Jesuit priest and his gear, and Radisson and the other Jesuit father kept onwards with their journey. Those left behind were to bring the goods with them later. There were now only about forty French and Huron in the group now traveling with the Iroquois.

            It was when they reached Lake St. Francis that the Hurons began to suspect what the Iroquois planned to do with them because they always consulted and held council privately apart from the Iroquois. Three men and two women left for the safety of Quebec, leaving the rest of the group (about seven Frenchmen) with the Iroquois. As they left they could be heard singing as they paddled down the middle of the river in a canoe full of the booty the Iroquois had expected to acquire for themselves. The frustrated Iroquois could do nothing because they feared that the remaining thirty-five could also leave. They resolved to carry out their revenge at a prearranged place that happened as follows:

            The Iroquois sent about twenty Huron men and women in two of their boats early in the morning towards an island with the remaining Frenchmen and Hurons to follow in boats paddled by Iroquois. Radisson, who was with three Iroquois and one Huron in his boat, noticed that the Iroquois paddled with a posture as if they were going to war. When the flotilla arrived on the rocky shores of the island, one of the Iroquois in Radisson’s boat loaded his weapons. Both he and the Huron saw this but neither dreamed of the tragedy that was at hand. With their hatchets the three Iroquois bludgeoned the Huron who was with Radisson. He was completely taken unawares. The Huron, who was still alive, was then shot with a musket. The Huron fell at Radisson’s heels and soon his feet were swimming in Huron blood.

            “Have courage,” said the Iroquois captain to Radisson. “Nothing will happen to you and your countrymen. This is between us and the Huron.” He thanked God that he knew some of this lower country Iroquois dialect because if he hadn’t he would have been terrified.

Despite being on the other side of the island and cut off by a dense forest, the other Huron could not but help overhear the gunshots and screams. So after the Iroquois pushed the corpse into the water and then all went to the other side of the island, the eight remaining Huron men were ready to defend themselves and their women with their weapons in hand.

“This is as it should be,” said the Iroquois captain to his men. “The Huron are brave to draw arms to protect their women.” The Iroquois then moved up on an overlooking hill while the Hurons were made to build camp. The Jesuit priest was comforting the Huron women when the Iroquois came bursting out of the woods covered in war paint. Radisson watched, knowing the Huron men would all be slain.

The leader of the Iroquois group approached the captain of the Hurons, a mighty warrior who had killed many Iroquois plain for all to see by the tattoo etchings covering his legs. He was known by both the Huron and the Iroquois as “captain.”

“Brother, cheer up,” he said to the Huron captain, “and assure yourself you shall not be killed like dogs. You are both man and captain, as I myself am, and will die fighting to defending yourself and your women.” The Hurons behind the captain let out a terrible noise when they heard this, and then the captain took hold of the necklace that was around the neck of the Iroquois captain.

“You will not be killed by another hand then by mine,” he said, looking the Iroquois warrior straight in the eye. At that instant the cruel Iroquois fell upon the Hurons, as many as wolves, with hatchets, swords and daggers, killing as many as there were, save only one man. The Huron captain was able to kill one Iroquois with his hatchet before himself being killed. The one man that survived was an old man who, seeing that there was no way the Hurons could win, saved the lives of a few Iroquois by stopping some of the Hurons from killing them. This act of decency towards the Iroquois saved his life. Being good to the enemy was something that the Iroquois respected.[20]

All the dead bodies were pushed into the water, and then the Huron women were rounded up. Radisson admired the women for their deep silence, looking to the ground with their coverlets upon their heads with not a sigh heard. Two hours passed until a council was called.

The Jesuit father, treated as the leader of the French, was explained the reasons for the slaying, learning that the Hurons were killed for revenge of their dear comrades that were drowned in coming for them to Montréal.

“I assure you that no harm will come to the French,” said the Iroquois captain. “Indeed the revenge murders show that we have only good will and honor towards the French.”

When the Jesuit father returned to where Radisson and the other Frenchmen were waiting for word from him, he found five of them standing on guard with arms drawn, expecting that they all should share the same fate as the Hurons. The sixth Frenchman among them was a “lay brother” to the Jesuit priest and too young to carry arms.

“If you cannot fight then you must leave our company,” said the Iroquois captain when he saw the lay brother. He then spoke to Radisson and the Frenchmen, assuring them his warriors did not want to kill them. The Jesuit then told them what had transpaired at the council. The Frenchmen were still not convinced because all the cards in front of them showed that they should logically be slain like the Huron. It wasn’t until two Iroquois men approached them with weapons, signifying there was nothing between them, and that the Frenchmen were their companions. Finally there was an agreement and understanding that they were their brethren, and so the meat was served.

Not all of the Frenchmen were hungry after this, but some did eat.

After the meal, the Jesuit father called another council and, with three pieces of wampum jewelry from the Huron, threw down one of the wampum gifts on the ground between the Iroquois and French.

“I throw this down that it might be accepted as the bond of trust of our friendship between the Huron, French and Iroquois, as it had been between the French and Huron.”

“Ho! Ho!” they said, these words signifying an assurance and promise. The Jesuit father then threw down the second shelled jewelry.

“This is for safe passage of the women whose lives are in your hands to conduct them safely to their country.”

“Ho! Ho!” said the Iroquois in acceptance. And then the blackrobe threw down the third piece of jewelry.

“And this is to encourage the brave Iroquois to bring the Frenchmen to their country as well as their merchandise in a manner that they will not be wet or be left behind.”

            “Ho! Ho!” they all said in concurrance. With all three promises made, the Iroquois leader made a speech in front of all that those who were in charge of each boat, telling them to be careful with all the bundles of their passengers, and upon reaching home they were each to give an account to him about the successful transference of all the bundles in their charge.

The Iroquois of Onondaga carried all the bags in a caring manner all the way to the low country.

Chapter Thirteen

“Mistrust is the Mother of Safety”

Radisson wished that all of the bloodshed and revenge had been done before they had all left Montréal, but he was comforted that night in their cabins when he saw the women sleeping safely with their children and kin. He and the men spent the following day hunting so they could all eat a big feast, and then the next day the company all left in earnest for Onandoga, which was the ninth day of their journey.

They paddled past high and low gulfs and mountains along the shores with such torrent that it caused a mighty noise that could make the boldest man afraid. One man fell sick with the ague, which slowed them down as others were forced to help him. But worse was Radisson’s companion in his canoe, a young man like him but childish. The long time they spent together bred mutual contempt so that they would not take anything from each other and often times ended up fighting, both covered with bloody cuts. Others took enjoyment from the two of them fighting and bickering, but when they saw them take out their swords and guns they were forced to pull them apart and confiscate their weapons. This left them to fight with their tongues when they were in the boat, and throwing water at one another.

For the most part there was no want of meat as there were lots of deer to hunt. They killed some stags almost everyday, more for sport than for need.[21]

 While camping on the shore one evening, hundreds of bears came out of the forest, breaking small trees, throwing rocks down by the water and making a tremendous noise. The Iroquois and French shot at them but the bears hardly stirred.

            “We’ve never seen so many bears together like this,” said the leader of the Iroquois. They company went to the other side of the river to set up camp away from the horde of bears.

            After supper the man who was sick told Radisson a story.

