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CHAPTER VI. EXPLORATIONS BY JOLIET AND MARQUETTE-1673-75.
LaSalle had explored one, and perhaps two, routes to the Mississippi, but as yet the upper portion of the great river had probably never been seen by any European. The honor of inaugurating the successful attempt to reach this stream is due to M. Talon, who wished to close the long and useful term of his servi ces, as the Intendant of Canada, by removing the mystery which enshrouded it. For this purpose he selected Louis Joliet, a fur trader, to conduct the expedition, and Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary, to assist him.
Talon, however, was not to remain in the country long enough to witness the completion of the enterprise. A misunderstanding arose between him and Governor Courcelles in regard to the jurisdiction of their respective offices, and both asked to be recalled. Their requests were granted, and early in the autumn of 1672, Count Frontenac arrived at Quebec, to take the place of the retiring governor. He belonged to the high nobility of France, was well advanced in life, and a man of prompt and decided action. Though intolerant to enemies, he partially atoned for this fault by his great magnanimity and devotion to friends, while his charm of manners and speech made him the favorite and ornament of the most polished circles. His career in Canada, at first, was beset with opposition and enmity, but its close was rewarded with admiration and gratitude for his broad views and unshaken firmness, when others dispaired.
Before sailing for France, M. Talon recommended to Frotenac Joliet and Marquette, as suitable persons to execute his projected discoveries. The former was born at Quebec, in 1645, of humble parentage. He was educated by the Jesuits for the priesthood, but early abandoned his clerical vocation to engage in the fur trade. Though renouncing the priesthood, he still retained a partiality for the order which had educated him, and no doubt this was the principal reason which induced Talon to labor for his appointment. Possessing no very salient points of character, he yet had sufficient enterprise, boldness and determination properly to discharge the task before him.
His colleague, Marquette, greatly surpassed him in bold outlines of character. He was born in 1637, at Laon, France. Inheriting from his parents a mind of great religious susceptibility, he early united with the Jesuits, and was sent, in 1666, to America as a missionary, where he soon distinguished himself for devotion to his profession. To convert the Indians he penetrated a thousand miles in advance of civilization, and by his kind attentions in their
afflictions, won their affections, and made them his lasting friends. Softening their savage asperities into smoothness and peace by the blended purity and humility of his own life, he was the most successful of all the missionaries in developing their higher and better feelings. His extensive acquaintance with the Indian languages, now enabled him to act in the threefold capacity of interpreter, explorer and missionary.
Joliet ascended the lakes and joined his companion at the Jesuit mission, on the strait of Mackinaw, where, for several years, he had been instructing the Ottawas and Hurons. With 5 other Frenchmen and a simple outfit, the daring explorers, on the 17th of May, 1673, set out on their perilous voyage. Coasting along the northern shore of Lake Michigan, they entered Green Bay, and passed thence up Fox river and Lake Winnebago to a villa ge of the Mascoutins and Miamis. Marquette, who never suffered the beauties of nature to escape his attention, speaks in eloquent terms of the broad prairies and tall forests which he saw from the summit of the hill on which it was situated. His admiration of the scenery was, however, greatly exceeded by the joy which he experienced at beholding a cross planted in the midst of the place, and decorated with some of the most valued of Indian implements. With due ceremony they were introduced to a council of chiefs, when Marquette, pointing to Joliet, said: "My friend is an envoy of France, to discover new countries, and I am an embassador from God, to enlighten them with the truths of the gospel."* The speaker then made them some presents, and asked for guides to conduct them on their way. Though the Indians regarded their journey as extremely hazardous, these were granted, and the voyagers re-embarked in their canoes. All the village followed them down to the river, wondering that men could be found to undertake an enterprise so fraught with dangers. Their guides led them safely through the devious windings of the river, beset with lakes and marshes overgrown with wild rice. The seed of this plant largely furnished the Indians with food, and subsisted immense numbers of birds, which rose in clouds as the travelers advanced. Arriving at the portage, they soon carried their light canoes and scanty baggage to the Wisconsin, about three miles distant. France and papal christendom were now in the valley of the Mississippi, ready to commence the drama in which, for the next succeeding 90 years, they were the principal actors.
