Chapter 23. Genuine Vipers. Annahotoha and Mituvemeg en route to help the French
As Dollard and his men stroked to shore at the foot of the Chute a Blondeau rapids, Annahotaha, and Mituvemeg were setting out in their canoes.
The sun was warm on Annahotaha's neck as the Indian allies swiftly paddled their canoes up the Ottawa River. It was an hour after dawn and after the chilly night, the young April sun was welcome. In an hour, the Indians would remove their outer furs and paddle in their deer, elk or beaver-skin clothes.
After paddling four hours, Annahotaha arched his back to awaken some muscles. He did it between strokes so that the rhythm of the canoe was not broken. Finally, he called a break, and the canoes pulled in at a suitable place. He and Mituvemeg found themselves sitting on the same curved rock smoking pipes. Traveling to fight Iroquois was a major part of their lives but they were curious about each others' experiences.
"In the old days we fought the Iroquois with equal strength," said Annahotaha. "Now the Vipers are much stronger. There once were more than thirty thousand Huron. Thirty summers later there were only twelve thousand. After the disaster of Sainte Marie...the people who that did not die or were not captured by the Vipers scattered....no one knows how many are left or where they live."
"The Vipers did much damage but so did the Black Robes," said Mituvemeg.
"When I was twenty summers I listened to an old woman who spoke before the whole assembly," said Annahotaha. "She said:
"It is the Black Robes who have caused our deaths. Listen to me and I will prove it. They came to a village where everyone was well; as soon as they were established everyone but two or three died. They moved and the same thing happened. They visited the cabins of other cities and only those into which they did not enter have been exempted from illness and death.
"Do you not see that when they say what they call their 'prayers,' when they move their lips over us, spells come from their mouths? If we do not put them to death promptly, they will ruin the whole country."
Annahotaha recalled the woman's words verbatim. The Huron, like all the Indians, had astounding memories; they could not write, so the history of the tribes was entrusted to the people with almost total recall.
The French did not know, at first, that while they were immune or highly resistant to influenza and other diseases, the Huron had no resistance to these strange ailments and easily succumbed to them. So while the Jesuits were doing their spiritual care-taking, they were unwittingly assisting the Iroquois in depleting the Huron population.
"I do not understand that," said Annahotaha. "The Black Robes would not do that to us on purpose. I think it was a trick of fate. Our medicine was not strong enough. At that time the people wanted to kill the Black Robes but the council said that if we killed them the trade with the French would cease and we needed the trade to live. I did not want to kill the Black Robes. But my family did not get sick and die."
"The Christian Algonquins did not want the Black Robes to die either," said Mituvemeg. "The true believers I mean. Not the ones who said they believed to get guns. I am Christian now. I believe in the Jesus God."
"I never became a Christian," said Annahotaha. "It is good for them. Perhaps it is good for you. But not for me. I do not believe the Black Robes are evil, but I do not understand all the pestilence. I know the Vipers are evil. And I know the French regard them so too. And now, after Sainte Marie, I live among the French much of the time. When I am not killing Iroquois. I do not understand all these things."
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