They left the cabin with stricken hearts and weeping eyes. The dying Christian was left alone with his God. Who can imagine the peace and joy which must then have filled his heart and suffused his eyes. The victory was won. Death was conquered. The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof were waiting at the door of the humble cabin, to transport the victor, through the pathways of the stars, to his throne and his crown. Glorious death! Blissful journey!
Three hours passed away, and his feeble voice was heard calling his companions to his side. He threw his arms around the neck of each one, and drawing him gently down imprinted a kiss upon each cheek. Then, taking the crucifix, which he ever wore around his neck, he placed it in the hands of one of them, requesting him to hold that emblem of the atoning sacrifice of his Saviour before his eyes until the last moment. Then, inspired with the faith of Stephen the Martyr, clasping his hands and fixing his eyes upon this memorial of God manifest in the flesh, in fervent prayer he said:
"O Lord God, I thank Thee for the boundless grace Thou hast conferred upon me in permitting me to die in the service of Jesus Christ Thy Son. O God, I thank Thee, that I have been His missionary; and that I am permitted to die, in a cabin, in the depths of the forest, and far removed from all human aid."
There were a few moments of perfect silence. No sound fell upon the ear but the gentle breathing of the dying man. He was then heard feebly to say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth." Again he said, in accordance with the faith which he had received from childhood, "Mary! Mother of Jesus my Lord, remember me."
Suddenly he raised his eyes from the crucifix and looked upward, as if a vision of wonderful glory was bursting upon his entranced view. His countenance shone radiant with joy. A sweet smile was upon his lips. Without a struggle, without a sigh, his soul took its flight to its home in heaven. He had fallen asleep.
"Asleep in Jesus! Far from thee, Thy kindred and their graves may be. But thine is still a blessed sleep, From which none ever wake to weep."
His two bereaved companions wept bitterly. They laid out the body as directed; wrapped it in the threadbare garments it so long had worn, and having dug the grave, placed the revered remains within it. While one devotedly covered the body with its mother earth, the other tolled the little bell which had so often summoned them to prayer. They remained upon the spot until the next day. A large cross was made, and planted firmly in the ground, in a position which would attract the attention of all passing along the shore of the lake. The two faithful boatmen, Jacques and Pierre, then, after kneeling upon the grave in fervent prayer, returned to their canoe and continued the long journey to Green Bay. They reached the mission in safety, with their sad tidings.
Father Marquette died at the early age of thirty-eight.
He had spent twenty-one years an earnest, self-denying minister of Jesus Christ. Twelve of these were in France. Nine were devoted to the savages of the New World. At the early age of nine years, he became an earnest Christian. Every Saturday was, with this wonderful child, a day of fasting and prayer.
There were quite a number of Christian Indians at the Mackinaw mission. They had long known Father Marquette, and revered and loved him. A band of these Indians were, some months after this, on the shores of Lake Michigan, upon a hunting excursion. They sought out the grave of Father Marquette. They took up the remains, carefully enclosed them in a box of birch bark, placed them in one of their canoes, and paddled them, three hundred miles, to the mission of St. Ignatius.
A convoy of canoes, thirty in number, in single file, formed this wonderful funeral procession. It is doubtful whether such a scene was ever before witnessed on this globe. For more than ten days this band of Indian hunters, in their picturesque costume, silently and solemnly paddled along the shores of the lonely lake, that the remains of their beloved pastor might repose where they could visit the spot, and honor them with their testimonials of gratitude.
As they approached the shore, where the mission was established, with its cross-surmounted chapel, surrounded with Indian wigwams, a courier was sent forward rapidly, in a canoe, to announce the arrival of the cortege. The whole community promptly gathered upon the beach. A funeral procession was formed, led by Fathers Nouvel and Pierson, who were Superiors of the two missions, one to the Ottawas, and one to the Hurons, which were located side by side. Interrogations were first made to verify the fact, that the body they bore was really that of Father Marquette.
The two ecclesiastics then chanted the sublime anthem,
"Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice; let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications."
The canoes were still on the water, while quite a throng of the Indians crowded the shore. With the customary religious ceremonies, the body was conveyed to the chapel. It remained there for a day, covered with a pall. On the morning of the next day, which was the ninth of June, the remains were deposited in a grave, in the middle of the log chapel, which we infer had no floor but the earth; there to repose until the trump of the archangel shall sound, when all who are in their graves shall come forth.
Life upon the St. Lawrence and the Lakes Two Hundred Years Ago.
Birth of La Salle. His Parentage and Education. Emigrates to America. Enterprising Spirit. Grandeur of his Conceptions. Visits the Court of France. Preparations for an Exploring Voyage. Adventures of the River and Lake. Awful Scene of Indian Torture. Traffic with the Indians. The Ship-yard at Lake Erie.
About two hundred years ago, a young man, by the name of Robert de la Salle, crossed the Atlantic to seek his fortune in the wilds of Canada. He was born on the 22d of November, 1643, in the city of Rouen, the ancient capital of Normandy, France. He was the child of one of the most distinguished families, and enjoyed all the advantages of social and educational culture which the refinement and scholarship of those times could confer. He was by nature a thoughtful, pensive young man, whose soul was profoundly moved by the unsearchable mystery of this our earthly being. In very early life he found, in the religion of Jesus, a partial solution of the sublime drama of conflict, sin, and sorrow which is being enacted on this globe, and which has no solution whatever but in the revelations of the Bible.
 De La Salle among the Senecas, in 1669. By O. H. Marshall, Buffalo Historical Society.
Born almost beneath the shadow of the great cathedral of Rouen, and of an ancestry which from time immemorial had been the children of the Catholic Church, and instructed from infancy by revered ecclesiastics of that communion he almost as a matter of necessity accepted Christianity as presented to him in the ritual of the Church of Rome. Nature had endowed him with a restless, enterprising spirit, which led him eagerly to plunge into those wild and perilous adventures from which most persons would have turned with dismay.
La Salle received an accomplished education in one of the best seminaries in Europe. Upon graduating, he received from the professors a testimonial of his high intellectual attainments and his unblemished moral character. About the year 1669 he sailed from France for Canada. His object probably was to accumulate a fortune by the barter of European commodities for the furs and skins obtained by the Indians. He pushed forward to the frontiers, established trading houses, and in the well-freighted birch canoe, explored remote lakes and rivers.
At that time the whole of the great northwest of this country was an entirely unknown land. No one knew whether the continent was one thousand or ten thousand miles in breadth. It was the general impression that the waves of the Pacific were dashing against the rocks a few miles west of the chain of great lakes which fringed the southern shores of Canada. La Salle was meditating an expedition up the St. Lawrence, through the majestic chain of lakes to Lake Superior, from the western end of which he confidently expected to find easy communication with the Pacific Ocean. There he would again spread his adventurous sail, having discovered a new route to China and the Indies.
There was grandeur in this conception. It would entirely change the thoroughfare of the world's commerce. It would make the French possessions in the New World valuable beyond conception. This all-important route, between Europe and Asia, would be under the control of the French crown.
M. Frontenac, an ambitious and energetic Frenchman, was then governor-general of Canada. He entered cordially into the plans of La Salle, conferred frequently with him upon the subject, and was sanguine in the expectation that, by this great discovery, his own name would be immortalized, and he would secure the highest applause from the Grande Monarque, Louis XIV.
As early as the year 1660, the Indians had reported, at Quebec, that many leagues west of the great lakes there was a wonderful river, the Great River, the Father of Waters, the most majestic stream in the world, flowing from the unexplored solitudes of the wilderness in the north, far away into the unknown regions of the south.
One day a birch canoe, with a little band of hardy, wayworn voyagers, French and Indians, came paddling down the swift current of the St. Lawrence and ran their boat upon the beach where the little cluster of dwellings stood, called Quebec. They brought the startling intelligence that Father Marquette, a great and good man whom all knew, had discovered the Great River, which the Indians called the Mississippi, and had followed down its majestic current for hundreds of leagues, until he had reached the thirty-third degree of latitude. He had ascertained, beyond all question, that it emptied its flood into the Gulf of Mexico. This important discovery, it was claimed, gave to the French, according to the received law of nations, the whole valley of the Mississippi and its tributaries, however great that valley might prove to be.
This intelligence was received with every demonstration of public rejoicing. It gave, as it was supposed, to France a new world of boundless resources. The garrison band played its most exultant airs. Salvos of artillery echoed along the majestic cliffs. There was feasting, dancing, and singing, and the spacious church was thronged with worshippers praising God with the national anthems of Te Deum.
This great event gave a new impulse and a new direction to the ambition of La Salle. He at once conceived the idea of establishing a series of military and trading posts along the whole length of the lakes, and upon all the important points of the great river and its tributaries. But even then he was but little aware how magnificent was the realm which these tributaries watered. He would thus, however, in the name of the King of France, take military possession of the whole territory.
Governor Frontenac gave his most cordial approval to the gigantic plan. His own mind was greatly excited by the thought of the grandeur of a chain of forts extending from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico. He urged La Salle to go immediately to France, seek an audience with the king, lay the plan before him, and seek the royal patronage. The renowned Colbert was then minister of finance and marine. The governor furnished La Salle with letters to the minister which would secure for him a respectful reception.
