Scouts had gone up to the head of the Long Sault rapid in darkness. At dawn the Canadians, new and old, rolled out of their make-shift beds. The Hurons and Algonquins slept, as usual, under their birchbark canoes; the French used the canoe sails as tents now.
The sun was filtering through the last clouds of the a rain storm. The air was cool but pleasant, fires were burning, kettles slung on crooked sticks for the morning meal. The men talked animatedly among themselves about last night’s stories.
Suddenly the scout canoe shot over the rim of the rapids and came hurtling down the rocky waterway. Pilote, in the bow, waved frantically.
No one could hear him. The canoe was lost for a moment in the white foam. He was yelling, but the roar of the rapids snuffed his words.
It didn’t matter; Dollard knew.
“Positions!” Dollard yelled.
“Move!” said Robert Jurie.
“Go!” Annahotaha and Mituvemeg spoke simultaneously.
Fifty men grabbed their weapons and ran for cover. Some wedged themselves in the rocks alongside the foot of the rapids, some went behind the rudimentary fort, some took cover in the forest. It wasn’t until they were all in position, that Dollard saw their canoes still beached in plain sight.
“The damn canoes, Robert,” he said to Robert Jurie.
“I know, Dollard, but it doesn’t matter. By the time those Iroquois see them, it’ll be too late for them to do anything about them.”
“Don’t fire until I give the word!” yelled Dollard. “God, it’s happening so fast.” he said.
Pilote and the others had beached their canoe and were running for the Algonquin enclosure. Dollard’s eyes followed them in. He waved; they returned the wave and held up two hands indicating two canoes. Then Pilote held up his right hand, fingers spread out wide, three times. Dollard read the message and yelled to those near him.
“Two canoes! Indians take the first canoe, Frenchmen the second. Ready! Wait for the word!” The allied chiefs repeated the instruction to their men.
Suddenly, the water catapulted two large elm bark canoes out of the roar. Fifteen Iroquois warriors in war paint filled the canoes. They were expert, but all their efforts were concentrated on controlling the canoes. None yet saw the enemy. The bowman in the lead canoe looked ahead to judge the water route. He saw the French canoes beached in the clearing on the left. His head jerked up; his lips moved and six pairs of eyes shot from the water to the beach. Only the sternman kept his eyes on the water. It was but an instant, but they knew.
A middle warrior in the first canoe lifted his paddle and pointed to the shore so the second canoe could see it. He didn’t know whether they had or not. He never knew. The order to fire came as he lifted the paddle and Annahotaha put a bullet through his head.
He fell sideways, tipping the canoe.
The second canoe was still battling the rapids fifteen yards back.
The Algonquins and Hurons began shooting at the first canoe in the spume, shooting the Iroquois in the water.
The second canoe ejected from the rapid: the middle paddlers were trying to get stabilized to shoot, but the French volley hit chest high, and the canoe flipped sideways from the impact. As heads appeared in the water, they were shot. The white foam turned crimson.
One Iroquois in the second canoe hit the water with the rest but dove deep into the cold water and swam for the opposite shore. Although wounded in the side, he did not quit.
The first canoe, now overturned, was drifting downstream. Mituvemeg watched it then noticed it was edging to the far shore when the current moved straight downriver.
“Watch that canoe!” he shouted.
Too late they realized what had happened. An Iroquois brave had clung to the far side of the canoe, drifted downstream with it until he was out of musket range and then pulled it toward the far shore. Then he swam away from the craft and was now climbing out of the water. Several shots were fired, but he was well out of range. The other Iroquois brave had reached the opposite shore too. As he was leaving the water blood raced down his arm, and he disappeared behind a rock.
Dollard watched and shook his head.
“One, maybe two got away,” he said.
“We killed thirteen,” said Annahotaha.
Dollard waved his arm and the men in the Algonquin fort moved the two hundred feet to the river to see if there were any more survivors. There were none.
The men were elated with their victory.
“It worked! It worked!” said Louis Martin.
“Yeah, but two got away,” said Cognac.
“I think only one,” said Forges.
“What does it matter … one or two… he’ll still tell any Iroquois above the rapids,” said Cognac.
“All right! All right! Let’s get down to the front here and have a military discussion about it, not an argument!” said Dollard. “Everybody but the posted guards down here.”
Everyone congregated on the flat land in front of the canoes.
“We have killed thirteen Onondagas. One or two have escaped,” said Dollard. “What opinions are there?
A young Huron called La Mouche stepped forward. He was Annahotaha’s nephew.
“We have done well, here today. Thirteen dead Iroquois is good. We have accomplished your purpose. I say we should return to Montreal. The two canoes were full of warriors, not hunters. They were well armed. It was an advance party, and there are surely many more above the rapids. Whether they are warriors or hunters does not matter, there are more of them, they will be told, and our ambush is no longer a surprise. That is my opinion on the subject,” said La Mouche.
Annahotaha stepped forward angrily.
“That is a cowardly approach! We have the advantage of position.” Annahotaha walked back and forth, in the Indian custom, as he spoke. “Even if there are six or eight or twenty canoes above the rapids they can come down only one at a time. In any case, the Iroquois do not travel in such great numbers unless there is a major war, and we have not heard anything of this. We should maintain our strong position here; if we do not take advantage of our victory, we may not get another chance. And what are thirteen Iroquois dead if we return to Montreal, and the Iroquois take our place here and ambush Radisson and the Ottawas who are coming with furs? It will have been wasted! No. We should stay here longer, but we should rebuild the Algonquin stockade without delay. That is my opinion on the subject,” said Annahotaha.
“Robert?” asked Dollard, who was thinking of the message from Maisonneuve about the attacks on Quebec.
“I agree with Chief Annahotaha,” replied Robert Jurie. “I don’t think we can lose much by staying here a while longer. He’s right about the Algonquin place, too.”
“Chief Mituvemeg?” said Dollard.
Mituvemeg paused and then began to pace as Annahotaha had done.
“Two alive is not good. However, if none were alive, and there were more Iroquois above the rapids it would be the same, for the Iroquois would surely send a party to see what happened to the advance canoes. They would suspect something…they might believe one canoe lost in the rapids, but never two. If we go home now, we have accomplished one purpose — a small one. If we wait perhaps we can do more.
“I do not disagree that there is danger in staying, but there is danger in leaving too. If we leave now, and there are more Iroquois above the rapid, what is to prevent them from chasing us down the river? We would make easy targets. They would run us to our deaths.
“We have the advantage now and should not release it. But we should prepare ourselves properly. We were lucky. They saw our canoes, and they should not have. This place should not have given such notice. We should stay but under the circumstances we have heard here. That is my opinion on the subject.”
Like Annahotaha, he had paced throughout his speech, pausing for effect both in motion and in words. Like Annahotaba, he knew the value of intonation, rate of speech, energy.
Both were superb speakers.
Finally, Dollard spoke: “Are there more opinions? Different ones?” he asked.
He waited. No one spoke.
“I must tell you that at Quebec there were rumors of great attack and again at Montreal when we captured an Iroquois …that brave also spoke of a massive attack. Even if it’s true, we cannot escape at the moment. The enemy above the rapid would hunt us down.
To retreat means a small victory here, but possible defeat. To stay could mean a greater victory. We will stay.”
A shout of approval rose from all but a few of the sixty-one men.
But the sound of the cheer almost seemed a direct cause of another wild cry that filled the air. Mituvemeg turned and saw a horde of Iroquois canoes coming over the crest of the rapids.
“Iroquois!” he yelled.