The vessel was run upon the shore at the highest tide. All efforts to float her again were unavailing. The calamity was irretrievable. The Aimable contained all the ammunition, the mechanic tools, and the farming and household utensils. But La Salle, ever rising superior to the blows of misfortune, still retained his firmness. Diligently he engaged in removing the stores from the wrecked ship. One of the shallops had been, as it was believed, treacherously destroyed.
With the one shallop which remained, he succeeded, that afternoon, in removing from the ship to an encampment on the shore, the ammunition, a considerable portion of the mechanic tools, the farming and domestic utensils, and a few barrels of provisions. During the night a storm arose. The vessel was dashed to pieces. In the morning the bay was covered with barrels, chests, bales, and other debris of the wreck. While affairs were in this deplorable state, the savages, about one hundred and twenty in number, made another visit to the camp. The shores were strewed with articles of inestimable value to these poor Indians. Sentinels were stationed to prevent any robbery; but the Indians manifested no disposition to perpetrate any acts of violence.
La Salle was in great want of more boats. The Indians had some, which were dug out from immense trunks of trees, of graceful form and rich carving, capable of carrying twenty or thirty men. As all the work on these boats had been performed with stone hatchets, almost an infinity of labor had been expended upon them, and they were deemed very valuable.
La Salle sent two trusty men to the village of the Indians, to purchase, if they could, two of the boats. When they entered the wigwams, they found that a bale of blankets, which had drifted along the bay, had been picked up by the Indians, and divided among them. They made no attempt at concealment. Not having any clear views of the rights of property, they had no thought that they had done anything wrong in taking goods which they had found drifting in the water. The officers returned to La Salle with this report.
Suffering from shipwreck and great destitution, it was necessary for him to economize, as much as possible, in his expenditures. He therefore decided to send some men to the Indians, to endeavor to obtain two boats in exchange for the blankets and a few other articles which they had picked up. M. Hamel, one of Beaujeu's officers, volunteered to go on this mission, with a boat's crew, in the shallop of the Joli. He was an impetuous young fellow, with more bravery than prudence. Assuming that the Indians had stolen the blankets, and that they were to be browbeaten and forced to make restitution by the surrender of two of their boats, he advanced, upon his landing, in such menacing military array as to frighten the Indians. Most of them fled into the woods.
He entered the deserted cabins, picked up all the blankets he could find, stole a number of very nicely tanned deer skins, and then, seizing two of the best boats, put men on board of each, and commenced his return to the ship. He was quite elated with his performance, thinking it a heroic achievement. As they were paddling slowly down the bay, the wind rose strongly against them. Night came on cold and dark. It became necessary to land and wait for the morning.
They built a large fire. Wrapped in blankets, they threw themselves upon the grass around, with their feet toward the glowing coals, and soon all fell asleep. Sentinels had been stationed at a short distance from the fire, but they slept also.
The Indians returned to their wigwams. They found their treasures gone and two of their best boats stolen. As night came, they saw in the distance the light of a camp fire, and understood full well what it signified. With silent tread, and breathing vengeance, they crept through the forest upon their sleeping foes. At a given signal, the forest resounded with the dreadful war-whoop, and a shower of arrows fell upon the sleepers. Two were killed outright; two were severely wounded. The rest sprung to their arms, while some fled in terror.
The Indians, aware of the terrible power of the white man's musket, did not wait for a battle. Having inflicted this deed of revenge, they suddenly disappeared. One of the men, M. Moranget, a nephew of La Salle, succeeded in reaching the encampment of his friends, though faint and bleeding. One arrow had inflicted a terrible wound, almost cutting its way through his shoulder. Another had cut a deep gash along his bosom.
La Salle immediately sent an armed party to the spot. He was exceedingly chagrined by the cruel blunder perpetrated by his envoy. Though he could not blame the Indians, he knew full well that, their vengeance being thus aroused, they would, if they could, doom all to indiscriminate slaughter. It was necessary for him therefore to take the most decisive action in self-defence. The dead were buried. One man, helplessly wounded, was brought back to the camp. The others returned unharmed. This disaster took place in the night of the 5th of March, 1685.
These calamities operated fearfully against La Salle. Beaujeu took advantage of them, and lost no opportunity of proclaiming them as evidence that La Salle was utterly incompetent to conduct such an enterprise as that in which he was engaged. Quite a number, who had formerly been friends of La Salle, ranged themselves on the side of Beaujeu, who now openly proclaimed his intention of abandoning the enterprise and returning to France. Still he continued to do everything in his power to embarrass the operations of La Salle. There were several pieces of cannon on board the Belle. But nearly all the cannon balls were in the hold of the Joli. Beaujeu, on the eve of his departure, refused to give them up, saying that it was inconvenient for him to get at them.
About the 14th of March, Captain Beaujeu spread the sails of the Joli, and disappeared over the horizon of the sea, on his voyage to France. He took with him sixty or seventy of the company, and many stores which were deemed essential in the establishment of a colony. La Salle was left with about two hundred men, encamped upon the banks of an unknown inlet, and with one single small vessel, the Belle, anchored in the bay. To add to the gloom of his situation, the Indians were justly exasperated against him.
The first thing to be done was to build a fort for defence. Thinking it not impossible that the broad creek he had entered might prove to be one of the mouths of the Mississippi, he decided to set out on an exploring tour up the river for some distance into the interior. Five boats, containing a well-armed party of about fifty persons, embarked upon this enterprise. La Salle himself took the command. About one hundred and forty persons were left behind in the fort, under the control of M. Joutel. Those who were left in garrison, were to employ their time in strengthening the fort, and in building a large boat on the European plan.
The savages came frequently around the encampment at night, barking like dogs and howling like wolves. They did not venture upon any attack. Upon one occasion, however, a few men were at work at a little distance from the encampment, when they saw a large band of savages approaching. The workmen fled to the fort, leaving all their tools behind them. The savages gathered them up and retired. It was not safe to wander far for game. But fish was taken in great abundance from the bay.
Early in April, the garrison was alarmed by the sight of a distant sail. It was feared that it was a war-ship of the hostile Spaniards, coming to destroy them. The vessel, however, passed by, without apparently seeing the encampment. Several tragic incidents ensued. One man was bitten by a rattlesnake. After suffering dreadful agonies he died. Another, who was fishing, was swept away by the current and was drowned. Fortunately, beds of excellent salt were found, formed by the evaporation of salt water in basins on the land.
It must be confessed that the savages manifested much of a Christian disposition. They frequently came near the fort, and made signs indicative of their desire that friendly relations might be restored. But La Salle, fearing treachery, and not having full confidence in the prudence of those he left behind, gave orders that no intercourse should be opened with the savages until his return.
Early in May, quite a large party of Indians appeared near the fort. Three of them, laying aside their weapons, came forward and made signs that they wished for a conference. M. Joutel, instead of sending three unarmed men to meet them, invited them to come into the fort. Though they thus placed themselves entirely in his power, they, without the slightest hesitation, entered the enclosure. They quietly sat down, and, by signs, said that hunters from the fort had often been near them, so that they could easily have killed them. But they refrained from doing them any injury. M. Moranget, who had been so severely wounded, urged that they should be terribly punished, in revenge for the attack upon the camp. This infamous proposal M. Joutel rejected.
But his conduct was inexcusable. He gave them a very unfriendly reception; and soon ordered them to depart. They had scarcely left the entrance gate, when he ordered several muskets to be fired, as if at them. They thought that they were treacherously fired upon, and fled precipitately. He then ordered several cannon-shot to be thrown to the eminence, where the large party was peacefully assembled. This scattered them. Such was the response to the Indians' appeal for friendship. Thus insanely did the garrison establish open hostilities between the two parties, when it was evident that the Indians desired friendship.
La Salle, in ascending the river, found a prairie region far more rich and beautiful than that occupied by the encampment at the mouth of the creek. He sent back two boats, with directions that about thirty of the most able-bodied men should remain to garrison the fort, while the rest, including all the women and children, were to embark, under M. Moranget, for the new location. Early in July another messenger came with instructions for all the remaining garrison to embark, with all the stores they could carry, in the Belle, and ascend the river many leagues, to join their companions in the new settlement, and to bury, in careful concealment, all the goods which could not be removed.
