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“ Nowhere on this journey," says Marquette, “did we see such grounds, meadows, woods, stags, buffaloes, deer, wildcats, bustards, swans, ducks, parroquets, and even beavers, as on the Illinois River.'' The party, without loss or injury, reached Green Bay in September, and reported their discovery-one of the most important of the age, but of which no record was preserved save Marquette's, Joliet losing his by the upsetting of his canoe on his way to Quebec. Afterward Marquette returned to the Illinois Indians by their request, and ministered to them until 1675. On the 18th of May in that year, as he was passing the mouth of a stream-going with his boatmen up Lake Michigan-he asked to land at its mouth and celebrate mass. Leaving his men with the canoe, he retired a short distance and began his devotions. As much time passed and he did not return, his men went in search of him, and found him upon his knees, dead. He had peacefully passed away while at prayer. He was buried at this spot. Charlevoix, who visited the place fifty years later, found the waters had retreated from the grave, leaving the beloved missionary to repose in peace. The river has since been called Marquette.
While Marquette and his companions were pursuing their labors in the West, two men, differing widely from him and each other, were preparing to follow in his footsteps and perfect the discoveries so well begun by him. These were Robert de LaSalle and Louis Hennepin.
After La Salle's return from the discovery of the Ohio River (see the narrative elsewhere) he established himself again among the French trading posts in Canada. Here he mused long upon the pet project of those ages--a short way to China and the East, and was busily planning an expedition up the great lakes, and so across the continent to the Pacific, when Marquette returned from the Mississippi. At once the vigorous mind of LaSalle received from his and his companions' stories the idea that by following the Great River northward, or by turning up some of the numerous western tributaries, the object could easily be gained. He applied to Frontenac, Governor General of Canada, and laid before him the dim, but gigantic plan. Frontenac entered warmly into his plans, seeing that LaSalle's idea to connect the great lakes by a chain of forts with the Gulf of Mexico would bind the country strongly together, and give unmeasured power to France, and glory to himself, under whose administration he earnestly hoped all would be realized.
LaSalle repaired to France, laid his plans before the King, who warmly approved of them, and made him a Chevalier. He also received from all the noblemen the warmest wishes for his success. The Chevalier
returned to Canada, and busily entered upon his work. He at once rebuilt Fort Frontenac, and constructed the first ship to sail on the fresh-water seas. On the 7th of August, 1679, having been joined by Hennepin, he began his voyage in the Griffin up Lake Erie. He passed over this lake, through the straits beyond, up Lake St. Clair and into Lake Huron. In this lake they encountered heavy storms. They were some time at Michillimackinac, where LaSalle founded a fort, and passed thence to Green Bay, the " Baie des Puans” of the French, where he found a large quantity of furs collected for him. He loaded the Griffin with these, and placing her under the care of a pilot and fourteen sailors, started her on her return voyage. The vessel was never afterward heard of. LaSalle remained thereabouts until early in the winter, when, hearing nothing from the Griffin, he collected all his men-thirty working men and three monks—and started again upon his great undertaking. By a short portage they passed to the Illinois or Kankakee, called by
a the Indians, " Theake," wolf, because of the tribes of Indians known to them by that name, but commonly called Mahingons, dwelling there. The French pronounced it Keakiki, which became corrupted to Kankakee. “Falling down the river by easy stages, the better to observe the country,” about the last of December they reached a village of the Illinois Indians, containing some five hundred cabins, but at that time no inhabitants. The Sieur de La Salle being in want of some breadstuffs, took advantage of the absence of the Indians to help himself to a sufficiency of maize, large quantities of which he found concealed in holes under the wigwams. This village was situated near the present village of Utica, in LaSalle county, Illinois. The corn being securely stored, the voyagers again betook themselves to the stream, and toward evening, on the 4th day of January, 1680, they came into a lake which must have been the lake of Peoria, at Peoria City. This was called by the Indians Pim-z-te-wi, that is, a place where there are many fat beasts. Here the natives were met with in large numbers, but they were gentle and kind, and having spent some time with them, LaSalle determined to erect another fort in that place, for he had heard rumors that some of the adjoining tribes were trying to disturb the good feeling which existed, and some of his men were disposed to complain, owing to the hardships and perils of the travel. He called this fort “Crevecæur" (brokenheart,) a name expressive of the very natural sorrow and anxiety which the pretty certain loss of his ship, Griffin, and his consequent impoverishment, the danger of hostility on the part of the Indians, and of mutiny among his own men, might well cause him. His fears were not entirely groundless. At one time poison was placed in his food, but fortunately was discovered.
While building this fort, the winter wore away, the prairies began to look green, and LaSalle, despairing of any reinforcements, concluded to return to Canada, raise new means and new men, and embark anew in the enterprise. For this purpose he made Hennepin the leader of a party to explore the head waters of the Mississippi, and set out on his journey. This journey was accomplished with the aid of a few persons, and was successfully made, though over an almost unknown route, and in a bad season of the year. He reached Canada in safety, and soon set out again for the object of his search.
