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Part 1

This webpage reproduces part of
Historic Old Fort Niagara

Claud H. Hulzén, Sr.

Old Fort Niagara Association

The text is in the public domain.

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Part 3
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 p11  Bearers of the Cross

The story of Old Fort Niagara essentially is the story of the conquests and the conflicts of four of the world's greatest nations, the Iroquois Confederacy, France, England and the United States. The story is replete with the throbbing ambitions, the kindly gentleness, the awful tragedies, the great glory of the men and women who served these nations. Histories of nations are the biographies of their people. The cumulative biographies of the people who served their respective countries directly or indirectly through Old Fort Niagara, provide a most romantic story through periods of struggle and strife to the world's most exemplary lasting peace.

Fired with the zest of new opportunity of expression, keyed with the imagination and romance and things spiritual, the bearers of the Cross were the first to press onward to Niagara.

It is difficult in this day and age to picture the Niagara Frontier region of the early 17th century, a vast wilderness upon which no white man had placed foot and yet an age‑old rendezvous of the Iroquois-Huron Indians.

Some historians give credence to the story that Etienne Bruslé, interpreter to Champlain, crossed the Niagara in September, 1615, while on a trip from Lake Simcoe, Ontario, to visit the Andaste Indians, who were located to the south on the Susquehanna river, thereby to become first white man to visit the Niagara Frontier. However, the first accurate record of white man on Niagara soil is that of Father Joseph de la Roche Dallion, Franciscan priest of the Recollect form. Father Dallion had been in missionary service among the Hurons to the north, and also had been trading in the interest of France. He determined to carry his activities to the southward among the Attawandaronks or Neutral Indians, as they later were called by the French. The Attawandaronks at the time held the territory along the north shore of Lake Erie, and across the Niagara River with their most easterly boundary somewhere near the present site of the city of Lockport, N. Y. Their principal village was that of Onguiara, just beneath the Niagara escarpment on the site of Lewiston, N. Y. It is said that the name "Niagara" is derived from the Attawandaronk "Onguiara."

 p12  Niagara's First White Man

Dallion set out from the country of the Hurons, accompanied by two Frenchmen, Grenolle and Lavallée, and tramped through the woods around the west end of Lake Ontario to the Niagara peninsula in the land of the Attawandaronks. He was well treated by the Indians, given venison, squash and parched corn. At first the Attawandaronks were in awe of the long flowing robes of the priest. Their curiosity in seeing such unusual garments perhaps was responsible for their favorable treatment of the strange visitor. Dallion told them he had come in behalf of the great empire of France to contract an alliance and friendship and to trade with them. Thus came about the first recorded trade of the Niagara region when Dallion presented the chiefs with "little knives and other trifles."

Father Dallion apparently made a good impression among these Indians for they adopted him into their tribe and, as was a customary tradition, they immediately provided him with a father, it being a somewhat logical, if childlike, fancy of these Indians that adopted "children" of the tribe should have some parental influence. Father Dallion's acquired Attawandaronk parent was the Chief Souharissen.

From the Attawandaronks Father Dallion learned of a great river to the east which emptied into the lake. He journeyed in this direction until he reached the Iroquois Frontier; and so he established the date of 1626 as making the first authentically recorded visit of a white man to the Niagara.

Soon, however, the Hurons, jealous of the Attawandaronks, turned against Father Dallion and spread the news that the priest was a maker of "bad magic" and that his "medicine" would ruin the Indian tribes. This resulted in the Attawandaronks mistreating Father Dallion almost to the extent of murdering him. News of this reached his friends at the Huron mission, and Grenolle, who had returned to this post, set out in search of the adventurous missionary. He found Father Dallion and early in 1627 they returned to the Huron mission.

St. John de Brébeuf

From the time of Dallion's trip to the Attawandaronks there is no record of white men having visited this section until 1640. On November 2, of that year, Father Jean Brébeuf, now St. John de Brébeuf, and Father Joseph Chaumonot, two Jesuit priests, set out on the tiresome journey from a Huron mission, resolved to carry  p13 the Cross to the Attawandaronks. They passed through what are now the towns of Beetin, Orangeville, Georgetown, Hamilton and St. Catharines, Ontario, and reached the Niagara River just north of the present site of Queenston, Ont. They had been deserted by their interpreter; Huron scandal had preceded them, the word having been passed that the missionaries were magicians and carried all manner of evils with them.

Weary and footsore, but grimly determined in their mission, Brébeuf and Chaumonot entered the hostile Attawandaronk Village of Onguiara, set up their portable altar and proclaimed to the red men their mission of peace and good will. A new deity presented in a strange tongue through equally strange men, did not meet with the approval of the Attawandaronks. Far into the winter they abused Brébeuf and Chaumonot. On one occasion, it is related, an Attawandaronk chief raised his tomahawk over Chaumonot with the announcement that he was tired of the dark meat of his Iroquois enemies, and that he would like to taste the white meat of the Frenchman. Brébeuf, of great physical stature, majestically calm, bearing that fine type of courage which appealed most to the Indian, managed to dissuade him.

Finally, by February, 1641, Father Brébeuf realized the fallacy of any attempts to convert the Attawandaronks and the two priests started out to retrace their steps toward Huronia.

Cold, half-starved, wading in deep snow, they tramped through the woods until they came to a cluster of bark lodges. Father Chaumonot, worn with travel and cold, took recourse in sleep, while Father Brébeuf, to escape for a time the acrid and pungent smoke that filled the cabin, went outside to commune with God; alone in prayer. He moved toward the margin of the woods. Suddenly he stopped as if transfixed. Far away to the northeast, high in the air, and boldly outlined, a huge cross was suspended. Was it stationary? No, it moved toward him from the land of the Iroquois. The saintly face lighted with unwonted splendor for he saw the vision which presaged a martyr's crown. Truly it did. Exactly eight years later the gallant priest was tortured to death at the stake at St. Ignace.

It was in the early part of the 20th century that the martyrdom of Brébeuf was recognized. He was beatified by the Holy See on June 2, 1925, and canonized on June 29, 1930.

The experiences of Dallion and Brébeuf and Chaumonot were the forerunners of the important parts played by the priesthood both at Fort Niagara and the territory which it served.

Page updated: 15 Oct 13