The Iroquois began firing heavily at dawn. Arrows were useless against the heavy redoubt of their enemies, but a heavy barrage of gunfire would gradually take its toll in weariness.
The barrage lasted only two hours, but the battle noise penetrated heads and the French, weary from hunger, thirst, and lack of sleep, returned fire only when necessary and exhorted their Indian allies to do likewise. That was futile; the Hurons had been prevented from retaliating shot for shot while the Iroquois fire was intermittent. Now, they said, it was a battle, and if you don’t shoot in a battle, when do you shoot?
It didn’t matter that the palisade was out of range, or that the aim of some guns was unreliable or that some Hurons were inexpert marksmen. It didn’t even matter that the Hurons couldn’t see those Iroquois hidden in the forest and that if they hit someone it was pure accident.
Both the Huron and the Iroquois had an unreasonable reliance on their ‘thunder sticks.’ It was as though they thought all they had to do was shoot the muskets in the general direction of the enemy and if the noise didn’t scare the man to death the musket ball surely would find its way to the target. The fact was, that with all the firing on both sides, with all the expenditure of energy and ammunition, no one was being hit. The fighting raged on, senseless, thunder in the forest without rain.
In mid-morning Annahotaha walked down the slope inside the barricade and, squatting down on his haunches, he approached Dollard, who was trying to sleep against the wall amidst the noise of the battle.
“Dollard,” said the Huron chief.
Dollard woke, reaching for his musket, but Annahotaha gripped his arm.
“Oh! …God, you scared me chief. Is there something wrong?”
They looked at each other for a split second, and both men burst out laughing. Dollard rolled over.
“‘Is something wrong?”‘ he mockingly repeated. “Oh, hell no, we’re pinned down in this miserable hole with no water and we haven’t slept in a week and there are about a thousand people out there who’d like to eat us, is all.”
Despite himself Annahotaha was laughing too.
“Dollard, we have to try to talk with them. There are too many of them now. We can not defeat them. We should try to arrange some settlement.”
“How? Why would they want to talk?” asked Dollard.
“The Iroquois might welcome a truce. They have many dead, and they will have to bury them or their souls will always wander in these woods.”
“But it’s an army, Annahotaha. What difference can we make to them? If they are going to attack the French settlements they can’t just let us return to warn Montreal.”
“They might be persuaded to give up their idea of a massacre for a time. They could let us go, return to their houses and seek a more suitable time to attack. It is not a good omen for them to meet such resistance when they have not planned for it. They could return home. It would not be dishonorable for them.”
“Well, something has got to change,” said Dollard.
“We should send an emissary with gifts to the Iroquois,” said the chief. “We will instruct them as to what to say and perhaps the Iroquois will accept this.”
“Who shall we send?”
“I will select the people,” said Annahotaha. He called over an Oneida brave who had been captured as a child by the Hurons and raised by them. The Oneida brave, with new parents and a new life, did not think it strange now to be fighting against his former nation. It was the custom. Annahotaha also chose two of the best Huron braves from his detachment. He spoke to all three men.
“We wish to have a conference with the Iroquois. You will go to them in peace as our emissaries to give them gifts and to talk with them. Tell the Iroquois chiefs that this quarrel makes no sense. The Iroquois have lost many men, and it would be senseless to lose more; that we have much ammunition and food and great hearts, and we will not surrender. Ask them to accept our gifts in the hope that this hostility might cease without the loss of more life.”
Annahotaha was careful in his instructions to his men. He told them to say nothing provocative, to say nothing that would give new information to the Iroquois, but only to state what the Iroquois already knew. He hoped that this discussion could provide the means by which the Iroquois could get off the hook of required revenge temporarily. They could accept the gifts as a suit for peace, rationalize that as a victory, take home their dead, and abandon their plan for immediate conquest. Although the Iroquois desire to bury their dead was strong, he knew the chances were against the Iroquois accepting such a suit but it was not impossible, not unthinkable.