            “Brother,” he said in the Iroquois language, “it’s a thing to be admired to go afar to travel. You must know, although I am sick, I am a man who has fought stoutly and invaded many. I always love the French for their goodness, but they should have let us kill the Algonquins. We should not war against the French, but instead trade with them for our beavers.

“You should know I am above fifty years. I was once a captain of thirteen men against the ‘Nation of the Fire,’ and against the ‘Stairing Hairs,’ our enemy.[22] We stayed three whole winters away from our country, and most of that time among our enemy, but they did not appear because of the small number we had against a multitude. This made us march in the night and hide ourselves in forests during the daytime. At last we became weary to be so long absent from our wives and country. We resolved some more execution and take the first nation that we should encounter. We had already killed many. We went some days on the river, which is bordered of fine sands, no rocks there to be seen, until we landed one morning. Having hid in the woods so that we should not be discovered, we sent out two men so we could know the place we were at, but when they came back they brought us word they had seen devils and could not believe that they were men.

“We put ourselves on our guards, looked to our arms, took a strong resolution to die like men and went to meet these monsters. With those who had made the discovery going ahead before us to the waterside, they pointed to a great heap of stones in the distance. Being brave we took 200 paces nigh to face this enemy but found them converted into men who were of an extraordinary height, lying all along the strand asleep.

“Brother, you must know that we were all in fear to see such a man and woman of a vast length. They were by two feet taller than I, and big accordingly. They had by them two baskets, a bow and arrows. I came nigh the place. Their arrows were not so long as ours, but bigger, and their bows the same; each had a small stag’s skin to cover their nakedness. They had no winter in their country.

“After being gone we held a council to consider what was to be done. We were two boats; the one did carry eight men, the other five. That of eight would go back again, but that of five would go forward into another river. So we departed. The night having come, we saw fires in several places on the other side of the river, which made us go there at the break of day to know what it was. We saw men as tall as the other men and women, and great many of them together fishing. We went away without any noise and resolved not to stay longer in those parts, where everything was so big. The fruits of trees were as big as the heart of a horiniac, which is bigger than that of an ox.

“The day after our return, being in cottages covered with bushes, we heard a noise in the wood, which made us speedily take our weapons, everyone hiding himself behind a tree. We perceived it was a beast like a Dutch horse that had a long and straight horn in the forehead, and came towards us. We shot twice at it, falling to the ground, but all of a sudden starts up again and runs full boot at us. As we were behind the trees, she thrusts her horn very far into a tree and so broke it and died. We would eat none of its flesh because the Flemings eat not their horses’ flesh, but took off the skin, which proved heavy, so we left it there. Her horn was five feet long, and bigger than the biggest part of an arm.”

After the old man finished his story, Radisson was very skeptical about his account of seeing such a mythical beast. However throughout his experiences among the Indians in the New World, he was to hear this same story many times. It was regarded as a Dutch Horse found in New Holland near the St. Lawrence River that had cloven hooves, shaggy manes, a horn right out of the forehead, a tail like that of the wild dog, black eyes and a stag’s neck. Radisson assumed the tall people were Dutch fur traders because the Dutch were the tallest of the Europeans.


After more days of rigorous travel, the group came to a forest by the water where there were many trees cut as if it were intended to be a fort. Beside this wooded clearing there was a tree that was left standing that had the rind taken away from it that was painted with an image of six men hanging from rope tied around their chests. Each had been decapitated with their heads on the ground at their feet. It was so well drawn Radisson knew they were Frenchmen and that the leader of the group was the man with short hair – the Jesuit. A little farther from the tree was another image painted showing two boats, one with three men and another with two men. This depiction showed a man with a hatchet in his hand striking another man’s head.

“Yes, they are French,” said the Iroquois captain. “But be cheerful. You will not die.” But having found so much treachery in them Radisson could not trust their words or promises but he knew he had to have good countenance in front of the Onandoga Iroquois to show he had no fear.

Radisson decided to take the sick man in his boat. This was to make the Iroquois need him during the journey for his strength of paddling since the sick man was moving too slowly. They were then sent to the other side of the river where they paddled along the river alone. Because they weren’t followed by another boat, Radisson’s mistrust stirred to a higher intensity. Suddenly the sick man saw an eagle, which was held in high esteem among the natives, so they stopped to take their guns onto shore. Radisson was now convinced that the Iroquois were planning to shoot him because he hadn’t seen the eagle and believed it to be a ruse to get him alone in the woods to end his life. He decided it was kill or be killed so he resolved to kill the old man, squatting down like a monkey and about to shoot, but just then he watched the old man shoot the eagle. The massive bird landed nearby.

That night after they had constructed camp and the women had built the fire, the Iroquois captain asked him for his gun, powder and shot. He also took his bundle. He thought he should submit to the stronger party and so took no notice of what they did, but when a woman who was kindling the fire where he sat kept looking at him, he felt even more mistrust. Just then the old man who was sick called over to him.

“What is it?” Radisson said to the man.

“I want you to come with me to the canoe,” he said. The old man threw his hat away and motioned to him to also leave his hat behind. The Iroquois then took his hatchet and hung it from his wrist and then went to the boat. Seeing all of this, Radisson went over to where the Iroquois captain put his gun and picked it up. Seeing this they laughed and shouted but he knew the ways of the Iroquois and knew they didn’t have the power to let him get in a boat without his weapon. They let him take it and the two of them left for the other side of the river.

“Get in the water,” said the old man about halfway to the other shore. Radisson Immediately thought the design was to drown him.

“No I won’t,” he replied. They disputed for a while, with Radisson insisting that the old man go into the water instead. He steadfastly refused. So finally Radisson looked closer at the water and saw that the bottom was only two feet from the surface. He figured out that the bottom was covered with mussels, but still his mistrust of the Iroquois remained. As he lowered himself into the water to gather mussels he fastened his girdle to the canoe so he wouldn’t abandon him there.

Back at the camp where they feasted by the fire, a man came up to Radisson and pulled off his shirt, leaving him naked except for his drawers. The man put on his shirt and then cut off Radisson’s necklace with his knife, feeling him all over to see if he was fat. He tried not to show it but he was sure the man was about to cut his throat. Finally, preferring to die rather than being tormented like this, he rose from him and sat beside the woman he knew liked him due to the kindness that she had showed him. She could see that he was in great fear so she put her hands upon his head and combed his hair down with her fingers.

“My son,” she said to him, “be cheerful. It is my husband; he will not hurt you because he loves me and he knows that I love you, and have a mind to have you to our dwelling.” She got up and took Radisson’s shirt from her husband, returning it back to him. She offered him a cover and told him to sleep with them but still he wasn’t able to sleep because he was waiting for the fatal blow.


Chapter Fourteen

Meeting Old Friends

The next morning his mistrust began to wane when he was given his things again and filled his bag full of victuals. That day’s travel was good until Radisson’s canoe hit some rocks and ran aground, ripping a hole in the bottom two fists wide. They were able to retrieve the canoe from the water by swimming for it, Radisson noting that Indians swim using the doggy paddle. He blamed the childish Iroquois who was again in his boat. When he understood that the immature man said that he had flipped the canoe purposely, he rebuked him verbally for such an accusation. The Indian attacked him. The fight left them bloody and weary until they could fight no more. They were able to fix the canoe but it took them three days to catch up with the others, who did not wait for them.

