Adventures of Chevalier de La Salle - John S. C. Abbott

The Penalty of Crime


The morning of the 21st ushered in a day of gloom, wind, and rain. Nature, in the moaning storm, seemed in sympathy with the sadness which must have oppressed all hearts. Silently they toiled along, drenched with the falling rain, until noon, when the storm became so severe that they were compelled to halt. They threw up their camp in a deep and dark ravine. The murderers could have no rest. They were in continual fear that the friends of La Salle would rise and kill them. Father Douay, M. Joutel, and La Salle's brother the Chevalier, knew full well that the murderers had the strongest possible incentive to kill them also.

There is no storm so desolating, so ruinous to all happiness, as sin. Could these voyagers have continued their journey with fraternal love, its material obstacles could all have been pleasantly surmounted. But henceforth, for them, there were no more sunny skies, no more blooming prairies, no more joyous gatherings and feastings around the camp fire. Journeying on, through a gloomy country, and in sombre weather, they came, on the 24th, to a river. Most of the party swam across. Father Douay, M. Joutel, and Cavalier could not swim. Some friendly Indians came along and, swimming by their side, helped them over. A journey of four days more brought them to a large village of the Cenis Indians, on a stream which they called by the same name.

The region was beautiful. There was no continuous forest, but extended, well-watered plains, interspersed with groves of a great variety of majestic trees. They frequently met with Indians, from whom they always received kind treatment. Most of the men encamped a few miles from the village, M. Joutel was sent, with three others, to purchase from them, if possible, some corn. One of the men thus sent forward was Hiens, one of the original conspirators with Duhaut. M. Joutel was annoyed in accompanying a murderer on this mission, but it was not safe to make any remonstrance. Duhaut kept careful guard over all the effects. He intrusted a few hatchets and knives to his envoys, with instructions to purchase corn, and, if possible, a horse.

They had not gone far before they saw three savages approaching them on horseback. One had a hat and cloak, which he had probably obtained in some way from the Spaniards. The other two were entirely naked. The three had panniers closely woven of fibres of cane, and filled with corn meal pounded or ground very fine. They had been sent forward by their chief, with the meal as a present, and to invite the strangers to visit his village. After smoking together, and the Indians having received some knives and beads in return for their gift, the united party set out for the village.

It was still some distance to the village. Night had come. The horses of the travellers were weary and hungry. They therefore encamped in a rich meadow, by a rippling stream. Two of the Indians returned to their village. One remained with the strangers. The next morning they went forward, and were conducted by their Indian companion to the cabin of the chief. They were received with very unusual courtly etiquette.

About a third of a mile from the village there was a very large building, which we should call the town house, or the city hall. It was constructed as the place for the gathering of all their great public assemblages. The floor was very neatly carpeted with finely woven mats. A very imposing procession was formed to escort the strangers from the cabin of the chief to this council house.

First in the procession came all the men of the village, venerable in character and age. They were richly dressed, in very tasteful picturesque garments, of softly tanned deer-skin. These robes and leggins and scarfs were of different colors, of brilliant hue, and were profusely decorated with fringes and embroidered with shells. They wore plumes of colored feathers upon their heads, which waved gracefully in the gentle breeze. In their hands they held javelins, or bows, with quivers of arrows suspended on their shoulders.

On each side of the ancients, who were twelve in number, there were files of warriors, as if for their protection. They were all young men of admirable figure, painted and dressed, and armed as if on the war-path. The procession being thus formed in front of the chief's cabin, and the whole population of the village, many hundred in number, men, women and children, gathered around to witness the spectacle, M. Joutel and his attendants, led by the chief, were brought out to be received by the ancients and conducted to the council house.

These venerable men greeted them with much formality. Each one raised his right hand to his head, and then performed a peculiar series of bows. They then embraced each one, gently throwing their arms around the neck. This ceremony was followed by the presentation of the pipe of friendship, each one taking but a few whiffs.

The cortege advanced to the council house. The guests were seated on couches in the centre. The ancients, silently and with much dignity of movement, took seats around them. A large multitude crowded the vacant spaces. They were feasted with the choicest viands of the Indians, boiled corn meal, cakes baked in the ashes, and truly delicious steaks of venison. Presents were interchanged, and kind speeches made, mainly by signs.

M. Joutel informed them that it was his great desire to obtain corn for their long journey. They said that their supply was short, but that in a neighboring village, at the distance of but a few leagues, there was an abundant supply. They also signified their readiness to accompany their guests to this village.

