Champlain's journeyings with the Indians were the holiday of his life, for at no other time was he so free to follow the bent of his genius. First among the incentives which drew him to the wilderness was his ambition to discover the pathway to China. In 1608 the St Lawrence had not been explored beyond the Lachine Rapids, nor the Richelieu beyond Chambly—while the Ottawa was known only by report. Beyond Lake St Louis stretched a mysterious world, through the midst of which flowed the Great River. For an explorer and a patriot the opportunity was priceless. The acquisition of vast territory for the French crown, the enlargement of the trade zone, the discovery of a route to Cathay, the prospect of Arcadian joys and exciting adventures—beside such promptings hardship and danger became negligible. And when exploring the wilderness Champlain was in full command. Off the coast of Norumbega his wishes, as geographer, had been subject to the special projects of De Monts and Poutrincourt. At Fontainebleau he waited for weeks and months in the antechambers of prelates or nobles. But when conducting an expedition through the forest he was lord and master, a chieftain from whose arquebus flew winged death.
The story of Champlain's expeditions along these great secluded waterways, and across the portages of the forest, makes the most agreeable page of his life both for writer and reader, since it is here that he himself is most clearly in the foreground. At no point can his narrative be thought dull, compact as it is and always in touch with energetic action. But the details of fur trading at Tadoussac and the Sault St Louis, or even of voyaging along the Acadian seaboard, are far less absorbing than the tale of the canoe and the war party. Amid the depths of the interior Champlain reaped his richest experiences as an explorer. With the Indians for his allies and enemies he reached his fullest stature as a leader.
It is not important to dwell upon the minor excursions which Champlain made from his headquarters at Quebec into the country of the Montagnais. [Footnote: An Algonquin tribe dwelling to the north of the St Lawrence, for the most part between the Saguenay and the St Maurice.] He saw little of the rocky northland which, with its myriad lakes and splendid streams, sweeps from the St Lawrence to Hudson Bay. Southward and westward lay his course to the cantons of the Iroquois south of Lake Ontario and the villages of the Hurons north of Lake Simcoe. Above all, the expeditions of 1609, 1613, and 1615 are the central episodes of his work as an explorer, each marked by a distinct motive and abounding with adventures. In 1609 he discovered Lake Champlain and fought his first battle with the Iroquois. In 1613 he was decoyed by a lying guide into a fruitless search for the North-West Passage by the route of the Ottawa. In 1615 he discovered Lake Huron, traversed what is now Central Ontario, and attacked the Iroquois in the heart of their own country. These three journeys make the sum of Champlain's achievements as a pioneer of the interior. For all three, likewise, we have his own story, upon which all other versions are based and from which they draw their most striking details.
The discovery of Lake Champlain had its root in Champlain's promise to the Algonquins that he would aid them in their strife with the Iroquois. In turn this promise was based upon the policy of conciliating those savage tribes from whom the French derived their supply of furs, and with whom throughout the St Lawrence basin they most constantly came in contact.
It was the year which followed the founding of Quebec. Of the twenty-eight who entered upon the first winter eight only had survived, and half of these were ailing. On June 5 relief came in the person of Des Marais, who announced that his father-in-law, Pontgrave, was already at Tadoussac. Champlain at once set out to meet him, and it was arranged that Pontgrave should take charge of the settlement for the coming year, while Champlain fulfilled his promise to aid the Algonquins in their war with the Iroquois. The full plan required that Pontgrave should spend the winter in Canada, while Champlain, after his summer campaign, was to return to France with a report of his explorations.
