The Battle of the Long Sault, Ch.13: Guns and Ammunition

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On April twenty-fourth, Annahotaha canoed into Montreal and began to check out rumors of Iroquois movements. His men had come upon other warriors on the river who told them about clues that could be interpreted as something brewing. When he got to Montreal, there were more anxious expressions on the faces of the citizens and tight security on the walls, low voices in the streets.

The next morning Mituvemeg arrived. Sober. He immediately asked where Annahotaha was to be found. He located him quickly, walking down the main street, Rue St. Paul.

“Greetings,” said Mituvemeg

“Greetings,” said Annahotaha.

“When?”

“When what?”

“When shall we fight?” Mituvemeg was bright-eyed.

Annahotaha said: “I have no time now. I have heard that some Frenchmen have gone up the Ottawa River to ambush the Iroquois. I have also heard bad things about the Iroquois. I am going to see the governor to see if this rumor is true.”

“Good,” said Mituvemeg. “I will go with you. I have heard dangerous reports about the Mohawk and Onondaga gathering a large force on the Iroquois River. Let us both go to the governor. We will see if we shall fight Iroquois or each other.”

He fell into step beside the Huron chief. Mituvemeg was fifteen years younger than Annahotaha. He was taller by a head, not as broad in the chest, slim-hipped, lean and muscular. He wore the same kind of clothing as the older chief but his cloak was of polar bear fur. He had traded for it with some Nippissing Indians who wintered near James Bay and who had taken the bear there.

It was a handsome pelt, and it looked splendid against his dark skin. Mituvemeg said that he would never let it be stained by his blood, and he took it off when he fought in the winter. Drunk or sober, he always protected the polar bear skin.. It was still cool at night now so he wore it now.

Mituvemeg was the son of a chief but, of course, he had earned his position himself, escaping from Iroquois captors when he was sixteen and killing three of them doing it. He was handsome; a broad forehead dropped to slightly slanting dark eyes, then high, prominent cheekbones that gave way to a stern chin. He was volatile but sentimental. He loved gambling -although he would never bet his polar bear no matter how badly he lost or how drunk he was, and he was considered lucky by his followers.

He was the father of two children, and they brought smiles to his stern face. Much of the rest of the time his face wore a mask of gravity as if he were emulating older chiefs.

“Is this story of Dollard true?” he asked Annahotaha.

Anhahotaha shrugged. “Who knows? I hope it is true.”

“Mmm,” said Mituvemeg. “You would rather fight the Iroquois than me?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

They were at the door. Annahotaha knocked, and Pierre de Belestre opened. de Belestre recognized them.

“Come in, Annahotaha. It is always a pleasure to see you and Mituvemeg!…come in chief. What brings the great warriors of the Huron and Algonquin together like this?”

Annahotaha shot Mituvemeg a quick glance. Mituvemeg said:

“We have come to see the governor.”

“Yes, of course. Just a moment.”

In Montreal, there were few formalities. Everyone had the ear of Maisonneuve but when two men of the calibre of these appeared, Maisonneuve wasted no time.

“Welcome, Annahotaha; welcome, Mituvemeg. Are you well?”

“Yes,” they replied.

“It is good to see the chief of the French. You are a good man,” said Annahotaha.

“Thank you, Annahotaha. What is the purpose of your visit?”

“We have heard a tale about some Frenchmen going to the Long Sault to ambush Iroquois.”

The governor blanched. How had they heard? And if they had heard outside Montreal, who else had heard? The Iroquois? Maisonneuve was already upset. The messenger from Quebec governor D’Argenson had arrived two days after Dollard’s team had left with the tales of Martine Messier and the kidnaping of the farming woman and her children that had ended in several deaths. The tortured Iroquois had confirmed other reports of a major attack on the colonies. Had the news arrived before Dollard had departed Maisonneuve would have vetoed the venture for fear of not having enough men to defend Montreal.

How was he to react to these chiefs? Should he keep them in Montreal to help defend the community in case the rumors of attack prove true? Or, should he send them to help Dollard in case he met more than he bargained for in the wild?

“How have you heard this tale?” he asked.

“Here in Montreal. I arrived yesterday,” said Annahotaha.

“I, today,” said Mituvemeg.

“Have you heard of this outside Montreal?”

“No. Only here.”

Mituvemeg nodded. Maisonneuve let his breath out slowly.

“It is true. Some of our soldiers have gone to ambush the Iroquois. Dollard des Ormeaux is leading them.”

Annahotaha knew Dollard; Mituvemeg did not.

“He is a capable soldier,” said Annahotaha. “He can be rash, but he is intelligent.”