La Salle, a penniless adventurer, recrossed the ocean. It was the year 1675. His plan at once attracted attention, and he was cordially received by both minister and king. The courtiers rallied around him with much enthusiasm. The king, having honored him with the title of chevalier, authorized him to rebuild, on the shores of Lake Ontario, Fort Frontenac, which was falling to decay, and invested him with the office of seignory or governorship of the fort and its adjacent territory.
The sublime plan which La Salle thus proposed, could only be carried into execution by the continuous labors of many years. La Salle returned to Canada full of bright dreams for the future. For more than two years he was employed in rearing the walls of Fort Frontenac and improving the region around. This important post occupied a commanding position near the eastern extremity of Lake Ontario.
At the close of the year 1677 he again returned to France, to report the progress he had made. His reception by the court was even more cordial than before, and he received from the king new honors and more extended privileges. On the 14th of July, 1678, he sailed from Rochelle for Quebec. He took with him an Italian gentleman, by the name of Tonti, as his lieutenant, and a party of thirty men. After a two months' voyage, they landed at Quebec on the 15th of September. Then, paddling up the swift current of the St. Lawrence, they passed the little cluster of log-cabins surrounded with Indian wigwams at Montreal, and after a voyage of between three and four hundred miles reached Fort Frontenac.
This was indeed a post far away in the wilderness. It was strongly built, with four bastions on the northern side of the entrance to the lake, at the head of a snug forest-fringed bay, where quite a fleet of small vessels could be sheltered from the winds.
It was a very curious spectacle which was then witnessed upon this remote frontier of civilization. The unbroken wilderness, where wolves howled and bears roamed, spread in apparently unbroken gloom in all directions. The fort rose in quite massive proportions, enclosing within its palisades a number of cabins, which the garrison occupied, and which were stored with goods suitable for traffic with the natives. There was a small green meadow spread around, which was covered with wigwams of every picturesque variety. Groups of Indians, of various tribes, were moving about. The warriors were painted and plumed, and many of them very gorgeously attired. Women, young and graceful girls, and little children, were clustered around the camp fires, some with busy hands usefully employed; others shouting and sporting in all the varieties of barbaric pastimes.
It was an instructive scene, emblematic of this fallen world. The frowning fort, with its threatening armament, proclaimed that sin had entered the world with its war and blood and misery, making man the direful foe of his brother man. The crystal stream and lake; the azure of the overarching skies; the bright, serene autumnal day; the foliage, the verdure, the picturesque wigwams; the peaceful employments of the women, and the sports and shouts of the merry children, showed that our ruined Eden still retained some of those glories which embellished it before man rebelled against his Maker.
La Salle, on his return from Europe, in the autumn of 1678, had brought with him a select company of sailors, carpenters, and other mechanics. At Quebec a number of Canadian boatmen joined him. These men he sent forward to Fort Frontenac, which was now virtually his castle, with the surrounding territory his estate. The boats were heavily laden with all articles for trading with the Indians, and with all the essentials for building and rigging vessels. He soon followed them, in an open birch canoe, with one or two companions. It was a long and perilous river voyage, paddling up the swift current of the St. Lawrence between its thousand islands, struggling against its rapids, and seeking for the eddies along its lonely forest-fringed shores. Several times they came near being wrecked, with inevitable death.
At the close of the day it was always necessary to run the canoe ashore, to land and encamp. But with hardy men, fond of adventure, these were pleasures rather than pains. With their axes, in half an hour they could construct a sheltering camp. A brilliant fire would dispel all gloom, with its wide-spreading illumination. The fragrant twigs of the hemlock furnished a soft couch. Here they cooked their suppers, sang their songs, told their stories, and, free from all care, probably experienced at least as much pleasure as is usually found in parlors the most sumptuous.
Indian villages were quite profusely scattered along the banks of this majestic river. The scene was often quite exciting as the canoe of the voyagers approached one of these clusters of picturesque wigwams in the evening twilight. The Indians were fond of the song, and the dance, and the blaze of the bonfire. The whole expanse of river, cliff, and forest, would be lighted up. Shouts of barbaric revelry echoed through the sublime solitudes. And the warrior, the squaw, and the pappoose, flitted about in all the varied employments of savage life.
In these Indian wigwams, at night, the voyagers almost invariably found hospitable refuge. The Indians were generally friendly. The traffic which the French traders introduced was of inestimable value to the poor savages. And even those who were disposed to look with suspicion upon the encroachments of the white men, were overawed by the thunderings and lightnings of their death-dealing muskets. There were fishes of delicious flavor in the stream, and game in great variety upon the banks. These viands, with the food they took with them, furnished breakfasts and suppers which they deemed even sumptuous.
The fort was reached in safety. On the 18th of November, La Salle sent a small vessel of ten tons burden, with a deck, to go to the farther end of Lake Ontario, a distance of about two hundred miles, and to ascend the Niagara River until the falls were reached. The vessel contained about thirty workmen, with provisions and implements for erecting a fort and building a vessel beyond the falls at the extreme eastern end of Lake Erie. Having ascended the river as far as possible, they were to transport their effects along an Indian trail, in the wilderness, several miles above the falls and the rapids, until they reached comparatively still water at the opening of the lake. Here, in mid-winter, they were to construct their fortified magazine, and build a vessel for their vast inland tour through almost unknown seas, in search of the distant Mississippi.
Even then this continent was so little known that many supposed that the Mississippi emptied into the Pacific Ocean, and that thus the long-sought-for route to China would be found.
Only about ten years before, in the year 1669, La Salle, on an exploring tour with a party of missionaries in birch canoes, had discovered these falls. M. Galinee, in his journal of the expedition, writes:
"We found a river one eighth of a league broad, and extremely rapid, forming the outlet from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. The depth is extraordinary, for we found close to the shore, fifteen or sixteen fathoms of water. This outlet is forty miles long. It has, from ten to twelve miles above its embouchure into Lake Ontario, one of the finest cataracts in the world. All the Indians say that the river falls from a rock higher than the tallest pines. We heard the roar at the distance of ten or twelve miles. The fall gives such momentum to the water, that its current prevented our ascending, except with great difficulty. The current above the falls is so rapid, that it often sucks in deer and stags, elk and roebuck, endeavoring to cross the river, and overwhelms them in its frightful abyss."
This is the earliest description of the falls on record. At this time nearly the whole of the present State of New York was a dense, unbroken wilderness. It is very evident, that among the Indians there were, as in every community, good men and bad men. But on the whole, the condition of humanity among the savages must have been dreadful. What are we to think of a state of society in which every man's reputation and distinction depended upon the number of human scalps, torn from the slain victims by his own hands, with which he could fringe his garments?
On this tour La Salle visited the Seneca Indians in Western New York, where the beautiful cities of civilization and Christianity now adorn the landscape. Here they witnessed one of the most tragic spectacles of savage life.
Some warriors arrived in one of the villages with a prisoner. He was a finely formed young man, about nineteen years of age, from the Shawnee tribe residing near the Scioto River. They had clothed their victim for the sacrifice. Anxious that he should endure the torture as long as possible, they had treated him tenderly, that his bodily strength might not be weakened. He had been given, according to their custom, to an aged Indian woman, in place of her son who had been killed. It was at her option to adopt him or to cause him to be put to death by torture. She chose the torture.
The young man was taken into a cabin adjoining that which was occupied by La Salle and Galinee. The two Frenchmen visited him in the evening. Three women were wailing the death of their relative who had been killed, and were heaping imprecations upon the victim through whose tortures they hoped to avenge the death of the one who had been slain. The Christians pleaded earnestly for him, and offered large rewards to obtain him as a guide to conduct them to the Ohio. All was in vain.
At the earliest dawn of the next morning, a group came rushing into La Salle's cabin to announce that the torture was about to commence. They went out and found the victim entirely stripped of his clothing, and so bound to a stake that he could move for a distance of two or three feet. The whole band—men, women, and children—were gathered exultingly around, to enjoy the cruel pastime. The poor boy well knew what he had to undergo, for he had probably often assisted in similar scenes.
M. Galinee was slightly acquainted with the Algonquin language; he could hold some conversation with the captive. The victim, pale and terror-stricken, entreated the Frenchmen to intercede for him, that his execution might be postponed until the next day. Again they renewed their efforts to save the boy. They offered to pay a large amount of their most valuable effects for his ransom. But the Indians shook their heads and said, "It is our custom: he must die."
A large fire had been kindled near by. In it there was a long gun-barrel heated to a red heat. An Indian warrior, a staid, sober man, came forward with much dignity of manner, and taking the red-hot gun-barrel pressed it upon the soles of the victim's feet, and moved it slowly up his legs. The skin and flesh smoked and crackled under the terrible infliction. The agony was such that the poor boy could not refrain from loud shrieks, and he was thrown into the most convulsive contortions.