The Indians had stated that the route to the land of the Iroquois was easy, and Champlain's original design was to proceed in a shallop capable of carrying twenty Frenchmen. Early in July he reached the mouth of the Richelieu, but on arriving at Chambly he found it quite impossible to pass the falls with his shallop. Either the expedition must be abandoned or the plan be radically changed, with the consequence of incurring much greater risks. To advance meant sending back the shallop with its crew and stores, embarking in a canoe, and trusting wholly to the good faith of the savages. The decision was not easy. 'I was much troubled,' says Champlain. 'And it gave me especial dissatisfaction to go back without seeing a very large lake, filled with handsome islands and with large tracts of fine land bordering on the lake, where their enemies lived, according to their representations. After duly thinking over the matter I determined to go and fulfil my promise and carry out my desire. Accordingly I embarked with the savages in their canoes, taking with me two men, who went cheerfully. After making known my plan to Des Marais and others in the shallop, I requested the former to return to our settlement with the rest of our company, giving them the assurance that in a short time, by God's grace, I would return to them.'
Having convinced himself, Champlain was next forced to convince the Indians, whose first impulse was to abandon the campaign when they found that they would be accompanied by only three of the Frenchmen. Champlain's firmness, however, communicated itself to them, and on July 12 they set out from Chambly Basin to commence the portage. At the top of the rapid a review of forces was held, and it proved that the Indians numbered sixty men, equipped with twenty-four canoes. Advancing through a beautifully wooded country, the little war-party encamped at a point not far below the outlet of Lake Champlain, taking the precaution to protect themselves by a rough fortification of tree trunks.
At this point Champlain introduces a graphic statement regarding the methods which the Indians employ to guard against surprise. On three sides they protect the camp by fallen trees, leaving the river-bank without a barricade in order that they may take quickly to their canoes. Then, as soon as the camp has been fortified, they send out nine picked men in three canoes to reconnoitre for a distance of two or three leagues. But before nightfall these scouts return, and then all lie down to sleep, without leaving any pickets or sentries on duty. When Champlain remonstrated with them for such gross carelessness, they replied that they worked hard enough during the daytime. The normal formation of an Indian war-party embraced three divisions—the scouts, the main body, and the hunters, the last always remaining in the rear and chasing their game in a direction from which they did not anticipate the appearance of the enemy. Having arrived at a distance of two or three days' march from their enemies, they united in a single party (save for the scouts) and advanced stealthily by night. At this juncture their food became baked Indian meal soaked in water. They hid by day and made no fire, save that required to smoke their tobacco.
Thus does Champlain describe the savage as he is about to fall upon his foe. He gives special prominence to the soothsayer, who on the eve of battle enters into elaborate intercourse with the devil. Inside a wooden hut the necromancer lies prostrate on the ground, motionless. Then he springs to his feet and begins to torment himself, counterfeiting strange tones to represent the speech of the devil, and carrying on violent antics which leave him in a stream of perspiration. Outside the hut the Indians sit round on their haunches like apes and fancy that they can see fire proceeding from the roof, although the devil appears to the soothsayer in the form of a stone. Finally, the chiefs, when they have by these means learned that they will meet their enemy and kill a sufficient number, arrange the order of battle. Sticks a foot long are taken, one for each warrior, and these are laid out on a level place five or six feet square. The leader then explains the order of battle, after which the warriors substitute themselves for the sticks and go through the manoeuvres till they can do them without confusion.
From this description of tactics we pass speedily to a story of real war. Reaching Lake Champlain, the party skirted the western shore, with fine views of the Green Mountains, on the summit of which Champlain mistook white limestone for snow. On July 29, at Crown Point, the Iroquois were encountered at about ten o'clock in the evening. Thus the first real battle of French and Indians took place near that remarkable spot where Lake Champlain and Lake George draw close together—the Ticonderoga of Howe, the Carillon of Montcalm.
The Algonquins were in good courage, for, besides the muskets of the three Frenchmen, they were inspired by a dream of Champlain that he had seen the Iroquois drowning in a lake. As soon as the enemies saw each other, both began to utter loud cries and make ready their weapons. The Algonquins kept out on the water; the Iroquois went ashore and built a barricade. When the Algonquins had made ready for battle
they dispatched two canoes to the enemy to inquire if
they wished to fight, to which the latter replied that
they wished nothing else; but they said that at present
there was not much light, and that it would be necessary
to wait for day so as to be able to recognize each
other; and that as soon as the sun rose they would
offer us battle. This was agreed to by our side.
