The Battle of the Long Sault, Chapter 29: First Fight

the_battle-Mohammed-Hasnat-399x600“IROQUOIS!”

The warning word shouted at exactly the same pitch and volume was a constant seared into every man’s brain, some since childhood, some for only a few years. The effect was precisely the same: terror, followed immediately by resolution, then action. The only other possible reaction, paralysis, meant death

Everyone turned, astonished. It was the Canadians’ turn to be surprised. The main Iroquois band had been waiting just above the Long Sault rapid. They did not have to wait for the report of the men who got away. When their scouts at the top of the rapid saw what happened to the advance canoes, the chiefs decided to attack.

Several errors flashed through Dollard’s mind.

“Guards,” he thought. “After the attack we posted no more scouts up the rapid, sent no one to follow the escaped Iroquois.”

But that wasn’t the worst of it. They were caught open-mouthed, gaping at the Iroquois. Their canoes still sat beached; their kettles hung on forked sticks over fires for the morning meal; they had done nothing to repair the Algonquin fort. Dollard felt ashamed. There was no time to consider all this now.

“Get what you can — ammunition and guns first!” he yelled. “Get the food and kettles and get into that stockade! Run! Move!”

They ran — French, Huron and Algonquin — picking up what they could. Within ninety seconds, everybody was inside the meager fort. They watched, disbelieving eyes being forced to accept.

“Fire at will!” commanded Dollard.

“How many canoes?” yelled Dollard.

“Forty or fifty,” answered Annahotaha.

“God, that means around two hundred.”

Annahotaha nodded grimly, “And they are not hunters. They are all Onondaga warriors.”

The Canadians had opened fire and were peppering the Iroquois with shot. Some of the Iroquois had landed and were returning fire. They were well armed. Each had a hatchet at his side or in his hand, and many carried muskets. The noise was unbearable; both sides were yelling and firing.

The Iroquois themselves were astonished. Never had they seen what they were seeing. Never had the French left their forts to fight in Indian territory. Never had they seen so many troops in their forest. They didn’t know how many enemies there were, but they knew by the firing that there were plenty.

Both sides faced severe changes in tactics. The Iroquois had to try to adjust to this new threat and Montreal would have to wait. As for the allies, their dreams of a second ambush had vanished completely. They were sitting in a poorly reinforced wreck of a fort and most of their large kettles, some of their provisions, and all of their canoes were in Iroquois hands. They had all their ammunition, for which they thanked God, but the situation had changed drastically.

The fighting went on. The Iroquois were trying to take advantage of the surprise they had opened with and pressed the attack. They leaped out of their canoes before they were beached; they began firing when their feet hit the ground. They had started yelling as soon as they crested the rapids and they didn’t stop.

Dollard had lost several advantages. Had he been ready for this Iroquois attack as he had been for the first two canoes, his party could have killed dozens by firing on them while the Iroquois were still trying to get down the rapids. The Iroquois knew that could happen, so instead of trying to sneak down the rapids, they stormed down and hoped the effect would disorganize their enemy. Dollard’s men didn’t react to that in a disorganized fashion: they acted out a hasty but effective retreat. But they had been disorganized beforehand. They had considered all the possibilities except one — that the Iroquois would be massing to attack above the rapids. Their mistakes were proving costly. Not in men — no French or Indian ally had been hit while a score of Iroquois were dead — but in terms of position.

The Iroquois of the Onondaga tribe, seeing their newly dead men on the ground, decided to revert to their usual ploy in situations like this: they called their men back and asked for a parley

The Iroquois ceased fire. The French ceased fire. An Iroquois voice called out.

“Frenchmen, do not fire at us. We want to talk with you!”

Louis Taondechoren stood near Dollard and translated. Dollard listened.

“All right, come ahead.”

An Onondaga chief emerged from the Iroquois cover area — trees that lay sixty feet in from the water. He walked across the clearing deliberately, not looking at the dead that lay around him. He glanced up once before starting across and chose a path that would not make him step over any of his tribesmen.