The savages—the stern men, the women, the girls, the boys—were delighted. As they listened to the shrieks and witnessed the agonizing struggles of their victim, they clapped their hands, and danced and shouted in fiend-like exultation. The heated iron was passed over his whole body, from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head. There was not a spot left which was not blistered and roasted. And still they carefully avoided touching any vital point, that the horrible torture might be continued as long as possible.
For six hours this poor creature endured every variety of agony which diabolical ingenuity could inflict. I will not continue the narration. It is too harrowing to be contemplated. But it is needful to go thus far to show what the Indians were without the Gospel. Galinee writes:
"At length they knocked him down with a stone, and throwing themselves upon him, cut his body in pieces. One carried off his head, another an arm, a third some other member, which they put in the pot to boil for a feast. Many offered some to the Frenchmen, telling them there was nothing in the world better to eat; but no one desired to try the experiment.
"In the evening all assembled in the public place, each with a stick in his hand, with which they began to beat the cabins on all sides, making a very loud noise, to chase away, they said, the soul of the deceased, which might be concealed in some corner to do them injury."
This scene took place in Western New York, a mile and a half west of Boughton Hill, but about two hundred years ago. Surely the religion of Jesus has improved the condition of humanity.
La Salle and Galinee, unable to endure the spectacle, retired, in anguish of spirit, to their cabin. "As I was praying to God," writes Galinee, "and very sad, La Salle came and told me that from the excitement he saw prevailing, he was apprehensive that the Indians might insult us, and that we had better return to the canoes." Hastily they retired.
But let us return from this digression. La Salle joined his companions at the head of Niagara River, on the borders of Lake Erie, on the 29th of January, 1679. The river, above the falls, was a sheet of ice, resembling a plain paved with fine polished marble. While many of his men had been employed building a vessel to be launched upon the lake, others had boldly explored all the surrounding region, purchasing of the Indians furs and skins. The winter was intensely cold, and the snow was deep. There was a small cluster of Indian wigwams on the Niagara River below the Falls.
The Indians, men, women and children, received La Salle and his party even affectionately. They took the strangers into their warm cabins, spread bear-skin couches for them, to sleep with their feet toward the fire, and fed them with their daintiest bits of game. White-fish were taken in great abundance at that place, and were deemed in flavor equal to the golden brook-trout. The floating ice endangered their brigantine. The Indians aided with infinite labor in dragging it to a safe place upon the beach, just below those towering cliffs which fringe so large a portion of this wild river. This spot was near the present site of Queenstown, on the western side of the stream.
All the goods were to be transported through a trail of the forest, encumbered with snow, around the falls, a distance of about twenty miles, on the shoulders of men. The Indians, with fraternal kindness, aided in these herculean labors, and were amply repaid for days of toil, by a knife, a hatchet, or a few trinkets, as valuable to them as are diamonds and pearls to a duchess. La Salle constructed a fortified depot at this place, to serve as a base for future operations. Here he could store such additional supplies as he might order from Fort Frontenac. Strange as it may seem, it appears that he could leave priceless treasure in a frail log-hut, thus far away in the wilderness, under the protection of the Indians themselves. And yet these very men and women, had La Salle been captured in battle, would have shouted and leaped for joy in seeing him writhing and shrieking beneath fiend-like tortures. Such is fallen man. He is the ruin of a once noble fabric. But many fragments of his former grandeur still remain. There is no philosophy, save the religion of the Bible, which can explain these discordances.
On the 20th of January, 1679, La Salle, with his long train of heavily laden men in single file, reached his large log-cabin and ship-yard in the midst of a dense forest on the shore of Lake Erie. They brought upon their backs provisions, merchandise, ammunition, and materials for rigging the vessel. The dock-yard—it could hardly be called a fort—was about six miles above Niagara Falls, on the western side of the river, at the outlet of a little stream called Chippewa Creek.
The men there had been employed in erecting their hut, cutting ship timber, and preparing the ground for building their vessel. There were many Indians continually visiting them. La Salle, the very week of his arrival, laid the keel of his vessel, and with his own hand drove the first bolt. He had no thought of encroaching upon the lands of the Indians, or of erecting any forts in antagonism to them. The object of his expedition was solely to make discoveries in the name of France, to establish trading stations for the purchase of valuable furs of the Indians, and to erect throughout the region he traversed military posts, over which the banners of France might float, which would prove that by the right of discovery, the region belonged to France and not to England. The foe to be guarded against was the British Government, not the Indian tribes.
With characteristic sagacity, La Salle summoned a council of the chiefs of all the neighboring tribes, and addressed them in substance as follows:
"I come to you as a friend and a brother. I wish to buy your furs. I will pay you for them in guns and powder, knives, hatchets, kettles, beads, and such other articles as you want. Thus you can do me good, and I can do you good. We can be brothers. I am building a vessel, that I may visit other tribes, purchase their furs, and carry to them our goods. Let us smoke the pipe of friendship, and shake hands. The Great Spirit will be pleased to see us, His children, love one another and help each other. I wish to establish a trading-post here, where I can collect my furs, where you can come to sell them. And here you will find mechanics who will mend your guns, knives, and kettles, when they get out of order."
These were honest words. They were convincing. All smoked the pipe and grasped hands in token of fraternity. The Frenchman was a benefactor, not an enemy. His life was to be carefully protected. Should he, from unkind treatment, refuse to come to their country, they could buy no more guns, or knives, or kettles. Henceforth every wigwam welcomed the entrance of a Frenchman.
La Salle, while engaged in building his vessel, despatched several canoes along each shore of Lake Erie, to visit every Indian village and purchase their furs. Indian friends paddled the canoes and acted as interpreters. The arrival of one of these canoes at an Indian village was an occasion of universal rejoicing. Happy was the chief who could be honored by entertaining the white trader in his wigwam. The Frenchman was in no more danger in moving about amid their dwellings and forests, than he would have been in traversing the boulevards in Paris.
A poor Indian would bring in some rich furs, to him scarcely of any value, but worth ten dollars in London or Paris. He would receive in exchange a strong, keen-edged pocket-knife, worth in London or Paris perhaps half a dollar, but to him worth ten times ten dollars. He would go home to his wigwam so happy that he could scarcely sleep. He would show his almost priceless treasure to his wife, his children, his neighbors. Accustomed to shave down his bow and arrows only with such an edge as a hard stone could afford, he was filled with inexpressible delight as the keenly cutting steel performed its wondrous work.
The young lady of wealthy parents may rejoice when the grand piano first enters her father's parlor. The fashionable matron may feel some degree of exultation as she regards the splendor of her newly furnished reception-room. But their joy was as nothing compared with the delight with which an Indian woman, for the first time in her life, hung a stout iron kettle over her cabin fire.
La Salle named his vessel the "Griffin," as that animal was one of the emblems on his family coat-of-arms. During the winter, while the vessel was on the stocks, circumstances required the presence of La Salle at Fort Frontenac. Promptly he set out for a journey on foot of three hundred miles through the snow and the woods. Two men accompanied him. A strong dog dragged a portion of the baggage on a sled. Wherever night overtook them they hastily constructed their camp, built their fire, cooked their supper, wrapped themselves in furs, and fell asleep. He seemed to think no more of such a journey than a gentleman does now of a trip, in cushioned cars, from Boston to New Orleans. But nothing in this world ever goes smoothly a long time. In every man's life it may be said,
"Storm after storm rises dark o'er my way."
Several boats laden with supplies bound from Frontenac to Niagara were lost in tempests on the lake. This caused great embarrassment. Provisions even became scarce. The laborers would have suffered for food but for the services of Indian hunters who brought in deer and other game. The fur trade was becoming a matter of great importance. There were many private traders and companies engaged in the traffic, who were alarmed in view of the magnitude of the operations contemplated by La Salle, and of the monopoly which had been granted to him by the king. Here again we see the dark side of human nature. These men, Frenchmen, nominal Christians, endeavored to rouse the Indians against La Salle, even to burnings and massacres. They said to the savages:
"La Salle wishes to take possession of your whole country. He is building a fort at Niagara, and another at Erie. He is building a large vessel, that he may explore all your distant lakes and large rivers. He will erect his strong forts upon every commanding spot. These forts he will garrison with armed men, well provided with muskets, and big guns whose roar is like that of thunder. Then he will take your lands and bring in white men by thousands, and you will all be killed or driven away.
"Your only safety is in destroying the forts at Niagara and Erie, and in burning the vessel he is building, before it is launched. We will not trespass on your lands. We will build no forts. We will bring to your villages, in our canoes, all the goods you want and will buy all your furs. Thus you will be in no danger."
These plausible representations alarmed the Indians. Some of them visited the encampment, and with a suspicious eye watched all the movements. There were two parties formed, the friendly and the unfriendly. La Salle was embarrassed. He might be attacked. His little handful of men would need a strong fortress for their protection. But to strengthen his works would confirm the fears of his foes and add to their number. An Indian woman revealed to him a plot to set fire to his brigantine on the stocks.
