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1636.] THE IROQUOIS PRISONER.
167 Such was the origin of one of those strange sepulchres which are the wonder and perplexity of the
York, especially near the river Niagara. (See Squier, Aboriginal Monuments of New York.) This was the eastern extremity of the ancient territory of the Neuters. One of these deposits is said to have contained the bones of several thousand individuals. There is a large mound on Tonawanda Island, said by the modern Senecas to be a Neuter burial-place. (See Marshall, Historical Sketches of the Niagara Frontier, 8.) In Canada West, they are found throughout the region once occupied by the Neuters, and are frequent in the Huron district.
Dr. Taché writes to me,-“I have inspected sixteen bone-pits” (in the Huron country), “the situation of which is indicated on the little pencil map I send you. They contain from six hundred to twelve hundred skeletons each, of both sexes and all ages, all mixed together purposely. With one exception, these pits also contain pipes of stone or clay, small earthen pots, shells, and wampum wrought of these shells, copper ornaments, beads of glass, and other trinkets. Some pits contained articles of copper of aboriginal Mexican fabric.”
This remarkable fact, together with the frequent occurrence in these graves of large conch-shells, of which wampum was made, and which could have been procured only from the Gulf of Mexico, or some part of the southern coast of the United States, proves the extent of the relations of traffic by which certain articles were passed from tribe to tribe over a vast region. The transmission of pipes from the famous Red Pipe-Stone Quarry of the St. Peter's to tribes more than a thousand miles distant is an analogous modern instance, though much less remarkable.
The Taché Museum, at the Laval University of Quebec, contains a large collection of remains from these graves. In one instance, the human bones are of a size that may be called gigantic.
In nearly every case, the Huron graves contain articles of use or ornaments of European workmanship. From this it may be inferred that the nation itself, or its practice of inhumation, does not date back to a period long before the arrival of the French.
The Northern Algonquins had also a solemn Feast of the Dead; but it was widely different from that of the Hurons. See the very curious account of it by Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1642, 94,
modern settler in the abandoned forests of the Hurons.
The priests were soon to witness another and a more terrible rite, yet one in which they found a consolation, since it signalized the saving of a soul, — the snatching from perdition of one of that dreaded race, into whose very midst they hoped, with devoted daring, to bear hereafter the cross of salvation. A band of Huron warriors had surprised a small party of Iroquois, killed several, and captured the rest. One of the prisoners was led in triumph to a village where the priests then were. He had suffered greatly; his hands, especially, were frightfully lacerated. Now, however, he was received with every mark of kindness. “Take courage,” said a chief, addressing him; "you are among friends.” The best food was prepared for him, and his captors vied with each other in offices of good-will. He had been given, according to Indian custom, to a warrior who had lost a near relative in battle, and the captive was supposed to be adopted in place of the slain. His actual doom was, however, not for a moment in doubt. The Huron received him affectionately, and, having seated him in his lodge, addressed him in a tone of extreme kindness. “My nephew, when I heard that you were coming, I was very glad, thinking that you would remain with me to take the place
1 This pretended kindness in the treatment of a prisoner destined to the torture was not exceptional. The Hurons sometimes even supplied their intended victim with a temporary wife.
169 of him I have lost. But now that I see your condition, and your hands crushed and torn so that you will never use them, I change my mind. Therefore take courage, and prepare to die to-night like a brave man."
The prisoner coolly asked what should be the manner of his death.
“By fire,” was the reply.
Meanwhile, the sister of the slain Huron, in whose place the prisoner was to have been adopted, brought him a dish of food, and, her eyes flowing with tears, placed it before him with an air of the utmost tenderness; while, at the same time, the warrior brought him a pipe, wiped the sweat from his brow, and fanned him with a fan of feathers.
About noon, he gave his farewell feast, after the custom of those who knew themselves to be at the point of death. All were welcome to this strange banquet; and when the company were gathered, the host addressed them in a loud, firm voice: “My brothers, I am about to die. Do your worst to me. I do not fear torture or death.” Some of those present seemed to have visitings of real compassion; and a woman asked the priests if it would be wrong to kill him, and thus save him from the fire.
The Jesuits had from the first lost no opportunity of accosting him; while he, grateful for a genuine kindness amid the cruel hypocrisy that surrounded him, gave them an attentive ear, till at length, satisfied with his answers, they baptized him. His eternal bliss secure, all else was as nothing; and they awaited the issue with some degree of composure.
A crowd had gathered from all the surrounding towns, and after nightfall the presiding chief harangued them, exhorting them to act their parts well in the approaching sacrifice, since they would be looked upon by the Sun and the God of War. It is needless to dwell on the scene that ensued. It took place in the lodge of the great war-chief, Atsan. Eleven fires blazed on the ground, along the middle of this capacious dwelling. The platforms on each side were closely packed with spectators; and, betwixt these and the fires, the younger warriors stood in lines, each bearing lighted pine-knots or rolls of birch-bark. The heat, the smoke, the glare of flames, the wild yells, contorted visages, and furious gestures of these human devils, as their victim, goaded by their torches, bounded through the fires again and again, from end to end of the house, transfixed the priests with horror. But when, as day dawned, the last spark of life had fled, they consoled themselves with the faith that the tortured wretch had found his rest at last in Paradise.?
1 Areskoui (see Introduction). He was often regarded as identical with the Sun. The semi-sacrificial character of the torture in this case is also shown by the injunction, “ que pour ceste nuict on n'allast point folastrer dans les bois.” -- Le Mercier, Relation des Hurons, 1637, 114.
% Le Mercier's long and minute account of the torture of this
prisoner is too revolting to be dwelt upon. One of the most atrocious features of the scene was the alternation of raillery and ironical compliment which attended it throughout, as well as the pains taken to preserve life and consciousness in the vic. tim as long as possible. Portions of his flesh were afterwards devoured.