Chapter 13 [Vol. III pp. 230-251]

The commandant of the Natchez post wants to build a plantation at the village of the Apple: The Natchez hold a council, during which it is declared that the French in Louisiana will all perish at the same hour on the same day: The old female Sun, sister of the late sovereign, discovers the secret: She does what she can to warn the French of the danger that threatens them: The French ignore her advice.

At the beginning of the month of December 1729, those in the capital learned with the deepest sadness of the massacre of the French post at the Natchez. My boatman, a very intelligent negro who was quite attached to me, told me sorrowfully: "Go into town right away, you will learn the news. They say that all of the French at the Natchez were killed by the Savage dogs." I left that instant, and the first Frenchman I saw on arriving was M. de la Frêniere, since [231] councilor. He embraced me and said: "How happy you must be, my dear friend, to have foreseen what just happened at the Natchez, because all of the Frenchmen there have had their throats slit. It’s due to the carelessness of the Commandant that this tragedy has happened. You told me rightly that he would pleasantly surprise you if he didn’t bring disgrace to this post."

He recounted to me what he knew; then I went to the officials where they told me the rest. I will report the facts from the beginning.

The Sieur de Chépart had been Commandant at the Natchez post and had been removed for some acts of injustice. M. Périer, the General Commandant, who had only just arrived, allowed himself to be prepossessed in his favor, because he said that he had been praised for the way he had commanded the post. On the strength of this, he obtained the command from M. Perier, who simply did not know better. If he had, the General Commandant would have posed an insurmountable obstacle for Chépart.

This new Commandant, having claimed his post, set forth to form one of the most shining plantations in the colony. To this end, he [232] examined all of the grounds that weren’t occupied by the French; but he could find nothing that fulfilled the grandeur of his visions. There was only the Village of the White Apple, which was at least a square league in area, that was capable of pleasing him. On this land he resolved to establish himself. These grounds were nearly two leagues away from the Fort, but country houses of consequence need not be close to towns, as they then lose their merit. Giddy from the beauty of his design, the Commanant brought the Sun from White Apple to the Fort [fn: This village was part of the nation of the Natchez, and that with which we had the first war.]

Once the Sun had come, the Commandant, without any ceremony, told him that he had to find other grounds upon which to build his village, because he wanted to build immediately in White Apple, and that he had to empty his cabins without delay and take himself elsewhere. To better cover his motive, he made it sound as though it was good that the French were establishing [233] themselves on the banks of the rivulet where the great village and the residence of the Great Sun were located. The Commandant doubtless imagined himself to be speaking to a slave whom one commands in an absolute tone. But he ignored the fact that the Naturals of Louisiana are such enemies of slavery that they would prefer death. The Suns, accustomed to governing despotically, resent it even more so.

The Sun of the Apple thought, that if he replied in a reasonable way he might be listened to. The Sun would have been right, had he been doing business with a reasonable man. He reminded him that his ancestors had lived in his village for as many years as he had hairs in his braid, and thus it was better that they continue there still.

Hardly had the interpreter explained this answer to the Commandant than he became angry and threatened the Sun that if he did not quit his village within a few days he would repent it. The Sun replied that when the French had come asking for lands on which to settle, they had said that there was plenty that was [234] unoccupied; that they could take it; that the same Sun shone on everyone, and that all walked on the same path...He would have said more to support his reasons, but the Commandant, who was in a passion, told him abruptly that he wanted to be obeyed without question. The Sun, without losing his temper, withdrew, saying he was going to assemble the elders of his village to hold council on this matter.

Soon enough, he brought them together. It was decided in the council to reply to the Commandant that the village’s corn had already sprouted and that the hens were sitting on their eggs; if they left their village at present, the hens and the grain would be lost, as much for the French as for them, since the French were not numerous enough to weed all the grain they had sown in their fields.

This resolution taken, they went to propose it to the Commandant, who rejected it with the threat of punishing them if they didn’t obey within the short span of time he set.

The Sun brought back this response to [235] his council who discussed the question. It was thorny; but the elders decided they would propose to the Commandant to stay in their village until the harvest and until they had had the time to dry and winnow their grain, on condition that each cabin of the village would give him a basket's worth of grain and a fowl. [fn. The basket weighs a hundred-and-fifty livres. The Village of the Apple had more than eighty cabins.] The Commandant had seemed to be a very self-interested man, and this proposition was a way of gaining time, and during this period they would take fair measures to escape from domination by the French.