Meanwhile the entire night was spent in dancing and
singing, on both sides, with endless insults and other
talk; as how little courage we had, how feeble a
resistance we should make against their arms, and that
when day came we should realize it to our ruin. Ours
also were not slow in retorting, telling them that
they would see such execution of arms as never before,
together with an abundance of such talk as is not
unusual in the siege of a town.
Care had been taken by the Algonquins that the presence of Champlain and his two companions should come to the Iroquois as a complete surprise. Each of the Frenchmen was in a separate canoe, convoyed by the Montagnais. At daylight each put on light armour and, armed with an arquebus, went ashore. Champlain was near enough the barricade to see nearly two hundred Iroquois, 'stout and rugged in appearance. They came at a slow pace towards us, with a dignity and assurance which greatly impressed me, having three chiefs at their head.' Champlain, when urged by his allies to make sure of killing the three chiefs, replied that he would do his best, and that in any case he would show them his courage and goodwill.
Then began the fight, which must be described in Champlain's own words, for in all his writings there is no more famous passage.
As soon as we had landed, they began to run for some
two hundred paces towards their enemies, who stood
firmly, not having as yet noticed my companions, who
went into the woods with some savages. Our men began
to call me with loud cries; and in order to give me
a passage way they opened in two parts and put me at
their head, where I marched some twenty paces in
advance of the rest, until I was within about twenty
paces of the enemy, who at once noticed me and, halting,
gazed at me, as I did also at them. When I saw them
make a move to fire at us, I rested my musket against
my cheek and aimed directly at one of the three chiefs.
With the same shot two fell to the ground; and one of
their men was so wounded that he died some time after.
I had loaded my musket with four balls. When our side
saw this shot so favourable for them, they began to
raise such loud cries that one could not have heard
it thunder. Meanwhile the arrows flew on both sides.
The Iroquois were greatly astonished that two men had
been so quickly killed, although they were equipped
with armour woven from cotton thread and with wood
which was proof against their arrows. This caused
great alarm among them. As I was loading again, one
of my companions fired a shot from the woods, which
astonished them anew to such a degree that, seeing
their chiefs dead, they lost courage and took to
flight, abandoning their camp and fort and fleeing
into the woods, whither I pursued them, killing still
more of them. Our savages also killed several of them
and took ten or twelve prisoners. The remainder escaped
with the wounded. Fifteen or sixteen were wounded on
our side with arrow shots, but they were soon healed.
The spoils of victory included a large quantity of Indian corn, together with a certain amount of meal, and also some of the native armour which the Iroquois had thrown away in order to effect their escape. Then followed a feast and the torture of one of the prisoners, whose sufferings were mercifully concluded by a ball from Champlain's musket, delivered in such wise that the unfortunate did not see the shot. Like Montcalm and other French commanders of a later date, Champlain found it impossible to curb wholly the passions of his savage allies. In this case his remonstrances had the effect of gaining for the victim a coup de grace—which may be taken as a measure of Champlain's prestige. The atrocious savagery practised before and after death is described in full detail. Champlain concludes the lurid picture as follows: 'This is the manner in which these people behave towards those whom they capture in war, for whom it would be better to die fighting or to kill themselves on the spur of the moment, as many do rather than fall into the hands of their enemies.'
