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their journey down the stream.* Seven days after,' with inexpressible joy,' they emerged upon the bosom of the Great River. During all this time they had seen no human being, though, probably, many a wondering savage had watched them from the covert of the bank, as they floated silently between the forests. It was an unbroken solitude, when the ripple of their paddles sounded loud upon the ear, and their voices, subdued by the stillness, were sent back in lonely echoes from the shore.
They were the first white men who ever floated on the bosom of that mighty river--the envoy from the King of France, and the ambassador of the King of kings. What were their thoughts we know not, but from Marquette's simple “Journal ;' for, in returning to Quebec, Joliet's boat was wrecked in sight of the city, and all his papers lost.[ Of the Sieur himself, we know nothing, save as the companion of Marquette on this voyage ; but from this alone his fame is imperishable.
They sailed slowly down the river, keeping a constant outlook upon the banks for signs of those for whose spiritual welfare the good father had undertaken his perilous journey. But for more than sixty leagues not a human form or habitation could be seen. They had leisure, more than they desired, to admire the grand and beautiful scenery of that picturesque region. In some places the cliffs rose perpendicularly for hundreds of feet from the water's edge; and nodding over their brows, and towering against the sky, were stately pines and cedars of the growth of centuries. Here, there lay between the river and the cliffs, a level prairie, waving in all the luxuriance of the leafy month of June;' while beyond, the bluffs
, enclosing the natural garden, softened by the distance, and clothed in evergreen, seemed but an extension of the primitive savanna. Here, a dense, primeval forest grew quite down to the margin of the water; and hanging from the topmost branches of the giant oaks, festoons of
and graceful moss lay floating on the rippled surface, or dipped within the tide. Here, the large, smooth roots of trees, half undermined, presented seats and footholds, where the pleasant shade invited them to rest and shelter from the sultry summer sun.
Anon, an open prairie, with no cliff or bluff beyond, extended undulating from the river, until the eye, in straining to measure its extent, was wearied by the effort, and the plain became a waving sea of rainbow colors, of green low, gold and purple. Again, they passed a gravelly beach, on which the yellow sand was studded with a thousand sets of brilliant shells, and little rivulets flowed in from level prairies, or stealthily crept out from under roots of trees or tangled vines, and hastened to be hidden in the bosom of the Great Father of Waters.
They floated on, through the dewy morning hours, when the leaves were shining in the sunlight, and the birds were singing joyously, before the summer heat had dried the moisture, or had forced the feathered songsters to the shade. At noon, when the silence made the solitude oppressive; when the leaves hung wilting down, nor fluttered in the fainting
• JUNE 10th, 1673. + I MEAN, of course, the upper Mississippi; for De Soto had reached it lower down one hundred and thirty-two years before.
It was announced, some months since, that our minister at Rome, Mr. Cass, had made discoveries in that city which threw more light upon this expedition. But how this can be, consistently with the fact stated in the text, (about which there is no doubty) I am at a loss to divine.
wind; when the prairies were no longer waving like the sea, but trembling like the atmosphere around a heated furnace; when the mirage hung upon the plain, tall trees were seen growing in the air, and among
them stalked the deer, and elk, and buffalo; while between them and the ground, the brazen sky was glowing with the sun of June; when nothing living could be seen, save when the voyageur's approach would startle some wild beast slaking his thirst in the cool river, or a flock of waterfowl were driven from their covert, where the willow branches, drooping, dipped their leaves of silvery gray within the water. They floated on till evening, when the sun approached the prairie, and his broad, round disc, now shorn of its dazzling beams, defined itself against the sky and grew florid in the gathering haze; when the birds began to re-appear, and fitted noiselessly among the trees, in busy preparation for the night; when beasts of prey crept out from lurking-places, where they had dozed and panted through the hours of noon; when the wilderness grew vocal with the mingled sounds of lowing buffalo, and screaming panther, and howling wolf, until the shadows rose from earth, and traveled from the east, until the dew began to fall, the stars came out, and night brought rest and dreams of home!
Thus they floated on, ‘from morn till dewy eve,' and still no sign of human life, neither habitation nor footprint, until one day — it was the twenty-fifth of June, more than two weeks since they had entered the wilderness — in gliding past a sandy beach, they recognized the impress of a naked foot! Following it for some distance, it grew into a trail, and then a path, once more a place where human beings habitually walked.
