The Heroic Stand at Long Sault

Some say Adam Dollard sought death to redeem a blot on his past; some say he and his reckless sixteen challenged the mighty Irocjnois to save ALontrea Behind the flaming palisades of their makeshift fort their last shots wrote an epic chapter in the history of New Franee

Thomas B. Costai May 15 1954

The Heroic Stand at Long Sault

Some say Adam Dollard sought death to redeem a blot on his past; some say he and his reckless sixteen challenged the mighty Irocjnois to save ALontrea Behind the flaming palisades of their makeshift fort their last shots wrote an epic chapter in the history of New Franee

Thomas B. Costai May 15 1954

The Heroic Stand at Long Sault


Some say Adam Dollard sought death to redeem a blot on his past; some say he and his reckless sixteen challenged the mighty Irocjnois to save ALontrea Behind the flaming palisades of their makeshift fort their last shots wrote an epic chapter in the history of New Franee

Thomas B. Costai

Part five

BY 1655 PEACE HAD COME to the St. Lawrence, a temporary peace while those implacable and unpredictable foes of t he first French settlers, the Iroquois, mulled over their conquest of the Huron Nation and waited to strike again. It was also an uneasy peace, for the French still suffered from weak leadership and the massacre and dispersal of the Hurons had left them without allies.

In Montreal, the French spearhead, the peace was particularly tenuous. The town at the meeting of the two rivers had been growing, but the mere fact of growth had added to its vulnerability. On his last trip to France, Governor Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, had returned with 114 men, some of them artisans and some soldiers, and this had increased the population to well over 200. It is recorded that there were 160 able-bodied men altogether. A third of them were married and, inevitably, were raising families. This had created a need for more houses. It was no longer possible to build behind the walls which surrounded the fort and so the town had moved out into the open. Between forty and fifty houses had been built on a road named Rue St. Paul which first followed the bank of the St. Lawrence and then bent to the course of the St. Pierre, passing the Hôtel-Dieu and the well-palisaded frame structure of three stories which served the double purpose of a home for Maisonneuve and an administrat ive centre. At right angles to this road was a narrow and muddy passage which cut between t hese two main buildings and ran north to what would become the Place d’Armes and then to St. Martin’s Brook.

The governor’s greatest problem had been to devise some measure of defense for the straggling line of small houses and he had solved it as well as he could by erecting forts and redoubts at intervals. At the extreme eastern point, he had constructed a strong stone fort which was called the Citadel. At the other extreme, south and west of the original fort, there was a windmill which was well loopholed and capable of resisting attacks. In addition there was a series of log redoubts behind which the little houses clustered.

The houses, necessarily, were small and of frame construction but they followed the architectural ideas which were to be more fully developed later, the habitant type; the roof always peaked to the shape of a witch’s hat to prevent the accumulation of snow in winter; the framework an industrious

white, relieved by doors of bright colors, red or blue or even purple fbi never yellow for that shade had come to denote a t raitor or a deceived husband the oven outside, constructed of wickerwork, plastered inside and out wit clay or mortar and raised four feet from the ground. Some houses had palisadf of their own for defense.

The men who built t he houses were far different from the dregs and spev who had been brought, out to Canada in the early days. They were showin the first signs of becoming a new race, the French Canadian. They wer straighter and much stronger, (heir shoulders and arms hard from the uncea1 ing swing of axe and dip of paddle. Even their voices were starting to changt the soft note of the French provinces giving place to a higher and clear? note which carried over long stretches of water and through the forests, an* with a musical ring to it, particularly when they sang to the heave of busy axes such songs as Rossignolet Sauvage, La Norrice du Roi, and Dam Lombarde. Their eyes were clear and alert, as indeed they had to be witl peril all about them; Gut there was nothing timorous, nothing furtive. The; seemed capable of looking far into t he distance, of seeing beyond the encirclin] forest the open plains of the far west and the ice-bound waters of t he nord

The qualities found in these industrious workmen would become accen tuated as time went on. They would animate the men who would soon starting out for all parts of the continent; down the Mississippi to the Gull north to Hudson Bay, west to the great, prairies where the buffalo roamed.

