Chapter 35: Huron Defection
Thursday, May 10th.
The Iroquois began firing heavily at dawn. Arrows were useless against the heavy redoubt of their Iroquois foe, and a heavy barrage of gunfire was taking its toll in weariness.
The barrage lasted only two hours, but the battle noise penetrated heads and the French, weary from hunger, thirst, and lack of sleep, returned fire only when necessary and exhorted their Indian allies to do likewise. That was futile; the Hurons had been prevented from retaliating shot for shot while the Iroquois fire was intermittent. Now, they said, it was a battle, and if you don't shoot in a battle, when do you shoot?
It didn't matter that the palisade was out of range, or that the aim of some guns was unreliable or that some Hurons were inexpert marksmen. It didn't even matter that the Hurons couldn't see those Iroquois hidden in the forest and that if they hit someone it was pure accident.
Both the Huron and the Iroquois had an unreasonable reliance on their 'thunder sticks.' It was as though they thought all they had to do was shoot the muskets in the general direction of the enemy and if the noise didn't scare the man to death the musket ball surely would find its way to the target. The fact was, that with all the firing on both sides, with all the expenditure of energy and ammunition, no one was being hit. The fighting raged on, senseless, thunder in the forest without rain.
In mid-morning Annahotaha walked down the slope inside the barricade and, squatting down on his haunches, he approached Dollard, who was trying to sleep against the wall amidst the noise of the battle.
"Dollard," said the Huron chief.
Dollard woke, reaching for his musket, but Annahotaha gripped his arm.
"Oh! ...God, you scared me chief. Is there something wrong?"
They looked at each other for a split second, and both men burst out laughing. Dollard rolled over.
"'Is something wrong?"' he mockingly repeated. "Oh, hell no, we're pinned down in this miserable hole with no water and we haven't slept in a week and there are about a thousand people out there who'd like to eat us, is all."
Despite himself, Annahotaha was laughing too.
"Dollard, we have to try to talk with them. There are too many of them now. We can not defeat them. We should try to arrange some settlement."
"How? Why would they want to talk?" asked Dollard.
"The Iroquois might welcome a truce. They have many dead, and they will have to bury them or their souls will always wander in these woods."
"But it's an army, Annahotaha. What difference can we make to them? If they are going to attack the French settlements they can't just let us return to warn Montreal."
"They might be persuaded to give up their idea of a massacre for a time. They could let us go, return to their houses and seek a more suitable time to attack. It is not a good omen for them to meet such resistance when they have not planned for it. They could return home. It would not be dishonorable for them."
"Well, something has got to change," said Dollard.
"We should send an emissary with gifts to the Iroquois," said the chief. "We will instruct them as to what to say and perhaps the Iroquois will accept this."
"Who shall we send?"
"I will select the people," said Annahotaha. He called over an Oneida brave who had been captured as a child by the Hurons and raised by them. The Oneida brave, with new parents and a new life, did not think it strange now to be fighting against his former nation. It was the custom. Annahotaha also chose two of the best Huron braves from his detachment. He spoke to all three men.
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