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The Life of Radisson

Chapter Three

Adoption into a Mohawk Family

A young man at the camp took to harassing Radisson.

"Come on, stand your ground," said his brother. The young upstart grabbed his hair. The men of the village crowded around and began encouraging a fight by crying and yelping. Radisson fought him tooth and nail, getting the best of him. After the fight and thinking it was over, his adversary kicked him so Raidsson kicked him back. His French shoes, which the men had let him keep, were harder than his moccasins. The young man found himself down on the ground clutching Radisson's wrist, but he was beat. Warriors surrounded Radisson, brought him water to wash off the blood and fish for him to eat. They combed his hair and greased it and generally gave him more respect. No one bothered him for the two days they were there at the camp.

In the same cabin where he stayed at that camp, Radisson found an Mohawk wounded by a gunshot. Having remembered seeing the man the day he had been captured, he feared that it was him who had wounded the warrior with his pistol. Afraid of retribution, the wounded Mohawk instead showed him extreme kindness, as much charity as a Christian might have given. Another wounded man was there who Radisson also believed he had shot, came over to him. He was sure he was going to do him harm but instead showed him a cheery countenance and gave him a box full of red paintings.

"You are my brother," he said to Radisson. An old man entered the cabin and gave Radisson twelve pounds of tobacco, bearing it on his head, as was the custom. During their two-day stay at the camp their company continually increased from warriors returning from wars with the Huron and from fishing trips. A number of Hurons had been taken prisoner that would be worked as slaves.

The next day they marched a quarter mile to another village where they were greeted with nothing but cries of joy. Radisson was made to sit down in the middle of the village and stripped naked.

"You are now on your own Frenchman," said his brother. Everyone in the village looked at him, among which an old woman and a boy with a hatchet in his hand approached. The old woman protected Radisson while the young man took him by the hand, leading him away from those young braves who wanted to strike him. The heads of his two friends were left there on stakes for the others to look at.

They took Radisson to their cottage where the old woman showed him great kindness by giving him food, however his fear at being beaten by the young men was still with him so his appetite wasn't robust. During the next hour a great number of people came into the dwelling, including many old men who sat around the fire and smoked. After the smoking they led Radisson to another cottage where there were more old men sitting around a fire smoking. They put him beside the fire, which caused him to think he was going to be thrown into the fire. Instead the old woman entered and began speaking loudly to the old men.

"Ho! Ho!" responded the old men. The old woman took her girdle and tied it around Radisson and brought him back to her cottage where he was told to sit where he had sat before. There she began to dance and sing around him. After she had finished, she took out a comb from a box and one of her daughters combed his hair and greased it. She removed the paint that the men had put on his face. The old woman then removed his clothes whereby she looked for lice. When she found some she would place it between her teeth and squeeze it to death. By killing the lice between her teeth she was revenging herself against the assault of the lice against his person showing an old belief that enemies of those in her family should be punished. She gave him some Indian corn to eat as she set him up with a blue coverlet, stockings and moccasins. She measured his legs to make him some leggings.

Once clothed, Radisson left the cottage with the old woman's son and they went to many other cottages where he was fed and his face altered with jewelry and paint. He tried his best to be friendly to everyone there in the village as he was given the freedom to move freely amongst them. The old woman encouraged him to become more familiar with her two daughters, who had taken a liking to combing and greasing his hair. He hunted partridges and squirrels with the old woman's son, and he was always sure to give the old woman any gifts or game he acquired.

Radisson lived for five weeks with the family, learning more in that time about the Iroquois than he ever could have in New France. He learned their language and was given the name of the old woman's son who had been killed.

"Your name is Orinha," the old woman said to him.

"What does it mean?" asked Radisson.

"It means ‘stone,'" she replied.

A few days later the old woman approached him.

"Are you French?" she asked.

"I am Panugaga," he replied, meaning he was from the Iroquois Nation. "The old woman was greatly pleased to hear this. His adoption into the family seemed complete.



Chapter Four

His Escape

Radisson's Mohawk father gave a big feast to 300 men one day, so his sisters bathed him and greased his hair, gave him a new tunic and several wampum porcelain necklaces and bracelets made of shell beads. His brother painted his face, put feathers on his head and tied up his hair in the Mohawk fashion. His father gave him a garland for his hair, a necklace that went down to his feet and his own hatchet.

"It's going to be hard for me to defend myself against any encounter being so laden with riches," he said to his brother.

At the feast his father showed many demonstrations of valor, including breaking apart a kettle full of sagamite (ground corn with meat and fish) with his hatchet. They sang, as was their usual custom and were served orinacke (moose) and red deer mixed with flowers.

"Chagon Orinha!" they shouted to Radisson. They sang some more well into the night until the banquet was over and they went to thei quarters.

About this time, Radisson was invited to go hunting with three friends of his in the village. They desired to go far away where the hunting was good and wanted Radisson to join them. He returned to his cabin to tell the old woman of this hunting trip, so that she gave him three pairs of moccasins, a gun, and a sack of meale. His two sisters walked him out of the village carrying his bundle until the four men took leave of them. They walked without any rest all day and for most of the next day, eating very little. When they reached a river they built a canoe in two hours by hollowing out the trunk of a tree. They moved down the river in the small canoe and came to a small lake where they went to shore and immediately found deer tracks. There they waited quietly until they found and killed the deer, which gave them food for the night.

The next day two of the men went off to hunt and Radisson and the other man went about their business to set traps for beavers throughout the area. About three o'clock in the afternoon when they were returning to their camp, they came upon a Huron Indian singing. He motioned to them in a peaceful manner, showing them he was not an enemy. With Radisson helping with the translations, the Huron told them he was chasing a bear and that he had already lost two of his dogs to the beast. They three of them returned to the camp where they met the other two hunters who had killed a bear, two deer and two mountain cats.