Radisson caught up with their expedition at an island in the shape of a half moon. They caught eels and met nine Mohawks who were camped there after returning from a war, in possession of two women prisoners, a 25-year old man and a six-year old girl. The prisoners were from the “Cats” and had hair that was short and turned up like the prickles of a hedgehog.[23] One of these Mohawks holding the prisoners recognized Radisson from his time livng among the Mohawks. He made a big fuss, giving him a girdle of goat’s hair and some wampum jewelry.

“When will you visit your friends?” he asked.

“I promise to visit them once I arrive at my destination with the Jesuit Father in the low country,” he replied. Radisson gave the Mohawk his hatchet to give to his father, two-dozen brass rings and two “shooting- knives” for his two sisters, and promised to bring his mother a blanket.

“What made you go away?” asked the Mohawk.

“I went through the woods and arrived at Three Rivers in 12 days, suffering much hunger on the way,” he replied. He wouldn’t tell him that he had escaped by way of the Dutch.

“You’re a devil for undertaking such a task,” he said. Being tactful, he agreed with the Mohawk.

It was also from these upper country Mohawks that he learned about the six Frenchmen that Radisson’s group had seen seven days before painted on the trees on the small island. He was told that there were two boats of Huron that were going to live with the French, and that besides the six French, six Huron had been killed, one taken alive and one escaped. Three Iroquois had been killed and several wounded. It satisfied the Iroquois that Radisson was returning to the Mohawks, and it calmed Radisson to know that the deaths were the result of a battle rather than indiscriminate murder.

Radisson and his company remained with these old acquaintances for the next day while the upper country Mohawks tortured their four prisoners, burning their fingers and ripping off their fingernails while they were forced to sing. Once done, they parted ways well satisfied with their meeting.

Chapter Fifteen

Reaching Onondaga

The group now faced a crossing of a large body of water some 300 miles in length and 90 miles in breadth.[24] The weather was warm and pleasant and the water was calm, so Radisson and his companion set up a makeshift sail out of cloth and used the breeze to push them far ahead of the other canoes. His Iroquois companion liked the sail very much since, in Radisson’s view, Indians were naturally given to laziness. Unfortunately the wind was coming from the shore so they were pushed way out into the deeper waters of the lake. Because of this they didn’t see their companions making signs at them that bad weather was coming. In no time the wind picked up so they took down the sail and began using their arms to paddle. A storm hit and rain fell until they were pushed backwards by fierce gusts, and great quantities of water was filling their boat.

They both thought they were going to die.

“See your God that you Frenchmen say is above,” said the Iroquois. “Will you make me believe now that he is good, as the blackcoats say? They do lie and you see the contrariness; for first you see that the sun burns us often and the rain wets us, and the wind makes us have shipwrecks and the thundering and lightning burns and kills. All comes from above and you say that it’s good to be there. For my part I will not go there. The blackcoats say that the reprobates and guilty go down and burn. They are mistaken; all is good here. Do you not see the earth that nourishes all living creatures, the water, the fishes, the corn and all other seasonable fruits for our food? These things are not so contrary to us as that from above.”

He then took his knife and gun and showed them to the heavens, and said: “I will not be above; here will I stay on earth where all my friends are, and not with the French that are to be burned above with torments.”

Out of distress, they tied a sack full of corn to the fore end of their canoe and threw it into the water, which hung down four fathoms. Then they put themselves in the other end so that the end that was towards the wind was higher than the back. By this means they escaped the waves that otherwise would have sunk their boat. To their amazement, they survived the storm and made it to shore. Radisson wondered if God showed His mercy on them because of the things that his young Iroquois companion had said.

To have survived the storm in the middle of the lake with such fierce waves was simply a miracle.

Like before, those in their group did not wait for them after their brush with death on the lake, so it took them several days of traveling before they spotted fires on the shore and met up with them once again. But the great winds blew and, due to the great banks of rocks where they were, Radisson could not dock his canoe. His companion waded into the water up to his armpits to grab hold of the canoe. They were able to throw their belongings into the water and then abandon the boat, which immediately crashed into pieces against the rocks.

Much relieved to have landed safely, they remained at the camp for three days because of the weather. It was here that another strange experience happened to Radisson. As he sat beside the fire one night a woman came to him. No one took any notice because there was never any jealously among the natives. In no time he heard some noise and saw the woman drying her newborn child by the fireside. Having done this she put her child by her bosom and went to bed as if nothing had happened, without a moan or cry. Before they left the camp however, the baby died. Radisson was tempted to baptize the baby but he didn’t for fear of the Indians accusing him of being the cause of its death.

It was here by the river where the woman had given birth that Radisson was met by some Frenchmen who had ventured from the fort in Onondaga to meet him. Relieved that his destination was only 90 miles away, he enjoyed sitting around the fire and swapping adventure stories with his fellow countrymen. They journeyed together to the French fort by water where Radisson found a most fair castle very nearly built. The bottom was built with great trees and well tied on the top that made the fort impregnable to the wild men. This was the plantation that had been started the previous year in 1656 by Joseph-Marie Chaumonot and Calude Dablon in the modern-day town of Salina near Syracuse New York.

Radisson thought the country was beautiful with plenty of corn growing as well as French turnips, chestnuts and acorns and innumerable different kinds of fruit. There was fish to catch and there were fat hogs and all sorts of fowl. They were all met by the Jesuit fathers and about 40 Frenchmen, but before they were able to engage in the numerous recreations of the small plantation, a fever broke out among the inhabitants that sidelined most of the population.

Chapter Sixteen

Conspiracy to Kill the French

When they had time to converse with the French at Onondaga, he learned the fate of those left behind just after their departure from Montréal.[25] The group behind them did embark after Radisson’s expedition had left, following close behind them all the way to the fort. When they had arrived at the island where the massacre of the six French had taken place, they had found a Huron woman half-starved from hunger. She had watched Radisson’s group pass and then had scourged the area for leftover food but could find only grapes. She had resolved to face her own death until they noticed her hiding in a hollowed-out tree trunk. The Jesuit father, seeing that she was a converted Christian, took special care of her until she saw a man load his gun. She was convinced that she was going to be killed and ran off again. They could not find her and continued on their way to Onondaga.

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

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

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

“Who are these slaves,” they asked.

“They’re mine,” he answered. The man’s uncle replied to him.

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

Just before Radisson’s escort group planned to leave the village that was five miles from the French fort, they heard about the Huron who had escaped from the massacre on the island. After suffering in the forests from hunger and privation for many weeks, he had arrived in the village and spoke of wrathful revenge against the French, especially against the Jesuit fathers. He said that fathers had betrayed the Hurons, and that he would bestow the same upon them if he ever met a Frenchman again. He thanked the Great Spirit Manitou that he was still alive and warned the Iroquois not to let the French build a fort in their country. He reminded them what had happened to the Nation of the Stags[26] who had let the French build a fort in their country only to be decimated by disease, which was the result of their sorcery.

In a society that had an insatiable thirst for war, Radisson was concerned to hear these words so close to where he was now living in Onondaga.

