Annenraes moved out of the long house, the 200 foot bark house he shared with his wife and child and 10 other families. He was in the center of the village when his son, Kepitinat, who was ten, caught up to him.
“Father, may I go to the council tonight?”
Annenraes looked at his son who was constantly asking to do this thing or that thing for which he was not of age.
“It is for elders and leaders. Not children.”
“Children are not skilled with a bow, as I am. I know my forest foods and I am a good tracker.”
Until four years ago the boy had been indulged as all Iroquois children. Then he had begun learning skills and taking his turn at work. He was about to say he was a worthy competitor at games but he thought that might count against him. But he did add, “And I am the son of a chief.”
“Just because I am chief does not mean you will be. If the women of the nation recommended you the council will consider it,” he reproved and when his son looked crestfallen, Annenraes laughed, “You may attend but you must stay in the dark and not speak or make a sound else you will not be invited for many months.”
“Thank you, father. I will be silent as a rock.” he ran off to tell his friends and play their war games.
“Play Kapitinet. All too soon those games you play will lead to real death,” he said as he watched his son run, sturdy, straight legs carrying him away.
The more his son knew about government the more he could contribute. And perhaps if he were elected chief he would be a man chosen for his governing ability not his war craft. If anyone would ever be elected to such a position again in his lifetime, he growled to himself. With so much killing now the chances looked remote.
When Anenenraes was young if a man from another tribe killed someone, presents to the bereaved would prevent further bloodshed. If no reparation was forthcoming, small wars of revenge would be held until calm heads prevailed, presents exchanged and the killing stopped. Things were different now.
He went to the river near the village and prayed that the spirit would guide his Onondaga nation and the others of the confederacy. Annenraes lifted his muscular arms laced with the scars of old wounds. Looking over the water he frowned. His face was held in an almost permanent quizzical expression as if he was constantly trying to assess something. Most times he was; he had seen more changes in his lifetime than ten generations before him. His face was unmarked except for a black scarred area just under his left eye where a Huron had burned his cheek after having captured him in a large but abortive Iroquois attack. He painted a black circle around the scar making him look ferocious when he went into battle.
The Hurons had kept him over the winter thinking that he might be advantageous in a peace conference. He did exactly that, when leaving the Hurons as an emissary, he convinced a party of three hundred Onondaga to turn back when he met them en route to avenge the loss of the previous year. At that time he believed in the possibilities of a treaty which said the Huron would share the land, believed the French promises.
He had been wounded again later on a war party to quell the troublesome Erie nation to the far west of the Longhouse door. The Cat people, as the Erie were called because of the presence of many cougars in their territory, shot him with a poisoned arrow and his companions left him for dead because it was said no one ever recovered from this poison. But the Erie recognized him and administered an antidote in the hope that he would be useful to them in negotiations. He escaped from them after another year however and the Erie lost their chance.
Annenraes had been a captive and captor. He had watched, listened and learned. Now it was time to act.
For two days the Onondaga village, which was in the middle of the five nations, in the territory south of the great lakes, took on the air of a city. Stream after stream of Iroquois arrived: the Mohawk and Oneida from the east, the Cayuga and Seneca from the west. They called their government the Longhouse Confederacy because the five nations ranged across the territory like families in a village longhouse. The Mohawk lived at the eastern door, then the Oneida, then the Onondaga, the Cayuga and finally the Seneca at the western ‘door’. They came to smoke the council pipe. The confederacy, formed one hundred years before this time, was at work.
Annenraes had sent out runners weeks earlier and he expected a large council. He greeted old friends, heard stories of minor skirmishes, of victories and defeats, of the deaths of friends, of the capture of some enemies and the adoption of others.
Annenraes was of the Hawk clan, one of many Iroquois clans– the Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Turtle, Heron and others. Every person had a clan from the mother’s line and they were filtered throughout the confederacy interlacing all nations. Even the adopted Indians of other tribes were assimilated in this way, having been assigned a clan and made family.
Hunters from the village went out to procure meat from which the women prepared great feasts. For several days the nations’ members had met held small councils on matters of particular importance to different groups, women, old chiefs, young traders and others and they sent representatives to the main council. Tonight a huge fire was prepared and these deputies arranged themselves in circles around it. The council opened with an old sachem addressing the chief of all spirits asking for blessings.
