The last one to continue fighting was the chief, Eustace. He held his ground until he saw all around him killed or captured, when he cut his way through the enemy and made for the woods. He had made good his escape, but reflecting that he had promised Jogues that he would never desert him, and now realizing that the missioner was in the hands of the foe, he deliberately returned to the enemy and gave himself up. Jogues was so overcome by this proof of loyalty and devotion that he wept with emotion.
Couture gave a similar proof of courage, and of loyalty to Jogues. When the attack began, Couture fought bravely. But when he saw the Hurons break for safety he knew that flight was the only thing left, so he ran with the others. He had reached safety, and could easily have made good his escape when he reflected that his beloved Father was in the hands of the savages. It did not take him long to decide what to do. He resolved to fight for the rescue of his friends or to share their fate.
Approaching the scene of conflict he was met by five Iroquois, who at once fell upon him. The chief of the band took deliberate aim at him at close range but for some reason the gun did not discharge. Couture fired in return killing his assailant instantly. The rest of the band, infuriated at the loss of their leader, rushed like fiends upon Couture, overpowered him, tore off his clothing, beat him with clubs, tore out his nails, chewed off his fingers, and lastly ran a sword through the palm of the hand that fired the fatal shot. The captive bore this excruciating pain without flinching or complaining, to the exasperation and also admiration of his torturers. Afterwards he told Jogues that as they were piercing his hand he thought of Our Saviour being nailed to the cross, and this gave him strength and courage for his ordeal.
Writing of the capture of this devoted companion Jogues says: "Would to God that he had escaped, and not come to swell our wretched number! In such cases it is no comfort to have companions in your misery, especially those you love as yourself. But such are the men who, though seculars, and with no motive of earthly interest, devote themselves to the service of God and of the Society of Jesus in the Huron Mission. The moment I saw him, bound and stripped of all clothing, I could not contain myself, and, leaving my guards, I made my way through the warriors who surrounded him, and throwing my arms around his neck, I cried: 'Ah! courage, my dear William; courage, my dear brother! I love you now more than ever, for God in His goodness has made you worthy to suffer for His holy name. Let not these first sufferings and torments shake your constancy. Terrible will be the tortures but they will not last long, and a glory without end will soon follow.' Couture was deeply moved at these words, broken by sobs, and replied: 'My Father, fear not; the goodness of God has granted me too many graces. I deserve it not and far less than all do I deserve the firmness and courage I feel in my heart. I trust that He Who gave it to me will not withdraw it.'"
The Indians could not understand the mutual regard and affection which they witnessed in their captives. They concluded that it was a device to facilitate an escape, or else that Jogues was complimenting his fellow prisoner on his achievement in killing one of the chiefs. Acting on this supposition they rushed upon Jogues, tore off all his clothing except his shirt, and showered upon him blows with fists, sticks and clubs. Jogues fell senseless to the ground. Hardly had he regained consciousness when two savages who had not been present at the beating, made at him like wild beasts, tearing out his finger nails with their teeth, and crunching his two forefingers to the last joint. Goupil was tortured in the same way, the Iroquois thus resenting on their French captives the rejection of their terms of peace the previous year.
These barbarities, terrible as they were, served only as a prelude to the torture which was awaiting the unfortunate captives. As soon as the Mohawks had reassembled from the pursuit they withdrew to the opposite shore and thence to their own rendezvous where they felt more secure. Arrived there they proceeded to divide the spoils. First they made their prisoners secure. These numbered twenty-three.
The booty was very considerable, consisting of twenty packages of church goods, and articles for the missioners. Most of these things, although beyond value to the mission, were of little use to the savages. However they were captivated by the novelty of the vestments and the variety of church ornaments. To these children of the forests such articles were a source of wonderment, but the uses to which they put them would have been much more a matter of wonderment to us, if we could have seen them. Suffice it to say that they used for personal dress or adornment the vestments and articles reserved for divine worship. Another cause of gratification to them was the pride they felt at capturing a convoy of the French.
