Another attack, of a different character, though in the same direction, was soon after made. The remittances which La Salle received from the various members and connections of his family were sent through the hands of his brother, the Abbe Cavelier, from whom his enemies were, therefore, very eager to alienate him. To this end, a report was made to reach the priest's ears, that La Salle had seduced a young woman, with whom he was living, in an open and scandalous manner, at Fort Frontenac. The effect of this device exceeded the wishes of its contrivers; for the priest, aghast at what he had heard, set out for the fort, to administer his fraternal rebuke; but, on arriving, in place of the expected abomination, found his brother, assisted by two Recollet friars, ruling, with edifying propriety, over a most exemplary household.
Thus far the memoir. From passages in some of La Salle's letters, it may be gathered that the Abbe Cavelier gave him at times no little annoyance. In his double character of priest and elder brother, he seems to have constituted himself the counsellor, monitor, and guide of a man, who, though many years his junior, was in all respects incomparably superior to him, as the sequel will show. This must have been almost insufferable to a nature like that of La Salle; who, nevertheless, was forced to arm himself with patience, since his brother held the purse-strings. On one occasion, his forbearance was put to a severe proof, when, wishing to marry a damsel of good connections in the colony, the Abbe Cavelier saw fit, for some reason, to interfere, and prevented the alliance. [Footnote: Letter of La Salle in possession of M. Margry.]
To resume the memoir. It declares that the Jesuits procured an ordinance from the Supreme Council, prohibiting traders from going into the Indian country, in order that they, the Jesuits, being already established there in their missions, might carry on trade without competition. But La Salle induced a good number of the Iroquois to settle around his fort; thus bringing the trade to his own door, without breaking the ordinance. These Iroquois, he is farther reported to have said, were very fond of him, and aided him in rebuilding the fort with cut stone. The Jesuits told the Iroquois on the south side of the lake, where they were established as missionaries, that La Salle was strengthening his defences, with the view of making war on them. They and the Intendant, who was their creature, endeavored to embroil the Iroquois with the French, in order to ruin La Salle; writing to him at the same time that he was the bulwark of the country, and that he ought to be always on his guard. They also tried to persuade Frontenac that it was necessary to raise men and prepare for war. La Salle suspected them, and, seeing that the Iroquois, in consequence of their intrigues, were in an excited state, he induced the Governor to come to Fort Frontenac, to pacify them. He accordingly did so, and a council was held, which ended in a complete restoration of confidence on the part of the Iroquois. [Footnote: Louis XIV. alludes to this visit, in a letter to Frontenac, dated 28 April, 1677. "I cannot but approve," he writes, "of what you have done in your voyage to Fort Frontenac, to reconcile the minds of the Five Iroquois Nations, and to clear yourself from the suspicions they had entertained, and from the motives that might induce them to make war." Frontenac's despatches of this, as well as of the preceding and following years, are missing from the archives.
In a memoir written in November, 1680, La Salle alludes to "le desir que l'on avoit que Monseigneur le Comte de Frontenac fist la guerre aux Iroquois." See Thomassy, Geologie Pratique de la Louisiane, 203.] At this council they accused the two Jesuits, Bruyas and Pierron, [Footnote: Bruyas was about this time stationed among the Onondagas. Pierron was among the Senecas. He had lately removed to them from the Mohawk country. —Relation des Jesuites, 1673-9, p. 140 (Shea). Bruyas was also for a long time among the Mohawks.] of spreading reports that the French were preparing to attack them. La Salle thought that the object of the intrigue was to make the Iroquois jealous of him, and engage Frontenac in expenses which would offend the king. After La Salle and the Governor had lost credit by the rupture, the Jesuits would come forward as pacificators, in the full assurance that they could restore quiet, and appear in the attitude of saviors of the colony.
La Salle, pursues his reporter, went on to say, that about this time a quantity of hemlock and verdigris was given him in a salad; and that the guilty person was a man in his employ, named Nicolas Perrot, otherwise called Solycoeur, who confessed the crime. [Footnote: This puts the character of Perrot in a new light, for it is not likely that any other can be meant than the famous voyageur. I have found no mention elsewhere of the synonyme of Solycoeur. Poisoning was the current crime of the day; and persons of the highest rank had repeatedly been charged with it. The following is the passage:—
"Quoiqu'il en soit, Mr. de la Salle se sentit quelque temps aeres empoissonne d'une salade dans laquelle on avoit mesle du cigue, qui est poison en ce pays la, et du verd de gris. Il en fut malade a l'extremite, vomissant presque continuellement 40 ou 50 jours apres, et il ne rechappa que par la force extreme de sa constitution. Celuy qui luy donna le poison fut un nomine Nicolas Perrot, autrement Solycoeur, l'un de ses domestiques.... Il pouvait faire mourir cet homme, qui a confesse son crime, mais il s'est contente de l'enfermer les fers aux pieds."— Histoire de Mr. de la Salle.] The memoir adds that La Salle, who recovered from the effects of the poison, wholly exculpates the Jesuits.
This attempt, which was not, as we shall see, the only one of the kind made against La Salle, is alluded to by him, in a letter to the Prince de Conti, written in Canada, when he was on the point of departure on his great expedition to descend the Mississippi. The following is an extract from it:
"I hope to give myself the honor of sending you a more particular account of this enterprise when it shall have had the success which I hope for it; but I have need of a strong protection for its support. It traverses the commercial operations of certain persons, who will find it hard to endure it. They intended to make a new Paraguay in these parts, and the route which I close against them gave them facilities for an advantageous correspondence with Mexico. This check will infallibly be a mortification to them; and you know how they deal with whatever opposes them. Nevertheless, I am bound to render them the justice to say that the poison which was given me was not at all of their instigation. The person who was conscious of the guilt, believing that I was their enemy because he saw that our sentiments were opposed, thought to exculpate himself by accusing them; and I confess that at the time I was not sorry to have this indication of their ill-will: but having afterwards carefully examined the affair, I clearly discovered the falsity of the accusation which this rascal had made against them. I nevertheless pardoned him, in order not to give notoriety to the affair; as the mere suspicion might sully their reputation, to which I should scrupulously avoid doing the slightest injury, unless I thought it necessary to the good of the public, and unless the fact were fully proved. Therefore, Monsieur, if any one shared the suspicion which I felt, oblige me by undeceiving him." [Footnote: The following words are underlined in the original: "Je suis pourtant oblige de leur rendre une justice, que le poison qu'on m'avoit donne n'estoit point de leur instigation."—Lettre de la Salle au Prince de Conti, 31 Oct. 1678.]
This letter, so honorable to La Salle, explains the statement made in the memoir, that, notwithstanding his grounds of complaint against the Jesuits he continued to live on terms of courtesy with them, entertained them at his fort, and occasionally corresponded with them. The writer asserts, however, that they intrigued with his men to induce them to desert; employing for this purpose a young man named Deslauriers, whom they sent to him with letters of recommendation. La Salle took him into his service; but he soon after escaped, with several other men, and took refuge in the Jesuit missions. [Footnote: In a letter to the king, Frontenac mentions that several men who had been induced to desert from La Salle had gone to Albany, where the English had received them well.—Lettre de Frontenac au Roy, 6 Nov. 1679. MS. The Jesuits had a mission in the neighboring tribe of the Mohawks, and elsewhere in New York.] The object of the intrigue is said to have been the reduction of La Salle's garrison to a number less than that which he was bound to maintain, thus exposing him to a forfeiture of his title of possession.
He is also stated to have declared that Louis Joliet was an impostor, [Footnote: This agrees with expressions used by La Salle in a memoir addressed by him to Frontenac in November, 1680, and printed by Thomassy. In this he plainly intimates his belief that Joliet went but little below the mouth of the Illinois.] and a donne of the Jesuits,—that is, a man who worked for them without pay; and, farther, that when he, La Salle, came to court to ask for privileges enabling him to pursue his discoveries, the Jesuits represented in advance to the minister Colbert, that his head was turned, and that he was fit for nothing but a mad-house. It was only by the aid of influential friends that he was at length enabled to gain an audience.
Here ends this remarkable memoir; which, criticise it as we may, undoubtedly contains a great deal of truth.
CHAPTER IX. 1677-1678. THE GRAND ENTERPRISE.
LA SALLE AT FORT FRONTENAC.—LA SALLE AT COURT.—HIS PLANS APPROVED. —HENRI DE TONTY.—PREPARATION FOR DEPARTURE.
When La Salle gained possession of Fort Frontenac, he secured a base for all his future enterprises. That he meant to make it a permanent one is clear from the pains he took to strengthen its defences. Within two years from the date of his grant he had replaced the hasty palisade fort of Count Frontenac by a regular work of hewn stone; of which, however, only two bastions, with their connecting curtains, were completed, the enclosure on the water side being formed of pickets. Within, there was a barrack, a well, a mill, and a bakery; while a wooden blockhouse guarded the gateway. [Footnote: Plan of Fort Frontenac, published by Faillon, from the original sent to France by Denonville, 1685.] Near the shore, south of the fort, was a cluster of small houses of French habitans; and farther, in the same direction, was the Indian village. Two officers and a surgeon, with half a score or more of soldiers, made up the garrison; and three or four times that number of masons, laborers, and canoe-men, were at one time maintained at the fort. [Footnote: Etat de la depense faite par Mr. de la Salle, Gouverneur du Fort Frontenac, MS. When Frontenac was at the fort in September, 1677, he found only four habitans. It appears by the Relation des Decouvertes du Sr. de la Salle, that, three or four years later, there were thirteen or fourteen families. La Salle spent 34,426 francs on the fort.—Memoire au Roy, Papiers de Famille, MSS.] Besides these, there were two Recollet friars, Luc Buisset and Louis Hennepin; of whom the latter was but indifferently suited to his apostolic functions, as we shall soon discover. La Salle built a house for them, near the fort; and they turned a part of it into a chapel.
