CHAPTER 15 (Vol. 3, pp. 262-285)

Following the banditry of the Natchez: Preparations for war against the Natchez.

A few days after the pillage of the French post, a troop of Natchez who were at the edge of the river, ready to cross over to go hunting on the other side, saw some travelers coming down in a pirogue. The Natchez called to them and these people, who did not know anything about what had happened, approached and put in to shore, but no sooner had they disembarked than they were assailed by gun shots. Three of them were killed; a fourth saved himself, hiding in the woods then fleeing to the Tonicas. The fifth, who was sick, was taken to the village where he was made to die a martyr.

The Yazous, who were coming to smoke the Calumet, had arrived on the very day of the massacre, when the Great Sun was about to go in to see the French Commandant. The Sun had told them that they should go to a house above, [263] and wait there a few days. They waited there, at the convenience of the Great Sun, and then returned to Natchez. From there they would return with their vessels well filled with men, as many from their own nation as from the Natchez, who were going with them to help and encourage them to destroy the Yazou post, which the Natchez thought to be the only French post yet surviving in the colony. For this purpose, they went upriver again. As they neared their homeland, they discovered, from afar, Frenchmen in a clearing who had stopped there and were thinking only of praying to God during the mass that was being said by a Reverend Jesuit Father. The Naturals put in to shore just below, and approached the French, who were ignorant of the bad fortune of their compatriots. The Naturals studied the French as they got down on their knees to adore the holy host. All fired at once on the French, but the God they adored served as a shield and saved them. They re-embarked in a hurry. In this short interval, the Yazous reloaded their weapons and fired a second [264] round, that also did not kill anyone. Only one man, who pushed the boat, took a bullet in the thigh. This injury didn’t stop him from boarding with the others, shoving off, and defending himself all the way to New Orleans, where he recovered quickly.

When the Yazous first caught sight of the Frenchmen’s boat they flattered themselves with the idea of great spoils and a triumphant arrival back home. However, God was disposed towards them otherwise; the French didn’t lose a single one of their possessions. The Naturals then resolved to compensate for this failure by attacking the Yazou post, where there were no more than about twenty men in the garrison commanded by a sergent, M. du Coder, who, as commandant, had been absorbed in the misfortunes at the Natchez post as I have just described them. They did not miss their mark--a few days after their arrival, the Natchez seized the fort by feigning a routine visit and wiping them all out.

Due to the few French who escaped the Natchez disaster having confirmed at the capital the total destruction of this post, M. Périer, the Governor of [265] Louisiana, set himself to exacting vengeance and taking back at any cost the female French prisoners. However, since the French are not suited to going into the woods as the Naturals are, he sent M. le Sueur to the Chactas. This official, who spoke the common language [Mobilian jargon] very well, had the order to get them involved on our behalf to make war against the Natchez. He had little trouble in achieving this. However, he was far from understanding what it was that caused them to take this on with such eagerness, since he did not know that the Chactas had taken part in the Natchez plot to destroy the French. He had no idea that the Chactas only participated in order to get revenge on the Natchez because the Natchez had attacked too soon and had not given them a good enough part of the bounty taken from the French in the two attacks they had made to their settlements. M. le Sueur patiently waited for the Chactas until they had made enough provisions, so he could direct them against the Natchez.

While waiting for the war preparations, and for the arrival of the army that was to be sent against the Natchez, a captain and a few troops were sent to the Tonicas, to support the [266] inhabitants that were there and to receive those French who might have escaped from the massacre. In fact, a few had retreated there, among them a soldier named Navarre, who recounted the massacre and what he had seen there, particularly with regard to the Commandant [Chépart] who had been sent to this post. In addition, there was M. Gonichon, also escaped from the Natchez, whom this Commandant had sent for in order to put his talents to use in fortification; today he lives in Paris.