While they were dividing the spoils, and taken up with inspecting their respective shares, Jogues did all in his power to comfort and encourage the captives. Before embarking again to continue their victorious return to the tribal village, the savages carved on the trunk of a tree a record of their victory. Afterwards the Christians erected on this spot a large cross to commemorate the shedding of martyr's blood for Him who bled on the cross for love of them. As the prisoners were entering the canoes, an old Huron captive of eighty years, and who had just been baptized cried out to his captors: "I am too old to be carried away into strange lands and people, if you want to kill me, do so now." He had scarcely uttered the words when a tomahawk split his skull.
The raiders with their captives, having embarked, pushed on to Lake Champlain, paddling their canoes along its entire length. The canoe voyage was a torture-chamber for the prisoners. Hunger, heat, festered wounds filled with vermin, swarms of mosquitoes perpetually stinging them, kept them in constant and inexpressible suffering. Barefoot, bound to the bottom of the boat, unable to move, they were further tormented by the savage play of their captors, who took delight in opening their wounds, digging into them with their long and sharp finger nails, or piercing them with pointed sticks. The agony at times became so great that the victims swooned, much to the joy of their tormentors.
They reserved their worst treatment however for the holy missioner, pulling out his hair and beard by the roots, piercing the most tender parts of his body with awls, besides inflicting every other refinement of cruelty on him that savagery could devise. Much as he suffered in body his anguish of soul was greater, as we learn from his own words: "My heart suffered even more when I beheld that band of Christians, among whom I saw five old converts, the mainstay of the rising church of the Hurons. More than once, I acknowledge, I could not withhold my tears. I was afflicted at their lot, and that of my other companions, and I was full of forebodings for the future. In fact, I foresaw that the Iroquois were raising a barrier to the progress of Faith among a great number of other tribes, unless there came a very special interposition of Divine Providence."
On the fifth day of their journey, Aug. 8, two Iroquois runners met them announcing that at a day's distance there were encamped on an island two hundred Mohawks, who were on the war-path. The Hurons knew what this signified. Indians on the war-path believe that success depends upon torture of prisoners. They also believe that by inflicting pain on others they nerve themselves to acts of bravery.
No sooner were the captives in sight of the encamped warriors than a fiendish yell broke out from two hundred savages, who at the same time discharged a volley from their firearms, and ran to the shore to greet their tribesmen and to gloat over their captives. Straightway they prepared for their brutal sport. They hastily erected a platform on a hill nearby, and then cut for themselves clubs or thorny branches from the woods, with which to welcome their victims. Forming a double line with space between for a person to walk they extended from shore to platform, each warrior with club or switch in hand to inflict the punishment known as running the gauntlet. Only in this instance there was no running. As a refinement of cruelty they arranged their captives in a line, the oldest and most crippled first, so as to retard progress and prolong the torture. Jogues, as the principal object of their hatred, was placed last in order that being alone and walking slowly, they might vent their fury on him more effectually and with greater rage.
Jogues related to Father Buteux the details of this horrible experience which we give in his own words: "They showered blows on us so that I fell under their number and cruelty, on the rocky path leading to the hill. I thought that I must surely die under this frightful torture. Either from weakness or cowardice, I could not rise. God alone, for whose love and glory it is sweet and glorious to suffer thus, knows how long and how savagely they beat me. A cruel compassion prompted them to stop, that I might be taken to their country alive. They carried me to the platform half dead, and streaming with blood. The moment they saw me revive a little, they made me come down, and overwhelmed me with insults and imprecations, and again showered blows on my head, and all over my body. I would never end were I to tell all we Frenchmen had to endure. They burned one of my fingers and crushed another with their teeth. Those that had been crushed before were now so violently twisted that they have remained horribly deformed, even since they healed. My companions shared the same treatment.
"But God showed us that He had us in His care, and that He wished not to discourage but to try us. In fact, one of the Indians, who seemed not to be sated with cruelty and blood, came up to me when I could hardly stand on my feet, and taking hold of my nose with one hand prepared to cut it off with a large knife he held in the other. What could I do? Satisfied that I would soon be burned at a slow fire, I waited the blow without flinching, only in my heart offering a prayer to Heaven; but a secret force held him back, and he let go. In less than fifteen minutes he returned, as if ashamed of his weakness and cowardice, and again prepared to carry out his design. Again an invisible power repelled him, and he slunk away. Had he proceeded in his attempt I should have been put to death immediately. Indians never let a prisoner so mutilated live long."
