The next day, after a sail of about thirty miles, they reached another Indian village on the bank of the river. Here again they landed peacefully, and warmed the hearts of the savages by a few presents which were to them of priceless value. They journeyed slowly. They could not, in their crowded canoes, carry a large amount of provisions. Consequently they were under the necessity of making frequent stops to catch fish or to hunt for game. Not long after this visit of La Salle, a mission was established in this little village, which was called Marou. It is said that most of them were converted to, at least, nominal Christianity.
Continuing their voyage one hundred and twenty miles down the river, they came to the mouth of the Ohio. Here they made another stop to lay in fresh supplies. The friendly Indians there informed them they could find no suitable camping ground for a distance of nearly one hundred and fifty miles, the banks were so low and so encumbered with rushes and dense brush.
The voyagers remained at the mouth of the Ohio ten days, sending out parties in various directions. One of the Frenchmen, Peter Prudhomme, wandering from his companions, did not return. There were many fears that he had been captured by the Indians, as some of the party had seen fresh Indian trails. The heroic La Salle was not disposed to abandon the man. He threw up some entrenchments for the protection of his company, and despatched several well-armed Frenchmen, with Indian guides, to follow vigorously the trail of the savages, for the recovery of the captive if he had been taken by them. For four days La Salle tarried in his encampment at the mouth of the Ohio.
On the 1st of March the detachment, sent in pursuit of the lost one, returned. They had seen and heard nothing of Peter. Five Indians, however, had been seen, two of whom were caught and brought into the camp. They knew nothing of the lost man. Receiving only friendly treatment, they seemed quite anxious that La Salle should visit their village, which they falsely assured La Salle was distant but a day and a half's journey from the point where they then were. These Indians belonged to the Chickasaw tribe, which subsequently became quite prominent in the history of our land.
With the Indians a day's journey was about thirty miles. La Salle and Father Membre set out to visit the village, guided by the Indians. They do not appear to have had any hesitation in thus placing themselves entirely in the hands of the savages. But after having travelled day and a half through a country diversified with forest, prairie, and mountain, they became satisfied that the Indians were deceiving them, and charged them with it.
They confessed the deception, made some lame apologies for it, and confessed that their village was still at the distance of three days' journey. Without any apparent reluctance they accompanied La Salle and Membre back to the camp. La Salle then sent one of the Indians to the Chickasaw village, with several presents, and to invite the chiefs to meet him, some hundred miles below, as he descended in his canoes. The other Indian consented to remain, and accompany his party down the river.
Just as the voyagers were reembarking, the missing man appeared. He had been lost in the forest and for nine days had wandered in the unavailing search for his companions. Fortunately, the weather was mild, game abundant, and, as he had his gun with him, he did not want for food. Cheered by his return, they rejoicingly entered their canoes, and, with cloudless skies overarching them, pushed out into the rapid current, to be swept along through realms to them entirely unknown, and to a point they knew not where.
It was a singular and a beautiful spectacle, which was presented by this flock of large birch canoes, eight or ten in number, filled with Indians, and Frenchmen in Indian costume, gliding down the broad, swift current of the river. The paddles glistened with the reflected rays of the sun. All were in health. There was no toil. New scenes of marvellous desolation, or beauty, or grandeur, were continually opening before them. They were well fed. The mind was kept in a state of delightful excitement. The French are proverbially good-natured and mirthful. Each night's encampment presented a scene of feasting, bonfires and innocent joyous revel. These were indeed sunny days, and this was the poetry of travelling.
The 3d of March, 1682, came. They had then descended the river, as they judged, about one hundred and twenty miles below the mouth of the Ohio. They were approaching, though they knew it not, a large village of the Arkansas Indians, situated on the western banks of the Mississippi. It was concealed from them by a bluff, and by a turn in the stream. An Indian, upon the lookout on the bluff, caught sight of the formidable looking fleet, far up the river, and, supposing it to be filled with hostile savages on the war-path, gave the alarm.
The whole village was instantly thrown into a state of great excitement. The women and children fled back into the forest. The warriors grasped their arms and rallied for battle. As the fleet drew near, all unconscious of the commotion it had excited, the voyagers, not seeing a single Indian, were surprised to hear, on the other side of the bluff, the yells of apparently hundreds of savages. Their piercing war-whoops were blended with the loud beatings of a kind of drum which they had fabricated.
Warned by these hostile demonstrations, La Salle guided his canoes to the other side of the river, which was here about a mile in width. He landed in direct view of the village. With his customary caution, he immediately threw up some intrenchments, behind which his men, with their guns, could beat off almost any number of savages. He knew not but that hundreds of warriors would cross the river in their canoes, to make an impetuous assault upon him.
Having thus guarded against surprise, and afforded the Indians a little time to recover from their first alarm, he then, unarmed, advanced to the water's edge, and by friendly signs endeavored to invite some of the chiefs to come over to meet him.
Several of the chiefs entered a large boat, called a periagua. It was made of the trunk of an immense tree, hollowed out, and carved and decorated with immense labor. Such a wooden canoe was capable of holding a large number of warriors. The chiefs crossed the river until they came to within a quarter of a mile of the shore, and then they stopped, and beckoned the strangers to come and meet them.
La Salle sent one Frenchman, we infer from the narrative that it must have been Father Membre, in a canoe, to meet them. Two of his Indians paddled the boat, until they came alongside of the periagua of the natives. Father Membre, familiar as he was with several Indian dialects, could not speak their language. He however held out to them the calumet of peace, which at once won their confidence; and he found no difficulty in communicating with them by signs. He invited the chiefs to accompany him back to the encampment. They were six in number. Retaining him with them, in the large periagua, they speedily paddled ashore, followed by Membre's canoe, with the two Indian boatmen.
Without any hesitancy, the six Indian chiefs entered into the redoubt which La Salle had thrown up. They appeared frank, unsuspicious, and cordial, and were made very happy by several presents which La Salle placed in their hands. They invited the whole party to cross the river to their village. The canoes were launched, and all crossed the stream, led by the chieftains in their wooden boat. The whole adult male population of the village crowded the banks to receive them; and with every demonstration of friendship. But the timid women and children kept cautiously in the distance.
Eight or ten large birch canoes, from which more than fifty persons landed upon the beach, presented a very imposing appearance. They were nearly all armed with guns, not for aggressive warfare, but for hunting and protection.
The natives crowded around the strangers, conducted them up to their wigwams, which were very pleasantly situated on a rich and tolerably well cultivated plain extending back from the river. The guests were regaled with the greatest profusion of barbarian hospitality. These Indians had attained a very considerable degree of civilization. They had quite a large number of slaves, whom they had captured from tribes with whom they were at war. The fertile fields around were quite well cultivated with corn, beans, melons, and a variety of fruits. Peaches were abundant. Large flocks of turkeys and other domestic fowls crowded their doors. They were a very handsome race; and it was observed that, while the northern Indians were generally moody and taciturn, these savages, beneath more sunny skies, were frank, generous, and gay in the extreme.
The Great Enterprise Accomplished.
Scenes in the Arkansas Villages. Indian Hospitality. Barbarian Splendor. Attractive Scenery. The Alarm. Its Joyful Issue. Genial Character of La Salle. Erecting the Cross. Pleasant Visit to the Koroas. The Two Channels. Perilous Attack. Humanity of La Salle. The Sea Reached. Ceremonies of Annexation.
For several days La Salle and his party remained with their hospitable friends the Arkansas Indians. On the 14th of March, 1682, La Salle took possession of the country in the name of the king of France. He invested the ceremony with all the pomp he could command. An immense cross was raised in the centre of the village; and the Christian's God was recognized with anthems, prayers and imposing religious rites. Thousands of savages gathered around, gazing with delight upon the scene so novel to them. They had no conception of its significance. They supposed it a festival got up for their entertainment, as they would got up a war-dance to please their guests. As the cross was raised, Father Membre made some attempt to teach them the significance of this emblem of the way of salvation through faith in an atoning Saviour. He writes:
"During this time they showed that they relished what I said by raising their eyes to heaven, and kneeling as if to adore. We also saw them rubbing their hands over their bodies, after rubbing them over the cross. In fine, on our return from the sea, we found that they had surrounded the cross with a palisade."
On the 17th of the month, the explorers reembarked, and continued their voyage down the river about eighteen miles, when they came to two other villages of the Arkansas tribe. Here they were again received with the utmost hospitality. Continuing their sunny voyage beneath cloudless skies and upon a glassy stream for four days, they came to quite a large lake formed by an expansion of the river. This sheet of water seemed to be fringed with villages. There were forty on the east side of the lake, and thirty-four on the west side, upon its banks. All were picturesquely situated and, in the distance, presented an aspect of much beauty.
The houses were well built, of clay mixed with straw baked in the sun. The roofs were constructed of canes quite gracefully bent in the form of a dome. Their beds or mats were raised on wooden bedsteads, and they had many convenient articles of household furniture. The bark of a tree furnished very fine white fibres, which they braided into blankets and other articles of dress. The head chief was an absolute sovereign, having the property and the lives of his subjects entirely at his disposal. A retinue of slaves attended him. He was luxuriously clothed, fed, and housed.
