Chapter XVI (vol. 3, pp 286-303)

We go to war against the Natchez

In the month of March following, Monsieur de Loubois finally reached the old French settlement at Natchez. If he was impatient at the lateness of the Chactas, they in turn were impatient that the General had not shown up; but each had his excuses. The Chactas had provisions to prepare before leaving. They had to come a hundred leagues across prairies and woods, burdened with provisions, bedding, weapons of war and ammunition. It was necessary to hunt en route to survive. And to tell the truth it seemed that their faint hearts would not carry them any faster. M. Loubois was actually not more than ten leagues from the enemy by land, as a crow flies, but about eighteen or twenty leagues away by water. He could not go by land because of his canons, which caused him [287] more trouble than they were worth.

The army camped near the ruins of the French settlement, rested five days, and then marched to the enemies’ fort, which was a league from there. It took four days to make the journey because they had to carry the cannons. When they finally arrived on the fourth day, they began digging a trench.

A few days after the trench was dug, the enemy launched a sudden, unforeseen attack, discharging so much fire upon those in the trench that the soldiers fled, in spite of orders from their officer, who did all that could be done to stop them. Our men fired continually on their fort, but without any success; the cannon could not make a dent in this kind of fortification.

The Natchez also fired continually–they even used the canons they had brought from Fort Rosalie. However, they didn’t know how to use them properly. They having three, and the French only four guns, the latter might have suffered greatly; since after all they had neither artillerymen nor soldiers [288] industrious enough to find the techniques they needed. There was however one sergeant, more intelligent than the others, who was guiding one of the French cannon. This sergeant, seeing that it was doing nothing against the enemies’ fort, set out with another soldier. They filled their pockets with grenades and went to throw them into the fort, over the stakes of the palisade. Monsieur le Chevalier de Loubois was warned of this, and since in this enterprise they had more courage than prudence, the General made them come back. While this design might have been laudable on other occasions, it could have been fatal to the French hostages inside.

A few days after, the interpreter named du Parc, having been ordered to call upon the enemies to surrender, took an army flag and advanced to within shouting distance. After planting the flag in the ground, he harangued them, exhorting them to surrender and accept the peace we were offering, under the condition of freeing the hostages and the blacks. The Natchez, in response, unleashed such a vigorous volley that he fled for his life and left the flag where he had planted it.[289]

The enemies hastily resolved to go capture it. To achieve this goal with less risk, they mounted a sortie. Meanwhile, a few women hostages were near the gate, and seeing that there was no one left to guard it, they fled and made it to the French camp, despite the enemies' firing upon them. This unforeseen event gave way to another, by which the foolishness of du Parc was remedied. The courage of a young soldier (named "the little Parisian" because of his small stature), allowed him to profit from this circumstance. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him, removed the flag, and brought it to M. de Loubois, who gave him a halberd as a reward.

The captives who had undertaken their escape had only done so after noticing the determination of the enemy, which had left them with no hope of any save a tragic end. Thus, taking an ambitious resolution, they preferred to abandon the others to Providence than to perish alongside them without being able to help them.

The enemies, enraged by the flight of these women, martyred their children [290]-- making them die by all sorts of torments and then sticking their bodies atop the fort's pilings, so as to make the French suffer as much as they could.

The horror of this spectacle revitalized the ardor of the French, who advanced their trench. They approached to a point that frightened the enemies, whose evident fear tempered their fury. The firing ceased and we saw them raise the flag, that announced that they were demanding peace.

The French, for their part, ceased firing, too, to see what would happen. Shortly after, they saw Ette-Actal appear--he who had been M. de Bienville’s servant.

Once he was in the presence of the General, he revealed the subject of his commission, which was that the Natchez, after several councils, were offering to return the French women and children, on the condition that we gave them a lasting peace and that we let them live in tranquility on their land without annoying or hunting after them, from this day forward.

M. de Loubois assured him that he promised the peace that they were asking for [291] in the name of the entire Nation, but he accorded it to them only under the conditions that they return not only the French women and children but also the French men that were at the fort, and all the black men, women, boys and girls they had taken from the French. Their fort would be destroyed by fire, and as soon as peace was made and the conditions of the treaty were met, the French and the Chactas, their allies, would each go back to where they came from.

Given these verbal terms, Ette-Actal went to bring this response to his nation. Ette-Actal revealed to the Great Sun the conditions on which they would be accorded peace. The Sun accepted them all, provided that the French General promised him never to enter the Fort with Frenchmen nor allow auxillary troops to enter.

Ette-Actal went to report this last resolution, which was accepted, and we sent the allies to receive what we had asked for, that is to say, all the hostages, which was all we desired. It was for this that we closed our eyes to all the rest.

