The Battle of the Long Sault, Ch. 3: Recruitment

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BATTLE OF THE LONG SAULT.

Ch. 3 RECRUITMENT. AUTUMN, 1659. 

Dollard clumped slowly through the snow back to the palisade from the meeting with the governor, his mouth drawn, his expression gloomy, swearing to himself. He climbed the wooden steps fifteen feet up to the walkway next to the stone tower and met the eager Pierre de Belestre.

He started fuming, walking rapidly up and down the palisade wall, swearing under his breath. de Belestre waited patiently.

“Walk with me on my circuit,” said de Belestre.

They walked slowly around the walls checking the six gates,  passing another guard moving in the other direction. Whenever he came into view on the circuit, they lowered their voices even more than  usual.

“I didn’t mean to imply that it was Maisonneuve’s fault we hadn’t attacked the Iroquois!” said Dollard.

“I didn’t think he took it that way,” said his friend.

“Pierre, I can’t stand it here any longer like this! We’re dead men if we do nothing. Either we’ll die of boredom in this ice country or we’ll be killed by the savages! We’re like animals waiting to be killed at the whim of the hunter. Is this why we came to the New World, to die like rats?”

He turned, looked out over the palisade wall and yelled:

“Come and fight you savages!’

He turned back to de Belestre,

“But of course, they won’t; they’re not stupid. They know that if we fight them in the forest they win and if they keep us here, they win! Either way, they win.”

De Belstre automatically looked out over the walls even as he listened to his friend. An attack could come at any time.

“I don’t know what we can do about it…it’s three more years until our new commission is up…no, we’ve got to do it the way you’ve suggested. This plan will break through Maisonneuve’s caution.”

“God, I hope so. Else I’ll go crazy. I could go crazy. That would be good. Then I wouldn’t know the difference. Or I wouldn’t care.”

“Well, at least they’re going to consider it,” said de Belestre. “Look, Maisonneuve has lots of battle experience against the Dutch. He’ll see the virtue of the plan.”

“I’ve tried Pierre. I’ve tried to do it his way. I worked all last summer on the land Maisonneuve gave me but I want to cut down Iroquois, not trees. Most who came here are settlers; we are soldiers. We fought the Dutch too.”

” Men like Lambert Closse and le Moyne are on their way to wealth and property by getting furs, not by growing vegetables,” said de Belestre.

“As garrison soldiers there’s no way we can get furs short of going out and taking pelts from the Iroquois, thereby making battle serve economy,” said Dollard. “Ever since Pierre Esprit Radisson suggested this idea, “I’ve thought of nothing else.”

“He’s spent years with the savages,” said de Belestre. “… knows their ways.”

“He told me he s sick of running rapids and not knowing if he’s going to get shot,” Dollard said.

“He says my plan will work for us and besides he needs the waterways clear so he can bring back furs. Damn it, Pierre, I still want you to come with me. It’ll be a hell of a fight!”

“Dollard, you know I want to go but I can’t…who will command the garrison?”

“Maisonneuve can get a replacement for a few weeks.”

“No. If we both go, he’ll appoint two replacements. And when we get back, nobody’s going to say, ‘Oh, welcome back, here are your old positions.’ Every man our age wants our commissions…if we give them up we won’t get them back.”

Dollard slumped against the palisade.

“It’s only for two or three weeks, Pierre. How can they replace us like that?”

“Lord, you have a short memory, Dollard. You didn’t get promoted just because you killed those Onondagas attacking you neighbor, you know. We’ve all killed the enemy.”

Dollard made an expression of resignation. Yves Fournier had stayed away on a fur trading mission several days too long once too often and Maisonneuve had replaced him with Dollard.

“Well, if that’s it, how can I even go? Someone will take…. Oh, to hell with it. If I do all right I’ll be able to take charge of the forest attack patrol and I’ll be away from Montreal more than I’ll be here. If I’m not successful I might be dead.”