“Yes,” said Maisonneuve. “I have full confidence in him.”

“What is the purpose that sends the French out of the fort for the first time to attack? It must be a great thing.”

“Not one great thing, Chief Annahotaha, but many small ones. To protect the river for Radisson, Grosseilliers and the traders who are supposed to come to us with furs. They will catch the Iroquois by surprise by attacking them in the forest.”

“Finally the French chief has decided to attack,” said Annahotaha. “The Iroquois have relied on the French staying in the forts. Now they will not know how to act in war.”

“Good,” said Mituvemeg in his usual way. “Annahotaha speaks correctly. If the hunter can find the animal in the den he can catch him; when the animal leaves the den, the hunter must track him in all weather, over all land and water. It is a different thing. Better for the animal.”

Neither of these men, of course, had felt compelled to restrict themselves to the French strategy. It would have been unnatural and disastrous. They had continued to fight the traditional forest way against their enemies.

“How many men?” asked Annahotaha.

“Seventeen.”

“How many French?”

“Seventeen.”

“No Hurons?”

“No.”

The chiefs exchanged glances.

“They should not be there alone,” said Annahotaha. “They do not know the Iroquois as we do. Or the country.”

“That’s true, but…”

“We go now to help the French.”

“You two– both of you?”

“And my men,” said Annahotaha.

“And mine.”

“How many men?” said Maisonneuve.

“Forty,” said Annahotaha.

“We are only four Algonquin, but they are all of great heart,” said Mituvemeg.

Maisonneuve thought fast. Annahotaha was right, but that wasn’t the question. Dollard was well equipped to handle the assignment with seventeen men; with forty-four more they would be sixty-one — no longer a small party. Then too, although the valor of these two men was beyond question and the three Algonquins too, there was some doubt in Maisonneuve’s mind about the thirty-nine Hurons. Hurons were a strange and complex people and sometimes they were not always trustworthy in battle from the French point of view. Every tribe in Canada frequently decided against battling superior odds and withdrew either before a fight or during. It was not a disgrace but rather sound tactical warfare — in fact, Dollard had been asked what he would do in the face of superior numbers, and he had answered correctly: not attack.

But the Hurons were different. Sometimes they would give their word to fight and there in the middle of a battle defect and fight on the other side if things were going badly. That was carrying the self-preservation instinct too far for Maisonneuve.

On the other hand, the help might be welcomed by Dollard, especially since he had some inexperienced canoeists and woodsmen with him. And their help would be required even more if the rumors were true.

“Are your men reliable?” asked Maisonneuve.

“Yes,” replied Annahotaha.

Mituvemeg snorted derisively but said nothing. Unlike the sometimes capricious Huron, the Algonquins did not ever consider joining their enemies the Iroquois in adoption. They would fight to the death. Mituvemeg knew this was understood. He didn’t bother to give Maisonneuve’s remark dignity by responding.

“We have a message from Quebec,” Maisonneuve said. He told them about the attacks on Quebec and the one on Nun’s Island.

The chiefs exchanged glances.

“There are always these rumors,” said Annahota, “but this spring there have been more of them. I heard them on my travels a week ago even in Trois-Rivieres.”

“I, too, heard of these things near the Nipissing River,” said Mituvemeg.

All three men’s expressions became grave. It was one thing to hear a captured braggart tell tales to preserve his life as either as trade bait or as an emissary. To hear to these things as far apart as Quebec, Montreal, Trois-Rivieres and on the Nipissing and Ottawa rivers, suggested an alarming validity.

“I will give you a message for Commander des Ormeaux,” Maisonneuve said, sitting down at his desk. He then wrote a short note explaining his fears about some of the Hurons and advising Dollard to accept the help or not as he saw fit. There was nothing else he could do. The men under Annahotaha and Mituvemeg would do exactly what their chiefs told them to do under any circumstances no matter what Maisonneuve wanted. The chiefs had decided to go to the Long Sault. Clearly Dollard and his men were at more risk than those in the fort at Montreal, so the best way to handle it was to give Annahota an explanatory note to Dollard.

After asking whether the Indians needed anything– they needed ammunition — Maisonneuve bade them good-bye. As they walked toward the armament house, Mituvemeg was silent for a while. Finally, he said:

“I am not a man without sense.”

“Yes,” replied Annahotaha. “I apologize.”

“Good,” said Mituvemeg. “We will fight the Iroquois instead of each other. We will take more satisfaction.”

Annahotaha and Mituvemeg were laughing as they showed a note to the ordinance officer authorizing supplies of shot and powder.

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