Partly for trading on the lake, partly with a view to ulterior designs, he caused four small decked vessels to be built: but, for ordinary uses, canoes best served his purpose; and his followers became so skilful in managing them, that they were reputed the best canoe-men in America. [Footnote: Relation des Decouvertes, MS. Hennepin repeats the statement.] Feudal lord of the forests around him, commander of a garrison raised and paid by himself, founder of the mission, patron of the church, La Salle reigned the autocrat of his lonely little empire.
But he had no thought of resting here. He had gained what he sought, a fulcrum for bolder and broader action. His plans were ripened and his time was come. He was no longer a needy adventurer, disinherited of all but his fertile brain and his intrepid heart. He had won place, influence, credit, and potent friends. Now, at length, he might hope to find the long-sought path to China and Japan, and secure for France those boundless regions of the West, in whose watery highways he saw his road to wealth, renown, and power. Again he sailed for France, bearing, as before, letters from Frontenac, commending him to the king and the minister. We have seen that he was denounced in advance as a madman; but Colbert at length gave him a favoring ear, and granted his petition. Perhaps he read the man before him, living only in the conception and achievement of great designs, and armed with a courage that not the Fates nor the Furies themselves could appall.
La Salle was empowered to pursue his proposed discoveries at his own expense, on condition of completing them within five years; to build forts in the new-found countries, and hold possession of them on terms similar to those already granted him in the case of Fort Frontenac; and to monopolize the trade in buffalo skins, a new branch of commerce, by which, as he urged, the plains of the Mississippi would become a source of copious wealth. But he was expressly forbidden to carry on trade with the Ottawas and other tribes of the Lakes, who were accustomed to bring their furs to Montreal. [Footnote: Permission an Sr. de la Salle de decouvrir la partie occidentals de la Nouvelle France, 12 May, 1678, MS. Signed Colbert; not, as Charlevoix says, Seignelay.]
Again La Salle's wealthy relatives came to his aid, and large advances of money were made to him. [Footnote: In the memorial which La Salle's relations presented to the king after his death, they say that, on this occasion, "ses freres et ses parents n'epargnerent rien." It is added that between 1678 and 1683 his enterprises cost the family more than 500,000 francs. By a memorandum of his cousin, Francois Plet, M.D., of Paris, it appears that La Salle gave him, on the 27th and 28th of June, 1678, two promissory notes of 9,805 francs and 1,676 francs respectively.] He bought supplies and engaged men; and in July, 1678, sailed again for Canada, with thirty followers,—sailors, carpenters, and laborers,—an abundant store of anchors, cables, and rigging; iron tools,—merchandise for trade, and all things necessary for his enterprise. There was one man of his party worth all the rest combined. The Prince de Conti had a protege in the person of Henri de Tonty, an Italian officer, one of whose hands had been blown off by a grenade in the Sicilian wars. His father, who had been Governor of Gaeta, but who had come to France in consequence of political convulsions in Naples, had earned no small reputation as a financier, and devised the form of life insurance known as the Tontine. The Prince de Conti recommended the son to La Salle; and, as the event proved, he could not have done him a better service. La Salle learned to know his new lieutenant on the voyage across the Atlantic; and, soon after reaching Canada, he wrote of him to his patron in the following terms: "His honorable character and his amiable disposition were well known to you; but perhaps you would not have thought him capable of doing things for which a strong constitution, an acquaintance with the country, and the use of both hands seemed absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, his energy and address make him equal to any thing; and now, at a season when everybody is in fear of the ice, he is setting out to begin a new fort, two hundred leagues from this place, and to which I have taken the liberty to give the name of Fort Conti. It is situated near that great cataract, more than a hundred and twenty toises in height, by which the lakes of higher elevation precipitate themselves into Lake Frontenac [Ontario]. From there one goes by water, five hundred leagues, to the place where Fort Dauphin is to be begun, from which it only remains to descend the great river of the Bay of St. Esprit to reach the Gulf of Mexico." [Footnote: Lettre de La Salle au Prince de Conti, 31 Oct. 1678, MS. Fort Conti was to have been built on the site of the present Fort Niagara. The name of Lac de Conti was given by La Salle to Lake Erie. The fort mentioned as Fort Dauphin was built, as we shall see, on the Illinois, though under another name. La Salle, deceived by Spanish maps, thought that the Mississippi discharged itself into the Bay of St. Esprit (Mobile Bay).
Henri de Tonty signed his name in the Gallicised, and not in the original Italian form, Tonti. He wore a hand of iron or some other metal, which was usually covered with a glove. La Potherie says that he once or twice used it to good purpose when the Indians became disorderly, in breaking the heads of the most contumacious or knocking out their teeth. Not knowing at the time the secret of the unusual efficacy of his blows, they regarded him as a "medicine" of the first order. La Potherie ascribes the loss of his hand to a sabre-cut received in a sortie at Messina; but Tonty, in his Memoire, says, as above, that it was blown off.]
Besides Tonty, La Salle found another ally, though a less efficient one, in the person of the Sieur de la Motte; and at Quebec, where he was detained for a time, he found Father Louis Hennepin, who had come down from Fort Frontenac to meet him.
CHAPTER X. 1678-1679. LA SALLE AT NIAGARA.
FATHER LOUIS HENNEPIN.—HIS PAST LIFE; HIS CHARACTER.—EMBARKATION. —NIAGARA FALLS.—INDIAN JEALOUSY.—LA MOTTE AND THE SENECAS.—A DISASTER.—LA SALLE AND HIS FOLLOWERS.
Hennepin was all eagerness to join in the adventure, and, to his great satisfaction, La Salle gave him a letter from his Provincial, Father Le Fevre, containing the coveted permission. Whereupon, to prepare himself, he went into retreat, at the Recollet convent of Quebec, where he remained for a time in such prayer and meditation as his nature, the reverse of spiritual, would permit. Frontenac, always partial to his Order, then invited him to dine at the chateau; and having visited the Bishop and asked his blessing, he went down to the lower town and embarked. His vessel was a small birch canoe, paddled by two men. With sandalled feet, a coarse gray capote, and peaked hood, the cord of St. Francis about his waist, and a rosary and crucifix hanging at his side, the Father set forth on his memorable journey. He carried with him the furniture of a portable altar, which in time of need he could strap on his back, like a knapsack.
He slowly made his way up the St. Lawrence, stopping here and there, where a clearing and a few log houses marked the feeble beginning of a parish and a seigniory. The settlers, though good Catholics, were too few and too poor to support a priest, and hailed the arrival of the friar with delight. He said mass, exhorted a little, as was his custom, and, on one occasion, baptized a child. At length, he reached Montreal, where the enemies of the enterprise enticed away his two canoe-men. He succeeded in finding two others, with whom he continued his voyage, passed the rapids of the upper St. Lawrence, and reached Fort Frontenac at eleven o'clock at night, of the second of November, where his brethren of the mission, Ribourde and Buisset, received him with open arms. [Footnote: Hennepin, Description de la Louisiane (1683), 19. Ibid., Voyage Curieux (1704), 66. Ribourde had lately arrived.] La Salle, Tonty, La Motte, and their party, who had left Quebec a few days after him, soon appeared at the fort; La Salle much fatigued and worn by the hardships of the way, or more probably by the labors and anxieties of preparation. He had no sooner arrived, than he sent fifteen men in canoes to Lake Michigan and the Illinois, to open a trade with the Indians and collect a store of provisions. There was a small vessel of ten tons in the harbor; and he ordered La Motte to sail in her for Niagara, accompanied by Hennepin.
This bold, hardy, and adventurous friar, the historian of the expedition, and a conspicuous actor in it, has unwittingly painted his own portrait with tolerable distinctness. "I always," he says, "felt a strong inclination to fly from the world and live according to the rules of a pure and severe virtue; and it was with this view that I entered the Order of St. Francis." [Footnote: Hennepin, Nouvelle Decouverte (1697), 8.] He then speaks of his zeal for the saving of souls, but admits that a passion for travel and a burning desire to visit strange lands had no small part in his inclination for the missions. [Footnote: Ibid., Avant Propos, 5.] Being in a convent in Artois, his superior sent him to Calais, at the season of the herring-fishery, to beg alms, after the practice of the Franciscans. Here and at Dunkirk, he made friends of the sailors, and was never tired of their stories. So insatiable, indeed, was his appetite for them, that "often," he says, "I hid myself behind tavern doors while the sailors were telling of their voyages. The tobacco smoke made me very sick at the stomach; but, notwithstanding, I listened attentively to all they said about their adventures at sea and their travels in distant countries. I could have passed whole days and nights in this way without eating." [Footnote: Ibid., Voyage Curieux (1704), 12.]
