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Madeleine De Vercheres: The Heroine Of Castle Dangerous
by [?]

IT was the twenty-second of October. Hills until recently tapestried, and valleys which had been flaming with the glory of autumn were now putting on the more sombre garb of early winter, though still the soft haze of fall hung over fields and forests in the small Canadian colony, on the bank of the St. Lawrence River, twenty miles below Montreal, a settlement commanded by the French officer Seignieur de Vercheres.

Peace and quiet reigned throughout the small community on that October morning, while all its inhabitants except the very young or the infirm were busy harvesting.

Because of its location in a direct route between the hunting ground of the Iroquois Indians and Montreal, the fort protecting the settlement was known as the “Castle Dangerous” of Canada. At night all the farmers and other settlers of the community left their log cabins and gathered in the fort for protection, then went out in the morning, with hoe in one hand and gun in the other, to till the fields, leaving the women and children safe inside the fort, which stood in an exposed position beyond the homes of the settlers. Outside the fort stood a strong block house connected with it by a covered passage, and both were surrounded by a palisaded wall. Fort and blockhouse and wall were necessary protections in those days when English, French and Indians were at war in the Canadian provinces in the name of Church or King, or for personal betterment, and when the Indians were resisting with powerful determination the religion and customs which the white men were trying to thrust upon them, and attempting to prevent the aliens from securing the rich supplies of skins which were annually brought down the Ottawa river by fur-traders from the frozen North.

It was indeed a time of warfare in Canada–that latter part of the seventeenth century, when Frontenac was governor of the French possessions, and two nations were striving so bitterly for supremacy. At that time the river Ottawa, as Parkman, the historian, tells us, “was the main artery of Canada, and to stop it was–to stop the flow of her life blood.”

The Iroquois, a powerful and cunning tribe of Indians who were a menace to all foreigners, knew this, and their constant effort was to close it so completely that the annual supply of beaver skins would be prevented from passing, and the French colony thus be obliged to live on credit. It was the habit of the Iroquois to spend the latter part of the winter, hunting in the forests between the Ottawa and the upper St. Lawrence, and when the ice broke up to move in large bands to the banks of the Ottawa and lie in ambush to waylay the canoes of the fur-traders with their cargoes of skins. On the other hand, it was the constant effort of Frontenac and his men to keep the river open, an almost impossible task. Many conflicts great and small took place, with various results, but in spite of every effort on the part of the French, the Iroquois blockade was maintained for more than two years.

The brunt of the war was felt in the country above Montreal, which was easily accessible to the Indians, but it was a time of grave menace also to all the colonists, and the children of the Seignieur de Vercheres had been taught from their earliest childhood to handle firearms easily and skilfully, and had been told so many blood-curdling tales of the treachery and cruelty of the Iroquois, and of the heroic deeds done by their countrymen in defending forts and homes, that each young heart thrilled with the hope that they too might some day perform a deed of valour. And their chance was nearer than they dreamed on that October morning when the little settlement lay serene in its quiet security, giving no heed to invasion or to foe, when everyone in the settlement was at work in the fields except two soldiers, the two young sons of the Seignieur, an old man of eighty, and a number of women and children.