“Dollard, why cut yourself off? It’s a good idea. You go and I’ll stay here. Even if you lead the forest patrol it’s purely defensive. You’ll just be going out to rescue someone, or reinforce one of the towers. It isn’t this, it isn’t an attack. It’s not much better than what we’ve got now. In fact, on rotation, it’s exactly what we’ve got now. Look, I don’t trust anybody else to handle the garrison anyway.”

He laughed.

“While you’re gone I’ll train a replacement but I’ll take the shift too so he won’t get comfortable in it.”

“You conniver! You want the garrison command all to yourself!”

“Ahh — well, Dollard to be frank, yes. Actually I want Maisonneuve’s job but he won’t turn it over to me just yet.”

Dollard laughed,

“You fox. ‘You go, Dollard, and I’ll stay here.’ Sure! Never mind, Pierre, with me out in the forest and you holding the fort we’ve got a good thing.”

Pierre de Belestre had laughed.

“Soon, Dollard, we’ll take over this place.”

With a rueful laugh Dollard left for Prudhomme’s tavern. His mood had improved a little but he still didn’t relish the thought of telling his men they’d have to wait longer for a decision. It seemed that’s all anyone did in Montreal–wait.

***

Many young men had come to Montreal to escape the poverty of rural France. The main jobs were to clear the fields, engage in the fur trade, and fight the Iroquois. As for the original premise in the founding of Montreal–the conversion of men and the saving of souls —
they relegated that to fourth position in importance and left it in the hands of the priests and men like Maisonneuve.

Dollard thought of his first approach to men as they worked the previous September in the fields. Because of erratic but pressing Iroquois raids on individual farmers or pairs, Maisonneuve had a team of men work a field, complete it, then move to the next one. Rene Doussin, Jean Valets, and Etienne Robin were plowing, while Jean Lecompte and ‘Cognac’ Boisseau were on guard, their muskets held lightly in their hands as they patrolled. It seemed a waste of valuable labor since the town had so few men, but the alternative would lose more men; they would be picked off from the sides of fields by Iroquois. No, they needed the guards. Now there was a law against working without your musket so the men, while farming, had their weapons, but they needed better eyes on the terrain. The walking guards provided that.

On a break, Dollard called them over under a broad maple. ‘Cognac’ arrived first having headed for the shade of the tree even as he whistled the break. He was followed by Rene Doussin, at thirty, among the oldest of the group.

“Hey, Cognac, How is it that you get to patrol the shady side of the field every time you’re on guard duty?” said Doussin.

“Actually, this side of the field is more dangerous — all those trees the Indians could hide in. I allow Lecompte over there, the lazy lout, to cover the hill. There he can see the Iroquois coming for miles.”

“So he can warn you and you can hide in the trees,” said Lecompte now within earshot.

Cognac just laughed. He had come over on the same ship as Dollard two years earlier. They had become close friends vomiting over the side together. He laughed then too.

Rene Doussin, who now sprawled on the ground, was a miller. Although in Montreal everybody was a builder, farmer and soldier, no matter what trade they might have had. In France, Doussin had been an apprentice miller so he also helped make the bread for the colony.

His baptism to the New World had been elaborate. He had been captured, tortured and released in an exchange of prisoners by the Iroquois. He was taciturn, tough, and a skillful gunsmith, a valued man in New France, where your musket literally went to bed with you.

“I have an idea to get out of here,” Dollard. had said.

“Back to France?” said Doussin.

“No — out of the fort and into action with the Iroquois.”

“Count me in,” said Cognac, his enormous red beard flopping over his face. “As long as we can take some brandy to keep warm.”
“We’re dying of the heat here, you idiot!” said Doussin.”We’re all sweating!”

“Enough now,” said Dollard. “I want to get a group, go up the river, and ambush some
Iroquois.”

“Just like that?” said Lecompte.

“Sure. You could write a heroic poem about the adventure,” said Cognac.

