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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 favorable 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 harbor-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 endeavoring 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 marvelous 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 skepticism. '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 counseled 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.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Mariner of St Malo, A Chronicle of the Voyages of Jacques Cartier, 1915

 

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