They were barely into autumn when Radisson and some other Frenchmen heard that the Iroquois were conspiring treason against the French. They learned that the Iroquois planned to raise an army of 500 men from their own nation as well as warriors from the Anojot to assist them.[27] They believed they could take the fort with ease because they were esteemed to be the best fighters of all the Indian nations, and because if they made a concerted effort to appease the French by giving them gifts and keeping the peace it could be a surprise attack. Most of the French didn’t know the Iroquois language but since Radisson understood both the language and customs, he knew they were preparing for an assault. Their daily exercises were feasting, singing war songs, throwing their hatchets and breaking kettles.

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

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

From these answers they would make a decision about what would happen to the French.

Knowing that the Iroquois were planning on a visit to the fort, they prepared to hide the evidence that they were building boats. They built a double floor in the hall of the fort to build the ship so that the Onandoga, being ignorant of their way of building, could not take any notice of their cunning. It was successful so they continued to build the boats without their knowledge, making an effort to keep up relations with the Iroquois in the meantime. These boats were big so only two were required to transport the entire population of the fort.[28] It was Radisson’s opinion that the Iroquois wouldn’t suspect their plan because Quebec was too far and too difficult to reach, being full of rapids and swift rivers.

Chapter Seventeen

Fleeing the Fort

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

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

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

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

“They eat as many as wolves, having eyes bigger then bellies,” he said. The next course were kettles full of broiled ducks and buzzards, and turtles that had been caught in their fishing nets. They hooped and exclaimed at the victuals and gorged on the fowl. Then came the fish and eels and salmon and carps, which gave them new stomach. “When they were about to burst, here they would show their courage.” A number of the French entertained them with singing and dancing, as was their custom. But finally the main course arrived: venison with bear oil and thickened flour.[29]

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

“Cheer up like brave men,” said the Frenchmen Radisson, who were beginning to fall asleep. “If your sleep overcomes you, you must awake! Come, sound the drum! Is it not now to strum the guitar? Come, make a noise! Trumpet blow and make thy cheeks swell, to make the belly swell also.”[30]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six weeks passed by the time they reached Montréal. There was still a lot of ice and the going was very rough but they were able to make it through the troublesome spots and there rested among their countrymen in Montréal. It was the end of March by the time their pains were over and had reached Quebec.[31] For Radisson, 14 days later he was back in Three Rivers where he was reunited with his family and his brother-in-law Groseilliers. There he only remained a month until he left with Groseilliers for a voyage into the interior of the New World that was to change the course of history.

Image of early New France along the St. Lawrence River



Now followeth the Auxoticiat Voyage into the Great and filthy Lake of the Hurrons, Upper Sea of the East, and Bay of the North.


Chapter Eighteen

Going West as a Voyageur

It does seem strange that a young man like Radisson, who had already experienced such hardship and extreme privation, should choose more adversity rather than to succor the fat bosom of some fine woman in the safety of the colony. Indeed the 23-year old was fully gung-ho to go forth and utilize his unique past to seek more adventure accompanied by those who shared a similar life view. He chose fur trading as his new occupation when he returned from the lands of the Iroquois in 1658, a new vocation that would capitalize on his exposure with native tribes in the New World and an opportunity to experience new adventures in a land waiting to be explored.

His partner during his years of being a les voyageur was his brother-in-law Medard Chouart, Des Groseilliers, who married Radisson’s half-sister Marguerite in 1653. Upon seeing Radisson hardened and fit after his hardships and achievements among the tribes of the Iroquois, Groseilliers asked Radisson to join him on his journey. Older and with more experience fur trading in the interior of Canada’s vast network of waterways, he valued Radisson’s passion for life and knowledge of the native tongue and culture, which could only enhance his goals to succeed in fur trading.

Groseilliers had already been west to the lake of the Hurons and had conducted trade with the natives. He had heard of the vast reaches of the great lakes where no European had been before and resolved to go forth and explore these new untapped lands and to trade with the natives in these areas. Groseilliers had been to the Jesuit missions west of the St. Lawrence River, such as the mission at Midland on the southern shores of Georgian Bay in Ontario (1625-1649) and Manitoulin Island (1648-1650) in the middle of the Great Lakes (Lake Huron), which at the time were the farthest outposts of European settlement in the New World. With such a small number of Frenchmen involved with such far journeying west, it was likely that Groseilliers would have been acquainted with the lucrative fur-trading lands in the far west of New France and therefore had an idea of the likelihood of success. However he would also have been aware of the extreme danger of expeditions into these unexplored territories controlled by marauding gangs of savages that had no scruples and even less hesitation to take a life.

Impressed with Radisson’s incredible coup to save 53 people from an impending massacre in Onandoga country by the Iroquois, he wondered if he didn’t prefer to relax in Three Rivers rather than to put himself in peril again by undertaking a voyage into the unknown. When Groseilliers asked him about this, the young Radisson mused at the unlikelihood of accepting Groseillier’s offer.

            “It is a strange thing,” he replied, “when victuals are wanting, work whole nights and days, lie down on the bare ground, and not always that happy, the breech in the water, the fear in the buttocks, to have the belly empty, the weariness in the bones, and drowsiness of the body by the bad weather that you are to suffer, having nothing to keep you from such calamity, but I am desirous of nothing but new things.”[32] It might have been Radisson’s religious zeitgeist that had brought this inner strength and asceticism forth, since those held highest in esteem were those blackrobes who valued sacrifice, poverty and service to God and country. But whatever the motivation the Frenchman might have had, Groseilliers had found the right man for the job.

            It was the spring so they were inclined to take advantage of the swift currents and higher water levels from the melting snow, which meant fewer portages on their way west with their Huron guides. The previous year Groseilliers had chosen the best among the Huron guides to meet his party in the spring in Three Rivers to take him and two Jesuit priests to spread the gospel to the heathen tribes of the interior. Now that he had hired Radisson he had an interpreter and able hand to help with the monumental task before them.

            At the time the governor of Quebec was encouraging Frenchmen to go deeper into the interior “to come back loaded with merchandise for the traffic of furriers who come from the remotest parts of the north of America.”[33] Fur trading at the time was a very lucrative trade so two Jesuit fathers were put in charge of hand-selected Frenchmen whom the governor of Quebec regarded as strong enough to undergo the trials and privations of the long journey by canoe and portage along the river route going west. The few Hurons who were among the company agreed to be converted to the Christian faith so all that traveled were bound to protect each other if they encountered their enemy the Iroquois.

            Other than a handful of courageous Frenchman, who included Samuel de Champlain, Groseilliers and Ettiène Brulé, it was the Recollect and Jesuit missionaries who had gathered hard-won knowledge and wisdom from their journeys to the interior beginning in 1615. Father Jean de Brébeuf was one of these daring blackrobes who ventured inland to the Saint Marie-among-the-Hurons in 1626 and was martyred there in 1649, precipitating the closure of the mission and the withdrawal of Jesuits west of Montréal.

Chapter Nineteen

Huronia Jesuit Mission and Brébeuf

It is here in the narrative that additional historical information will shed light on the history of European presence in the deep interior of the New World during this time of Radisson’s travels inland. It will help put Radisson’s impact in perspective when he paddled and portaged 800 miles to the Jesuit mission on Georgian Bay eight years after Brébeuf was martyred in 1649.

