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Ch. 5: Stadacona

The Second Voyage: STADACONA

At the time when Cartier ascended the St Lawrence, a
great settlement of the Huron-Iroquois Indians existed
at Quebec. Their village was situated below the heights,
close to the banks of the St Charles, a small tributary
of the St Lawrence. Here the lodges of the tribe gave
shelter to many hundred people. Beautiful trees--elm and
ash and maple and birch, as fair as the trees of
France--adorned the banks of the river, and the open
spaces of the woods waved with the luxuriant growth of
Indian corn. Here were the winter home of the tribe and
the wigwam of the chief. From this spot hunting and
fishing parties of the savages descended the great river
and wandered as far as the pleasant country of Chaleur
Bay. Sixty-four years later, when Champlain ascended the
St Lawrence, the settlement and the tribe that formerly
occupied the spot had vanished. But in the time of Cartier
the Quebec village, under its native name of Stadacona,
seems to have been, next to Hochelaga, the most important
lodgment of the Huron-Iroquois Indians of the St Lawrence
valley.

As the French navigators wandered on the shores of the
Island of Orleans, they fell in with a party of the
Stadacona Indians. These, frightened at the strange faces
and unwonted dress of the French, would have taken to
flight, but Cartier's two Indians, whose names are recorded
as Taignoagny and Domagaya, called after them in their
own language. Great was the surprise of the natives not
only to hear their own speech, but also to recognize in
Taignoagny and Domagaya two members of their own tribe.
The two guides, so far as we can judge from Cartier's
narrative, had come down from the Huron-Iroquois settlements
on the St Lawrence to the Gaspe country, whence Cartier
had carried them to France. Their friends now surrounded
them with tumultuous expressions of joy, leaping and
shouting as if to perform a ceremonial of welcome. Without
fear now of the French they followed them down to their
boats, and brought them a plentiful supply of corn and
of the great pumpkins that were ripening in their fields.

The news of the arrival of the strangers spread at once
through the settlement. To see the ships, canoe after
canoe came floating down the river. They were filled with
men and women eager to welcome their returned kinsmen
and to share in the trinkets which Cartier distributed
with a liberal hand. On the next day the chief of the
tribe, the lord of Canada, as Cartier calls him, Donnacona
by name, visited the French ships. The ceremonial was
appropriate to his rank. Twelve canoes filled with Indian
warriors appeared upon the stream. As they neared the
ships, at a command from Donnacona, all fell back except
two, which came close alongside the Emerillon. Donnacona
then delivered a powerful and lengthy harangue, accompanied
by wondrous gesticulations of body and limbs. The canoes
then moved down to the side of the Grande Hermine, where
Donnacona spoke with Cartier's guides. As these savages
told him of the wonders they had seen in France, he was
apparently moved to very transports of joy. Nothing would
satisfy him but that Cartier should step down into the
canoe, that the chief might put his arms about his neck
in sign of welcome. Cartier, unable to rival Donnacona's
oratory, made up for it by causing the sailors hand down
food and wine, to the keen delight of the Indians. This
being done, the visitors departed with every expression
of good-will.

Waiting only for a favourable tide, the ships left their
anchorage, and, sailing past the Island of Orleans, cast
anchor in the St Charles river, where it flows into the
St Lawrence near Quebec. The Emerillon was left at anchor
out in the St Lawrence, in readiness for the continuance
of the journey, but the two larger vessels were moored
at the point where a rivulet, the Lairet, runs into the
St Charles. It was on the left bank of the Lairet that
Cartier's fort was presently constructed for his winter
occupancy. Some distance across from it, on the other
side of the St Charles, was Stadacona itself. Its site
cannot be determined with exactitude, but it is generally
agreed that it was most likely situated in the space
between the present Rue de la Fabrique and the Cote
Sainte-Genevieve.

The Indians were most friendly. When, on September 14,
the French had sailed into the St Charles, Donnacona had
again met them, accompanied by twenty-five canoes filled
with his followers. The savages, by their noisy conduct
and strange antics, gave every sign of joy over the
arrival of the French. But from the first Cartier seems
to have had his misgivings as to their good faith. He
was struck by the fact that his two Indian interpreters,
who had rejoined the ranks of their countrymen, seemed
now to receive him with a sullen distrust, and refused
his repeated invitations to re-enter his ships. He asked
them whether they were still willing to go on with him
to Hochelaga, of which they had told him, and which it
was his purpose to visit. The two Indians assented, but
their manner was equivocal and inspired Cartier with
distrust.

