Western North Carolina
Jourdain Laborde, the only son of a French trapper and an Iroqouis woman, was born in New France along a creek north of Montreal in 1725. Their cabin, while not immaculate, was one of the largest in the area due to his father’s good business fortunes. He had a knack for successful trade among all the local Indian nations. This included the Nippising, Algonquin, Delaware, Mississauga, Attikamek, Abenaki, as well as Shawnee and Cherokee that ventured north through the Appalachians. His trade routes also took him west along the banks of the Great Lakes to the nations of the Ottawa, Wyandot, Miami and Kickapoo. His mother took care of things around the cabin while he was gone, sometimes for months on end. She tended to the garden, split wood, and any other sundry task which needed to be done. Their meat came from his uncle who when hunting always made sure to ask the Great Spirit for enough to bring to them in addition to feeding his own family.
When Jourdain turned twelve, he began to accompany his father on his travels. Short trips at first, and then as he got older, the journeys became longer until he was away from home with his father throughout most of the year. He enjoyed the business as much as his father, creating a bond that was stronger than the rock in the mountains. Learning quickly, he was allowed to do some of the bartering and trading himself, arranging the prices for the pelts.
Upon return one spring, they could not find his mother. Distraught, they went to her Iroquois village to see if she was visiting her family. Her brother sadly told them she had passed over the winter during a heavy snow. She had come to stay with them for a few days and left to return to the cabin. When they found her a couple days later, they pieced the following together. Though unsure how, she had fallen and broken her leg. Unable to make it to the cabin or back to her village, she had died of exposure in the snow, wind, and freezing temperatures.
Jourdain’s father was beside himself with grief. If he had just stayed close to home, if he had not traveled so far all those years, if he had picked a different way to make a living, maybe she would still be alive, she would not have been alone when it happened. Her death was a severe blow and ripped them both apart.
His father spent all his time at their cabin, never leaving. Days were spent wandering through the now overgrown garden or in haphazard paths around the cabin and in the nearby woods. Rarely speaking, dark circles under his eyes reflected the long nights he was having. Everything had lost its luster and nothing mattered. He lost the battle with heartbreak and died that summer.
The loss of both parents devastated young Jourdain. The pain and emptiness of the cabin was just too much to bear. He packed up what he could on one horse and saddled the other. Against the wishes of his Iroquois relations, he headed south, never to return to the land of his birth. The trade of his father would prove to be a valuable asset.
Down through Virginia and into the Carolinas, trades, predominantly with the Shawnee and Illinois along the mountains, were made for deer pelts which he would then sell to merchants shipping the goods back to Europe. The Cherokee were not, for the most part, very accepting to the French hospitality for their loyalties lay with the English.
At first, it was beads, trinkets, and ribbons which were used as payment to the Indians. However, Jourdain found it was more productive for him to start trading arms. The amount of skins he could obtain for just one gun increased his monetary gain exponentially.
The benefit for the French along the frontier was the Indians using these weapons in fighting the English, holding them at bay and preventing their flow westward. For the most part, the Appalachian nations put their loyalty with New France. Geographically, this was a good buffer between the English colonies and the French. In some places, the English had gained a foothold on the western slopes. The demand for weapons, ammunition and gunpowder rose as the Indians wanted the firepower to stop the encroachment onto their lands. In turn, this assisted the French in keeping a disputed barrier of land between the two European powers.
This demand for weapons is what drove Jourdain, and those like him, to run an extensive arms traffic business. It also put them in harm’s way at times, either from the English or by Indians who thought the constantly changing trade ratios were unfair. Due to the adjusted market value of goods, the number of pelts needed for one rifle might be the same or raise the next time. Many Indians did not understand this discrepancy and in rare instances, the issue digressed to physical confrontation.
This was Jourdain’s world. He traveled as far south as Ft. Toulouse, a French outpost in the easternmost corner of Louisiana located at the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. This small garrison consisted of less than 100 Marines and was mainly a trading post. In this area, Jourdain opened up contacts with the Muscogee, Chickasaw, Natchez, Choctaw and a few Cherokee.
It was during the time spent using Ft. Toulouse as his base that Jourdain encountered Sheme-NE-to and Oshasqua, Shawnee brothers who came to his aid during a dispute with some Muscogee concerning one of their business transactions. The disagreement erupted in violence and would have ended in death for the young Frenchman, if not for the sudden intervention of the Shawnee. Instead of his own, the bodies of Muscogee lay lifeless on the ground.