The village of the chief was at a little distance from the banks of the lake. La Salle was quite sick, and unable to go up to the palace to pay his respects to the monarch. He encamped upon the borders of the expanded stream, and beneath the shade of his roof sought repose upon his mat. He, however, sent Lieutenant Tonti and Father Membre with presents to the chief. In return, several men were sent to La Salle, munificently laden with provisions and other gifts. Soon after, the king himself appeared in regal state. First came a master of ceremonies, with six pioneers, to remove every obstruction from the way, and to make the path level for the feet of royalty. They selected a spot upon which the monarch was to give audience to his guests. The ground was carefully smoothed, and carpeted with beautiful mats.
The monarch soon made his appearance. He was richly dressed in white robes. Two officers preceded him, bearing plumes of gorgeously colored feathers. He was followed by another official, bearing two large plates of copper, highly polished. The king had the bearing of a gentleman. He was grave, dignified, and courteous. Having ever been accustomed to absolute command, he had that peculiar air of self-possession and authority which seems to be the inheritance of those who can boast a long line of illustrious ancestry.
It was the 22d day of March, 1682. The scene presented was in the highest degree picturesque and beautiful. The widely expanded lake glittered in the sunlight as placid as a mirror. The villages of the Indians, clustered so thickly along the shores, were composed of substantial dwellings, whose roofs of curved canes, thatched with thick mats, were rounded into graceful domes. The barbarian splendor assumed by the monarch, the group of French adventurers, with their Indian companions, gathered near by, the thousands of the Taensa tribe, men, women, and children, standing at a respectful distance, silently gazing upon the scene, the little fleet of canoes upon the beach, and the encampment hastily thrown up—these combined to open to the eye a picture of peace and loveliness, which the pencil of the most skilful artist might in vain attempt to rival.
It did indeed seem then and there, as though God had intended this for a happy world—for a world where his children might live together in paternal love, and with the interchange of the kindliest sympathies. Though in the early spring, the foliage beneath those sunny skies was in full leaf, and the flowers in full bloom.
"The whole country," writes Father Membre, "is covered with palm trees, laurels of two kinds, plums, peaches, mulberry, apple, and pear trees of every variety. There are also five or six kinds of nut trees, some of which bear nuts of extraordinary size. They also gave us several kinds of dried fruit to taste. We found them large and good. They have also many varieties of fruit trees which I never saw in Europe. The season was however too early to allow us to see the fruit. We observed vines already out of blossom."
The interview between the monarch and La Salle passed off very pleasantly. It was conducted mainly by signs. Smiles and presents were interchanged. For four days the voyagers remained the guests of these friendly people. They rambled through their villages, entered their dwellings, and were abundantly feasted. The natives seemed very amiable, quite intelligent, and were far in advance, in civilization, of the nations or tribes farther north. Father Membre was much pleased with their candor, and with the clearness with which he thought they comprehended his instructions. They readily accepted his teaching of God; and apparently comprehended, without any difficulty, the plan of salvation through an atoning Saviour.
In truth, this doctrine is apparently the most simple and the most powerful which can be presented to the savage. All over the world, the necessity of an atonement for sin seems to be implanted in the human breast. And when the missionary teaches the savage that God, our Heavenly Father, in the person of His Son has borne our sins in His own body on the tree, the most ignorant can comprehend it, and the most wicked can be moved by it.
On the 26th of March, La Salle and his companions, greatly refreshed by their delightful visit, resumed their voyage down the river. They descended very rapidly, by the aid of the current and the paddle. Having sailed about forty miles, they saw in the distance below them, a large wooden boat containing a number of Indians. The savages seemed alarmed as they caught sight of the fleet of canoes coming down so rapidly upon them. They plied their paddles with all diligence, and run into the eastern shore.
La Salle, with his usual caution, landed upon the opposite bank. The two parties gazed at each other across the rolling flood, a mile in width. La Salle sent Lieutenant Tonti, in a canoe with several Indians, to carry to the boatmen the calumet of peace. While the Indians plied their paddles, he stood up in the canoe, waving toward the boatmen the plumed badge of fraternity. As Lieutenant Tonti was crossing the river, a large number of Indians were seen running in, from various directions, and crowding the banks. When within arrow-shot of the shore, he stopped, still presenting the calumet, which all the tribes seemed to recognize and respect.
All suspicion was allayed. The savages, unapprehensive of any treachery, crowded their periagua, and the boat and the canoe, with the inmates on terms of the kindest fellowship, passed over to the French on the western bank. The two parties blended as brothers. The Indians were fishermen of the Natches tribe. They had a large village about nine miles inland, east of the river. Without any hesitancy La Salle, Father Membre, and a few others, accepted an invitation to accompany them to their village.
There are some men so frank, genial, kind-hearted that they win affection at sight. La Salle was such a man. With no special effort to make friends, his nature was such that the savage and the civilized man alike were immediately won by the fascination of his presence. Father Membre gives frequent testimony to these peculiar attractions of the chivalric pioneer. On this occasion he writes:
"We slept in the wigwams of these savages. They gave us as kindly a welcome as we could desire. The Chevalier La Salle, whose very air, engaging manners, and captivating mind, everywhere commanded respect and love, so impressed the hearts of these Indians that they did not know how to treat us well enough. They would gladly have kept us with them permanently."
For three days La Salle and his companions enjoyed the hospitality of these friendly natives. About thirty miles below the Natches Indians, there was another powerful tribe called the Koroas. They were friends and allies of the Natches. A courier was despatched to inform the chief of the Koroas of the arrival of the distinguished strangers, and to invite him to come and share in giving them a suitable welcome. He hastened to Natches with an imposing retinue of his head men. They also paid prompt homage to the dignity and the attractions of La Salle.
Again a cross was erected, while admiring multitudes gazed admiringly upon the religious and civil pomp with which the ceremony was invested. A plate was attached to the cross, upon which was engraved the arms of Louis XIV. The Indians were delighted with the show, and with the memorial thus left of the visit; though they could not comprehend the significance of the rite as taking possession of their country in the name of the King of France.
La Salle and his companions returned to their canoes. The Chickasaw Indian who had accompanied them from their encampment near the mouth of the Ohio, and which they had named Camp Prudhomme, from the man who had been lost and found there, remained at the village of the Natches Indians. The journey of a few days would take him to his own tribe.
The chief of the Koroas, having invited La Salle to visit his village, embarked with his suite, in their wooden boats, and descended the river in company with the French in their birch canoes. A sail of about four hours swept them down to the village, which was called Akoroa. It was beautifully situated on an eminence, commanding a view of a wide-spread and exceedingly fertile prairie, with large fields of corn, whose spear-like leaves were already waving in the gentle breeze.
The Indians were fond of ceremony. They held a council, presented the calumet, smoked the pipe of fraternity, made speeches which were but poorly understood, and exchanged presents. After a short tarry, the voyage was again resumed. The chief furnished them with a pilot, telling them that it would still require a voyage of ten days to reach the sea, and that the river broke into several channels or independent streams as it approached the Gulf. As the Indians considered thirty or forty miles a good day's voyage in descending the river, it was estimated that there was a journey of between three and four hundred miles still before them. They were also informed that there were numerous tribes upon the lower river, but that they were generally well-disposed.
On the 2d of April, when the canoes had descended the river about eighteen miles below Akoroa, the river branched into two arms or channels, with an island between, which they estimated to be one hundred and eighty miles in length. They had been directed to take the channel on the left. But it so chanced that there was a heavy river fog, and they did not see it. La Salle's canoe was in the advance, and the canoe which held the guide happened to be far in the rear. Though the keen eyes of the Indian pierced the fog, and he did all in his power by signs to show them that they were wrong, the whole fleet followed its leader, and were swept along in the channel on the right.
The reason why they were cautioned to take the left branch, was that the eight or ten tribes on the western banks were friendly, and would make them no trouble, while those upon the eastern branch were ferocious, and would be likely to attack them. They soon experienced the wisdom of the advice which had been given them.
On the 2d of April, when they had descended the river about one hundred and twenty miles, they saw a number of Indians on the bank of the river, fishing. The moment the savages caught sight of the fleet of canoes they fled. Immediately the forest seemed filled with the clamor of hideous war-whoops the beating of drums, and all other sounds of hostility. The branch of the river which they were descending, was here compressed into a narrow channel. A dense forest fringed both banks. It was evident that there were populous villages near by, for the warriors were seen rapidly gathering, as they ran from tree to tree to get good positions to overwhelm the canoes with their arrows.
The bows were very strong. The muscular arms of the Indians would throw an arrow with almost the velocity and precision of a rifle bullet. These barbed weapons would tear their way through the birch bark of the canoes as if they were but sheets of brown paper. With appalling suddenness this cloud of war was marshalling its forces. It was sufficiently menacing to alarm the bravest heart.
