Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Vengeance of Dominique de Gourgues
By Francis Parkman (18231893)
[From Pioneers of France in the New World. 1865.Twenty-fifth Edition. Revised. 1886.]
MORNING came, and the woods were thronged with warriors. Gourgues and his soldiers landed with martial pomp. In token of mutual confidence, the French laid aside their arquebuses, and the Indians their bows and arrows. Satouriona came to meet the strangers, and seated their commander at his side, on a wooden stool, draped and cushioned with the gray Spanish moss. Two old Indians cleared the spot of brambles, weeds, and grass; and, when their task was finished, the tribesmen took their places, ring within ring, standing, sitting, and crouching on the ground,a dusky concourse, plumed in festal array, waiting with grave visages and intent eyes. Gourgues was about to speak, when the chief, who, says the narrator, had not learned French manners, anticipated him, and broke into a vehement harangue, denouncing the cruelty of the Spaniards.
Since the French fort was taken, he said, the Indians had not had one happy day. The Spaniards drove them from their cabins, stole their corn, ravished their wives and daughters, and killed their children; and all this they had endured because they loved the French. There was a French boy who had escaped from the massacre at the fort; they had found him in the woods; and though the Spaniards, who wished to kill him, demanded that they should give him up, they had kept him for his friends.
Look! pursued the chief, here he is!and he brought forward a youth of sixteen, named Pierre Debré, who became at once of the greatest service to the French, his knowledge of the Indian language making him an excellent interpreter.
Delighted as he was at this outburst against the Spaniards, Gourgues did not see fit to display the full extent of his satisfaction. He thanked the Indians for their good-will, exhorted them to continue in it, and pronounced an ill-merited eulogy on the greatness and goodness of his King. As for the Spaniards, he said, their day of reckoning was at hand; and, if the Indians had been abused for their love of the French, the French would be their avengers. Here Satouriona forgot his dignity, and leaped up for joy.
I came here, replied Gourgues, only to reconnoitre the country and make friends with you, and then go back to bring more soldiers; but, when I hear what you are suffering from them, I wish to fall upon them this very day, and rescue you from their tyranny. All around the ring a clamor of applauding voices greeted his words.
Then came a distribution of gifts,knives, hatchets, mirrors, bells, and beads,while the warrior rabble crowded to receive them, with eager faces and outstretched arms. The distribution over, Gourgues asked the chiefs if there was any other matter in which he could serve them. On this, pointing to his shirt, they expressed a peculiar admiration for that garment, and begged each to have one, to be worn at feasts and councils during life, and in their graves after death. Gourges complied; and his grateful confederates were soon stalking about him, fluttering in the spoils of his wardrobe.
The chief, eager to prove his good faith, gave as hostages his only surviving son and his favorite wife. They were sent on board the ships, while the Indians dispersed to their encampments, with leaping, stamping, dancing, and whoops of jubilation.
The day appointed came, and with it the savage army, hideous in war-paint, and plumed for battle. The woods rang back their songs and yells, as with frantic gesticulation they brandished their war-clubs and vaunted their deeds of prowess. Then they drank the black drink, endowed with mystic virtues against hardship and danger; and Gourgues himself pretended to swallow the nauseous decoction.
These ceremonies consumed the day. It was evening before the allies filed off into their forests, and took the path for the Spanish forts. The French, on their part, were to repair by sea to the rendezvous. Gourgues mustered and addressed his men. It was needless: their ardor was at fever height. They broke in upon his words, and demanded to be led at once against the enemy. François Bourdelais, with twenty sailors, was left with the ships, and Gourgues affectionately bade him farewell.
There were many embracings among the excited Frenchmen,many sympathetic tears from those who were to stay behind,many messages left with them for wives, children, friends, and mistresses; and then this valiant band pushed their boats from shore. It was a hare-brained venture, for, as young Debré had assured them, the Spaniards on the River of May were four hundred in number, secure behind their ramparts.