The brave Eustace, who had surrendered himself in order to be with the Father, was the particular object of the hatred and cruelty of the savages. They cut off the thumbs of both his hands, and sharpening a stick drove it through the mutilated thumb of the left hand up the arm to the elbow. Jogues witnessing this refinement of torture could not restrain his tears. The savages thought that his tears were caused by his own sufferings. Eustace observing this said: "Do not think these tears are of weakness. No: it is no lack of courage that makes them flow but his love and affection for me. You saw him shed no tears for his own sufferings." To this Jogues, very much affected, replied: "Indeed your sufferings I feel more than I did mine; and in spite of my wounds, my body suffers even less than my heart. Courage, my poor brother: forget not that there is another life; God sees all, and He will reward us one day for what we have suffered for His sake."
After only one night's stay on the island the Indians resumed their journey, those on the war-path going towards the St. Lawrence, and the others with their captives to the Mohawk villages. As the victorious party proceeded homeward they met new bands of warriors on their way out to join those on the war-path, or on expeditions of their own against the French. Every time one of these bands met the returning braves the awful tortures previously described were renewed. Indeed it is a matter of wonder that the victims survived. This was due to the subtle cruelty of the savages who made it a point in their torture to avoid injury to vital parts until the time selected for the final torture.
They would inflict the most excruciating torment on a victim but always stop short of killing him. In this way the victorious band regaled each party that met them, and at the same time reserved their victims for the great home-coming celebration, in which the captives were to be the principal actors although in a passive but most frightful way. The Indians with their mutilated prisoners continued their way with little interruption until they came to what is now Point Ticonderoga. There they halted to gather flints; and also to perform the ceremony of placating the water-spirits by the superstitious rite of throwing bits of tobacco upon the water.
On the 10th of August the party reached the southern point of Lake George, four days' march from the first Mohawk village. The prisoners although weakened from loss of blood and suffering from open wounds were obliged nevertheless to carry the heaviest part of the baggage and booty. On Jogues' lacerated shoulders they placed a man's burden, but he says: "They spared me somewhat, either because of my feebleness or because I did not seem to mind it much—so great was my pride even in captivity and in the presence of death."
To add to the sufferings of the march the party had no food, their only nourishment being the wild berries they picked in the woods. The Indians endeavored to allay the pangs of hunger by drinking large draughts of water, thus distending their stomachs. As their hunger increased they accelerated the march in order to reach their village, thus forcing the weakened and bleeding captives to a pace that made every step torturous. But in spite of their best efforts the French captives could not hold the pace. From time to time they lagged behind the Indians, only to be cruelly beaten into quicker motion.
As night came on, during one of these days, it happened that Jogues with Goupil had fallen considerably behind the rest. The Indians in their haste to make a certain resting-place, forgot for the moment the Father and his companion. Jogues advised Goupil to hide in the woods and make his escape from the savages. To this proposal Goupil replied: "But you, my Father, what will become of you?" "For my part," replied the missioner, "I cannot do it: I will rather suffer everything than leave so near death those whom I can at least console and nourish with the Blood of Christ in the sacraments of the Church." "Then allow me to die with you, my Father;" replied pious Rene, "for I cannot desert you."
The convoy was now near the first town of the Mohawks, Ossernenon, distant some forty miles from Albany. It was on the right bank of the Mohawk River, and the village nearest the French on the north and the Dutch on the south. The Mohawks were the easternmost of the five nations of the Iroquois federation which stretched from the present Albany to Buffalo. Ossernenon, now Auriesville, was a tribal village of solve six hundred inhabitants, dwelling in twenty-four low and long cabins. It was fortified by double palisades. This with two other villages, one six miles further west, and the other seven miles beyond that, constituted the home of the Mohawks.
After a march of two weeks the worn-out band of victors and victims sighted the tribal village, at about three in the afternoon, the eve of the Feast of the Assumption. They had heralded their approach by shouts and by blowing through horns of conch-shells. Down the hill to the river bank the natives—men, women and children—rushed yelling, brandishing sticks, clubs, knives and tomahawks. No sooner were the prisoners landed than the infuriated populace fell on them with terrible blows and imprecations.