He presently set out on a roving mission through Holland; and he recounts various mishaps which befell him, "in consequence of my zeal in laboring for the saving of souls." "I was at the bloody fight of Seneff," he pursues, "where so many perished by fire and sword, and where I had abundance of work, in comforting and consoling the poor wounded soldiers. After undergoing great fatigues, and running extreme danger in the sieges of towns, in the trenches, and in battles, where I exposed myself freely for the salvation of others, while the soldiers were breathing nothing but blood and carnage, I found myself at last in a way of satisfying my old inclination for travel." [Footnote: Ibid., 13.]
He got leave from his superiors to go to Canada, the most adventurous of all the missions; and accordingly sailed in 1675, in the ship which carried La Salle, who had just obtained the grant of Fort Frontenac. In the course of the voyage, he took it upon him to reprove a party of girls who were amusing themselves and a circle of officers and other passengers by dancing on deck. La Salle, who was among the spectators, was annoyed at Hennepin's interference, and told him that he was behaving like a pedagogue. The friar retorted, by alluding—unconsciously, as he says—to the circumstance that La Salle was once a pedagogue himself, having, according to Hennepin, been for ten or twelve years teacher of a class in a Jesuit school. La Salle, he adds, turned pale with rage, and never forgave him to his dying day, but always maligned and persecuted him. [Footnote: Ibid., Avis au Lecteur. He elsewhere represents himself as on excellent terms with La Salle; with whom, he says, he used to read histories of travels at Fort Frontenac, after which they discussed together their plans of discovery.]
On arriving in Canada, he was sent up to Fort Frontenac, as a missionary. That wild and remote post was greatly to his liking. He planted a gigantic cross, superintended the building of a chapel, for himself and his colleague, Buisset, and instructed the Iroquois colonists of the place. He visited, too, the neighboring Indian settlements, paddling his canoe in summer, when the lake was open, and journeying in winter on snow-shoes, with a blanket slung at his back. His most noteworthy journey was one which he made in the winter,—apparently of 1677,—with a soldier of the fort. They crossed the eastern extremity of Lake Ontario on snow-shoes, and pushed southward through the forests, towards Onondaga; stopping at evening to dig away the snow, which was several feet deep, and collect wood for their fire, which they were forced to replenish repeatedly during the night, to keep themselves from freezing. At length they reached the great Onondaga town, where the Indians were much amazed at their hardihood. Thence they proceeded eastward, to the Oneidas, and afterwards to the Mohawks, who regaled them with small frogs, pounded up with a porridge of Indian corn. Here Hennepin found the Jesuit, Bruyas, who permitted him to copy a dictionary of the Mohawk language [Footnote: This was the Racines Agnieres of Bruyas. It was published by Mr. Shea in 1862. Hennepin seems to have studied it carefully; for, on several occasions, he makes use of words evidently borrowed from it, putting them into the mouths of Indians speaking a dialect different from that of the Agniers, or Mohawks.] which he had compiled, and here he presently met three Dutchmen, who urged him to visit the neighboring settlement of Orange, or Albany, an invitation which he seems to have declined. [Footnote: Compare Brodhead in Hist. Mag., x. 268.]
They were pleased with him, he says, because he spoke Dutch. Bidding them farewell, he tied on his snow-shoes again, and returned with his companion to Fort Frontenac. Thus he inured himself to the hardships of the woods, and prepared for the execution of the grand plan of discovery which he calls his own; "an enterprise," to borrow his own words, "capable of terrifying anybody but me." [Footnote: "Une entreprise capable d'epouvanter tout autre que moi."—Hennepin, Voyage Curieux, Avant Propos (1704).] When the later editions of his book appeared, doubts had been expressed of his veracity. "I here protest to you, before God," he writes, addressing the reader, "that my narrative is faithful and sincere, and that you may believe every thing related in it." [Footnote: "Je vous proteste ici devant Dieu, que ma Relation est fidele et sincere," etc.— Ibid., Avis au Lecteur.] And yet, as we shall see, this Reverend Father was the most impudent of liars; and the narrative of which he speaks is a rare monument of brazen mendacity. Hennepin, however, had seen and dared much: for among his many failings fear had no part; and where his vanity or his spite was not involved, he often told the truth. His books have their value, with all their enormous fabrications. [Footnote: The nature of these fabrications will be shown hereafter. They occur, not in the early editions of Hennepin's narrative, which are comparatively truthful, but in the edition of 1697 and those which followed. La Salle was dead at the time of their publication.]
La Motte and Hennepin, with sixteen men, went on board the little vessel of ten tons, which lay at Fort Frontenac. The friar's two brethren, Buisset and Ribourde, threw their arms about his neck as they bade him farewell; while his Indian proselytes, learning whither he was bound, stood with their hands pressed upon their mouths, in amazement at the perils which awaited their ghostly instructor. La Salle, with the rest of the party, was to follow as soon as he could finish his preparations. It was a boisterous and gusty day, the eighteenth of November. The sails were spread; the shore receded,—the stone walls of the fort, the huge cross that the friar had reared, the wigwams, the settlers' cabins, the group of staring Indians on the strand. The lake was rough; and the men, crowded in so small a craft, grew nervous and uneasy. They hugged the northern shore, to escape the fury of the wind which blew savagely from the north-east; while the long, gray sweep of naked forests on their right betokened that winter was fast closing in. On the twenty-sixth, they reached the neighborhood of the Indian town of Taiaiagon, [Footnote: This place is laid down on a manuscript map sent to France by the Intendant Duchesneau, and now preserved in the Archives de la Marine, and also on several other contemporary maps.] not far from Toronto; and ran their vessel, for safety, into the mouth of a river,—probably the Humber,—where the ice closed about her, and they were forced to cut her out with axes. On the fifth of December, they attempted to cross to the mouth of the Niagara; but darkness overtook them, and they spent a comfortless night, tossing on the troubled lake, five or six miles from shore. In the morning, they entered the mouth of the Niagara, and landed on the point at its eastern side, where now stand the historic ramparts of Fort Niagara. Here they found a small village of Senecas, attracted hither by the fisheries, who gazed with curious eyes at the vessel, and listened in wonder as the voyagers sang Te Deum, in gratitude for their safe arrival.
Hennepin, with several others, now ascended the river, in a canoe, to the foot of the mountain ridge of Lewiston, which, stretching on the right hand and on the left, forms the acclivity of a vast plateau, rent with the mighty chasm, along which, from this point to the cataract, seven miles above, rush, with the fury of an Alpine torrent, the gathered waters of four inland oceans. To urge the canoe farther was impossible. He landed, with his companions, on the west bank, near the foot of that part of the ridge now called Queenstown Heights, climbed the steep ascent, and pushed through the wintry forest on a tour of exploration. On his left sank the cliffs, the furious river raging below; till at length, in primeval solitudes, unprofaned as yet by the pettiness of man, the imperial cataract burst upon his sight. [Footnote: Hennepin's account of the falls and river of Niagara—especially his second account, on his return from the West—is very minute, and on the whole very accurate. He indulges in gross exaggeration as to the height of the cataract, which, in the edition of 1683, he states at five hundred feet, and raises to six hundred in that of 1697. He also says that there was room for four carriages to pass abreast under the American Fall without being wet. This is, of course, an exaggeration at the best; but it is extremely probable that a great change has taken place since his time. He speaks of a small lateral fall at the west side of the Horse Shoe Fall which does not now exist. Table Rock, now destroyed, is distinctly figured in his picture. He says that he descended the cliffs on the west side to the foot of the cataract, but that no human being can get down on the east side.
The name of Niagara, written Onguiaahra by Lalemant in 1641, and Ongiara by Sanson, on his map of 1657, is used by Hennepin in its present form. His description of the falls is the earliest known to exist. They are clearly indicated on the map of Champlain, 1632. For early references to them, see "The Jesuits in North America," 143. A brief but curious notice of them is given by Gendron, Quelques Particularitez du Pays des Hurons, 1659. The indefatigable Dr. O'Callaghan has discovered thirty-nine distinct forms of the name Niagara.—Index to Colonial Documents of New York, 465. It is of Iroquois origin, and in the Mohawk dialect is pronounced Nyagarah.]
The explorers passed three miles beyond it, and encamped for the night on the banks of Chippewa Creek, scraping away the snow, which was a foot deep, in order to kindle a fire. In the morning they retraced their steps, startling a number of deer and wild turkeys on their way, and rejoined their companions at the mouth of the river.