He had heard about an incident the year before. Some Oneidas had set out on a war party but en route a man was killed by an arrow meant for a partridge. The chief decided it was not good to proceed. Annahotaha hoped one of the Iroquois chiefs had a dream indicating this French resistance was also a bad omen, a warning not to continue.
The French were doubtful, but they gathered up awls, needles, blankets, rings, tobacco and two muskets and gave them to the emissaries to present to the Iroquois as gifts. Gifts were necessary to prove the sincerity of one’s intentions. The three allies waited at the base of the barricade while Louis Taondechoren waved a white cloth in the air. Gradually the shooting ceased and when it finally stopped Louis Taondechoren spoke in the Iroquois language.
“Cease your hostilities, Mohawks, and Onondagas. We would talk with you about a truce.”
There was a brief silence.
“Come,” shouted an Iroquois voice. “‘We will not harm you. ‘We will listen to your talk.”
Two emissaries scrambled up the inside of the barricade and leapt to the ground while the third, carrying the gifts, squeezed through lashed poles in the wall. They began the walk through the dead to the Iroquois camp. The French began to pray for the success of the talks. The situation looked desperate now, and this seemed the only hope. Jacques Brassier and some others fell to their knees; others prayed at the loopholes. Some of the Hurons threw tobacco on the fires in the barricade, hoping their prayers would rise with the tobacco scent to God.
The three emissaries reached the Iroquois fort, and they disappeared inside the slanted gate. Some Hurons who had been adopted by the Iroquois began taunting their ex-brothers, those Huron behind the barricade.
“The end is near for you Huron. You are tired; we are fresh. You are few; we are many. Give up your arms and come to the safety of our fort. We will treat you well here. We will You adopt you and you can live and take your life from us.”
Annenraes and Agariata turned away from the emissaries for a moment. A Mohawk brave, sensing their concern, approached.
“Shall I stop them from calling to the Huron?” he asked.
Annenraes thought a moment.
“No. Leave them alone. It may be they will be successful. If not, we have wasted nothing.”
The shouting went on to Annahotaha’s Huron braves.
“If you do not listen you will surely die. Our chiefs are angry and have already decided to kill you. If you live, you will be tortured and burned, and your flesh will be consumed.”
Another man called:
“Give up this wrong defense! It would be a great shame for you to die when you can save yourselves by joining us.”
And another, a former Huron said:
“This combat is unequal. We must surely defeat you. You cannot withstand us. Come, defect to us and the Iroquois will adopt you just as they did us years ago.”
“Consider the welcome we will prepare for you: you will have food and water and presents and care in our homes when we return there. You will be welcome as brothers. You will replace in our longhouses, the unfortunate Iroquois braves who have succumbed here. You will become the children and nephews of parents who lost children here. Come to us instead of dying foolishly with the French.”
It was too much for many of the Hurons. Distressed at losses in battle for two decades; drained after the battle of a week; discouraged at the arrival of the Mohawks; and lured by the promises of the Iroquois which they knew to be true, their courage wilted. Something else was in play too. It was sometimes the case, with opportunistic Frenchmen, that they, in times of expediency, turned over Hurons to the enemy to an uncertain fate. This troubled some Huron braves.
Just as the Indian nations were accused of capriciousness in their activities, either because it suited them, or because one chief violated what another chief had promised, perhaps knowingly, perhaps not, so, too, the French behaved, each operating according to his own knowledge, experience and character. Some characters were better than others. So it was that the Hurons’ thoughts centered on themselves, and they took the opportunity to save themselves before they could be betrayed by the French.
They seized on the chance to defect and began climbing the barricade. Dropping their weapons which could only slow them down and perhaps allow them to be caught by those who remained, they leapt on the walls, scaled them easily and began dropping to the ground and racing for the Iroquois palisade.
“Stop them!” cried Dollard.
“Come back!” yelled Robert Jurie.
It was hopeless. The frightened Hurons, sensing freedom and life, moved quickly over the wall.