Whose feet had trodden down the grass, what strange people lived on the prairie, they knew not; what dangers might await them, they cared not. These were the people whom the good father had come so far to convert and save! And now, again, one might expect some natural hesitation; some doubt in venturing among those who were certainly barbarians, and who might, for aught they knew, be brutal cannibals. We could forgive a little wavering, indeed, especially when we think of the frightful stories told them by the Northern Indians of this very people. But fear was not a part of these men's nature; or if it existed, it lay so deep buried beneath religious zeal and pious trust, that its voice never reached the upper air. Leaving the boatmen with the canoes, near the mouth of the river now called Des Moines, Marquette and Joliet set out alone, to follow up the trail, and seek the people who had made it. It led them to an open prairie, one of the most beautiful in the present State of Iowa, and crossing this, a distance of six miles, they at last found themselves in the vicinity of three Indian villages. The very spot* where the chief of these stood might now be easily found, so clear, though brief, is the description of the simple priest. It stood at the foot of a long slope, on the bank of the river Moingona, (or Des Moines,) about six miles due west of the Mississippi; and at the top of the rise, at the distance of half a league, were built the two others. We commended ourselves unto God,' writes the gentle father; for they knew not at what moment they might need His intervention; and crying out with a loud voice, to announce their approach, they calmly advanced toward the group of lodges. At a short distance from the entrance to the village, they were met by a deputation of four old men, who, to their great joy, they perceived bore a richly ornamented pipe of peace, the emblem of friendship and hospitality. Tendering the mysterious calumet, they informed the Frenchmen that they belonged to one of the tribes called • Illinois,' (or ‘Men,') and invited them to enter their lodges in peace; an invitation which the weary voyageurs were but too glad to accept.
* The place of MARQUETTE's landing - which should be classic ground - from his description of the country, and the distances he specifies, could not have been far from the spot where the city of Keokuk now stands, a short distance above the mouth of the Des Moines. The locality should, if possible, be determined.
A great council was held, with all the rude but imposing ceremonies of the grave and dignified Indian; and before the assembled chiefs and braves, Marquette published his mission from his Heavenly MASTER. Passing, then, from spiritual to temporal things — for we do not hear of any address from Joliet, who probably was no orator - he spake of his 1 earthly king, and of his viceroy in New-France; of his victories over the Iroquois, the dreaded enemies of the peaceful Western tribes; and then made many inquiries about the Mississippi, its tributaries, and the nations who dwelt upon their banks. His advances were kindly received, his questions frankly answered, and the council broke up with mutual assurances of good-will
. Then ensued the customary festival. Homminy, fish, buffalo and dog-meat, were successively served up, like the courses of a more modern table; but of the last we declined to partake,' writes the good father, no doubt much to the astonishment and somewhat to the chagrin of their hospitable friends ; for, even yet, among the western Indians, dog-meat is a dish of honor.
Six days of friendly intercourse passed pleasantly away, diversified by many efforts on the part of Marquette to instruct and convert the docile savages. Nor were these entirely without result; they excited, at least, the wish to hear more; and on his departure they crowded round him, and urgently requested him to come again among them. He promised to do so, a pledge which he afterwards redeemed. But now he could not tarry; he was bent upon his hazardous voyage down the Great River, and he knew that he was only on the threshold of his grand discoveries. Six hundred warriors, commanded by their most distinguished chief, accompanied him back to his boats; and, after hanging around his neck the great calumet, to protect him among the hostile nations of the south, they parted with him, praying that the Great Spirit, of whom he had told them, might give him a prosperous voyage, and a speedy and safe return.
These were the first of the nations of the Mississippi Valley visited by the French, and it is from them that the State of Illinois takes its name. They were a singularly gentle people; and a nature originally peaceful had been rendered almost timid by the cruel inroads of the murderous Iroquois.* These, by their traffic with the Dutch and English of NewYork, and by their long warfare with the French of Canada, had acquired the use of fire-arms, and, of course, possessed an immense advantage over those who were armed only with the primitive bow and arrow. The restless and ambitious spirit of the singular confederacy, usually called the Five Nations, and known among their neighbors by the collective name of Iroquois, had carried their incursions even as far as the hunting-grounds of the Shawanese, about the mouth of the Ohio; and their successes had made them a terror to all the Western tribes. The Illinois, therefore, knowing the French to be at war with these formidable enemies, were the more anxious to form an alliance with them; and the native gentleness of their manners was, perhaps, increased by the hope of assistance and protection. But, whatever motives may have influenced them, beside their natural character, their forethought was of vital service to the wanderers in the countries of the south, whither they proceeded.
* It was by virtue of a treaty of purchase - signed at Fort Stanwix on the 5th of November, 1768 — with the Six Nations, who claimed the country as their conquest, that the British asserted a title to the country west of the Alleghenies, Western Virginia, Kentucky, etc.