But sorrows and troubles without number came. The blazing sun of summer withered them. Many were sick. All were languid, discontented, disheartened. The wood to build their huts had to be drawn three miles by hand. There was no heart for the work. Discontented men always quarrel. Even La Salle lost hope, and no longer displayed his customary energy and sagacity. Those who had professed to be good house-carpenters, were found to be totally ignorant of their business. Food became scarce. More than thirty in a few weeks died. These funeral scenes spread gloom over the whole encampment, and all wished themselves back in France.
La Salle could intrust weighty responsibilities to no one. He was compelled to superintend everything, and even to devote himself to the minutest details.
La Salle called this river La Vache, or Cow River, in consequence of the vast number of buffalo cows in which he saw grazing upon the banks. The spot chosen for the village or encampment, if we can judge from the description of M. Joutel, must have been quite enchanting. There was an elevated expanse, smooth and fertile, raised many feet above the level of the stream. An undulating prairie, covered with waving grass and flowers, spread far away for leagues toward the north and the west, bordered, in the distance, by forest-covered hills. The river flowed placidly upon the east, entering into the long and wide bay upon the south. Nothing could exceed the beauty of the prairie, waving in the richest bloom of flowers of every variety of tint.
A large cellar was dug, that the ammunition and other valuables might be stored beneath the ground, as a protection against fire. La Salle, with a few companions, made several excursions of fifteen or twenty miles into the country, hoping to find the Mississippi, or some Indians who could give him information upon that point. Failing in all these, he decided upon a more extensive exploration.
The property at the settlement now consisted of only two hundred muskets, two hundred swords, one hundred kegs of powder, three thousand pounds of bullets, three hundred pounds of lead, several bars of steel and of iron to be hammered into nails, and a tolerable supply of farming and mechanic tools. They had no ploughs, horses, or oxen. Without these, farming could be carried on only upon a very limited scale. They had, however, twenty barrels of flour, a puncheon and a half of wine, a few gallons of brandy, one or two swine, and one cock and hen.
The exploring party of fifty set out in two bands, in October, from the bay, which he had named St. Louis. M. Joutel was left in command at the settlement, with the strictest injunctions to have no intercourse with the Indians. One band ascended the river in boats. The other followed along upon the shore. Having ascended the river many leagues, and being fully convinced that it was not a branch of the Mississippi, they drew their boats upon the eastern shore, and all commenced their march, over the boundless prairies, with packs upon their backs, toward the rising sun.
Ere long they saw in the distance an Indian village, consisting of a cluster of thirty or forty wigwams. It was delightfully situated. The Indians, in locating their villages, ever had a keen sense of landscape beauty. It is difficult to account for the fact that, under the leadership of La Salle, there should have been a battle. But it was so. We have no explanation of the circumstances. After a brief conflict, the savages fled, many being wounded and probably some killed, for they were accustomed to carry their dead with them on a retreat.
La Salle and his party entered the abandoned village. They found, cowering in one of the wigwams, a woman who had been struck by a bullet in the neck, and who was dying. A young girl was with her. Just after this, La Salle sent a party of six men to explore a stream. After a toilsome day the party encamped for the night. They built their fire, cooked their supper, and, without establishing any watch, wrapped themselves in their blankets for sleep.
The next day they did not return. La Salle's anxieties were roused. He set out in search of them. The dead bodies of the six were found, pierced with arrows, scalped, and half devoured by wolves. The details of this midnight tragedy were never known. Saddened by this calamity, yet striving to maintain cheerful spirits, the party pressed on their way. After many days' march they came to another large river, which proved to be that which is now known as the Colorado, which empties into Matagorda Bay, more than four hundred miles west of the mouths of the Mississippi.
As they were journeying along, one of the men, with blistered feet, stopped to adjust his shoes. When he resumed his march, he found that the party was out of sight, and he could not overtake them. The grass of the prairie was higher than the men's heads, and there were many tracks through it which were called buffalo streets. It was impossible for him to tell which path the men had taken. He was hopelessly lost. To follow either one of them might lead him farther and farther from his companions, where he would perish miserably.
Night came. He fired his gun several times, but could get no response. He threw himself upon the grass. In the intensity of his anxiety, he could not sleep. All the next day and the next night, he remained upon the spot, hoping that his companions might come back in search for him. They did not return. He had been reprimanded the preceding day for some misconduct, and it was supposed that he had deserted.
Almost in despair he retraced his steps, travelling mostly by night, through fear that he might encounter the savages. After a month of toil and suffering, ragged and emaciate he at midnight reached the settlement. Many weeks passed away, and no tidings whatever were heard of the exploring party. One morning early in March, M. Joutel chanced to be upon the roof of a hut, when he saw far away on the prairie, eight men approaching. He immediately took a well-armed party and advanced to meet them. They proved to be a portion of the exploring band. They said that others were returning by another route. They were all in a deplorable condition. Their clothes were in tatters. Most of them were without hats. Their shirts were entirely worn out.
All were rejoiced to see La Salle again. But he had no tidings to give of the long-sought-for river. The situation in which the colonists, with their greatly diminished numbers, now found themselves was appalling. They were utterly lost in the boundless wilderness of this new world. All communication with their friends in France was cut off. There was no hope that any French vessel would ever search for them; or could find them, even if such search were undertaken. The Indians were hostile. Death would gradually diminish their numbers, and finally the remnant would either be exterminated or carried into captivity by the savages.
To add to the affliction of La Salle, the Belle, the only vessel remaining to him, was wrecked and utterly lost. Several of the sailors were drowned; and stores of inestimable value were destroyed. Father Le Clercq, in describing this untoward event, writes:
"We leave the reader to imagine the grief and the affliction felt by the Chevalier La Salle, at an accident which completely ruined all his measures. His great courage even could not have borne him up, had not God aided his virtue by the help of extraordinary grace."
Until the loss of the Belle, he had been sustained by the hope that, in the last extremity, the remnant of his company might find their way back to St. Domingo, and thence to France. This hope was now extinguished.
Under these circumstances La Salle resolved to undertake another exploring tour. Having refreshed himself and his men, and obtained new articles of clothing, mainly by distributing the garments of the dead among the living, early in May, 1686, the party again set forth. Those who remained behind employed themselves in strengthening the fortifications; in unsuccessfully cultivating the soil, for most of the seeds would not sprout, and in the chase, laying in a store of jerked meat. They had several hostile rencontres with the Indians, in which the savages were invariably beaten, in consequence of the superiority of the weapons of the Europeans.
But there was no harmony in the settlement. Loud murmurs ascended continually. Some denounced La Salle. Some defended him. The antagonistic parties were almost ready to draw their swords against each other.
A Trip toward Mexico.
Arrangements for the Journey. The Departure. Indians on Horseback. Scenes of Enchantment. Attractive Character of La Salle. Visit to the Kironas. The Bite of the Snake. Adventures Wild and Perilous. Hardihood of the Indian Hunter. The Long Sickness. A Man Devoured by a Crocodile. The Return.
Though La Salle was now more than four hundred miles west of the Mississippi River, he was still under the impression that he was east of that point. He therefore, in his blind search, directed his steps toward the setting sun. Father Douay, who accompanied this expedition, has given a detailed account of its adventures.
After religious ceremonies in the chapel of the fort, the party, consisting of twenty persons, set out, on the 22d of April, 1686. They took, for the journey, four pounds of powder, four pounds of lead, two axes, two dozen knives, two kettles, and a few awls and beads.
On the third day out they entered one of the most beautiful prairies they had ever seen. To their astonishment they saw, on the plain, a large number of people, some on foot and some on horseback. Several of these came galloping toward them, booted and spurred, and seated on saddles. They were Indians who were in a high state of civilization, having long held intimate relations with the Spaniards. They gave the Frenchmen an earnest invitation to visit them, in their village, which was about twenty miles distant. But as this would take them quite out of their course, the invitation was declined. Continuing their tour, they encamped at night, being careful to throw up around them entrenchments which would protect them from attack. The next two days they continued their journey over the prairie, until they reached a river, which La Salle named Robek. The amount of wild cattle seen was prodigious. Many of the herds numbered thousands. In a few moments they shot ten. The meat they cut into very thin slices, and dried in the blazing sun, over the smoke of a smouldering fire. Thus they were provided with nutritious food for four or five days.