Navarre told them that a girl whom he had loved dearly came to find him very early that morning and warned him that the French would be killed by the Natchez, that he should immediately save himself and that he had no time to lose. He also said that she brought him a pistol, gunpowder, and bullets, so that if he were attacked in saving himself, he could defend himself and die a warrior, if die he must. He mounted his horse to warn his Commandant, but he encountered another Frenchman who was fleeing and who told him that the Natchez had staged the coup already. Navarre hid himself in the woods until evening and during the night he went to the French settlement to find a boat to take downriver. [267] Seeing a light in a French house, he went there, but realizing that it was filled with Naturals, he fled again. Seeing that it was not possible to escape in this way, he spent the night with his mistress, who hid him in the depths of the woods, where she and her companions cared for him eight to ten days, then brought him provisions for his journey and showed him the path to go to the Tonicas. They told him: We presume that the French will seek vengeance for the death of their brothers, but if you return with them, try to find a way for me to live with you.

M. le Chevalier de Loubois, Lieutenant of the King for the Colony, was named for this expedition. His army was composed of soldiers, settlers, several French who had escaped from the Natchez, and several Natural allies. This little army set out in boats and in pirogues with the munitions of war and gun muzzles suitable for this undertaking.

They went back upriver without obstacle and arrived at the Tonicas. This nation, as I have said, has always been a friend of the French; it was [268] for this reason that the Natchez didn’t wish to communicate their detestable design to them. The Tonicas brought out their best for the French; several warriors were sent hunting to kill game to refresh them.

M. de Loubois, believing them not strong enough to attack the Natchez without the Chactas, built a fort at the Tonicas. In it, he put his troops and those who had saved themselves from the Natchez, whom the Tonicas had received and nourished in truly brotherly friendship. The Commandant paid them for what they had provided these refugees and joined them with his army in the same way as the Tonicas.

M. le Sueur certainly knew that this general was at the Tonicas; therefore, M. de Loubois must have felt sure that he would be alerted as soon as the Chactas came or were ready to come near where he was; he could find this out promptly, since it was no more than ten leagues from one place to the other. This was a journey that a Natural, without a burden, does easily in less than a day. However, M. de Loubois had never left New Orleans and knew nothing more about the rest of the land [269] than what he had overheard.

This Commandant, tired of waiting for a month and not hearing anything from the Chactas, whose character he knew no more of than the rest of the Naturals, thought he would do well to send spies to the Natchez to see if the allies had arrived there, and what else might have happened. He was not to be blamed for his curiosity, it was only a question of choosing these spies. And since he did not know the land or its inhabitants in any way, he should not have been ashamed of learning from those who knew it much better than he and his officers, who knew nothing helpful. He satisfied himself by asking the French if anyone wanted to go to the Natchez. Imprudence prompted five to step forward. A few of those who had fled from Natchez were about to speak their minds, but they conducted themselves prudently by keeping silent, because it doesn’t do any good to advise one’s superiors, some of whom are apt to take offence, imagining they are being taken for ignoramuses. One of those settlers who [270] had gotten away talked about it with the man who commanded this nation, as the Tonicas' Great Chief wasn’t there. The man said, "The five Frenchmen will get themselves killed going by river. If the French chief had told me he wanted to send them, I would have given him a warrior." This was in fact the most prudent course that could have been taken; a Tonica would have gone by land to the Natchez. During the night, he would have listened to what the Natchez were saying, as the Naturals are very capable of acting as spies in this manner without any risk. The Tonica would have reported to M. de Loubois what he had seen and heard. If the Chactas had been there, he would have alterted the Commandant to this.

I am far from criticizing the conduct of M. de Loubois; he has always deserved the esteem of honest people for his bravery and probity. However, it is also true that the greatest officers have not been ashamed about instructing themselves from the occasions when events went against them. As I have set myself the plan in writing this history of informing the public about that which they do not know, I report what I saw or learned about on the ground in Louisiana, [271] so as to give some instruction to those who might wish to go there, and so that those who have the praiseworthy desire to learn might foresee the dangers through the examples that I report, thereby making them capable of serving their country and earning of the thanks of their sovereign.

I return to the Natchez at their last exploit, which was assassinating the travelers in the boat. This surprise was a great victory for them and it made them hope for such success in all of their other enterprises.

