THE IROQUOIS MISSION
While labouring among the Hurons the Jesuits had their minds on the Iroquois. It was, they thought, within their sphere of duty even to tame these human tigers. They well knew that such an attempt would involve dangers vastly greater than those encountered in Huronia; but the greater the danger and suffering the greater the glory. And yet for a time it seemed impossible to make a beginning of missionary work among the Iroquois. As we have seen, Champlain had made them the uncompromising enemies of the French, and since then all Frenchmen stood in constant peril of their lives from marauding bands in ambush near every settlement and along the highways of travel. Thus nearly twenty years passed after the arrival of the Jesuits in Canada before an opening came for winning a way to the hearts of these ruthless destroyers.
It came at last, fraught with tragedy. From 1636 to 1642 Father Isaac Jogues had been engaged in missionary work in Huronia. He was a man of saintly character, delicate, refined, scholarly; yet he had borne hardships among the Petuns enough to break the spirit of any man. He had toiled, too, among the Algonquin tribes, and at one time had preached to a gathering of two thousand at Sault Ste Marie. In 1642 he was chosen to bring much-needed supplies to Huronia—a dangerous task, as in that year large bodies of Iroquois were on the war-path. And in August he was ascending Lake St Peter with thirty-six Hurons and three Frenchmen in twelve canoes. His French companions were a labourer and two donnes—Rene Goupil, who, having had some hospital experience, was going to Ste Marie as a surgeon, and Guillaume Couture, a man of devotion, energy, and courage. The canoes bearing the party were threading the clustered islands at the western end of Lake St Peter, and had reached a spot where the thickly wooded shores were almost hidden from view by tall reeds that swayed in the summer wind, when suddenly out of the reeds darted a number of Iroquois warriors in canoes. The surprise was complete; three of the Hurons were killed on the spot, and Jogues, Goupil, and Couture, and twenty-two Hurons were taken prisoner. The raiders then plundered the canoes and set out southward, up the Richelieu, with their prisoners. At every stopping-place on the way Jogues and the donnes were brutally tortured; finally, in the Mohawk country they were dragged through the three chief towns of the nation, held up to ridicule, beaten with clubs, their fingers broken or lopped off, and their bodies burned with red-hot coals. Couture had slain a Mohawk warrior during the attack on Lake St Peter; but his courageous bearing so impressed the savages that one of them adopted him in place of a dead relative, and he thus escaped death. Goupil, after several months among the Mohawks, was brutally murdered. But Jogues’s life was providentially preserved, and during nearly a year, a year of intense suffering, he went among his persecutors glorying in the opportunity of preaching the Gospel under these hard conditions.