Chapter 8: Attack on Nun's Island

Start from the beginning

The St. Lawrence River takes its water from the Great Lakes and flushes it into the Atlantic. The Ottawa River, a turbulent tributary, begins up in the northlands, fights its way down to Montreal, sometimes peaceful and calm, at others raging with rapids and cataracts. It converges with the St. Lawrence at Montreal.

When the Ottawa River finally gives up its identity, it throws itself outward like the prongs of a twisted fork, trying to run in many directions, as if trying to scatter its flood and die, rather than surrender itself to the St. Lawrence. It capitulates by thrashing out a group of islands. Montreal sits at the base of a small mountain on the largest of these islands, about thirty miles long.

The flotilla had hardly completed that first bend in the river when the Frenchmen heard sounds of screaming from Nun's Island to their left.

A party of Iroquois was attacking some men. Dollard ordered the canoes to the island and swiftly they began cutting through the water. There were five Iroquois, one on the ground. A Frenchman was grappling with two Braves on the shore. An upturned canoe floated some feet offshore, and two men were struggling in the water. The Robin-Pilote-Brassier canoe headed for the men in the water. As they started for the spot, one man disappeared under the water. The other was desperately trying to reach the upturned canoe, but it was drifting away quickly.

Several middle-men in the canoes began firing, and although their aim was inaccurate because of the movement of the canoes, the shots frightened two Iroquois away.

Dollard tried one shot, missed, then shouted an order to Tiblement in front of him.

"Rejean, bend down over the bow."

Tiblement thrust himself forward, bracing his head in the prow of the canoe and holding his arms on the gunwales. Delestre braked the canoe with the flat of his paddle.

"Stay steady, Rejean," said Dollard, and Tiblement, doubled over, his elbow at a right angle to the gunwale, provided a rest for Dollard's musket. He put it on Tiblement's shoulder, steadied the gun and fired. An Iroquois with the Frenchman fell but as he did the other brave clubbed the settler on the head, and the Frenchman slumped to the ground.

The wounded Iroquois struggled to his feet and, with the help of his companion, they ran for the forest after the others.

"The other one's going under," shouted Robin, "Faster!"

Robin's canoe was cutting swiftly through the water but when it was still sixty yards away, the second man slipped under the water of the St. Lawrence River.

"God, he's going under! ...Faster, faster!"

They were too late. The water was black as a starless night. The men could see nothing in the depths.

Two canoes took off around the bend after the escaping Iroquois. Cognac and Forges had by now reached the shore. They beached the canoe, and while Forges ran to the fallen settler, Cognac kneeled and fired at the escaping Iroquois pair. One, wounded, flung his hands up, shot in the back. The other Indian ran on without a backward glance. Forges approached the enemy Dollard had shot but while he was alive, he looked bad. Forges finished him with a musket stock to the side of the head.

The Robin-Pilote-Boisseau canoe meanwhile pulled alongside the overturned canoe down-river, righted it, and towed it to shore.

The Frenchman on the shore-- Nicholas Duval--was dead. His two companions later discovered to be Blaise Juillet and Mathurin Soulard, had drowned in the icy waters attempting to flee from the Iroquois war party.

Doussin's and Hebert's canoes veered left around the first point and saw two Iroquois running along the shore. They were in moccasins so, although they could cover ground well, there was no place to go. They could turn into the island, but the snow was still deep there, and they would get bogged down fast. Hebert wondered what the Iroquois thought they were doing.

"Do they think they can outrun our canoes?" he asked Martin. Within minutes, they were within firing range of the Iroquois, who had only one musket to the Frenchmen's firepower. Hebert braked; the canoe slowed. He turned it slightly, and Martin had a good shot.

The winter practice paid off. He fired and wounded one brave, and the other turned around, threw down his weapon and surrendered. Suddenly from around a bend, the lone escapee from the beach came upon them. He stopped, stumbled, and Hebert trained his musket on him. He raised his hands in surrender. They bound the two captured Indians' hands behind them, and Martin marched them back to the place of the attack while Hebert paddled close by in the canoe.

They took the body of Duval and their captives and returned to Montreal. There the Iroquois were beaten and questioned. They said they were a small advance party clearing the way for the main war party to come. Their duty was to harass and kill as many small groups of French as they could, to terrorize before the onslaught.

Montrealers had heard this story before many times and were inclined to disbelieve it. Still, because of the deaths at Nun's Island and similar recent incidents, the captives, instead of being killed, were locked away, kept in case they were required for an exchange of prisoners at some future time. Maisonneuve ordered this and wondered to himself if that future time was coming shortly.