As environment had changed them physically, it had also led to distinctiv ways of dressing. The men of Montreal wore long-skirted coats, tied at waist with worsted scarves. In Quebec the scarves were red find in Thre Rivers white. Their legs were covered in winter wit h chaussettes of wool, the: heads well protected in warm woolen coverings called bonnets rouges. Th custom had already developed of wearing a birch-bark case around the nec containing the wearer’s knife for eating, it being a habit to set out only a for and spoon for guests.

The character of the town was changing. In the heart of the devoi Maisonneuve the flame of dedication still burned brightly but there WE no denying the destiny of a settlement with such a situation as this. Montre! had been intended from the first by the forces Continued on page

Crouching like tigers behind their shields the bravest of the Iroquois dashed into the muzzles of the brench guns. Dollard's garrison, racked by thirst, prayed for merciful death

The White and the Gold


which control such matters to be a great trading centre. It could not be bypassed by the canoes from the north and west which brought the winter’s catch down to the market. More and more traders were starting in business and doing well for themselves. The region lying between the Rue St. Paul and the muddy Commune bordering the course of the St. Lawrence was filling up with mercantile establishments, stores, trading posts, warehouses. A census taken in 1665, just five years beyond the point in time which this narrative has reached, would show a jump in population to 525. Two years later it would be 766.

Men were becoming wealthy. The freight received from France was no longer made up of sheer necessities. There were bales of rich materials for clothes and the niceties of attire which Paris created for the world; for the ladies, considérations which were panniers to be worn over skirts, headdresses of étamine, contouches with bows of red ribbon down the front, lacy robes of gorge-de-pigeon, skirt, stiffeners called criardes; for the men, tapabord hats which had turned-up brims and silk linings and claques which were threecornered and very handsome indeed, bretelles (a primitive form of suspender), and knee-length capots. The finest furniture was being sent out as well; walnut commodes with marble tops, serpentine tables, armoires of sassafras wood and fine crystal chandeliers. The best of wines were available in the stores and very much in demand.

This increase in trade was not an unmixed blessing. The fur merchants had discovered that one commodity was irresistible to the Indian, that he could be parted easily from his furs for brandy. 7'he liquor traffic was beginning to split the colony wide open. 7'he clerical heads fought it bitterly but, in the long run, unsuccessfully. Already in 1660 Montreal had witnessed Algonquin hunters, stark naked and roaring drunk, staggering down the Rue St. Paul.

There was no real security for a community as exposed as this. The Iroquois studied the straggling rows of houses from the depths of the forest or the opposite bank of the river; their small black eyes intent, their cunning minds at work.

They became progressively bolder and even hid themselves among the houses. The people of the town learned to their sorrow that a lurking shadow was likely to be a Mohawk and that

a sound outside the house had to be investigated warily, for it might mean an Onondagan concealed in the woodpile. Sometimes the daring redskins hid themselves in the gardens of the Hôtel-Dieu, prepared to kill any nun who ventured out.

Fighting might occur at any time in the neighboring woods or in the town itself. 7’he shrill “Cassee kouee!" of the Iroquois became as familiar to the harried whites as the cawing of crows in the spring. The nuns at the HôtelDieu sounded the tocsin whenever they heard it, summoning all the men of Montreal to the scene of the trouble.

But though its man-made defenses were far from strong, Montreal had one natural fortification which was to stand it in historic stead—the Ottawa River. Long before man had been evolved, the Ottawa had served as the outlet of a vast sea which lapped the base of the Laurentian range. It remained a river of furious power, which was augmented as one tributary after another drained into it.

To enter the Ottawa from the Si. Lawrence by canoe puts a strain on even the strongest of arms. After negotiating one of the four passages and crossing the Lake of Two Mountains, the first serious obstacle is encountered in the Carillon Rapids. After the Carillon come the rapids of Chute à Blondeau. Still farther along on the broad westward sweep of the stream the entrance to a lake is reached, and this proves to he the most formidable of the many bottlenecks along the lower course of the brawling river. 7’he water pours in roiling fury down a long narrow passage which is called the Long Sault.

The Long Sault, always a menace and a source of delay, made it necessary to unload canoes three times in an ascent. It had grown in importance since domination of the Ottawa had become a part of Iroquois strategy. When parties of Frenchmen approached it from either direction it was always with the expectation of finding Iroquois hands hidden along its hanks; and the shoe was on the other foot when it was the Iroquois themselves who were on the move.