Jogues was the special object of their cruelty on account of his bald head, as they bore the greatest animosity to such persons. They stripped him of his remaining clothes, except his shirt, lacerated his legs and arms with thorny switches, beat him on the head and shoulders with clubs, slashed his arms with knives and hacked his flesh to the very bone. Referring to this torture Jogues afterwards said: "I had always thought that this day of so much rejoicing in heaven would prove unto us a day of suffering, and I was therefore thankful to my Saviour Jesus, for the joys of heaven are purchased only by partaking of His sufferings."
Before ascending the hill the triumphant band stopped for a short period to thank the Sun for giving them victory and rich booty. And now was to begin the Calvary of the captives. Now the great show was to be put on for the entertainment of the tribe. Now was to be made evident why the victors did not kill their victims at once.
The tribe—men, women and children—with savage glee formed the lines of the gauntlet, all the way up the hill, to a platform which had been erected. The prisoners were arranged in a long line with sufficient distance separating them to allow free play to the blows which were to be rained upon them. It would seem that after the torment already inflicted the prisoners would be incapable of enduring more, or of walking up the hill unaided. But it was in the Indian code not to flinch under pain. The Hurons rather than give the Iroquois the satisfaction of seeing them show signs of fear or weakness nerved themselves for the dreadful ordeal.
The Frenchmen, Couture and Goupil, with the pride of race, did not want to appear less courageous than the savages. Besides they had the Christian motive to sustain them. But it was different with the delicate missioner. Pride played no part in his endurance. His strength was the Passion of Christ. And he communicated his strength to the others. "On beholding these preliminaries, so forcibly reminding us of the Passion," wrote Jogues, "we recalled the words of St. Augustine: 'whoso shrinks from the number of the scourged, forfeits his right to be numbered among the children.' We therefore offered ourselves with our whole heart to the fatherly care of God, as victims immolated to His good pleasure for the salvation of these tribes."
And now, truly, the way of the cross began for these soldiers of Christ. At intervals in the procession of the victims an radian was stationed to slow-up those who might hasten under the lashes and blows. Just before starting the march of the miserables, one of the chieftains addressed the two rows of fiends, urging them, in cruel irony, to give a warm reception to their guests. Couture, being regarded the most guilty, having slain a chieftain, was placed at the head of the procession. Then followed the Hurons, at equal distances apart, Goupil in the middle. Jogues as the most distinguished, closed the line, enabling the tormentors to vent their savage fury to the full on his bleeding form.
The dire march began. It was a repetition in prolonged and intensified form of their worst previous ordeals. Goupil, horribly mangled fell to the ground, unable to rise again. He was dragged along the ground to the platform. Covered with blood and wounds the only white spot visible on his countenance was the white of his eyes.
Jogues besides enduring all that was inflicted on the others, was hit in the middle of the back by an iron ball, which was attached to a cord and swung by a savage. The blow felled him to the earth, where he lay for a time as one dead. Recovering he continued his way to the platform, where further scenes in the tragedy were to be enacted. Hardly had he reached the rough floor of the stage when an Indian dealt him three sharp blows on the back with a heavy club. Next the savage seized the hands of the priest and with his teeth tore out the three remaining finger nails. Continuing their brutal play the Mohawks proceeded to cut off slices of flesh from the legs and arms of their victims.
Jogues as being the most distinguished was treated with the greatest ignominy and torture. An old savage approaching him began to revile him, then he ordered an Algonquin captive woman whom he held by the arm, to cut off the left thumb of the priest. The poor woman, who was a Christian, recoiled with horror from the deed. But finally under threat of torture and death she obeyed, hacking the thumb off with a sharpened shell, and throwing it on the ground. Stooping, the martyr picked up the mutilated thumb, and, in his own words: "I presented it to Thee, living and true God, in remembrance of the sacrifices which for the last seven years I had offered on the altars of Thy Church, and as atonement for the want of love and reverence of which I had been guilty in touching Thy Holy Body."
The same torture was inflicted on Goupil whose right thumb was cut off. During the agony of it he was heard repeating the names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The blood flowed so freely from the wounds of Jogues and Goupil that the Indians fearing they would bleed to death, but wishing to reserve them for further torture, stanched their wounds, and bandaged them with pieces torn from Jogues' shirt. More dead than alive the captives remained on the platform until night, when they were led by their respective guards to one of the large cabins. Not a bit of food had as yet passed their lips, although their captors had eaten to their full. A little food was now offered them, some roasted ears of corn and water. This was done not to ease their hunger but to keep them alive for future brutal sport. Indeed the sport began almost immediately.
