For a people so often exalted as peaceful and wise, the Native Americans were quite the opposite, as the story of the North American martyrs will tell.
The story begins with a group of missionaries making their way to Quebec from France in 1633. They began converting the native Huron tribe on the western banks of Lake Ontario and surrounding regions, chosen because they were said to have been more docile than other tribes. The group of missionaries were led Jean De Brébeuf who had spent a great deal of time among the Montagnais and the Hurons. He had kindled a friendship with the Hurons and had gained great respect among them, working alongside them and impressing them when he was able. He had been called back to the French colony before his prosyletizing truly began however, but he had made the first steps and created a bridge for it.
Before returning to the Hurons in 1633 the group stayed with the Montagnais for a time, offering Brébeuf a chance to get to know his assistants and try their hand with the Montagnais, but to no avail. They then made their way to the Hurons. Once there they settled in the village of Ihonataria where they built a cabin that later became their church.
A modest following of Hurons soon assembled and the missionaries began the work of giving the gospel. However, many of the Hurons were insincere and despite wanting to learn to follow Christ many held firm to their former beliefs and so not much progress was made for two years except that the former superstitous and wicked beliefs were occasionally rebutted.
Disease continously struck the Hurons, coming every few years and killing swathes of people. This brought about an atmosphere of longing, and the need for an answer. As such, the dying were receptive to the faith and many were converted just before death.
The children of Ihonataria also took well to the faith and began following Antoine Daniel, one of the younger priests. In 1636 he returned to Quebec with six Huron boys to begin a school to teach the Hurons. In August, priests Charles Garnier and Isaac Jogues arrived to aid in the mission, bringing the total number of missionaries up to seven as Antoine Daniel had left. A few weeks later influenza struck again but this time it got to the missionaries, leaving all but Brébeuf sick. Some even looked on the verge of death but miraculously all pulled through.
As they did the medicine men began to grow the suspicions of the missionaries, calling the missionaries sorcerers and claiming they had started the epidemic but such supersition was quickly suppressed. By the summer of 1637 a prominent chieftain was saved, baptized, and given the name of Peter. Two months later another chieftain, this time of Ossossane, was saved and baptized, taking well to the new faith as he was already leading a monogamous, non-superstitious lifestyle. With these converts the mission only grew.
Before long the popularity of the missionaries had grown and many other chieftains and prominent tribesmen met with the missionaries to discuss the faith. Some even were saved as a result of such meetings. In August of 1638, seeing as how the foundation for the mission had been established, Brébeuf chose Gabriel Lalement to succeed him as the head of the mission. Lalement quickly set about establishing a settlement for the mission at Mission Sainte Marie. Things were looking up for the mission.
By 1642 the mission was desperate for resources however and Isaac Joques was to take an expedition to Quebec to gather supplies. After a month-long journey, the expedition arrived in July. Once the canoes were ready to go, the expedition began its return but on the second day they were ambushed by Mohawk warriors. Mohawks, by the way, were part of the Iroquois Confederacy. Jogues canoe was crashed, sending him into a thicket of weeds where he hid himself. After a short battle the party was massacred and who wasn’t was captured. Reasoning that his brothers would need his help, Jogues revealed himself and was subsequently captured.
The horrors that ensued are best described by the Catholics themselves. From catholicism.org,
Not many days after, the hungry and aching captives were exultantly displayed to a band of two hundred or so Mohawk braves, who met the returning war party on an island in lake Champlain (northeastern New York). When the canoes landed, the howling barbarians danced about in sheer frenzy, slashing the prisoners with their knives and tearing at their flesh with their long fingernails. Then, picking up knotty clubs and thorn-studded rods, they formed two parallel lines up the slope of the hill ascending from the beach.
One by one the captives were forced to run between the columns of club-swinging brutes who delighted in nearly pounding their victims to death. This was the traditional Indian “welcoming committee” for prisoners of war. It was known as “running the gauntlet.” Jogues was put last in line. He was a special guest; for him was reserved the worst punishment. With head bent low he darted wildly through the mass of swinging cudgels. Blows fell hard and painful on his head, back, neck, and arms, while his sides ached from the sting of the thorny rods being slapped into his flesh and tearing it to pieces. He stumbled to the ground stunned, and they had to drag his unconscious body the rest of the way up the hill.
When he regained his senses, some of the tormentors burnt his arms and legs with a torch; others dug their fingernails into his wounds. Someone then took this thumb and crunched it between his teeth with such ferocity that he tore the skin to shreds, exposing the crushed bone. The failing priest was so weak that he could scarcely stand. His fellow prisoners, twenty-one in all, had likewise been so mercilessly tortured, that many of them were half-dead. But the captives could not be killed; for they had not as yet been triumphantly paraded before the entire Iroquois nation.
And the left still claims these people weren’t savages. No atrocities had been committed, no Iroquious land taken, no reason to be so brutal other that was the culture of the Iroqouis. The same had happened to the English 20 years earlier in Virginia. The Native Americans simply were not peaceful. They had the sins of Adam and without God they were barbaric, uncivilized even. Some of the worst atrocities I have ever read have been by them. That isn’t to guilt-trip them, it is to show that the evil White men were really not all that evil compared to other groups. Sure, we have done some horrible atrocities, but other races have gone on a whole other level compared to us in quite a few occasions.
The horrors continued for the captured missionaries, having their fingernails ripped off, beaten over and over, and having their bodies mutilated. A small reprieve was offered as Jogues was able to convert a few of his Huron companions that hadn’t yet converted.
Jogues managed to escape to the Dutch after 13 months in captivity. In 1646 he returned again to the Hurons and, along with Jean de Lalande, aimed to make a mission to the Iroquois as a peace treaty had recently been signed. To his credit, Jogues was a hell of a determined and selfless man. For this he was made a martyr after he was tomawked and beheaded.
The others suffered similar fates; Lalement and Brébeuf being tortured to death and Charles Garnier being shot as he baptized children.
This story and all its incidents are not singular events. Others just like them occured before and after. The Natives were not peaceful, no, they were indeed savages.
–The martyrdom of Jean de Brébeuf