The Sun returned to the Commandant’s and proposed to give him the tribute of which I spoke, if he would wait until the first frost, when the grain was cultivated and dry enough to be winnowed. They also said that in deciding such, they would not lose any of their corn and would not be forced to die of hunger, and that the Commandant would find his profit and that as soon as [236] the corn was husked, they would bring it to him.

The avidity of the Commandant made him accept the proposition with joy and shut his eyes to the consequences of his tyranny. He pretended, however, that he was accepting it only through mercy and in the interest of pleasing a nation that he cherished and that had always been a friend of the French. The Sun seemed very happy to have obtained a delay sufficient for taking necessary precautions to secure the nation; he was not in the least duped by the feigned benevolence of the Commandant.

The Sun called his council as soon as he returned; he told the elders that the French Commandant had accepted the offers he had made to him and that he had agreed to the terms for which they asked. He then submitted that they must make good use of this time, so as to escape from the proposed payment and from the tyrannical domination of the French, who would become more dangerous to the degree that they multiplied. The Natchez should remind themselves of the war they had had with the French, in spite of the peace treaty agreed upon with them; that this war having taken place at their very own village, they [237] should find the surest means to exact a fair and bloody vengeance. This enterprise was of the greatest consequence–it demanded great secrecy, strong measures and plenty of cunning. Thus, it was best to cajole the French chief as he had up to the present. This matter required several days of reflection before deciding upon it and proposing it to the Great Sun and his council. At present they had only to withdraw and in few days, he would assemble them to determine the part that they would act.

At the end of five or six days, he had the elders come, who during this interval had been consulting with one another. In this manner all of the trustworthy voices were united upon the one and only means for achieving the goal that was proposed–the total destruction of the French in this province.

The Sun, seeing them all assembled, told them: "You have had the time to reflect on the proposition that I made to you, and I think you will soon discover the best means [238] of ridding ourselves of our bad neighbors without risk to ourselves." The Sun having done speaking, the oldest of the elders stood up, saluted his chief after his manner and said to him:

"We have for a long time been aware that the neighborliness of the French does us more harm than good. We see it, we elders, but the young people don’t see it. The trade goods of the French bring pleasure to our youth, but in truth, what purpose does this serve, but to debauch the young women and taint the blood of the nation and to make them more vain and lazy? The young men are in the same state, and the married men are killing themselves with the work of feeding their families and satisfying their children. Before the French had arrived in this land, were were men who contented ourselves with what we had, and this was sufficient. We walked boldly along every path because we were our own bosses. However, today we go groping, in fear of finding thorns. We walk as slaves and we [239] shall soon be such, for the French already treat us as if we were. When they are strong enough, they will no longer use politics; at the least thing that our young people may do, the French will attach them to a post and whip them as they whip their slaves; have they not already done so to one of our young men, and is not death preferable to slavery?"

He took a little break, and after catching his breath he continued thus:

"What are we waiting for? Do we want to let the French multiply until we are no longer in a position to oppose their efforts? What will the other Nations say? We are seen as the most spiritual of all of the red men; they will then say that we have less spirit than the other peoples. Why then wait any longer? Let us set ourselves free and show for all to see that we are real men who can get by with what we have. Let us begin today to pull ourselves together; order our women to prepare provisions, [240] without telling them the reason. Go carry the calumet of peace to all the nations of this land. We will make them understand that the French, being stronger in our neighborhood than anywhere else, make us sense that they want to put us in slavery before any of the others, and that once they are strong enough, they will do the same to all of the nations of the land, and so it is in their interest to prevent such a great misfortune. To this purpose, they have only to join with us to destroy all of the French, on the same day and at the same hour. This day will be the same one that concludes the agreement we got from the French Commandant, to bring him the contributions agreed upon. The hour will be at a quarter of the day (nine o’clock in the morning). At this hour several warriors will go to bring him the grain as if to begin the payment and they will bring their arms under the pretext of going to hunt. In each French house, there will be two or three Natchez for a Frenchman; they will ask to borrow arms and ammunition to go on [241] a general hunt for the occasion of a big feast; and that they will come back with meat. The gunshots we will fire at the French Commandant will be the signal for all to descend on the French and kill them. Then we will be in a state to prevent those who came from the ancient French village by way of the Great Water from ever being able to establish themselves here."

