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Salle recognized by exhibiting one of his own, and the hostile demonstrations terminated in friendship. Next succeeded a feast, and while some placed the food in the mouths of the Frenchmen, others, with great obsequiousness, greased their feet with bears' oil.
Ás soon as LaSalle could disengage himself from their caresses, he informed them that in descending the river he had visited their town and taken corn from their granaries. He stated that he had been forced to the commission of this unlawful act to save his men from hunger, and was now ready to make restitution. In explaining the object of his visit, he said he had come to erect a fort in their midst, to protect them against the Iroquois, and to build a large canoé in which to descend the Mississippi to the sea, and thence return with goods to exchange for their furs. If, however, they did not regard his plans with favor, he concluded by stating he would pass on to the Osages, in the present limits of Missouri, and give them the benefit of his trade and influence. The allusion to these Indians aroused their jealousy, which had long existed between the two tribes, and the Illinois readily assented to his wishes, and were loud in their professions of friendship.
Notwithstanding this auspicious reception, it soon became evident to LaSalle that secret enemies were intriguing to defeat his enterprise. Some of his men, dissatisfied and mutinous from the first, secretly endeavored to foment disaffection and ill-will in the better disposed of his followers. They represented to their comrades the folly of longer remaining the dupes and slaves of a leader whose wild schemes and imaginary hopes could never be realized. What could be expected, said they, after following him to the extreme confines of the earth and to remote and dangerous seas, but to either miserably perish or return the victims of disease and poverty. They urged that the only way to escape these evils was to return before distance and the waste of strength and means rendered it impossible. It was even hinted that it might be best to escape from their present calamities by the death of their author: then they might retrace their steps and share in the credit of what had already been accomplished, instead of further protracting their labors for another to monopolize the honors. Fortunately those who entertained these views were too few in numbers to reduce them to practice. Unable to effect anything with their own countrymen, they next turned to the savages. Having obtained a secret interview, they informed them that LaSalle had entered into a conspiracy with the Iroquois to effect their destruction, and that he was now in the country to ascertain their strength and build a fort in furtherance of this object. They also said that, while he was ostensibly preparing to visit Fort Frontenac, his real object was to invite the Iroquois to make an invasion into their country as soon as he was prepared to assist them. The Indians, ever suspicious and ready to listen to charges of this kind, became morose and reserved. LaSalle, noticing their altered demeanor, at once suspected his men, and soon obtained information establishing the truth of their perfidy. To remove the false impressions, he reminded the Indians that the smallness of his force indicated a mission of peace, and not of war; and that neither prudence nor humanity would ever permit him to form an alliance with the Iroquois, whose brutal and revengeful conduct he had always regarded with horror and detestation.
His great self possession and frankness, together with the evident truthfulness of his remarks, completely divested the savages of suspicion and restored him to their confidence. Balked in their efforts to make enemies of the Indians, the conspirators, as a last resort, sought the life of their employer. Poison was secretly placed in his food, but fortune again came to his rescue. By the timely adininistration of an antidote the poison was neutralized, and his life was saved. This was an age of poisoners, and it had not been long since a similar attempt against the life of LaSalle had been made at Fort Frontenac.
