Annenraes guided his elm-bark canoe into the current. It sat low in the water with Toca, a warrior, in the bow and his son, Kepitinet, in the middle.
On the river, the seemingly silent flotilla churned its rhythmic way downstream with two hundred repetitious puffs of breath visible over the bobbing heads. Sixty- five war canoes had been traveling for eleven hours when Annenraes signaled the day’s end.
The lead canoes turned and headed for a wide shore, and the grateful Onondagas leaped out, pulled their craft to safety, and began to prepare the camp. Some went for firewood, some for dead branches for the kettles to rest on. Dozens went back to the river with nets to catch fish for the sagamite and others inspected the canoes for damage.
Kepitinet was exhausted but refused to allow his father to see it. He asked what to do and was told to get large flat stones to crush the corn. He ran off happily. His excitement was at a high pitch, traveling with his father, the chief, on the war path.
Annenraes automatically checked the bottom of his canoe as the others did. No nicks. Many found slight tears which they repaired with birch bark, ochre and a daub of pitch, making the closure water-tight.
He would have taken the larger war canoes that could handle six men, but the Ottawa River’s rapids made that impossible.
Toca returned from the forest edge with four long branches and some birch bark. He trimmed the branches until they were all roughly three feet high and, using the flat end of his hatchet, he pounded them into the ground in a long rectangular pattern. Kepitinet returned with two large stones, and he tossed them on the ground then Toca motioned for him to place large pieces of birch bark over the sticks. They moved to the canoe Annenraes had inspected, lifted it and placed it slantingly upon the birch bark that protected the canoe from any rip from the upraised branches. The canoe would cover them as they slept with their blankets on their rolled, reed mats over pine boughs.
Some of the Onondagas had been smoking as they pulled in, so fires for the meal set easily. They flavored the sagamite with the fish the men had caught. They threw all the fish in the pot. No cleaning. The kettle did that. The bones either sank to the bottom or stayed with the fish and the men spat them out while chewing.
After eating, the men sat around the fire and spoke of the coming battle. At Annenraes’ fire Toca got up to relive himself and Kepitinet took advantage, moving to sit beside his father. He had been wanting to speak to his father alone but had seen no opportunity.
“Father, how many French will we kill in this battle?”
“I do not know, Kepitinat. The first place we will attack is the fort at Montreal. If we surround the place and allow no messengers to carry news of our attack, we may then safely try to move on to Three Rivers and then Kebec. In those places, there are many French and Huron and Algonkin too.”
“What if someone sees us going to Montreal and warns the other places?” he said, knees up, arms around them, looking into the fire.
“Someone may well see us. We have to be alert. Watching is a job you can do. Watch for those who might escape and warn the others.”
He sat back excitedly. “I can do that father. In the woods, I am like a cougar from the Erie lands.”
Annenraes laughed, “Yes, you are.”
“Do you remember the time I snuck up on you and jumped out from behind a tree? You did not know I was there!”
“Had I been a Huron you would have captured me surely,” he laughed.
Kepitinet became suddenly somber. He was only ten, and although he had shot rabbits and squirrels with his bow, he had certainly never killed anyone. He had, of course, seen captives put to death in torture at the stake.
“Father, if we find Huron in the fort will we kill them or capture them or adopt them?”
“Undoubtedly we will adopt some. The French are good fighters…in their forts… and as they will assuredly kill some of us we will have to replace our brothers.”
“Why do we fight the Huron at all? They speak like us and look like us. We have adopted some of them, and they have adopted some of us Hodenosaunee. Aren’t they our cousins?”
“Once they were. War has made us enemies.” Annenraes was smoking and blew out a puff as he spoke. “In the old days the Wendat… which is what the Huron call themselves because in the beginning they lived on an island… the Wendat and we and many other nations came from the same place.”
“Why do we call them two names?”
Annenraes exhaled with irritation. It angered him that these white people had such influence that they could change the names of the original people. “The French call them Huron because the Wendat wear their hair cut to the middle and high on their heads. The French call them after an animal in their country I was told.”
“If we are like the Wendat why do we fight them?
“Because they are friends of the French.”
“But I do not understand father. The French are also friends of the Algonquin. And the Wendat and the Algonquin are not of the same family are they?”
“Then why do they not fight? I do not understand why peoples that are the same fight and peoples that are not alike do not. We do not fight with the rest of the five nations because they are our people so it seems to me that we should not fight the Wendat either but that we and the Wendat should fight the French and the Algonquin.”
Annenraes put his hand on the head of his son. “Kepitinet, you are very young, and these matters confound even our wisest men. This is why we have councils and all our brothers come together to help each other to learn whether we must have peace or war. So It is good that you think of these things. Perhaps when you are grown, you will be a Pine Tree Chief who will help us solve these problems.”
Kepitinet scoffed,” I don’t want to be a Pine Tree Chief. I want to be a Warrior chief like you!”
“Do not disparage Pine Tree Chiefs. Pine Chiefs make alliances, bring peace, make life better for the nation. War is sometimes necessary, but we try to avoid it whenever possible.”
Chastened, Kepitinet said, “Isn’t war a good thing ever?”
“It is good when it brings peace. You know our confederacy stretches from below the big lakes across to the Erie nation. Every two hundred miles there is a nation. Each sits near a river or big lake, and they fall down the country in five streams. If one of our nations has trouble with another tribe, we offer The Great Peace. If the other tribes do not accept our peace after three offers, we kill the chief and declare war. Then we fight them until there is peace with the rebellious nation.”
Kepitinet laughed out loud. “We kill people to make peace?”
Annenraes laughed too. “You are right, my son. It sounds like it does not make sense. But strangely, it does. It shortens wars.”
“Sometimes the nations make peace without war?”
“Yes and if they do they continue their own laws and government. If they choose war, and we exterminate many or absorb them, then they must be ruled by our councils. Our country is now made up of many people from many nations, but they become Onweh Oweh when we adopt them. We are Onweh Oweh, the original men. We want to live in peace but then the French came, and the Dutch and there are stories of other white men south of the Dutch. They all come to our country from across the big water. We know nothing of these people. They make good kettles and weapons but their hearts are not true, and they are greedy.”
“It seems everything changed when these whites came,” said Kepitinat.
“The ways of all the people changed, replied Annenraes. “Wendat, Sequehana, Erie, Mohican, Algonkin, and Hodenosaunee…it changed for all. The white is obsessed with beaver. They take it to their countries for hats.” He snorted and shook his head at the thought. “We do not hate the Wendat, but they conspire against us with the French so that we cannot get beaver that we need to trade for kettles and knives.”
“And guns,” said Kepitinat, who had been yearning for one of his own since he was six.
“And guns, yes,” said Annenraes. “Because in a fight against bows guns will almost always win. Even if we did not desire to trade, the other nations would soon run us out of our country. They have almost done so now. Years ago there were many beaver in our country but now the beaver have left their lodges in our country and gone to live in the north where the Wendat live.”
“Can we not trade with the French too, father?
“No, we trade with the Dutch. The French and the Wendat made a treaty that allowed us to share the beaver, but the Wendat broke the treaty and we can never trust the French. So we must drive them all from these places. We are the Onweh oweh, the original men, and we will recapture all this land for our people.