7’he Long Sault will never he forgotten because here was enacted the great epic story of early Canadian history.

There was in Montreal at this time, in the capacity of an officer of the armed forces, a young man named Adam Dollard (sometimes, but erroneously, called Daulac), Sieur des Ormeaux. He had come out from France three years before, at 22, and it was generally believed that some kind of shadow had settled on his name at home. In fairness to this brave soldier, whose exploit places him on a level with those two great holders of historic gaps, Leonidas at Thermopylae and Horatius on the bridge at Rome, there is nothing in the records to warrant the assertion save a statement by Dollier de Gasson in his story of Montreal. Dollard was seeking a chance, declared the Sulpician historian, “to be of use to him on account of something which was said to have happened in France.”

Here, then, was Adam Dollard des Ormeaux, looking eagerly for a chance to strike a bold blow for New France and perhaps to win something for the bare shield of a 17th-century Tor. He went to Maisonneuve and told him of a plan he had formed. The war clouds had been getting denser and lower all the time. Iroquois warriors bad wintered on the upper Ottawa, several hundreds of them, and a still larger concentration was under way along the Richelieu. At least a thousand braves were out on the warpath. Would it not be the best kind of defense to go immediately on the offensive? Dollard proposed to the governor that he be allowed to recruit a small band of men and make a stand on the Ottawa in the hope of preventing a junction of the two forces.

Such at least was the story accepted and loudly extolled during most of the

years which have elapsed: that Dollard led his men to the Long Sault, knowing they would all die but believing that a bold enough stand might give Montreal more time to prepare and even perhaps raise a doubt in Iroquois minds as to the possibility of succeeding in their main objective. If this were the plan he outlined to the governor, it was indeed a sublime act of sacrifice and one of the great and unforgettable audacities of history. It might reasonably raise doubts, however, as to the good judgment of the commander who allowed them to go. So small a band as Dollard proposed to take might easily be destroyed by a large Iroquois war party and thus they would throw their lives away uselessly. They could be employed to better advantage behind the defenses of Montreal where, in the event of a concerted attack, every pair of eyes capable of sighting a musket would be needed, and no heart of good resolution could be spared.

The facts seem to indicate that Dollard’s plan was a less ambitious one. A close checking of the dates involved leads to the conclusion that he could not have known of the Iroquois designs as early as this; that in fact no one in Montreal had yet heard. The first hint of the plan was given at Quebec when a Mohegan warrior, who had become a naturalized Mohawk, was being burned at the stake. He let it be known that eight hundred Iroquois braves were gathering at the mouth of the Richelieu and waiting only for word of the coming of the party from up the Ottawa. Montreal was to be attacked first, then Three Rivers and finally Quebec. It was in the early part of May that the

captive told his story but it was in April that Dollard proposed his plan to Maisonneuve.

It seems certain that Dollard’s suggestion was that he would take his party up the Ottawa and pick off as many as possible of the hunting parties as they returned down the river. This plan was a reasonable one, yet both bold and patriotic. It achieved, wittingly or not, the great result which early chronicles declared to have been in his mind from the start, the salvation of Montreal.

Dollard had recruited sixteen men, all as eager as he was to risk their lives in the common cause. The gallant seventeen made their wills, confessed and received the sacrament in the little stone chapel of the Hôtel-Dieu.

The band who knelt before the altar were almost pitifully young. There was one who was 31, the rest were in their twenties. They were not men of knightly rank venturing out to a deed of high emprise; they were of humble stock, soldiers who had come with the last contingent, artisans, tillers of the soil.

Because they were not experienced woodsmen, they lost time in negotiating the swift and treacherous currents around Montreal Island. It was a full

week before they managed to enter the mouth of the tumultuous tributary. The task continued hard as they battled the swift-flowing waters. They passed the Carillon and then the Chute à Blondeau. It was only after nearly two weeks of backbreaking effort that they came to the narrow passage where in a white fury the roaring waters of the Long Sault rolled by.

This was on May 1 and none of the Iroquois had yet come down the Ottawa. Here Dollard decided to wait.