He kept a careful watch, ordered all his men to be secretly ready for a surprise, and pushed forward the building of the vessel with all vigor. Early in April the vessel was launched. The sublime Te Deum resounded through the solitudes of the forest as thanksgivings were offered to God for the success of the enterprise thus far. Prayers were breathed forth that God would guide and bless the vessel and its crew. The vessel was moored at a safe distance from the shore. All the men swung their hammocks on board their floating fortress, and were quite secure from any intrusion of the savages.
The Voyage Along the Lakes.
The Embarcation. Equipment of the Griffin. Voyage through the Lakes and Straits. The Storm. Superstition of the Voyagers. Arrival at Mackinac. Scenery there. Friendship of the Indians. Sail on Lakes Huron and Michigan. Arrival at Green Bay. The well-freighted Griffin sent back.
On the 7th of August, 1679, the Griffin spread her sails for her adventurous voyage into the vast unknown. Her armament consisted of five small cannon, two of which were of brass, and three clumsy guns called arquebuses. The vessel was of but sixty tons burden. Most of the men had muskets for taking game. The current in the river, where the vessel was moored, was very rapid. But by aid of a fair wind, and twelve men pulling by a rope on the shore, all difficulties were overcome, and the Griffin entered triumphantly the broad expanse of Lake Erie.
As the anchor was raised and the canvas spread, a simultaneous salute was fired from the five cannon, the three arquebuses, and all the muskets. Such an uproar was never before heard in those silent wilds. An immense number of Indians crowded the shore. They gazed with astonishment, awe, and indefinable dread upon the novel spectacle. The whole company of Frenchmen embarked, being thirty-four in number. None were left at Erie. But at Niagara, as the magazine at Queenstown was called, Father Melethon remained, with one or two laborers, to receive such supplies as might be forwarded to that place.
Three missionaries accompanied the expedition, Fathers Hennepin, Zenobe, and Ribourde. They were venerable and good men, ready at any moment to lay down their lives in advocacy of the Christian faith. Lake Erie is about two hundred and sixty miles long, and from ten to sixty broad. They ran along the northern shore of this majestic inland sea, and on the third day reached its western bounds, where they cautiously entered the mouth of the strait through which flows the waters of all the upper lakes. It was about twenty-eight miles long, and one mile broad. As canoes alone had thus far passed over its surface, it was necessary for them to feel their way with much care. La Salle gave the strait the name of Detroit. Soon entering another lake, twenty-four miles long by thirty broad, he gave it the name of St. Clair, in honor of the saint whose name appears in the calendar of the church for that day.
Passing safely over the shallow waters, the Griffin entered another strait, about thirty miles long, to which La Salle gave the name of St. Clair River. The current was strong, and the navigation perilous. Gigantic steamers now run through from Lake Erie to Lake Huron in a few hours. It required thirteen days for the Griffin to accomplish the passage. The whole distance is about ninety miles.
Lake Huron opened magnificently before them. The route along the shore of the lake to its head, where it receives the waters of Michigan and Superior, is about three hundred and sixty miles. Its greatest breadth is one hundred and sixty miles. The progress of the voyagers was slow. They were impeded by calms and head winds. It was often necessary to cast the lead and to watch for rocks and sand-bars. They had but just entered upon Lake Huron when they encountered one of the severest tempests which ever swept that stormy lake. The whole ship's company were devout Catholics.
In those dark days both the fathers and the crew were alike disposed to call upon the Virgin Mary and the saints to aid them, rather than upon God. Father Hennepin tells us that the stout soul of La Salle quailed before the horrible tumult which threatened to engulf him. They all alike fell upon their knees and addressed their prayers and their cries to St. Anthony of Padua. They solemnly vowed that if he would intercede with God and obtain their rescue, they would, in the newly-discovered countries, erect a chapel in his name. St. Anthony was called the patron of mariners, and therefore his aid was especially invoked.
Greatly was their confidence in the saint's intercession increased, as the wind lulled, the clouds dispersed, the sun shone forth in all its autumnal glory, and with a fair wind pressing their sails they glided along over a smooth sea, skirting the southern shore of the lake, past mountains and valleys, prairies and forest, which presented every variety of picturesque beauty.
At the extreme northwestern extremity of Lake Huron, near the point where the lake receives the waters of Lakes Michigan and Superior, there was a large island, whose swelling hills were crowned with a dense forest. This island was called by the Indians, from its peculiar form, Mackinac, or the Turtle, sometimes Michilimackinac, or the big Turtle. On the 27th of August, 1679, the Griffin ran into a beautiful little bay in this island. It was a lovely summer's day, serene, sunny, and cloudless. The waters of the bay, fringed with forest-crowned hills, were as placid as a mirror. There was quite a village there of wigwams. Naked children were sporting upon the beach. Buoyant birch canoes, driven by the paddles of gayly-dressed men and women, were gliding swiftly in all directions. The scene opened before the eyes of the voyagers like a vision of enchantment.
Nearly ten years before, Father Marquette, inspired by apostolic zeal, had traversed this whole distance in a birch canoe. Several Indians accompanied him as boatmen and interpreters. Upon the main land, across a narrow strait, he had established a mission-post among the Hurons. The Indians at Mackinac thus knew something of the white men. With wonder they gazed upon the "great wooden canoe." They crowded on board the Griffin with every testimonial of confidence and friendship, and when one of the cannon was fired, and its roar reverberated through the forest, they were astonished, but not frightened.
Though this remote village seemed so peaceful and happy, the strong palisades which surrounded it proved that the voyagers had not yet got beyond the vestiges of Adam's fall. Those defences spoke of midnight assaults, of savage yells, of tomahawks, scalps, blood, misery, and death. La Salle, aware of the influence of outward appearance upon the minds of men, dressed himself in a very rich scarlet cloak fringed with gold lace. With a plumed military cap upon his head, a long sword at his side, and an imposing escort of well-dressed and well-armed men, he was rowed ashore, to make a visit of ceremony to the chief. His reception was as hospitable and friendly as those untutored men were capable of giving.
La Salle had sent forward several canoes of men, to collect all the furs they could on their way, and store them at Mackinac. These furs, upon his arrival, La Salle would transfer to the Griffin and send them back to Fort Frontenac, to be thence transported to Europe. But these men had bitterly disappointed him. Some of them had run away and joined the Indians, attracted by the apparently careless, easy life which the wigwam presented. Others had been bribed, by higher wages, to join rival trading parties. One of the canoes of deserters had pushed on to the Falls of St. Mary. These falls, quite renowned in the early explorations of these remote regions, were situated on the strait which connects Lake Superior with Huron.
After a short tarry at Mackinac, the sails of the Griffin were again spread, and passing through the strait between Mackinac and the main land, they entered the head of Lake Michigan. They coasted along its northern border in beautiful summer weather, and within pleasant view of the shore, until they came to an island where there was a pleasant, sheltered cove, at the mouth of Green Bay, a sheet of water which, through a broad entrance studded with islands, spread out on the west of Michigan, a hundred miles in length, by about twenty in breadth.
A tribe of Indians, called Pottawatomies, inhabited this island. Here it was La Salle's good fortune to find one of his large canoes, well freighted with furs. He had also laid in a large store at Mackinac. As he was soon to leave the Griffin, to cross the land by portages, and paddle in birch canoes down distant and unknown rivers, he decided to send back the Griffin to Erie, with her rich freight of furs. At Erie they would be carried on men's shoulders around the falls to Niagara, thence reshipped to Frontenac, and thence sent to Europe. He remained at the island a fortnight, freighting his ship. She commenced her return voyage with a pilot and five mariners. The value of the cargo was such as to make La Salle a rich man. Notwithstanding all his discouragements, his voyage had thus far been a success. Cheered with hope, he now prepared to resume his adventurous explorations in birch canoes.
La Salle, having despatched the richly freighted Griffin from the mouth of Green Bay to his abandoned ship-yard at Erie, resumed his voyage in four heavily laden birch canoes. The company remaining with him consisted of seventeen men. His freight consisted of a blacksmith's forge, mechanic tools, household utensils, merchandise, arms, and ammunition. A very skilful and intelligent Indian accompanied the party as interpreter and hunter. They paddled down the western shore of Lake Michigan, landing every night to build their camp, kindle their fire, and cook their supper. Immediately upon landing, the Indian, with his musket on his shoulder, disappeared in the forest, and almost invariably soon returned with an ample supply of game.
It was the 19th of September, 1679, when the canoes left the mouth of Green Bay. The stormy days of autumn were approaching, when these northern lakes were often ploughed by fierce gales. The island from which they set out was several leagues from the main land. They had no sails. Their boats were propelled only by the paddle. The first night, before they reached the main land, dense clouds seemed hurrying through the skies and thickening over their heads. The wind increased into a gale. The blackened waters of the lake were lashed into foam-crested billows. The sun went down, and gloomy darkness curtained the sky and enveloped the sea. The spray dashed over them. Occasionally a wave would break into the canoes. At length they discerned the dim outline of the shore. It was a long sandy beach, with no cove, no indentation, into which they could run their boats. The surges, driven by the northeast storm, struck the shore so furiously that it seemed impossible to effect a landing; and yet every moment they were threatened with destruction. In the darkness they kept as near together as they could, to help one another in case of disaster. Thus hour after hour passed; as our voyagers, weary, hungry, cold, and drenched, struggled against the waves. A little after midnight the wind lulled. Watching their opportunity they ran their canoes upon the shore, and leaping into the water, carefully dragged them above the waves. The rain still fell. They unloaded each canoe, and so packed the precious contents that they could protect them from the rain by covering them with the canoes turned upside down. With their axes they soon constructed a frail camp. With the flash of powder they with difficulty kindled a fire, for everything was dripping with moisture, and every log was soaked.