“Who are the people in this fort and why have you come here?” he said.

Annahotaha said, “They want to find out how many men we have.” He signaled to the old Huron. Louis Taondechoren replied.

“We are French, Huron and Algonquin–one hundred men–and we have come to meet some of the Nez-Perce tribe.”

The Nez-Perce was another name for a separate band of Ottawa Indians. They were beaver hunters, and Radisson had gone to winter with them. That was the Ottawa band expected in Montreal. Members of the Algonquin nation, they were also enemies of the Iroquois and had recently fought against them.

“Wait and do not fire,” said the Onondaga chief, “until we take counsel among ourselves, and I shall come back to see you. Meanwhile do not commit any act of hostility for fear of interfering with the fair words we have to offer the governor in Montreal.”

Louis Taondechoren answered: “Withdraw to the other side of the river then while we discuss matters too.”

The Onondaga did not reply. Instead, they immediately began constructing a palisade.

The Onondaga had reported the French strength, took into consideration the probability of exaggeration, concluded that they outnumbered the French at least two to one and decided to fight.

Dollard saw the enemy begin to work and ordered the strengthening of the Algonquin fort.

The Iroquois began constructing a rudimentary palisade. The palisades that encircled their villages, like those of the Huron, were made of slender wooden poles over fifteen feet high. The poles were shaved at both ends, and one end was screwed into the earth. They were set a few inches apart. There were usually three rows of the staggered poles woven together with bark and small branches. The base of the palisade was reinforced with earth and rocks. Tree trunks were piled in front of it. Watchtowers and cat-walks were built on the inside of the wall where men could shoot out, over or through the poles and where water for fires and rocks to hurl could be stored. At the end of the palisade, there was a right-angled gate so that the enemy could not rush in.

The Onondagas, with nearly two hundred men working, constructed a rudimentary palisade about nine feet tall without the watchtower or cat-walk. Instead, they constructed the wall around a high rock near the foot of the rapids, and this was used as the lookout.

The Canadians meanwhile were shoring up their fort. It consisted primarily of tree trunks affording a sturdy base. Some of the poles from the Algonquin palisade were still standing, and these were strengthened and supported with new poles. The French used two rows of poles separated by about eight inches into which area they poured earth and stones eight feet high. Loopholes were left at shoulder level so that three men could occupy each position all around the fort.

Branches and rope were used to secure the poles, and cross pieces were wedged firmly between them so that gradually the shaky circle took on the appearance of a strong barricade. It was just in time. The Iroquois, with more men, were finished first, and they launched a furious attack on the barricade.

“Positions!” Dollard cried. “Fire at will!”

The French were good shots and under cover whereas the Iroquois were coming at them in the open. Dollard had the advantage of position if not numbers.

The fierce, blood-chilling Iroquois war cry, Cassee Kouee!’ filled the air. The hatred was palpable, and shivers ran down French backs. But they did not flinch. Secure in their barricade they poured volley after volley into the advancing Iroquois until, seeing their losses mount, the Onondagas called a retreat and fled back to the safety of their palisade.
An Onondaga chief fell, and the bullets rained on his companions so they could not retrieve his body. During the retreat, covered by fire from the fort, a Huron brave ran out and cut off the head of the Onondaga, as the Iroquois howled in frustration. The Huron returned, dancing to the barricade, and slammed the dead chief’s head on the point of a high pole where it sat, peering at its allies in a bloody ghostly stare.

The French were ecstatic. They had not lost one man or had one injured and, counting the thirteen Onondagas killed in the ambush and nine from the first attack, there were thirty-six Iroquois dead.

“I am afraid of what they are up to,” said Annahotaha. “This is no ordinary war party. I think they plan to attack Montreal.”

” It’s as if they are cavalry and we and barely infantry,” said Dollard

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