In respect to Brébeuf’s story and how it relates to Pierre Radisson, they both traveled the same 800-mile Ottawa River route to Lake Huron because the St. Lawrence River route through Lake Ontario was blockaded by the Iroquois – the “pirates of the fur trade.” The Ottawa River route brought the Frenchmen through friendly territories until finally reaching Georgian Bay, the home water of the Hurons. The Nipissirinians and Algonquin tribes were friendly allies to the French. Like Radisson and Groseilliers, they paddled and portaged light bark canoes for days from Three Rivers along the St. Lawrence River to where they took the Ottawa River north to where it meets the Mattawa River and then paddled down to Lake Nipissing and then connected with the French River down to Georgian Bay. The Hurons usually kept food caches (ground corn) hidden along the route but often they were missed and all had to go hungry. (The corn would be mixed with water to create gruel). Brébeuf relates that there are as many as 35 portages along the rugged terrain due to waterfalls and rapids. Radisson was suffering the hardships of the journey just as Brébeuf, but the difference was that he was not doing it for God; he was doing it for profit and adventure. For Brébeuf, it was for God: “To be sure, I was at time so weary that my body could do no more. But at the same time my soul was filled with great happiness as I realized that I was suffering this for God. No one can know this feeling unless he has experienced it.”[34]

Radisson and Brébeuf both traveled with the Hurons but it was Brébeuf who wrote down some instructions for future missionaries in 1637.[35] We can only assume these guidelines were shared by all the Frenchmen who traveled at this time along the Ottawa River route:

  • You must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers
  • You must never keep the Indians waiting at the time of embarking
  • Carry a tinder-box or a piece of burning-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking, and in the evening when it is necessary to camp; these little services win their hearts
  • Try to eat the food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours
  • Eat as soon as day breaks, for Indians, when on the road, eat only at the rising and the setting of the sun
  • Be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe
  • Be the least troublesome to the Indians
  • Do not ask many questions; silence is golden
  • Bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to be and to appear cheerful
  • Carry with the half-gross of awls, two or three dozen little folding knives (jambettes), a hundred or so fish-hooks, and some plain and fancy beads with which to buy fish or other commodities from the nations you meet, in order to feat your Indian companions, and be sure to tell them from the outset that here is something with which to buy fish
  • Always carry something during the portages
  • Do not be ceremonious with the Indians
  • Do not begin to paddle unless you intend always to paddle
  • The Indians will keep later that opinion of you which they have formed during the trip
  • Always show any other Indians you meet on the way a cheerful face and show that you readily accept the fatigues of the journey[36]

Theft and abandonment were also common during these trips. Father Davost was stolen from and then forced to leave his equipment behind until he was finally left to his own fate on the island among the Algonquins (Allumette Island). Paul Le Jeune wrote in his Relation of 1632-33, “to steal, and not to be discovered, is a sign of superior intelligence among them… I learn that the Hurons consider a man very clever who can escape the hand of a thief, or who knows who to steal [from] without being caught. But if he is discovered, you may whip him as much as you like and he will say nothing. He suffers his punishment patiently, not as a penalty for his crime, but for his awkwardness in being caught.”[37]

But in general, the Hurons regarded the Frenchmen as intelligent. Timepieces and tools were examples of the innovation of Europeans. The Hurons were a people devoted to interpreting and acting on their dreams. The dream was an oracle to be acted upon at once. To Brébeuf, their dreams were the principal God of the Hurons. But it was their belief in an afterlife that brought them to Christianity. Soon mothers wanted their children baptized and to be given instruction of God’s word. But it would take seven years to get his first adult convert. It is recorded that Pierre Tsiouendaentaha, a man of 50, was baptized on June 9, 1637, that caused a stir among the Hurons. It was during this year that the Hurons had grown quite hostile towards the missionaries after stories spread that it were the missionaries who were the ones that had caused the sickness to come. Brébeuf informed Quebec that the situation was bad in a letter signed by five Jesuits, one being Father Paul Ragueneau. In 1640 Brébeuf and Chaumonot were severely beaten by the Huron. After the failed mission to the Neutral Nation in 1641 and breaking his clavicle in his shoulder on the trip back to Huronia, Brébeuf was exhausted and in danger. He had become persona non grata in the Huron villages. His superiors decided to remove him from the area and so began three years in New France as procurator (supplier) of the Huron Mission.

The Iroquois kept intercepting supplies sent to the mission that Brébeuf ended up returning in 1644 for his third and final stint at the Huron mission. During these golden years for the mission, the number of baptisms had grown into the thousands.[38] The Iroquois however had grown stronger and were now invading Huron lands and trying to capture the supplies going to the French mission. Father Jogues and other Frenchmen were captured on the St. Lawrence River and cruelly treated by the Iroquois until they were rescued by the Dutch in New Holland (upstate New York near Albany) in 1644. Father Bressani was also captured and tortured while on his way to Huronia in 1942. But it was in 1646 that Father Jogues was captured again, tortured and killed.

In 1647 the fear of the Iroquois was so great that no one risked the trip to Three Rivers.

Then things took a turn for the worse. Teanaostaiae, a Huron outpost to the south, was attacked and seized by the Iroquois. It was here where Father Antoine Daniel was martyred defending his flock. But it was a key defensive position and with it now gone, their southern flank was exposed to attack. Never had the mission been so successful but now immanent destruction lay just behind the forest to the south. It would happen on March 15, 1649. Some 1200 Iroquois had left their lands the previous fall and had hunted throughout the winter to be ready for an early raid on the Huron in the early spring. As such, the Iroquois were stealthy when they approached from the Huron’s weak side before light had crept in and slaughtered in the dark. Accounts say that 400 Hurons were killed with only 10 Iroquois slain in the sporatic fighting. Brébeuf and Lalemont were not there having just left for St. Louis, a mission to the north. They were captured and taken prisoner the next day while the Iroquois planned to attack the walled compound of Sainte-Marie the next day. A band of brave Hurons fought off the Iroquois vanguard and thus prevented the attack on Sainte-Marie. The warriors were eventually overrun but at a heavy cost to the Iroquois. Once inside the mission they tortured many Frenchmen, blackrobes and Hurons. The enemy fled back to Iroquois land and left the Huron scrambling to Sainte-Marie as the main village. But in two months the remaining missionaries would destroy their beloved Sainte-Marie mission and move to Christian Island in Georgian Bay. They would leave for Quebec the following year and end the French missionary activities in Huronia. It was only two years later that Peirre Radisson would suffer the same tortures as Brébeuf and Lalemant at the hands of the Iroquois in 1652. Eight years later Radisson would paddle past the smoldering remains of the French mission.

The only witness to Radisson’s torture was Radisson himself, and disagreement as to its objectivity has been raised by historians. But there is Paul Ragueneau’s account that records Brébeuf’s torture, the same Father Ragueneau who would hire Radisson to be his interpreter on his mission to the Iroquois in 1657 to 1658. Ragueneau’s account gives us some idea of the torture methods and preferences of the Iroquois at the time:

As soon as they were taken captive, they were stripped naked, and some of their nails were torn out; and the welcome which they received upon entering the village of St. Ignace was a hailstorm of blows with sticks upon their shoulders, their loins, their legs, their breasts, their bellies, and their faces – there being no part of their bodies which did not then endure its torment.