Crossing the Robek in a hastily constructed raft, after marching about five miles they came to another very beautiful river, wider and deeper than the Seine at Paris. It was skirted by a magnificent forest, with no underbrush, presenting a park such as the hand of man never planted. In this Eden-like grove there were many trees laden with rich fruit.
This river, which La Salle named La Maligne, they also crossed upon a raft. Passing through the forest beyond, they entered upon another extensive prairie. Continuing their tour through a country which they describe as full of enchantments, with blooming plains skirted with vines, fruit trees, and groves, they came to a river which they called Hiens, from one of their party, a German, who, in endeavoring to ford it, got stuck fast in the mud. Two men swam across with axes on their backs. They then cut down the largest trees, on each side, so that their branches met in the middle. By this bridge the party crossed. More than thirty times, during this trip, they resorted to this measure for crossing streams.
"After several days' march," writes Father Douay, "in a pretty fine country, we entered a delightful territory, where we found a numerous tribe, who received us with all possible friendship; even the women coming to embrace our men. They made us sit down on well-made mats, at the upper end of the wigwam, near the chiefs, who presented us with the calumet, adorned with feathers of every hue, which we had to smoke in turn."
The Indians feasted them abundantly, with the best of their fare, and presented them with some excellently tanned buffalo skins, for moccasins. La Salle gave them, in return, some beads, with which they seemed to be greatly delighted. Father Douay writes:
"During our stay, Chevalier La Salle so won them by his manners, and insinuated so much of the glory of our king, telling them that he was greater and higher than the sun, that they were all ravished with astonishment."
Continuing their journey, they crossed several rivers, until they came to a large Indian village of three hundred cabins. Just as they were approaching the village they came upon a herd of deer and shot one. The Indians, who heard the report and saw the deer fall dead, were terror-stricken. In a mass they fled to the neighboring forest. La Salle, to avoid surprise, entered the village in military array.
Entering the largest cabin, which proved to be that of the chief, they found a very aged woman, the wife of the chief, who, from her infirmities, was unable to fly. La Salle treated the terrified woman with the greatest kindness, and by signs assured her that he intended no harm. Three grown-up sons of the chief, who were watching the progress of events with great solicitude, seeing no indication of hostile measures, cautiously returned. La Salle met there with friendly signs, and accepted the presented calumet. The young chiefs then called to their people in the distance, and all returned. The evening was passed in feasting, dancing, and all kinds of semi-barbarian festivities.
Still La Salle did not venture to sleep in the wigwams, where his party would be entirely in the power of those who might prove treacherous. He returned to encamp in a dense cane-brake, where no foe could approach without giving warning. In the night, some thought they heard approaching footsteps. But La Salle made it manifest that they were all on the alert, and the foe, if there were any foe approaching, drew off.
The alarm was doubtless groundless. The next morning there was a repetition of all the tokens of friendship which were manifested the evening before. Continuing their route about thirty miles, they came to another Indian village. The savages seemed to have no suspicions whatever of the strangers. A party, seeing them approaching in the distance, came out to meet them as if they were old friends. They seemed to be quite gentlemanly men in their courteous and polished demeanor. They gave the strangers an earnest invitation to visit their village.
These Indians had heard of the Spaniards, and of the atrocities of which they were guilty farther west. They were quite overjoyed when told that the French were at war with the Spaniards; and were quite eager to raise an army and march with the French to attack them. La Salle entered into a cordial alliance with these Indians, who were called the Kironas. He promised that he would eventually, if it were in his power, return with more numerous troops.
It would appear that La Salle was now convinced that he would not find the Mississippi by journeying further west; for he turned his steps toward the northeast. There was a large river near the village, across which the hospitable Indians paddled them in their boats. As they were crossing a beautiful prairie, their Indian companion, whose name was Nika, called out suddenly, "I am dead! I am dead."
A venomous snake had bitten him, and the limb began instantly to throb and swell. In rude surgery, they, with their pocket-knives, cut out the flesh around. Deep gashes were cut near the wound hoping that the poison would be carried away in the free flowing of the blood. They applied poultices of herbs, which they had been told were available in such cases. After much suffering, which the Indian bore with wonderful stoicism, he recovered from the perilous wound.
Journeying on, day after day, they at length reached a broad river, whose current was so rapid that they saw, at once, that it would be very difficult to effect a passage. This was probably the Colorado, many miles above the point where they had touched it in one of their previous excursions. They made a raft. Most of the company were afraid to attempt to cross upon it. La Salle, with his brother Cavalier and one or two others, got on. As soon as they pushed out from the shore, into the middle of the stream, the swiftly rushing torrent seized them, whirled the raft around, and swept it down the stream with resistless velocity. In a few moments it disappeared, as the foaming flood bore it around a bend in the stream.
"It was a moment," writes Father Douay, "of extreme anguish for us all. We despaired of ever again seeing our guardian angel the Chevalier de la Salle." Several hours passed away. The men left upon the bank were in utter bewilderment. They knew not what to do. "The day was spent," it is written, "in tears and weeping."
Just before nightfall, to their great joy, they saw La Salle and his party on the opposite side of the river. It subsequently appeared that the raft struck a large tree, which had been torn from the banks, and was almost stationary in the middle of the stream; its roots, heavy with earth and stone, dragging on the bottom. By seizing the branches they dragged themselves out of the current, and by grasping the branches of other trees, overhanging the water, they at length, through a thousand perils, succeeded in gaining the eastern bank, several miles below the point where they had constructed the raft. One of the men was swept from the raft and swam ashore.
The party was now divided, with the foaming and apparently impassable torrent rushing between them. On both sides the night was spent in great anxiety. Many were the plans suggested and abandoned, to form a reunion. In the morning, La Salle shouted to them across the river, that they must build two light rafts, of the very buoyant canes, and cross on them, promising them that he would send several strong swimmers into the river to aid them.
One such raft was constructed. With fear and trembling five men ventured upon it. The raft was so light that it barely supported its burden. With long poles they succeeded in reaching the centre of the stream. Then two men from the opposite side swam out, and by their aid, with vigorous paddling, they safely reached the land, after drifting far down the stream.
The most timid ones were left behind. They dared not venture the passage. La Salle, seeing their hesitation, ordered his men to pack up and continue their march, leaving them behind. The greater peril overcame the less. To be abandoned there they deemed sure destruction. They shouted across the river, begging for delay. Inspired by the energies of almost despair, they vigorously built their raft, and by noon all were happily reassembled to press on their way.
For two days they moved slowly and laboriously along, cutting their way, with the two axes, through an immense forest of cane-brakes. On the third day an incident occurred which peculiarly illustrates the sagacity and endurance of the Indians. Their Indian hunter, Nika, who, as we have said, accompanied La Salle from Canada, left the party the day before they reached the river, in search of game. They had heard nothing from him since. It was in vain to search for him, and the party could not delay its march to wait for his return.
On the evening of the fourth day after his absence, as the men were gathered around the camp fire, little expecting to see Nika again, he came quietly into the camp as composed as if nothing unusual had occurred. He had on his shoulders a large amount of the choicest cuts of venison, which he had dried in the sun, and nearly the whole of a deer which he had just killed. He had probably swum the stream, floating the venison across on a log by his side. And all this he had done, notwithstanding his wound from the bite of a snake and all the cruel surgery he had undergone. La Salle was so overjoyed to see again his faithful attendant and friend, that he ordered several guns to be fired in salute of his safe return.
"Still marching east," writes Father Douay, "we entered countries more beautiful than any we yet had passed. Here we found native tribes who had nothing barbarous about them but the name. Among others we met a very honest Indian returning from the chase with his wife and family. He presented Chevalier de la Salle with one of his horses, and some meat. He also invited all our party to his cabin. To induce us to visit him, he left his wife, children, and game with us as pledges, and galloped off to his village to announce our coming and to secure for us a cordial welcome."
Nika, and another of the attendants of La Salle, accompanied him. The village was at some distance, so that two days passed before their return. The hospitable Indian came back with two horses laden with provisions. Several chiefs and warriors came back with him on horseback. They were all neatly and even beautifully dressed, in softly tanned deer-skins, tastefully fringed, and with head-dresses of waving plumes. In picturesque beauty their attire would favorably compare with the court dresses of most of the European monarchies.
