An Iroquois war-party twelve hundred strong spent the winter of 1648-49 on the upper Ottawa; and as the snows began to melt under the thaws of spring these insatiable slayers of men directed their steps towards Huronia. The frontier village on the east was now St Ignace, on the west of the Sturgeon river, about seven miles from Ste Marie. It was strongly fortified and formed a part of a mission of the same name, under the care of Brebeuf and Father Gabriel Lalemant, a nephew of Jerome Lalemant. About a league distant, midway to Ste Marie, stood St Louis, another town of the mission, where the two fathers lived. On the 16th of March the inhabitants of St Ignace had no thought of impending disaster. The Iroquois might be on the war-path, but they would not come while yet ice held the rivers and snow lay in the forests. But that morning, just as the horizon began to glow with the first colours of the dawn, the sleeping Hurons woke to the sound of the dreaded war-whoop. The Iroquois devils had breached the walls. Three Hurons escaped, dashed along the forest trail to St Louis, roused the village, and then fled for Ste Marie, followed by the women and children and those too feeble to fight. There were in St Louis only about eighty warriors, but, not knowing the strength of the invaders, they determined to fight. The Hurons begged Brebeuf and Lalemant to fly to Ste Marie; but they refused to stir. In the hour of danger and death they must remain with their flock, to sustain the warriors in the battle and to give the last rites of the Church to the wounded and dying.
Having made short work of St Ignace, the Iroquois came battering at the walls of St Louis before sunrise. The Hurons resisted stubbornly; but the assailants outnumbered them ten to one, and soon hacked a way through the palisades and captured all the defenders remaining alive, among them Brebeuf and Lalemant.
The Iroquois bound Brebeuf and Lalemant and led them back to St Ignace, beating them as they went. There they stripped the two priests and tied them to stakes. Brebeuf knew that his hour had come. Him the savages made the special object of their diabolical cruelty. And, standing at the stake amid his yelling tormentors, he bequeathed to the world an example of fortitude sublime, unsurpassed, and unsurpassable. Neither by look nor cry nor movement did he give sign of the agony he was suffering. To the reviling and abuse of the fiends he replied with words warning them of the judgment to come. They poured boiling water on his head in derision of baptism; they hung red-hot axes about his naked shoulders; they made a belt of pitch and resin and placed it about his body and set it on fire. By every conceivable means the red devils strove to force him to cry for mercy. But not a sound of pain could they wring from him. At last, after four hours of this torture, a chief cut out his heart, and the noble servant of God quitted the scene of his earthly labours.