Embracing an Account of the Settlement
and Early Progress - Compiled and Published by Mr. Henry A. Ford in
Transcribed by Nancy Piper
European Discovery In The West
On an Easter Sunday, in the twentieth year after Columbus first moored his caravals on the shores of the New World, his old comrade, Juan Ponce de Leon, in search of the "Fountain of Youth" fabled to exist far within the recesses of American forests, and also in quest of gold to gratify the insatiable passion of the age, landed in the beautiful peninsula of the South, and named the new-discovered country FLORIDA - "the land of flowers." The gold procured in this region by subsequent adventurers stimulated a desire to penetrate the interior, in hope of finding the boundless wealth believed to be hidden there.
But a few years passed before European discovery in the great Valley of the West was begun by the Spanish under Pamphilo de Narvaez, who perished in the wilderness before he reached the "Great River." His treasurer, Cabeza de Vaca, assuming the command of the expedition, pushed the perilous enterprise forward; and in September, 1834, they, "first of men from the Old World," crossed the Mississippi as far north as Tennessee. Pursuing their difficult journey westward, many of the wanderers falling under the fatigues and sufferings of the way, a wretched few reached Sonora, near the Pacific shore, whence they were conducted to the city of Mexico, and at length returned to Spain.*
Seven years later, followed the ill-starred expedition of Fernando de Soto, a Spanish soldier who had assisted Pizarro in the conquest of Peru. With a numerous and brilliant band of cavaliers, he struck into the wilderness near Tampa Bay, in Florida, and for many weary months toiled through the tangled forests and deep morasses of the South, until the 1st of May, 1541, when his reduced and dispirited followers stood upon the banks of the Mississippi, at about the 35th parallel of latitude. Crossing the river at this point they pursued their march northward to the highlands of White river, and descending the Washita to its junction with the Mississippi.
*Bancroft's Hist. U.S. Vol. I. p. 41
Here the stout heart of De Soto gave way beneath its disappointments and burdens; and he found a grave where he had thought to conquer an empire. Only half his glittering troop, after untold sufferings in their devious wanderings amid hostile Indians and through trackless woods, ever reached their homes.
These explorations in search of the Fountain of Youth, of gold and wide dominion, were barren of results to the West.
They founded no settlements, left no traces, produced no effect, unless to excite the hostility of the red against the white men, and to dishearten such as might otherwise have tried to follow up the career of discovery to better purpose.* But, according to the semi-barbaric code of international law recognized at that period, the title of Spain to the whole territory watered by the Mississippi and its tributaries was established by the discoveries of De Vaca and De Soto. Under the name of Florida, the Spanish crown set up a vague claim to the whole of North America south of the great lakes; and even Canada, in Spanish geography, was included in the vast domains of Philip II. The Illinois country appears on some maps of the sixteenth century as a part of Florida. As will be seen in the sequel, the magnificent assumptions of Spain were little regarded by subsequent explorers in the West and North.
For an hundred and thirty years after the disastrous termination of De Soto's enterprise, the Valley of the Mississippi was undisturbed by the European.
*Western Annals, p. 28.
Meanwhile, the French had not been idle. They entered without delay into the competition for the commerce and the soil of America. Within seven years of the discovery of the continent, the fisheries of Newfoundland were known to the hardy mariners of Brittany and Normandy.* In 1534, Cartier discovered the St. Lawrence, and took possession of the country through which it flows, by raising a lofty cross upon the shore, surmounted by a shield bearing the emblems of French dominion and an appropriate inscription.
This territory was soon known as NEW FRANCE, a name eventually applied to the immense semi-circle stretching from the Gulf of St. Lawrence around the great lakes and rivers of the West to the delta of the Mississippi. The same year that Jamestown was settled, and twelve years before the Pilgrims touched the snow-clad rock of Plymouth, the foundations of Quebec were laid by Champlain, who is regarded as the father of the French settlements in America. In 1616, a Franciscan friar had penetrated deep into the wilderness, and was preaching to the Indians near the shores of Lake Huron; and in 1634 the two Christian villages of St. Louis and St. Ignatius rose amid the forests of Upper Canada. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the French were vigorously pushing their colonies up the valley of the St. Lawrence, and looking toward the unknown West with expectant eye, to find the long-sought shorter passage to China and the East Indies.
*Bancroft's Hist. U.S.
Louis XIV., "Le Grande Monarque," was on the French throne, and the spirit of enterprise was rife among his ambitious subjects. Two Canadian envoys, named Charles Raymbault and Isaac Jogues, were the first to explore the North-west as far as the Falls of St. Mary, which they reached in 1641.