Jean Lecompte came from Chamiere-en-Charmie in the French province of Le Maine, which he believed was the most beautiful place on earth. He wrote long, romantic and insufferable poetry about the place, which he read under the slightest provocation. At five feet, six inches, he was slightly shorter than the average Frenchman, but his strong physique, blond hair, good features and blue eyes made heads turn at parties. His work was as a woodcutter and if you didn’t know that you could guess because his arms were like small tree trunks.

“My poetry is better than your drinking, Cognac.”

“All right, Jean. Ignore him,” said Etienne Robin.

Robin was the closest friend of Jean Lecompte. His strength was legendary, once having pulled a full grown cow out of a swamp with only a rope. Robin, like the others, was unmarried, although unlike many he had a girl — Claudine Mallotte. It was a mystery to the others how he kept her since he drank as much as Cognac and she was devout.

In seven years Robin had practically become an Indian. He loathed the French penchant for display and ceremony and had immersed himself in the Huron culture. He spoke Huron and was an expert canoeist and woodsman.

“How are you going to convince Maisonneuve to let you go?” said Rene Doussin.

“What’s the plan?”

“Simple,” said Dollard. Our Huron traders come down river loaded with furs. The Iroquois ambush them and steal the furs. This time we’ll hide. When the Iroquois come down the rapids we’ll shoot them.”

“What if they’re warriors and not hunters?” asked Doussin.

“It doesn’t make any difference,” said Dollard. “Well, it makes one difference: if they’re hunters, we take their furs and get the money by selling them, just like they do with ours..”

“And if they’re warriors?”

“They’ll be dead anyway,” interrupted Cognac. “Do you understand? We’ll shoot them first, then ask if they’re hunters or warriors. Jesus!”

“That’s it,” said Dollard.”

“They won’t expect it,” said Robin. “We never go into the wild…then, ‘Blam!’”

“Well,” said Lecompte, “I’m tired of sitting on my ass waiting to got picked off. I’m for it.”

The reaction from the others was equally enthusiastic.

The other man in the field Dollard wanted to talk to, and characteristically, the last man to make his way across the field, was Jean Valets.

Valets was a ploughman. Stockily but muscularly built, he was tall, phlegmatic, and good-natured. More educated than some of the others, he had studied for the priesthood for a time. The others thought of him rather like a huge, friendly dog, since he had never been known to get angry although subjected to every sort of practical joke from snakes in the bed to having his canoe tipped, he was assured, by the giant turtle that the Indians believed held the world on his back.

“Glad you could make it, Valets,” said Cognac. “Sorry we haven’t got the carriage for you but they’re using it for the governor’s ball this afternoon.”

“Can’t you walk any faster?” said Lecompte.

“He’s probably learning a new language,” said Robin.

“Talking to the grass: ‘Hello little piece of grass, how are you? And there’s a piece of cow-plop. What do you say, cow-plop?”

Valets’ facility with languages was remarkable and to his friends inexplicable; he never seemed to work at it but he could speak Huron and Iroquois, which were similar, and Algonquin, which was entirely different.

“I was just taking my time so I wouldn’t have to spend so much of it in the company of you poor illiterates who can’t even speak French properly,” responded Valets with mock scorn. Cognac, for example, can hardly speak without swearing…”

“That’s a goddamn lie,” said Cognac.

“Witness. And the rest of you can barely sign your names for your salaries. If you didn’t have me the Indians would kill you. But I tell them to leave you alone because you are simpleminded and they think the simpleminded are favorites of God.”

“Sit down,” laughed Lecompte.

“Dollard has a plan.”They told him.

“First among you, me,” said Valets, “else you won’t be able to talk to the Indians.”

“We’re not gonna talk to them, we’re gonna shoot them!” said Cognac. “Christ, he’ll talk to them and Lecompte will recite poetry to them. You might as well send the Jesuits.”

Dollard smiled as he recalled the day. All these men and more who had pledged to go on the venture now waited anxiously to hear from Dollard at Prud’homme’s tavern. He regretted he had to tell them to be patient a few more days.

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