Laborde, as Jourdain came to be called by his new companions, traveled up and down the Appalachians all the way to Virginia. During these trips, they tended to shy west of the Cherokee strongholds in the mountains, extending their journey several days out of the way. The Frenchman came up with a plan which would play right into the fighting now breaking out along the frontiers from New France down to the Carolinas. The Cherokee, not usually amicable to him, would open their collective houses and welcome his guns and ammunition to wage their war against the English.
There was one man who immediately came to mind. He had been introduced to him by Sheme-NE-to at Ft. Toulouse and was told he lived in the area of a Cherokee village. He was known for coming to the fort for supplies, and he was remembered because he was English. Deeper inquiry of his Shawnee friend revealed this Englishman had no love lost for the Cherokee nearby. He could talk for hours about why he hated them, mostly Indians in general. The Shawnee brothers were a special case with him for they had come to his rescue, helping him fend off a Choctaw war party. After that, most of his rants about “those savages” would include the disclaimer, “except those Shawnee brothers”. Sheme-NE-to said they often stayed at the man’s cabin and went hunting with him.
Laborde believed this was the man for the job.
His name was Lamar Hayes.
Lamar Hayes was a grizzled stout man who stood even to six feet. Mottled with grey, his beard and hair were thick. His age was uncertain but nobody wanted to broach the subject with him. Some said he was from one of the large cities along the coast. Others said he was from the frontier up near the convergence of New York and New France. The latter seemed more likely because of his strange bond with a couple of Shawnee brothers. His familiarity with these mountains was of a much greater detail than most within this small community. The intensity of his dark eyes often frightened people for it was said they looked dead. The usual rebuff would be if you had seen what he had, your eyes would lack luster also. He made his living selling furs and pelts to the Indians and at outposts along the Appalachians or down at Ft. Toulouse. The two Shawnee who usually accompanied him, Sheme-NE-to and Oshasqua, helped him tremendously in this venture, often acting as interpreters with other Indians or with the French they encountered. They had spent many years together in their travels and shared a bond of limitless trust born of shared hardships. There were times it seemed as if they spoke without words.
The one thing Lamar Hayes had no qualms expressing was his dislike and mistrust of Indians. With his Shawnee friends always in tow, the blatant contradiction was never questioned. He was an imposing man and honestly feared by some. It was rumored he had fought with the two brothers in the north during some of the Iroquois wars when their Shawnee tribe was shattered. The friendship was kindled there amongst the blood and continued to grow. So whenever Hayes’ negativity toward Indians raised its ugly vocal head, it was understood to be directed at all Indians except these two. Ever since his arrival in the area, he had often touted his distaste at having a large Cherokee village nearby. He avoided them as much as possible and refused to even discuss trading furs with them.
The complete opposite of his gruff, unfriendly manner was his wife, Estelle. Standing barely over five feet, her shoulder length pepper colored hair was always in a neat bun. She had been a teacher in a frontier school in Virginia before meeting Lamar. Her hazel eyes always sparkled and treated most people like family including the two Shawnee, who she adopted as brothers. She did not completely agree with her husband’s Indian ideology but chalked it up to not truly understanding the ways of things out here. Even so, she was the only one who could find the spark within Lamar when so many others insisted it did not exist.
Estelle was content to live as they did in a small cabin, even with her husband’s long absences. Her experience in Virginia made her no stranger to the frontier and the women in the area tended to watch out for and help whenever possible. The garden was a good one this year. The spring rains had been kind to them and left the soil moist and fertile.
Childless, they had given up on the possibility years ago. She had never quite been sure if Lamar had wanted any to begin with. He seemed to have no patience with youngsters, even infants. She did not know if this stemmed from their inability to conceive or if it was a part of his rough exterior. She knew there was tenderness inside, but only because she had seen it and knew, for one reason or another, he would never let anyone else know he had even a grain of it.
Because of this, she was always a most gracious and welcoming host when others came to call. She would spring into action and put together large meals, fussing over everyone like a hen, and making all feel welcome. Lamar always told her she did not have to make such excitement over everything, but she insisted.