The principal chief rode forward, bearing conspicuously the plumed calumet of peace. La Salle had been slowly advancing, and the two parties met about nine miles from the village. After cordial greetings, the united band continued its march. When but a short distance from the cluster of native dwellings, an immense concourse of people was seen flocking out to meet the strangers. The young men were quite imposingly marshalled in military array. But the reception was so cordial, and the indications of sincerity so unquestionable, that no one entertained the slightest apprehension of treachery.
La Salle and his party remained three days, enjoying the good cheer of this truly hospitable people. This very prudent commander encamped three or four miles outside of the village. He had no fear of the natives, but he had not full confidence in his own men. Any impropriety of the members of his party toward the females of the village, might suddenly turn their friendly relations into bitter hostility. There were apparently many pleasant families. The young maidens were generally of pleasing features, and graceful as sylphs in form. La Salle purchased several horses, which proved to be of inestimable value to him.
The region which the explorers had reached was probably not far from Austin County, in the present State of Texas. It was a more highly civilized and more densely inhabited country than any they had hitherto passed through, in any portion of the continent. For a distance of sixty miles they found a continuous series of villages, but a few miles apart, all prosperous, harmonious, and happy.
Their cabins were large and commodious, frequently forty or fifty feet high, with dome-like roofs, in the shape of the old-fashioned bee-hives. They were made by planting very tall saplings in the ground, in the form of a circle. Their tops were bent down and bound together. This whole framework was very neatly and effectually thatched with the long grass of the prairie. The beds, consisting of soft mats, were ranged around the cabin, raised about three feet from the ground. The fire, seldom needed except for cooking, in that warm latitude, was in the middle. Each cabin usually accommodated two families.
These Indians were called the Coenis nation. It was very evident that they had held some intercourse with the Spaniards. La Salle found among them silver coins, silver spoons, and various kinds of European clothes. Horses were abundant. A horse was readily exchanged for an axe. La Salle could only converse with them by signs. They said no Spaniards had ever yet visited them, though there was a settlement of them at the distance of about six days' journey west. Several of their most intelligent men drew a map of the country upon some bark. They delineated a large river many days journey to the east, which La Salle had no doubt was the Mississippi.
"The Chevalier La Salle," writes Father Douay, "who perfectly understood the art of gaining the Indians of all nations, filled these with admiration at every moment. He told them that the chief of the French was the greatest chief in the world; that he was as far above the Spaniards as the sun is above the earth. On his recounting the victories of our monarch they burst into exclamations of astonishment. I found them very docile and tractable. They comprehended well enough what we told them of the truth of a God."
After the refreshment of this delightful visit, the explorers continued their journey. After travelling about thirty miles, four of the men, during a night's encampment, deserted and went back to cast in their lot for life with the Indians. They were houseless and homeless adventurers, with no ties to bind them to the cares, toils, and restraints of civilized life. It is not surprising that they should have been charmed with the ease, abundance, and freedom of life in the wigwam. They probably became incorporated in the tribes, took Indian wives, and were heard of no more.
At this encampment La Salle and his nephew, M. Moranget, were both attacked with a violent fever. They had frequent relapses, so that two weary months passed before the march could be resumed. During this long delay they did not suffer for food, for there was abundance of game, and of great variety. Their powder, however, began to fail them. According to their estimate, they were about four hundred and fifty miles, in a straight line, from their settlement. It was resolved now to hasten back. Their horses, which found abundant pasturage on the rich prairies, did them good service, bearing the sick upon their backs and the burdens of all.
They came to a river which it was necessary to cross by a raft. Indeed every few leagues they encountered such a stream. They generally swam their horses over. In this case, La Salle, with one or two of his men, was upon a light raft of canes. Suddenly an enormous crocodile, twenty feet in length, raised his head out of the water, and with one snap of his horrid jaws grasped one of the men by the waist and drew him under. As the monster sank, there was one short, wild shriek from the victim, a slight crimson tinge of the waves, and a small circling whirlpool marking the spot where the huge beast had gone down. Thus, in an instant, as by the lightning's flash, another of the terrible tragedies of this tragic world had come and gone.
On the 17th of October this wearied and diminished party reached the camp, after an absence of six months. Of the twenty who left, but eight returned. The meeting was one of joy and of sadness. Both parties had narratives to give of disaster; and gloom impenetrable still hung over the feeble colony, so rapidly wasting away. In commenting upon this enterprise, Father Douay writes:
"It would be difficult to find in history, courage more intrepid or more invincible than that of the Chevalier de la Salle. In adversity he was never cast down. He always hoped, with the help of heaven, to succeed in his enterprises, despite all the obstacles that rose against it."
The Last Days of La Salle.
Plan for the New Journey. Magnitude of the Enterprise. Affecting Leave-taking. The Journey Commenced. Adventures by the Way. Friendly Character of the Indians. Vast Realms of Fertility and Beauty. The Joys and the Sorrows of such a Pilgrimage. The Assassination of La Salle and of three of his Companions.
La Salle was now fully convinced that he was west of the Mississippi River. He resolved to set out on a journey across the country to Canada, a distance of probably not less than two thousand miles. His design was to send tidings to France of his disasters, and thus to secure aid to be sent thence to his suffering and expiring colony.
By pursuing his route toward the northeast, he was sure of eventually striking the Mississippi. He would then feel quite at home. Following up that stream and the Illinois, he could easily pass over to the lakes, and then reach Canada through regions with which he was quite familiar. More than two months were spent in strengthening the defences of the settlement, and in laying in stores of provisions for those who were to be left behind.
At midnight of the 7th of January, 1687, the whole company met in the little chapel for a solemn religious service, to implore God's blessing upon the enterprise. The scene was very affecting. Nearly all were in tears. There were but few chances that those then bidding each other adieu would ever meet again. Those who left, and those who remained, were alike exposed. La Salle selected twenty men to accompany him. Among those, were his brother, his ever-faithful Indian attendant, M. Douay, to whose pen we are indebted for the record of the last expedition, and M. Joutel, who kept a daily journal of the events of this journey. M. Douay wrote also quite a minute account of the expedition. Both of their narratives now lie before me. We have no reason to doubt the accuracy of either. There were but twenty French left behind, including seven women and children. La Salle gave them a parting address. Father Douay writes:
"He made an address full of eloquence, with that engaging way so natural to him. The whole colony was present, and were all moved to tears. They were alike persuaded of the necessity of his voyage and the uprightness of his intentions."
The property left with the colonists consisted of seventy pigs, large and small, twenty hens and chickens, a few barrels of corn, which was carefully kept for the sick, a considerable quantity of powder and lead, and eight cannons, but without balls.
The heroic and devout Father Membre remained as the spiritual guide. M. Barbier was left with the secular command. La Salle drew up very minute directions for the administration of affairs during his absence.
"We parted," writes M. Joutel, "in a manner so tender, so sorrowful, that it would seem that we had a secret presentiment that we should never again see each other. Father Membre was deeply affected. He said to me that never before had he experienced a parting so painful."
It was the 12th of January, 1689, when this truly forlorn hope set out upon its long journey. They took with them the five horses, bearing some articles of food and such things as they would need for their night's encampment. The second day of their journey they came to a plain about six miles wide, which seemed to be covered with buffaloes, deer, flocks of wild turkeys, and every variety of game. Beyond the plain there was a splendid growth of trees. Upon entering the grove, they found that it fringed a small river. Concealed by these trees, they succeeded in shooting five buffaloes which had come to the river to drink. They crossed the river on a raft, and camped a mile and a half beyond, in a drenching rain. The skins and meat of these animals were packed upon the horses. The skins, easily tanned, were of immense value in their subsequent lodgings.
The next morning, the 14th, the sun rose in a cloudless sky. The prairie seemed spread out for leagues before them, covered with herds of buffaloes and deer, while immense flocks of turkeys and other birds of the prairie rose before them. About noon they saw, in the distance, an immense herd of buffaloes rushing over the plains as if mad. They conjectured at once that some Indian hunters were pursuing them. Their conjecture proved correct.