No permanent settlement resulted until 1660, when the first missionary station in the Western wilds was established by Father Rene Mesnard, who was lost in the woods a few months after, while bearing the story of the cross to the Indian tribes further west. Five years passed, and Father Claude Allouez came, the first successful missionary to the West, to found a mission at the Bay of St. Theresa, on Lake Superior. Here he lived and labored for two years, opening the way of future discovery, and gathering at different points, little colonies of French and Indian converts. He was the first European to hear of the great prairies and fertile resources of the Illinois country, through the Indian tribe of that name, who journeyed from their distant homes to see and hear him. In his Journal he writes:
The Mission of St. Mary was founded shortly after at the Falls where the waters of Lake Superior have their outlet, by Claude Dablon and James Marquette, the latter destined to be renowned through all time as the pioneer of French discovery in the Mississippi Valley.
In 1670, under instruction from the Government of France, Nicolas Perrot explored Lake Michigan and visited the Miami Indians at Chicago, himself and party being the first white men to tread the soil of Illinois.
The succeeding year he summoned an assemblage of all the Indian tribes of the surrounding country at the Falls of St. Mary, when he took formal possession of the whole Northwest, in the name of his master, the King of France, and a cedar column was planted in the earth, with the Bourbon arms engraved upon it, in token of his dominion over this vast empire.
Father Marquette had long entertained the design of exploring the "Land of the Great River," of which he had often heard through his Indian visitors, and of carrying the gospel to the distant savages who had never heard its gladsome tidings.
*Jesuit Relations, in Documentary Hist. of Wisconsin, Vol. III
His project had the countenance of M. Talon, the Intendant (or Governor) of New France, by whom the Sieu Joliet, a gentleman of Quebec, was deputed to accompany him, and represent the Government. "My companion," said the good Father, referring to Joliet, "is an envoy from the King of France, and I am an humble minister of God." In the spring of 1673, with five French boatmen and two Indian guides, they left Mackinac in two bark canoes, on their voyage toward unknown climes. Passing up Green Bay and the Fox river, their canoes and little cargo were borne across the narrow ridge of land which divided the waters of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, where their guides left them; "alone amid that unknown county, in the hand of God." Down the sand-barred Wisconsin they floated until the 17th of June, when they reached its junction with the "Father of Waters," and sailed out upon the broad boson of the long-desired river "with a joy that could not be expressed."
Proceeding on their voyage southward; after four days they discovered an Indian trail leading back from the river, which they followed some six miles, where they were welcomed by an embassy of four old men, who offered the pipe of peace, and conducted them to a village of the Illinois Indians, situated, it is supposed, on the Des Moines River, in Iowa. The travelers were entertained with many compliments and presents, and a grand feast of hominy, fish, dog-meat, and roast buffalo.
In return Marquete instructed them in the precepts of Christianity, and promised them the protection of his King against the cruel Iroquois, who had extended their warlike incursions from Western New York to the tribes on the Mississippi. Remaining six days among the kindly Illinois, they departed and continued their journey down the river, past the muddy and rushing Missouri, the Piasa rocks near Alton, the Grand Tower, and Ouabouskigou or Ohio - all of which were noticed and described by Marquette - but meeting with no adventure until they arrived at the Akamscas, or Arkansas. A great number of hostile warriors rushed to attack them as they approached; but Marquette held aloft the peace-pipe, which checked the onset, and the Frenchmen were hailed as friends, and hospitably treated during their stay. They found axes of steel and fragments of armor among the natives, indubitable proofs of the Spanish expeditions to the same country nearly a century and a half before.
The circle of European discovery was now complete, extending from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Lake Superior, down the Mississippi to the 33d parallel of latitude, thence across the Southern States to Florida, and completely hemming in the English possessions on the Atlantic seaboard.
Marquette had supposed that he should reach the Pacific Ocean through the Mississippi, and thus discover th shorter route to the East Indies. But learning from the natives of Arkansas that the river emptied into the Gulf and not into the Pacific, and fearing to brave the dangers of the season, he determined to turn back at this point. On his return, he entered the Illinois river, whose waters now first reflected the face of the white man, and followed its course to the portage between the Des Plaines and Chicago rivers, thence to the lake, along the shore of which he finished his return voyage, reaching Green Bay about the end of September.
The beauty of the Illinois country, up whose principal river he sailed, made a lively impression upon his observant mind. He writes:
Marquette afterwards returned to Illinois, and preached to the Indians in the region of Chicago. The manner of his death was singular and romantic. As he was passing up Lake Michigan with his boatmen, he landed at the mouth of the stream which now bears his name, to perform mass. Retiring a little way in the woods, he erected a rude altar, and kneeling beside it, yielded up his spirit while in the act of prayer. He was a pure-minded, self-denying, devoted, and heroic man.