A large party set out together. The trail led along the banks of one of the branches of the Brazos. The region was delightful, the soil fertile, and quite a dense population blessed with abundance, peopled the lovely valley. It might have been almost an Eden, but for the wickedness of fallen man. This powerful tribe the Cenis, was at war with another tribe, called the Cannohantimos. Frequently the valley would be swept by an irruption of fierce warriors, with gleaming tomahawks and poisoned arrows and demoniac yells. Conflagration, blood, and shrieks of misery ensued. The valley, which God had made so beautiful for his children, those children had converted into a Gethsemane, where all the fiends seemed struggling.

But our travellers passed up this valley in one of the serene and blooming spring mornings. There was a lull in war's tempest, and a heavenly Father's smile illumined all the scene. Large dome-like cabins and cultivated fields were met with all along the route. Many of these dwellings were sixty feet in diameter. They afforded perfect protection from wind and rain, were neatly carpeted, and gave ample accommodation often for four or five families.

One central fire, which was never permitted to go out, was common for all. There were no partitions. Each family occupied a certain portion of the space, and slept on comfortable beds, raised a foot or two from the floor. They were naturally a very amiable people among themselves, and lived together on the most brotherly terms.

In cultivating the fields they worked together. Often a hundred men and women would meet to plant the field of one man. They would spend six or seven hours in carefully digging the field with wooden forks, and in planting seeds of corn, beans, melons, and other vegetables. They would then have a feast, provided by the one in whose behalf they were laboring. This would be followed by games and dances. The men dug the soil, while the women planted and covered the seed. These children of the prairie must have found, in these co-operative labors, far more enjoyment than the solitary farmer can find in his lonely toils. Thus this band would pass from field to field throughout the whole village.

M. Joutel says that, so far as he could learn, they did not seem to have any definite idea of God. They had certain shadowy notions of some being or beings above themselves, but apparently did not consider that these beings took any special interest in scenes occurring here below. Upon the subject of religion it could hardly be said that they had any definite idea. They had no temples, no priests, no worship. Their minds were in a state of vacuity. In this respect they were much in the condition of mere animals. They had certain ceremonies, the meaning of which they could not explain, except that such was their custom—that their fathers did so. Be it remembered that this is the account which is given of the Cenis Indians. Others were more enlightened, and others less. There are well-authenticated accounts of some Indians, who were in the habit of daily prayer.

They reached the village in the early evening. Couriers had preceded them to announce their coming. The principal men came out and conducted them to a cabin, which had been prepared for their reception. After supper and a social pipe, the guests were left to the repose which they greatly needed. The cabin assigned to them was one of the largest in the place. It had belonged to a chief who had recently died. A gentle fire was burning in the centre. There were several women in the cabin, attending to sundry household duties. The guests slept soundly.

The next morning was the 1st of April, 1687. The fathers of the village again called upon the strangers with much courtesy of demeanor, and brought them an ample breakfast. Presents were exchanged, and a very fine horse was purchased for a hatchet. The day was spent in purchasing corn, which was placed in panniers, to be carried on the backs of the horses.

Here were found three Frenchmen who, a year before had deserted from La Salle. With painted faces, and in the dress of savages, no one could distinguish them from others of the tribe. The fact that in one year they had almost entirely forgotten their native language, seems at first thought almost incredible. But it must be remembered that they were vagabond sailors, with no mental culture, who could neither read nor write, and with whom language was merely a succession of sounds, which were very easily obliterated from the memory.

M. Joutel sent his companions back to the camp with the corn which had already been purchased, while he remained to obtain more. Alone in the cabin, far away in the wilderness, the companion of murderers, and a very uncertain fate before him, he could not sleep. At midnight, as he was reclining upon his mat, absorbed in thought, he saw, by the light of the fire, an Indian enter the cabin, with a bow and two arrows in his hand. He took a seat near where M. Joutel was apparently sleeping.

M. Joutel spoke to him. He made no reply; but arose and took another seat near the fire. M. Joutel, being sleepless, followed him, to enter, if possible, into conversation. Fixing his eyes earnestly upon the taciturn Indian, he saw, to his surprise, that he was one of the French deserters whom he had formerly known very well. His name was Grollet. He informed M. Joutel that he had a comrade by the name of Ruter, who did not dare to come with him, from fear that he should be punished by La Salle, of whose death they had not heard.

"They had," writes M. Joutel, "in so short a time so entirely contracted the habits of the savages, as to become thorough savages themselves. They were naked, and their faces and bodies were covered with painted figures. Each of them had taken several wives. They had accompanied the warriors of the tribe to battle; and with their guns had killed many of the enemy, which had given them great renown. Having expended all their powder and bullets, their guns had become useless. They had therefore taken bows and arrows and had become quite skilful in their use. As to religion, they never had any. The libertine life they were now practising was quite to their taste."

Grollet seemed much moved when he heard of the death of La Salle and the others. Upon being questioned whether he had ever heard the Indians speak of the Mississippi, he said that he had not, but that he had often heard them speak of a very large river, about five days' journey northeast of them, and upon whose banks there were very many Indian tribes.