Soon they saw a savage, on the full run, and very flat-footed, pursuing the herd. Hastily the load was thrown from one of the horses, a man was mounted upon him, and galloping over the plain soon overtook the Indian, and led him back to the company. When the poor man saw himself surrounded by a group of white men, such as he had seen before, he was greatly terrified. And he had cause to be frightened. La Salle's associates infamously urged that he should be put to death, in revenge for the murder of their companions by some unknown Indian band. The humane, magnanimous leader found it necessary to present to his reckless followers such motives as they could appreciate. He said to them:
"We are but few in number. We have before us a journey of hundreds of miles through a region crowded with Indian tribes. If we rouse the vengeance of the savages, we shall all be cut off. Let us treat them with kindness, and thus we shall secure for ourselves kind treatment in return."
The cordial smiles and friendly signs of this truly good man soon dispelled apparently the great alarm of the stranger. A fire was built. After abundantly feeding their hungry guest, and smoking with him the friendly pipe, La Salle, assuring him of his desire to do harm to none, but good to all, dismissed him with presents which to the savage must have seemed almost like celestial gifts. Still the cautious Indian, accustomed to treachery, was evidently uncertain as to the fate which awaited him. As he withdrew, he cast anxious glances around, until he had attained the distance of a few rods, when he took to flight, with almost the rapidity of a deer.
The travellers continued their route, and after an hour or two, overtook another Indian hunter. They caught him, and lavished upon him the same acts of kindness. As evening was approaching, they saw a large band of savages in the distance. Their attitude was somewhat menacing. When they caught sight of the little cluster of strangers, they separated into two parties, and advanced on the right and left, as if to surround them. When the two bands had come within musket-shot, La Salle ordered a halt. The savages halted also. For a few moments they attentively regarded each other, no movement being made on either side.
Then La Salle, laying aside his arms, walked slowly forward toward the party where the head chief seemed to be, making signs for the chief to come and meet him. The chief was a tall man of powerful frame, and richly decorated. He came cautiously forward, while the rest of his party followed slowly at a little distance behind. As soon as it was seen that the two chiefs met cordially, all came running together in the interchange of caresses and every mark of friendly greeting.
Fires were built, food was cooked, pipes were smoked. There was feasting and dancing and shouting. It was a marvellous spectacle which was then and there presented of semi-civilized and full barbarian jollification.
The savages were evidently delighted with their reception. They examined their presents with astonishment. With unfeigned joy they learned that La Salle intended to return and settle in their country; and that he would bring an abundance of his treasures, which he would exchange with them for such articles as they had to part with. It was now the hour of evening twilight. The two parties separated, each going its own way. About a mile and a half in advance, there was a beautiful grove and a running stream. La Salle encamped there. With his customary prudence he threw up intrenchments, and established sentinels as if he were in the enemy's country.
They had but just established their camp, when they saw six savages approaching, following each other in single file. They came forward without any hesitation, as if visiting old friends. By signs they said that they had heard of the kind treatment their fellow countrymen had met with, and that they were brothers, not enemies. After a short and pleasant visit they retired, and the camp was left to undisturbed repose.
In the morning, at an early hour, the march was resumed. There was before them a stream too deep to be forded. Not wishing to lose time in constructing a raft, they followed up the west bank of the stream for several miles. Their route led through an enchanting region of lawn-like prairies and park-like groves. The river was fringed with trees of every variety, without any underbrush. There were many pretty little creeks to be crossed, which ran into the main stream. The water was pure, sweet, and clear as crystal. Occasionally they came to a cane-brake, through which they cut their way with axes. Their appetites were fed with abundance of game.
The next day, the 19th, they made but a short journey, and experienced great fatigue in fording streams and cutting their way through cane-brakes. They came across a few deserted cabins of the Indians. During the slow progress of the day, their skilful Indian hunter Nika killed eight buffaloes. The most tender cuts were taken from them, and they there crossed the river by a ford.
After traversing a few leagues, they came to another river, flowing through a low plain, elevated but slightly above the stream. A dense fog set in, accompanied by a deluging rain. Here they encamped in the woods which bordered the river. They passed a comfortless night, and the storm detained them all the next day.
On the 19th the rain ceased, but the fog continued. Their path led through marshy ground thoroughly soaked with rain, so that they often sank to their knees in the mire. Their feet were shod with moccasins made of the hide of buffaloes. These being alternately wet and dried, became stiff, and blistered their feet cruelly. Fortunately, they struck upon one of the "streets" made by the buffaloes, as in thousands they followed one after the other, crushing their way through the cane-brakes. These animals were, by instinct, good engineers, and invariably selected the most favorable routes. Still the voyagers were often compelled to wade through deep mire, and their sufferings were at times severe.
On the night of the 19th, they fortunately came upon a ridge, where they could enjoy a dry encampment. They built a roaring fire, cooked a savory supper, nursed their blistered feet, and during a few hours of refreshing sleep forgot their toils. As they awoke the next morning the river was again falling. Still they pressed on, entering upon another vast prairie covered with herds of buffaloes. At night they encamped upon the banks of a river too deep to be forded. On the 21st they ascended the banks of the stream, hoping to find a shallow spot where they could cross. Instead of this, they came to a place where the river flowed through a narrow and deep channel, with large trees on each side. They cut down two of these trees, so that their branches met in the middle, crossed on this bridge, and swam their horses over.
On the other side, a beautiful country, of elevated, undulating prairie, opened before them. As they were preparing to encamp in the shelter of a grove, they heard voices, and soon beheld fifteen Indians approaching. The savages manifested no alarm, but in token of peace laid aside their bows and arrows, and came into the camp. They ate, smoked, exchanged presents, and went on their way rejoicing, promising to visit the camp again.
The horses, as well as the men, were quite exhausted. They therefore remained, for a day of rest, on their very pleasant camping ground. During the day a band of twenty-two Indians came to them. They had shields impervious to arrows, made of the hide of buffaloes. They were at war with another tribe. They said that there were other white men, at the distance of ten days' journey on the west, doubtless referring to the Spaniards. The interview was mutually pleasant, and La Salle obtained some important information in reference to the continuance of his route.
Onward they pressed, day after day, with alternate sunshine and storm, through marsh and forest, over prairies and across rivers, without encountering any adventure of much importance until the 1st of February. That day they discovered, at a distance, an Indian village. La Salle, leaving M. Joutel in charge of the camp, took his brother and seven men, and set out to reconnoitre. They came to a village of twenty-five wigwams, very pleasantly situated. Each wigwam contained four or five men, besides quite a number of women and children. The Indians received their guests very hospitably, conducted them to the dwelling of their chief, and seated them upon mats of buffalo skins. A great crowd gathered within and around the cabin. The chief, after feeding them abundantly upon buffalo steaks, informed them that he had been expecting their arrival. Other Indians had told him that they were in the country, and that they were on a route which would lead them near his village.
Perfect harmony prevailed. Presents were exchanged. The Indians were eager to give a nicely tanned buffalo robe for a knife or almost any trinket in the hands of the white men. But La Salle had no means of transporting the robes, which would prove so valuable in European markets. They continued their journey, often meeting with Indians, who were always friendly. At times a brotherly band would accompany them during the march of a whole day. By the aid of the Indians, the very light frame of a canoe was constructed, which was easily packed and carried. By stretching over it the skin of a buffalo, from which the hair had been removed, they were furnished with a very buoyant boat, with which to cross the rivers. The horses could easily swim the streams.
On the 10th of February, they saw before them a vast plain which had been swept by the flames. Thinking that they might not find game there, they made a halt of two days, to lay in a store of jerked meat. Resuming their journey, they soon passed the scathed region and entered again upon a country of bloom and verdure. On the evening of the 15th, they camped on the borders of a stream, where they saw evidences that a band of savages had recently passed that way.
The next morning La Salle took his brother and seven men, and followed a well-trodden Indian trail in search of a village. After a short walk, they came upon a cluster of fifty or sixty cabins. His reception was, as usual, cordial in the extreme. The leading men of the village were courteous in their bearing and intelligent in reference to matters relating to their own country. They gave the names of twenty tribes or nations, through whose territories La Salle had already passed from his settlement, which he called St. Louis. On the 17th, one of the horses fell, and sprained his shoulder, so that he had to be left behind.
For several days the journey was somewhat monotonous. They made about twenty or twenty-five miles a day. Indian hunters were continually met with, and Indian villages entered with essentially the same rites of friendship and hospitality. From some of these Indians they heard tidings of those Frenchmen who had deserted. They were living in a very friendly manner among the Indians. On the 1st of March they came to an immense marsh, partially submerged in water. The intricate passage across it was very difficult to find, and required the services of a guide. Several of the Indians volunteered, and with great tenderness led them safely across.