Their guides now refused to accompany them further, and endeavored to induce them to return, by reciting the dangers they must encounter in the further prosecution of the journey. They stated that huge demons dwelt in the great river, whose voices could be heard at a long distance, and who engulphed in the raging waters all who came within their reach. They also represented that, should any of them escape the dangers of the river, fierce and warring tribes dwelt on its banks, ready to complete the work of destruction. Marquette thanked them for the information, but could not think of trying to save his own perishable body, when the immortal souls of the Indians alluded to might be eternally lost. Embarking in their canoes, they slowly glided down the Wisconsin, passing shores and islands covered with forests, lawns, parks and pleasure grounds, greatly exceeding in
Monette's Valley of the Mississippi, 124.
their natural beauty the most skillful training of cultured hands. The 17th of June brought them to the mouth of the river, and with great joy they pushed their frail barks out on the floods of the lordly Mississippi. Drifting rapidly with the current, the scenery of the two banks reminded them of the castled shores of their own beautiful rivers of France. For days of travel they passed a constant succession of headlands, separated by gracefully rounded valleys covered with verdure, and gently rising as they recede from the margin of the waters. The rocky summits of the headlands, rising high above their green bases, had been wrought by the corroding elements into a great variety of fantas tic forms, which the lively imagination of Marquette shaped into towers, gigantic statues, and the crumbling ruins of fortifications. On going to the heads of the valleys, they could see a country of the greatest beauty and fertility, apparently destitute of inhabitants, yet presenting the appearance of extensive manors, under the fastidious cultivation of lordly proprietors. By and by great herds of buffalo appeared on the opposite banks, the more timid females keeping at a safe distance, while the old bulls approached, and through their tangled manes looked defiance at the strange invaders of their grassy realms.
Near a hundred miles below the mouth of the Wisconsin, the Voyagers discovered an Indian trace, leading from the western shore. Joliet and Marquette, leaving their canoes in charge of their men, determined to follow it and make themselves acquainted with the tribes of this region. Moving cautiously through prairies and forests, rendered beautiful by the verdure and bloom of July, they discovered a village near the banks of the river and two others on a hill half a league distant. Commending themselves to the protection of Heaven, they approached and shouted to attract attention. When the commotion, excited by their unexpected salute, had partially subsided, four elders advanced with uplifted calumets to meet them. A friendly greeting ensued, and after informing the Frenchmen that they were Illinois, they conducted them to their village. Here they were presented to the chief, who, standing near the door of his wigwam in a state of complete nudity, delivered an address of welcome: "Frenchmen, how bright the sun shines when you come to visit us; all our village awaits you, and you shall enter our wigwams in peace." After entering and smoking a friendly pipe, they were invited to visit the great chief of the Illinois, at one of the other villages. Followed by a motley throng of warriors, squaws, and children, they proceeded thither and were received with great courtesy by the chief. On entering his wigwam, filled with the dignitaries of the tribe, Marquette announced the nature of their enterprise, asked for information concerning the Mississippi and alluded to their patron, the Governor of Canada, who had humbled the Iroquois and compelled them to sue for peace. This last item of information was good news to these remote tribes, and drew from their chief the compliment that the "presence of his guests added flavor to their tobacco, made the river more calm, the sky more serene and the earth more beautiful." Next, followed a repast, consisting of hominy, fish, and buffalo and dog's meat. The Frenchmen partook sumptiously
Discov. of the Great West.
of all the dishes, except the last, which they failed to appreciate, although one of the greatest Indian delicacies. The generous hosts, with true forest courtesy, as they dished out the different articles, first blew, their breath upon each morsel to cool it, and then, with their own hands, placed it in the mouths of their guests. They endeavored to persuade the explorers, by depicting the great dangers they would incur, to abandon their object. Finding that their efforts were unavailing, on the following day they hung on the neck of Marquette a sacred calumet, brilliantly decorated with feathers, as a protection among the tribes he was about to visit. The last mark of respect, which the chiefs could now offer their departing friends, was to escort them with 600 of their tribesmen to the river, where, after their stolid manner, they bade them a kindly adieu.
Again they were afloat on the broad bosom of the unknown stream. Passing the mouth of the Illinois they soon fell into the shadow of a tall promontory, and with great astonishment beheld the representation of two monsters painted on its lofty limestone front. According to Marquette, each of these frightful figures had the face of a man, the horns of a deer, the beard of a tiger, and the tail of a fish so long that it passed around the body over the head and between the legs. It was an object of Indian worship, and greatly impressed the mind of the pious missionary with the necessity of substituting for this monstrious idolatry, the worship of the true God.* Before these figures of the idols had faded from their minds, a new wonder arrested their attention. They ran into the current of the Missouri, sweeping directly across their track, and threatening to engulf them in its muddy waves. Frag ments of trees were drifting in large numbers, which must have come from a vast unknown wilderness, judging from the magnitude of the stream which bore them along. Passing on, it was ascertained that for several miles the Mississippi refused to mingle with the turbid floods of the intruding stream.