Soon after the massacre of the French by their neighbors, they planned to destroy the Nactchitoches, whom they had deemed unfit for admission into their conspiracy because they knew the Nactchitoches to be inviolable friends of the French. They feared M. le Chevalier de St. Denis, Commandant of this post. They knew he was quite capable of taking them down and that he was as frightening to his enemies as he was true to his friends. [footnote: See Volume 1, Chapter 22, in which I have spoken of M. de St. Denis, respectable Commandant.]

[272] Thus, they resolved to surprise him, in order to take the Nactchitoches more easily. They imagined that his eagerness to redeem a Frenchwoman prisoner would make him blind to their deceit. It was with this design that they left for the Nactchitoches fort--a group of a hundred and fifty warriors with one of the female French prisoners.

They arrived on the scene a short distance from this post with the Calumet of peace. They sent deputies to M. de St. Denis, to tell him they came to present him with the Calumet, as the talisman of peace between them and the French, and that they brought him a female French prisoner to prove that what they proposed to him was the truth.

M. de St. Denis, who since his youth had learned the language [Mobilian jargon] and spoke it perfectly, responded to them that he would like this, provided that they would come in a group of not more than ten, with the French prisoner. Then, he would receive their Calumet and the prisoner and he would pay them well for her. He saw from their great number that they were deceivers and traitors. [273] Still, he said that if they brought the French prisoner immediately, he would pay for her and allow them to return home. He threatened them that if they crossed him, he would teach them about whom they were dealing with. This in spite of the fact that M. de St. Denis didn’t have even forty troops in the garrison and at most twenty settlers. Seeing that they didn’t send the female French prisoner, he sent for the Nactchitoches village to warn the Great Chief of this Nation to send him in the night forty of his best warriors. The Great Chief, who had no reason to disoblige M. de St. Denis, sent him the number of men he had asked for, and they arrived at the Commandant’s around midnight.

For their part, the deputies of the Natchez, having reported the response of M. de St. Denis to their troop, were all in despair at having missed their chance. They spent their rage on the poor Frenchwoman whom they burned within sight of the fort, after having made a hasty entrenchment, so they wouldn’t be surprised during the time they martyred this woman.

M. de St. Denis, who had courage [274] in all his trials, and who knew the best way to beat the Naturals, had his neighbor's forty warriors armed, left twenty men to guard the fort, marched toward the enemies a little before daylight, and attacked them with such order and valor that there were more than sixty that lay on the ground. The others tried to flee; they were pursued. The injured, who were more than a few, were finished off. M. de St. Denis returned to his fort victorious, without having lost a single man.

Let's return now to our five discoverers sent to the Natchez. They went by the great way, that is to say, on the St. Louis [Mississippi] River. They disembarked in broad daylight, only three leagues from the great village of the enemies, in the little river that came from this village and that let out at the foot of the large bluffs, from which one could spot a pirogue two leagues away. They slept in this place without being discovered. Was it in fact lucky for them that they were not? I don't believe so; if they had been discovered, then they could have more easily pulled themselves out of the affair. It seems to me that they must have believed that the Natchez, [275] after such a burst of action as they had performed, would not fail to be on their guard; and that knowing the French believed that they would only come by river if they brought a big troop and war gear. And thus, they were obliged to be on their guard at the river more so than anywhere else.

Our discoverers slept peacefully near their pirogue. When it was day, they had breakfast and drank brandy to help gather their forces and as they had some left over. In the same safety, they walked through the prairie to avoid the difficulty of going through the woods. They arrived at the White Earth village, where they found all of the buildings burned. From there, they were only a half a league to the Natchez great village and they had still not been discovered, or at least so they thought. They flattered themselves with this success and continued their march without hiding themselves any more than they would if they were going to their allies. However, at this moment, they were surrounded on all sides, which makes me believe that they were being followed and that a party had been commanded to take them prisoners.

[276] These spies, seeing they had been detected, threw themselves into a ravine that served as a retrenchment. They defended themselves with much more courage than then they would have had to if they had shown more prudence, since they had made it obvious, by their actions, that they came as enemies.