The day after this a great concourse of Indians came
again to the river bank to see the strangers, but Donnacona
and his immediate followers, including Taignoagny and
Domagaya, stood apart under a point of land on the river
bank sullenly watching the movements of the French, who
were busied in setting out buoys and harbour-marks for
their anchorage. Cartier, noticing this, took a few of
his sailors, fully armed, and marched straight to where
the chief stood. Taignoagny, the interpreter, came forward
and entered upon a voluble harangue, telling the French
captain that Donnacona was grieved to see him and his
men so fully armed, while he and his people bore no
weapons in their hands. Cartier told Taignoagny, who had
been in France, that to carry arms was the custom of his
country, and that he knew it. Indeed, since Donnacona
continued to make gestures of pleasure and friendship,
the explorer concluded that the interpreter only and not
the Indian chief was the cause of the distrust. Yet he
narrates that before Donnacona left them, 'all his people
at once with a loud voice cast out three great cries, a
horrible thing to hear.' The Indian war-whoop, if such
it was, is certainly not a reassuring sound, but Cartier
and Donnacona took leave of one another with repeated
assurances of good-will.

The following day, September 16, the Indians came again.
About five hundred of them, so Cartier tells us, gathered
about the ships. Donnacona, with 'ten or twelve of the
chiefest men of the country,' came on board the ships,
where Cartier held a great feast for them and gave them
presents in accordance with their rank. Taignoagny
explained to Cartier that Donnacona was grieved that he
was going up to Hochelaga. The river, said the guide,
was of no importance, and the journey was not worth while.
Cartier's reply to this protest was that he had been
commanded by his king to go as far as he could go, but
that, after seeing Hochelaga, he would come back again.
On this Taignoagny flatly refused to act as guide, and
the Indians abruptly left the ship and went ashore.

Cartier must, indeed, have been perplexed, and perhaps
alarmed, at the conduct of the Stadacona natives. It was
his policy throughout his voyages to deal with the Indians
fairly and generously, to avoid all violence towards
them, and to content himself with bringing to them the
news of the Gospel and the visible signs of the greatness
of the king of France. The cruelties of the Spanish
conquerors of the south were foreign to his nature. The
few acts of injustice with which his memory has been
charged may easily be excused in the light of the
circumstances of his age. But he could not have failed
to realize the possibilities of a sudden and murderous
onslaught on the part of savages who thus combined a
greedy readiness for feasting and presents with a sullen
and brooding distrust.

Donnacona and his people were back again on the morrow,
still vainly endeavouring to dissuade the French from
their enterprise. They brought with them a great quantity
of eels and fish as presents, and danced and sang upon
the shore opposite the ships in token of their friendship.
When Cartier and his men came ashore, Donnacona made all
his people stand back from the beach. He drew in the sand
a huge ring, and into this he led the French. Then,
selecting from the ranks of his followers, who stood in
a great circle watching the ceremony, a little girl of
ten years old, he led her into the ring and presented
her to Cartier. After her, two little boys were handed
over in the same fashion, the assembled Indians rending
the air with shouts of exultation. Donnacona, in true
Indian fashion, improved the occasion with a long harangue,
which Taignoagny interpreted to mean that the little girl
was the niece of the chief and one of the boys the brother
of the interpreter himself, and that the explorer might
keep all these children as a gift if he would promise
not to go to Hochelaga.

Cartier at once, by signs and speech, offered the children
back again, whereupon the other interpreter, Domagaya,
broke in and said that the children were given in good-will,
and that Donnacona was well content that Cartier should
go to Hochelaga. The three poor little savages were
carried to the boats, the two interpreters wrangling and
fighting the while as to what had really been said. But
Cartier felt assured that the treachery, if any were
contemplated, came only from one of them, Taignoagny. As
a great mark of trust he gave to Donnacona two swords,
a basin of plain brass and a ewer--gifts which called
forth renewed shouts of joy. Before the assemblage broke
up, the chief asked Cartier to cause the ships' cannons
to be fired, as he had learned from the two guides that
they made such a marvellous noise as was never heard
before.

'Our captain answered,' writes Cartier in his narrative,
'that he was content: and by and by he commanded his men
to shoot off twelve cannons into the wood that was hard
by the people and the ships, at which noise they were
greatly astonished and amazed, for they thought the heaven
had fallen upon them, and put themselves to flight,
howling, crying and shrieking, so that it seemed hell
was broken loose.'

Next day the Indians made one more attempt to dissuade
Cartier from his journey. Finding that persuasion and
oratory were of no avail, they decided to fall back upon
the supernatural and to frighten the French from their
design. Their artifice was transparent enough, but to
the minds of the simple savages was calculated to strike
awe into the hearts of their visitors. Instead of coming
near the ships, as they had done on each preceding day,
the Indians secreted themselves in the woods along the
shore. There they lay hid for many hours, while the French
were busied with their preparations for departure. But
later in the day, when the tide was running swiftly
outward, the Indians in their canoes came paddling down
the stream towards the ships, not, however, trying to
approach them, but keeping some little distance away as
if in expectation of something unusual.