It was La Salle's purpose to build a palisade fort at the mouth of the Niagara; and the work was now begun, though it was necessary to use hot water to soften the frozen ground. But frost was not the only obstacle. The Senecas of the neighboring village betrayed a sullen jealousy at a design which, indeed, boded them no good. Niagara was the key to the four great lakes above, and whoever held possession of it could in no small measure control the fur-trade of the interior. Occupied by the French, it would, in time of peace, intercept the trade which the Iroquois carried on between the Western Indians, and the Dutch and English at Albany, and in time of war threaten them with serious danger. La Motte saw the necessity of conciliating these formidable neighbors, and, if possible, cajoling them to give their consent to the plan. La Salle, indeed, had instructed him to that effect. He resolved on a journey to the great village of the Senecas, and called on Hennepin, who was busied in building a bark chapel for himself, to accompany him. They accordingly set out with several men well armed and equipped, and bearing at their backs presents of very considerable value. The village was beyond the Genesee, south-east of the site of Rochester. [Footnote: Near the town of Victor. It is laid down on the map of Galinee, and other unpublished maps. Compare Marshall, Historical Sketches of the Niagara Frontier, 14.] After a march of five days, they reached it on the last day of December. They were conducted to the lodge of the great chief, where they were beset by a staring crowd of women, and children. Two Jesuits, Raffeix and Julien Garnier, were in the village; and their presence boded no good for the embassy. La Motte, who seems to have had little love for priests of any kind, was greatly annoyed at seeing them; and when the chiefs assembled to hear what he had to say, he insisted that the two fathers should leave the council-house. At this, Hennepin, out of respect for his cloth, thought it befitting that he should retire also. The chiefs, forty-two in number squatted on the ground, arrayed in ceremonial robes of beaver, wolf, or black squirrel skin. "The senators of Venice," writes Hennepin, "do not look more grave or speak more deliberately than the counsellors of the Iroquois." La Motte's interpreter harangued the attentive conclave, placed gift after gift at their feet,—coats, scarlet cloth, hatchets, knives, and beads,— and used all his eloquence to persuade them that the building of a fort at the mouth of the Niagara, and a vessel on Lake Erie, were measures vital to their interest. They gladly took the gifts, but answered the interpreter's speech with evasive generalities; and having been entertained with the burning of an Indian prisoner, the discomfited embassy returned, half-famished, to Niagara.
A few days after, Hennepin was near the shore of the lake, when he heard a well-known voice, and to his surprise saw La Salle approaching. This resolute child of misfortune had already begun to taste the bitterness of his destiny. Sailing with Tonty from Fort Frontenac, to bring supplies to the advanced party at Niagara, he had been detained by contrary winds when within a few hours of his destination. Anxious to reach it speedily, he left the vessel in charge of the pilot, who disobeyed his orders, and ended by wrecking it at a spot nine or ten leagues west of Niagara. [Footnote: Tonty, Memoire envoye en 1693 sur la Decouverte du Mississippi et des Nations voisines, par le Sieur de la Salle, en 1678, et depuis sa mort par le Sieur de Tonty. The published work bearing Tonty's name is a compilation full of misstatements. He disowned its authorship. Its authority will not be relied on in this narrative. A copy of the true document from the original, signed by Tonty, in the Archives de la Marine, is before me.] The provisions and merchandise were lost, though the crew saved the anchors and cables destined for the vessel which La Salle proposed to build for the navigation of the Upper Lakes. He had had a meeting with the Senecas, before the disaster; and, more fortunate than La Motte,—for his influence over Indians was great,—had persuaded them to consent, for a time, to the execution of his plans. They required, however, that he should so far modify them as to content himself with a stockaded warehouse, in place of a fort, at the mouth of the Niagara.
The loss of the vessel threw him into extreme perplexity, and, as Hennepin says, "would have made anybody but him give up the enterprise." [Footnote: Description de la Louisiane (1683), 41. It is characteristic of Hennepin, that, in the editions of his book published after La Salle's death, he substitutes for "anybody but him," "anybody but those who had formed so generous a design," meaning to include himself, though he lost nothing by the disaster, and had not formed the design.] The whole party were now gathered within the half-finished palisades of Niagara; a motley crew of French, Flemings, and Italians, all mutually jealous. Some of the men had been tampered with by La Salle's enemies. None of them seem to have had much heart for the enterprise. La Motte had gone back to Canada. He had been a soldier, and perhaps a good one; but he had already broken down under the hardships of these winter journeyings. La Salle, seldom happy in the choice of subordinates, had, perhaps, in all his company but one man in whom he could confidently trust; and this was Tonty. He and Hennepin were on indifferent terms. Men thrown together in a rugged enterprise like this quickly learn to know each other; and the vain and assuming friar was not likely to commend himself to La Salle's brave and loyal lieutenant. Hennepin says that it was La Salle's policy to govern through the dissensions of his followers; and, from whatever cause, it is certain that those beneath him were rarely in perfect harmony.
CHAPTER XI. 1679. THE LAUNCH OF THE "GRIFFIN."
THE NIAGARA PORTAGE.—A VESSEL ON THE STOCKS.—SUFFERING AND DISCONTENT.—LA SALLE'S WINTER JOURNEY.—THE VESSEL LAUNCHED. —FRESH DISASTERS.
A more important work than that of the warehouse at the mouth of the river was now to be begun. This was the building of a vessel above the cataract. The small craft which had brought La Motte and Hennepin with their advanced party had been hauled to the foot of the rapids at Lewiston, and drawn ashore with a capstan to save her from the drifting ice. Her lading was taken out, and must now be carried beyond the cataract to the calm water above. The distance to the destined point was at least twelve miles, and the steep heights above Lewiston must first be climbed. This heavy task was accomplished on the twenty-second of January. The level of the plateau was reached, and the file of burdened men, some thirty in number, toiled slowly on its way over the snowy plains and through the gloomy forests of spruce and naked oak trees; while Hennepin plodded through the drifts with his portable altar lashed fast to his back. They came at last to the mouth of a stream which entered the Niagara two leagues above the cataract, and which was undoubtedly that now called Cayuga Creek. [Footnote: It has been a matter of debate on which side of the Niagara the first vessel on the Upper Lakes was built. A close study of Hennepin, and a careful examination of the localities, have convinced me that the spot was that indicated above. Hennepin repeatedly alludes to a large detached rock rising out of the water at the foot of the rapids above Lewiston, on the west side of the river. This rock may still be seen, immediately under the western end of the Lewiston suspension-bridge. Persons living in the neighborhood remember that a ferry-boat used to pass between it and the cliffs of the western shore; but it has since been undermined by the current and has inclined in that direction, so that a considerable part of it is submerged, while the gravel and earth thrown down from the cliff during the building of the bridge has filled the intervening channel. Opposite to this rock, and on the east side of the river, says Hennepin, are three mountains, about two leagues below the cataract.—Nouveau Voyage (1704), 462, 466. To these "three mountains," as well as to the rock, he frequently alludes. They are also spoken of by La Hontan, who clearly indicates their position. They consist in the three successive grades of the acclivity: first, that which rises from the level of the water, forming the steep and lofty river bank; next, an intermediate ascent, crowned by a sort of terrace, where the tired men could find a second resting-place and lay down their burdens, whence a third effort carried them with difficulty to the level top of the plateau. That this was the actual "portage" or carrying place of the travellers is shown by Hennepin (1704), 114, who describes the carrying of anchors and other heavy articles up these heights in August, 1679. La Hontan also passed the falls by way of the "three mountains" eight years later.—La Hontan, (1703), 106. It is clear, then, that the portage was on the east side, whence it would be safe to conclude that the vessel was built on the same side. Hennepin says that she was built at the mouth of a stream (riviere) entering the Niagara two leagues above the falls. Excepting one or two small brooks, there is no stream on the west side but Chippewa Creek, which Hennepin had visited and correctly placed at about a league from the cataract. His distances on the Niagara are usually correct. On the east side there is a stream which perfectly answers the conditions. This is Cayuga Creek, two leagues above the Falls. Immediately in front of it is an island about a mile long, separated from the shore by a narrow and deep arm of the Niagara, into which Cayuga Creek discharges itself. The place is so obviously suited to building and launching a vessel, that, in the early part of this century, the government of the United States chose it for the construction of a schooner to carry supplies to the garrisons of the Upper Lakes. The neighboring village now bears the name of La Salle.
In examining this and other localities on the Niagara, I have been greatly aided by my friend, O. H. Marshall, Esq., of Buffalo, who is unrivalled in his knowledge of the history and traditions of the Niagara frontier.]
Trees were felled, the place cleared, and the master-carpenter set his ship-builders at work. Meanwhile two Mohegan hunters, attached to the party, made bark wigwams to lodge the men. Hennepin had his chapel, apparently of the same material, where he placed his altar, and on Sundays and saints' days said mass, preached, and exhorted; while some of the men, who knew the Gregorian chant, lent their aid at the service. When the carpenters were ready to lay the keel of the vessel, La Salle asked the friar to drive the first bolt; "but the modesty of my religious profession," he says, "compelled me to decline this honor."
Fortunately, it was the hunting-season of the Iroquois, and most of the Seneca warriors were in the forests south of Lake Erie; yet enough remained to cause serious uneasiness. They loitered sullenly about the place, expressing their displeasure at the proceedings of the French. One of them, pretending to be drunk, attacked the blacksmith and tried to kill him; but the Frenchman, brandishing a red-hot bar of iron, held him at bay till Hennepin ran to the rescue, when, as he declares, the severity of his rebuke caused the savage to desist. [Footnote: Hennepin (1704), 97. On a paper drawn up at the instance of the Intendant Duchesneau, the names of the greater number of La Salle's men are preserved. These agree with those given by Hennepin: thus the master-carpenter, whom he calls Maitre Moyse, appears as Moise Hillaret, and the blacksmith, whom he calls La Forge, is mentioned as—(illegible) dit la Forge.] The work of the ship-builders advanced rapidly; and when the Indian visitors beheld the vast ribs of the wooden monster, their jealousy was redoubled. A squaw told the French that they meant to burn the vessel on the stocks. All now stood anxiously on the watch. Cold, hunger, and discontent found imperfect antidotes in Tonty's energy and Hennepin's sermons.