Father Jean de Brébeuf, overwhelmed under the burden of these blows, did not on that account lose care for his flock; seeing himself surrounded with Christians whom he had instructed, and who were in captivity with him, he said to them: “My children, let us lift our eyes to heaven at the height of our afflictions; let us remember that God is the witness of our sufferings, and will soon be exceeding great reward. Let us die in this faith; and let us hope from his goodness the fulfillment of his promises. I have more pity for you than for myself; but sustain with courage the few remaining torments. They will end with our lives; the glory which follows them will never have an end.”

“Echon,” they said to him…“our spirits will be in heaven when our bodies shall be suffering on earth. Pray to God for us, that he may show us mercy; we will invoke him even until death.”

Some Huron infidels – former captives of the Iroquois, naturalized among them, and former enemies of the Faith – were irritated by these words, and because our Fathers in their captivity had not their tongues captive. They cut off the hands of one, and pierce the other with sharp awls and iron points; they apply under their armpits and upon their loins hatchets heated red in the fire, and put a necklace of these about their necks in such a way that all the motions of their bodies gave them a new torture…They put about them belts of bark, filled with pitch and resin, to which they set fire, which scorched the whole of their bodies.

…Father Jean de Brébeuf suffered like a rock, insensible to the fires and the flames, without uttering any cry, and keeping a profound silence, which astonished his executioners themselves. No doubt, his heart was then reposing in his God. Then, returning to himself, he preached to those infidels, and still more to many good Christian captives, who had compassion on him.

His tormentors, indignant at his zeal, in order to hinder him from speaking any further of God, slashed his mouth, cut off his nose, and tore off his lips. But his blood spoke much more loudly than his lips had done, and, his heart not yet being torn out, his tongue not fail to render him service until the last sigh, for blessing God for these torments, and for animating the Christians more vigorously than he had ever done.

In derision of holy baptism…those enemies of the faith, conceived the idea of baptizing them with boiling water. They poured it over the Fathers’ bodies in great quantities, two or three times, and more, with biting jibes, which accompanied these torments. “We baptize thee,” they said, “to the end that thou mayest be blessed in heaven; for without proper baptism one cannot be saved.”…

These were infidel Hurons, former captives of the Iroquois, and, of old, enemies of the faith – who, having previously had sufficient instruction for their salvation, impiously abused it – in reality, for the glory of the Fathers. But it is to be feared that it was also for their own misfortune.

…Their tortures were not of the same duration. Father Jean de Brébeuf was at the height of his torments at about three o’clock on the same day of the capture, the 16th day of March, and rendered up his soul about four o’clock in the afternoon. Father Gabriel Lalemant endured longer, from six o’clock in the evening, until about nine o’clock the next morning, the 17th of March.

Before their death, both their hearts were torn out, by means of an opening above the breast; and their tormentors feasted on them…While still quite full of life, pieces of flesh were removed from their thighs, from the calves of their legs, and from their arms – which these executioners placed on coals to roast, and ate in their sight.

They had slashed the bodies of the Fathers in various parts; and in order to increase the feeling of pain, they had thrust into these wounds red-hot hatchets.

Father Jean de Brébeuf had had the skin that covered his skull torn away. They had cut off his feet and torn the flesh from his thighs, even to the bone, and had split, with the blow of a hatchet, one of his jaws in two…

But let us leave these objects of horror, and these signs of cruelty, since one day all those parts will be endowed with an immortal glory, the greatness of their torments will be the measure of their happiness, and, from now on, they live in the repose of the saints, and will dwell in it forever.[39]

This was the end of the man who had converted 7000 Hurons through baptism. He was 56 years old when his martyrdom took place.

The Second Vatican Council tells us “by martyrdom a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master, who freely accepted death on behalf of the world’s salvation; he perfects that image even to the shedding of blood.”[40] In his death Brébeuf became a martyr but the affects of the wars with the Iroquois and disease has changed the population from 30,000 to 12,000. By the time of the final collapse of Huronia, only 1000 Hurons were left.

The Hurons featured prominently in Radisson’s and Brébeuf’s lives. A great trading nation situated strategically along the water routes, they were shrewd traders. They traded corn, flour and tobacco for European trade goods such as pots, knives and fish-hooks and were able to acquire large quantities of what the French wanted the most: furs. Every June or July they paddled in their canoes to Three Rivers to trade with the French.

The Dutch, who had their power base in the New World beside the land of the Five Nations in modern-day New York State, supplied and abetted the Iroquois in their attacks against the French and the Hurons. It was said that the Iroquois had ten times more muskets than the Hurons. And with only 100 soldiers in New France, the Iroquois were successful in their attacks. It was all about the fur trade and meeting the demands for the markets in Europe. This source of the fervor had its ripple effects deep into the interior of the New World through these water routes that went farther past the first European mission so far west in the Great Lakes water system. The mission was started in 1615 and ended with the Iroquois invasions in 1650. Quebec had been founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, so in French Canada at the time Huronia was by far the farthest west European settlement in North America. The first Europeans to Huronia were Father LeCaron and Samuel Champlain on August 4th, 1615. Ettiene Brulé was there at the first mass on the shores of Georgian Bay. They stayed the winter and left the following May and there was no more missionary work done until 1623 when Father LeCaron returned with two other Récollets, Father Nicholas Viel and Brother Gabriel Sagard and some Frenchmen. LeCaron and Sagard returned to Quebec the next summer but Viel stayed, only to be drowned just north of Montréal Island in 1625. And it was 1626 when through the intervention of Champlain, he was taken with returning Hurons to Georgian Bay to begin the mission in earnest. Besides Brébeuf, there were Father Joseph de la Roche Daillon and Father Anne de Noue, who was a Jesuit. Noue was unable to grasp the language and returned to New France only to freeze to death in 1646 on the St. Lawrence near Sobel. De la Roche Daillon returned in 1628 in poor health. And it was only due to the captitulation of Quebec to the Kirke Brothers that Brébeuf left in 1629. Again missionary work in Huronia stopped but some Frenchmen continued on there. The names of these valiant Frenchmen have been lost to history.

The adventuresome and unruly coureur-de-bois Etiene Brulé was murdered near Toanche in June 1633. On Christmas Day in 1635 Samuel de Champlain, champion of the Huron mission and friend of the missionaries, died. The prevailing perspective of life west of Quebec could be summed up by Champlain himself: “Out there, in this great land, in every direction, roam savage tribes living like beasts.”[41]

The Huron decimation occurred in the 1640s and 1650s at the hands of the Dutch-supplied Iroquois, on a mission to expand their power and take hold of more of the fur trade. The tipping of the old balance of power was due to increased European influence in the region, especially the Dutch trading muskets for furs in the southeast.


Sainte-Marie was built to service the Huron and Tobacco tribes of the Algonquin Indians. In the year before its destruction, the mission housed over 60 Frenchmen and 3000 Hurons, roughly one-fifth of the European population of New France at the time. Small pox, measles and influenza hampered missionary efforts for years until the Jesuits burned and evacuated the mission in 1649. Revised population numbers are estimated to be 22500 pre-European contact, but decimated by 70 percent after European interaction.

The first martyr in New France was the lay apostle (donne) Rene Goupil in 1642. Captured with Isaac Jogues by Iroquois while leaving Montréal for Huronia, Goupil was selected for death after he had given a child the sign of the cross in an action of unchecked compassion. The father of the child objected and since the Iroquois hated seeing a Christian give the sign of the holy cross, they chose to kill him with hatchet blows. It is more than likely that Radisson too would not be inclined to do the sign of the cross with his hands among the Iroquois. Historians have noted that the Dutch refrained from making the sign of the cross in the New World. And the Iroquois didn’t like when a Christian knelt to pray. This was another “no-no.” Many a Frenchman back in the early days of western exploration along the waterways of Canada made this mistake and were killed for it. The Indians didn’t want any magic spells cast over them or invocations.