Beyond the point at which this battle was fought Champlain did not go. At Ticonderoga he was within eighty miles of the site of Albany. Had he continued, he would have reached the Hudson from the north in the same summer the Half Moon [Footnote: Henry Hudson, an English mariner with a Dutch crew, entered the mouth of the Hudson in a boat called the Half Moon on September 4, 1609. As named by him, the river was called the 'Great North River of New Netherland.'] entered it from the mouth. But the Algonquins were content with their victory, though they candidly stated that there was an easy route from the south end of Lake George to 'a river flowing into the sea on the Norumbega coast near that of Florida.' The return to Quebec and Tadoussac was attended by no incident of moment. The Montagnais, on parting with Champlain at Tadoussac, generously gave him the head of an Iroquois and a pair of arms, with the request that they be carried to the king of France. The Algonquins had already taken their departure at Chambly, where, says Champlain, 'we separated with loud protestations of mutual friendship. They asked me whether I would not like to go into their country to assist them with continued fraternal relations; and I promised that I would do so.'
As a contribution to geographical knowledge the expedition of 1609 disclosed the existence of a noble lake, to which Champlain fitly gave his own name. Its dimensions he considerably over-estimated, but in all essential respects its situation was correctly described, while his comments on the flora and fauna are very interesting. The garpike as he saw it, with amplifications from the Indians as they had seen it, gave him the subject for a good fish story. He was deeply impressed, too, by the richness of the vegetation. His attack on the Iroquois was not soon forgotten by that relentless foe, and prepared a store of trouble for the colony he founded. But the future was closed to his view, and for the moment his was the glorious experience of being the first to gaze with European eyes upon a lake fairer and grander than his own France could show.
Four years elapsed before Champlain was enabled to plunge once more into the depths of the forest—this time only to meet with the severest disappointment of his life. Much has been said already regarding his ambition to discover a short route to Cathay. This was the great prize for which he would have sacrificed everything save loyalty to the king and duty to the church. For a moment he seemed on the point of gaining it. Then the truth was brutally disclosed, and he found that he had been wilfully deceived by an impostor.
It was a feature of Champlain's policy that from time to time French youths should spend the winter with the Indians—hunting with them, living in their settlements, exploring their country, and learning their language. Of Frenchmen thus trained to woodcraft during Champlain's lifetime the most notable were Etienne Brule, Nicolas Vignau, Nicolas Marsolet, and Jean Nicolet. Unfortunately the three first did not leave an unclouded record. Brule, after becoming a most accomplished guide, turned traitor and aided the English in 1629. Champlain accuses Marsolet of a like disloyalty. [Footnote: Marsolet's defence was that he acted under constraint.] Vignau, with more imagination, stands on the roll of fame as a frank impostor.
Champlain, as we have seen, spent the whole of 1612 in France, and it was at this time that Vignau appeared in Paris with a tale which could not but kindle excitement in the heart of an explorer. The basis of fact was that Vignau had undoubtedly passed the preceding winter with the Algonquins on the Ottawa. The fable which was built upon this fact can best be told in Champlain's own words.
He reported to me, on his return to Paris in 1612,
that he had seen the North Sea; that the river of the
Algonquins [the Ottawa] came from a lake which emptied
into it; and that in seventeen days one could go from
the Falls of St Louis to this sea and back again; that
he had seen the wreck and debris of an English ship
that had been wrecked, on board of which were eighty
men who had escaped to the shore, and whom the savages
killed because the English endeavoured to take from
them by force their Indian corn and other necessaries
of life; and that he had seen the scalps which these
savages had flayed off, according to their custom,
which they would show me, and that they would likewise
give me an English boy whom they had kept for me. This
intelligence greatly pleased me, for I thought that
I had almost found that for which I had for a long
time been searching.
Champlain makes it clear that he did not credit Vignau's tale with the simple credulity of a man who has never been to sea. He caused Vignau to swear to its truth at La Rochelle before two notaries. He stipulated that Vignau should go with him over the whole route. Finally, as they were on the point of sailing together for Canada in the spring of 1613, he once more adjured Vignau in the presence of distinguished witnesses, saying 'that if what he had previously said was not true, he must not give me the trouble to undertake the journey, which involved many dangers. Again he affirmed all that he had said, on peril of his life.'