The little party of seven resumed their voyage on the last day of June, and floating with the rapid current, a few days afterward passed the rocks, above the site of Alton, where was painted the image of the ravenous Piasan, of which they had been told by the Northern Indians, and on the same day reached the mouth of the Pekitanoni, the Indian name for the rapid and turbulent Missouri. Inwardly resolving, at some future time, to ascend its muddy current, to cross the ridge beyond, and, descending some river which falls into the Great South Sea, (as the Pacific was then called,) to publish the gospel to all the people of the Continent, the zealous father passed onward toward the south. Coasting slowly along the wasting shore, lingering in the mouths of rivers, or exploring dense forests in the hope of meeting the natives, they continued on their course until they reached the mouth of a river which they called the Ouabache, or Wabash, none other than the beautiful Ohio.*
Here they found the advanced settlement of the Shawanese, who had been pushed towards the south-west by the incessant attacks of the Iroquois. But by this time, fired with the hope of ascertaining the outlet of the Mississippi, they postponed their visit to these people until their return, and floated on.
It is amusing, as well as instructive, to observe how little importance the travelers gave to the river Ohio, in their geographical assumptions. In the map published by Marquette with his Journal,' the Ouabisquigou,' as he denominates it, in euphonious French-Indian, compared to the Illinois, or even to the Wisconsin, is but an inconsiderable rivulet! The lonely wanderers were much farther from the English settlements than they supposed; a mistake into which they must have been led, by hearing of the incursions of the Iroquois; for even at that early day they could not but know that the head-waters of the Ohio were not distant from the hunting-grounds of that warlike confederacy. Even this explanation, however, scarcely lessens our wonder that they should have known so little of courses and distances; for had this river been as short
The geographical mistakes of the early French explorers have led to some singular discussions about Western history - have even been used by diplomatists to support or weaken territorial claims. Such, for example, is the question concerning the antiquity of Vincennes, a controversy founded on the mistake noticed in the text. Vide Western Annals.? 20 Ed. Revised by J. M. PECK.
as it is here delineated, they would have been within four hundred miles of Montreal !
After leaving the Ohio, they suffered much from the climate and its incidents; for they were now approaching, in the middle of July, a region of perpetual summer. Mosquitoes and other venomous insects (in that region we might even call them ravenous insects) became intolerably annoying; and the voyageurs began to think they had reached the country of the terrible heats, which, as they had been warned in the north, 'would wither them up like a dry leaf. But the prospect of death by torture and savage cruelty had not daunted them, and they were not now disposed to be turned back by any excess of climate. Arranging their sails in the form of awnings to protect them from the sun by day and the dews by night, they resolutely pursued their way.
Following the course of the river, they soon entered the region of canebrakes, so thick that no animal larger than a cat could penetrate them; and of cotton-wood forests, of immense size and of unparalleled density. They were far beyond the limits of every Indian dialect with which they had become acquainted; were, in fact, approaching the region visited by De Soto, on his famous expedition in search of Juan Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth.* The country was possessed by the Sioux and Chickasaws, to whom the voyageurs were total strangers; but they went on without fear. In the neighborhood of the southern boundary of the present State of Arkansas, they were met in hostile array by great numbers of the natives, who approached them in large canoes made from the trunks of hollow trees. But Marquette held aloft the symbol of peace, the ornamented calumet, and the hearts of the savages were melted, as the pious father believed, by the touch of God. They threw aside their weapons, and received the strangers with rude but hearty hospitality. They escorted them, with many demonstrations of welcome, to the village of Michigamia; and on the following day, having feasted their strange guests plentifully, though not with the unsavory meats of the Illinois, they marched in triumphal procession to the metropolis of Akansea, about ten leagues distant, down the river.
This was the limit of their voyage. Here they ascertained, beyond a doubt, that the Mississippi flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, and not, as had been conjectured, into the Great South Sea. Here they found the natives armed with axes of steel, a proof of their traffic with the Spaniards; and thus was the circle of discovery complete, connecting the explorations of the French with those of the Spanish, and entirely enclosing the possessions of the English. No voyage so important has since been undertaken ; no results so great have ever been produced by so feeble an expedition. The discoveries of Marquette, followed by the enterprises of La Salle and his successors, have influenced the destinies of nations; and passing over all political speculations, this exploration first threw open a valley of greater extent, fertility, and commercial advan
other in the world. Had either the French or the Spanish possessed the stubborn qualities which hold, as they had the useful which
* IN 1541, De Soto crossed the Mississippi about the thirty-fifth parallel of latitude, or near the northern boundary of the State of that name. It is not certain how far below this MARQUETTE went, though we are safe in saying that he did not turn back north of that limit.