La Salle ordered all the boats to stop. He then sent one canoe forward, with four Frenchmen, to present the calumet of peace. They received orders not to fire upon the savages under any emergence. As soon as the canoe came within arrow-shot, the savages, regardless of the calumet, let fly a shower of arrows upon them. Fortunately, they nearly all fell a little short, and no one was hit. With the utmost precipitation, the Frenchmen paddled back to their companions. La Salle then sent another canoe, with four Indians, bearing the calumet. They advanced with great caution, and met with the same hostile reception.
He then directed the canoes to press as near the opposite bank as possible, to ply their paddles with all energy, and thus hurry by the point of peril. Humanely he ordered not a gun to be fired. He had no wish to engage in a battle in which nothing was to be gained. Very easily his sharp-shooters could cause many of those savage warriors to bite the dust, and thus lamentation and woe would be sent to many of those wigwams. But this would do no good. It would not subdue the savages; it would only exasperate them. He also remembered that he was to return, and that if the savages had received no harm at his hands, their spirit of revenge would not be aroused, and it would be much less difficult to establish friendly relations with them.
Though the savages yelled, and ran franticly along the shore, and threw their arrows with their utmost strength, the canoes, swept along by the rapid current, and the sinewy strength of the paddles, all passed in safety. The kind-hearted La Salle must have congratulated himself that none were left behind to mourn. He afterwards learned that this inhospitable tribe was called the Quinnipissa.
They had paddled down the stream but about six miles, when they came to other and still more deplorable evidences of man's inhumanity to man. They found upon the banks the smouldering remains of a large village, which had recently been sacked and burned. It was evident that the inhabitants had been given up to indiscriminate massacre, with the exception of those who had been carried away into slavery, or to add to the revelry of a gala day, in the endurance of demoniac torture. The ground was covered with the bodies of men, women, and children, in all the loathsome stages of decay. Sadly the voyagers rambled through these awful scenes for an hour, meeting with no living being, and then hurried on their way. This village, it was subsequently ascertained, was called Tangibao.
Still they continued descending the river four days longer, without meeting any incident of importance. Their day's sail averaged about thirty miles. It was always necessary to land for the night's encampment. They had made, as they estimated, about one hundred and twenty miles from Quinnipissa when they came to the delta of the Mississippi. Here the majestic river divided into four branches. At this point they landed, and encamped in the midst of a dense and almost tropical forest, upon the bank, but slightly elevated above the surface of the water.
In the morning La Salle divided his fleet into three bands, one to descend each of these three branches. He took the one on the extreme right, or the western branch. Lieutenant Tonti, with Father Membre, took the middle. The eastern branch, on the left, was assigned to Mr. Dautray. Upon reaching the sea, the canoes on the right and left were to turn toward the centre until they should meet the party of Lieutenant Tonti, whose route to the sea, it was supposed, would be a little shorter than that of either of the other two.
They all found the water deep and brackish, and the current very slow. After sailing a few miles they tasted the salt of the ocean. Soon their eyes were gladdened with the sight of the open sea. It was mild, serene, beautiful summer weather. The region, as far as the eye could reach, was low and marshy, with no landmarks. The fleets were, however, all reunited in safety. La Salle having heard the report respecting the middle and eastern channels, decided to return to the western, by which he had descended.
They then ascended this branch before they could find any dry and solid ground, suitable to afford a permanent foundation for the cross of Christ and the arms of France. On the ninth of April, they were all assembled on a ridge slightly elevated, for the celebration of this all-important ceremony. First, they raised a massive column, at the foot of which they buried a leaden plate, bearing an inscription in Latin, to the following purport:
"Louis the Great Reigns. Robert, Cavalier, with Lord Tonti, Ambassador, Zenobia Membre, Ecclesiastic, and twenty Frenchmen, first navigated this river from the country of the Illinois, and passed through this mouth on the ninth of April, sixteen hundred and eighty-two."
The names of all the Frenchmen of the party were attached to this plate. La Salle then made a speech, which was carefully worded, and seems to have been recorded at that time. It was in substance as follows:
"In the name of Louis the Great, and in virtue of the commission I hold in my hand, I take possession of this country of Louisiana, its seas, harbors, ports, bays, and adjacent straits; and also of all the nations, people, provinces, cities, towns, villages, mines, minerals, fisheries, streams, and rivers, comprised in the extent of the said Louisiana, from the mouth of the great river called the Ohio, and this with the consent of the people dwelling therein, with whom we have made alliance; and also of the rivers which discharge themselves therein, from the sources of the Mississippi to its mouth in the sea; upon the assurance of all these nations that we are the first Europeans who have descended or ascended the said Mississippi. I hereby protest against all those who may in future undertake to invade any of these countries, to the prejudice of the right of his Majesty, acquired by the consent of all the nations herein named. Of this I take to witness all those who hear me, and demand an act of the Notary as required by law."
To this the whole assembly responded with shouts of Vive le Roi and with a salute of fire-arms.
The civic ceremony being thus ended, the transaction was now to be ratified with religious rites. By the side of the column, a massive cross had been erected. The devout La Salle, who was earnestly a religious man, took his position at the foot of the cross, and said:
"His Majesty, Louis the Great, the eldest son of the Church, will annex no country to his crown without making it his chief care to establish the Christian religion therein. Its symbol must now be recognized." Several Christian hymns were then chanted. The sublime strains of the Te Deum resounded through the arches of the forest; and other ceremonies of the Catholic Church were performed with all the pomp which the circumstances would allow.
Thus the great achievement was accomplished. According to the then existing law of nations, the whole valley of the Mississippi was annexed to France. It was indeed a magnificent acquisition. It is estimated that the kingdom of France comprises an extent not quite three hundred thousand square miles. It is judged that the valley of the Mississippi drains a region of one million square miles. Thus the pioneer, La Salle, conferred upon France a territory more than three times as large as the kingdom of France itself.
The Return Voyage.
The Numerous Alligators. Destitution of Provisions. Encountering Hostile Indians. A Naval Battle. Visit to the Village. Treachery of the Savages. The Attack. Humane Conduct of La Salle. Visit to the Friendly Taensas. Severe Sickness of La Salle. His Long Detention at Prudhomme. The Sick Man's Camp. Lieutenant Tonti sent Forward. Recovery of La Salle. His Arrival at Fort Miami.
There was no game to be taken in the vast swamps at the mouth of the river. The provisions of the voyagers were nearly exhausted. They, however, chanced to find an abandoned Indian camp, where there was a small quantity of strips of the flesh of some animal, dried in the sun. As they were eagerly eating it, the Indians who accompanied them informed them that it was human flesh. It is needless to say that they could eat no more; though the savages, who devoured it with much gusto, declared that it was exceedingly delicate and savory.
On the 10th of April, the next day after the ceremony of annexation, they commenced their toilsome ascent of the river on their voyage back. Enormous alligators were often met with, sunning themselves on the sand-bars. The sharp-shooters soon learned where the bullet would strike a vulnerable point. For several days they lived mainly on wild potatoes and the flesh of alligators. The country was so low, and so bordered with almost impenetrable canes, that they could not hunt without making long delays. At length they reached the blackened ruins and the mouldering dead of Tangibao. The desolation remained complete. None had returned.
It was a matter of the utmost importance, apparently of absolute necessity, that they should lay in a store of corn. There was so much uncertainty as to hunting, that they might be many days without food, and thus perish. But a pint of corn, pounded into meal and baked in the ashes, would afford a hungry man a very nutritious dinner. And if so successful as to take some game, this bread gave great additional zest to the repast.
On the thirteenth day, as they were slowly paddling against the stream, they saw, far away in the north, a great smoke, apparently from Indian fires. It was evidently not far from the region where the Quinnipissa Indians had so fiercely attacked them, but a few days before. Much apprehension was felt lest they should again be assailed. The passage against the rapid current was necessarily very slow. The Indians had large wooden boats, which they could fill with warriors, and being above them on the river, could completely cut off their retreat.
La Salle sent one of the canoes forward to reconnoitre. As his Indian boatmen were paddling cautiously along beneath the dense foliage of the banks, they caught sight of four women. Under the perilous circumstances, it was thought best to capture them, if possible, and hold them as hostages for the good behavior of the tribe. This was not doing evil that good might come, for the measure was fully justifiable, in view of the attack which had been made upon them, and as the only means of preventing the effusion of blood.
The men landed, and the swift runners caught the women and took them back to the fleet. It was then learned that the Quinnipissa Indians, a peculiarly warlike and ferocious race, had a large village but a little distance farther up the river. This village it was necessary to pass. There could be no doubt that the savages would fiercely assail them. As they could probably bring many hundred warriors into the conflict, and could make the attack not only from their capacious periaguas, but also from the shelter of the trees on the bank, the situation of the French seemed quite desperate.
La Salle, in this emergence, drew his canoes to the shore, a little below the village, and on the opposite bank. He hoped, by the aid of his captives, to open some communication with the foe. But the Indians had already learned of his approach. Again the hideous clamor of demoniac war was heard, as the noise of their rude drums and savage yells fell upon the ear.