After taking these multiplied precautions against deceit, Champlain left the Sault St Louis on May 29, 1613, attended by four Frenchmen and one Indian, with Vignau for guide. Ascending the Ottawa, they encountered their first difficulties at the Long Sault, where Dollard forty-seven years later was to lose his life so gloriously. Here the passage of the rapids was both fatiguing and dangerous. Prevented by the density of the wood from making a portage, they were forced to drag their canoes through the water. In one of the eddies Champlain nearly lost his life, and his hand was severely hurt by a sudden jerk of the rope. Having mounted the rapids, he met with no very trying obstacle until he had gone some distance past the Chaudiere Falls. His reference to the course of the Gatineau makes no sense, and Laverdiere has had recourse to the not improbable conjecture that the printer dropped out a whole line at this point. Champlain also over-estimates considerably the height of the Rideau Falls and is not very exact in his calculation of latitude.
The hardships of this journey were greatly and unnecessarily increased by Vignau, whose only hope was to discourage his leader. In. the end it proved that 'our liar' (as Champlain repeatedly calls him) had hoped to secure a reward for his alleged discovery, believing that no one would follow him long, even if an attempt were made to confirm the accuracy of his report. But Champlain, undeterred by portages and mosquitoes, kept on. Some savages who joined him said that Vignau was a liar, and on their advice Champlain left the Ottawa a short distance above the mouth of the Madawaska. Holding westward at some distance from the south shore, he advanced past Muskrat Lake, and after a hard march came out again on the Ottawa at Lake Allumette.
This was the end of Champlain's route in 1613. From the Algonquins on Allumette Island he learned that Vignau had wintered with them at the time he swore he was discovering salt seas. Finally, the impostor confessed his fraud and, falling on his knees, asked for mercy. The Indians would gladly have killed him outright, but Champlain spared his life, though how deeply he was moved can be seen from these words: 'Overcome with wrath I had him removed, being unable to endure him any longer in my presence.' After his confession there was nothing for it but to return by the same route. An astrolabe found some years ago near Muskrat Lake may have been dropped from Champlain's luggage on the journey westward, though he does not mention the loss.
Apart from disclosing the course of the Ottawa, the Voyage of 1613 is chiefly notable for its account of Indian customs—for example, the mode of sepulture, the tabagie or feast, and the superstition which leads the Algonquins to throw pieces of tobacco into the cauldron of the Chaudiere Falls as a means of ensuring protection against their enemies. Of the feast given him by Tessouat, an Algonquin chief, Champlain says:
The next day all the guests came, each with his
porringer and wooden spoon. They seated themselves
without order or ceremony on the ground in the cabin
of Tessouat, who distributed to them a kind of broth
made of maize crushed between two stones, together
with meat and fish which was cut into little pieces,
the whole being boiled together without salt. They
also had meat roasted on the coals and fish boiled
apart, which he also distributed. In respect to myself,
as I did not wish any of their chowder, which they
prepare in a very dirty manner, I asked them for some
fish and meat, that I might prepare it my own way,
which they gave me. For drink we had fine, clear water.
Tessouat, who gave the tabagie, entertained us without
eating himself, according to their custom.
The tabagie being over, the young men, who are not
present at the harangues and councils, and who during
the tabagie remain at the door of the cabins, withdrew,
when all who remained began to fill their pipes, one
and another offering me one. We then spent a full
half-hour in this occupation, not a word being spoken,
as is their custom.
But for the dexterous arrangement by which Champlain managed to cook his own food, the tabagie would have been more dangerous to health than the portage. In any case, it was an ordeal that could not be avoided, for feasting meant friendly intercourse, and only through friendly intercourse could Champlain gain knowledge of that vast wilderness which he must pierce before reaching his long-sought goal, the sea beyond which lay China.