Passing the morass caused a delay of four or five days, as it could not be undertaken in a drenching rain which chanced then to be falling. On the 15th they emerged from this gloomy region and entered a country which, from the contrast, appeared to them remarkably beautiful. Here they encamped for a brief rest. Nika brought in word that he had killed two buffaloes, and wished to have a couple of horses sent to bring in the meat. A party of five was sent out, led by M. Moranget, who was a rash and irritable man. There were three men who had accompanied the hunter, and who were cutting up and drying the meat, in preparation for transporting it to the camp. At the same time they were cooking for themselves some of the choicest pieces.
When Moranget reached the place and found the men feasting, as he thought, rather than jerking the meat, he reprimanded them, in his accustomed tones of severity. The men chanced to be the very worst and most desperate in the camp. Moranget accompanied his denunciations with still more irritating actions. He took from them the delicious morsels which they cooked. Four men, for another had joined them, greatly enraged, sullenly abandoned their work, and retiring a short distance agreed to avenge themselves by killing Moranget, and also by killing Nika and another man who was the valet of La Salle. Both of these men were friends and supporters of Moranget.
They waited till night. All took their supper together. It was the night of the 17th of March. Though in that genial climate the weather was serene and mild, a rousing fire was found very grateful in protecting them from the chill of the night air. With the fading twilight the stars shone down brightly upon them, and, surrounded by the silence and solemnity of the prairie and the forest, they were soon apparently all asleep.
One of the murderers, Liotot, cautiously arose as by agreement, and with a hatchet in his hand, creeping toward Moranget, with one desperate blow split open his skull from crown to chin. The deed was effectually done. And yet with sinewy arm blow followed blow, till the head was one mass of clotted gore. The other two were despatched in the same way. The three remaining conspirators stood, with their guns cocked and primed, to shoot down either of the victims who might succeed in making any resistance. There is some slight discrepancy in the detail of these murders. It is said that Moranget, upon receiving the first blow, made a convulsive movement, as if to rise; but that the valet and the Indian did not stir.
One crime always leads to another. The conspirators, having perpetrated these murders, now consulted together as to what was next to be done. Moranget was the nephew of La Salle. The valet and the Indian were his devoted friends. Their death could not be concealed. It was certain that La Salle would not allow it to go unavenged. Though punishment might be postponed until they should emerge from their long and perilous journey through the wilderness, there could be no doubt that as soon as they should reach a French military post they would all die upon the scaffold.
They decided to return to the camp, enlist a few others on their side, kill La Salle, and others of his prominent friends, when unsuspicious of danger; and thus involving all the rest in their own criminality, effectually prevent any witnesses from rising against them. Probably in some degree tortured by remorse, and trembling in view of the task which they had undertaken, they remained for two days, the 18th and 19th, where they were, ostensibly employed in jerking the meat.
La Salle, not knowing how to account for this long absence, became uneasy. He decided to go himself, taking a few others with him, to ascertain the cause. To his friends he expressed serious apprehensions that some great calamity had happened. M. Joutel was left in charge of the camp, and La Salle, with Father Douay and another companion, set out in search of the lost ones.
Father Douay gives the following account of the tragic scene which ensued:
"All the way La Salle conversed with me of matters of piety, grace, and predestination. He expatiated upon all his obligations to God, for having saved him from so many dangers during the last twenty years that he had traversed America. He seemed to me to be peculiarly penetrated with a grateful sense of God's kindness to him. Suddenly I saw him plunged into a deep melancholy, for which he himself could not account. He was so troubled that he no longer seemed like himself. As this was an unusual state of mind with him, I endeavored to rouse him from his lethargy.
"Two leagues after, we found the bloody cravat of his valet. He perceived two eagles flying over his head. At the same time he discerned some of his people on the edge of the river. He approached them, asking what had become of his nephew. They answered incoherently, pointing to a spot where they said we should find him. We proceeded some steps along the bank, to the fatal spot where two of his murderers were hidden in the grass, one on each side, with guns cocked. One missed Monsieur de la Salle. The one firing at the same time shot him in the head. He died an hour after, on the 19th of March 1687.
"I expected the same fate. But this danger did not occupy my thoughts, penetrated with grief at so cruel a spectacle. I saw him fall, a step from me, his face all full of blood. He had confessed and performed his devotions just before we started. During his last moments he manifested the spirit of a good Christian, especially in the act of pardoning his murderers.
"Thus died our wise commander, constant in adversity, intrepid, generous, engaging, dexterous, skilful, capable of everything. He, who for twenty years had softened the fierce temper of countless savage tribes, was massacred by the hands of his own domestics, whom he had loaded with caresses. He died in the prime of life, in the midst of his enterprises, without having seen their success. I could not leave the spot where he had expired, without having buried him as well as I could. After which I raised a cross over his grave."
In reference to the burial, Joutel gives a little different account. He says: "The shot which killed La Salle was the signal for the accomplices of the assassin to rush to the spot. With barbarous cruelty they stripped him of his clothing, even to his shirt. The poor dead body was treated with every indignity. The corpse was left, entirely naked, to the voracity of wild beasts."
Both of these accounts may be essentially true. The barbarities practised by the assassins may have preceded or followed the hasty burial of Douay. Father Douay, in his account, continues:
"Occupied with these thoughts, which La Salle had a thousand times suggested to us, while relating the events of the new discoveries, I unceasingly adored the inscrutable designs of God in this conduct of His Providence, uncertain still what fate He reserved for us, as our desperadoes plotted nothing less than our destruction. We at last entered the place where Monsieur Cavalier was. The assassins entered the cabin unceremoniously, and seized all that was there. I had arrived a moment before them. I had no need to speak; for as soon as Cavalier beheld my countenance, all bathed in tears, he exclaimed aloud:
"'Ah, my poor brother is dead.'
"This holy ecclesiastic, whose virtue has been so often tried in the apostolic labors of Canada, fell at once on his knees. I myself, and some others did the same, to prepare to die the same death. But the murderers, touched by some sentiment of compassion at the sight of the venerable old man, and besides half-penitent for the murders they had committed, resolved to spare us, on condition that we should never return to France. But as they were still undecided, and many of them wished to go home to France, we heard them often say to one another, that they must get rid of us; that otherwise we should accuse them before the tribunals, if we once had them in the kingdom.
"The leader of these desperadoes, a wretch by the name of Duhaut, at once assumed the supreme command. The company now consisted of but seventeen. The timid ones, trembling for their lives, feigned entire devotion to the cause of the assassins. Duhaut ruled with an iron hand. It was manifest that the least indication of an insubordinate spirit would lead to instant death. Some of the best men were for organizing a conspiracy to assassinate the assassins. But the priest Cavalier continually said no, repeating the words, 'Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord.'"
It is impossible to determine the precise spot where the murder of La Salle and his companions took place. We know that it was several days' journey west of the Cenis Indians, whose territory extended along the banks of Trinity River, which empties into Galveston Bay. It is therefore conjectured that it must have been near one of the streams flowing into the Brazos, in the heart of Texas, probably not far from where Washington now is.
The Penalty of Crime.
Nature's Storms. The Gloom of the Soul. Approach to the Cenis Village. Cordial Welcome. Barbaric Ceremonials. Social Habits of the Indians. Meeting with the French Deserters. Traffic with the Indians. Quarrel between Hiens and Duhaut. The Assassins Assassinated. Departure of the War Party. Fiend-like Triumph. The March Resumed.
The morning of the 21st ushered in a day of gloom, wind, and rain. Nature, in the moaning storm, seemed in sympathy with the sadness which must have oppressed all hearts. Silently they toiled along, drenched with the falling rain, until noon, when the storm became so severe that they were compelled to halt. They threw up their camp in a deep and dark ravine. The murderers could have no rest. They were in continual fear that the friends of La Salle would rise and kill them. Father Douay, M. Joutel, and La Salle's brother the Chevalier, knew full well that the murderers had the strongest possible incentive to kill them also.