It was early in the afternoon of a day of almost tropical warmth and serenity, when all the voices of nature seemed to invite man to love and help his brother. Soon quite a fleet of massive boats was seen, descending the river, each boat crowded with twenty or thirty warriors, plumed and painted, and armed with bows and arrows, javelins, and clubs. They were yelling like demons, as if expecting by noise to rouse their courage to the highest point.
La Salle himself, with two or three picked companions, pushed out in a canoe, and advanced to meet them. Though one or two guns were in the bottom of the canoe, to be used in case of absolute necessity, they appeared entirely unarmed—a single canoe advancing to meet a fleet. La Salle stood up and waved the calumet, the sacred emblem of peace and friendship. The savages, thirsty for blood, paid no heed to this appeal. They redoubled their yells, and like a band of desperate villains as they were, shot a volley of arrows toward the one canoe with its three or four unarmed occupants. With new vigor the savages plied their paddles, being now sure of the capture of the strangers.
The moment for prompt and decisive action had come. The guns were heavily loaded. One of the boats, larger and more richly ornamented than the rest, contained evidently the head chief. He was a man of herculean frame, dressed in the most gorgeous of barbaric attire. As he stood up in his boat, giving orders, he presented just the target, though at a great distance, to which a sharp-shooter might direct unerring aim. La Salle ordered one of his marksmen to strike him down. After a moment's pause, there was a flash, a slight puff of smoke, a loud report, and the invisible bullet pierced the heart of the chief. The blood gushed forth in a torrent, and the warrior dropped dead in the bottom of the boat.
The warriors were appalled, terrified. Never before had they heard the report of a gun. They knew not what had struck down their chief. No missile had been seen. None could be found. The savages were very superstitious. They thought this must be the work of witchcraft; that they were attacked by evil spirits, whose power was invincible. They had seen the lightning flash, and the rising, vanishing cloud. They had heard the thunder peal. Their chief had been struck dead by some resistless bolt, at twice the distance to which any arrow could be thrown. It was folly to contend against such a foe. The next instant every one might be stricken down. They were seized with a panic. Instantly, heading the bows of their boats up the river, they fled with the utmost precipitation.
La Salle returned to his companions, conscious that he had secured a truce only. He had still the village to pass; and the current was so strong that he must pass very slowly. It was probable that the Indians would so far recover from their consternation, that some of the boldest would again assail his boats, from behind sheltering rocks and trees. The frail canoes might easily be pierced by their missiles, and the inmates thrown into the water. The savages would soon become accustomed to the report of the guns. Finding that rocks and trees protected them from the invisible bolt, they would all be emboldened; and thus a general and prolonged attack, following them up the river, would cause their entire destruction.
The utmost wisdom was still requisite, to rescue the party from these perils. La Salle loaded one of the women with rich presents of axes, knives, and beads, and sent her across the river in one of his canoes. By signs he told her to inform her tribe that he wished for friendship with them; that if they would be friendly, and bring him in a supply of corn, he would liberate his three other captives, and pay liberally for the corn, in articles which would be of great value to the Indians.
The next morning a large number of Indian warriors were seen approaching the encampment, where the Frenchmen had thrown up defences which would enable them to sell their lives dearly, were the savages determined upon their destruction. La Salle, as bold as he was humane, advanced alone to meet them, presenting the calumet. The Indians assumed a friendly attitude, entered into a treaty of peace, and invited La Salle, with his party, to visit their village. They also brought him a considerable store of corn. Though their manner was such as to lead La Salle greatly to doubt their sincerity, he accepted their invitation, first exacting hostages to remain in the camp until his return. He took with him Father Membre, his invariable companion on such occasions. The mild, fearless, heroic missionary writes:
"We went up to the village where these Indians had prepared us a feast in their fashion. They had notified their allies and neighbors; so that when we went to enjoy the banquet, in a large square, we saw a confused mass of armed savages arrive, one after another. We were however welcomed by the chiefs; but, having ground for suspicion, each kept his gun ready, and the Indians, seeing it, durst not attack us."
Toward evening, La Salle and his companion returned to the camp, still apprehensive that the Indians meditated treachery. They released the three women, whom they made very happy, with rich presents. A careful watch was kept through the night. Before the dawn of the next morning the sentinels reported that they heard a noise, as if a multitude of men were stealthily gathering in a dense growth of canes, but a short distance from the encampment. All were instantly summoned to arms.
It was a gloomy morning, very dark, with moaning wind and gathering clouds and falling rain. The men had but just taken their stations, behind the intrenchments which had been so prudently raised, when the shrill war-whoop burst from apparently hundreds of savage lips; and from the impenetrable darkness a shower of arrows came whizzing through the air. They all fell harmless in and around the spot where the men stood, behind their ramparts, with muskets loaded and primed.
Though the savages kept up an incessant yell, and threw their arrows almost at random into the narrow enclosure, they were so concealed by the darkness and the thick cane-brake, that not one was to be seen. The French kept perfect silence. Not a loud word was spoken. Not a musket was fired. It was very important that every bullet should accomplish its mission and lay a warrior dead in his blood. The Indians were to be taught that every flash and peal was the sure precursor of the death or the serious wound of one of their number.
Soon the day began to dawn. With the increasing light the savages were revealed, as they dodged from point to point. There was no random firing of the guns. Deliberate aim was taken. The savages were very cautious in exposing themselves. The Frenchmen were perfectly protected from their arrows by the rampart of logs. For two hours this strange battle raged—twenty Frenchmen against hundreds of savages. Ten Indians were shot dead. Many others were dreadfully wounded with shattered bones. It is probable that every bullet hit its mark. Not an arrow of the savage had drawn blood.
As the sun rose, revealing the deadly fire of the guns and the utter impotence of the missiles of the Indians, the savages were again thrown into a panic, and fled precipitately. La Salle, with nearly all his force, pursued them up to the village, where, with axes, he speedily demolished all their boats, so that they could not pursue, as he should continue his voyage. His men urged him to burn the village of his treacherous foes. But he refused, saying that he would inflict no farther injury upon them than was absolutely necessary in self-defence.
At the close of this day of gloom, battle, and blood, another night came, of darkness and rain. Enveloped in the shades of night, the French reembarked. Silently they passed the village. Not a savage "opened his mouth or peeped." The storm passed away. And when the sun of another lovely morning shone down upon them, the voyagers were far beyond the reach of their cruel foes. Father Membre returned thanks to God that He had borne them, unharmed, through such great peril, and had restrained them from the exercise of any unchristian revenge. It was the morning of the 19th of April.
For twelve days they continued breasting the current of the stream, as they laboriously paddled their way upward. Anxious to return to Quebec as soon as possible, with the tidings of their glorious achievement, they made no tarry at the many villages which were scattered along the banks. They often saw assemblages of Indians, who seemed to assume a hostile attitude. No attack was, however, made upon them.
In descending the river they had a good supply of corn, and stored away quite a quantity in a cache. They found it, on their return, in good condition, and it furnished them with a very opportune supply. They were surprised to see how rapidly the corn in the fields matured. Fields were passed on the 29th of March, where the tender blades were just sprouting from the ground. And now, in less than four weeks, the corn was fit to roast. They were told that, in fifty days from planting, it often ripened.
A short tarry was made at the friendly village of the Taensa Indians, where they were again very hospitably entertained. On the 1st of May they resumed their slow and laborious voyage, and reached the Arkansas Indians about the 15th of the month. On the 16th La Salle took two light canoes, propelled by sturdy Indian rowers, and pushed on in advance of the rest of the party. He gave directions for the other canoes to follow as fast as they could. But he was taken dangerously sick on the way.
A birch canoe, in which one is exposed to the rays of the noonday sun, to the chill dews of morning and evening, to drenching showers and dreary days of clouds and rain, presents but few comforts to a man in sickness and suffering. He, however, succeeded, after a toilsome voyage of about ten days, in reaching his old encampment, which he had named Prudhomme, near the mouth of the Ohio River.
Here his malady grew so alarming that he could go no farther. His party landed, drew their canoes up upon the grass of the prairie, repaired their camp, so as to make it an effectual protection from sun and rain, spread mats upon the ground, and made the sick man, who they feared was soon to die, as comfortable as possible.
In such cases a camp was generally built in the form of a shed, with the front entirely open. This camp was on the eastern side of the river, facing the majestic stream and the splendors of the setting sun. La Salle had no physician, no medicine, no tender nursing, no delicate food to tempt a failing appetite. He could only lie patiently upon his mat, and await the progress of the disease, whether it were for life or for death. The silence and solitude of the river, the prairie, and the forest surrounded him.
Strange must have been his reflections in those solemn hours, when he was anticipating the speedy approach of death, upon the banks of that wonderful stream which his enterprise had caused to be explored from its sources to its mouth. As in languor and suffering he reclined upon his couch, all the beauty and bloom of May, in a delightful clime, were spread around him. The silent flood swept by, rushing down a distance of countless leagues in the north, until, after a serpentine course of more than a thousand miles, through the most wonderful scenes of nature, and fringed with the villages of innumerable savage tribes, it was lost in the great Mexican gulf. The Indians moved about in silence, seldom exchanging a word with each other. They brought in game, and were continually cooking and eating at the fire, which was kept in a constant blaze in front of the camp.
