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|Natchez Indians used 'The Frame' to torture prisoners|
Historically, male captives of war have suffered many forms of torture, all excruciating and most deadly. In recent years, the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba has caused worldwide criticism.
One of the torture methods said to be used there was "waterboarding." The Natchez Indians employed a torture device called "The Frame" that was also used by the French and other Europeans.
After the Natchez massacre in November 1729, a French officer, Sieur Mauplex, and five men were sent to scout the Natchez strength and to court peace. They were attacked and captured by a Natchez war party in early 1730 not far from the Grand Village.
One of Mauplex men, Navarre, was killed during a gunfight. Mauplex and the others were made prisoners of war and brought inside the palisades of one of the forts the Natchez had constructed in expectation of the arrival of a French army seeking revenge.
One of the prisoners was released to deliver a message to the French listing the ransom the Natchez expected for the release of the hostages, which included French women and children, and African slaves. According to Father Mathurin Le Petit, the demand list delivered by the terrified messenger called for "200 guns, 200 barrels of powder, 200 barrels of balls, 2,000 gunflints, 200 knives, 200 hatchets, 200 pickaxes, 20 quarters of brandy, 20 casks of wine, 20 barrels of vermilion, 200 shirts, 20 pieces of Limbourg, 20 pieces of cloth, 20 coats with lace on the seams, 20 hats bordered with plumes, and 100 coats of a plainer kind."
When the French didn't respond by the deadline, the Natchez executed all but one of the prisoners. Only Mauplex was kept alive, only to be tortured. Reports indicated that Mauplex endured untold horrors in an honorable fashion. Just exactly how that was achieved is not described.
Antoine-Simon Le Page DuPratz, a Frenchman who lived in Natchez for a number of years but was fortunate to be away on the date of the massacre, loved the Natchez tribe and recorded many of their customs, including the use of the frame.
He said captured women and children immediately became slaves. They were also forced to cut their hair short. The sight of a Natchez war party bringing in men as prisoners, however, gave the entire tribe great joy, said DuPratz, and "their glory is at its height. On arriving near the nation they make the war cry three times repeated...and however wearied the warriors may be, they go at once to hunt for the three poles which are necessary for the construction of the fatal instrument on which they are going to make the enemy they have taken die."
With the frame, DuPratz said the Natchez "cruelly immolate (burn) the unfortunate victim of their vengeance."
Three straight poles were prepared. Two, each 10-feet long, were planted in the ground about four feet apart. The third pole was cut in halves to cross the other two, the first two feet above the ground and the second five feet above. "These poles thus adjusted and bound together as strongly as possible and as is necessary form a frame," said DuPratz.
The Natchez first tied the captive to the bottom of the frame. The Indian captives would sing the death song at this time. A meal was then eaten by the tribe and the prisoner offered a last meal as the old warriors guarded him. By custom they could look at the prisoner but not talk to him.
A short time later, the warriors displayed the prisoner to the tribe, turning his entire body around for everyone to see. Then, suddenly, from behind a warrior struck the prisoner with a blow from his war club while screaming the death cry.
Stunned, the prisoner could barely move as the warrior "cuts the skin around his hair, puts his knees on his forehead, takes his hair in both hands, pulls it from the skull, and makes the death cry while removing the scalp in the best manner without tearing it."
The writhing prisoner, naked, was then brought to his feet, his wrists tied to the upper crosspiece of the frame as he was lifted by warriors before his feet were placed on the bottom crosspiece and tied to the corners of the square. This way, said DuPratz, the four limbs of the body formed a St. Andrew's cross (an "x").
In the meantime, Natchez youth retrieved and crushed dry canes, bundled them and presented them to the warriors. The one who captured the prisoner lighted a single crushed cane and burned the victim wherever he chose. Others did the same. Burning tobacco in pipes were used to scorch the prisoner's feet. A nail, red hot, was used to pierce the feet. Each act was done in revenge and the types of punishment heaped upon the terrified prisoner were unlimited.
The victim, if strong enough, sometimes sang the death song which "when closely examined," said DuPratz, consisted of "grievous cries, tears and groans...Some have been seen to suffer and sing continually during three days and three nights" without water. "In fact, it must be admitted that if the natives are good friends during peace, they are in war irreconcilable enemies."
A Natchez woman, if widowed by the enemy, had the right to claim a prisoner's life in revenge of her husband's death. Her wish was granted without discussion. With a cane torch she tortured him anyway she chose.
Noted DuPratz: "It also happens that when he suffers too long a pitying woman lights a cane torch, and when it is burning well makes him die in an instant by putting this torch to his most sensitive place, and the tragic scene is in this way ended."
(Stanley Nelson can be reached at email@example.com)
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