Hour after hour the sailors pulled at the oar. They glided slowly by the sombre shores in the shimmering moonlight, to the sound of the murmuring surf and the moaning pine trees. In the gray of the morning, they came to the mouth of a river, probably the Nassau; and here a northeast wind set in with a violence that almost wrecked their boats. Their Indian allies were waiting on the bank, but for a while the gale delayed their crossing. The bolder French would lose no time, rowed through the tossing waves, and, landing safely, left their boats, and pushed into the forest. Gourgues took the lead, in breastplate and backpiece. At his side marched the young chief Olotoraca, with a French pike in his hand; and the files of arquebusemen and armed sailors followed close behind. They plunged through swamps, hewed their way through brambly thickets and the matted intricacies of the forests, and, at five in the afternoon, almost spent with fatigue and hunger, came to a river or inlet of the sea, not far from the first Spanish fort. Here they found three hundred Indians waiting for them.
Tired as he was, Gourgues would not rest. He wished to attack at daybreak, and with ten arquebusiers and his Indian guide he set out to reconnoitre. Night closed upon him. It was a vain task to struggle on, in pitchy darkness, among trunks of trees, fallen logs, tangled vines, and swollen streams. Gourgues returned, anxious and gloomy. An Indian chief approached him, read through the darkness his perturbed look, and offered to lead him by a better path along the margin of the sea. Gourgues joyfully assented, and ordered all his men to march. The Indians, better skilled in woodcraft, chose the shorter course through the forest.
The French forgot their weariness, and pressed on with speed. At dawn they and their allies met on the bank of a stream, probably Sister Creek, beyond which, and very near, was the fort. But the tide was in, and they tried in vain to cross. Greatly vexed,for he had hoped to take the enemy asleep,Gourgues withdrew his soldiers into the forest, where they were no sooner ensconced than a drenching rain fell, and they had much ado to keep their gun-matches burning. The light grew fast. Gourgues plainly saw the fort, the defences of which seemed slight and unfinished. He even saw the Spaniards at work within. A feverish interval elapsed, till at length the tide was out,so far, at least, that the stream was fordable. A little higher up, a clump of trees lay between it and the fort. Behind this friendly screen the passage was begun. Each man tied his powder-flask to his steel cap, held his arquebuse above his head with one hand, and grasped his sword with the other. The channel was a bed of oysters. The sharp shells cut their feet as they waded through. But the farther bank was gained. They emerged from the water, drenched, lacerated, and bleeding, but with unabated mettle. Gourgues set them in array under cover of the trees. They stood with kindling eyes, and hearts throbbing, but not with fear. Gourgues pointed to the Spanish fort, seen by glimpses through the boughs. Look! he said, there are the robbers who have stolen this land from our king; there are the murderers who have butchered our countrymen! With voices eager, fierce, but half suppressed, they demanded to be led on.
Gourgues gave the word. Cazenove, his lieutenant, with thirty men, pushed for the fort gate; he himself, with the main body, for the glacis. It was near noon; the Spaniards had just finished their meal, and, says the narrative, were still picking their teeth, when a startled cry rang in their ears:
It was the voice of a cannoneer who had that moment mounted the rampart and seen the assailants advancing in unbroken ranks, with heads lowered and weapons at the charge. He fired his cannon among them. He even had time to load and fire again, when the light-limbed Olotoraca bounded forward, ran up the glacis, leaped the unfinished ditch, and drove his pike through the Spaniard from breast to back. Gourgues was now on the glacis, when he heard Cazenove shouting from the gate that the Spaniards were escaping on that side. He turned and led his men thither at a run. In a moment, the fugitives, sixty in all, were enclosed between his party and that of his lieutenant. The Indians, too, came leaping to the spot. Not a Spaniard escaped. All were cut down but a few, reserved by Gourgues for a more inglorious end.
Meanwhile the Spaniards in the other fort, on the opposite shore, cannonaded the victors without ceasing. The latter turned four captured guns against them. One of Gourguess boats, a very large one, had been brought alongshore, and, entering it with eighty soldiers, he pushed for the farther bank. With loud yells, the Indians leaped into the river, which is here about three-fourths of a mile wide. Each held his bow and arrows aloft in one hand, while he swam with the other. A panic seized the garrison as they saw the savage multitude. They broke out of the fort and fled into the forest. But the French had already landed; and, throwing themselves in the path of the fugitives, they greeted them with a storm of lead. The terrified wretches recoiled; but flight was vain. The Indian whoop rang behind them, and war-clubs and arrows finished the work. Gourguess utmost efforts saved but fifteen, not out of mercy, but from a refinement of vengeance.