After their meager meal they were thrown flat on the floor of the cabin, and their bodies extended by fastening their hands and feet to stakes driven in the ground. In this position they were unable to move any part of the body. They were now turned over to the children to practice the art of torturing. They began by piercing the most sensitive parts of their victims' bodies with awls and sharp-pointed sticks. Then they cut off thin slices of flesh from their thighs, pulled out the nails from their hands and feet, plucked out their hair and what was worst of all, scattered burning wood-ashes on the quivering wounds of their victims, who were unable to move the body to shake them off, no matter what efforts they made, to the intense enjoyment of their juvenile tormentors. The wonder is that any of the victims survived the frightful ordeal. It would have caused death from shock to the average man. But these men were fortified by a life of hardship, and were moreover powerfully aided by the grace of God. At last the torture of the captives was over, at least for the time being, but not for long.
The Mohawks were proud of their victory, and were desirous of displaying their conquest to the other villages of the tribe. Accordingly they marched their prisoners first to the town of Andagaron, some six miles to the west. Let us hear Jogues describe some of the details of this march: "My jailer, undoubtedly afraid that he might lose the chance of securing my shirt, took it from me at once. He made me start on my march in this exposed state, with nothing on me but a pair of wretched old drawers. When I beheld myself in this state, I felt bold enough to say to him: 'Why do you strip me so brother, when you have already got all the rest of my property?' The Indian took pity of me and gave me a piece of coarse canvas in which my bundles had been done up. There was enough of it to cover my shoulders and a part of my back; but my festering wounds could not stand this rough, coarse texture. The sun was so hot that during the march, my skin was baked as if in an oven, and peeled off from my neck and arms."
Arrived at the village the captives met with the same treatment that they had experienced at Ossernenon. Again the horrible lines of the gauntlet were formed, again the frightful procession, again the butchery. For two days and nights the captives were exposed to the pain and shame of torture; by day tied to a stake and exposed to every manner of torture, and by night in a cabin fastened hands and feet to stakes for the cruel sport of the children. Describing the experiences of these two days Jogues said: "My soul was then in the deepest anguish. I saw our enemies come up on the platform, cut off the fingers of my companions, tie cords around their wrists, and all so unmercifully that they fainted away. I suffered in their sufferings, and the yearnings of my affections were those of a most affectionate father witnessing the sufferings of his own children; for, with the exception of a few old Christians, I had begotten them all to Christ in baptism. However intense my suffering, God granted me strength to console the French and the Hurons who suffered with me. On the way, as well as on the platform, I exhorted them together and individually to bear with resignation and confidence these torments, which have a great reward; to remember that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God. I warned them that the days foretold by Our Saviour had arrived in their behalf: 'Ye shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice . . . But your sorrow shall be turned into joy.'
"And then again I added: 'A woman, when she is in labor, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but when she has brought forth the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.' Believe then, my children, that after a few days of suffering you shall enjoy everlasting happiness. And surely it was to me a source of great and legitimate consolation to see them so well prepared, especially the old Christians —Joseph, Eustace, and the two others. Theodore had escaped the day we reached the first town; but as a ball had shattered his shoulder in the fight, he died while endeavoring to reach the French settlements."
From this village the band proceeded to Tionnontoguen, the third Mohawk village, seven miles farther west. Here they were submitted to the same kind of tortures as in the other villages but with less cruelty. Doubtless their pitiable condition pleaded for them, or it may have been that they were so frightfully mutilated that there was little else to do to them except to kill them outright, and this, for their own reasons, they were not ready to do.
While in this village, Jogues had the consolation, amidst his sufferings, of baptizing some pagan Hurons whom a band of Mohawks had taken on a recent raid. When Jogues ascended the platform to under-go the usual ordeal there inflicted, he found there four Hurons who were awaiting torture and death. He gave them all the consolation possible, and briefly instructed them in the Faith. As they expressed a desire to be baptized he performed the ceremony on the two who were to be put to death in this place, and on the other two on the way to the next village where they were to meet their fate. He had to employ great ingenuity in baptizing these converts. The water for the first two baptisms he obtained by pressing into the palm of his hand the wet husks of the corn given him for food. The other two were baptized as they were crossing a stream on the way to the other village, where they were frightfully tortured and killed, displaying amidst their torments remarkable fortitude and resignation.