There is no storm so desolating, so ruinous to all happiness, as sin. Could these voyagers have continued their journey with fraternal love, its material obstacles could all have been pleasantly surmounted. But henceforth, for them, there were no more sunny skies, no more blooming prairies, no more joyous gatherings and feastings around the camp fire. Journeying on, through a gloomy country, and in sombre weather, they came, on the 24th, to a river. Most of the party swam across. Father Douay, M. Joutel, and Cavalier could not swim. Some friendly Indians came along and, swimming by their side, helped them over. A journey of four days more brought them to a large village of the Cenis Indians, on a stream which they called by the same name.
The region was beautiful. There was no continuous forest, but extended, well-watered plains, interspersed with groves of a great variety of majestic trees. They frequently met with Indians, from whom they always received kind treatment. Most of the men encamped a few miles from the village, M. Joutel was sent, with three others, to purchase from them, if possible, some corn. One of the men thus sent forward was Hiens, one of the original conspirators with Duhaut. M. Joutel was annoyed in accompanying a murderer on this mission, but it was not safe to make any remonstrance. Duhaut kept careful guard over all the effects. He intrusted a few hatchets and knives to his envoys, with instructions to purchase corn, and, if possible, a horse.
They had not gone far before they saw three savages approaching them on horseback. One had a hat and cloak, which he had probably obtained in some way from the Spaniards. The other two were entirely naked. The three had panniers closely woven of fibres of cane, and filled with corn meal pounded or ground very fine. They had been sent forward by their chief, with the meal as a present, and to invite the strangers to visit his village. After smoking together, and the Indians having received some knives and beads in return for their gift, the united party set out for the village.
It was still some distance to the village. Night had come. The horses of the travellers were weary and hungry. They therefore encamped in a rich meadow, by a rippling stream. Two of the Indians returned to their village. One remained with the strangers. The next morning they went forward, and were conducted by their Indian companion to the cabin of the chief. They were received with very unusual courtly etiquette.
About a third of a mile from the village there was a very large building, which we should call the town house, or the city hall. It was constructed as the place for the gathering of all their great public assemblages. The floor was very neatly carpeted with finely woven mats. A very imposing procession was formed to escort the strangers from the cabin of the chief to this council house.
First in the procession came all the men of the village, venerable in character and age. They were richly dressed, in very tasteful picturesque garments, of softly tanned deer-skin. These robes and leggins and scarfs were of different colors, of brilliant hue, and were profusely decorated with fringes and embroidered with shells. They wore plumes of colored feathers upon their heads, which waved gracefully in the gentle breeze. In their hands they held javelins, or bows, with quivers of arrows suspended on their shoulders.
On each side of the ancients, who were twelve in number, there were files of warriors, as if for their protection. They were all young men of admirable figure, painted and dressed, and armed as if on the war-path. The procession being thus formed in front of the chief's cabin, and the whole population of the village, many hundred in number, men, women and children, gathered around to witness the spectacle, M. Joutel and his attendants, led by the chief, were brought out to be received by the ancients and conducted to the council house.
These venerable men greeted them with much formality. Each one raised his right hand to his head, and then performed a peculiar series of bows. They then embraced each one, gently throwing their arms around the neck. This ceremony was followed by the presentation of the pipe of friendship, each one taking but a few whiffs.
The cortege advanced to the council house. The guests were seated on couches in the centre. The ancients, silently and with much dignity of movement, took seats around them. A large multitude crowded the vacant spaces. They were feasted with the choicest viands of the Indians, boiled corn meal, cakes baked in the ashes, and truly delicious steaks of venison. Presents were interchanged, and kind speeches made, mainly by signs.
M. Joutel informed them that it was his great desire to obtain corn for their long journey. They said that their supply was short, but that in a neighboring village, at the distance of but a few leagues, there was an abundant supply. They also signified their readiness to accompany their guests to this village.
A large party set out together. The trail led along the banks of one of the branches of the Brazos. The region was delightful, the soil fertile, and quite a dense population blessed with abundance, peopled the lovely valley. It might have been almost an Eden, but for the wickedness of fallen man. This powerful tribe the Cenis, was at war with another tribe, called the Cannohantimos. Frequently the valley would be swept by an irruption of fierce warriors, with gleaming tomahawks and poisoned arrows and demoniac yells. Conflagration, blood, and shrieks of misery ensued. The valley, which God had made so beautiful for his children, those children had converted into a Gethsemane, where all the fiends seemed struggling.
But our travellers passed up this valley in one of the serene and blooming spring mornings. There was a lull in war's tempest, and a heavenly Father's smile illumined all the scene. Large dome-like cabins and cultivated fields were met with all along the route. Many of these dwellings were sixty feet in diameter. They afforded perfect protection from wind and rain, were neatly carpeted, and gave ample accommodation often for four or five families.
One central fire, which was never permitted to go out, was common for all. There were no partitions. Each family occupied a certain portion of the space, and slept on comfortable beds, raised a foot or two from the floor. They were naturally a very amiable people among themselves, and lived together on the most brotherly terms.
In cultivating the fields they worked together. Often a hundred men and women would meet to plant the field of one man. They would spend six or seven hours in carefully digging the field with wooden forks, and in planting seeds of corn, beans, melons, and other vegetables. They would then have a feast, provided by the one in whose behalf they were laboring. This would be followed by games and dances. The men dug the soil, while the women planted and covered the seed. These children of the prairie must have found, in these co-operative labors, far more enjoyment than the solitary farmer can find in his lonely toils. Thus this band would pass from field to field throughout the whole village.
M. Joutel says that, so far as he could learn, they did not seem to have any definite idea of God. They had certain shadowy notions of some being or beings above themselves, but apparently did not consider that these beings took any special interest in scenes occurring here below. Upon the subject of religion it could hardly be said that they had any definite idea. They had no temples, no priests, no worship. Their minds were in a state of vacuity. In this respect they were much in the condition of mere animals. They had certain ceremonies, the meaning of which they could not explain, except that such was their custom—that their fathers did so. Be it remembered that this is the account which is given of the Cenis Indians. Others were more enlightened, and others less. There are well-authenticated accounts of some Indians, who were in the habit of daily prayer.
They reached the village in the early evening. Couriers had preceded them to announce their coming. The principal men came out and conducted them to a cabin, which had been prepared for their reception. After supper and a social pipe, the guests were left to the repose which they greatly needed. The cabin assigned to them was one of the largest in the place. It had belonged to a chief who had recently died. A gentle fire was burning in the centre. There were several women in the cabin, attending to sundry household duties. The guests slept soundly.
The next morning was the 1st of April, 1687. The fathers of the village again called upon the strangers with much courtesy of demeanor, and brought them an ample breakfast. Presents were exchanged, and a very fine horse was purchased for a hatchet. The day was spent in purchasing corn, which was placed in panniers, to be carried on the backs of the horses.
Here were found three Frenchmen who, a year before had deserted from La Salle. With painted faces, and in the dress of savages, no one could distinguish them from others of the tribe. The fact that in one year they had almost entirely forgotten their native language, seems at first thought almost incredible. But it must be remembered that they were vagabond sailors, with no mental culture, who could neither read nor write, and with whom language was merely a succession of sounds, which were very easily obliterated from the memory.
M. Joutel sent his companions back to the camp with the corn which had already been purchased, while he remained to obtain more. Alone in the cabin, far away in the wilderness, the companion of murderers, and a very uncertain fate before him, he could not sleep. At midnight, as he was reclining upon his mat, absorbed in thought, he saw, by the light of the fire, an Indian enter the cabin, with a bow and two arrows in his hand. He took a seat near where M. Joutel was apparently sleeping.
M. Joutel spoke to him. He made no reply; but arose and took another seat near the fire. M. Joutel, being sleepless, followed him, to enter, if possible, into conversation. Fixing his eyes earnestly upon the taciturn Indian, he saw, to his surprise, that he was one of the French deserters whom he had formerly known very well. His name was Grollet. He informed M. Joutel that he had a comrade by the name of Ruter, who did not dare to come with him, from fear that he should be punished by La Salle, of whose death they had not heard.
"They had," writes M. Joutel, "in so short a time so entirely contracted the habits of the savages, as to become thorough savages themselves. They were naked, and their faces and bodies were covered with painted figures. Each of them had taken several wives. They had accompanied the warriors of the tribe to battle; and with their guns had killed many of the enemy, which had given them great renown. Having expended all their powder and bullets, their guns had become useless. They had therefore taken bows and arrows and had become quite skilful in their use. As to religion, they never had any. The libertine life they were now practising was quite to their taste."
