Simon Pieskaret PIESKARET

“The terror of the Iroquois”

Pieskaret, according to Nicolas Perrot,* was known as “the terror of the Iroquois” for they knew his valor well. His many extraordinary deeds made him “fearsome” to the enemy. The Algonquin spoke of him as “a very brave man,” and the Jesuits wrote that he was “a well-recognized man among his people.”

Pieskaret was mourned as dead in 1643, believed to have been captured by the Iroquois, but in early April he appeared with his Band, across the river in front of Montreal, bearing the head of an enemy, having escaped the pursuing Iroquois because of the swift break-up of the river. This return was celebrated with dancing, and a council was held after which Pieskaret and Tessouat (d. 1654) reported to Chomedey de Maisonneuve their intention to go to Trois-Rivières to formulate plans for the future and to determine if the French were to keep their promise of assistance against the enemy.

In the early spring of 1645, while it was still necessary to drag their canoes over the ice on the St. Lawrence River, Pieskaret led a war-party to the Richelieu River and Lake Champlain, where they made successful raids on a band of Iroquois, killing several and taking two captive. On their return to the mission at Sillery, the captives could be seen dancing in the canoes according to custom, and enemy scalps were floating from long sticks “like vanes” in the wind. The captive Iroquois (one of whom was Honatteniate) were treated kindly by the residents of Sillery in respect to the French. Pieskaret handed over the captives to the governor, Huault de Montmagny, who quickly sent word to the Iroquois, through an Iroquois who was previously captured, that the captives would be freed if the Iroquois were ready to negotiate a peace treaty. This resulted in the arrival of Kiotseaeton, acting as an ambassador for the Iroquois, in July.

A peace council was then held with the Iroquois, the French, the Huron, the Algonquin, and the Montagnais, at the end of which Pieskaret presented furs to the Iroquois ambassador. This symbolized “a rock or tomb” placed on the grave of the victims of the above-mentioned battle, so that all might be forgiven and no revenge sought. The ensuing short-lived, but important, peace and trade negotiations of 1645–46 openly allotted to the Mohawks a share of the northern fur trade (a clause which was never implemented), while secretly excluding the pagan Algonquin from French protection.

By 1646–47 many tribes had taken up residence in the Trois-Rivières area because of the growing intensity of the Iroquois menace. Confusion and controversies developed. To solve the difficulties the Natives appointed Pieskaret to maintain the peace between the French and the Natives, and between the Huron and the Algonquin, with power to punish delinquents, especially if the fault were a religious one. He is said to have discharged his duty faithfully.

Pieskaret had been baptized at Trois-Rivières in 1640 or 1641, and given the name of Simon by M. de Champflour, the governor. However, in 1646–47, being affected by the sudden death of Joseph Oumasasikweie, a Christian convert and a nephew of Tessouat (d. 1654), he made a public confession and renewed his faith, which he had accepted formerly for diplomatic reasons only.

Indirectly, Pieskaret’s open avowal of Christianity may have been the cause of his death. When returning from hunting on the north shore of the St. Lawrence in March 1647, laden with muzzles and tongues of elks, Pieskaret met a band of Iroquois (now allowed to hunt in this area by the terms of the 1645 treaty), who were singing the peace-song. Although rumours of the secret clause in the treaty had already reached Pieskaret and there was general fear of an Iroquois attack, he, doubtlessly counting on his Christian faith to protect him, smoked the pipe with the Iroquois and they addressed each other with words of respect. But when the journey was resumed, Pieskaret, who walked in the middle, was treacherously killed and scalped by one of the Iroquois who lagged behind.

Numerous anecdotes attest to the prowess of Pieskaret. Perrot, for example, recounts that on one occasion Pieskaret entered an Iroquois village, killed a whole family, and hid in one of their woodpiles on two succeeding nights. On the third he was detected. He fled, but being “naturally agile and nimble,” he out-distanced his pursuers and took refuge in a tree trunk. Later, when the Iroquois set up camp nearby, Pieskaret killed them all in their sleep and “came back laden with their scalps.” Another time, at the mouth of the Sorel [probably Richelieu] River, he, with four others, sank five Iroquois canoes by firing on them, then killed all of the enemy but saved the captives who were travelling with them.


Elsie McLeod Jury

JR (Thwaites), passim.— Perrot, Memoir, dans Indian tribes (Blair), I : 194–196.— Desrosiers, Iroquoisie, 298–300, 308, 327 ; La Rupture de la paix de 1645, Cahiers des Dix, XVII (1952) : 169–181.

'Algonquin warrior' by David Wright