A short distance back from the angry waters on the eastern side of the Sault they found an abandoned stockade. It was no more than a rough enclosure of logs, high enough to give protection to crouching men but not reinforced in any way and already showing signs of disintegration. This was indeed a stroke of luck, for all the heaviest work involved in creating a fort had been done. A little more effort would have turned the stockade into a tight island of defense against which an Iroquois wave might beat in vain. If Dollard and his followers had been expecting a large war party to come down the river against them, they would have taken advantage of this spell allowed them to raise the walls and strengthen them in every way. As it was, they did nothing. They even raised their kettles along the bank of the stream and did not stock the fori with provisions or water. This is the second reason, a conclusive one, for supposing that Dollard and his young companions had not anticipated the proportions of the risk ahead of them.

At this point a party of Indian allies joined them. There were forty Hurons under a wise and brave chief named Anahotaha and four Algonquins from Three Rivers, led by Mitewemeg. They bad arrived in Montreal and had heard of the bold venture of the seventeen Frenchmen and bad conceived a desire to take a hand. Maisonneuve had given the chiefs a letter to Dollard to serve as their credentials. For two more days the reinforced party waited.

At last the hour struck. The scouts placed at the head of the Sault brought down word that two canoes, filled with Iroquois, were in sight. Dollard now gave proof of his capacity as a soldier. He selected a spot where he judged the Iroquois would land, and here his men concealed themselves in the underbrush. The ambush had been shrewdly planted, for the two elm-bark canoes, containing five Iroquois tira ves, pulled in here. As they came ashore the concealed Frenchmen fired a volley. Unfortunately one of the Iroquois escaped unharmed and carried the word back to the main party.

Almost at once, it seemed, the narrow stream became filled with canoes,

manned by savages eager to avenge the attack. The startled Dollard, making a hasty appraisal of the enemy strength, saw that there were forty or fifty canoes in the water. This meant a force of not less than two hundred warriors. For the first time, perhaps, tie realized the extreme jeopardy in which he and tiis companions were placed. He ordered a retreat to the shelter of the fort.

The Iroquois swarmed ashore like angry hornets. Without making any attempt at organization, they came down on the stockade in an immediate attack. The Frenchmen and their allies poured volley after volley into them, killing and wounding many. The Iroquois chiefs soon realized from the firmness of the resistance that such a hasty onslaught would not succeed. They drew their men back out of range. A council was held and then several of the furiously discomfited warriors came forward to open a parley.

The heat of conflict was in the blood of the little band behind the loosely constructed log wall. Without pausing for thought, they fired on the Iroquois emissaries, killing several of them. Those who escaped rejoined the waiting warriors in the woods above.

Anahotaha is reported to have given his head a grave shake at this. He said to Dollard: “Ah, comrade, you

have spoiled everything. You ought to have waited the result of the council our enemies are holding.”

The state of mind which now pos-

sessed the Iroquois braves can easily he conceived. This interruption to their plans was a complete surprise. They had lost many of their number, shot down in that first angry attempt to clear the daring Frenchmen from their path; and there was in the men of the Five Nations a sense of loyalty which made the sight of their dead the most potent incitement to increased effort. If any serious delay resulted here, they would he late for the appointed rendezvous with the large concentration near the mouth of the Richelieu. The hasty council they held, therefore, was not marked by deliberate and rational discussion; it was, rather, an explosion of furious talk. Being wily tacticians, even when roused to the highest fighting pitch, they concluded that another frontal assault would be too costly. Perhaps they were misjudging the size of the force opposed to them; at any rate, their next step was to begin building a fort of their own farther up the river.

This gave Dollard and his men an opportunity to accomplish the task they should have set themselves to as soon as they arrived and found the log barricade. They reinforced the wall by cutting branches from the trees

about them and binding them around the stakes and the crosspieces, thus turning the shaky structure into a solid circular wall. All gaps were stuffed with earth and stones, leaving only small loopholes. Realizing the dire peril in which they stood, the young Frenchmen worked in desperate haste; and as they worked they could see bands of the Iroquois ranging up and down the shore of the noisy Sault, smashing the canoes they found there (thus destroying the last chance of the French to make a dash for safety) and demolishing the kettles suspended over the ashes of the last fire.