As for Vignau, his punishment was to make full confession before all the French who had assembled at the Sault St Louis to traffic with the Indians. When Champlain reached this rendezvous on June 17, he informed the traders of all that had happened, including
the malice of my liar, at which they were greatly
amazed. I then begged them to assemble in order that
in their presence, and that of the savages and his
companions, he might make declaration of his
maliciousness; which they gladly did. Being thus
assembled, they summoned him and asked him why he had
not shown me the sea of the north, as he had promised
me at his departure. He replied that he had promised
something impossible for him, since he had never seen
the sea, and that the desire of making the journey
had led him to say what he did, also that he did not
suppose that I would undertake it; and he begged them
to be pleased to pardon him, as he also begged me
again, confessing that he had greatly offended, and
if I would leave him in the country he would by his
efforts repair the offence and see this sea, and bring
back trustworthy intelligence concerning it the
following year; and in view of certain considerations
I pardoned him on this condition.
Vignau's public confession was followed by the annual barter with the Indians, after which Champlain returned to France.
We come now to the Voyage of 1615, which describes Champlain's longest and most daring journey through the forest—an expedition that occupied the whole period from July 9, 1615, to the last days of June 1616. Thus for the first time he passed a winter with the Indians, enlarging greatly thereby his knowledge of their customs and character. The central incident of the expedition was an attack made by the Hurons and their allies upon the stronghold of the Onondagas in the heart of the Iroquois country. But while this war-party furnishes the chief adventure, there is no page of Champlain's narrative which lacks its tale of the marvellous. As a story of life in the woods, the Voyage of 1615 stands first among all Champlain's writings.
As in 1609, there was a mutuality of interest between Champlain and the Indians who traded at the Sault. His desire was to explore and theirs was to fight. By compromise they disclosed to him the recesses of their country and he aided them against the Iroquois. In 1615 the Hurons not only reminded him of his repeated promises to aid them, but stated flatly that without such aid they could no longer attend the annual market, as their enemies were making the route too unsafe. On their side they promised a war-party of more than two thousand men. A further proof of friendship was afforded by their willingness to receive a missionary in their midst—the Recollet, Father Joseph Le Caron.
Champlain's line of exploration in 1615-16 took the following course. He first ascended the Ottawa to the mouth of the Mattawa. Thence journeying overland by ponds and portages he entered Lake Nipissing, which he skirted to the outlet. French River next took him to Georgian Bay, or, as he calls it for geographical definition, the Lake of the Attigouautan [Hurons]. His own name for this vast inland sea is the Mer Douce. That he did not explore it with any degree of thoroughness is evident from the terms of his narrative as well as from his statement that its length, east and west, is four hundred leagues. What he saw of Lake Huron was really the east shore of Georgian Bay, from the mouth of French River to the bottom of Matchedash Bay. Here he entered the country of the Hurons, which pleased him greatly in comparison with the tract before traversed. 'It was very fine, the largest part being cleared, and many hills and several rivers rendering the region agreeable. I went to see their Indian corn, which was at that time [early in August] far advanced for the season.'
Champlain's route through the district between Carmaron and Cahaigue can best be followed in Father Jones's map of Huronia. [Footnote: This map will be found in 'The Jesuit Missions 'in this Series, and also in vol. xxxiv of 'The Jesuit Relations,' ed. Thwaites.] The points which Champlain names are there indicated, in each case with as careful identification of the locality as we are ever likely to get. For those who are not specialists in the topography of Huronia it may suffice that Champlain left Matchedash Bay not far from Penetanguishene, and thence went to Carmaron at the very north of the peninsula. Returning, he passed through some of the largest of the Huron villages, and after sixteen days came out at Cahaigue, which was situated close to Lake Simcoe and almost on the site of the modern Hawkestone. It was here that most of the Huron warriors assembled for the great expedition against the Onondagas. Setting out on their march, they first went a little to the northward, where they were joined on the shores of Lake Couchiching by another contingent. The party thus finally made up, Champlain's line of advance first took him to Sturgeon Lake. Afterwards it pursued that important waterway which is represented by the Otonabee river, Rice Lake, and the river Trent. Hence the warriors entered Lake Ontario by the Bay of Quinte.