Two days and nights were thus passed, when, on the 2d of June, the remaining canoes of the fleet were seen in the distance, approaching the encampment. They soon landed; and the whole party, over fifty in number, presented to the eye a new scene of bustle and activity. La Salle was sinking, in the ever-increasing languor of something like typhoid fever. It was manifest that many days must elapse before he could leave that spot, and it was probable, in his own judgment as well as in that of all his companions, that he would there sink into that last sleep from which there is no earthly waking.
In these trying hours, his serenity and trust in God did not forsake him. He called Lieutenant Tonti to the side of his couch, and directed him to take several canoes, with the larger part of the company, and make his way, as vigorously as possible, up the river three hundred miles to the mouth of the Illinois River. Then, ascending that, and its upper branch, the Kaskaskias, he was to cross by the portage to a tributary of the St. Joseph's, and paddle down those streams to Fort Miami, where the St. Joseph empties into Lake Michigan. Thence by the lake he was to make his way to Mackinac. This required a journey of over a thousand miles. M. Tonti was furnished with documents addressed to Count Frontenac, Governor of Canada, giving a detailed account of the explorations and discoveries which La Salle had so successfully accomplished. Father Membre, with several others of the party, remained with the sick man.
For more than a month the burning fever raged, and La Salle was brought to the verge of the grave. The fever then left him. For some time it was doubtful whether there was sufficient strength remaining for him to recover. Slowly he gained. After a detention of forty days, they placed him carefully upon mats, in the bottom of a canoe, and, by short stages, resumed their voyage. They left Fort Prudhomme, and, following the same track which Tonti had pursued, did not reach Fort Miami, at the mouth of the St. Joseph's River, until the end of September. But July and August were months of delightful weather. The scenery, rich with forest grandeur and prairie flowers, was varied and enchanting. Game was abundant. Ripe fruit hung on many boughs. Hospitable villages were scattered along the way, where the general voyagers were invariably received with kindness truly fraternal.
The motion of the canoe, as the Indians, with brawny arms, paddled over the mirrored surface of the stream, was soothing and grateful to the languid, yet convalescent patient. In the cool of the beautiful mornings they could glide along the stream for a few leagues, then shelter themselves in some shady grove from the rays of the noonday sun, and in the cool of the serene evenings, resume their voyage till the deepening twilight admonished them to seek their night's encampment.
Thus pleasantly journeying, La Salle rapidly regained strength; and when he reached Fort Miami he was restored to almost his customary vigor. He found the habitation called Fort Miami quite renovated by Lieutenant Tonti, and a few men left in garrison to receive him upon his arrival. Quite a cluster of Indian wigwams had also been reared there, giving a very animated and cheerful aspect to the spot. Father Membre, in describing the scenery through which they passed, in this ascent of the Mississippi and the Illinois, writes:
"The banks of the Mississippi, for twenty or thirty leagues from its mouth, are covered with a dense growth of canes, except in fifteen or twenty places where there are very pretty hills and spacious, convenient landing-places. Behind this fringe of marshy land you see the finest country in the world.
"Our hunters, both French and Indian, were delighted with it. For an extent of six hundred miles in length, and as much in breadth, we were told there are vast fields of excellent land, diversified with pleasing hills, lofty woods, groves through which you might ride on horseback, so clear and unobstructed are the paths.
"These little forests also line the rivers which intersect the country in various places, and which abound in fish. The crocodiles are dangerous here; so much so, that, in some places, no one would venture to expose himself, or even to put his hand out of his canoe. The Indians told us that these animals often dragged in their people, where they could anywhere get hold of them.
"The fields are full of all kinds of game, wild cattle, does, deer, stags, bears, turkeys, partridges, parrots, quails, woodcock, wild pigeons, and ringdoves. There are also beaver, otters, and martens. The cattle of this country surpass ours in size. Their head is monstrous, and their look is frightful, on account of the long, black hair with which it is surrounded, and which hangs below the chin. The hair is fine, and scarce inferior to wool. The Indians wear their skins, which they dress very neatly. They assured us that, inland, toward the west, there are animals on which men ride, and which carry very heavy loads. They described them as horses, and showed two feet, which were actually hoofs of horses.
"We observed wood fit for every use. There were the most beautiful cedars in the world. There was one kind of tree which shed an abundance of gum, as pleasant to burn as the best French pastilles. We also saw fine hemlocks, and other large trees with white bark. The cotton-wood trees were very large. Of these, the Indians dug out canoes forty or fifty feet long. Sometimes there were fleets of a hundred and fifty at their villages. We saw every kind of tree fit for ship-building. There is also plenty of hemp for cordage, and tar could be made in abundance.
"Prairies are seen everywhere. Sometimes they are fifty or sixty miles in length on the river front, and many leagues in depth. They are very rich and fertile, without a stone or a tree to obstruct the plough. These prairies are capable of sustaining an immense population. Beans grow wild, and the stalks last several years, bearing fruit. The bean vines are thicker than a man's arm, and run to the top of the highest trees. Peach trees are abundant, and bear fruit equal to the best which can be found in France. They are often so loaded, in the gardens of the Indians, that they have to prop up the branches. There are whole forests of mulberries, whose ripened fruit we began to eat in the month of May. Plums are found in great variety, many of which are not known in Europe. Grapevines and pomegranates are common. Three or four crops of corn can be raised in a year.
"The Indian tribes, though savage, seem generally amiable, affable, and obliging. They have no true idea of religion by a regular worship. Tribes separated by not more than thirty miles, speak a different language. And yet they manage to understand each other. There is always some interpreter of one nation residing in another, when they are allies, and who acts as a kind of consul. They are very different from our Canada Indians, in their houses, dress, manners, inclinations, and customs. They have large public squares, games, assemblies. They seem mirthful and full of vivacity. Their chiefs have absolute authority. No one would dare to pass between the chief and the cane torch which burns in his cabin, and is carried before him when he goes out. All make a circuit around it with some ceremony.
"The chiefs have servants and officers, who follow them and wait upon them everywhere. The chiefs distribute their favors at will. In a word, we generally found them to be men. We saw none who knew the use of fire-arms. They had no iron or steel articles, using only stone knives and hatchets."
This wonderful expedition was accomplished without the loss of a single life, on the part of the voyagers. Not one was even wounded. Father Membre attributes this, next to God's goodness, to the tact and wisdom manifested by La Salle. As to the missionary fruits of this enterprise, the devoted ecclesiastic writes:
"I will say nothing here of conversions. Formerly the apostles had but to enter a country, when on the first publication of the Gospel, conversions were seen. I am but a miserable sinner, infinitely destitute of the merits of the apostles. We must acknowledge that these miraculous ways of grace are not attached to the exercise of our ministry. God employs an ordinary and common way, following which, I contented myself with announcing, as well as I could, the principal truths of Christianity to the nations I met. The Illinois language served me for about three hundred miles down the river. I made the rest understand by gestures, and some term in their dialect which I insensibly picked up. But I cannot say that my feeble efforts produced certain fruits. With regard to these people, perhaps some one, by a secret effect of grace, has profited, God only knows. All we have done has been to see the state of these tribes, and to open the way to the Gospel, and to missionaries."
Sea Voyage to the Gulf of Mexico.
La Salle returns to Quebec. Sails for France. Assailed by Calumny. The Naval Expedition. Its Object. Its Equipment. Disagreement between La Salle and Beaujeu. The Voyage to the West Indies. Adventures in the Caribbean Sea. They Enter the Gulf. Storms and Calms. The Voyagers Lost.
Father Membre's journal abruptly terminates with the arrival of the party at Fort Miami. We have no detailed account of the adventures of La Salle during the next eight or ten months. We learn incidentally, that Father Membre was sent to Quebec, and thence to France, to convey to the court the tidings of the great discovery, and of the annexation of truly imperial realms to the kingdom of Louis XIV. On the 8th of October, Father Membre left Fort Miami for Quebec. Thence he sailed with Governor Frontenac for France, where he arrived before the close of the year. La Salle remained with the Miami and the Illinois Indians, probably retrieving his fallen fortunes by extensive traffic in furs, of which he had, at the time, a monopoly conferred upon him by the king.
At length, in the autumn of 1683, he also returned to Quebec, and sailed for France, landing at Rochelle on the 13th of December. No man can, in this world, accomplish great results without exposing himself to malignant attacks. Bitter enemies assailed La Salle with venomous hostility. Their hostility was excited by the monopoly of the fur trade, which he enjoyed over all the vast regions he had explored. They despatched atrocious charges against him to the government, denouncing him as a robber, and denying the discoveries which he professed to have made. But Governor Frontenac and Father Membre were both at Versailles, and La Salle's cause was not seriously injured by these malignant charges.