They threw themselves down to sleep upon the wet ground, and in their drenched garments, but with, their feet toward roaring fires. Accustomed as they were to exposure, these hardships must have caused severe suffering. The lurid morning revealed to them but a raging sea and a bleak and barren expanse, where no game could be found. Here, in their cheerless camp, they were detained by the wind and the rain four days. The only game their Indian hunter brought in, was a single porcupine. They found its flesh savory, though it afforded scarcely a mouthful for each man.
The storm at length ceased. Again they launched their fragile canoes, and paddled along the placid waters. Soon another storm arose suddenly, and so severe, that they were glad to take shelter upon the lee side of a rocky island. There was no growth of timber with which they could build a camp, and scarcely sufficient fuel for a fire. Here, like shipwrecked mariners, they remained for two days, wrapped in their blankets, and huddled for shelter in the cavities of the rocks. Mercilessly they were pelted with rain mingled with snow.
But again the clouds were dispelled; the sun shone brightly. The mirrored waves of the lake invited them to its surface. Though sobered by their sufferings, they paddled rapidly along, hoping that a long calm was to succeed the storm. Their voyage was cheered by one bright and sunny day, when the angry clouds again began to gather to do them battle. The tempest rose so suddenly that they had no time to seek a harbor, but had to run their canoes through the surf on the shore. All had to leap into the waves to save the frail boats from being broken on the stony beach. This, their third landing, was near the point where the River Milwaukie enters the lake.
They had not taken a large supply of provisions with them in their canoes, for they had hoped to find a supply of game by the way. Nearly all their store of corn and vegetables was now exhausted. Two or three Indians were seen in the distance; but they did not venture to approach so formidable a looking band. Three men were sent, with the calumet of peace, to search for their villages and obtain food. They came to a cluster of deserted wigwams, where the sagacity of their Indian guide showed them an abundance of corn, concealed from the ravages of wild beasts, in cells under ground. These honest or politic men took all they wanted, and left behind them ample payment.
In the evening twilight, as the boatmen were gathered around their camp fire, quite a group of Indians was seen cautiously approaching. La Salle advanced to meet them, with the calumet uplifted in his hands. As soon as the Indians saw this emblem of peace, all their fears were dispelled. They rushed forward like a joyous band of children, singing and dancing. They had been to their wigwams, found the treasures which had been left there, and their joy was inexpressible. They returned late in the evening to their homes; but in the morning the grateful creatures returned, bearing an abundant supply of game and corn. La Salle richly rewarded them.
Nature seemed in sympathy with these blessings of peace, for the sun, emerging from the clouds, shone down serenely upon these children of a common Father, and the weary voyagers, greatly cheered, again launched their canoes upon the solitary lake.
Thus they continued, day after day, paddling along the apparently interminable journey to the South. They passed the spot where the majestic city of Chicago now stands. It was two hundred years ago. Not even an Indian wigwam was seen to break the expanded and dreary solitude. A constant succession of storms was encountered until they reached the foot of the lake. Any one who has witnessed the grandeur with which the ocean-like billows of Lake Michigan often break upon the western shore, will wonder how it was possible for those frail canoes to ride over such surges. Every night it was necessary to land, and often the storm detained them for many hours.
Having reached the foot of the lake, they turned to the eastward. Here they found a milder clime and more tranquil waters. Deer and wild turkeys were very abundant, and their Indian hunter kept them supplied with game. The trees were festooned with grape-vines, which were laden with the richest clusters of the delicious fruit. They found a spot at the foot of the lake so attractive in its landscape beauty, so abounding in fruit and game, that, weary as they were with their arduous voyage, they drew their canoes on shore for a few days of rest.
The labor of one or two hours constructed a comfortable cabin for the accommodation of all. Fuel was abundant for the cheering camp fire. The lake furnished the choicest fish, and the forest supplied them with venison and every variety of game. Having feasted upon the most delicious of hunters' fare, they wrapped themselves in their blankets, and enjoyed that rich sleep which is one of the greatest blessings of the worn and the weary.
Moccasined footprints had been seen on the sands of the beach, indicating that there were Indians near. One of the men out hunting at a little distance from the camp, came upon a large black bear, which had climbed a high tree, and was feeding upon the luscious grapes. Taking deliberate aim he sent a bullet through the head of the bear, and the huge animal tumbled lifeless to the ground. It so happened that there was a large party of Indian hunters not far off, who heard the report of the gun. It was to them a very unusual sound; for they were armed only with bows and arrows. Carefully concealing themselves, they followed the man as he dragged the carcass to the camp. It was evening. A brilliant fire illuminated the whole scene. They examined the encampment, counted the number of men, and saw at some distance on the beach, piles of precious goods, screened from rain by the canoes which were turned bottom upward over them.
In the darkness of the night, two or three of them crept noiselessly to the unguarded canoes, and stole several articles of value. A wakeful eye chanced to catch a glimpse of the shadowy form of an Indian stealing through the forest, and gave the alarm. All sprang to arms. La Salle had, as we have said, an Indian guide and hunter with him, from Green Bay. The Indian band proved to be from that vicinity. They soon entered into a conference with La Salle's guide. The savages assumed great frankness and friendliness. One of the chiefs said:
"We heard the gun and feared that a party of our enemies was approaching. We crept near your camp to ascertain whether you were friends or foes. But now that we know that we are among Frenchmen, we are with our brothers. We love Frenchmen, and wish to smoke with them the pipe of peace."
La Salle was cautious. He replied, "Let four of your men, and four only, come in the morning to our camp." In the meantime he kept a careful watch. Four venerable men came in the morning, smoked their pipes and proffered friendship. Mutual pledges were exchanged, and they departed. It was not until after they had left, that the discovery was made that several valuable articles had been stolen. This entirely changed the aspect of affairs. La Salle, as energetic as he was conciliatory, resolved to have satisfaction.
Fearing that if the affront were unavenged he would be exposed to new insults, he took several well-armed men, penetrated the woods and captured two Indians. Having led them as prisoners to his camp, he liberated one, and sent him to the chiefs of the band to say, that if the stolen goods were not immediately restored, the other captive would be put to death.
The Indians, who seemed to have set a high value upon life, were appalled. They could not restore the goods. Many of them had been destroyed. The chiefs returned this reply. As the Indians greatly outnumbered the Frenchmen, they resolved to attempt to rescue the captive by force. In strong military array they advanced to the attack. La Salle marshalled his little force upon a mound, surrounded by a sandy plain, where there was neither tree, rock, nor shrub, to protect the assailants. The bullet could be thrown much farther than the arrow. The hostile forces stood gazing at each other for some time. The chiefs saw that an attack was hopeless, and that advance was certain death. La Salle had no wish to redden his hands with their blood.
In this emergence Father Hennepin in the peaceful garb of a priest went forward with the Indian interpreter and solicited a conference. Two old men advanced to meet him. With unexpected intelligence they proposed that the goods which could be restored, should be sent back, and that the rest should be amply paid for. This brought peace. Rich presents were interchanged, the Indians giving several beaver-skin robes. There were feasting and dancing and speech-making. All hearts were happy.
Again the canoes were put afloat. Coasting up the eastern shore of the lake fifty or sixty miles they reached the mouth of St. Joseph's River, then called the River of the Miamis. This is the second river in importance in the State of Michigan. It has a good harbor at its mouth, flows through an expanse of two hundred and fifty miles, and affords boat navigation for a distance of one hundred and thirty miles. Here the weary travellers found a port, after a voyage of forty days from Green Bay.
Gloomy clouds of trouble now darkened around. His men, weary of their hardships, became mutinous. They remonstrated against continuing their journey into the depths of the unexplored wilderness, peopled by they knew not what hostile tribes. La Salle had ordered Lieutenant Tonti, with twenty men, to cross the head of the lake and meet him at that point by a much shorter route. The lieutenant had not arrived. It was feared that he was lost. At length he came. But he brought no tidings of the Griffin. Two months had elapsed since that vessel sailed from Green Bay. Her orders were, after discharging her freight at Niagara, to return immediately to St. Joseph's, for another cargo of furs. La Salle had embarked more than all his fortune in that vessel. There was no insurance in those days. He was deeply in debt to the traders in Quebec and Montreal.