The soldier by the name of Navarre, of the Natchez garrison (from which he saved himself), was one of the five of them. He is the same one I spoke of earlier. He knew the enemies’ language fairly well and he used it to overcome the foolishness of those who attacked him and his comrades. The Naturals fired little; they kept themselves behind trees and were content with shouting at the French to give themselves up. Still, they fired on Navarre and injured him, though this did not stop him from railing at the enemies and firing upon them. Ultimately, this angered them so much that many of them banded together and imposed an eternal silence upon him.

The other Frenchmen put their arms down once they saw that their most stubborn comrade was dead. They were taken to the Great Sun, who was at the big village; he was told all [277] that had happened and that one of the injured seemed to be the head of the troop: It was M. Mesplais.

After the Great Sun had been made aware of all of this, he had M. Mesplais come to him and he asked him what he had come to do on his lands. M. Mesplais said that he came there on behalf of his General to ask if he would like to live in peace with the French. "But," said this young sovereign, "when one comes to talk about making peace, does one start, before talking, by firing gunshots upon people who say only: Give yourself up? You see from this that Navarre is dead and you, you are injured. Is this, then, what one does?"

M. Mesplais replied that Navarre had drunk too much brandy, and that as soon as he saw him dead, he had put down his arms and had made his three comrades do the same. The Great Sun responded that he would certainly like to accept their peace and ordered them to be freed, though kept under watch.

Following this order, the Great Sun had Madame des Noyers come and [278] he told her: "Write to your Great War Chief that if he wants peace and wants to see the Frenchwomen prisoners and black slaves again, he has only to send me, for each slave, enough barrels of spirits...pieces of cloth...guns...shirts," and many other, similar things he asked for, with the result that by the time the path of peace was chosen, it was impossible to find, in all of the stores and in all of the colony, enough goods to satisfy his demand.

Madame des Noyers wrote all that he said, and made use of the occasion to inform M. de Loubois of the deplorable state to which she and the other Frenchwomen had been reduced and the dangers to which they were exposed.

She submitted the letter to the young sovereign, who instantly sent for a soldier who was one of the four prisoners. He ordered the soldier to deliver it to the Frenchmen’s Great War Chief and to report the response to him in three days. Never had a commission been accepted with such joy; the soldier set out immediately without listening to [279] what a few of the Frenchwomen were telling him. He found the pirogue that they had arrived in and set off in it, and made great diligence to deliver his message, while resolving not return with the response, no matter what happened. That same day he arrived at the Tonicas, told M. de Loubois what had happened, and delivered the letter; the Commandant read it and made no response.

During the three days allotted for the response, the three prisoners were treated fairly well, along with the Frenchwomen prisoners, although they were all kept within sight. They talked together of their unfortunate lot. However, the Great Sun, seeing nothing new on the fourth day, condemned the three Frenchmen to death.

They started by stripping them naked. Then their bodies were smeared black. M. Mesplais was recognized, by his naturally curly hair, as having been at the first war against the Natchez. His two comrades were taken out of the village, where they were put to death with out any other torment. However, M. Mesplais was set to die on the square frame, because [280] he was a warrior and they wanted to make him cry, for the purpose of flattering themselves that the French were not warriors since they cried like women. First, they took off his hair, and attached his hands and feet to the square, in the shape of the cross of St. Andre. The first place they burned him was under his armpits, a little while after, the hands, an hour later, the arms, then in one place, and then in another. His pains were renewed constantly and a cruelty that was always ingenious at inventing new genres of pain was exercised upon him.

He suffered all of these torments with a heroic strength, without shedding a single tear. The only thing that seemed to be able to give him unbearable pain was his burning thirst. He asked the Frenchwomen, who steadfastly kept by him, for something to drink. One of these women wanted to bring water to him but she was prevented, and there was nothing she could have done without it costing her her own life. These pious women addressed their prayers to the God of mercy, whom the patient also invoked without ceasing. Finally after three days and two nights of continual torments endured with an admirable faith, he gave his soul up to God.