It was the chevalier's object, in this his return to France, to organize a colony to form a settlement in the earthly paradise which he thought that he had discovered on the banks of the Mississippi. He designed to arrange an expedition of such magnitude as would enable him to establish several permanent settlements, and also to explore more extensively the newly discovered country.
The king and the court entered eagerly into plans, which promised to redound greatly to the glory of France. The reputation of La Salle, the grandeur of the undertaking, and a natural curiosity to visit scenes so full of novelty and wonders, induced several gentlemen of distinction and intelligence to embark in the enterprise. Among them was a younger brother of La Salle, with an ecclesiastic called M. Cavalier, and also a nephew. The king conferred a new commission upon La Salle, investing him with the powers almost of viceroyalty. The whole valley of the Mississippi, from Lake Michigan to the Gulf, was called Louisiana, in honor of the then reigning king. The sway of La Salle embraced the whole of this almost limitless region. Seven missionaries accompanied the expedition, under the general supervision of Father Membre, whose virtues and eminent qualification for the station all alike recognized.
Four vessels were equipped for the expedition. The first, called the Joli, was a man-of-war armed with thirty-six guns. The second was a frigate called the Belle. The king made a present of this vessel to La Salle. He had furnished it with a very complete outfit, and with an armament of six guns. The third, called the Aimable, was a merchant-ship of about three hundred tons. It was heavily laden with all those implements and goods which it was deemed would be most useful in the establishment of a colony. The fourth was a light, swift-sailing yacht, called the St. Francis, of but thirty tons. This vessel was also laden with munitions, supplies, and goods for traffic with the Indians. The whole number who embarked, including one hundred soldiers and seven or eight families of women and children, amounted to two hundred and eighty. Care was taken to select good mechanics for the various trades. But, unfortunately, soldiers and seamen were engaged without apparently any reference to character. Thus some of the worst vagabonds of earth were gathered from the seaports of France to colonize the New World.
Nothing with the quarrelsome race of man ever goes smoothly for any considerable length of time. Captain Beaujeu, a Norman seaman of great valor and extensive experience, was commander of the man-of-war, and, as such, was intrusted with the general direction and supervision of the vessels. He was a proud man, accustomed to authority, and he regarded La Salle and his party as passengers, whom he was conveying to their destination, and who, while on board his vessels, were to be subservient to his will.
On the other hand, La Salle regarded Beaujeu as one of his officers, who was to be implicitly obedient to his directions. The idea never occurred to him that Beaujeu was to be taken into partnership, or consulted even, in regard to any of his measures, any farther than La Salle might deem it expedient to consult him or any other of his subordinates. With views so different, a speedy quarrel was inevitable. Beaujeu is represented as a man full of conceit, of narrow mind, and very irritable. La Salle was reserved, self-reliant, keeping his own counsel. Scarcely had the two men met, before they found themselves in antagonism. Before the vessels sailed, Beaujeu wrote to the king's minister as follows:
"You have ordered me, sir, to afford this enterprise every facility in my power. I shall do so. But permit me to say that I take great credit to myself for consenting to obey the orders of La Salle. I believe him to be a worthy man, but he has never served in war except against savages, and has no military rank. I, on the contrary, have been thirteen years captain of a vessel, and have served thirty years by sea and land.
"He tells me that, in case of his death, the command devolves on Chevalier de Tonti. This is certainly hard for me to bear. Though I am not now acquainted with the country, I must be a dull scholar not to obtain an adequate knowledge of it in a month after my arrival. I beg you therefore to give me a share in the command, so that no military operation may be undertaken without consulting me. Should we be attacked by the Spaniards, I am persuaded that men who have never commanded in war could not resist them, as another could do, who had been taught by experience."
Three weeks later, he wrote: "The Joli is prepared for sea. I hope to sail down the river to-morrow. It remains for M. La Salle to sail when he is ready. He has said nothing to me of his designs. As he is constantly changing his plans, I know not whether the provisions will be enough for the enterprise. He is so jealous, and so fearful that some one may penetrate his secrets, that I have refrained from asking him any questions.
"I have already informed you how disagreeable it was for me to be under the orders of M. de la Salle, who has no military rank. I shall however obey him, without repugnance, if you send me orders to that effect. But I beg that they may be such that he can impute no fault to me should he fail to execute what he has undertaken. I am induced to say this because he has intimated that it was my design to thwart his plans. I wish you would inform me what is to be done in regard to the soldiers. He pretends that, on our arrival, they are to be put under his charge. My instructions do not authorize this pretence. I am to afford all the aid in my power, without endangering the safety of the vessels."
The ministry paid no attention to these complaints. They probably decided to leave the commanders to settle such questions among themselves. The four vessels sailed from Rochelle on the 24th of July, 1684. They had advanced but about one hundred and fifty miles when a violent tempest overtook them. The Joli lost her bowsprit. Consequently the little squadron returned to Rochefort. Having repaired damages, the fleet again set sail, on the 1st of August.
La Salle and his suite, if we may so speak of his chosen companions, were on board the Joli, which Captain Beaujeu commanded. On the 8th of August the fleet passed Cape Finisterre, the extreme northwestern point of Spain. On the 20th they reached the island of Madeira. Captain Beaujeu wished to land here, to take in a fresh supply of provisions. La Salle said, emphatically, "No!"
"We have," he said, "an ample supply of both food and water. To anchor there will cause us a delay of six or eight days. It will reveal our enterprise to the Spaniards. It was not the intention of the king that we should touch at that point."
Beaujeu was compelled to submit. But he was very angry and sullen. His sub-officers and sailors were also angry. Time was nothing to them, and they were anticipating grand carousals in port. Sharp words were interchanged, and the quarrel became more bitter. On the 24th they reached the influence of the trade winds, which blow continually from east to west. On the 6th of September they reached the Tropic of Cancer. In crossing this line a custom had long prevailed of performing a rite called baptism upon all on shipboard who then crossed for the first time. The indignity was inflicted upon all alike, without any regard to character or rank. But, by giving the sailors a rich treat, one could secure for himself a little more moderation in the performance of the revolting ceremony.
A very stout sailor, generally the most gigantic man of the crew, grotesquely dressed to represent Father Neptune, would come up over the bows of the vessel and seize his victim. First he would catechize him very closely respecting his object in crossing the line; then he would exact an oath that he would never permit any one, when he was present, to enter the tropics without subjecting him to baptism. Then he would dash several bucketsful of salt water upon his head. This was the mildest form of performing the rite. If the subject for the baptism were, for any reason, obnoxious to the sailors, his treatment was much more severe. He was greased and tarred and shampooed, and shaved with an iron hoop, and treated, in all respects, very roughly.
On board this fleet, the passengers, including one hundred well-armed soldiers, greatly exceeded the number of sailors. La Salle, learning that the sailors were making great preparations for this baptism, resolved that he would not submit to such an indignity, and that his companions and followers should not be subjected to it. He therefore issued orders prohibiting the ceremony. This exasperated the sailors. Beaujeu openly advocated their cause. The seamen were compelled to submit. The antagonism between the two commanders was embittered.
On the 11th of September they reached the latitude of St. Domingo. A dead calm soon ensued. The ships floated as upon a sea of glass. One of the soldiers died. After imposing religious rites, his body was consigned to its ocean sepulchre. The calm was succeeded by a storm. In the darkness and tumult of this tropical tempest the vessels lost sight of each other. Gradually the storm abated. The change of climate had caused much sickness. Fifty were in hospital on board the Joli, including La Salle and both of the surgeons. On the 20th, the grand mountains of St. Helena hove in sight, and the majestic bay of Samana opened before them.
It still required a sail of five days before they reached the Port de Paix, on the northwestern extremity of the island. Here there was a very fine harbor, and here the French governor of the neighboring isle of Tortue had his residence. La Salle had letters to this governor, M. de Cussy, directing him to supply the fleet with everything it might need, and which it was in his power to give. For some unexplained reason Beaujeu silently declined obeying these orders. In the night he sailed directly by the Port de Paix, and doubling Cape St. Nicholas, a hundred miles distant at the western extremity of the island, circled around to the southern shore, and on the 27th cast anchor in a small harbor called the Petit Guave. The voyage thus far, from Rochelle, had occupied fifty-eight days.
This unaccountable change of place for the rendezvous of the scattered vessels caused much embarrassment. We do not know what were the remonstrances of La Salle, or what was the defence of Beaujeu. The Joli had scarcely cast anchor in this remote and silent bay, when a large sail-boat, containing twenty men, who had caught sight of the ship, entered the port, and informed La Salle that not only Governor Cussy was at the Port de Paix, but also the Marquis of Laurent, who was governor-general of all the French West India Islands. This greatly increased the chagrin of La Salle for an interview with them would have greatly facilitated his operations.
Religious ceremonies were, in a remarkable degree, blended with all these explorations. The next day after the Joli cast anchor, all the ship's company was assembled for divine worship, to return thanks to God for their prosperous voyage. La Salle, being convalescent, went ashore with a boat's crew to obtain some refreshments, and to send intelligence across the island, to the governor, of his arrival at Port de Paix. In this message he expressed intense regret that he had not been able to stop at Port de Paix, and entreated the governor, if it were in his power, to visit his ship at Guave.