The same elder added that after having communicated to several Nations the necessity of taking this violent action, we shall send to them each a packet of sticks, equal in number to our own, which will mark the number of days that are to come before the one on which all must attack at once. So as there may be no mistake, it is necessary to take each day one of the sticks from the packet, to break it and throw it away, and a wise man will be charged with this duty. He left his place and sat down. All of the elders approved of his view and were of the same mind.

The project was likewise approved of by the Sun of the Apple village; the next matter was to get the consent of the Great Sun [242] and the other petty Suns. Because all of these princes were in agreement on this issue, all the nation would blindly obey. They repeated their precaution against telling the women–even the female Suns--lest they have the slightest suspicion of the designs against the French.

The Sun of the Apple village was a man of great abilities, by which means he easily won over the Great Sun to his plan. The Great Sun then reigning was a young man without experience. [fn. The former Great Sun, brother of the Tattooed Serpent, had been dead for about a year.] He was won over all the more easily because all the Suns agreed that the Sun of the Apple had a just and penetrating mind, and he had never much associated with the French. This prince, meeting with the Sovereign of the Nation, made him aware of the necessity of joining his party: because soon he himself would have to abandon his village, because the wisdom of these concerted measures actually assured success, because of the danger that his youth exposed him to amid such enterprising neighbors, and above all because of the French Commandant who [243] was presently at the fort, whom the Habitants and even the soldiers complained about. So long as the Great Sun and the Tattooed Serpent, his brother, were alive, the Commandant of the fort never dared try anything, because the Great French chief at their big village (by which he meant New Orleans) liked them. But he the Great Sun was simply not known, and being still young, they held him in contempt, and finally the only way to maintain his authority was to attack the French in the way and with the precautions that the elders had plotted.

The result of this conversation was that, from the following day, when the Suns would come in the morning to salute him, the Great Sun would warn them to come to his home in the Apple village without speaking to anyone. This was executed, and his captivating spirit attracted all of the Suns to his project: Consequently, a council of Suns and noble Elders was formed, all of whom approved of the project. These noble Elders were named Chiefs of the Embassy to go to the other Nations; they were given warriors [244] to accompany them and it was forbidden under pain of death to speak of what they had done. This resolution made, they would all leave at the same time, unbeknownst to the French.

Despite the deep secrecy observed by the Natchez, the council held by the Suns and Noble Elders caused the people much uneasiness. it was nothing new, in this as in other parts of the world, to see subjects strive to penetrate the secrets of the court. Nevertheless, the curiosity of the people could not be satisfied: The female Suns (or Princesses) had alone in this nation a right to demand why they were kept in the dark in this affair. The young female Great Sun was hardly eighteen years old. Only the Tattooed Arm, who was a women of great wit (and no less sensible of it), could be offended that nothing was disclosed to her. Indeed, she expressed her displeasure to her son, who replied that these diplomatic missions were being made to renew their good intelligence with the other nations, to whom they had not for a long time sent the calumet, and who believed that they were being scorned by such negligence. This fabricated excuse seemed to appease the female Sun [245] Tattooed Arm but it did not quite relieve her worries. On the contrary, they multiplied when she saw that upon the return of the calumets, (that is, the ambassadors), the Suns assembled in secret with the deputies to learn what their reception had been, instead of in public as was ordinarily done.

This female Sun was angered: "What", she said to herself, "is being hidden from the entire Nation that ought to be known? It is even being hidden from me?" Her anger would have burst out immediately, if her prudence hadn’t moderated it. I am persuaded the colony owes its preservation to the vexation of this woman rather than to any remains of affection she entertained for the French.[fn. She was now far advanced in years, and her gallant had been dead for some time.]