Fearful were his apprehensions that the vessel was lost. If so he was ruined, a hopeless bankrupt. The vessel was lost. No tidings of her ever reached any human ears. In some dreadful tragedy, witnessed only by God, the vessel and its crew sunk in the depths of the waters. While thus harassed with anxiety, the cold blasts of approaching winter swept the bleak plains. The rivers would soon be closed with ice. His provisions were exhausted, so that his party was entirely dependent for food upon such game as could be taken. Under these adverse circumstances the resolution of this indomitable man remained unshaken. Gathering his murmuring companions around him, he said:
"I have set out to explore the Mississippi. If you abandon me I cannot proceed. But I shall remain here with the missionaries. You may find your way back as you can, or disperse through the forest as you please."
The men continued to murmur. But for their own protection they worked diligently upon the fort. From this point La Salle intended to establish communication with his depot at Niagara. The boatmen also, who were earnestly devoted to the ritualism of the church, under the direction of the missionaries built a log chapel, where religious services were daily held. A numerous tribe of Indians, the Miamis, but to which the missionaries gave the name of St. Joseph's band, had a flourishing village here. There were very friendly. From the fine boat harbor they could fish upon the lake, or, in pursuit of game, could paddle hundreds of miles up the forest-crowned river and its numerous tributaries. Day after day La Salle watched the horizon of the lake, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sails of the returning Griffin, bringing him supplies, and the tidings that his precious furs were safe and his fortune secure. Night after night he placed his head upon his pillow, the victim of that hope deferred which maketh the heart sick.
Thirty-three days of anxiety and toil thus passed away. The boatmen, who had come with Lieutenant Tonti, increased his number to over thirty men. At the point of land where the river entered the lake, there was a bluff, of considerable elevation and of triangular form, containing an acre or more of pretty level land. It was at that time covered with trees. This commanding position was chosen for the fort. Two sides were bounded by water. On the third or land side of the triangle there was a deep ravine. A breastwork of hewn logs was raised several feet high, enclosing a space eighty feet long by forty feet broad. And this all was surrounded by stout palisades.
The fortress was artistically constructed, and could bid defiance to any attack by the Indians. It was also admirably selected to give the French command of the region, against any encroachments of the English.
Through the whole month of November the men toiled upon these works, fed only upon the flesh of turkeys, deer, and bears, which their Indian hunter brought in. It was learned that the Griffin, which, it will be remembered, sailed from Green Bay, bound first to Mackinac, did not reach that port. The vessel must have foundered somewhere by the way. The natives on the coast had heard nothing of the vessel. Seventy days had now elapsed since she sailed, and all hopes of ever hearing from her again were relinquished.
On the 3d of December the whole party of thirty-three persons, in eight canoes, left Fort Miami, as La Salle called his works, and paddled up the river, a distance of seventy miles, toward the south. Considerable time was lost in the endeavor to find the trail or portage which led across, westerly from the St. Joseph's River, to the head waters of the Kankakee, which is the eastern branch of the Illinois River.
La Salle, imprudently exploring alone, became lost in the forest. The darkness of a stormy night, with falling snow, overtook him. He fired his gun as a signal of distress; but silence was the only answer. Soon he espied, in the distance, the light of a fire. It was the encampment of a solitary Indian, who had formed for himself a soft bed of leaves. Alarmed by the report of the gun, he had fled. La Salle appropriated to himself the cheerless quarters and slept soundly until morning. All the forenoon of the next day he wandered, and it was not until the afternoon that he rejoined his companions. He came in with two opossums hanging at his belt, which he had killed.
At length their Indian hunter found the trail. They had gone too far up the river. The men took the canoes and the freight upon their shoulders, and carried them over the portage, of five or six miles, which the Indians had traversed for countless ages. Dreary in the extreme was the wintry landscape which now opened before them. The ground was frozen hard. Ice fringed the stream, and the flat marshy expanse was whitened with snow. For nearly a hundred miles the sluggish Kankakee flowed through a morass, which afforded growth to but little more than rushes and alders. Their provisions were nearly exhausted. No game could be found. They were hungry. Each night they landed, built their fires, and with scarcely any shelter wrapped themselves in their blankets for almost comfortless sleep.
At length the river emerged from these dreary marshes and entered upon a large undulating prairie, treeless, but whose fertility was attested by the tall, yet withered grass. The scene became far more cheering. Though most of the herds, which in summer grazed these rich fields, had wandered far away to the south, their indefatigable hunter succeeded in shooting two deer and a stray buffalo, which was found mired. He also took several fat turkeys and swans.
Thus, with revived spirits, the party, having paddled three hundred miles down the infinite windings of the Kankakee, entered the more majestic and beautiful river Illinois. The length of the stream from this point to its entrance into the Mississippi is two hundred and sixty miles, exclusive of its windings. As they were swept down by the current, they came to a large Indian village on the right bank of the river, near the present town of Ottawa. There were four or five hundred cabins, very substantially built, and covered with thick mats very ingeniously woven from rushes. Extensive corn-fields were near the village, but the harvest had been gathered in.
Silence and solitude reigned there. Not a living being was to be seen. The inhabitants had all migrated, according to their custom, to spend the winter in more southern hunting-grounds. Large quantities of corn were stored away for summer use in dry cellars. La Salle removed fifty bushels to his canoes, hoping to find the owners farther south and amply repay them. It would have been of no avail to have left payment, for it would be carried away by any band of Indians who chanced to be passing by. The hunger of his men, in his judgment rendered the taking of the corn a necessity. This spot was probably near the site of Rock Fort, in La Salle county, Illinois.
For four days they continued their course without coming in sight of any human being or any habitation. Yet they passed through scenery often very charming, presenting a wide-spread ocean of undulating land, with groves and lawns and parks smiling so peacefully in the bright sunshine.
The morning of the 1st of January, 1680, came. All gathered around the missionaries to commemorate the opening of the new year by religious services. Prayers were offered, hymns were chanted, sins were confessed, and the blessing of God was invoked upon their enterprise. At the conclusion of these devotions the canoes were again pushed out into the stream. On the fourth of the month they entered an expansion of the river where the breadth of water assumed the dimension of a lake. This sheet of water, now called Peoria Lake, was twenty miles long and three broad.
At its foot they came upon a very large Indian encampment. La Salle presented the calumet of peace, and fraternal relations were immediately established. At this point he decided to build a large boat to sail down the river. The loss of the Griffin, thus depriving him of his supplies, had frustrated all his plans. He built a strong fort, which he called, from his own grief, "Crevecoeur," or the Broken Hearted. Here this extraordinary man left most of his company, and with five men, in mid-winter, set out to cross the pathless wilderness on foot, a distance of twelve hundred miles, along the southern shores of Erie and Ontario to Fort Frontenac. The wonderful journey, through storms of snow and rain, across bleak plains and morasses and unbridged rivers, was safely accomplished in about seventy days. He obtained the needful supplies, freighted several canoes, engaged new voyagers, and after innumerable perils again reached the head waters of the Illinois. Here he learned that his garrison at Crevecoeur was dispersed and the fort destroyed. This ended his hopes. He went back to Frontenac a disappointed but indomitable man, and the enterprise was for the time relinquished.
Here we must leave La Salle for a time, while we give an account of the expedition from Crevecoeur, up the Mississippi, and of the destruction of the colony.
The Expedition of Father Hennepin.
Seeking a Northwest Passage. The Voyage Commenced. The Alarm. Delightful Scenery. The Indian Village. Entrance to the Mississippi. Appearance of the Country. The Midnight Storm. Silence and Solitude. A Fleet of Canoes. Captured by the Savages. Merciful Captivity. Alarming Debate. Condition of the Captives.
Two days before La Salle set out from Crevecoeur, on his adventurous journey, through the wilderness, to Fort Frontenac, he despatched Father Louis Hennepin to explore the Mississippi River from the mouth of the Illinois to its source. So little was then known of this continent that La Salle had strong hopes that near the source of the Mississippi, another stream might be found, flowing toward the west, which, by a short voyage, would conduct one to the Pacific Ocean. In this way he hoped that the long-sought-for northwest passage to the Pacific might be discovered.
On the morning of the 29th of February, 1680, Father Hennepin, with but two companions, entered his birch canoe, to prosecute his grand and perilous enterprise. They were to explore unknown realms, crowded with savage tribes. They had their guns, not for attack or defence, but for taking game, with a good supply of ammunition, and with several hundred dollars worth of goods, to conciliate the savages by presents, and to exchange with them for provisions.
With the early dawn they commenced their voyage. The day was fine, the river placid in its gentle flow, and the scenery, on both sides of the stream, of undulating hills, majestic forests, and wide-spread prairies, upon which herds of wild cattle were grazing, was picturesque and alluring in the extreme. As they rapidly descended the river, they met several parties of Illinois Indians, returning to their village at the head of the lake. Their canoes were laden with the game they had taken. The Frenchmen and the Indians exchanged friendly greetings.
The kind-hearted savages endeavored to dissuade them from their perilous voyage, assuring them, with all the wildest exaggerations of Indian superstition, that they would encounter birds as large as buffaloes, who would carry them in their talons as an eagle seizes a rabbit; that there were enormous beasts in the river, doubtless referring to the alligators, who would dash their canoe to pieces, and devour a man at a mouthful; then there were rapids and whirlpools from which they could not escape, and in which they would be surely engulfed; and that if by any possibility they escaped, all these perils, they would fall into the hands of ferocious tribes, who would enslave them, torture them, cook them, and eat them. They entreated the Frenchmen to go back with them to their village, where they could live in safety and in abundance.
