Samuel Champlain, Part 2

Again Champlain came to the aid of the Montagnai (Innu) and Algonquin against the Iroquois. This battle is larger than the one from my first post, and this time the Iroquois barricaded themselves in a fortress.

On the following day, we all set out together, and continued our route until the morning of the next day, the 19th of the month [of June, 1610], when we arrived at an island off the river of the Iroquois, and waited for the Algonquins, who were to be there the same day. While the Montagnais were felling trees to clear a place for dancing, and for arranging themselves for the arrival of the Algonquins, an Algonquin canoe was suddenly seen coming in haste, to bring word that the Algonquins had fallen in with a hundred Iroquois, who were strongly barricaded, and that it would be difficult to conquer them, unless they should come speedily, together with the Matigoches, as they call us.

The alarm at once sounded among them, and each one got into his canoe with his arms. They were quickly in readiness, but with confusion ; for they were so precipitate that, instead of making haste, they hindered one another. They came to our barque and the other, begging me, together with my companions, to go with them in their canoes, and they were so urgent that I embarked with four others. I requested our pilot, La Routte, to stay in the barque, and send me some four or five more of my companions, if the other barques would send some shallops with men to aid us ; for none of the barques were inclined to go with the savages, except Captain Thibaut, who, having a barque there, went with me. The savages cried out to those who remained, saying that they were woman-hearted, and that all they could do was to make war upon their peltry.

Meanwhile, after going some half a league, all the savages crossing the river landed, and, leaving their canoes, took their bucklers, bows, arrows, clubs, and swords, which they attach to the end of large sticks, and proceeded to make their way in the woods, so fast that we soon lost sight of them, they leaving us, five in number, without guides. This displeased us ; but, keeping their tracks constantly in sight, we followed them, although we were often deceived. We went through dense woods, and over swamps and marshes, with the water always up to our knees, greatly encumbered by a pike-man’s corselet, with which each one was armed. We were also tormented in a grievous and unheard-of manner by quantities of mosquitoes, which were so thick that they scarcely permitted us to draw breath.

After going about half a league under these circumstances, and no longer knowing where we were, we perceived two savages passing through the woods, to whom we called and told them to stay with us, and guide us to the whereabouts of the Iroquois, otherwise we could not go there, and should get lost in the woods. They stayed to guide us. After proceeding a short distance, we saw a savage coming in haste to us, to induce us to advance as rapidly as possible, giving me to understand that the Algonquins and Montagnais had tried to force the barricade of the Iroquois but had been repulsed, that some of the best men of the Montagnais had been killed in the attempt, and several wounded, and that they had retired to wait for us, in whom was their only hope. We had not gone an eighth of a league with this savage, who was an Algonquin captain, before we heard the yells and cries on both sides, as they jeered at each other, and were skirmishing slightly while awaiting us.

As soon as the savages perceived us, they began to shout, so that one could not have heard it thunder. I gave orders to my companions to follow me steadily, and not to leave me on any account. I approached the barricade of the enemy, in order to reconnoitre it. It was constructed of large trees placed one upon another, and of a circular shape, the usual form of their fortifications. All the Montagnais and Algonquins approached likewise the barricade. Then we commenced firing numerous musket-shots through the brush-wood, since we could not see them, as they could us.

Fort des Yroquois
The translator notes: “If Champlain’s drawing may be trusted, the Indians fired high in air, that their arrows might come down upon the heads of their enemies. The stockade was of course roofless.”

I was wounded while firing my first shot at the side of their barricade by an arrow, which pierced the end of my ear and entered my neck. I seized the arrow, and tore it from my neck. The end of it was armed with a very sharp stone. One of my companions also was wounded at the same time in the arm by an arrow, which I tore out for him. Yet my wound did not prevent me from doing my duty : our savages also, on their part, as well as the enemy, did their duty, so that you could see the arrows fly on all sides as thick as hail.