La Salle was absent, and his lieutenant commanded in his place. Hennepin says that Tonty was jealous because he, the friar, kept a journal, and that he was forced to use all manner of just precautions to prevent the Italian from seizing it. The men, being half-starved in consequence of the loss of their provisions on Lake Ontario, were restless and moody; and their discontent was fomented by one of their number, who had very probably been tampered with by La Salle's enemies. [Footnote: "This bad man" says Hennepin, "would infallibly have debauched our workmen, if I had not reassured them by the exhortations which I made them on Fete Days and Sundays, after divine service." (1704), 98.] The Senecas refused to supply them with corn, and the frequent exhortations of the Recollet father proved an insufficient substitute. In this extremity, the two Mohegans did excellent service; bringing deer and other game, which relieved the most pressing wants of the party and went far to restore their cheerfulness.
La Salle, meanwhile, was making his way back on foot to Fort Frontenac, a distance of some two hundred and fifty miles, through the snow-encumbered forests of the Iroquois and over the ice of Lake Ontario. The wreck of his vessel made it necessary that fresh supplies should be sent to Niagara; and the condition of his affairs, embarrassed by the great expenses of the enterprise, demanded his presence at Fort Frontenac. Two men attended him, and a dog dragged his baggage on a sledge. For food, they had only a bag of parched corn, which failed them two days before they reached the fort; and they made the rest of the journey fasting.
During his absence, Tonty finished the vessel, which was of about forty- five tons burden. [Footnote: Hennepin (1683), 46. In the edition of 1697, he says that it was of sixty tons. I prefer to follow the earlier and more trustworthy narrative.] As spring opened, she was ready for launching. The friar pronounced his blessing on her; the assembled company sang Te Deum; cannon were fired; and French and Indians, warmed alike by a generous gift of brandy, shouted and yelped in chorus as she glided into the Niagara. Her builders towed her out and anchored her in the stream, safe at last from incendiary hands, and then, swinging their hammocks under her deck, slept in peace, beyond reach of the tomahawk. The Indians gazed on her with amazement. Five small cannon looked out from her portholes; and on her prow was carved a portentous monster, the Griffin, whose name she bore, in honor of the armorial bearings of Frontenac. La Salle had often been heard to say that he would make the griffin fly above the crows, or, in other words, make Frontenac triumph over the Jesuits.
They now took her up the river, and made her fast below the swift current at Black Rock. Here they finished her equipment, and waited for La Salle's return; but the absent commander did not appear. The spring and more than half of the summer had passed before they saw him again. At length, early in August, he arrived at the mouth of the Niagara, bringing three more friars; for, though no friend of the Jesuits, he was zealous for the Faith, and was rarely without a missionary in his journeyings. Like Hennepin, the three friars were all Flemings. One of them, Melithon Watteau, was to remain at Niagara; the others, Zenobe Membre and Gabriel Ribourde, were to preach the Faith among the tribes of the West. Ribourde was a hale and cheerful old man of sixty-four. He went four times up and down the Lewiston heights, while the men were climbing the steep pathway with their loads. It required four of them, well stimulated with brandy, to carry up the principal anchor destined for the "Griffin."
La Salle brought a tale of disaster. His enemies, bent on ruining the enterprise, had given out that he was embarked on a harebrained venture, from which he would never return. His creditors, excited by rumors set afloat to that end, had seized on all his property in the settled parts of Canada, though his seigniory of Fort Frontenac alone would have more than sufficed to pay all his debts. There was no remedy. To defer the enterprise would have been to give his adversaries the triumph that they sought; and he hardened himself against the blow with his usual stoicism.
CHAPTER XII. 1679. LA SALLE ON THE UPPER LAKES.
THE VOYAGE OF THE "GRIFFIN."—DETROIT.—A STORM.—ST. IGNACE OF MICHILLIMACKINAC.—RIVALS AND ENEMIES.—LAKE MICHIGAN.—HARDSHIPS. —A THREATENED FIGHT.—FORT MIAMI.—TONTY'S MISFORTUNES.—FOREBODINGS.
The "Griffin" had lain moored by the shore, so near that Hennepin could preach on Sundays from the deck to the men encamped along the bank. She was now forced up against the current with tow-ropes and sails, till she reached the calm entrance of Lake Erie. On the seventh of August, the voyagers, thirty-four in all, embarked, sang Te Deum, and fired their cannon. A fresh breeze sprang up; and with swelling canvas the "Griffin" ploughed the virgin waves of Lake Erie, where sail was never seen before. For three days they held their course over these unknown waters, and on the fourth turned northward into the strait of Detroit. Here, on the right hand and on the left, lay verdant prairies, dotted with groves and bordered with lofty forests. They saw walnut, chestnut, and wild plum trees, and oaks festooned with grape-vines; herds of deer, and flocks of swans and wild turkeys. The bulwarks of the "Griffin" were plentifully hung with game which the men killed on shore, and among the rest with a number of bears, much commended by Hennepin for their want of ferocity and the excellence of their flesh. "Those," he says, "who will one day have the happiness to possess this fertile and pleasant strait, will be very much obliged to those who have shown them the way." They crossed Lake St. Clair, [Footnote: They named it Sainte Claire, of which the present name is a perversion.] and still sailed northward against the current, till now, sparkling in the sun, Lake Huron spread before them like a sea.
For a time, they bore on prosperously. Then the wind died to a calm, then freshened to a gale, then rose to a furious tempest; and the vessel tossed wildly among the short, steep, perilous waves of the raging lake. Even La Salle called on his followers to commend themselves to Heaven. All fell to their prayers but the godless pilot, who was loud in complaint against his commander for having brought him, after the honor he had won on the ocean, to drown at last ignominiously in fresh water. The rest clamored to the saints. St. Anthony of Padua was promised a chapel to be built in his honor, if he would but save them from their jeopardy; while in the same breath La Salle and the friars declared him patron of their great enterprise. [Footnote: Hennepin (1683), 58.] The saint heard their prayers. The obedient winds were tamed; and the "Griffin" plunged on her way through foaming surges that still grew calmer as she advanced. Now the sun shone forth on woody islands, Bois Blanc and Mackinaw and the distant Manitoulins,—on the forest wastes of Michigan and the vast blue bosom of the angry lake; and now her port was won, and she found her rest behind the point of St. Ignace of Michillimackinac, floating in that tranquil cove where crystal waters cover but cannot hide the pebbly depths beneath. Before her rose the house and chapel of the Jesuits, enclosed with palisades; on the right, the Huron village, with its bark cabins and its fence of tall pickets; on the left, the square compact houses of the French traders; and, not far off, the clustered wigwams of an Ottawa village. [Footnote: There is a rude plan of the establishment in La Hontan, though, in several editions, its value is destroyed by the reversal of the plate.] Here was a centre of the Jesuit missions, and a centre of the Indian trade; and here, under the shadow of the cross, was much sharp practice in the service of Mammon. Keen traders, with or without a license; and lawless coureurs de bois, whom a few years of forest life had weaned from civilization, made St. Ignace their resort; and here there were many of them when the "Griffin" came. They and their employers hated and feared La Salle, who, sustained as he was by the Governor, might set at nought the prohibition of the king, debarring him from traffic with these tribes. Yet, while plotting against him, they took pains to allay his distrust by a show of welcome.
The "Griffin" fired her cannon, and the Indians yelped in wonder and amazement. The adventurers landed in state, and marched, under arms, to the bark chapel of the Ottawa village, where they heard mass. La Salle knelt before the altar, in a mantle of scarlet, bordered with gold. Soldiers, sailors, and artisans knelt around him,—black Jesuits, gray Recollets, swarthy voyageurs and painted savages; a devout but motley concourse.
As they left the chapel, the Ottawa chiefs came to bid them welcome, and the Hurons saluted them with a volley of musketry. They saw the "Griffin" at her anchorage, surrounded by more than a hundred bark canoes, like a Triton among minnows. Yet it was with more wonder than good-will that the Indians of the mission gazed on the floating fort, for so they called the vessel. A deep jealousy of La Salle's designs had been, infused into them. His own followers, too, had been tampered with. In the autumn before, it may be remembered, he had sent fifteen men up the lakes, to trade for him, with orders to go thence to the Illinois, and make preparation against his coming. Early in the summer, Tonty had been despatched in a canoe, from Niagara, to look after them. [Footnote: Tonty, Memoire, MS. He was overtaken at the Detroit by the "Griffin."] It was high time. Most of the men had been seduced from their duty, and had disobeyed their orders, squandered the goods intrusted to them, or used them in trading on their own account. La Salle found four of them at Michillimackinac. These he arrested, and sent Tonty to the Falls of Ste. Marie, where two others were captured, with their plunder. The rest were in the woods, and it was useless to pursue them.