[281] Once the Natchez had learned that the French were at the Tonicas in a great troop, they understood that they would have to destroy their neighbors, and they worked to bring about this revenge. All of their prudence abandoned them. The menaces with which the Chactas had threatened them, as well of those of Navarre, and the proposals of peace that M. Mesplais had feigned; all of these things filled them with mortal worries, without affording them a single real hope. However, since man naturally likes to feast upon flattering expectations, the Great Sun ordered that one of the Frenchwomen, who knew the Natchez language best, be found and brought to him. They were assembled in war council. Because, as this woman has told it, they were all armed with guns, sabres, swords, hatchets and clubs, upon entering she turned cold at the sight of these armed men. She thought it was her last hour, and despite the Natchez' interrogation, she did not give them the slightest response.

A few moments after her arrival, this woman [282] regained her senses due to the gentleness of their questioning and asked them what they wanted. The Great Sun said, "Have you ever heard it said of the warriors of your nation that when some among them have been killed, those who remained actually made peace?" She replied that often the officers or chiefs of war drank and ate together before fighting, and that they often did the same after having battled with one another. She also said she had heard that those who had been enemies, after having made peace, sometimes went together to fight others.

They seemed satisfied with these answers. Then he said to her, "You know that in the first war, the Frenchmen caused us to lose the head of Old Hair, Chief of the Apple village. [footnote: The Old Hair {Le vieux poil} was the rogue chief, whose head Mr. de Bienville demanded. He was Sun of Apple village.] Since his death has not yet been revenged, it’s easy to agree that that head of this malicious Commandant should be put in the place of that of Old Hair, and then all would be forgiven."

[283] This woman, who would have liked to be far away at this moment, replied to them that they should think better than to do this. They also asked her if it was true that the French were at the Tonicas, and why they did not come near them anymore to speak with them. She answered that the French were at the Tonicas, but they wanted to be assured beforehand of whether or not they accepted the peace. They seemed satisfied with this and returned her.

In February, the long-anticipated Chactas finally arrived near Natchez, numbering about fifteen or sixteen and having Mr. le Sueur at their head. They came in greater number than the Natchez were, so that they would not be attacked, and to risk even less, they fired several gunshots upon arrival, from far away–this was in order to warn the Natchez to withdraw into their fort. The Natchez were well aware that the Chactas had no courage, but they simply didn’t know in what numbers they came. Thus the Natchez didn’t open an attack for fear that the French would be with the Chactas. Meanwhile, many Natchez lived in their cabins [284] in perfect security, not being able to imagine that the French would dare to attack them. Therefore it would have been easy for the Chactas, if they had wanted to, to take out a good many as soon as they arrived, if they had attacked the remote cabins without raising an alarm. Moreover, they could have taken the female White Sun (or female Great Sun), who had great difficulty in gaining the fort.

They found several Frenchwomen in her cabin who pretended that they could not follow this young princess and believed themselves to be in the safety of the allied Naturals; but on the contrary, they lost their security. The Chactas entered into the cabin and finding nothing more, they demanded to know where this female Sun’s booty was, because they knew it was in her home. The Frenchwomen replied that she had both sent it off and had her people (those who had fled with her to the fort) send off all that she had. Also, having seen the Chactas, they had stayed, liking it better to be with each other than with the Natchez. The Chactas, having heard them, took them away with them as slaves. They also took an old Natchez woman who could not follow [285] the female Great Sun. The Natchez, seeing them go out of firing range, sent out a sortie to fire upon them. This discharge didn’t hurt anybody except one Frenchwoman who was injured on the thigh, which did not prevent her from following the Chactas.

Once they had withdrawn into a place that was previously the concession of St. Catherine, they removed the scalp of the old Natchez woman and attached it to a great bundle of dry canes. They burned it bit by bit at night. Since their arrival up until that time, they did nothing but shoot without aiming, and the Natchez did the same, without accomplishing anything, as they were shooting from too far away. The Chactas stripped the Frenchwomen they had taken from the few the Natchez had left behind. Such is the character of people without hearts, to have less pity for the unfortunate than they have for the brave. The Chactas lived at St. Catherine for a month without doing any more harm than they would have done had they stayed in their village, and the Natchez gave them no more in return. They passed all this time waiting for Mr. de Loubois and using a lot of gunpowder without killing a single man.