The two boatmen, Anthony Auguelle and Michael Ako, were alarmed by these representations, and were strongly inclined to return. But Father Hennepin constrained them to press onward. As they descended the Illinois, they found the river deep and broad, much resembling the Seine at Paris. It would, at times, expand to nearly a mile in breadth. Large trees crowned many of the gentle eminences which lined the stream. Upon ascending the hills, as they landed for their night's encampment, they gazed, with delight in the gorgeous sunset, upon the magnificent prairies spread out before them as far as the eye could reach.
There is nothing which earth has ever presented more beautiful than those Eden-like landscape resembling the ocean in expanse, which were thus for the first time, unveiled to the view of civilized men. Here and there groups of trees appeared, in small groves, as if planted by the exquisite taste of a landscape gardener. Herds of buffaloes, antelopes, and deer, grazed the herbage in countless numbers. Birds of every variety of song and plumage found here their paradise. And in these fair realms the children of Adam might have experienced joys hardly surpassed by those of their first parents in Eden, were it not for that inhumanity of man to man which has caused countless millions to mourn. To redeem this world from the curse of sin, Jesus the Son of God has suffered and died. And there can be no possible true happiness for the human family until the result of his mission shall be accomplished.
Our voyagers, on the seventh day of their journey, having passed down the windings of the river, about two hundred miles, as they judged, came to a pleasant Indian village of about two hundred wigwams. These Indians had an eye for beauty. Their little cluster of homes was picturesquely situated upon a green plain, gently ascending from the banks of the river, which commanded a view of the water for some distance above and below. The prairie, in its grandeur, spread far and wide around. The village was about six miles above the entrance of the Illinois into the Mississippi River. The tribe was called the Maraos. The hospitable savages, who without any difficulty could have killed the Frenchmen and have taken possession of all their goods, treated the strangers as brothers, and urged them to visit their houses. In these hospitable rites we see beautiful vestiges of the character of man before the fall. But alas! we can never meet the children of Adam anywhere, or under any circumstances, without soon seeing the evidence of that fall when sin entered Eden,
"Earth felt the wound; and nature from her seat, Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe That all was lost."
They heard fearful accounts of attacks by ferocious tribes rushing down upon them, plundering, burning, killing, scalping, with mercilessness which demons could not exceed. They were expecting soon another attack, and were then upon the point of abandoning their homes and emigrating to the other side of the Mississippi, to join, for their protection, another large and friendly tribe.
Soon after Father Hennepin resumed his voyage, the Indians, according to his narrative, had their suspicions excited that he was conveying hatchets and guns to their enemies, either intentionally, or which might fall into their hands. They therefore sent a band of their swift-footed warriors down the river, to a narrow pass, to intercept the canoe. This could hardly be considered contrary to the laws of warfare among civilized nations. The Indians had witnessed the lightnings and thunders of the white man's guns, and the terrible energies of their death dealing-bolts. They might surely consider the canoe as freighted with goods which were contraband of war.
We know not what reason Father Hennepin had for suspecting this movement of the Indians. He gives no proof of any such hostile design. It is not improbable that his suspicions were groundless. As he approached the narrow pass where he imagined the warriors to lie in ambush, he saw the smoke of the camp fires ascending from a grove which crowned one of the eminences. This certainly did not indicate any secret movement. He paddled close to the other side of the river, not only without being attacked, but without obtaining even a glimpse of his imagined foes.
On the 8th of March they reached the Mississippi River. The broad flood, a mile in width, swept majestically along, from unknown regions of the north, quite covered with floating ice. The vast masses, two or three feet in thickness, and which could not be eluded, would speedily tear their frail birch canoe into fragments. At the mouth of the Illinois there was a gentle elevation, covered with the stately forest, which commanded a fine view of both of the rivers and of the adjacent region.
Here the Frenchmen drew their canoe upon the shore, erected a camp, with open front, as a shelter from the cold north wind, built their fire, cooked their game, of which they found abundance all around, and waited patiently, four days, for the ice to run by.
In the middle of the Mississippi River, nearly opposite the mouth of the Illinois, there were three small islands, covered with large trees and a dense, tangled growth of brush and vines. The heads of these islands were clogged, for a long distance up the river, with the deformity of immense rafts of drift logs, stumps, and trees. They presented an exceedingly dreary aspect, swept by the freezing winds, with truly arctic masses of ice grinding by, and often ploughed up into great hillocks upon the sand-bars.
At a short distance back from the river a range of hills or bluffs was seen. Between the bluffs and the river the meadow or bottom lands were often treeless, and evidently fertile in the highest degree. On the morning of the 12th of March the Mississippi was sufficiently clear of ice for these intrepid voyagers to venture to launch their canoe upon its surface. Slowly and cautiously they paddled up the stream, keeping near the shore and taking advantage of every eddy which could be found. Through vistas opening between the hills and woods occasional glimpses were caught of prairie regions beyond, whose solitude and silence were only relieved by the spectacle of grazing herds, and thousands of birds upon the wing. There were no signs of human life. Apparently eternal silence reigned over those Eden-like solitudes, disturbed only by the lowing of the herds and the varied notes of bird songs.
As they continued their voyage they came upon many islands, whose thick growth of forest trees was so interlaced with vines and undergrowth as to render them almost impenetrable. Vigorously they plied their paddles, day after day, breasting the strong current of the river, encountering no incident of importance. Every night they landed, drew their canoe upon the grass, turned it over, so as to cover its contents from the rain and the dew, built their frail shelter for the night, kindled their camp fire, whose flame is ever as companionable as it is cheerful, cooked their supper, which they ate with the appetite and zest which labor gives, and then, having offered their vesper prayers and chanted their evening hymn, enjoyed that sweet sleep which is one of the greatest of all earthly blessings. At noon they always had a short religious exercise in their canoe.
They often had mild and beautiful mornings, when the whole wide-spread scene of crystal waters, forest, and prairie seemed illumined with almost celestial radiance. Bird songs filled the air. The prairies seemed crowded with all the varieties of animal life in peaceful enjoyment. No sights of violence or suffering met the eye. No discordant sound fell upon the ear. All was beauty, harmony, and joy. The landscape resembled our imaginings of the world before the fall, when it came fresh from its Maker's hands, and all the morning stars hailed its birth.
But again clouds, like marshalling armies, hurried through and darkened the sky. The tempest rose with its dirge-like wailing. The surface of the river was lashed into surges which threatened to devour them. The rain drenched them. The sleet cut their faces. Hastily they sought the shores. Frequently they had to paddle a great distance along the precipitous banks before they could find any place where they could land. Reaching at length the shore, they first covered their goods with the upturned canoe.
Black night would already envelop them. Groping through the darkness, drenched with rain, and numbed with sleet, they would, with great difficulty, raise some frail protection against the storm. No fire could be kindled. No change of clothing was possible. Throwing themselves upon the wet sod, hungry, shivering, and sleepless, they would anxiously await the dawn. The cry of the lone night-bird, and the howling of wolves, would be added to the discord of the angry elements. In such hours this globe did indeed seem to be a sin-blighted world, upon which had fallen the frown of its Maker.
Amid such changes and toils as these, Father Hennepin and his companions, in their frail birch canoe, paddled along against the strong current of the Mississippi. They breakfasted with the earliest dawn, and continued their voyage through ever-varying scenes of sublimity and beauty, until late in the afternoon. Then they began to look eagerly for some sheltered nook suitable for their night's encampment. The silence and solitude through which they passed, at times seemed pleasing, and again almost awful.
For weary leagues, not a village, not a wigwam, not a solitary Indian, appeared. They seemed to be exploring an uninhabited world. The mouths of many rivers were passed, whose names were unknown to them. With feelings akin to awe, they looked up the long reaches of streams, now known by the names of the Des Moines, the Iowa, the Rock River, and the Wisconsin. They wondered what scenes were transpiring far away upon the banks of these apparently solitary waters.
They had ascended the Mississippi several hundred miles, when, about two o'clock in the afternoon of the 11th of April, they were startled by seeing suddenly coming round a near headland, thirty large bark canoes, crowded with Indians, plumed, painted, and armed for battle. It was a gorgeous as well as an appalling spectacle. The blades of their paddles sparkled in the sunlight. The savages were dressed in the highest style of barbaric splendor. Their brilliantly colored feathers, fringed garments, and highly decorated bows, war-clubs and javelins, surpassed, in picturesque beauty, any of the ordinary military trapping of civilized life.