The two next days M. Joutel continued purchasing corn. It could not be bought in large quantities, but many families could spare a little. On the 8th of April he returned to the camp, with three horses laden with corn. During this delay the murderer, Duhaut, had had many hours for reflection. To return to a French military or trading post, accompanied by the witnesses of his crime, was certain death. To attempt to kill all those not implicated in the murder, would be a very serious undertaking; especially as they were now on their guard, and the assassins had begun to quarrel among themselves.

Duhaut formed the plan of turning back, with his confederates, to the settlement which they had left at the bay of St. Louis. Where he designed to build a vessel and to sail for the West India Islands, The persons whom Duhaut greatly feared were Father Douay, M. Joutel, La Salle's brother, M. Chevalier, and a young man who was called Young Chevalier. The head murderer now adopted the policy of separating these men from the rest of the company, that he might freely talk with his confederates of his plans. M. Joutel and his associates were also well pleased with this arrangement, for they too could now talk freely. Duhaut tried to compel the other party to go back with him. But they absolutely refused. Finding that he could not force them, and that they were resolved to continue their journey to the French settlements, and that thus they might send an armed ship to capture the murderers; he resolved to continue in their company. Probably he hoped that some opportunity would occur in which he could cut them off.

There were five men who were active participants in the assassination. Duhaut, the instigator, Hiens, who was the next most prominent in the plot, and three others, who were rather their tools, Liotot, Tessier, and Larcheveque. The rage of Hiens was kindled only against Moranget. He was willing to kill Moranget's two companions that they might not be witnesses against the murderers. He would conceal their bodies, and would have it understood that they had wandered away and become lost, or that they had been captured by the Indians.

Liotot was appointed to strike the fatal blows upon Moranget and his companions with the hatchet, while the others stood ready, with their guns, to aid, should it be necessary. The subsequent murder of La Salle was contrary to the wishes of Hiens. Duhaut and Larcheveque waylaid him. They both fired nearly at the same moment. The bullet of Larcheveque, either intentionally or by accident, passed wide of its mark. Duhaut's bullet pierced the brain.

There was no sympathy between Hiens and Duhaut. When the latter so arrogantly assumed the command, Hiens became very restive, and was waiting for an opportunity to dethrone him. Trembling in view of the peril of approaching the French settlements, and having no disposition to imbrue his hands any farther in the blood of innocent men whose conduct had only won his regard, he was extremely anxious to return to the bay of St. Louis.

Finding that Duhaut had altered his plan and had decided to continue on the Mississippi, he took one or two of his companions aside and deeply impressed them with a sense of the danger they would thus encounter. They conspired to kill Duhaut and his most resolute supporter Liotot.

Hiens then entered into a secret alliance with the savages, promising that if they would aid him in his plans, he would stop the march of the party toward the Mississippi, and with several others would join them, with their all-powerful muskets, in a hostile expedition they were about to make against a neighboring tribe. He also enlisted, in co-operation with his plans, the French deserters who had already become savages.

Thus strengthened, and with twenty-two well-armed savages in his train, he sought Duhaut. In brief words he thus addressed him:

"You have decided to go on to the French settlements. It is a danger which we dare not encounter. I therefore demand that you divide with us all the arms, ammunition, and goods we have. You may then pursue your own course and we will pursue ours."

Without waiting for any reply he drew a pistol and shot Duhaut through the heart. The miserable man staggered back a few steps and dropped dead. At the same moment one of his accomplices, Ruter, with his musket, shot down Liotot, inflicting a mortal wound. As the man was struggling in death's agonies, Ruter advanced and discharged a pistol-shot into the convulsed body. Douay writes, "His hair, and then his shirt and clothes took fire, and wrapped him in flames, and in this torment he expired." It was the intention of Hiens also to kill Larcheveque, but he, terror-stricken, escaped by flight.

A small hole was dug, and the two dead bodies were thrown in and covered up. M. Joutel was present, and witnessed this dreadful scene. He writes:

"Those murders took place before my eyes. I was dreadfully agitated, and supposing that my death was immediately to follow, instinctively seized my musket in self-defence. But Hiens cried out:

"'You have nothing to fear. We do not wish to harm you. We only avenge the death of our patron La Salle. Could I have prevented his death I certainly should have done so.'"

The savages were astonished at this scene. They were not at all prepared for it. But Hiens explained to them that it was done to avenge murders which they had committed; and that as Duhaut and Liotot had resolved to take with them all the guns and ammunition, it was necessary to kill them that Hiens and his associates might join the Indians in their war party. This statement seemed to give entire satisfaction.