Hardly had LaSalle escaped the machinations of his own men, before he became involved in the meshes of others, with whom hé sustained not even the most remote connection. The new intrigues, LaSalle, in a letter to Count Frontenae, attributes to the Jesuit Priest, Allouez, then a missionary among the Miamis. Perhaps LaSalle on account of his partiality for the Recollets, or more likely fearing that the latter, through his influence, might become more potent than his own order, he sent a Mascoutin chief, called Monso, to excitė the jealousy of the Illinois against him. They came equipped with presents, which drew together a nightly conclave of chiefs, to whom Monso unbosomed his object. Rising in their midst he said he had been sent by a certain Frenchman to warn them against the designs of LaSalle. He then denounced him as a spy of the Iroquois on his way to secure the co-operation of tribes beyond the Mississippi, with the hope that by a combined attack, to either destroy the Illinois or drive them from the country. In conclusion he added, the best way to avert these calamities was to stay his farther progress, by causing the desertion of his men. Having thus roused the suspicions of the Illinois, the envoys hurridly departed, lest they might have to confront thé object of their foul aspersions. The next morning the savages looked suspicious and sullen. A glance sufficed to convince LaSalle that new difficulties awaited him, nor was it long till he ascertained their character. A chief, to whom the day before he had given a liberal supply of presents, privately informed him of what had transpired at the council the preceding night. This information was confirmed by what occurred at a feast, given shortly afterward by a brother of the principal chief, to which LaSalle and his men were invited. While the repast was in preparation their host endeavored to persuade them to abandon their journey by magnifying the dangers which would attend it. He informed them that the object of his invitation was not only to refresh their bodies but to remove from their minds the infatuation of farther attempting an errand which could never be accomplished. If you endeavor to descend the Mississippi, said he, you will find its banks beset with tribes whom neither numbers nor courage can overcome, while all who enter its waters will be exposed to the devouring fangs of serpents and unnatural monsters. Should they avoid these, he added, the river at last becomes a succession of raging whirlpools, which plunge headlong into a storm smitten sea, from which, if they entered, escape would be impossible.
The most of LaSalle's men knew little of Indian artifice, and were greatly alarmed at the thought of having to encounter such forin idable perils. Some of the older and more experienced endeavored to expose these misrepresentations, but as we shall presently see, with only partial success. La Salle knew in a moment, from what had been told him, the object of the speaker was to deceive his men and seduce them from their allegiance. After expressing his thanks for the timely warning, he replied as follows:
"The greater the danger the greater the honor; and even if the danger were real, a Frenchman would never be afraid to meet it. But were not the Illinois jealous? Had they not been deluded by lies? We were not asleep, my brother, when Monso came to tell you, under cover of night, that we were spies of the Iroquois. The presents he gave you, that you might believe his falsehoods, are at this moment buried in the earth under this lodge. If he told the truth why did he skulk away in the dark? Why did he not show himself by day? Do you not see that when we first came among you, and your camp was all in confusion, we could have killed you without needing help from the Iroquois, and now while I am speaking, could we not put your old men to death, while your young warriors are all gone away to hunt. If we meant to make war on you, we should need no help from the Iroquois, who have so often felt the force of our arms. Look at what we have brought you. It is not weapons to dis. stroy you, but merchandise and tools for your good. If you still harbor evil thoughts of us, be frank as we are and speak them boldly. Go after the im. poster, Monso, and bring him back that we may auswer him face to face; for he never saw either us or the Iroquois and what can he know of the plots he pretends to reveal ? "
The savage orator, too much astounded at these disclosures to attempt a reply, ordered the feast to proceed.
La Salle, suspicious of danger, the night after the feast stationed sentinels near the lodges of the French to watch the movements of their recent entertainers. The night passed without disturbance, and at early dawn he salied forth to find, that instead of watching the enemy, 6 of his men had basely deserted. Doubtless, in part to escape the imaginary dangers already alluded to, but mostly on account of previous disaffection, they had abandoned their employer at the time when he had the greatest need of their services. LaSalle assembled the remainder, and spoke in severe terms of the baseness of those who had left him. “If any one yet remains," he continued, “who from cowardice desires to return, let him wait till spring, and he can then go without the stigma of desertion.” One of the principal difficulties attending the early French enterprises of the West was to procure trusty men. The wilderness was full of vagabond hunters who had fled from the discipline of civilized life, and now exhibited an extreme of lawlessness proportioned to their previous restraints. Their freedom from care, and immunity from the consequences of crime, rendered them a perpetual lure to entice others from the duties of legitimate employment.
Fort Crerecaure.- LaSalle, wearied with these difficulties, now determined to erect a fort in which he and his men might pass the winter without molestation. A site was ch en on the east side of the river, a short distance below the outlet of the lake. This was the extremity of a ridge approaching within 200 yards of the shore, and protected on each side by deep ravines. To fortify the bluff thus formed, a ditch was dug behind to connect the two ravines. Embankments were thrown up to increase the altitude of the different sides, and the whole was surrounded with a palisade 25 feet in hight. The work was completed by erecting within the enclosure buildings for the accommodation of the men.