The mystery soon revealed itself. From beneath the foliage
of the river bank a canoe shot into the stream, the
hideous appearance of its occupants contrasting with the
bright autumn tints that were lending their glory to the
Canadian woods. The three Indians in the canoe had been
carefully made up by their fellows as 'stage devils' to
strike horror into Cartier and his companions. They were
'dressed like devils, being wrapped in dog skins, white
and black, their faces besmeared as black as any coals,
with horns on their heads more than a yard long.' The
canoe came rushing swiftly down the stream, and floated
past the ships, the 'devils' who occupied the craft making
no attempt to stop, not even turning towards the ships,
but counterfeiting, as it were, the sacred frenzy of
angry deities. The devil in the centre shouted a fierce
harangue into the air. No sooner did the canoe pass the
ships than Donnacona and his braves in their light barques
set after it, paddling so swiftly as to overtake the
canoe of the 'devils' and seize the gunwale of it in
their hands.

The whole thing was a piece of characteristic Indian
acting, viewed by the French with interest, but apparently
without the faintest alarm. The 'devils,' as soon as
their boat was seized by the profane touch of the savages,
fell back as if lifeless in their canoe. The assembled
flotilla was directed to the shore. The 'devils' were
lifted out rigid and lifeless and carried solemnly into
the forest. The leaves of the underbrush closed behind
them and they were concealed from sight, but from the
deck of the ship the French could still hear the noise
of cries and incantations that broke the stillness of
the woods. After half an hour Taignoagny and Domagaya
issued from among the trees. Their walk and their actions
were solemnity itself, while their faces simulated the
religious ecstasy of men who have spoken with the gods.
The caps that they had worn were now placed beneath the
folds of their Indian blankets, and their clasped hands
were uplifted to the autumn sky. Taignoagny cried out
three times upon the name of Jesus, while his fellow
imitated and kept shouting, 'Jesus! the Virgin Mary!
Jacques Cartier!'

Cartier very naturally called to them to know what was
the matter; whereupon Taignoagny in doleful tones called
out, 'Ill news!' Cartier urged the Indian to explain,
and the guide, still acting the part of one who bears
tidings from heaven, said that the great god, Cudragny,
had spoken at Hochelaga and had sent down three 'spirits'
in the canoe to warn Cartier that he must not try to come
to Hochelaga, because there was so much ice and snow in
that country that whoever went there should die. In the
face of this awful revelation, Cartier showed a cheerful
and contemptuous scepticism. 'Their god, Cudragny,' he
said, must be 'a fool and a noodle,' and that, as for
the cold, Christ would protect his followers from that,
if they would but believe in Him. Taignoagny asked Cartier
if he had spoken with Jesus. Cartier answered no, but
said that his priests had done so and that Jesus had told
them that the weather would be fine. Taignoagny, hypocrite
still, professed a great joy at hearing this, and set
off into the woods, whence he emerged presently with the
whole band of Indians, singing and dancing. Their plan
had failed, but they evidently thought it wiser to offer
no further opposition to Cartier's journey, though all
refused to go with him.

The strange conduct of Donnacona and his Indians is not
easy to explain. It is quite possible that they meditated
some treachery towards the French: indeed, Cartier from
first to last was suspicious of their intentions, and,
as we shall see, was careful after his return to Stadacona
never to put himself within their power. To the very end
of his voyage he seems to have been of the opinion that
if he and his men were caught off their guard, Donnacona
and his braves would destroy the whole of them for the
sake of their coveted possessions. The stories that he
heard now and later from his guides of the horrors of
Indian war and of a great massacre at the Bic Islands
certainly gave him just grounds for suspicion and counselled
prudence. Some writers are agreed, however, that the
Indians had no hostile intentions whatever. The new-comers
seemed to them wondrous beings, floating on the surface
of the water in great winged houses, causing the thunder
to roll forth from their abode at will and, more than
all, feasting their friends and giving to them such gifts
as could only come from heaven. Such guests were too
valuable to lose. The Indians knew well of the settlement
at Hochelaga, and of the fair country where it lay. They
feared that if Cartier once sailed to it, he and his
presents--the red caps and the brass bowls sent direct
from heaven--would be lost to them for ever.

Be this as it may, no further opposition was offered to
the departure of the French. The two larger ships, with
a part of the company as guard, were left at their
moorings. Cartier in the Emerillon, with Mace Jalobert,
Claude de Pont Briand, and the other gentlemen of the
expedition, a company of fifty in all, set out for
Hochelaga.

 

Stephen Leacock

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