Early in September, long before Tonty had returned from Ste. Marie, La Salle set sail again, and, passing westward into Lake Michigan, [Footnote: Then usually known as Lac des Illinois, because it gave access to the country of the tribes so called. Three years before, Allouez gave it the name of Lac St. Joseph, by which it is often designated by the early writers. Membre, Douay, and others, call it Lac Dauphin.] cast anchor near one of the islands at the entrance of Green Bay. Here, for once, he found a friend in the person of a Pottawattamie chief, who had been so wrought upon by the politic kindness of Frontenac, that he declared himself ready to die for the children of Onontio. [Footnote: "The Great Mountain," the Iroquois name for the Governor of Canada. It was borrowed by other tribes also.] Here, too, he found several of his advanced party, who had remained faithful, and collected a large store of furs. It would have been better had they proved false, like the rest. La Salle, who asked counsel of no man, resolved, in spite of his followers, to send back the "Griffin," laden with these furs, and others collected on the way, to satisfy his creditors. [Footnote: In the license of discovery, granted to La Salle, he is expressly prohibited from trading with the Ottawas and others who brought furs to Montreal. This traffic on the lakes was, therefore, illicit. His enemy, the Intendant Duchesneau, afterwards used this against him.—Lettre de Duchesneau an Ministre, 10 Nov. 1680, MS] She fired a parting shot, and, on the eighteenth of September, spread her sails for Niagara, in charge of the pilot, who had orders to return with her to the Illinois as soon as he had discharged his cargo. La Salle, with the fourteen men who remained, in four canoes, deeply laden with a forge, tools, merchandise, and arms, put out from the island and resumed his voyage.
The parting was not auspicious. The lake, glassy and calm in the afternoon, was convulsed at night with a sudden storm, when the canoes were midway between the island and the main shore. It was with much ado that they could keep together, the men shouting to each other through the darkness. Hennepin, who was in the smallest canoe, with a heavy load, and a carpenter for a companion, who was awkward at the paddle, found himself in jeopardy which demanded all his nerve. The voyagers thought themselves happy when they gained at last the shelter of a little sandy cove, where they dragged up their canoes, and made their cheerless bivouac in the drenched and dripping forest. Here they spent five days, living on pumpkins and Indian corn, the gift of their Pottawattamie friends, and on a Canada porcupine, brought in by La Salle's Mohegan hunter. The gale raged meanwhile with a relentless fury. They trembled when they thought of the "Griffin." When at length the tempest lulled, they re-embarked, and steered southward, along the shore of Wisconsin; but again the storm fell upon them, and drove them, for safety, to a bare, rocky islet. Here they made a fire of driftwood, crouched around it, drew their blankets over their heads, and in this miserable plight, pelted with sleet and rain, remained for two days.
At length they were afloat again; but their prosperity was brief. On the twenty-eighth, a fierce squall drove them to a point of rocks, covered with bushes, where they consumed the little that remained of their provisions. On the first of October, they paddled about thirty miles, without food, when they came to a village of Pottawattamies, who ran down to the shore to help them to land; but La Salle, fearing that some of his men would steal the merchandise and desert to the Indians, insisted on going three leagues farther, to the great indignation of his followers. The lake, swept by an easterly gale, was rolling its waves against the beach, like the ocean in a storm. In the attempt to land, La Salle's canoe was nearly swamped. He and his three canoe-men leaped into the water, and, in spite of the surf, which nearly drowned them, dragged their vessel ashore, with all its load. He then went to the rescue of Hennepin, who, with his awkward companion, was in woful need of succor. Father Gabriel, with his sixty-four years, was no match for the surf and the violent undertow. Hennepin, finding himself safe, waded to his relief, and carried him ashore on his sturdy shoulders; while the old friar, though drenched to the skin, laughed gayly under his cowl, as his brother missionary staggered with him up the beach. [Footnote: Hennepin (1683), 79.]
When all were safe ashore, La Salle, who distrusted the Indians they had passed, took post on a hill, and ordered his followers to prepare their guns for action. Nevertheless, as they were starving, an effort must be risked to gain a supply of food; and he sent three men hack to the village to purchase it. Well armed, but faint with toil and famine, they made their way through the stormy forest, bearing a pipe of peace; but on arriving saw that the scared inhabitants had fled. They found, however, a stock of corn, of which they took a portion, leaving goods in exchange, and then set out on their return.
Meanwhile, about twenty of the warriors, armed with bows and arrows, approached the camp of the French, to reconnoitre. La Salle went to meet them, with some of his men, opened a parley with them, and kept them seated at the foot of the hill till his three messengers returned, when, on seeing the peace-pipe, the warriors set up a cry of joy. In the morning, they brought more corn to the camp, with a supply of fresh venison, not a little cheering to the exhausted Frenchmen, who, in dread of treachery, had stood under arms all night.
This was no journey of pleasure. The lake was ruffled with almost ceaseless storms; clouds big with rain above; a turmoil of gray and gloomy waves beneath. Every night the canoes must be shouldered through the breakers and dragged up the steep banks, which, as they neared the site of Milwaukee, became almost insurmountable. The men paddled all day, with no other food than a handful of Indian corn. They were spent with toil, sick with the haws and wild berries which they ravenously devoured, and dejected at the prospect before them. Father Gabriel's good spirits began to fail. He fainted several times, from famine and fatigue, but was revived by a certain "confection of Hyacinth," administered by Hennepin, who had a small box of this precious specific.
At length they descried, at a distance, on the stormy shore, two or three eagles among a busy congregation of crows or turkey-buzzards. They paddled in all haste to the spot. The feasters took flight; and the starved travellers found the mangled body of a deer, lately killed by the wolves. This good luck proved the inauguration of plenty. As they approached the head of the lake, game grew abundant; and, with the aid of the Mohegan, there was no lack of bear's meat and venison. They found wild grapes, too, in the woods, and gathered them by cutting down the trees to which the vines clung.
While thus employed, they were startled by a sight often so fearful in the waste and the wilderness, the print of a human foot. It was clear that Indians were not far off. A strict watch was kept, not, as it proved, without cause; for that night, while the sentry thought of little but screening himself and his gun from the floods of rain, a party of Outagamies crept under the bank, where they lurked for some time before he discovered them. Being challenged, they came forward, professing great friendship, and pretending to have mistaken the French for Iroquois. In the morning, however, there was an outcry from La Salle's servant, who declared that the visitors had stolen his coat from under the inverted canoe where he had placed it; while some of the carpenters also complained of being robbed. La Salle well knew that if the theft were left unpunished, worse would come of it. First, he posted his men at the woody point of a peninsula, whose sandy neck was interposed between them and the main forest. Then he went forth, pistol in hand, met a young Outagami, seized him, and led him prisoner to his camp. This done, he again set out, and soon found an Outagami chief,—for the wigwams were not far distant,— to whom he told what he had done, adding that unless the stolen goods were restored, the prisoner should be killed. The Indians were in perplexity, for they had cut the coat to pieces and divided it. In this dilemma, they resolved, being strong in numbers, to rescue their comrade by force. Accordingly, they came down to the edge of the forest, or posted themselves behind fallen trees on the banks, while La Salle's men in their stronghold braced their nerves for the fight. Here three Flemish friars, with their rosaries, and eleven Frenchmen, with their guns, confronted a hundred and twenty screeching Outagamies. Hennepin, who had seen service, and who had always an exhortation at his tongue's end, busied himself to inspire the rest with a courage equal to his own. Neither party, however, had an appetite for the fray. A parley ensued: full compensation was made for the stolen goods, and the aggrieved Frenchmen were farther propitiated with a gift of beaver-skins.
Their late enemies, now become friends, spent the next day in dances, feasts, and speeches. They entreated La Salle not to advance further, since the Illinois, through whose country he must pass, would be sure to kill him; for, added these friendly counsellors, they hated the French because they had been instigating the Iroquois to invade their country. Here was a new subject of anxiety. La Salle thought that he saw in it another device of his busy and unscrupulous enemies, intriguing among the Illinois for his destruction.
He pushed on, however, circling around the southern shore of Lake Michigan, till he reached the mouth of the St. Joseph, called by him the Miamis. Here Tonty was to have rejoined him, with twenty men, making his way from Michillimackinac, along the eastern shore of the lake: but the rendezvous was a solitude; Tonty was nowhere to be seen. It was the first of November. Winter was at hand, and the streams would soon be frozen. The men clamored to go forward, urging that they should starve if they could not reach the villages of the Illinois before the tribe scattered for the winter hunt. La Salle was inexorable. If they should all desert, he said, he, with his Mohegan hunter and the three friars, would still remain and wait for Tonty. The men grumbled, but obeyed; and, to divert their thoughts, he set them at building a fort of timber, on a rising ground at the mouth of the river.
They had spent twenty days at this task, and their work was well advanced, when at length Tonty appeared. He brought with him only half of his men. Provisions had failed; and the rest of his party had been left thirty leagues behind, to sustain themselves by hunting. La Salle told him to return and hasten them forward. He set out with two men. A violent north wind arose. He tried to run his canoe ashore through the breakers. The two men could not manage their vessel, and he with his one hand could not help them. She swamped, rolling over in the surf. Guns, baggage, and provisions were lost; and the three voyagers returned to the Miamis, subsisting on acorns by the way. Happily, the men left behind, excepting two deserters, succeeded, a few days after, in rejoining the party. [Footnote: Hennepin (1683), 112; Tonty, Memoire, MS.]