Soon the forest covered site of St. Louis appeared on the right, but little did the voyagers dream of the emporium which now fills the river with its extended commerce. Farther on, their attention was attracted by the confluence of the Ohio, a stream which, in the purity of its waters, they found wholly different from that previously passed. Some distance below the mouth of this eastern tributary, the banks of the river became skirted with a dense growth of cane, whose feathery-like foliage formed a pleasing contrast with that which they had passed above. But a greater vegetable wonder was the Spanish moss which hung in long festoons from the branches of the trees, exquisitely beautiful, yet, like funeral drapery, exciting in the beholder feelings of sadness. Another change was the increasing heat, which, now rapidly dissipated the heavy fogs which previously, to a late hour, had hung over the river. Clouds of mosquitos also appeared in the relaxing atmosphere, to annoy them by day, and disturb their much needed rest at night.
*Near the mouth of the Piasa Creek, on the bluff, there is a smooth rock in a cavernous cleft, under an overhanging cliff, on whose face, 50 feet from the base, are painted some ancient pictures or hieroglyphics, of great interest to the curious. They are placed in a horizontal line from east to west, representing men, plants and animals. The paintings, though protected from dampness and storms, are in great part destroyed, marred by portions of the rock becoming detached and falling down. See Prairie State,
Without suspecting the presence of Indians, they suddenly discovered a number on the eastern banks of the river. Marquette held aloft the symbol of peace, furnished him by the Illinois, and the savages approached and invited him and his party ashore. Here they were feasted on buffalo meat and bear's oil, and after the repast was over, were informed that they could reach the mouth of the river in ten days. This statement was doubtless made with the best intention, but with little truth, for the distance was not far from 1,000 miles.
Taking leave of their hosts, and resuming the journey, they penetrated a long monotony of bluffs and forests, and again discovered Indians near the mouth of the Arkansas. Rushing from their wigwams to the river, some of them sallied forth in canoes to cut off their escape, while others plunged into the water to attack them. Marquette displayed the calumet, which was unheeded till the arrival of the chiefs, who ordered the warriors to desist, and conducted them ashore. A conference ensued, and as soon as the Indians understood the nature of the visit, they became reconciled. The day's proceedings closed with a feast, and the travelers spent the night in the wigwams of their entertainers. Early the next day, messengers were sent by the latter to the Arkansas tribe on the river below, to apprise them that Frenchmen were about to descend the stream. As announced, the explorers proceeded a distance of 24 miles, when they were met by a deputation of three Indians, who invited them to visit their town. Assent being given, they were conducted thither and seated on mats, which had been spread for their reception under a shed before the lodge of a principal chief. Soon they were surrounded by a semi-circle of the villagers-the warriors sitting nearest, next the elders, while a promiscuous crowd stared at them from the outside. The men were stark naked, and the women imperfectly clad in skins, wearing their hair in two masses, one of which was behind each ear. Fortunately, there was a young man in the village who could speak Illinois. By his aid, Marquette explained to the assemblage the mysteries of the Christian faith, and the object of the expedition, and learned in turn from them that the river below was infested with the most hostile tribes. During their stay at this place, they were forced to submit to the merciless demands of aboriginal hospitality, which imposed dish after dish upon their over-taxed organs of digestion, till repletion became intolerable.
It was now the middle of July and the voyagers debated the propriety of further lengthening out their journey. They had been on the river four weeks, and concluded they had descended sufficiently far to decide that its outlet was on the Atlantic side of the continent. Their provisions were nearly exhausted, and they also feared if they visited the river below they might be killed by the savages, and the benefit of their discovery would be lost.
Influenced by these considerations, they determined to retrace their steps. Leaving the Arkansas village, they commmenced forcing their way in opposition to the swift current of the river, toiling by day under a July sun, and sleeping at night amidst the deadly exhalations of stagnant marshes. Several weeks of hard labor brought them to the mouth of the Illinois, but unfortunately, Marquette, enervated by the heat and the toils of the voyage, was