The five of them sat as the food was being boiled and the Huron spoke to Radisson in the Huron tongue.

"I was taken prisoner by the Iroquois for two years before I escaped," said the Huron. "Thay are our sworn enemy and I couldn't remain with them any longer being a slave."

Radisson told him he was from Three Rivers.

"I have been to Quebec and Three Rivers. The French are building a good town there. There are many Huron there now because the Iroquois, armed with guns given to them by the Dutch, have decimated the Huron. There are so few of us left." Without guns the Huron could not defend themselves.

"Do you love the French?" he asked Radisson.

"Do you love the Algonquin?" was his reply.

It was then that the Huron suggested that they escape to Three Rivers together since it wasn't that far off.

"My comrades will not permit me, and they promised my mother to bring me back again," Radisson answered.

"Well, would you rather live in bondage or have your own liberty with the French where there is good bread to be eaten? Fear not. I shall kill all three this night when they will be asleep, which will be an easy matter with their own hatchets." Hearing them speak in Algonquin Radisson's three Mohawk friends asked him what was said but told them some other story.

It took Radisson some time to consider the proposal but after deliberation he accepted the offer by the Huron to escape. After all, he thought, they were mortal enemies of his country and had cut the throats of so many of his countrymen, burned and murdered them.  So with their bellies full, Radisson's three companions went to sleep without a care.

The Huron nudged him awake thinking he was asleep, got up beside the fire and looked at them for a moment. The Huron took their hatchets from them as they slept and gave Radisson one of them. For a moment he hesitated, as he stood over one of his friends asleep beside the fire because they had never done any to him, but he struck him in the head with the hatchet. It cut so deeply he couldn't disengage it from his head. His friend rose up toward Radisson but fell back suddenly and made a great noise, which almost woke up the third Mohawk. The Huron gave the third Mohawk a swift blow with his hatchet, severely wounding him so Radisson shot him dead. He was immediately sorry for what had transpired but he didn't have time to repent.

The Huron threw the three bodies into the river after cutting off the heads. After taking their three guns, powder and shot, their two swords and hatchets as well as their wampum jewelry and meat, they left in the canoe and crossed the river where they spent the day in the woods about a hundred paces from the water's edge resting under their upside-down canoes to battle the mosquitoes. That night they traveled due east along the St. Lawrence River towards Three Rivers for fourteen nights sincce it was only safe to travel during dark. For safety they did not have a fire during their travels east as they could hear canoes passing by from where they hid during the day in the woods. Finally they arrived at Lake St. Peter at about four o'clock in the morning. They went into the woods and made a fire and boiled some of their meat about two hundred paces from the river. After eating they slept a little until Radisson was awakened by the Huron.

"Let us cross the lake to the French," he said.

"But there are still many enemies lurking around the lake and the riverside," he replied. "We should wait until dark."

"We are passed danger," said the Huron. "Let us shake off the yoke of a company of whelps that have killed so many Frenchmen and blackcoats,[1] and so many of my nation. Nay, Brother, if you come not, I will leave you and will go through the woods ‘till I shall be over in the French quarters."

Radisson considered it but had his doubts. If they were taken by Iroquois being so close to home due to rashness, it would be too much for him, but on the other hand if his comrade left him and the wind rose it would take him a long time to cross the lake. And he didn't want to thought of as a coward by the Huron who had done so much to help him escape, so he resolved to go with the Huron, believing that he would abandon him there in the woods if he made it to safety.

Across calm water, they made it about a third of the way towards the other side when Radisson saw a dark shadow across the water.

"It's a company a buzzards," said the Huron, "a kind of geese." They went on a little more until it was clear to them that it was the enemy. They turned around in haste and paddled hard back to the shore from whence they came. No matter how hard they paddled, the Iroquois gained on them. The Huron threw the three heads of the slain Mohawk hunters into the water but when they saw the three heads in the water they paddled even harder. When they were so close to shore that they could see the bottom but still too deep to get out of the canoe, the Iroquois let go a few volleys from their muskets mortally wounding the Huron who fell dead in the canoe. The canoe was hit with holes from the bullets, which soon took on water and slowed it down. Radisson shot back with his two guns but he was cut off by one of their canoes juast as his was sinking. They pulled the Huron into one of their canoes and then took Radisson to shore where he was sure he would die without mercy.

On the shore where they built a fire, they cut out the Huron's heart, chopped off his head, put it on the end of a stick and carried it onto their boat. They cut off some flesh from his body, broiled it in the fire and ate it. His comrade had been shot in the chin, a bullet had passed through his throat and another in his shoulder, so they only burned part of his body to eat, leaving the rest there. Radisson knew that if the Huron had only been wounded, the Iroquois would have taken delight in keeping him alive to burn him with small fires. It was a miserable end for the man who had helped him escape.



Table of Contents


          1 - Radisson's Capture by the Iroquois

          2 - How Radisson Earned Respect

          3 - Adoption into a Mohawk Family

          4 - His Escape

          5 - Recapture and Torture

          6 - Endurance

          7 - Acceptance

          8 - Going On the Warpath

          9 - The War Continues

          10 - The Hollanders

          11 - Escape to Fort Orange


          12 - Becoming an Interpreter for the Jesuits

          13 - "Mistrust is the Mother of Safety"

          14 - Meeting Old Friends

          15 - Reaching Onondaga

          16 - Conspiracy to Kill the French

          17 - Fleeing the Fort


          18 - Becoming a Les Voyageurs

          19 - Huronia Jesuit Mission and Brebeuf

          20 - Radisson and Groseilliers Go West

          21 - Reaching the Gateway to Lake Superior

          22 - Exploring Lake Superior





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