Hennepin and his party left Fort Creveccur the last of February, 1680. When LaSalle reached this place on his return expedition, he found the fort entirely deserted, and was obliged to return again to Canada. He embarked the third time, and succeeded. Seven days after leaving the fort, Hennepin-reached the Mississippi, and paddling up the icy stream as best he could, reached the Wisconsin River about the 11th of April. Here he and his followers were taken prisoners by a band of Northern Indians, who treated them with great kindness. Hennepin's comrades were Anthony Auguel and Michael Ako. On this voyage they found several beautiful lakes, and “saw some charming prairies.” Their captors were the Isaute or Sauteurs, Chippewas, a tribe of the Sioux nation, who took them up the river, and about the first of May they reached the falls (at Minneapolis) which Hennepin christened Falls of St. Anthony, in honor of his patron saint. Here they left the river and travelled across the country in a northwesterly direction for a distance of about two hundred miles, when they came to the villages of the tribe with which they were prisoners, and by whom they were treated with kindness. They were kept in captivity for a period of three months, at the end of which time they were met by a band of Frenchmen, headed by one Sieur de Luth, who, in pursuit of trade and game, had penetrated that far by way of Lake Superior. Hennepin and his companions were released to their countrymen and allowed to return with them to the borders of civilized life, in November, 1680, just after LaSalle had returned on his second expedition to the wilderness. Hennepin soon after went to France, where he published a book giving an account of his adventures among the wild red men of the New World.
The Mississippi was first discovered by De Soto, in April, 1541, in his vain endeavor to find gold and precious gems. In the following spring, De Soto, weary with hope long deferred, and worn out with his wander.
ings, fell a victim to disease, and died on the 21st of May. His followers, reduced by fatigue and disease to less than three hundred men, wandered about the country nearly a year, in the vain endeavor to rescue themselves by land, and finally constructed seven small vessels, called brigantines, in which they embarked, and descending the river, supposing it would lead them to the sea, and came to the Gulf of Mexico in July, and in September reached the island of Cuba.
They were the first to see the great outlet of the Mississippi; but, being so wearied and discouraged, made no attempt to claim the country, and hardly had an intelligent idea of what they had passed through.
To LaSalle, the intrepid explorer, belongs the honor of giving the first account of the mouths of the river. His great desire was to possess this entire country for his king, and in January, 1682, he and his band of explorers left the shores of Lake Michigan on their third attempt, crossed the portage, passed down the Illinois River, and on the 6th of February, reached the banks of the Mississippi.
On the 13th of February they commenced their downward course, which they pursued with but one interruption, until, on the 6th of March, they discovered the three great passages by which the river discharges its waters into the gulf. LaSalle thus narrates the event:
"We landed on the bank of the most western channel, about three leagues (nine miles) from its mouth. On the seventh, M. de LaSalle went to reconnoiter the shores of the neighboring sea, and M. de Tonti meanwhile examined the great middle channel. They found the main outlets beautiful, large and deep. On the 8th we reascended the river, a little above its confluence with the sea, to find a dry place beyond the reach of inundations. The elevation of the North Pole was here about twenty-seven degrees. Here we prepared a column and a cross, and to the column were affixed the arms of France, with this inscription :
• Louis Le Grand, Roi de France et de Navarre, regne; Le neuvieme Avril, 1682.'”
The whole party, under arms, chanted the Te Deum, and then, after a salute and cries of "Vive le Roi," the column was erected by M. de LaSalle, who, standing near it, proclaimed in a loud voice the authority of the King of France. LaSalle returned and laid the foundations of the Mississippi settlements in Illinois, thence he proceeded to France, where another expedition was fitted out, of which he was commander, and in two succeeding voyages failed to find the outlet of the river by sailing along the shore of the gulf. On his third voyage he was killed through the treachery of his followers, and the object of his expedition was not accomplished until 1699, when D’Iberville, under the authority
of the crown, discovered, on the second of March, by way of the sea, the mouth of the “ Hidden River.” This majestic stream was called by the patives Malbouchia," and by the Spaniards, “ La Paissade," from the number of trees growing about its mouth. After examining the several outlets, and satisfying himself as to its certainty, he erected a fort near its western outlet, and then returned to France.
An avenue of trade was now opened out, which was fully improved. In 1718, New Orleans was laid out and settled by some European colonists. In 1762 the colony was made over to Spain, to be regained by France under the consulate of Napoleon. In 1803, it was purchased by the United States for the sum of fifteen million dollars, and the territory of Louisiana and commerce of the Mississippi River came under the charge of the United States. Although LaSalle's labors ended in defeat and death, he had not worked and suffered in vain. He had thrown open to France and the world an immense and most valuable country; had established several ports, and laid the foundations of more than one settlement in the New World. Peoria, Kaskaskia and Cahokia, are to this day monuments of LaSalle's labors; for, though he had founded neither of them, (unless Peoria, which was built nearly upon the site of Fort Crevecæur,) it was by those whom he led into the West that these places were peopled and civilized. He was, if not the discoverer, the first settler of the Mississippi Valley, and as such deserves to be known and honored.”
The French early improved the opening made for them. Before the year 1698, the Rev. Father Gravier began a mission among the Illinois, and founded Kaskaskia. For some time this was merely a missionary station, where none but natives resided, it being one of three such villages, the other two being Cahokia and Peoria. What is known of these missions is learned from a letter written by Father Gabriel Marest, dated "Aux Cascaskias, autrement dit de l'Immaculate Conception de la Sainte Vierge, le 9 Novembre, 1712.” Soon after the founding of Kaskaskia, the missionary, Pinet, gathered a flock at Cahokia, while Peoria arose near the ruins of Fort Creveccur. This must have been about the year 1700. The post at Vincennes, on the Oubache River, (pronounced Wa-ba, meaning summer cloud moving swiftly) was established in 1702, according to the best authorities.* It is altogether probable that on LaSalle's last trip he established the stations at Kaskaskia and Cahokia. In July, 1701, the foundations of Fort Ponchar.
* There is considerable dispute about this date, some asserting it was founded as late as 1742. When the new court house at Vincennes was erected, all authorities on the subject were carefully examined, and 1712 fixed upon as the correct date. It was accordingly engraved on the corner-stone of the court house