« AnteriorContinuar »
islands leagues in extent now appeared. Beyond came broad channels and extended reaches of widen. ing waters, and soon the delighted explorer found that the river had ended and that the canoes were moving over the broad bosom of that great lake of which the Indians had told him, and which has ever since borne his name. It was a charming scene which thus first met the eyes of civilized man. Far in front spread the inland sea. On either side distant forests, clad in the fresh leafage of June, marked the borders of the lake. Far away, over their leafy tops, appeared lofty heights; on the left the Green Mountains lifted their forest-clad ridges, with patches of snow still whitening their tops; on the right rose the clustering hills of the Adirondacks, then the hunting-grounds of the Iroquois, and destined to remain the game-preserves of the whites long after the axe and plough had subdued all the remainder of that forest-clad domain.
They had reached a region destined to play a prominent part in the coming history of America. The savages told their interested auditors of another lake, thickly studded with islands, beyond that on which they now were; and still beyond a rocky portage over which they hoped to carry their canoes, and a great river which flowed far down to the mighty waters of the sea. If they met not the foe sooner they would press onward to this stream, and there perhaps surprise some town of the Mohawks, whose settlements approached its banks.
This same liquid route in later days was to be traversed by warlike hosts both in the French and Indian and the Revolutionary Wars, and to be signalized by the cap. ture of Burgoyne and his invading host, one of the most vital events in the American struggle for liberty.
The present expedition was not to go so far. Hostile bands were to be met before they left the sheet of water over which their canoes now glided. Onward they went, the route becoming hourly more dangerous. At length they changed their mode of progress, resting in the depths of the forest all day long, taking to the waters at twilight, and paddling cautiously onward till the crimsoning of the eastern sky told them that day was near at hand. Then the canoes were drawn up in sheltered coves, and the warriors, chatting, smoking, and sleeping, spent on the leafy lake borders the slow-moving hours of the day.
The journey was a long one. It was the 29th of July when they reached a point far down the lake, near the present site of Crown Point. They had paddled all night. They hid here all day. Champlain fell asleep on a heap of spruce boughs, and in his slumber dreamed that he had seen the Iroquois drowning in the lake, and that when he tried to rescue them he had been told by his Algonquin friends to leave them alone, as they were not worth the trouble of saving.
The Indians believed in the power of dreams. They had beset Champlain daily to learn if he had had any
visions. When now he told them his dream they were filled with joy. Victory had spoken into his slumbering ear. With gladness they re-embarked when night came on, and continued their course down the lake.
They had not far to go. At ten o'clock, through the shadows of the night, they beheld a number of dark objects on the lake before them. It was a fleet of Iroquois canoes, heavier and slower craft than those of the Algonquins, for they were made of oak- or elm-bark, instead of the light paper-birch used by the latter.
Each party saw the other, and recognized that they were in the presence of foes. War-cries sounded over the shadowy waters. The Iroquois, who preferred to do their fighting on land and who were nearer shore, hastened to the beach and began at once to build a barricade of logs, filling the air of the night with yells of defiance as they worked away like beavers. The allies meanwhile remained on the lake, their canoes lashed together with poles, dancing with a vigor that imperilled their frail barks, and answering the taunts and menaces of their foes with equally vociferous abuse.
It was agreed that the battle should be deferred till daybreak. As day approached Champlain and his two followers armed themselves, their armor consisting of cuirass, or breast-plate, steel coverings for the thighs, and a plumed helmet for the head. By the side of the leader hung his sword, and in his hand was his arquebuse, which he had loaded with four balls. The savages of these woods were now first to learn the destructive power of that weapon, for which in the years to come they would themselves discard the antiquated bow.
The Iroquois much outnumbered their foes. There were some two hur dred of them in all, tall, powerful men, the boldest warriors of America, whose steady march excited Champlain's admiration as he saw them filing from their barricade and advancing through the woods. As for himself and his two companions, they had remained concealed in the canoes, and not even when a landing was made did the Iroquois behold the strangely-clad allies of their hereditary enemies.
Not until they stood face to face, ready for the battle-cry, did the Algonquin ranks open, and the white men advance before the astonished gaze of the Iroquois. Never before had they set eyes on such an apparition, and they stood in mute wonder while Champlain raised his arquebuse, took aim at a chief, and fired. The chief fell dead. A warrior by his side fell wounded in the bushes. As the report rang through the air a frightful yell came from the allies, and in an instant their arrows were whizzing thickly through the ranks of their foes. For a moment the Iroquois stood their ground and returned arrow for
But when from the two flanks of their adversaries came new reports, and other warriors bit the dust, their courage gave way to panic terror, and they turned and fled in wild haste through the forest, swiftly pursued by the triumphant Algonquins.
Several of the Iroquois were killed. A number were captured. At night the victors camped in triumph on the field of battle, torturing one of their captives till Champlain begged to put him out of pain, and sent a bullet through his heart.
Thus ended the first battle between whites and Indians on the soil of the northern United States,