In consequence of the number of sick on board, they were all landed, shelters were reared for them, and they were refreshed with fresh vegetables, fruit, and exercise in the open air. La Salle was still very feeble. A slow fever was consuming him. The conduct of Beaujeu caused him the greatest embarrassment. We should infer from the narrative of M. Joutel that there was no European settlement at the spot, and but very few native inhabitants, though all the natives were friendly.
In a few days two of the vessels which had been separated from the Joli by the storm, entered the bay, having probably learned from the natives, as they coasted along the shore, where the ship was. The whole of the eastern portion of the island was then held by Spain. As the three vessels were sailing along, two large boats, filled with armed Spaniards, pushed out from the shore and seized the smallest of the vessels—the St. Francis—and carried it off as a prize, with all its crew. This was a very heavy loss, as it deprived the expedition of supplies of which it stood greatly in need. The chagrin of La Salle was increased by the reflection that had Beaujeu obeyed orders and entered Port de Paix, the fleet would have rendezvoused there in perfect safety. The governor very loudly expressed his indignation, in view of the conduct of Captain Beaujeu.
The state of mind of the captain may be inferred from the following extracts from a letter to the French minister, which he wrote at that place:
"Were it not the sickness of Chevalier La Salle, I should have no occasion to write to you, as I am charged only with the navigation and he with the secret. We have arrived here almost all sick. La Salle has been attacked by a violent fever, which affects not more his body than his mind. His brother requested me to take charge of his affairs. I excused myself because I know that when restored to health he would not approve of what I had done.
"It is said that the Spaniards have, in these seas, six men-of-war, each carrying sixty guns. It is true that if the Chevalier de la Salle should not recover, I shall pursue different measures from those which he has adopted, which I do not approve. I cannot comprehend how a man should dream of settling a country surrounded by Spaniards and Indians, with a company of workmen and women, without soldiers.
"If you will permit me to express my opinion, the Chevalier de la Salle should have contented himself with the discovery of his river, without attempting to conduct three vessels and troops across the ocean through seas utterly unknown to him. He is a man of great learning, who has read much, and has some knowledge of navigation. But there is a great difference between theory and practice. The ability to transport canoes through lakes and rivers is very different from that which is required to conduct vessels and troops over remote seas."
After a short delay in this lonely harbor, the fleet, now consisting of but three vessels, again spread its sails. It was agreed to direct their course to Cape St. Antoine, about nine hundred miles distant, at the extreme western point of the island of Cuba. Should the vessels be separated by a storm, they were to rendevous at that place.
As the Aimable, a heavily laden merchantman, was the slowest sailer, it was decided that she should take the lead, the other two following. La Salle, with his brother, Father Membre, and some others, transferred their quarters from the Joli to the Aimable. This movement was also probably influenced by La Salle's desire to escape from the uncongenial companionship of Captain Beaujeu. It was on the 25th of November, 1684, that the voyage was resumed.
Two days' sail brought the fleet within sight of the magnificent island of Cuba. They ran along its southern shore, generally in sight of its towering mountains and its luxuriant foliage, but having the enchanting scenery occasionally veiled from their view by dense fogs. On the 1st of December they caught sight, far away in the south, of the grand island of Cayman. On the 4th of December, they cast anchor in a sheltered bay of the beautiful Island of Pines, but a few miles south of the Cuban coast.
La Salle, with his companions, took a boat and went on shore. Several of the ship's crew rowed the boat. As they approached the sandy beach, they saw an immense crocodile, apparently asleep, enjoying the blaze of a tropical sun. The boatmen drew near as noiselessly as they could. La Salle took deliberate aim and fired. Fortunately the bullet struck a vulnerable point. The monster, after a few convulsive struggles, was dead. The sailors, eager for a taste of fresh meat, kindled a fire and roasted the flesh, which they found tender and palatable. There were no inhabitants at that point. The party separated in small groups, and wandered in all directions, lured by the beauty of the region, and feasting upon the rich tropical fruits which grew in spontaneous abundance.
When about to reembark, two of the sailors were missing. Several guns were fired as signals for the lost men, but in vain. The boat returned to the ship. The next morning, at sunrise, a boat's crew of thirty men was sent to search for the wanderers. At length they were found, thoroughly frightened, having passed a very uncomfortable night. The beauty of this island charmed all who beheld it. They were lavish in their praises of its luxuriance, its fruits, its game, and its birds of brilliant plumage.
Again the fleet weighed anchor and, on the 11th, reached Cape Corrientes, one of the most prominent southwestern points of Cuba. Here again they ran into a solitary bay, which, in clustering fruits and vine-draped bowers, and birds on the wing, presented an aspect of almost Eden loveliness. They tarried but a day. Then, taking advantage of a breeze fresh and fair, they passed from the Caribbean Sea into the Gulf of Mexico They had proceeded but about fifteen miles when the wind changed, and became adverse. For two days, by beating, they worked their way slowly against it.
Captain Beaujeu took a boat, and came on board the Aimable, and insisted that the vessels should put back to Cape Antoine, and ride at anchor there until the wind should prove favorable. La Salle could not consider this measure judicious. But, weary of contention and anxious to agree with Beaujeu whenever he could, he reluctantly gave his consent. They ran back to the land, cast anchor, remained two days in a dead calm, when suddenly a tropical tempest arose, which was almost a tornado. The Belle dragged her anchor, and was driven violently against the Aimable, carrying away her bowsprit, and greatly injuring much of her rigging. The Aimable would have been sunk had she not cut her cable and escaped. The anchor was lost.
On the 18th, the wind became fair. Having repaired damages as far as was in their power, the fleet again set sail. It was ten o'clock in the morning of a very delightful day. Directing their course northwesterly, they sailed, with a gentle breeze and occasional calms, nine days' without seeing land or encountering any event of importance. On the 28th, land was discovered. It was but a few miles distant. It was evidently the continent of North America, and consisted of a long reach of low land, fringed with a dense forest, and elevated but a few feet above the level of the Gulf.
A shallop was speedily equipped, and La Salle, with a few of his chosen companions and a boat's crew, all well-armed, repaired to the shore to reconnoitre. Another boat, also similarly equipped, was ordered soon to follow. The Belle was directed to keep up careful soundings, and to range along the coast as near the shore as was safe.
La Salle's party soon reached the shore, and landed upon a very beautiful meadow. But they had no time for exploration. The freshening wind rolled in such a surf that there was great danger that their boat would be swamped. They were compelled hastily to reembark, and return to the ship. Slowly the vessels coasted along the uninviting shore, looking in vain for any inlet or any river's mouth.
On the 2d of January, 1685, a dense fog settled down over the sea and the land, so enveloping the ships that no object could be seen at the distance of a few yards.
La Salle ordered cannon occasionally to be fired on board the Aimable, to let the other two vessels know where he was. As there was scarcely a breath of wind, there was no necessity that the fleet should be scattered. When the fog the next day was dissipated, the Joli was not in sight. Toward evening, however, the ship was again seen. In a few days they discovered an inlet, which La Salle carefully examined from the mast-head. He judged it to be the Bay of Appalachicola, then called Espiritu Santo, on the Florida coast. They therefore pressed on westerly, hoping soon to reach the Mississippi.
To make it sure that he should not pass the mouth of the river, which, flowing through very low and marshy soil, was designated by no landmark, La Salle desired to send a party of thirty men ashore to follow along the coast. But the wind rose, and the surf dashed so violently upon the muddy banks, that a landing could not be effected. Slowly the fleet moved along until the 13th, when it was found necessary to land to take in water. A shallop was sent ashore, with five or six seamen, well-armed. There was no inlet, and no creek to afford any protection, and the surf still rolled in heavily.
Though the dense forest spread its gloom far and wide around, there opened before them a small meadow of but a few acres, green, treeless and smooth as a floor. The boat was directed toward that spot. When within a gun-shot of the land, a troop of about a dozen savages, tall, stalwart men, entirely naked, emerged from the forest, and came down to the water's edge. The surf was so high that there was much danger that the boat would be swamped in an attempt to land. The seamen therefore cast anchor, to consider what was to be done.
When the savages saw that they were at a standstill, they made friendly signs, inviting the strangers to land. They waded out into the surf and beckoned to them. Apparently the boat could not pass safely through the surf. There was a large amount of drift-wood lining the shore. Several of the savages selected a large smooth log. This they pushed through the surf. Ranging themselves on each side, they clung to the log with one arm, while, with the other, they paddled. Without any hesitancy, unarmed and helpless, they clambered into the boat.