There was much debate but no anger. No one interrupted. Each spoke in turn supporting his opinion with whatever facts or reasoning he could command but not until he had stated the point under discussion in full to prove he understood it, to reinforce the point in he minds of the listeners or to correct a detail. Each speaker summarized the points made before adding his comments to the skein.
Annenraes as the host, the chief who had called the council, rose to speak. His black scar glistened in the firelight as he walked around the circle. The faces of the braves reflected the history of the people. Unlike the Huron, the Iroquois demanded unanimity of their councils, and he knew he must be persuasive,. He made a short invocation to elicit aid from the spirts in his speech making. Then he began:
“Chiefs, councillors, warriors, wise men of the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida and Mohawk, we welcome you to our village and honor you. We extract the thorns from your feet which you received on your journey; we take away the sand and the pebbles from between your toes and wash the wounds and bruises made by the briars and brushwood; we annoint you with balsamic oil; we wipe the sweat off your faces, the dust off your eyes and we cleanse the your ears, eyes, throats and hearts from all evil which you have seen or heard by the wayside or which has entered into your being
“If, by chance or error we have transgressed one unto the other, nation against nation, we repudiate the transgression. We make a road extending five hundred miles through the wood: we root out the thorns and bushes, strew the road with sand and make everything so clear and light that one nation may look peacefully toward the other without any interception.
“My words make haste to reach your ears. Harken to them.”
Kepitinant, who sat on a rock away from the council, beamed with delight.
“For generations we have been in difficulty,” Annenraes continued. “Years ago we hunted and fished, farmed and wandered in these forests. It is true we had wars with each other and Huron and Algonquin and Erie and Mahican and Susquehanna. But these were as ripples on a pond; they disturbed the waters briefly then all was calm again.
“But since the white men have come to our land our lives have changed. It is true we need the things the white men bring: his kettles are superior, his knives sharper, his guns are can best our bows but the white man comes with pain. We are at war now constantly. We suffer from disease. There is more calamity now in our countries.”
Annenraes paced back and forth in front of the fire. The listeners sat on their haunches low to the ground on cross-legged on, their mats or they lounged on their stomachs or on their backs in the rows just back from the first ring of men circling the fire.
“The white give us these things in trade but the trade is difficult. The beaver, in our land is gone but the Hurons, once our brothers, deny us access to their lands where the beaver is plentiful still. The Huron care not for our suffering.”
Fingering his belt with its beads and colored stone, its animals, decorated characters, he was able to bring to mind exact dates of treaties and battles and other happenings.
*”Fifteen summers ago we made a treaty with the French, the Huron and the Algonquin. In that treaty they promised that we would all share in the trade peacefully. But one summer, instead of coming down the Ottawa River to share so that they could take their furs to the French as we to the Dutch and all would have food and necessities of life, they slyly took their furs on the northern rivers and landed at Montreal and the place of three rivers from another direction while we waited forornly.
“It is clear to me now that they intended this from the beginning. The next year when I was captured they seduced me into thinking they desired peace again but again they broke faith with us. The French actions do not repeat what their mouths speak. More treaties were made but still they took their furs by the northern routes.”
The council was restive, but no one interrupted the chief. He displayed no studied manner, yet he was eloquent. He had no giant physical form yet he appeared impressive.
“We blockaded the Ottawa River. We captured some furs. But this method is not good. We can obtain only a few pelts in this manner. And the French will simply go north to avoid us. If this continues we will starve.”
Kepitinat’s eyes widened as he listened, motionless, to his father, his hands clasped around his knees as he sat on the rock overlooking the fire and the hundreds of people assembled below him.
“You will remember when we attacked the Huron at Ste. Marie eleven summers ago. We were in grave difficulty then and knew we must eradicate the Huron. We did not succeed but the Huron starved on an island and now they are not so numerous or troublesome as before. Yet it has not helped us. Now the Ottawa tribe, the Algonquin, have taken up the trade and we are no better than before. We are in a fragile situation in this country. We are surrounded by enemies who would deprive us of the trade. No matter how many of these enemies we kill, new ones will come to take their places and trade with the French. It is clear to me that the problem lies not with the Huron or the Ottawa but with the French. They do not see a truce with us as beneficial for they fear we will take the furs and trade with the Dutch as we have done before. As we quarrel with the other tribes the French quarrel with the Dutch and they will not share the trade either.”