Thus was one heavy load lifted from the heart of La Salle. But where was the "Griffin"? Time enough, and more than enough, had passed for her voyage to Niagara and back again. He scanned the dreary horizon with an anxious eye. No returning sail gladdened the watery solitude, and a dark foreboding gathered on his heart. Yet farther delay was impossible. He sent back two men to Michillimackinac to meet her, if she still existed, and pilot her to his new fort of the Miamis, and then prepared to ascend the river, whose weedy edges were already glassed with thin flakes of ice.
CHAPTER XIII. 1679-1680. LA SALLE ON THE ILLINOIS.
THE ST. JOSEPH.—ADVENTURE OF LA SALLE.—THE PRAIRIES.—FAMINE. —THE GREAT TOWN OF THE ILLINOIS.—INDIANS.—INTRIGUES.— DIFFICULTIES.—POLICY OF LA SALLE.—DESERTION.—ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO POISON HIM.
On the third of December, the party re-embarked, thirty-three in all, in eight canoes, [Footnote: Lettre de Duchesneau a—, 10 Nov. 1680, MS.] and ascended the chill current of the St. Joseph, bordered with dreary meadows and bare gray forests. When they approached the site of the present village of South Bend, they looked anxiously along the shore on their right to find the portage or path leading to the headquarters of the Illinois. The Mohegan was absent, hunting; and, unaided by his practised eye, they passed the path without seeing it. La Salle landed to search the woods. Hours passed, and he did not return. Hennepin and Tonty grew uneasy, disembarked, bivouacked, ordered guns to be fired, and sent out men to scour the country. Night came, but not their lost leader. Muffled in their blankets and powdered by the thick-falling snowflakes, they sat ruefully speculating as to what had befallen him; nor was it till four o'clock of the next afternoon that they saw him approaching along the margin of the river. His face and hands were besmirched with charcoal; and he was farther decorated with two opossums which hung from his belt and which he had killed with a stick as they were swinging head downwards from the bough of a tree, after the fashion of that singular beast. He had missed his way in the forest, and had been forced to make a wide circuit around the edge of a swamp; while the snow, of which the air was full, added to his perplexities. Thus he pushed on through the rest of the day and the greater part of the night, till, about two o'clock in the morning, he reached the river again and fired his gun as a signal to his party. Hearing no answering shot, he pursued his way along the bank, when he presently saw the gleam of a fire among the dense thickets close at hand. Not doubting that he had found the bivouac of his party, he hastened to the spot. To his surprise, no human being was to be seen. Under a tree beside the fire was a heap of dry grass impressed with the form of a man who must have fled but a moment before, for his couch was still warm. It was no doubt an Indian, ambushed on the bank, watching to kill some passing enemy. La Salle called out in several Indian languages; but there was dead silence all around. He then, with admirable coolness, took possession of the quarters he had found, shouting to their invisible proprietor that he was about to sleep in his bed; piled a barricade of bushes around the spot, rekindled the dying fire, warmed his benumbed hands, stretched himself on the dried grass, and slept undisturbed till morning.
The Mohegan had rejoined the party before La Salle's return, and with his aid the portage was soon found. Here the party encamped. La Salle, who was excessively fatigued, occupied, together with Hennepin, a wigwam covered in the Indian manner with mats of reeds. The cold forced them to kindle a fire, which before daybreak set the mats in a blaze; and the two sleepers narrowly escaped being burned along with their hut.
In the morning, the party shouldered their canoes and baggage, and began their march for the sources of the River Illinois, some five miles distant. Around them stretched a desolate plain, half-covered with snow, and strewn with the skulls and bones of buffalo; while, on its farthest verge, they could see the lodges of the Miami Indians, who had made this place their abode. They soon reached a spot where the oozy saturated soil quaked beneath their tread. All around were clumps of alderbushes, tufts of rank grass, and pools of glistening water. In the midst, a dark and lazy current, which a tall man might bestride, crept twisting like a snake among the weeds and rushes. Here were the sources of the Kankakee, one of the heads of the Illinois. [Footnote: The Kankakee was called at this time the Theakiki, or Haukiki (Marest); a name, which, as Charlevoix says, was afterwards corrupted by the French to Kiakiki, whence, probably, its present form. In La Salle's time, the name Theakiki was given to the River Illinois, through all its course. It was also called the Riviere Seignelay, the Riviere des Macopins, and the Riviere Divine, or Riviere de la Divine. The latter name, when Charlevoix visited the country in 1721, was confined to the northern branch. He gives an interesting and somewhat graphic account of the portage and the sources of the Kankakee, in his letter dated De la Source du Theakiki, ce dix-sept Septembre, 1721.
Why the Illinois should ever have been called the Divine, it is not easy to see. The Memoirs of St. Simon suggest an explanation. Madame de Frontenac and her friend, Mademoiselle d'Outrelaise, he tells us, lived together in apartments at the Arsenal, where they held their salon and exercised a great power in society. They were called at court les Divines.—St. Simon, v. 835 (Cheruel). In compliment to Frontenac, the river may have been named after his wife or her friend. The suggestion is due to M. Margry. I have seen a map by Raudin, Frontenac's engineer, on which the river is called "Riviere de la Divine ou l'Outrelaise."] They set their canoes on this thread of water, embarked their baggage and themselves, and pushed down the sluggish streamlet, looking, at a little distance, like men who sailed on land. Fed by an unceasing tribute of the spongy soil, it quickly widened to a river; and they floated on their way through a voiceless, lifeless solitude of dreary oak barrens, or boundless marshes overgrown with reeds. At night, they built their fire on ground made firm by frost, and bivouacked among the rushes. A few days brought them to a more favored region. On the right hand and on the left stretched the boundless prairie, dotted with leafless groves and bordered by gray wintry forests; scorched by the fires kindled in the dried grass by Indian hunters, and strewn with the carcasses and the bleached skulls of innumerable buffalo. The plains were scored with their pathways, and the muddy edges of the river were full of their hoof-prints. Yet not one was to be seen. At night, the horizon glowed with distant fires; and by day the savage hunters could be descried at times roaming on the verge of the prairie. The men, discontented and half-starved, would have deserted to them had they dared. La Salle's Mohegan could kill no game except two lean deer, with a few wild geese and swans. At length, in their straits, they made a happy discovery. It was a buffalo bull, fast mired in a slough. They killed him, lashed a cable about him, and then twelve men dragged out the shaggy monster whose ponderous carcass demanded their utmost efforts. [Footnote: I remember to have seen an incident precisely similar, many years ago, on the Upper Arkansas. In this case, however, it was impossible to drag the bull from the mire. Though hopelessly entangled, he made furious plunges at his assailants before being shot.
Hennepin's account of the buffalo, which he afterwards had every opportunity of seeing, is interesting and true.]
The scene changed again as they descended. On either hand ran ranges of woody hills, following the course of the river; and when they mounted to their tops, they saw beyond them a rolling sea of dull green prairie, a boundless pasture of the buffalo and the deer, in our own day strangely transformed,—yellow in harvest time with ripened wheat, and dotted with the roofs of a hardy and valiant yeomanry. [Footnote: The change is very recent. Within the memory of men still young, wolves and deer, besides wild swans, wild turkeys, cranes, and pelicans, abounded in this region. In 1840, a friend of mine shot a deer from the window of a farm-house near the present town of La Salle. Running wolves on horseback was his favorite amusement in this part of the country. The buffalo long ago disappeared, but the early settlers found frequent remains of them. Mr. James Clark, of Utica, Ill., told me that he once found a large quantity of their bones and skulls in one place, as if a herd had perished in the snow-drifts.]
They passed the site of the future town of Ottawa, and saw on their right the high plateau of Buffalo Rock, long a favorite dwelling-place of Indians. A league below, the river glided among islands bordered with stately woods. Close on their left towered a lofty cliff, [Footnote: "Starved Rock." It will hold, hereafter, a conspicuous place in the narrative.] crested with trees that overhung the rippling current; while before them spread the valley of the Illinois, in broad low meadows, bordered on the right by the graceful hills at whose foot now lies the village of Utica. A population far more numerous then tenanted the valley. Along the right bank of the river were clustered the lodges of a great Indian town. Hennepin counted four hundred and sixty of them. [Footnote: La Louisiane, 137. Allouez (Relation, 1673-9) found three hundred and fifty-one lodges. This was in 1677. The population of this town, which embraced five or six distinct tribes of the Illinois, was continually changing. In 1675, Marquette addressed here an auditory composed of five hundred chiefs and old men, and fifteen hundred young men, besides women and children. He estimates the number of fires at five or six hundred.— Voyages de Pere Marquette, 98 (Lenox). Membre, who was here in 1680, says that it then contained seven or eight thousand souls.—Membre, in Le Clercq, Premier Etablissement de la Foy, ii. 173. On the remarkable manuscript map of Franquelin, 1684, it is set down at twelve hundred warriors, or about six thousand souls. This was after the destructive inroad of the Iroquois. Some years later, Rasle reported upwards of twenty-four hundred families.—Lettre a son Frere in Lettres Edifiantes.
At times, nearly the whole Illinois population was gathered here. At other times, the several tribes that composed it separated, some dwelling apart from the rest; so that at one period the Illinois formed eleven villages, while at others they were gathered into two, of which this was much the largest. The meadows around it were extensively cultivated, yielding large crops, chiefly of Indian corn. The lodges were built along the river bank, for a distance of a mile and sometimes far more. In their shape, though not in their material, they resembled those of the Hurons. There were no palisades or embankments.