The second attack was launched from all sides and with the suddenness and weight of a thunderbolt. The men of the Long House rushed boldly out from the cover of the trees, leaping in the air as they ran and screaming in fíate and rage. They strove to build a fire against the stockade, using for fuel the bark of the French canoes, f nside the fort there was no trace of panic. Dollard’s voice in directing the defense was clear and confident, and amazingly cool. The Frenchmen at their small loopholes poured a devastating fire into the close ranks of the enemy. The Iroquois, failing to set the wall ablaze, retreated in a sudden confusion. Their chiefs rallied them and they came back a second time; with the same result. A third attack was broken and repulsed, and then the chagrined warriors returned to their own rude fort for a second council of war.

“Come over to us!”

The result of the Iroquois debate was a proof of the bewilderment and dismay they were feeling as a result of the unexpected firmness of the French stand. They came to the conclusion that their strength was not sufficient to clear the path unassisted. Messengers were sent off to the main concentration, asking for reinforcements.

For five days there was a lull but the Iroquois kept a close watch on the stockade, sniping with matchlock and bow from behind the trees, so that the defenders were never permitted a moment’s ease. The Iroquois also devised a plan to split the defense forces. Renegade Hurons in the attacking force kept up a constant verbal assault on the followers of Anahotaha. The whole of the Iroquois strength was coming, they shouted gleefully, they were coming in their hundreds and thousands. The water would be black with their canoes, the loud roar of the rapids would be lost in the great battle cry of the Long House.

“Come!” they cried. “.Save yourselves while you have the chance. Come over to us!”

The gallant Frenchmen behind the earth-chinked logs had no illusions. Death faced them, swift and inexorable. They had one consolation left, that they still had it in their power to make the Iroquois victory a costly one. In the hope of diverting attack from the vulnerable little town at the meeting place of the rivers, they would fight on. But their Indian allies had no such consolation and it is not surprising that the followers of Anahotaha began to hearken to this invitation dinned so insistently into their ears. If there was a shred of hope left for them it was in heeding the forked tongues of the renegades. One by one the Hurons began to climb the barricade.

The Indians who remained jeered as the deserters sprang over the top and scuttled across the open space, which was now heaped high with the bodies of the dead. This, as it turned out, was sheer bravado. None of the Hurons, caught in the deathtrap, had any stomach left for fighting. Even as they jeered, they were edging up to the barricade in order to join the exodus. In the end the brave Anahotaha was the only member of his party who remained. The four Algonquins, to whom no promise of clemency had been held out, remained with their chief when the last of the Hurons had vanished. But they were a badly shaken lot.

The position of the small remnant was a desperate one. Rest was denied them, for the foe maintained the threat of attack through the hours of dark-

ness. They had no water and their thirst became so great that they could not force down their throats the dry rations which remained. Hungry, thirsty, unnerved by lack of sleep, the gaunt young men stood at the loopholes and prayed constantly to the God in whom they placed their trust.

On the fifth day the warriors from the Richelieu concentration arrived, more than five hundred in all. The din of their arrival, the triumphant war whoops which echoed through the woods, the formidable massing on all sides, accentuated the hopelessness of

the odds; seven or eight hundred trained fighting men, filled with hate and rage, against seventeen weary Frenchmen and five native allies. The defenders were starved, maddened with thirst, their nerves raw. The end, it was only too clear, could not long be delayed.

But in an area as restricted as the ground over which the small redoubt could be attacked, the law of diminishing returns came into operation. Flight hundred Iroquois could do little more, when it came to a frontal attack, than two hundred, save to assure replace-

ments and an unrelenting persistence. The first attack, delivered to the clamor of hundreds of threats, was no more successful than the earlier ones. The desperate defenders treated the charging tribesmen to such a welcome of lead that the Iroquois charge curled back like a spent wave, broke and receded. This check was so unexpected that an Iroquois council was held immediately after and the suggestion of abandoning the contest was seriously debated.

Second thoughts prevailed, however. The Unbeatable Men, the Ongue Honwe, as they still proudly called themselves, could not concede their inability to break down the resistance of a mere handful. The stockade must be carried, no matter at what cost in lives. For three days they busied themselves with preparations, keeping up an incessant, all day and all night aggression. The white of complete exhaustion began to show under the two weeks’ accumulation of beard on the faces of the defenders. Staggering from lack of nourishment, they were barely able to keep their positions at the loopholes.

The Iroquois chiefs then produced the packages of sticks. This was always a solemn moment in the Spartan ritual of war which the men of the Five Nations observed. The sticks were strewn on the ground near the simmering food kettles. No exhortation was delivered, no form of compulsion employed. Flach man willing to attack in the van was expected to come forward and pick up one of the sticks.