*Marquette's Narrative, in Hennepin's New Discovery, English edition, London, 1689, p. 349.
Joliet conveyed intelligence of their discoveries to Quebec, and reported it to the Government. Among those who were excited by their success, and spurred by ambition to follow in their wake, was a young adventurer, Robert Cavalier de la Salle, celebrated in the annals of European discovery in the West. Still deceived by the phantom of a short cut to Chine, he thought his object might be attained by following the Mississippi northward, or turning up one of the steams which flow into it from the west.
Fully impressed with this idea, he visited France, secured the sanction of the King, and a commission for perfecting the discovery of the Mississippi. On his return to Canada, he at once commenced preparation. Building a vessel of sixty tons, called the Griffin, he embarked from Fort Frontenac, near Niagara, on the 7th of August, 1679, accompanied by an Italian named Tonti his lieutenant, and Father Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan friar of the Recollet order, and the historian of the expedition. With them he sailed through Lakes Erie, St. Clair, and Huron, and reached Green Bay about the middle of September. The Griffin was sent back with a cargo of skins and furs, and La Salle pursued his voyage in canoes to the St. Joseph's river, in Michigan, from which he crossed to the The-au-ki-ki (Kankakee), and dropped down that stream to the Illinois river.
Six miles below Ottawa he fell in with an Indian village, which was at that time deserted by its inhabitants. Being in want of provision, he supplied himself from the large quantities of corn stored beneath the cabins. On the 4th of January, 1680, the voyagers entered Peoria Lake, meeting friendly Indians in large numbers. At the foot of the Lake, near the present site of Peoria, they halted and commenced building a fort, which, in view of his disappointments, the probable loss of the Griffin with its rich freight, and the murmurs of his men, La Salle named Fort Creve Coeur (broken heart.) Early the next spring, he dispatched Hennepin on a voyage of exploration toward the South, and leaving Tonti in command of the Fort, with orders to erect Fort St. Louis on Buffalo Rock, a lofty and singular promontory below Ottawa, he started alone and on foot for Fort Frontenac, a distance of at least twelve hundred miles, to look after his interests in Canada.
Hennepin reached the Mississippi in seven days after his departure, and turned his canoe up the stream. On the 11th of April, he reached the Wisconsin river, where himself and companions were made prisoners by a party of savages, who took them to the north-west. While on their journey Hennepin discovered a large cataract in the Mississippi, which he named in honor of his patron saint - St. Anthony of Padua. The French were kindly treated, and three months afterwards met with a band of their countrymen in pursuit of trade and game by whom they were rescued.*
*Hennepin afterwards claimed to have been the first to descend the Mississippi its mouth - an assumption which has been effectually refuted by Sparks and others. He was an ambitious and unscrupulous priest, jealous of La Salle's hard-earned fame - "who, had he but loved truth, would have gained a noble reputation, and who is now remembered not merely as a lighthearted, ambitious, daring discoverer, but also as a beautiful liar." Bancroft.
In the winter of 1680-1, La Salle returned to his fort on the Illinois, and found it deserted through fear of the Indians. Nothing daunted, he retraced his steps, found Tonti at Mackinac, and began his enterprises anew. In January, 1682, he appears again upon the Illinois, with a large company of natives and French, en route for the Mississippi. During their progress down the latter river, a fort was built at the Chickasaw Bluffs, named Fort Prudhomme, in memory of a man who was lost in that neighborhood. La Salle reached the mouth of the Great River on the 6th of April, and with much ceremony took possession of the country, which he named Louisianna, in honor of the reigning monarch. Though delayed for some time by sickness, he reached the lake country again in safety, where he remained a year, engaged in the fur traffic, and completing his fort on Buffalo Rock.
He sailed once more from France in 1684, with a colony destined for Louisiana. Through difficulties between himself and the naval commander, they failed to find the mouth of the Mississippi, and landed at Matagorda Bay, in Texas. Here La Salle endured the most appalling reverses and sufferings in the vain endeavor to found a colony. On the 17th of March, 1687, he was basely murdered by two of his own men while striving to make his way to the French settlements in Canada.* He will be remembered through all time as the father of colonization in the great central valley of the West.+
With the death of La Salle ends the record of all that is most important in the history of European discovery in the West. A vast country had been opened to the knowledge of the civilized world, and the eyes of monarchs and nations were turned to it, as the seat of future empire.
*See Sparks' Life of La Salle.
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