This country between Lake Simcoe and the Bay of Quinte seems to have pleased Champlain greatly. He saw it in September, when the temperature was agreeable and when the vegetation of the forest could be enjoyed without the torment inflicted by mosquitoes. 'It is certain,' he says, 'that all this region is very fine and pleasant. Along the banks it seems as if the trees had been set out for ornament in most places, and that all these tracts were in former times inhabited by savages who were subsequently compelled to abandon them from fear of their enemies. Vines and nut trees are here very numerous. Grapes mature, yet there is always a very pungent tartness, which is felt remaining in the throat when one eats them in large quantities, arising from defect of cultivation. These localities are very pleasant when cleared up.'
From the Bay of Quinte the war-party skirted the east shore of Lake Ontario, crossing the head of the St Lawrence, and thence following the southern shore about fourteen leagues. At this point the Indians concealed all their canoes and struck into the woods towards Lake Oneida. Though made up chiefly of Hurons, the little army embraced various allies, including a band of Algonquins. Whether from over-confidence at having Champlain among them or from their natural lack of discipline, the allies managed their attack very badly. On a pond a few miles south of Oneida Lake lay the objective point of the expedition—a palisaded stronghold of the Onondagas. At a short distance from this fort eleven of the enemy were surprised and taken prisoners. What followed was much less fortunate. Champlain does not state the number of Frenchmen present, but as his drawing shows eleven musketeers, we may infer that his own followers were distinctly more numerous than at the battle on Lake Champlain.
The height of the palisade was thirty feet, and a system of gutters supplied abundant water for use in extinguishing fire. Champlain's plan of attack was to employ a cavalier, or protected scaffolding, which should overtop the palisade and could be brought close against it. From the top of this framework four or five musketeers were to deliver a fusillade against the Iroquois within the fort, while the Hurons kindled a fire at the foot of the palisade. Champlain's drawing shows the rest of the musketeers engaged in creating a diversion at other points.
But everything miscarried. Though the cavalier was constructed, the allies threw aside the wooden shields which Champlain had caused to be made as a defence against the arrows of the Iroquois while the fire was being kindled. Only a small supply of wood had been collected, and even this was so placed that the flames blew away from the palisade instead of towards it. On the failure of this attempt to fire the fort all semblance of discipline was thrown to the winds. 'There also rose such disorder among them,' says Champlain, 'that one could not understand another, which greatly troubled me. In vain did I shout in their ears and remonstrate to my utmost with them as to the danger to which they exposed themselves by their bad behaviour, but on account of the great noise they made they heard nothing. Seeing that shouting would only burst my head and that my remonstrances were useless for putting a stop to the disorder, I did nothing more, but determined, together with my men, to do what we could and fire upon such as we could see.'
The fight itself lasted only three hours, and the casualties of the attacking party were inconsiderable, since but two of their chiefs and fifteen warriors were wounded. In addition to their repulse, the Hurons suffered a severe disappointment through the failure to join them of five hundred allies who had given their solemn promise. Although Champlain had received two severe wounds, one in the leg and another in the knee, he urged a second and more concerted attack. But in vain. The most the Hurons would promise was to wait four or five days for the expected reinforcements. At the end of this time there was no sign of the five hundred, and the return began. 'The only good point,' says Champlain, 'that I have seen in their mode of warfare is that they make their retreat very securely, placing all the wounded and aged in their centre, being well armed on the wings and in the rear, and continuing this order without interruption until they reach a place of security.'