Dread and Horror

There was no delay, no holding back. The tall, proud volunteers stepped up and each selected his stick. These hold spirits were then given shields which had been fashioned out of the trunks of trees during the three days of preparation. Behind these they crouched, waiting for the signal to advance, another Birnam Wood ready to move on Dunsinane.

The charge was delivered from all quarters. Nothing could exceed the dread and horror of the scene on which the eyes of the little white handful rested. First came the Men of the Sticks, bold, vengeful, crouching like tigers behind their rough shields, lighted torches in their hands to be applied to the logs of the barricade; behind this vanguard the less bold spirits, fierce nevertheless in their war paint, wildly vocal. If the defenders cast despairing glances upward, they were robbed of a last glimpse of the sun, for the smoke of the torches and the burning fuel, which was being dragged forward, had already mounted above the tops of the trees. It was impossible to exchange a word, for the air was filled with the wild screeching of the embattled braves. Only one consolation was left and each of the gallant young men took advantage of it, without a doubt, a brief prayer. Perhaps each made a special intercession, “Oh God, in Thy mercy, let me die in the fighting!’’

The charge did not succeed at once, so stoutly were the loopholes manned. It was the recoil of an experiment which gave the Iroquois their chance. DolDrd had crammed a musketoon with powder and bullets, intending to toss il over the barricade so that it would explode in the close ranks of the attacking redskins. His aim was not good, the handmade grenade struck the top of the logs and fell back into the enclosure. The explosion which followed killed several of the defenders and nearly blinded the rest. In the confusion thus created, the Iroquois gained possession of some of the loopholes and began to fire through them at the surviving members of the little band. It was soon over then. The Men of the Sticks climbed the barricade, tomahawks out and ready, scalping knives bare in their belts, screeching in triumphDollard was one of the first killed. In the hand-to-hand fighting which ensued the Frenchmen were soon cut down. All hut four died in the struggle and of the survivors three were so close to death that the savages dispatched them where they lay. The fate of the fourth has never been determined definitely. He may have succumbed to his wounds before he could he carried away to die on a torture platform; but even after a lapse of three centuries it is impossible to suppress a shudder at the thought of the terrible retribution which may have heen exacted of one unfortunate man.

The Men of the Sticks tossed their improvised shields on the fire which licked at the barricade of logs. They had gambled with death and now they could strut in the insolence of pride in their home villages, each with his stick suspended around his neck. The Iroquois losses had not been heavy on this last day but it is much to be doubted if the leaders of this great concentration took much satisfaction out of the result. They had won but. at a bitter cost in men, in prestige, in the complete dislocation of their plans for driving the French into the sea.

The last day of the attack coule’ /t have been later than May 11. Ten days later one of the Huron deserters, a Christian who had been baptized and given the name of Louis, arrived at Montreal, having managed to make his escape. He told the story of the uneven struggle, providing the details which could come only from an eyewitness. The circumstantial narrative which has been set down is based largely on what Louis told of the epic adventure and on corroborative bits of evidence which developed later from other Huron prisoners who escaped, one of whom was actually tied to the dea' ’ stake and had suffered the first tortures when a violent storm drove his tormentors into shelter and gave him the opportunity to free himself from his bonds.

The first inventory of the wills and possessions of the brave young men was made on May 27. On .June 3 their deaths were entered on the parish records. They were now officially dead, even the one who had not been fortunate enough to have his lifeless body nailed to a post along the boiling waters of the Long Sault.

The Iroquois forces returned to their own country without striking another blow and the conclusion has been accepted that they had lost faith in the feasibility of breaking down the bristling redoubts of Montreal. Their confidence had been shaken by the difficulty they had met in carrying a flimsy barricade with no more than a handful of boys behind it. The French crops were planted in peace; and in the fall there was a bountiful harvest to carry the settlers through the long winter.

It does not matter whether or not Adam Dollard enlisted his band with a sure knowledge of the fate in store for them and an advance knowledge of Iroquois plans. The important thing is that they did save the colonies. They held the gap long enough, even as Leonidas did at Thermopylae. ★

NEXT ISSUE A PART SIX The Embattled “Angel of Heaven”