There were responses of accord from the men now, calls of agreement and exhortation.
“My eyes were clouded, but now they are clear. If we are not to decline and lose out lives, we must attack the French and kill them all. Then we can trade with the northern tribes and take the furs to the Dutch.
“What I say is the voice of the five nations. You should listen carefully to my words. Hiro. I have spoken.”
The French Jesuits wrote in their letters to France that the Iroquois felt more fortunate in war in proportion as they are cruel towards their enemies.
When he sat down there was pause and then the assembled cheered him for a long time. Then a Seneca chief rose to speak:
“Annenraes has spoken well. It is true the French have broken treaties with us but so have we with them.”
This statement silenced the council for a moment but then some assenting words were spoken.
Agariata, a war-chief from the Mohawks rose.
“Sometimes some of the nations have mistakenly broken a peace treaty, it is true but I believe no one has knowingly broken a treaty.
The Seneca chief rose again: “I believe mistakes have been made. This is my opinion on the matter.”
It was clear the Seneca chief was angry. He suspected the Mohawk and Onondaga especially of repeatedly breaking various truces for immediate gain and he knew other chiefs felt the same way. He received support over the next four hours from the Cayuga and Oneida nation’s chiefs, but even thought it was true, Annenraes had spoken the larger truth, the confederacy was in danger of losing its life, and gradually the mood swung to support for his position.
It was a long deliberation taking many pipes top conclude but it was a thorough investigation of a complicated matter.
“You have called us here Chief Annenraes. What is it that you propose?”
“As we attacked the Huron at Ste. Marie so we must attack the French forts. The French do not dare attack us in the forests but since they do not we cannot kill them here. We must go to their places. We should prepare and go at the end of the fourth moon. They will be planting seed for their food and will not suspect us nor will they be able to stop us. We will kill them in their fields. If the French send men to help these people, we will kill them too. Then, when the fort is weakened from the dead we will attack the fort and eliminate all. We will surround the forts and have all summer to win this battle.
The council considered this calmly. The Senecas and Cayugas told of fires near their end of the longhouse that required immediate attention, that were more pressing to them than the troubles with the French. They promised that, these flames being extinguished, they would hasten to join their comrades. No one of the sister nations knew whether this was an excuse because these nations did not agree with Annenraes or whether it was accurate. They accepted it as true however because each nation always acted in its own interest.
Agariata hastily agreed to send five hundred Mohawks. The Oneidas said they could send one hundred and Annenraes could spare two hundred. He was pleased. He said ” I do not love war but I have had enough of fruitless peace.”
After elaborate farewells, the Seneca and Cayuga went west, the Oneida and Mohawk east all to their villages.
In April the Iroquois sang their war songs, boasted of their valor, related old victories, and called upon the gods to help them in this, their most important battle.
Annenraes threw his hatchet into the war post and two hundred braves rushed to be among those chosen to accompany him. They sharpened their knives and hatchets, made arrows, tended their canoes, tended to their guns as best they could. They sang and prayed and fasted and prepared themselves.
On April 15th, Annenraes comforted his mother who suffered from a fever. He promised her presents of prisoners to run the gauntlet so that she could take out her revenge on those who had killed two of her sons in the wars.
Kepitinat approached his father as he left the longhouse.
“Father,” he said softly, “I have a question of great importance to ask you. I ask you not to answer too quickly because of my age or my experience but to consider my request with great seriousness.”
Annenraes smiled to himself. “With great seriousness, is it? Very Well, speak.”
“I would like to accompany you on this warpath to our enemies. I am not only enough to be a brave, but I am brave nonetheless.”
Annenraes somehow knew this was coming. The boy might learn a lot. It would help him mature, and he could be held safe.
“Yes, Kepitinat, you may come with me but you will not fight, only observe and you will obey any older than you without question. And do not speak of this matter lest many others want to join you and it become a parade of children.”
Yes, father, thank you father.” the boy was already running away to prepare himself.
Annenraes walked alone for hours. He stood over a cliff, looking out over the vast land of melting snow before him, and he prayed.
“Great Spirit, guide our hands and minds in this matter. Give us fair weather, strong currents, steady hands, courageous hearts and deliver the enemy to us.”