The Natchez, from their point of view pleased [292] to have bought some time, took advantage of the good faith of the French and of the night which approached to sneak out of their Fort, leading their women and children, one and all, carrying the baggage and loot they had raided from the French, so that they only left the tattered clothing, and the cannons, and balls which had proved worthless and were impossible to transport. Thinking about this escape, I cannot see how it was possible. I know the Naturals and I know that their usual belongings and implements are all that they can carry. One must not forget that they had the weapons, clothing and goods of the French; it is impossible that they could have transported all of this in a single trip. They must have returned several times and made several trips. I conclude from this that they could not have gone far with their children and all of the elders of the Nation. Where, then, did they go? Frankly, I will say that I know nothing; I simply know from what I have been told that they became invisible.[293]

The next day, M. de Loubois prepared to take possession of the Natchez fort, or to take it by force. Imagine the surprise of the General when he learned that the Natchez had pulled away during the night and that except for the cannons and cannonballs, they had left nothing but old tatters of clothing! The news petrified him; he thought of nothing but withdrawing to the riverbank and building a fort there. However, before doing that it was necessary to redeem the French that the Chactas had in their hands; and this was no small affair as these allies demanded a ransom greater than they would ever have asked of sworn enemies. As a result, I doubt that we would have been able to recover them from the Chactas' hands, and would have been forced into a battle, if not for the intervention of our good friend, the Great Chief of the Tonicas, who by his zeal for the French, by his firmness, and by the respect that all of the other nations had for him, found a way to get the Chactas to accept what M. de Loubois had been compelled to offer in order to satisfy their greed. This was an offer that they would never have received without the mediation [294] of the Great Chief of the Tonicas, who acted in such a way to pacify all.

They were happy then, with what they were offered and the French slaves were taken from their hands by promising they would be paid right away. During this dispute much time passed and fortunately, the night came before all of the goods in the camp and in the possession of the French had been collected; it was said that the next day they would be given the rest. Nightfall forced them to wait it out until morning. For security, they kept a young Frenchman and a few black slaves, whom they never wanted to let go.

M. de Loubois, seeing no means of satisfying the Chactas, made use of the night to take the French women to the water’s edge and put them quickly on board the boat and send them off. He feared that this naturally brutal people would strip them from the French, and thereby a dispute would arise, and he would not be in a state to defend himself against such a populous nation. It was necessary for the Frenchmen to wait for the Chactas in the place from which the Frenchwomen had left.

[295] The following morning, the Chactas were told that it was impossible to find enough to pay them, but that they would be paid as soon as they were in New Orleans. The Chactas had no response; they prowled about, going all the way to the water’s edge, where they saw that the Frenchwomen had left. Though they seemed content with the promise they were made, they kept those whom they still had under their power and would not return them until the moment of payment.

M. de Loubois, being finished with the Naturals, gave orders to build an earthen fort. This way of building a fort was much better for defense than the one that had preceded it. The fort was made of nothing but earthen bricks, each a bit bigger than one's thigh, without trenches outside and without ledges inside. Also, the soldiers made breaches in the wall, through which they could escape without having to pass in front of the sentinel. There were still three cannons but without supports since there was no [296] embrasure to put the cannons in.

Once this earthen fort was built, the General left M. le Baron du Crenet, the Lieutenant of the King for the colony, to command it. The General gave him a hundred and twenty men for the garrison, cannons, and munitions. Then he went down to New Orleans with his French troops. The Chactas went back to their own country and the Tonicas and the other allies did the same.

When the Frenchwomen who had been sent back earlier arrived in the capital, they were put up at the Hotel Dieu by M. de la Chaise, the Marshall Commissioner. He took all the care necessary to reestablish their health, through the good food and the medications that their panicked temperaments needed. These poor women had lost nearly everything during the Natchez’s pillage. The Chactas had then taken what little remained, and that which the female Sun had given them out of compassion. Thus they were, so to speak, completely naked. Now they were clothed and provided with all that was necessary. The [297] women whose husbands had escaped the massacre rejoined them and the widows were not widows for long. All of those who were saved from the disaster at the post would be extremely ungrateful if they did not give thanks to God for M. de la Chaise.

The Natchez, as I’ve already said, had abandoned their fort. It was demolished and the blocks burned. I’m easily persuaded that if the Natchez had real reason to fear the French, because of the dark action they had taken, they would fear even more the Chactas, who had menaced them since before the declared war. They had no doubt that the French would excuse them for the murder of their compatriots, if they presented as their excuse the tyranny of the French commandant in that place. However, they feared the insolence of the Chactas, who had pillaged them until they were naked. They had even insulted them in the presence of the French and this was doubtless what caused them to steal away in the night.