She had good reason to fear that if she made a fuss it would only increase the depth of secrecy to the point of not being able to learn anything at all. So she made use of a very wise strategy. She enlisted her son the Sun to come with her to the Flour village to see a female relative of theirs whom they had [246] heard was very sick, and to accompany her without saying anything. She took him the longest way, under the pretext that it was the most beautiful, but actually she did so because it was the way least taken. As she was quite clever, she thought that the reason everyone maintained such a profound silence toward her was because they were plotting something sinister against the French, and the movements of the Sun of the Apple village supported her conjectures. So, coming with her son to a secluded place, and confident of the respect that he had always shown her, she said to him:

"Let’s sit down here, I’m rather tired and I have something to tell you". Once they were seated, she continued as such: "Open your ears and listen to me: I have never taught you to lie and I have always told you that a liar doesn’t deserve to be considered a man, that a lying Sun was worthy of contempt, even from women. Thus I believe that you will tell me the truth. Tell me then: Are the Suns not all brothers? Shouldn’t their interests be in common? Nonetheless all of the Suns are hiding something from me, as if my lips were [247] cut and I could not hold my words in. Do you know me to be a woman who talks in her sleep? I’m in despair to see myself scorned by my brothers, and even more to be so treated by you. What then? Are you not from my own loins? Did you not suckle at my breast to nourish yourself with the purest of my blood? Does my blood no longer flow through your veins? Would you be Sun if you were not my son? Have you already forgotten that without my care you would have been dead a long time ago? Everyone tells you, and I do as well, that you are the son of a Frenchman, but my own blood is more dear to me than that of strangers. Today I walk right past you without the slightest glance, like a bitch dog. I'm stunned that you don't kick me aside with your foot, and I'm not at all surprised that the others hide away from me. The elders have a custom of scorning the women to whom they are not closely related. But you are my son, and you hide from me. Have you ever seen in our nation a son denounce his mother? You are the only one who does so. What! So much activity [248] in the Nation, without my knowing the reason for it, even though I’m the former female Sun and even though I’ve a Sun for a son? Are you afraid that I will betray you, and that I will make you a slave of the Frenchmen against whom you are acting? Oh, how I am weary of being scorned and of dealing with men who are such ingrates!"

The son of this Female Sun was paralyzed by the words that she had just told him, with tears in her eyes. He listened to her reproaches with the typical prudence of the Naturals and with the respect owed to a mother and princess. He then replied with these words: "Your reproaches are arrows that pierce my heart, and I don’t think I have ever scorned or rebuffed you. But, have you ever heard of something being revealed that the Elders and Councilors had held in confidence? And I, who am Sun, must not I set the example? We have hidden it from the female Great Sun as we have from you. Although they know that I am the son of a Frenchman, they do not defy me. It was suspected that your great mind would penetrate the council’s secret, but in hiding it from the female Great Sun, [249] it seemed best to say nothing. Since you have divined everything, what do you want me to tell you? You know as much as I do; keep your mouth closed."

"I had little trouble", she said, "in learning whom you are taking your precautions against, but it’s precisely because it’s against the French that I fear you have not taken the right measures to surprise them. I know they have a lot of smarts, even if the Commandant here has lost his. They are brave and have trade goods aplenty to make all of the warriors of other nations turn against us. If you only wanted to go after red men, I would sleep more easily, but as it is I won't sleep a wink. Whether it’s the Frenchmen or the red men who kill me, life isn’t worth much for an aged woman, but yours is very dear to me. If your Elders have believed that it was as easy to surprise the French as the red men, they have been greatly mistaken: The Frenchmen have resources that the red men do not.

Her son said that she had nothing [250] to fear from the measures that had been taken. After having told her everything that I’ve reported, he added that all of the nations had heard and approved of their project and that they all had promised to act on the same day, at the same time as the Natchez, each on the villages of the French who were their neighbors. The Chactas were charged with destroying all of the French who were lower down the Great River (the St. Louis River) and all along it going up to the Tonicas. No one had even gone to this latter nation. The Tonicas and the Oumas were too much friends with the French, and it was better to destroy them as well as the French with whom they lived. Finally, he said that the sticks were in the temple on the wooden platform.

Once Tattooed-Arm was informed of it all, she seemed to approve of it and from then on left her son in peace. She busied herself only with finding a way to run this barbarous plot aground. Time was short; the period set until the day marked for action had almost run out.

[251] This woman, not being able to resign herself to seeing all of the French perish in a single day by the plot of the Naturals, looked for a means to save most of the French. To achieve this, she imagined a way to alert several young women who were in love with Frenchmen. This she did, reminding them to never say that this notice came from her.