The moment the savages caught sight of the Frenchmen's boat, they simultaneously raised a shout or yell, which reverberated along the banks of the river and struck the hearts of the voyagers with dread. Escape was impossible. Resistance was not to be thought of. The little fleet of canoes, descending the river by the aid both of the current and their paddles, approached with great rapidity. Father Hennepin stood up in his boat and in his hands extended toward the savages, the calumet of peace. Speedily he was surrounded, the calumet was snatched from him, and his canoe was taken to the shore, while all the others followed. During all the time the savages were raising frightful cries and yells, the signification of which, whether welcoming or threatening, could not be understood. It was probably near the mouth of the Wisconsin River that this capture took place.
Father Hennepin had been so long among the Indians, visiting various tribes, and had so long been accustomed to contemplate his violent death as an event which might any day take place, that he was far more tranquil in mind than most persons could have been under these circumstances. Speedily his well-trained eye recognized the chief of the savages. He presented him some tobacco, and then endeavored by signs to enter into conversation with him.
The two head chiefs conferred together. They declined smoking the peace calumet, and were by no means cordial in their reception of the strangers. There was evidently a diversity of opinion among them, as to the disposition they should make of their captives. Three blows of the tomahawk would silence them all in death. Their bodies could be thrown into the stream, and their canoe, with all its freight, of such priceless value to the savages, would be in their possession. Probably some of them had visited the French forts, and knew how to use the musket, and appreciated its death-dealing power. Already they had examined every article in the canoe. They had inspected the rifles, and counted the store of bullets and powder. Such an acquisition would aid them inestimably in the war-path upon which they had entered.
The young men clamored for this decision of the question. In the mind of an untutored savage, who has never enjoyed the light of revealed religion, the dividing line between right and wrong must necessarily be faint. With these men, the pride of life consisted in the numbers of enemies they had slain. Inspired by this desire, they were now on the way to attack a neighboring tribe, to burn their homes, destroy their property, kill and scalp men, women, and children, and to take back some of the leading warriors, that they, their wives, and their children might enjoy the delight of seeing them put to death by diabolical torture. Why should they hesitate to tomahawk three white men who had crossed their path? Why not rob and murder them, when by doing so they could acquire possessions of the greatest value?
But God seems to have implanted in every human heart some sense of right and wrong, some conviction of responsibility to a Superior Being. So far as Father Hennepin could understand their sign language, the chiefs informed him that they were going down the Mississippi to attack a village of the Miamis on the Illinois River. The war party consisted of but one hundred and twenty braves. They intended to attack the village by surprise at night. In an hour they would accomplish their fiend-like deed of murder, scalping, and conflagration. Then, with their gory trophies and their prisoners, they would take to their boats and be far away up the river before there could be any rallying of the tribes in pursuit.
Father Hennepin told them that the Miamis had been informed of their intended attack; that they had abandoned their village, had fled across the Mississippi, and having joined another powerful tribe were watching for their approach. The savages on the shore surrounded their captives, and for some unknown reason frequently gave simultaneous utterance to the most unearthly yells.
Father Hennepin affected great composure, assuming that he was among friends. He presented to the chiefs two large fat turkeys which he had shot coming up the river. Then, with his two companions, he built a fire, hung his iron kettle, and commenced boiling some venison. The Indians looked quietly on for a few minutes, and then all gathered in a group to hold a council. Father Hennepin secretly watched their proceedings with the utmost anxiety. Their speeches were accompanied with very much action. The debate was prolonged and vehement. He sufficiently understood the language of signs to perceive that they were divided in opinion, that while a part were in favor of putting them to death, others were urging that their lives should be spared.
With one of his men he went to the canoe, took six axes, fifteen knives, and a quantity of tobacco, and advancing into the midst of the council presented them to the chiefs. He then took an axe, and bowing his head, made signs that the Indians might kill him if they wished to do so. This chivalric deed touched whatever there was of chivalry in the savage bosom. There was a general murmur of applause. Some of them had been roasting, at a fire near by, some beaver's flesh. One of the savages ran, cut a piece of the smoking meat, and bringing it, on a plate of birch bark, with a sharpened stick for a fork, put three morsels into the mouth of Father Hennepin and his companions. As the food was very hot, the savage blew upon it to cool it. He then set the plate before them, to eat at their pleasure.
Still there was a degree of restraint on the part of the Indians, which indicated that there was by no means perfect reconciliation. There was much talking apart, and it was evident that the fate of the prisoners was not yet decided. The representations, however, which Father Hennepin had made, induced them to relinquish their contemplated enterprise, and to turn back from the war-path upon which they had entered. Just before night, one of the chiefs silently returned to Father Hennepin his peace calumet. This greatly increased their anxiety, as it was inferred that it was an act renouncing friendship.
Savages and Frenchmen all slept alike on the ground and in the open air, by the side of their camp fires. There was no watch kept, and the captives had no indication that they were abridged of their freedom. Still they had many fears that they were to be assassinated before the morning. The two boatmen, Auguelle and Ako, slept with their guns and swords by their sides. They declared that if attacked they would sell their lives as dearly as possible. But Father Hennepin said to them, "I shall allow myself to be killed without any resistance. I came to announce to the savages a God, who for the world's redemption allowed Himself to be falsely accused, unjustly condemned, and cruelly crucified, without showing the least enmity to those who put Him to death. I shall imitate the example thus set me."
The night passed peacefully away, and the morning of the 12th of April dawned upon this scene so wild and picturesque.
As all were gathered around their camp fires, cooking their breakfasts, one of the chiefs, Narketoba by name—presenting a hideous aspect in his barbarian military trappings, his face and bare chest smeared with war paint—approached Father Hennepin and asked for the peace calumet. Receiving it, he filled the cup with tobacco, and having taken a few whiffs himself, presented it to one after another of the whole band. Each one smoked the pipe, though some with evident reluctance. The Frenchmen understood this to indicate that, for the present at least, their lives were to be spared. They were then informed that they must accompany the Indians up the river to their own country.
"I was not sorry," Father Hennepin writes, "in this conjuncture, to continue our discovery with this people."
Life with the Savages.
Ascending the River with the Savages. Religious Worship. Abundance of Game. Hardihood of the Savages. The War-Whoop. Savage Revelry. The Falls of St. Anthony. Wild Country Beyond. Sufferings of the Captives. Capricious Treatment. Triumphal Entrance. The Adoption. Habits of the Savages.
Father Hennepin and his two companions reembarked in their canoe, and, oppressed with varied feelings of anxiety and curiosity, recommenced their journey up the river. The thirty large canoes, filled with their captors, surrounded them. The current was rapid; the savages were seldom in a hurry, and their progress was slow. At night they always landed and slept in the open air, unless it was stormy, when they would sometimes construct for themselves a frail shelter.
The devout ecclesiastic felt in duty bound daily to say his office, as it was called, in accordance with the rules of the Catholic Church. He had his breviary, composed of matins, lauds, vespers, and compline, or last prayer at night. These exercises he scrupulously performed. The superstitious Indians, seeing him open his book, and move his lips, imagined that he was practising some sort of incantation against them. Angrily they cried out against it, exclaiming, in their own language, "witchcraft."
Michael Ako, who had no ambition to receive a martyr's crown, entreated him, if he must say his prayers, to say them in secret. "If you persist in this course," said he, "you will so provoke the Indians, that we shall all be inevitably killed." Auguelle, who was more religiously inclined, joined in these entreaties, begging him to retire apart, morning and evening, into the forest for his devotions.
But the suspicions of the Indians were aroused. They had a great dread of diabolical influences. Whenever he entered the woods a party followed him. He could get no chance to pray out of their sight. At length he said to his companions:
"I cannot dispense with my prayers, whatever may be the consequences. If we are all massacred, I shall be the innocent cause of your death, as well as of my own."
To accustom the Indians to his mode of worship, he commenced chanting the litany of the Virgin. He had a well-trained, melodious voice. The Indians were pleased with the novel strains floating over the still waters. Paddle in hand they paused to listen. Adroitly, he led them to believe that the Good Spirit had taught him to sing, and had sent him to them for their diversion. It would seem, on the whole, that the Indians treated their captives with remarkable kindness. The canoe of the Frenchmen was heavily laden with articles for trade, and there were but three to paddle. They therefore found it very difficult to keep up with the well-manned war canoes of the savages. The chief placed one or two warriors on board the Frenchmen's boat, to help them stem the current. It was with difficulty that the little fleet accomplished more than twenty or twenty-five miles a day.
The savages were collected from various villages, and it was quite evident that they were still divided in opinion respecting the disposition to be made of their prisoners. One of the chiefs took the Frenchmen under his special protection. He caused them, at each encampment, to occupy the same cabin with him, or to sleep by his side. But there was another chief who clamored for their death. He had lost a son, killed by the Miamis. Every night his dismal howlings were heard, as he wailed piteously, endeavoring to stimulate his own passions, and to rouse his comrades to kill the Frenchmen, so as to seize their arms and avenge themselves upon the Miamis.
But others, who were far more considerate, said, If we kill or rob these Frenchmen, we shall soon use up the few goods they have in their canoe, and no other Frenchmen will dare to visit us to bring us more. But, if we treat them kindly, and purchase their goods fairly, others will come, bringing a great abundance. Thus we can all sell our skins and furs, and supply the whole tribe with the things we so greatly need.