This neighborhood abounds in Indian relics. The village graveyard appears to have been on a rising ground, near the river, immediately in front of the town of Utica. This is the only part of the river bottom, from this point to the Mississippi, not liable to inundation in the spring floods. It now forms part of a farm occupied by a tenant of Mr. James Clark. Both Mr. Clark and his tenant informed me that every year great quantities of human bones and teeth were turned up here by the plough. Many implements of stone are also found, together with beads and other ornaments of Indian and European fabric.] In shape, they were somewhat like the arched top of a baggage wagon. They were built of a framework of poles, covered with mats of rushes, closely interwoven; and each contained three or four fires, of which the greater part served for two families.
Here, then, was the town; but where were the inhabitants? All was silent as the desert. The lodges were empty, the fires dead, and the ashes cold. La Salle had expected this; for he knew that in the autumn the Illinois always left their towns for their winter hunting, and that the time of their return had not yet come. Yet he was not the less embarrassed, for he would fain have bought a supply of food to relieve his famished followers. Some of them, searching the deserted town, presently found the caches, or covered pits, in which the Indians hid their stock of corn. This was precious beyond measure in their eyes, and to touch it would be a deep offence. La Salle shrank from provoking their anger, which might prove the ruin of his plans; but his necessity overcame his prudence, and he took twenty minots of corn, hoping to appease the owners by presents. Thus provided, the party embarked again, and resumed their downward voyage.
On New-Year's day, 1680, they landed and heard mass. Then Hennepin wished a happy new year to La Salle first, and afterwards to all the men, making them a speech, which, as he tells us, was "most touching." [Footnote: "Les paroles les plus touchantes." Hennepin (1683), 139. The later editions add the modest qualification, "que je pus."] He and his two brethren next embraced the whole company in turn, "in a manner," writes the father, "most tender and affectionate," exhorting them, at the same time, to patience, faith, and constancy. Two days after these solemnities, they reached the long expansion of the river, then called Pimitoui, and now known as Peoria Lake, and leisurely made their way downward to the site of the city of Peoria. [Footnote: Peoria was the name of one of the tribes of the Illinois. Hennepin says that they crossed the lake four days after leaving the village, which last, as appears by a comparison of his narrative with that of Tonty, must have been on the thirtieth of December.] Here, as evening drew near, they saw a faint spire of smoke curling above the gray, wintry forest, betokening that Indians were at hand. La Salle, as we have seen, had been warned that these tribes had been taught to regard him as their enemy; and when, in the morning, he resumed his course, he was prepared alike for peace or war.
The shores now approached each other; and the Illinois was once more a river, bordered on either hand with overhanging woods. [Footnote: At least it is so now at this place. Perhaps in La Salle's time it was not wholly so, for there is evidence in various parts of the West that the forest has made considerable encroachments on the open country.]
At nine o'clock, doubling a point, he saw about eighty Illinois wigwams, on both sides of the river. He instantly ordered the eight canoes to be ranged in line, abreast, across the stream; Tonty on the right, and he himself on the left. The men laid down their paddles and seized their weapons; while, in this warlike guise, the current bore them swiftly into the midst of the surprised and astounded savages. The camps were in a panic. Warriors whooped and howled; squaws and children screeched in chorus. Some snatched their bows and war-clubs; some ran in terror; and, in the midst of the hubbub, La Salle leaped ashore, followed by his men. None knew better how to deal with Indians; and he made no sign of friendship, knowing that it might be construed as a token of fear. His little knot of Frenchmen stood, gun in hand, passive, yet prepared for battle. The Indians, on their part, rallying a little from their fright, made all haste to proffer peace. Two of their chiefs came forward, holding forth the calumet; while another began a loud harangue, to check the young warriors who were aiming their arrows from the farther bank. La Salle, responding to these friendly overtures, displayed another calumet; while Hennepin caught several scared children and soothed them with winning blandishments. [Footnote: Hennepin (1683), 142.] The uproar was quelled, and the strangers were presently seated in the midst of the camp, beset by a throng of wild and swarthy figures.
Food was placed before them; and, as the Illinois code of courtesy enjoined, their entertainers conveyed the morsels with their own hands to the lips of these unenviable victims of their hospitality, while others rubbed their feet with bear's grease. La Salle, on his part, made them a gift of tobacco and hatchets; and, when he had escaped from their caresses, rose and harangued them. He told them that he had been forced to take corn from their granaries, lest his men should die of hunger; but he prayed them not to be offended, promising full restitution or ample payment. He had come, he said, to protect them against their enemies, and teach them to pray to the true God. As for the Iroquois, they were subjects of the Great King, and, therefore, brethren of the French; yet, nevertheless, should they begin a war and invade their country, he would stand by the Illinois, give them guns, and fight in their defence, if they would permit him to build a fort among them for the security of his men. It was, also, he added, his purpose to build a great wooden canoe, in which to descend the Mississippi to the sea, and then return, bringing them the goods of which they stood in need; but if they would not consent to his plans, and sell provisions to his men, he would pass on to the Osages, who would then reap all the benefits of intercourse with the French, while they were left destitute, at the mercy of the Iroquois. [Footnote: Hennepin (1683), 144-149. The later editions omit a part of the above.]
This threat had its effect, for it touched their deep-rooted jealousy of the Osages. They were lavish of promises, and feasts and dances consumed the day. Yet La Salle soon learned that the intrigues of his enemies were still pursuing him. That evening, unknown to him, a stranger appeared in the Illinois camp. He was a Mascoutin chief, named Monso, attended by five or six Miamis, and bringing a gift of knives, hatchets, and kettles to the Illinois. The chiefs assembled in a secret nocturnal session, where, smoking their pipes, they listened with open ears to the harangue of the envoys. Monso told them that he had come in behalf of certain Frenchmen, whom he named, to warn his hearers against the designs of La Salle, whom he denounced as a partisan and spy of the Iroquois, affirming that he was now on his way to stir up the tribes beyond the Mississippi to join in a war against the Illinois, who, thus assailed from the east and from the west, would be utterly destroyed. There was no hope for them, he added, but in checking the farther progress of La Salle, or, at least, retarding it, thus causing his men to desert him. Having thrown his firebrand, Monso and his party left the camp in haste, dreading to be confronted with the object of their aspersions. [Footnote: Hennepin (1683), 151, (1704), 205. Le Clercq, ii. 157. Memoire du Voyage de M. de la Salle, MS. This is a paper appended to Frontenac's Letter to the Minister, 9 Nov. 1680. Hennepin prints a translation of it in the English edition of his later work. It charges the Jesuit Allouez with being at the bottom of the intrigue. La Salle had a special distrust of this missionary, who, on his part, always shunned a meeting with him.
In another memoir, addressed to Frontenac in 1680, La Salle states fully his conviction that Allouez, who was then, he says, among the Miamis, had induced them to send Monso on his sinister errand. See the memoir in Thomassy, Geologie, Pratique de la Louisiane, 203.
The account of the affair of Monso in the spurious work bearing Tonty's name is mere romance.]
In the morning, La Salle saw a change in the behavior of his hosts. They looked on him askance, cold, sullen, and suspicious. There was one Omawha, a chief, whose favor he had won the day before by the politic gift of two hatchets and three knives, and who now came to him in secret to tell him what had taken place at the nocturnal council. La Salle at once saw in it a device of his enemies; and this belief was confirmed, when, in the afternoon, Nicanope, brother of the head chief, sent to invite the Frenchmen to a feast. They repaired to his lodge; but before dinner was served,—that is to say, while the guests, white and red, were seated on mats, each with his hunting-knife in his hand, and the wooden bowl before him, which was to receive his share of the bear's or buffalo's meat, or the corn boiled in fat, with which he was to be regaled; while such was the posture of the company, their host arose and began a long speech. He told the Frenchmen that he had invited them to his lodge less to refresh their bodies with good cheer than to cure their minds of the dangerous purpose which possessed them, of descending the Mississippi. Its shores, he said, were beset by savage tribes, against whose numbers and ferocity their valor would avail nothing: its waters were infested by serpents, alligators, and unnatural monsters; while the river itself, after raging among rocks and whirlpools, plunged headlong at last into a fathomless gulf, which would swallow them and their vessel for ever.
La Salle's men were, for the most part, raw hands, knowing nothing of the wilderness, and easily alarmed at its dangers; but there were two among them, old coureurs de bois, who, unfortunately, knew too much; for they understood the Indian orator, and explained his speech to the rest. As La Salle looked around on the circle of his followers, he read an augury of fresh trouble in their disturbed and rueful visages. He waited patiently, however, till the speaker had ended, and then answered him, through his interpreter, with great composure. First, he thanked him for the friendly warning which his affection had impelled him to utter; but, he continued, the greater the danger, the greater the honor; and even if the danger were real, Frenchmen would never flinch from 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 destroy 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 this impostor, Monso, and bring him back, that we may answer him, face to face; for he never saw either us or the Iroquois, and what can he know of the plots that he pretends to reveal?" [Footnote: The above is a paraphrase, with some condensation, from Hennepin, whose account is sustained by the other writers.] Nicanope had nothing to reply, and, grunting assent in the depths of his throat, made a sign that the feast should proceed.