Playing the Indian Card

Monday, March 19, 2018

Dollard des Ormeaux

One of the great Canadian hero tales is how young Adam Dollard des Ormeaux and 21 Canadiens held out for five days without food or supplies against a force of 700 Iroquois warriors at Long Sault.

Many will hasten to point out that there were also 40 Huron and a few Algonquins in the battle. But their role is ambiguous. They started the fight on the side of the French, but apparently most deserted to the Iroquois during the battle, leaving the Canadiens almost entirely on their own. Dollard and all his men were killed in the battle.

Some question the sense of Dollard in venturing up the Ottawa for battle in the first place. It looks like a suicide mission. Nevertheless, his expedition had the official approval of Governor Chomedey, so it was not a case of some brash young officer going off half-cocked. The strategic goal seems to have been to prevent two separate groups of Iroquois from joining forces for an attack on Montreal. Some too say Dollard had no idea that the opposing force would be so large.

If the intent was to forestall an attack on Montreal, it worked. The two Iroquois parties did join up, at Long Sault, but the punishment they took from Dollard and his little band was apparently enough that the attack on Montreal was called off. So some Iroquois themselves later testified.

And no, this was not some colonizer attacking a local indigenous population. The Iroquois were a war party invading from their home south of Lake Ontario in New York State.

It was the summer of 1660.

At the Long Sault
Under the day-long sun there is life and mirth  In the working earth, And the wonderful moon shines bright  Through the soft spring night,  The innocent flowers in the limitless woods are springing  Far and away  With the sound and the perfume of May,  And ever up from the south the happy birds are winging, The waters glitter and leap and play  While the grey hawk soars. 
But far in an open glade of the forest set  Where the rapid plunges and roars,  Is a ruined fort with a name that men forget,-- A shelterless pen  With its broken palisade,  Behind it, musket in hand,  Beyond message or aid  In this savage heart of the wild,  Mere youngsters, grown in a moment to men,  Grim and alert and arrayed,  The comrades of Daulac stand.  Ever before them, night and day,  The rush and skulk and cry  Of foes, not men but devils, panting for prey; Behind them the sleepless dream Of the little frail-walled town, far away by the plunging stream, Of maiden and matron and child,  With ruin and murder impending, and none but they  To beat back the gathering horror  Deal death while they may,  And then die. 
Day and night they have watched while the little plain  Grew dark with the rush of the foe, but their host  Broke ever and melted away, with no boast  But to number their slain;  And now as the days renew  Hunger and thirst and care  Were they never so stout, so true,  Press at their hearts; but none  Falters or shrinks or utters a coward word,  Though each setting sun  Brings from the pitiless wild new hands to the Iroquois horde,  And only to them despair. 
Silent, white-faced, again and again  Charged and hemmed round by furious hands,  Each for a moment faces them all and stands  In his little desperate ring; like a tired bull moose  Whom scores of sleepless wolves, a ravening pack,  Have chased all night, all day  Through the snow-laden woods, like famine let loose;  And he turns at last in his track  Against a wall of rock and stands at bay;  Round him with terrible sinews and teeth of steel  They charge and recharge; but with many a furious plunge and wheel,  Hither and thither over the trampled snow,  He tosses them bleeding and torn;  Till, driven, and ever to and fro  Harried, wounded, and weary grown,  His mighty strength gives way  And all together they fasten upon him and drag him down. 
So Daulac turned him anew With a ringing cry to his men In the little raging forest glen, And his terrible sword in the twilight whistled and slew. And all his comrades stood With their backs to the pales, and fought Till their strength was done; The thews that were only mortal flagged and broke Each struck his last wild stroke, And they fell one by one, And the world that had seemed so good Passed like a dream and was naught. 
And then the great night came With the triumph-songs of the foe and the flame Of the camp-fires. Out of the dark the soft wind woke, The song of the rapid rose alway And came to the spot where the comrades lay, Beyond help or care, With none but the red men round them To gnash their teeth and stare. 
All night by the foot of the mountain The little town lieth at rest, The sentries are peacefully pacing; And neither from East nor from West 
Is there rumour of death or of danger; None dreameth tonight in his bed That ruin was near and the heroes That met it and stemmed it are dead. 
But afar in the ring of the forest, Where the air is so tender with May And the waters are wild in the moonlight, They lie in their silence of clay. 
The numberless stars out of heaven Look down with a pitiful glance; And the lilies asleep in the forest Are closed like the lilies of France. 

-- Archibald Lampman

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