Such was the case one evening, when the Shawnee showed up with a third man in tow, Jourdain Laborde, a Frenchman who had a reasonable command of English and even better of Shawnee. They crowded around their small table to eat, then retired to the porch of the cabin with pipes and a bottle of whiskey. As she cleaned up, she heard snippets of conversation that included “Indians” and “Cherokee” and “trust”. Decided they were on yet another rant about the village up along the river, she began humming and put all her attention to her task. Men would be men after all and men would thump their chest for one reason or another.
Sheme-NE-to and Oshasqua sat on the lower step of the cabin porch, smoking pipes and talking low. Lamar and the Frenchman were seated in chairs at a small table upon which sat two tin cups and the whiskey.
Laborde had just finished his proposal and watched the other man’s face intently, attempting to gauge the reaction. He poured more whiskey into each cup and took a big draught from his own.
Lamar’s thoughts raced. This was going to be dangerous and very well could result in his own death if it went awry. The promised financial reward, however, made it just about irresistible. He emptied his cup and filled it back up, pouring more in Lobarde’s as an afterthought. He made eye contact with the man seated across from him.
“You want me to instigate a war ? Or I should say, you want me to get the Cherokee here to turn against the British and fight alongside your countrymen ?”
“Exactly, there is already fighting north along the Appalachians again. Other tribes have already promised loyalty to King Louis. English colonists are pushing west and filtering across the mountains and French are pushing east. The struggle for control spreads like wildfire. Skirmishes and raids from both sides are striking fear into homesteads and communities. Any violence down here would seem as just an extension southward of the war which is erupting.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, the implications and ramifications sinking slowly into Lamar’s mind. The Shawnee brothers puffed on their pipes, seemingly uninterested in the conversation, but Lamar knew better. They were listening and watching. Lobarde eyed him with a curious, almost hopeful look.
“And how am I supposed to do this ?”
“You have no love for these Cheraqui, do you ?”
“Well, no, but how do I get them to take arms against the British ? I am but one man.”
“Do whatever is needed to cause an incident, something big that will leave them no choice but to strike back with violence. Indians live by a code of reciprocity and have used it for centuries against each other. Strike them – they will strike you. Select a small group to accompany you. You cannot attack the village directly, but select an isolated party.”
“And I decide how far it needs to go ?”
“Clearly, do anything you feel is necessary, but be careful and watchful. You do not want to be on their retaliation list. The exact persons responsible could even be, ah, unknown.”
“So,” Lamar pondered, “extreme measures, even death of the selected Indians, are possible ?”
Laborde’s smile and eyes turned dark, “That would get them up in arms for sure, French arms, sold to them by me.”
Lamar returned the smile, “And to fill your pockets more, you would start a war ?”
“ It would only be accelerating the inevitable. There is already a war, just not here ,” he paused. “Yet.”
“And you would pay me now ? Before ?”
“Yes, your Shawnee friends there vouch for you.”
Laborde stood, reached into a satchel and tossed a large dark green bag. It clunked loudly on the table, the sound increasing Lamar’s smile. He leaned forward, loosened the drawstring and reached into the bag. Withdrawing his hand, he opened his fingers palm up. Even in the gloom of a mountain night, the silver pieces shone.
“The Shawnee will stay and accompany you. This is well, for you and they are already acquainted. I am heading to Ft. Toulouse to acquire some Charleville muskets. The Cheraqui will need them in the coming weeks and months I will wager. It has been good doing business with you Mr. Hayes. I look forward to my profitable return.”
Laborde shook Lamar’s hand, placed his hat upon his head, retrieved his satchel and gun and brusquely strode across the porch.
“Mr. Laborde, would you care to rest here tonight and start in the morning ?”
“Thank you Sir, but I would rather get on my way now. Besides, you really do not need anyone seeing a Frenchman here. Not with what you are about to do.”
With a quick gesture of farewell to the brothers seated on the stoop, he faded into the darkness and the trees. Lamar stood and watched him leave, standing near his Shawnee friends.
“Do you think we will accomplish what he desires ?”
For the first time since introducing the Frenchman, Sheme-NE-to spoke, “What do you care ? We can kill Tsalagi and get silver for it.”
Lamar laughed and nudged the Indian’s shoulder, “Right you are my friend, right you are.”
Clipart courtesy of ClipArt, Etc.