The Iroquois were astonished at the noise of our muskets, and especially that the balls penetrated better than their arrows. They were so frightened at the effect produced that, seeing several of their companions fall wounded and dead, they threw themselves on the ground whenever they heard a discharge, supposing that the shots were sure. We scarcely ever missed firing two or three balls at one shot, resting our muskets most of the time on the side of their barricade. But, seeing that our ammunition began to fail, I said to all the savages that it was necessary to break down their barricades and capture them by storm ; and that, in order to accomplish this, they must take their shields, cover themselves with them, and thus approach so near as to be able to fasten stout ropes to the posts that supported the barricades, and pull them down by main strength, in that way making an opening large enough to permit them to enter the fort.

I told them that we would meanwhile, by our musketry-fire, keep off the enemy, as they endeavored to prevent them from accomplishing this; also that a number of them should get behind some large trees, which were near the barricade, in order to throw them down upon the enemy, and that others should protect these with their shields, in order to keep the enemy from injuring them. All this they did very promptly. And, as they were about finishing the work, the barques, distant a league and a half, hearing the reports of our muskets, knew that we were engaged in conflict; and a young man from St. Malo, full of courage, Des Prairies by name, who like the rest had come with his barque to engage in peltry traffic, said to his companions that it was a great shame to let me fight in this way with the savages without coming to my assistance ; that for his part he had too high a sense of honor to permit him to do so, and that he did not wish to expose himself to this reproach. Accordingly, he determined to come to me in a shallop with some of his companions, together with some of mine whom he took with him. Immediately upon his arrival, he went towards the fort of the Iroquois, situated on the bank of the river. Here he landed, and came to find me.

Upon seeing him, I ordered our savages who were breaking down the fortress to stop, so that the new-comers might have their share of the sport. I requested Sieur des Prairies and his companions to fire some salvos of musketry, before our savages should carry by storm the enemy, as they had decided to do. This they did, each one firing several shots, in which all did their duty well.

After they had fired enough, I addressed myself to our savages, urging them to finish the work. Straightway, they approached the barricade, as they had previously done, while we on the flank were to fire at those who should endeavor to keep them from breaking it down. They behaved so well and bravely that, with the help of our muskets, they made an opening, which, however, was difficult to go through, as there was still left a portion as high as a man, there being also branches of trees there which had been beaten down, forming a serious obstacle. But, when I saw that the entrance was quite practicable, I gave orders not to fire any more, which they obeyed. At the same instant, some twenty or thirty, both of savages and of our own men, entered, sword in hand, without finding much resistance.

Immediately, all who were unharmed took to flight. But they did not proceed far; for they were brought down by those around the barricade, and those who escaped were drowned in the river. We captured some fifteen prisoners, the rest being killed by musket-shots, arrows, and the sword. When the fight was over, there came another shallop, containing some of my companions. This, although behind time, was yet in season for the booty, which, however, was not of much account. There were only robes of beaver-skin, and dead bodies covered with blood, which the savages would not take the trouble to plunder, laughing at those in the last shallop, who did so ; for the others did not engage in such low business. This, then, is the victory obtained by God’s grace, for gaining which they gave us much praise.

The savages scalped the dead, and took the heads as a trophy of victory, according to their custom. They returned with fifty wounded Montagnais and Algonquins and three dead, singing and leading their prisoners with them. They attached to sticks in the prows of their canoes the heads and a dead body cut into quarters, to eat in revenge, as they said. In this way they went to our barques off the River of the Iroquois.

We see similar themes to the other early New World battles. A few musketeers are able to hold their own against a great number of archers. The musketeers multiply their firepower by loading extra bullets. The lethality of the archers is low. Even though an arrow wound through the neck sounds very serious, it did not even put Champlain hors de combat. The muskets, on the other hand, were powerful enough to blast right through the wooden walls of the barricade.

The Indians however were cunning, and successfully adapted to resist Champlain’s muskets, as we will see in the next post.

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