Grollet seemed much moved when he heard of the death of La Salle and the others. Upon being questioned whether he had ever heard the Indians speak of the Mississippi, he said that he had not, but that he had often heard them speak of a very large river, about five days' journey northeast of them, and upon whose banks there were very many Indian tribes.
The two next days M. Joutel continued purchasing corn. It could not be bought in large quantities, but many families could spare a little. On the 8th of April he returned to the camp, with three horses laden with corn. During this delay the murderer, Duhaut, had had many hours for reflection. To return to a French military or trading post, accompanied by the witnesses of his crime, was certain death. To attempt to kill all those not implicated in the murder, would be a very serious undertaking; especially as they were now on their guard, and the assassins had begun to quarrel among themselves.
Duhaut formed the plan of turning back, with his confederates, to the settlement which they had left at the bay of St. Louis. Where he designed to build a vessel and to sail for the West India Islands, The persons whom Duhaut greatly feared were Father Douay, M. Joutel, La Salle's brother, M. Chevalier, and a young man who was called Young Chevalier. The head murderer now adopted the policy of separating these men from the rest of the company, that he might freely talk with his confederates of his plans. M. Joutel and his associates were also well pleased with this arrangement, for they too could now talk freely. Duhaut tried to compel the other party to go back with him. But they absolutely refused. Finding that he could not force them, and that they were resolved to continue their journey to the French settlements, and that thus they might send an armed ship to capture the murderers; he resolved to continue in their company. Probably he hoped that some opportunity would occur in which he could cut them off.
There were five men who were active participants in the assassination. Duhaut, the instigator, Hiens, who was the next most prominent in the plot, and three others, who were rather their tools, Liotot, Tessier, and Larcheveque. The rage of Hiens was kindled only against Moranget. He was willing to kill Moranget's two companions that they might not be witnesses against the murderers. He would conceal their bodies, and would have it understood that they had wandered away and become lost, or that they had been captured by the Indians.
Liotot was appointed to strike the fatal blows upon Moranget and his companions with the hatchet, while the others stood ready, with their guns, to aid, should it be necessary. The subsequent murder of La Salle was contrary to the wishes of Hiens. Duhaut and Larcheveque waylaid him. They both fired nearly at the same moment. The bullet of Larcheveque, either intentionally or by accident, passed wide of its mark. Duhaut's bullet pierced the brain.
There was no sympathy between Hiens and Duhaut. When the latter so arrogantly assumed the command, Hiens became very restive, and was waiting for an opportunity to dethrone him. Trembling in view of the peril of approaching the French settlements, and having no disposition to imbrue his hands any farther in the blood of innocent men whose conduct had only won his regard, he was extremely anxious to return to the bay of St. Louis.
Finding that Duhaut had altered his plan and had decided to continue on the Mississippi, he took one or two of his companions aside and deeply impressed them with a sense of the danger they would thus encounter. They conspired to kill Duhaut and his most resolute supporter Liotot.
Hiens then entered into a secret alliance with the savages, promising that if they would aid him in his plans, he would stop the march of the party toward the Mississippi, and with several others would join them, with their all-powerful muskets, in a hostile expedition they were about to make against a neighboring tribe. He also enlisted, in co-operation with his plans, the French deserters who had already become savages.
Thus strengthened, and with twenty-two well-armed savages in his train, he sought Duhaut. In brief words he thus addressed him:
"You have decided to go on to the French settlements. It is a danger which we dare not encounter. I therefore demand that you divide with us all the arms, ammunition, and goods we have. You may then pursue your own course and we will pursue ours."
Without waiting for any reply he drew a pistol and shot Duhaut through the heart. The miserable man staggered back a few steps and dropped dead. At the same moment one of his accomplices, Ruter, with his musket, shot down Liotot, inflicting a mortal wound. As the man was struggling in death's agonies, Ruter advanced and discharged a pistol-shot into the convulsed body. Douay writes, "His hair, and then his shirt and clothes took fire, and wrapped him in flames, and in this torment he expired." It was the intention of Hiens also to kill Larcheveque, but he, terror-stricken, escaped by flight.
A small hole was dug, and the two dead bodies were thrown in and covered up. M. Joutel was present, and witnessed this dreadful scene. He writes:
"Those murders took place before my eyes. I was dreadfully agitated, and supposing that my death was immediately to follow, instinctively seized my musket in self-defence. But Hiens cried out:
"'You have nothing to fear. We do not wish to harm you. We only avenge the death of our patron La Salle. Could I have prevented his death I certainly should have done so.'"
The savages were astonished at this scene. They were not at all prepared for it. But Hiens explained to them that it was done to avenge murders which they had committed; and that as Duhaut and Liotot had resolved to take with them all the guns and ammunition, it was necessary to kill them that Hiens and his associates might join the Indians in their war party. This statement seemed to give entire satisfaction.
Hiens was now the leader of the rapidly dwindling band. He informed them that he should take several of his companions, with the guns and ammunition, and accompany the Indians on their military expedition. In the meantime, until his return, they were to remain in charge of friendly Indians. Thus they were virtually prisoners. Their means for continuing the journey were taken from them. Probably Hiens intended that they should never return to France.
Early in May, the war party commenced its march. Hiens accompanied the warriors, with four of his party, and two of the French deserters. This made seven Frenchmen, well armed with powder and ball. As they were to encounter foes who bore only bows and arrows, the French allies became an immense acquisition to the force of the expedition. Each one of these had a horse. Hiens exacted a promise, from those he left behind, that they would not leave the village until his return.
A fortnight passed away. Those who remained were encamped at a little distance outside of the village. They were frequently visited by the men and the women, who ever manifested the most friendly feelings. They could converse only by signs, and their attempted communication of ideas was not very satisfactory.
On the 18th of the month a great crowd came rushing out to the encampment. The men and women were painted and decorated. Their smiling faces, songs, and dances indicated plainly that they had received tidings of a great victory. For several hours, there was exhibited a very picturesque scene of feasting, smoking, and barbarian jollity. In the midst of these wild festivities, a courier arrived, stating that the victorious army was returning, and that they had killed more than forty of their enemies. The next day they arrived.
They brought very glowing accounts of the achievements of the French with their muskets. They found the foe drawn up in battle array in a dense grove. Approaching within musket-shot, but not within arrow-shot, the French with deliberate aim shot down forty-eight of the foe. The rest in terror fled. The shouting Cenis pursued. They took a large number of women and children as prisoners, most of whom they instantly killed and scalped. Two mature girls they brought back with them to subject to fiend-like torture. One of them had been cruelly scalped. Faint and bleeding she could endure but little more. An Indian, borrowing a pistol from a Frenchman, deliberately shot her through the head, saying:
"Take that message to your nation. Tell them that ere long we will serve them all in the same way."
The other maiden was reserved for all the horrors of demoniac torture by the women and the girls. These were arranged in a circle. The poor girl was led into the middle of them. They were all armed with strong sticks sharply pointed. They then, with hideous yells, fell tumultuously upon her, like hounds upon a hare. She soon dropped to the ground beneath their blows. They thrust their sharp sticks into her body. With sinewy arms these savage women beat her in the face, over the head, upon every part of her frame until her body presented but a mangled mass of blood. As she lay upon the ground scarcely breathing, a burly Indian came forward, and with one blow of a club crushed in her brain.
The next day there was another great celebration. Great honor was conferred upon the French who had caused the victory. The Indian warriors had done but little more than kill the women and children whom they had taken prisoners, and scalp all the slain. After several speeches were made by their orators, a procession was formed. Each warrior had a bow and two arrows in his hand, and was accompanied by one of his wives, who, like a servant or rather like the squire of the knights of old, waved in her hands the gory scalps, revolting trophies of her husband's chivalric achievements. The whole day was devoted to barbarian feasting and carousing.
Hiens the next day held an amicable conference with M. Joutel and his friends, to come to some agreement as to their future operations. "I am not willing," he said, "to return to the French settlements. It would inevitably cost me my head. But I am willing to divide all our property equally between the two parties. Those who wish may accompany Joutel; others may remain with me."