In this village of Tionnontoguen Jogues witnessed a scene which made his heart bleed. Couture was led to the platform, where a savage hacked at his right forefinger with a sharpened shell, in his efforts to cut it off. Not being able to cut through the tough sinew, he seized it with his fingers and pulled it out with such force that the arm became swollen up to the elbow. But Jogues was more than a spectator of sufferings. His own were even worse than those he witnessed in others. We shall let himself describe them: "Our executioners first commanded us to sing, as is usual with captives. We undertook to sing the song of the Lord in a strange land. Could we sing anything else? After the chant began the torments. . . . They suspended me by my arms, with bark ropes, from two posts raised in the center of the cabin. I thought they were going to burn me, for such is the posture usually given to those who are condemned to the stake.
"To convince me that if I had suffered so far with some courage and patience I owed it not to my own virtue, but to Him 'That giveth strength to the weary,' the Almighty, as it were, left me then to myself in this new torment. I groaned for 'gladly will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me' and the excess of my sufferings made me implore my tormentors to loosen the cords a little. But God justly permitted that the more I entreated the closer and tighter the bonds were drawn. After I had suffered for a quarter of an hour they cut the ropes; had they not done so I should have died. I thank Thee, O my Lord Jesus! for having taught me by this trial how much Thou must have suffered on the cross, when Thy most holy body was so long hanging from the cross, not by cords, but by nails cruelly driven into Thy feet and hands."
After two days of the usual torture in this village they were marched back to Andagaron where they were to learn their ultimate fate. Here they were informed that they were to be burned alive that very day. Jogues thus relates his sentiments on hearing of his frightful fate: "Although there is something horrible in this mode of death, the thought of God's will, and the hope of a better life, free from sin, alleviated all its rigors. I addressed my French and Huron companions for the last time, and exhorted them to persevere to the end, ever remembering in the midst of their sufferings of body and soul Him who had 'endured such opposition from sinners against Himself, that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds'; tomorrow we shall all be united in the bosom of God, to reign eternally."
Jogues accordingly prepared his companions for death. Desiring also to give them absolution in their last moments, he arranged a signal by which they were to request and he was to impart the last absolution. At the last moment the sentence was modified so that for the present only three Hurons were to be burned at the stake. The Frenchmen were spared for future death, or else for securing favorable terms of peace.
The death of Eustace was an admirable example of the effect of Christianity on a savage's soul. This good man was tied to a stake and burning brands applied to every part of his body. Finally one of his executioners slashed his throat with a knife, thus terminating his earthly life but opening the door to life everlasting. Jogues speaks as follows about this final scene: "While Indians doomed to death usually give way to violent outbursts of fury against their executioners, and to the last breath cry, 'May an avenger arise from our bones', Eustace, prompted by the teachings of Christianity, conjured the Hurons who witnessed his death not to be deterred by this event from treating for peace with the Mohawks, his persecutors and his murderers. Indeed his death was an act of forgiveness. With Eustace perished his nephew, a wonderful young man, who, after his baptism, never ceased repeating, 'I shall be happy in heaven.' He had promised his uncle that he would never abandon him, even in the greatest dangers; and indeed he was true to his word."
The other two Hurons were burned, Paul at Ossernenon and Stephen at Andagaron. Paul, after undergoing the ordeal of fire without flinching was tomahawked. Stephen suffered with like heroism, winning the admiration of his executioners by his bravery. All these Christian converts were an honor to the religion which they embraced, and a credit to the good Father who begot them in Christ. They are an example of the power of Christianity to transform even the most savage spirit. These Hurons were naturally vindictive and sullen, but under the influence of the Gospel they forgave their enemies, and bore their frightful tortures with Christian resignation and fortitude.
Jogues longed for the martyr's crown himself. But that was not to be, for the present. His was to be a longer and more painful martyrdom. He was now to become a slave—a slave of savages; a daily martyrdom without dying—which eventually was to terminate in the martyrdom of a bloody death.