Simply put: it was bad manners.

Besides Jean de Brébeuf, the other most famed Jesuit martyr in the New World was Isaac Jogues, a man who was killed by a tomahawk yet whose martyrdom really lasted from 1642-46. Inspired by Brébeuf’s exploits in the New World, he sailed for New France in 1636 and immediately left for Huronia, taking only 19 days to reach the mission. His Indian name was “Ondessonk” (bird of prey). His first mission among the Tobacco Indians proved futile as he was met with only suspicion and reticence. He then focused his energies on the mission at Sainte-Marie in 1639 when it started in earnest. He and his party made it to the gateway between Lake Huron and Lake Superior in 17 days after leaving from the mission. This trip to the Sault yielded the important information that many tribes lived to the north and northwest, the Sault Indians numbering an estimated 2000. For the Jesuits, the apostolic potential was alluring. With the exception of Coronado exploring the south of the United States from Mexico in the mid 16th-century, Isaac Jogues was the first European to reach that far west in North America.

The next summer Jogues paddled back to Quebec without mishap but after only a day of traveling back to Huronia did the Iroquois capture him. Tortured for months, he managed an escape with the connivance of the Dutch when he was with an Iroquois fishing expedition in the summer of 1643. Jogues gave his Iroquois guards the slip and he was taken down to New Amsterdam where he caught a ship back to France. Like Radisson, he arrived back in France only to once again leave for the lure of the New World and leave the comforts and old aches of France behind. But it was Jogues who was first and who had large impact on both the religious community’s feelings about the Jesuits in the New World, and the awareness of France’s new settlements among the general populace in France. When Jogues appeared in tattered clothes and his scars still healing, he was hailed as a Lazarus who had come back from the dead. Jogues met with royalty and religious men of power but he never wavered in his zeal to return to North America to continue his mission among the Indians. He left in the spring of 1644. But he was never to set foot in Huronia again. Instead he was assigned to a post to administer to the Iroquois from Quebec, so he could use his Language skills to try to broker peace against and ever-rambunctious Iroquois war parties. In 1646, on his second peace-brokering attempt, and after their Huron guides had taken off after leaving Three Rivers, Jogues and Jean de la Lande were taken prisoner and tortured and put to death. No record survives of his death, only that he fell to a tomahawk.

It is important to see the uncanny parallel with Radisson’s post-torture life. He too, returned to New France after escaping extreme torture at the hands of the Iroquois. But Radisson, like Jogues, returned to the Iroquois rather than staying far away from them. They both returned to the scene of the crime to use their language skills to broker peace. They both tempted fate and it was Jogues who was killed. Perhaps Radisson and the Frenchmen at the village in Mohawk country would have been massacred had it not been for Radisson catching wind of their plot to kill all the Frenchmen.

It was Radisson’s bear root-spiked feast and guitar-playing escape that changed his fate.

After the closing of the Jesuit mission in Huronia in 1649, there was a push to preach among the Iroquois. Thus, beginning with the first contact between the Jesuits and the Indians of central New York and the Mohawk Valley in the summer of 1654, Father Simon le Moyne established peace between the Five Nations and the Jesuits, agreeing to supply Onondaga with Blackrobes the following year. The first mass among the Iroquois happened November 14, 1655 near the present site of Manlius. In 1657 during Radisson’s venture to Iroquois territory, there were 50 Frenchmen and six Jesuits in the party that arrived on Lake Onondaga. They established a settlement and the Jesuits administered to the 1000 Christians there and stepped up their efforts to convert more. But the Dutch, based at Fort Orange, incited the Mohawks against the French to drive them from the territory. Friendly Indians warned Radisson and the French about the impending ambush and the French withdrew after their big feast.

Only the cunning and planning of Radisson and his colleagues led to the survival of the colony.

It took another ten years after this withdrawl from Iroquois lands before the French sent in the army and destroyed three Mohawk villages before there was confirmed peace. By 1668 there were Jesiut missionaries in all Five Nations. It wasn’t until 1709 during Queen Anne’s War that the Jesuits were recalled from the Mohawk Valley because of the war between the French and the British.


In Paul Ragueneau’s writings collected in Jesuit Relations published by the Vatican, we can get a good picture of the zeitgeist of the time in relation to the Iroquois attacks to not only the French settlements but of the Hurons and Algonquins.

“But there is an evil more dreadful than famine. The Iroquois terror menaces the whole country. They exercise their ferocity and vent their rage daily more and more on the few remaining Algonquins and Hurons and now they are throwing the weight of their fury against our French settlements.

“Only a few days ago, near Three Rivers, another band of twenty-five to thirty Iroquois were bold enough to attack, in full daylight, more than sixty of our people, who had gone in search of them. These wretches went up to their waists in mud and marsh, hid in the bull-rushes and fired their arms from there, whence they could not be reached. When they were too hard pressed they took flight in their canoes. Our people cannot always march in companies, many remain behind. The Iroquois saw that they were scattered, turned around and attacked those in front. When they saw that our forces were uniting, they took flight again in orderly fashion and after a while came back for still another attack. In short, they are Proteuses that change their shape at every moment, and we must not imagine that they lack either leadership or courage.

“In this battle we lost some of our best soldiers and other were seriously injured. When the Iroquois saw themselves too hotly pressed, they organized an orderly retreat that had nothing loose about it. Of course, the leader and chief of these enemies of the faith was a Hollander or rather the monstrous offspring of a sinful union between a Dutch heretic father and pagan mother.

“How long will God allow this country to continue to be a land of horror, when, without these wild men, it could be a land of paradise? Because, were it not for their cruelty, the Name of God would have been preached to a large number of infidel people, who are still to be converted, the Cross of Jesus Christ would have brought light to the pagan darkness that reigns there and heaven would have been opened to a million poor souls who now seem doomed to Hell.

“Before the winter sets in we expect three hundred Christian Hurons to come and swell the numbers in our new colony. Six hundred men from the Neutral Nation have given their word that, early next summer, they will come and ask for arms and help to attack the Iroquois, with whom they are now at open warfare. At the same time, we must strike at this enemy of the faith and find a way of bringing the war into his own country. With one successful year and a drive worthy of the zeal, which so many holy souls have for the conversion of the Indians, we could wipe out this handful of people, who live only to overthrow the work of God.

“After that, our hopes would bloom afresh and the glory of our churches would be even greater than were the innocence and sanctity of those whose ruin we now deplore.”[42]


We hear the word and are aware of the work done by the Jesuits but who exactly were the Jesuits and what precisely was their mission? The Jesuits were “the knight at arms of Jesus and the Virgin” according to its founder Ignatius Loyola in 1534 in Monmartre, France. After having his leg wounded while fighting against the French at Pamplona, he studied the Bible during his recovery. It was this that brought him to 12 years of study at various universities in Spain and France until forming “The Company of Jesus.” Seven men took vows to poverty, chastity and obedience and took their orders from Pope Paul III. The Company of Jesus had “loyalty to the Holy See expressed in a special vow to go anywhere in the world at the Pope’s behest.” Their main task was education and secondary to it were foreign missions. Loyola, the first leader of these “instruments in the hand of God,” died in 1556, one century before Radisson’s first job as interpretor and guide for the Jesuit Ragueneau into Iroquois territory.