LaSalle bestowed on it the name Creveccur,* an appellation which still perpetuates the misfortunes and disappointments of its founder. The Indians remained friendly, and the new fortification subserved more the purpose of a sanctuary than a place for the discharge of military duty. Hennepin preached twice on the Sabbath, chanted vespers, and regretted that the want of wine prevented the celebration of mass. Membre daily visited the Illinois and, despite their filth and disgusting manners, labored earnestly, but with little success, for their spiritual welfare. Such was the tirst French occupation of the territory now embraced in the present limits of Illinois. The place of this ancient fort may still be seen a short distance below the outlet of Peoria Lake. For years after its erection the country around the lake remained the home of savages, and rich pasture grounds for herds of deer and buffalo.
Hitherto, LaSalle had entertained some hope that the Criffin, which had on board anchors, rigging, and other necessary articles for the construction of another vessel, might still be safe. He proposed to build a vessel on the Illinois, freight her with buffalo hides, collected in the descent of the Mississippi, and thence sail to the West Indies or France, and dispose of the cargo. The Griftin, however, with her much needed stores, never made her appearance. It was variously believed at the time that she had foundered in a storm-that the Indians had boarded and burnt herand that the Jesuits had contrived her destruction. LaSalle was of opinion that her own crew, after removing the cargo of furs and merchandise, sunk her and then ran away with their ill-gotten spoils. But the cause of the loss was of little moment; they were gone, and there was no alternative left LaSalle but to return to Frontenac and get others to supply their place. His great anxiety in connection with this step was the fear that others of his men might take advantage of his absence and desert.
While revolving this subject in his mind, an incident occurred which enabled him to disabuse their minds of the false statements they had heard in regard to the dangers of the Mississippi. During a hunt in the vicinity of the fort, he chanced to meet with a young Indian who had been absent some time on a distant war excursion. Finding him almost famished with hunger, he invited him to the fort, where he refreshed him with a generous meal, and questioned him with apparent indifference respecting the Mississippi. Owing to his long absence, he knew nothing of what had transpired between his countrymen and the French, and, with great ingenuousness, imparted all the information required. LaSalle now gave him presents not to mention the interview, and, with a number of his men, repaired to the camp of the Illinois to expose their misrepresentations. Having found the chiefs at a feast of bear's meat, he boldly accused them of falsehood, and at once proceeded to verify his charges. The Master of Life, he declared, was the friend of truth, and had revealed to him the actual character of the Mississippi. He then gave such an accurate account of it, that his astonished but credulous auditors believed his knowledge had been obtained in a supernatural manner, and at once confessed their guilt. It was their desire, they said, to have him remain with them, and they had resorted to artifice for this
*** Broken hearted."
purpose, and not to do him any injury. This confession removed a principal cause of desertion, and banished from the mind of La. Salle a fruitful source of anxiety. Lest idleness should breed new disturbances among his men during his absence, he set them at work on the new vessel. Some of his best carpenters had deserted, yet energy supplied the place of skill, and before his departure hé saw the new craft on the stocks, rapidly approaching completion. He also thought that Hennepin might accomplish greater results by exploring the Upper Mississippi than by preaching sermons, and he was therefore requested to take charge of an expedition for this purpose. The friar, not wishing to incur the dangers of the undertaking, plead bodily infirmity, and endeavored to have one of his spiritual colleagues appointed in his stead. Ribourde was too old to endure the hardships, and Membre, though disgusted with his clerical duties among the Ilinois, preferred an unpleasant field of labor to one beset with perils. Hennepin, finding no alternative but to accept, with rare modesty and great reliance upon providence, says: "Anybody but me would have been much much frightened with the dangers of such a journey, and in fact, if I had not placed all my trust in God, I should not have been the dupe of LaSalle, who exposed my life rashly..” A profusion of gifts was placed in his canoe, to conciliate the Indians, and on the last day of February, 1680, a party assembled on the banks of the Illinois to bid him him farewell
. Father Ribourde invoked the blessing of heaven over the kneeling form of the clerical traveler; his two companions, Accau and DuGay, plied their paddles, and they were soon concealed from view in the meandering channel of the river.