Wordcarpenter Books
The Life of Radisson
Chapter Five
Recapture and Torture

No doubt that with the Iroquois finding the three severed heads thrown from their canoe, the punishment rendered to Radisson would be harsh. It was the bitterest of pills for him to swallow when being so close to his journey's end. He knew he would suffer torments and death so he resolved to face his end with honor, being a folly to think he would survive.

After eating his Huron companion, these Iroquois stripped him naked and tied him up in a strange manner: a rope around his neck and midsection with his elbows also tied around the rope behind his back. In this awkward position, they moved him into their boat where they asked him some questions that he did not understand. They unleashed several severe blows to the head and then ripped off one of his fingernails. In this state, they left returning to the Iroquois camp across the water to Lake St. Peter. It was a large contingent of warriors, numbering about 150 men. Radisson saw that he was not the only prisoner. The Iroquois had two Frenchmen, one Frenchwoman, 17 Hurons (men and women), and 11 heads of Algonquins.

As they all moved west along the St. Lawrence River, the Hurons sang their death song, which was a mournful sound. The Iroquois placed the 12 heads of the Hurons (the twelfth being Radisson's fellow Huron during his escape attempt) prominently in their canoes as symbols. Each prisoner was put in a canoe, most of whom showed signs of torture. In his boat Radisson spoke Iroquois with an old man who asked him what had happened to him. He told the old man about his experiences, that he had lived with the Mohawks and had gone out hunting when they met a Huron who killed his comrades while they slept but spared him. The old man believed him to some measure, which was shown in the kindness he gave to him, but the old man could not protect him against the mischief that many of the warriors wanted to do to him.

They soon arrived at the camp on shore where Radisson had lived, and tied the prisoners to posts. By cutting long pieces of wood the length of a leg, they tied two ends together so that their heads were held as if in a trap. They did the same to their legs and elbows so that they were completely immobile. Tied in this manner without the use of their hands, they were all tormented by horse flies and deer flies and mosquitoes all night. More gangs of men arrived and tortured them. Those who tortured the prisoners the most were given wampum jewelry. One would cut off a finger and another would pluck out a nail. They put the end of their fingers into their burning pipes and burned serveral parts in their bodies. Some took their fingers and, with a stick, made them into something resembling a fork and then hit the backs of the hands, which caused their hands to swell.   

Nineteen prisoners were taken to another village where they were beaten with staves and fists. Here there were many Mohawk men, women and children armed with all sorts of instruments, such as hand irons and heelskins wherein they put half a score of bullets. Others had brands and rods of thorn so that the torturers could create greater cruelty to put their prisoners through greater torment." Those in bondage began to cry: the Huron men singing their fatal song and the women making horrible cries. The Mohawks let out screams of joy and their wives made acclamations of mirth as they prepared to ruin the lives of those tied up in front of them.

When news came out that Radisson had killed three of their own, many appeared to contribute to his own pain in revenge for these slayings more than the others. At this point, as he looked into this crowd before him, Radisson saw the old woman who had adopted him as well as her daughters. She pushed her way forward directly towards him and clutched hold of his hair desperately.

"Orinha!" she said to him. The old woman drew him out from the line of prisoners and put him into the hands of her husband.

"Have courage my son," he said. He brought him to his cabin where he was made to sit down. There in the cabin, the father spoke to him.

"You are senseless," he said. "You were my son and you rendered yourself our enemy. You love not your mother, nor do you love your father that gaveyou're your life. And you notwithstanding would kill me." Then the father looked to his daughters.

"Be merry and give him something to eat." Radisson's heart trembled with fear, which took away his appetite, but knowing that the Mohawks were a people who shunned mercy and valued courage and boldness, he ate his food showing his own fortitude and backbone. He told the family gathered around of what had happened to him in the best terms possible, mixing the story with Iroquois as well as Huron words. He explained how it was not him who had killed, but the Huron they had met. Everyone listened intently, as he hoped this would save his life.

When he was done a great number of men entered the cabin and stood around him with his hands still tied.