Champlain himself suffered tortures during the retreat, partly from his wounds, but even more from the mode of transportation. The Indian method of removing the wounded was first to bind and pinion them 'in such a manner that it is as impossible for them to move as for an infant in its swaddling-clothes.' They were then carried in a kind of basket, 'crowded up in a heap.' Doubtless as a mark of distinction, Champlain was carried separately on the back of a savage. His wound was so severe that when the retreat began he could not stand. But the transportation proved worse than the wound. 'I never found myself in such a gehenna as during this time, for the pain which I suffered in consequence of the wound in my knee was nothing in comparison with that which I endured while I was carried bound and pinioned on the back of one of our savages. So that I lost my patience, and as soon as I could sustain myself got out of this prison, or rather gehenna.'
The enemy made no pursuit, but forced marches were kept up for twenty-five or thirty leagues. The weather now grew cold, as it was past the middle of autumn. The fight at the fort of the Onondagas had taken place on October 10, and eight days later there was a snowstorm, with hail and a strong wind. But, apart from extreme discomfort, the retreat was successfully accomplished, and on the shore of Lake Ontario they found the canoes intact.
It had been Champlain's purpose to spend the winter at Quebec, and when the Hurons were about to leave the east end of Lake Ontario for their own country he asked them for a canoe and an escort. Four Indians volunteered for this service, but no canoe could be had, and in consequence Champlain was forced reluctantly to accompany the Hurons. With his usual patience he accepted the inevitable, which in this case was only unpleasant because he was ill prepared for spending a winter among the Indians. After a few days he perceived that their plan was to keep him and his companions, partly as security for themselves and partly that he might assist at their councils in planning better safeguards against their enemies.
This enforced residence of Champlain among the Hurons during the winter of 1615-16 has given us an excellent description of Indian customs. It was also the means of composing a dangerous quarrel between the Hurons and the Algonquins. Once committed to spending the winter among the Indians, Champlain planned to make Huronia a point of departure for still further explorations to the westward. Early in 1616 there seemed to be a favourable opportunity to push forward in the direction of Lake Superior. Then came this wretched brawl of Hurons and Algonquins, which threatened to beget bitter hatred and war among tribes which hitherto had both been friendly to the French. Accepting his duty, Champlain gave up his journey to the far west and threw himself into the task of restoring peace. But the measure of his disappointment is found in these words:
If ever there was one greatly disheartened, it was
myself, since I had been waiting to see this year what
during many preceding ones I had been seeking for with
great toil and effort, through so many fatigues and
risks of my life. But realizing that I could not help
the matter, and that everything depended on the will
of God, I comforted myself, resolving to see it in a
short time. I had such sure information that I could
not doubt the report of these people, who go to traffic
with others dwelling in those northern regions, a
great part of whom live in a place very abundant in
the chase and where there are great numbers of large
animals, the skins of several of which I saw, and
which I concluded were buffaloes from their
representation of their form. Fishing is also very
abundant there. This journey requires forty days as
well in returning as in going.
Thus Champlain almost had a chance to see the bison and the great plains of the West. As it was, he did his immediate duty and restored the peace of Huron and Algonquin. In partial compensation for the alluring journey he relinquished, he had a better opportunity to study the Hurons in their settlements and to investigate their relations with their neighbours—the Tobacco Nation, the Neutral Nation, les Cheveux Releves, and the Race of Fire. Hence the Voyage of 1615 not only describes the physical aspects of Huronia, but contains intimate details regarding the life of its people—their wigwams, their food, their manner of cooking, their dress, their decorations, their marriage customs, their medicine-men, their burials, their assemblies, their agriculture, their amusements, and their mode of fishing. It is Champlain's most ambitious piece of description, far less detailed than the subsequent narratives of the Jesuits, but in comparison with them gaining impact from being less diffuse.
It was on May 20, 1616, that Champlain left the Huron country, never again to journey thither or to explore the recesses of the forest. Forty days later he reached the Sault St Louis, and saw once more his old friend Pontgrave. Thenceforward his life belongs not to the wilderness, but to Quebec.