Hiens was now the leader of the rapidly dwindling band. He informed them that he should take several of his companions, with the guns and ammunition, and accompany the Indians on their military expedition. In the meantime, until his return, they were to remain in charge of friendly Indians. Thus they were virtually prisoners. Their means for continuing the journey were taken from them. Probably Hiens intended that they should never return to France.

Early in May, the war party commenced its march. Hiens accompanied the warriors, with four of his party, and two of the French deserters. This made seven Frenchmen, well armed with powder and ball. As they were to encounter foes who bore only bows and arrows, the French allies became an immense acquisition to the force of the expedition. Each one of these had a horse. Hiens exacted a promise, from those he left behind, that they would not leave the village until his return.

A fortnight passed away. Those who remained were encamped at a little distance outside of the village. They were frequently visited by the men and the women, who ever manifested the most friendly feelings. They could converse only by signs, and their attempted communication of ideas was not very satisfactory.

On the 18th of the month a great crowd came rushing out to the encampment. The men and women were painted and decorated. Their smiling faces, songs, and dances indicated plainly that they had received tidings of a great victory. For several hours, there was exhibited a very picturesque scene of feasting, smoking, and barbarian jollity. In the midst of these wild festivities, a courier arrived, stating that the victorious army was returning, and that they had killed more than forty of their enemies. The next day they arrived.

They brought very glowing accounts of the achievements of the French with their muskets. They found the foe drawn up in battle array in a dense grove. Approaching within musket-shot, but not within arrow-shot, the French with deliberate aim shot down forty-eight of the foe. The rest in terror fled. The shouting Cenis pursued. They took a large number of women and children as prisoners, most of whom they instantly killed and scalped. Two mature girls they brought back with them to subject to fiend-like torture. One of them had been cruelly scalped. Faint and bleeding she could endure but little more. An Indian, borrowing a pistol from a Frenchman, deliberately shot her through the head, saying:

"Take that message to your nation. Tell them that ere long we will serve them all in the same way."

The other maiden was reserved for all the horrors of demoniac torture by the women and the girls. These were arranged in a circle. The poor girl was led into the middle of them. They were all armed with strong sticks sharply pointed. They then, with hideous yells, fell tumultuously upon her, like hounds upon a hare. She soon dropped to the ground beneath their blows. They thrust their sharp sticks into her body. With sinewy arms these savage women beat her in the face, over the head, upon every part of her frame until her body presented but a mangled mass of blood. As she lay upon the ground scarcely breathing, a burly Indian came forward, and with one blow of a club crushed in her brain.

The next day there was another great celebration. Great honor was conferred upon the French who had caused the victory. The Indian warriors had done but little more than kill the women and children whom they had taken prisoners, and scalp all the slain. After several speeches were made by their orators, a procession was formed. Each warrior had a bow and two arrows in his hand, and was accompanied by one of his wives, who, like a servant or rather like the squire of the knights of old, waved in her hands the gory scalps, revolting trophies of her husband's chivalric achievements. The whole day was devoted to barbarian feasting and carousing.

Hiens the next day held an amicable conference with M. Joutel and his friends, to come to some agreement as to their future operations. "I am not willing," he said, "to return to the French settlements. It would inevitably cost me my head. But I am willing to divide all our property equally between the two parties. Those who wish may accompany Joutel; others may remain with me."

The division was made. M. Joutel, Father Douay, M. Cavalier, and his nephew, young Cavalier, and three others, De Marle, Tessier and Barthelmy, composed the party which was to return to the French settlements. Thus the band of twenty which had left the bay of St. Louis had dwindled down to seven. They had three horses, thirty hatchets, five dozen knives, thirty pounds of powder, and thirty pounds of bullets. Three Indians volunteered as guides for a portion of the way.

When the Cenis chief found that M. Joutel was about to undertake so long and perilous a journey, with so small a band, he was astonished, and did everything in his power to dissuade him from such an enterprise.

"If you will remain with us," said he, "we will give you cabins and wives, and food in abundance. The dangers before you are appalling, not only from hostile Indians, whose territories you must pass through, but from the innumerable difficulties of broad rivers and deep marshes you must encounter by the way."

M. Joutel and his companions were firm. Very reluctantly the chief consented that the three Indian guides should, for a time, accompany them. It was about the 25th of May, when they resumed their march from the village of the Cenis. The second day they came to a broad river, which they crossed on a raft, swimming their horses. The country was quite densely populated. They daily passed cabins and villages of the Indians, but encountered no opposition. We have minute accounts of their reception in many of these villages. All are essentially the same with those which we have already narrated.

Day after day, with occasional halts in consequence of rains, the travellers pressed on, through the month of May and to the middle of June. Their route was generally in a northeastern direction. Their path led them through a rugged country of forests, ravines, and rivers. The average territory of each Indian tribe was about twenty miles square. Friendly Indians were always found to guide them, as it were, from post to post on their way.