"This prisoner must come with us and pay the price of killing our men," they said loudly. The old man resisted but the men had their way, taking Radisson with them. Seeing this, the old woman cried out and lamented on his impending death as he was led to the public platform of execution where the other prisoners were bleeding and burned. Beside him was one of the Frenchmen who had been beaten so badly that he was hardly breathing. Seeing that he could not bear it anymore, they cut off his head and threw it into the fire.

They made Radisson go up the scaffold where there were five men, three women and two children captives. They tried to sing in between their cries of pain as he was tied there beside them. Just as he was about to be tortured again, it started to rain. Most of the torturers retired to avoid the rain except for one band of hell that remained to learn the true art of barbary. Seeing themselves all alone, these devils invented a thousand inventions of wickedness to ensure the suffering of those tied up on the scaffold. They put hatchets, swords and instruments of iron into fire and burned human flesh to the bone. Ripping off fingernails was their favorite thing, burning the raw skin with burning coals. When the fingertips swelled up, they bit them with their teeth. They stopped the bleeding with a brand, which little by little would draw out the veins and sinews, then pull the veins from the fingers and cut them with pieces of red-hot iron. Squeezing the fingers between two stones to draw the marrow out of the bones, they removed all the flesh and put the fingers into a dishful of red-hot sand. While doing this they tied the wrist with two cords, one to pull the fleshless finger into the burning sand and the other to pull it out.

Some cut pieces of flesh from all parts of your body, broil them and then get you to eat it. They would thrust a burning stick into your mouth so you could eat it. They broke your teeth with a stone or club, and hung a half-dozen blazing hot hatchets around your neck. They roasted your legs with brands of fire and made holes in the flesh in your legs where they inserted melted lead and gunpower and then gave it fire to spark artificial life. You were made to pick up the dropped pieces of lead or flesh with the stumps of your fingers. And if you couldn't sing they made you quack like a hen.

For the Mohawks torture was retribution against their tribal brethren, and therefore justified. But it was also a way for the victim to redeem their sins so they would graduate to the spirit world free of the stains of unredeemed sin.

Chapter Six

Radisson watched as two Hurons were tied to a rope and hung from the scaffold all night as children burned their feet, legs, thighs and groin. The children took delight torturing, and fed the prisoners diligently to keep them alive for more. They cut off the men's testicles and the women would play with them as balls. Just when the miserable captive could take no more, burning sand was put all over his body like a suit of fire. And when they are about to die they open him up and pluck out his heart. They drank some of the blood and then washed the children's heads with the rest to make them valiant. If a prisoner had endured all these torments patiently without moaning, and had defied death by singing, then they thrust burning blades all along your bones and cut off your head putting it on the end of a stick. The body was drawn and quartered which they hauled about the village. Lastly they threw the body into the water or into the field for the dogs and the crows.

For those who survived the scaffold after the rains stopped, having been abused by between two and three hundred rogues at any one time, they shot little arrows at them and then proceeded to pull out their beards and hair from those who had any. Having rekindled the fire, they took to burning the poor wretches.

With Radisson they plucked out four fingernails and made him sing, but there was nothing that he was able to sing in his current state. So they forced him to drink water mixed with a certain herb that gunsmiths used to polish their guns. This liquor brought his power of speech. The night came and he was taken to a strange cottage, but not the place of his "parents." There he stayed for an hour unmolested until a mother, and a child no older than four years old, approached him. The mother incited the child to cut off one of his fingers with a flint stone but having worked on it for some time did not have the strength to break it off. His finger remained attached to his person but was badly cut by the sawing of the flint stone, so the mother made the boy suck all the blood that ran from his finger. It was only after this last assault that he was left for the night but unable to sleep due to the great pain he was in.

The next morning he was brought back to the scaffold where he was made to sing but the old woman appeared, bidding him to be cheerful and pleading for him not to give up and die. She gave him some meat and showed Radisson great kindness, but it did not last for long. Some old men came to him, sat down beside him. One was smoking from a pewter pipe. He took Radisson's thumb and put it in the burning tobacco and smoked, having three pipes, one after the other. It caused his thumb to swell and the nail and flesh to become like a burning coal. Once he finished and left, the old woman tied his fingers with cloth and greased and combed his hair like a horse's tail.

