Chapter 35: Huron Defection

Start from the beginning

"We wish to have a conference with the Iroquois. You will go to them in peace as our emissaries to give them gifts and to talk with them. Tell the Iroquois chiefs that this quarrel makes no sense. The Iroquois have lost many men, and it would be senseless to lose more; that we have much ammunition and food and great hearts, and we will not surrender. Ask them to accept our gifts in the hope that this hostility might cease without the loss of more life."

Annahotaha was careful in his instructions to his men. He told them to say nothing provocative, to say nothing that would give new information to the Iroquois, but only to state what the Iroquois already knew. He hoped that this discussion could provide the means by which the Iroquois could get off the hook of required revenge temporarily. They could accept the gifts as a suit for peace, rationalize that as a victory, take home their dead, and abandon their plan for immediate conquest. Although the Iroquois desire to bury their dead was strong, he knew the chances were against the Iroquois accepting such a suit but it was not impossible, not unthinkable.

He had heard about an incident the year before. Some Oneidas had set out on a war party but en route a man was killed by an arrow meant for a partridge. The chief decided it was not good to proceed. Annahotaha hoped one of the Iroquois chiefs had a dream indicating this French resistance was also a bad omen, a warning not to continue.

The French were doubtful, but they gathered up awls, needles, blankets, rings, tobacco and two muskets and gave them to the emissaries to present to the Iroquois as gifts. Gifts were necessary to prove the sincerity of one's intentions. The three allies waited at the base of the barricade while Louis Taondechoren waved a white cloth in the air. Gradually the shooting ceased and when it finally stopped Louis Taondechoren spoke in the Iroquois language.

"Cease your hostilities, Mohawks, and Onondagas. We would talk with you about a truce."

There was a brief silence.

"Come," shouted an Iroquois voice. "'We will not harm you. 'We will listen to your talk."

Two emissaries scrambled up the inside of the barricade and leaped to the ground while the third, carrying the gifts, squeezed through lashed poles in the wall. They began the walk through the dead to the Iroquois camp. The French began to pray for the success of the talks. The situation looked desperate now, and this seemed the only hope. Jacques Brassier and some others fell to their knees; others prayed at the loopholes. Some of the Hurons threw tobacco on the fires in the barricade, hoping their prayers would rise with the tobacco scent to God.

The three emissaries reached the Iroquois fort, and they disappeared inside the slanted gate. Some Hurons who had been adopted by the Iroquois began taunting their ex-brothers, those Huron behind the barricade.

"The end is near for you Huron. You are tired; we are fresh. You are few; we are many. Give up your arms and come to the safety of our fort. We will treat you well here. We will You adopt you and you can live and take your life from us."

Annenraes and Agariata turned away from the emissaries for a moment. A Mohawk brave, sensing their concern, approached.

"Shall I stop them from calling to the Huron?" he asked.

Annenraes thought a moment.

"No. Leave them alone. It may be they will be successful. If not, we have wasted nothing."

The shouting went on to Annahotaha's Huron braves.

"If you do not listen you will surely die. Our chiefs are angry and have already decided to kill you. If you live, you will be tortured and burned, and your flesh will be consumed."

Another man called:

"Give up this wrong defense! It would be a great shame for you to die when you can save yourselves by joining us."

And another, a former Huron said:

"This combat is unequal. We must surely defeat you. You cannot withstand us. Come, defect to us and the Iroquois will adopt you just as they did us years ago."

And another:

"Consider the welcome we will prepare for you: you will have food and water and presents and care in our homes when we return there. You will be welcome as brothers. You will replace in our longhouses, the unfortunate Iroquois braves who have succumbed here. You will become the children and nephews of parents who lost children here. Come to us instead of dying foolishly with the French."

It was too much for many of the Hurons. Distressed at losses in battle for two decades; drained after the battle of a week; discouraged at the arrival of the Mohawks; and lured by the promises of the Iroquois which they knew to be true, their courage wilted. Something else was in play too. It was sometimes the case, with opportunistic Frenchmen, that they, in times of expediency, turned over Hurons to the enemy to an uncertain fate. This troubled some Huron braves.

Just as the Indian nations were accused of capriciousness in their activities, either because it suited them, or because one chief violated what another chief had promised, perhaps knowingly, perhaps not, so, too, the French behaved, each operating according to his own knowledge, experience, and character. Some characters were better than others. So it was that the Hurons' thoughts centered on themselves, and they took the opportunity to save themselves before they could be betrayed by the French.

They seized on the chance to defect and began climbing the barricade. Dropping their weapons which could only slow them down and perhaps allow them to be caught by those who remained, they jumped on the walls, scaled them easily and began dropping to the ground and racing for the Iroquois palisade.

"Stop them!" cried Dollard.

"Come back!" yelled Robert Jurie.

It was hopeless. The frightened Hurons, sensing freedom and life, moved quickly over the wall.