The next day was Quasimodo Sunday, or the Sunday after Easter. Gourgues and his men remained quiet, making ladders for the assault on Fort San Mateo. Meanwhile the whole forest was in arms, and, far and near, the Indians were wild with excitement. They beset the Spanish fort till not a soldier could venture out. The garrison, aware of their danger, though ignorant of its extent, devised an expedient to gain information; and one of them, painted and feathered like an Indian, ventured within Gourguess outposts. He himself chanced to be at hand, and by his side walked his constant attendant, Olotoraca. The keen-eyed young savage pierced the cheat at a glance. The spy was seized, and, being examined, declared that there were two hundred and sixty Spaniards in San Mateo, and that they believed the French to be two thousand, and were so frightened that they did not know what they were doing.
Gourgues, well pleased, pushed on to attack them. On Monday evening he sent forward the Indians to ambush themselves on both sides of the fort. In the morning he followed with his Frenchmen; and, as the glittering ranks came into view, defiling between the forest and the river, the Spaniards opened on them with culverins from a projecting bastion. The French took cover in the woods with which the hills below and behind the fort were densely overgrown. Here, himself unseen, Gourgues could survey the whole extent of the defences, and he presently descried a strong party of Spaniards issuing from their works, crossing the ditch, and advancing to reconnoitre. On this, he sent Cazenove, with a detachment, to station himself at a point well hidden by trees on the flank of the Spaniards, who, with strange infatuation, continued their advance. Gourgues and his followers pushed on through the thickets to meet them. As the Spaniards reached the edge of the open ground, a deadly fire blazed in their faces, and, before the smoke cleared, the French were among them, sword in hand. The survivors would have fled; but Cazenoves detachment fell upon their rear, and all were killed or taken.
When their comrades in the fort beheld their fate, a panic seized them. Conscious of their own deeds, perpetrated on this very spot, they could hope no mercy, and their terror multiplied immeasurably the numbers of their enemy. They abandoned the fort in a body, and fled into the woods most remote from the French. But here a deadlier foe awaited them; for a host of Indians leaped up from ambush. Then rose those hideous war-cries which have curdled the boldest blood and blanched the manliest cheek. The forest warriors, with savage ecstasy, wreaked their long arrears of vengeance, while the French hastened to the spot, and lent their swords to the slaughter. A few prisoners were saved alive; the rest were slain; and thus did the Spaniards make bloody atonement for the butchery of Fort Caroline.
But Gourguess vengeance was not yet appeased. Hard by the fort, the trees were pointed out to him on which Menendez had hanged his captives, and placed over them the inscription, Not as to Frenchmen, but as to Lutherans.
Did you think, he sternly said, as the pallid wretches stood ranged before him, that so vile a treachery, so detestable a cruelty, against a king so potent and a nation so generous, would go unpunished? I, one of the humblest gentlemen among my kings subjects, have charged myself with avenging it. Even if the Most Christian and the Most Catholic Kings had been enemies, at deadly war, such perfidy and extreme cruelty would still have been unpardonable. Now that they are friends and close allies, there is no name vile enough to brand your deeds, no punishment sharp enough to requite them. But though you cannot suffer as you deserve, you shall suffer all that an enemy can honorably inflict, that your example may teach others to observe the peace and alliance which you have so perfidiously violated.
They were hanged where the French had hung before them; and over them was nailed the inscription, burned with a hot iron on a tablet of pine, Not as to Spaniards, but as to Traitors, Robbers, and Murderers.
Gourguess mission was fulfilled. To occupy the country had never been his intention; nor was it possible, for the Spaniards were still in force at St. Augustine. His was a whirlwind visitation,to ravage, ruin, and vanish. He harangued the Indians, and exhorted them to demolish the fort. They fell to the work with eagerness, and in less than a day not one stone was left on another.