The second day saw the end of many of the prisoner's lives, flinging some into the middle of the great fire still alive. They burned the Frenchwoman, pulled out her breasts and took the unborn child out of her belly, which they broiled and made the mother eat it. Shortly after this she died.

That day Radisson was not touched until the evening when they burned his legs and the soles of his feet. A warrior thrust a red-hot sword through his foot and then plucked out several of his toenails. In this state he remained all night. The old woman and her daughters were there for a long time supplying him with food and drink, which he did not have the stomach to eat. The old woman's husband showed up as well.

"My son Orinha, you must endure," he said, encouraging him to show courage at all costs. Just then a young boy and his father appeared. The boy began gnawing with his teeth on his thumb in an attempt to bite it off but the old woman's husband dissuaded them from completing their task.

After his adopted family left him, three men came to the scaffold to do their mischief. Strangely, one of them tied his legs to Radisson's, called for a brand of fire, laid it between his legs and Radisson's, and then began singing. Fortunately for Radisson, the brand was out on his side so it only burned his skin but the Mohawk burned himself for some purpose. Then, in this posture with legs tied to one another, they cut the rope from his hands and drew him down from the scaffold holding a knife in his face. They returned him back to the scaffold and then went on their way.

It was after this that he was left alone until midday on the third day, when he was taken to a cottage where old men sat around a fire and smoked. With a fever and in great pain, he was made to sit down and tell the old men why and how he was brought there. When his brother entered the cottage, the sight of him caused him to rejoice, as he had not seen him since his arrival. Then his father entered the cabin with new beads around his neck, a hatchet in his hand and a long-stemmed ceremonial pipe of red stones in his other hand. He sat down around the fire beside his son. Like the other old men around the fire, he had a medicine bag hanging over his shoulder. In that medicine bundle are inclosed all the things in the world that protect them from evil, having had told Radisson that he should never disoblige them in the least or to make them angry by reason he had in his power the sun, moon, the heavens, and consequently all of the earth. He knew that in his medicine bundle were tobacco, roots that heal wounds and sores, and various bones from his totem animals. The old man debated with the men there and then threw some tobacco into the fire, which they did for peace or adversity or prosperity or war. He then lit his pipe and they all smoked their pipes in silence.

During this silence they brought in the remaining prisoners: seven women and two men and ten children, the children all between the ages of three to twelve years old. None of them had their hands tied except Radisson. A man stood up and made a speech, eschewing with his arms up to heaven and generally working himself into a sweat in earnest discourse. Having finished, another stood up and made a speech to all those present in the cabin. They gave the remaining prisoners freedom except for two children, who were killed with hatchets, and a 50-year old woman, who were all thrown out of the cabin. Only he was left there without his freedom.

Radisson's father stood up and spoke for about an hour, working himself into a sweat. His eyes were hollow, and he appeared to Radisson mad, naming often the Algonquins, which made him believe he spoke in his behalf. The old woman then appeared when her husband was finished speaking, carrying two wampum necklaces: one in her hand and the other around her like a belt. As soon as she entered the cabin she began dancing and singing, flinging off one of her necklaces into the middle of the cabin, having made many turns from one end of the cabin to the other. When she was done her dance, she took one of the necklaces and gave it to Radisson, and then left. Then his brother stood up with his hatchet in his hand, sang a military song and then departed. Finally his father stood up a second time, sang and then left.

Those that remained held council and spoke to one another for a very long time, throwing tobacco into the fire and making exclamations. There were about forty men who stayed and regarded him still tied up until finally those who had left returned, which included his mother, father, brother and sisters. They sat down and his father smoked his pipe again and then made another speech. Then he took the wampum necklace off of Radisson, threw it at the feet of an old man, and then cut the cord that held him. His father bid him to stand and sing, which he did with all his heart. And while he sang those present whooped and hollered on all sides.

"Be ever cheerful, my son!" said his father. Radisson's mother, sisters and the rest of their friends sung and danced. His father took him by the arm and brought him to his cabin with whooping and shouting all around them, bidding him to take great courage. Soon after his mother and her friends entered the cabin, which caused him to know that his live was saved.


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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