[1] Ibid., circa p. 107

[2] Ibid., p. 74

[3] The word “Huron” comes from the French word “hure” meaning the head of a boar or a pig, used by the French to describe the type of haircut popular with these Indians, close-cropped and bristly. The Indian word for the Hurons is “Wendat,” meaning “island” or “isolated land.”

[4] Bear root may have been used to throw on the hot stones, which produces an intoxicating effect. Bears eat it when they hibernate, which acts as a natural sedative.

[5] Jesuit priests

[6] “This is nothing strang, seeing that they are brought up, and suck the crueltie from their mother’s brest.” First Voyage Journal #1

[7] Likely the St. Clair River near Lake Huron.

[8] “Att last we came to kill 2 Stagges, but did not suffice 12 of us. We weare forced to gather the dung of the stagges to boyle it with the meat, which made all very bitter. But good stomachs make good favour. Hunger forced us to kill our Prisoners, who weare chargeable in eating our food, for want of which have eaten the flesh. So by that means we weare freed from the trouble.” – Ibid. Radisson’s immersion into the native way of life was now complete, but this would serve him well in the year’s to come.

[9] “Five of the men weare wounded with arrowes and foure escaped, but he that was sent with me att first to make a discovery was horribly wounded with 2 arrowes and a blow of a club on the head. If he had stuck to it as we, he might proceed better. We burned him with all speed, that he might not languish long, to putt ourselves in safty.” – Ibid.

[10] “As we came neare the village, a multitude of people came to meete us with great exclamations, and for the most part for my sake, biding me to be cheerfull & qualifying me dodcon, that is, devil, being of great veneration in that country to those that shew any vallour.” – Ibid.

[11] “For drinking of their wine we weare good fellowes. So much that they fought with swords among themselves without the least offer of any misdeed to me. I drunk more then they, but more soberly, letting them make their quarrells without any notice.” – Ibid.

[12] “I wanted not for those of my nation, Iroquois, who followed me in a great squadroon through the streets, as if I had bin a monster in nature or a rare thing to be seen.” – Ibid.

[13] “Leaving that place, many cryed to see me among a company of wolves, as that souldier tould me who knowed me the first houre; and the poore man made the tears come to my eyes. The truth is, I found many occasions to retire for to save me, but have not yett souffred enough to have merited my deliverence.” – Ibid. Incredible that Radisson didn’t think he had suffered enough to deserve delivery from the Iroquois.

[14] “I was not 15 dayes retourned, but that nature itselfe reproached me to leade such a life, remembering the sweet behaviour and mildnesse of the french, & considered with meselfe what end should I expect of such a barbarous nation, enemy to God and to man. The great effect that the flemings shewed me, and the litle space was from us there; can I make that journey one day? The great belief that that people had in me should make them not to mistrust me, & by that I should have greater occasion to save me without feare of being pursued.” – Ibid. ‘Flemings’ – ‘Flemish.’

[15] Manhatten.

[16] The Moose River reached the ocean in northern Ontario, which could be reached from Lake Superior with a few portages.

[17] The Tatousac peoples who lived north of the Saguenay River in northern Quebec who spoke an Inuit language.

[18] The reason for this decimation of the Hurons was due to the Dutch trading guns to the Iroquois for beaver pelts, unlike the French who did not trade guns. But Radisson does give his own account of the Hurons history with the Mohawks in his journal: “At last [the Hurons] became so eminent strong that they weare of a minde to fight against the neighbouring nation. Hearing that their sworne ennemys the Iroquoits retired towards the nation called Andasstoueronom, which is beyond the lake d’Ontario, between Virginia & that lake, they resolved to goe & search them for to warre against them; but they shall find it to their ruine, which I can affirme & assure, because the Iroquoits in the most part of their speeches, which comes from father to son, says, we bears (for it’s their name) whilst we scraped the earth with our pawes, for to make the wheat grow for to maintaine our wives, not thinking that the deare shall leape over the lake to kill the Beare that slept; but they found that the beare could scratch the stagge, for his head and leggs are small to oppose. Such speeches have they commonly together, in such that they have had warrs many years.” It was the Hurons who first attacked the Mohawks in Radisson’s account of the recent history of this area in the New World.

[19] The Sainte Marie-among-the-Hurons was a fort/trading post built on the shores of Georgian Bay of Lake Huron in 1625 by Samuel de Champlain that existed as a Jesuit mission until the French left in 1648, destroying the fort before they left. A great many Hurons died from disease from exposure to the French missionaries and laymen.

[20] “Heere you see a good example, that it is decent to be good to his Ennemy.” Ibid., Second Voyage.

[21] “We finding them sometimes in islands, made them goe into the watter and after we killed about a score, we clipped the ears of the rest and hung a bell to it, and then let them loose. What a sporte to see the rest flye from that that had the bell!” Ibid., Second Voyage.

[22] ‘Nation of the Fire’ were the Potawatomi, and the ‘Standing Hairs’ were the Hurons. These two tribes lived around Lake Huron and were allies.

[23] The “Cat People” were the Erie Nation, who spoke the Huron language. They were decimated by the Iroquois with their guns from trading with the Dutch in the years 1649-1650.

[24] Likely Oneida Lake near modern-day Syracuse, New York.

[25] There were roughly 3000 Iroquois in Onondaga and the surrounding area.

[26] The Seneca Nation, one of the five nations that were part of the Iroquois confederacy.

[27] The Anojot were from the Natchez Nation who were from the upper and lower Mississippi River.

[28] The boats were based on the measurements stated in the Old Testament when Noah was given the precise measurements for the ark. Proportionally decressing these measurements, the boats would have a large bottom that would be big enough to carry everyone from the fort as well as their things.

[29] Bear oil was actually bear root, the sedative bears eat before hibernating for the winter months.

[30] Ibid., Second Voyage.

[31] There is an account of this escape in the Jesuit Relations, which refers to “a Frenchman” who played guitar to woo the natives asleep.” That was indeed our man: Pierre Radisson. The year was 1658.

[32] Ibid., Third Voyage

[33] Ibid., Third Voyage.

[34] Jesuit Relations, The Huron Relation of 1635, Jean de Brébeuf

[35] Between 1615 and 1650 there were 29 missionaries that made it to Huronia, plus numerous laymen. Caesars of the Wilderness, Grace Lee Nute, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1978 (Second Edition).

[36] Radisson, Third Voyage, p. 13-14

[37] Ibid., p. 17

[38] It was recorded in Relations that the Huron nation at this time populated about 30,000 people.

[39] Cf. Thwaites ed., vol. 34, with slight modifications

[40] Martyrs of New France, edited Angus J. Macdougall, Martyr’s Shrine Publication, 1972.

[41] Tender was the Strength; Brébeuf of Huronia, Dorothy B. Norman, Friends of Good Books, Cambridge, 1983

[42] Shadows Over Huronia; The Tragedy of the Jesuit Mission to the Hurons, Paul Ragueneau, p.124-125, as told in the Jesuit Relations (1650), first published in 1965.