The fort was built near the old one, and it was necessary [298] to acquire the proper material to cover the buildings so that the garrison could be lodged there. Men were sent to a cypress grove about a league and a half south of the fort, to get cypress bark. To perform this the cypresses are felled in the season when the sap is rising, and incisions are made every six feet up the trunk. Then the bark is pulled off in pieces at least one foot wide, which is easily done because the bark is thin and supple. As the bark is removed it is flattened on a specially made bed and the pieces loaded crosswise one on top of the other. When covering the structures, they are arranged like tiles and held in place by laths of the same wood nailed with iron pegs.

On guard as always against some surprise, a detail of twenty well-armed men was sent, with supplies for the laborers they took with them. However, it is not enough to be well armed if one is not well on guard. Five or six days of tranquillity were more than enough for them to believe it was safe; keeping watch was neglected, and we were duped. A group of Natchez swooped down on the laborers and the soldiers [299] during the time of their negligence. They were all massacred except for one man, who had previously escaped from the Natchez attack on the post by hiding himself in an oven. This time, he hid in the hollow of a tree. The next day, at dawn, he arrived at the fort and delivered the news to his companions.

The life of "the little Parisian" was taken in the defeat of these twenty soldiers. He had been made sergeant for having removed the flag that du Parc had left in front of the Natchez fort. This goes to show that valor only has merit as long as it is accompanied by prudence. They thought that the enemy was quite far off, but a soldier ought to look out for himself day and night. The Natchez did not take long to prove to the French how they had to be vigilant. Hey, what is an enemy not capable of when in desperation, chased from his land and not knowing where to go!

A few days after this expedition, six Naturals, who said they were from the nation of Chactas, came to the fort. The were received as friends, because, having the same way of [300] covering themselves and speaking a common language, one simply cannot know one Natural from another. They walked about the fort for a bit. They saw that there was only the sentinel on duty at the entrance, and four soldiers in the guardroom who seemed to be sleeping. These Naturals, who were Natchez, unexpectedly attacked these soldiers and killed the sentinel. They wanted to enter the guardroom to do the same but the soldiers, crying "to arms!" ran to the gate and took hold of it. They defended themselves in the guardroom; five Naturals were killed and the sixth was taken and burned on the square frame. Also, five French were killed and several wounded. This tragic unforeseen event convinced this garrison to always be on guard, and it seems to me that after so many surprises, proper security should never be neglected. I will speak more in depth about the way to prevent these ruses of the Naturals in the article on Reflections about War.

At this same time, a group of Tonicas, having captured alive a Natchez woman, took her to New Orleans. They presented her to the Commandant General, who resigned her to their hands. [301] They put her in the square frame, where they killed her inch by inch, for the purpose of showing the French how they treated their enemies, for I can assure you that they were really enemies to the enemies of the French. This execution happened between the town and the levee at the edge of the river. Despite all of the suffering this woman endured, despite the cruel torments the Tonicas made her suffer, she didn’t shed a tear. She contented herself with pronouncing their imminent destruction. Sure enough, this happened only a few days later by a considerably large group of Natchez who brought the peace pipe to the Great Chief of the Tonicas under the pretext of making peace with him and with all of the French. This Great Chief told them that he could not accept peace and that he had not been informed of this by the Commandant General of the French, who was closely attached to them.

He even sent for M. Périer, to know his will, but the Natchez, who feigned to be waiting for this response, anticipated it by assassinating the Tonicas, starting with the Great Chief. They quickly fled the scene and [302] left only a very few Tonicas who escaped their betrayal.

They really doubted that the French would trust them at all after this perfidy. They feared that if they waited any longer, the French would send auxiliary troops to besiege them. It was for this reason that they destroyed almost the entire Nation of Tonicas.

Thus, this brave and true friend of the French was lost, and he was regretted by all of the settlers without exception. It was known that on all occasions, he had given unequivocal proof of the most zealous devotion to the French.

Shortly after, there was an alert. It had its origin in the fear of a Frenchwoman who having heard some gunshots in the woods, thought that enemies were in pursuit of her. Since warnings concerning war should never be ignored, M. Périer signaled a general alert, arms were taken up, and the troops assembled in the square for battle. War munitions were distributed and a large detail left to go discover from where the alarm [303] came. I was also warned at the plantation of the Company to stay on my guard. I warned my neighbors about what was happening; they did the same to theirs. During the interval of these troubles, women took refuge in the church, others on a ship that was, at the time, in front of the town, but the detachment, having found nothing that that could or should bring about the slightest worry, soon returned and restored us to tranquillity.