When five were in, the seamen motioned to the others to go to another boat which was then approaching, and which conveyed La Salle. The savages seemed not to entertain the slightest suspicion of danger. La Salle was very glad to receive them. He hoped that they could give him some information respecting the river he sought. But all his efforts were in vain. Though he spoke several Indian languages, he could not make them understand him. They were all taken on board the vessel. With much curiosity they examined its wonders. They were feasted, and seemed quite at home in smoking the pipe of fragrant tobacco. The sheep, the swine, and the poultry, they had evidently never seen before. But when they were shown the skin of a cow, which had recently been killed, they seemed much delighted, and indicated that they had seen such animals before, doubtless referring to the buffaloes.
Having received many presents, a boat was sent to carry them as near the shore as it was safe to go. The savages bound their presents upon their heads, and letting themselves gently down into the water, swam to the land. Marvellous must have been the stories which they narrated that night, in their wigwams, to admiring crowds. Quite a large group of Indians was seen gathered upon the shore to greet them, as they came back.
La Salle had found it impossible to understand their signs. But his apprehensions were somewhat excited by the thought that they might have endeavored to indicate to him that he had already passed the mouth of the Mississippi.
That evening the wind rose fresh and fair. Raising their anchors, and keeping near the shore, with frequent soundings, they pressed on toward the southwest. The next day came a dead calm. Each vessel floated on the glassy sea, "like a painted ship on a painted ocean." Thus they moved along, day after day, encountering calms, when not a ripple was to be seen on the mirrored expanse, and fresh breezes, which tossed the ocean in billowy foam, and storms which threatened to tear the masts from the hulls.
On the 14th of January they attempted again to effect a landing in the boats. But the surf prevented. They saw, however, upon a beautiful prairie, extending with its waving grass and gorgeous flowers as far as the eye could reach, vast herds of wild horses and buffaloes. All on board the vessels were greatly excited by this spectacle. They were eager to land, that they might enjoy the pleasure of an encampment and the excitement of hunting and the chase.
The land was now found trending more and more to the south. They had reached a latitude considerably below that of the mouth of the Mississippi, as ascertained by La Salle, upon his first visit. The whole aspect of the country seemed changed. There were immense treeless prairies continually opening before them, crowded with game, and especially with immense herds of horses and buffaloes.
At length they came to apparently the mouth of a small river. A boat was sent on shore, with orders to kindle a fire, as a signal, should they find a good place for landing. La Salle stood upon the deck of the Aimable, eagerly watching. Soon he saw the smoke curling up through the clear air of the prairie. Just as La Salle was entering his boat for the shore, the wind freshened and tumbled in such billows from the open sea that the boat, which had already landed, was compelled precipitately to return. The next morning the wind abated La Salle felt himself lost. He resolved to land, with a strong party, and make a thorough exploration of the region, that he might, by observation or by communication with such inhabitants as he might discover, find out where he was. He had many apprehensions that he had passed the mouth of the Mississippi, and that he was far in the west, skirting the coast of Mexico.
Lost in the Wilderness.
Treachery of Beaujeu. Accumulating Troubles. Anxieties of La Salle. March on the Land. The Encampment. Wreck of the Aimable. Misadventure with the Indians. Commencement of Hostilities. Desertion of Beaujeu with the Joli. The Encampment. The Indians Solicit Friendship. The Cruel Repulse. Sickness and Sorrow. Exploring Expeditions. The Mississippi sought for in vain.
The altercation between La Salle and Beaujeu still continued. The chevalier feared that the captain designed to abandon him and return to France. Parties were formed, and the dispute on board the vessels was bitter. La Salle was convinced that he had passed the Mississippi. Others argued that they had not reached it. In fact they were beyond Matagorda Bay, in the southwestern part of Texas, and were within a hundred miles of the Rio Grande. A dense fog prevented the landing of the boat's crew. La Salle insisting upon a return, the vessels coasted slowly along, a distance of about thirty miles, till they came to an inlet, which the fog had prevented them from seeing before, and which proved to be Matagorda Bay.
The expedition was now in serious trouble. Their provisions were nearly exhausted. They had thus far seen no settlement, on the American coast, from which they could obtain supplies. A large party was landed on the western entrance of the bay. They threw up a camp, and while some explored the prairie with their guns, others followed up the stream with their fishing rods. An ample supply of game, of great variety, was taken, and also an abundance of fish. All who could be spared from the ships hastened to the shore. The weather was delightful; the scenery enchanting; and the whole ship's company, after so long an imprisonment in the crowded vessels, revelled in feasting and joy.
"Uneasy lies the head which wears a crown." La Salle, feeling keenly his responsibility for the success of the expedition, was heavily oppressed by care. One of the boats was sent up the bay, seven or eight miles, in search of a river or brook; but their search was in vain. A few springs of tolerably good water were found, from which they replenished their empty barrels. Ducks and other water-fowl were met in great abundance.
The vessels were all anchored in the bay, near the shore, and for several days, in this sunny region, beneath cloudless skies, the voyagers generally enjoyed all the pleasures of the most delightful picnic party. La Salle saw increasing evidence that Beaujeu was intending to desert him. He was anxious to lay in supplies for a long voyage. La Salle wished to delay only to obtain provisions for fifteen days. He was satisfied that it would not take longer than that to return to the point where he now believed the mouth of the Mississippi to be.
In this emergence he decided to have the vessels coast along near the shore, while he sent a chosen party of one hundred and thirty men, to march along upon the land. The adventurous band commenced its journey in a fog so dense that those in the rear could not see those in front. M. Joutel, the historian of the expedition from the time it sailed from France until its close, led this party.
The march was commenced on the 5th of February. Each man carried his pack upon his own shoulders. They kept along as near as possible to the sea. The first night they encamped on a slight eminence, where a large fire was built to signalize to the vessels their position. For a week they thus journeyed along, through marsh and prairie and forest, building each night their signal fires. During all this time they caught no sight of their vessels. On the 13th they came to the banks of a wide creek or bayou, which they had no means of crossing.
The carpenters were immediately set to work in building a boat. The next day, while thus employed, the Joli and the Belle hove in sight. The short twilight of the tropics was then passing into night. A signal-fire was built, and seen by those on the ships. The next morning, the slow-sailing Aimable, which bore La Salle and his companions, appeared. La Salle landed and visited the encampment. Having sounded the creek, he decided to bring the three vessels in, and to send a boat to explore inland, hoping that the creek might prove to be the mouth of some river. The channel was carefully staked out for the entrance of the vessels, safe anchorage chosen, and orders were issued for the three to enter at the next high tide. La Salle would give the signal from the shore, when they were to move.
Captain Beaujeu sent back the insolent answer, "I can manage my own vessel without any instructions from Monsieur La Salle."
As this message arrived, a party of the ship's company, who had been at some distance from the camp, came running in, much alarmed, saying that quite an army of savages was approaching. La Salle instantly called all his force to arms, that he might be prepared for any emergence. Though earnestly desirous of peace, he yet deemed it important to show a bold front. In imposing military array, with muskets loaded, and the beating of drums, he led his band of about one hundred and fifty men, to meet the Indians.
Both parties halted and faced each other, neither knowing whether the other wished for peace or war. La Salle directed ten of his men to lay down their arms, and advance toward the Indians, making friendly signs, and endeavoring to invite an unarmed party to meet them. The whole body at once threw down their arms, consisting of bows and javelins, and ran forward joyously, caressing the Europeans, according to their custom, by rubbing their hands first over their own breasts and arms, and then over the breasts and arms of their newly found friends.
Six or seven accompanied a party of the French back to their encampment. La Salle, with the rest, accepted an invitation to visit the Indian village, which they represented as distant about five miles. Just as they were starting, La Salle turned his eyes toward the bay, when he saw, much to his consternation, that their store-ship the Aimable, which was left under the care of Captain Beaujeu, instead of following the channel marked out by the stakes, was paying no regard to them. He was greatly alarmed; but there was nothing which he could do to repel the danger.
He therefore, though in great perturbation, followed the savages to their village. It consisted of about fifty wigwams, erected upon an eminence but slightly elevated above the level prairie. The huts were built of mats or of the tanned skins of the buffalo. Just as they were entering the village, a cannon was fired from one of the ships. The savages were greatly terrified, and simultaneously threw themselves upon the ground, burying their faces in the grass. But La Salle reassured them, stating that it was merely a signal to him that one of his ships had come to anchor.
Though La Salle was very vigilant to guard against any treachery, still the hospitality manifested by the Indians seemed sincere and cordial. The Indians feasted them abundantly with fresh buffalo steaks, and jerked meat consisting of thin slices of flesh dried in the sun and smoked. Their village was near the creek, and La Salle counted forty large boats, made of logs hollowed out, such as he had seen on the Mississippi.
Upon returning to the camp, La Salle found his worst fears realized. The Aimable was driven aground, and under circumstances which rendered it almost certain that it had been done through the treachery of Captain Beaujeu. La Salle had marked out the channel by stakes, had sent the vessel a pilot, whom Beaujeu had refused to receive, and had stationed a man at the mast-head, who had given a loud warning, but whose cry was entirely disregarded.
"Those who witnessed the manoeuvre," writes Joutel, "were convinced, by irresistible evidence, that the vessel was wrecked by design, which was one of the blackest and most detestable crimes which can enter into the human heart."