WHEN Champlain died he left the power of the French firmly planted in Canada, which was fast becoming a famous trading post for the fur traders.
Besides the fur traders and those looking simply for
adventure, there was another class of Frenchmen who
came to Canada as the years went by. These were the
hardest workers and bravest adventurers of all. They
were the Jesuits, a society of French Roman Catholics
who had sworn to do all they could to convert the world
to the Catholic religion. Brave and fearless, they were
eager to go into the wilds of America and make the
Indians a great Catholic nation. Soon they pushed
their way along the borders of the
At one of these missions, on Lake Superior, was a young Jesuit priest named Jacques Marquette, or Father Marquette, as he was called. Father Marquette loved the Indians and tried very hard to make them Christians. He learned to speak six different Indian languages.
Every year the Illinois Indians used to come to the Jesuit settlement, and from them Father Marquette heard about a great river which they had to cross on their way. This river they called the "Mesipi." Father Marquette was very anxious to find this river, which he thought must flow into the Gulf of California.
At this time the Governor of Canada was Count
Frontenac. Through the Indians he, too, heard about the
great river; and he resolved to send some one to find
it and to explore it for France. For this expedition he
selected a brave young man by the name of
In May, 1673, they started. They coasted along the
shores of Lake Michigan until they came to a village of
the Menomonies, or
But the white men were not frightened. Marquette taught
the Indians a prayer and again set forth with his
companions. When they came to the head of
Joliet asked these Indians for guides to the Wisconsin River. These were readily given. The Fox became narrower and narrower as it wound through marshes of wild rice; and, but for the guides, the Frenchmen would surely have lost their way.
Finally they reached a place where the Fox and
Wisconsin rivers are only a mile and a half apart. They
carried their canoes across this distance and launched
them on the Wisconsin. They sailed down this peaceful
river, among islands covered with trees and tangled
grapevines until, on
As the canoes floated easily down the great river there was no sign of human life anywhere.
One day they found human footprints in the mud on the western bank, and a path leading off into the prairies. Joliet and Marquette left the canoes with their men and started out upon the path.
After walking six miles they saw an Indian village a
little way off. They stopped and prayed God to help
them, and then went on until they could hear the voices
of the Indians. Here they stood still and shouted. This
caused great excitement in the village, and all the
inhabitants turned out. Four of the warriors came
forward with great dignity, holding up two calumets or
You may judge how glad he was when he found that these Indians were Illinois, members of the very tribe that had first told him of the great river, and that had often invited him to come and teach them.
After the peace pipes had been smoked, they went together to the village. The chief met them at the door of a large wigwam. He held up both hands to his eyes as if to shield them from a great light. "Frenchmen, how bright the sun shines when you come to visit us," he said. "Enter our wigwam in peace."
After once more smoking the peace pipe Marquette and Joliet were invited to go to another village to visit the great chief of all the Illinois.
Here Marquette spoke to the Indians in the Algonquin language and told them that he was a messenger of God to them. He told them also of Count Frontenac, the great Governor of Canada, and asked about the Mississippi and the tribes along its banks.
Then a great feast was served. After the feast was over buffalo robes were spread on the ground; and here Joliet and Marquette slept till morning, when the chief and six hundred of his men took them back to their canoes and bade them farewell as they went on their way.
Down the great river they paddled, past the mouth of the Illinois and past the wonderful rocks which at this point line the eastern shore. On one of the rocks were painted two monsters. These were Indian gods. The voyagers were so excited over the strange picture that they scarcely noticed where they were going. Suddenly they saw before them a great torrent of yellow mud rushing out into the peaceful blue water and sweeping along on its current branches and uprooted trees. The canoes were whirled like chips upon the angry waters. They had reached the mouth of the Missouri. In spite of the danger, the travelers got safely past.
In a few days more they reached the mouth of the river which the Indians called the Ohio, or "Beautiful River." After they had passed this, the weather grew warmer very rapidly, and the mosquitoes tormented them day and night.
As Joliet and Marquette neared the mouth of the Arkansas River, they saw a group of wigwams on the western bank. The inhabitants stood waving their hatchets and yelling the war whoop. Boat loads of them came out on both sides of the white men, so that they could go neither forward nor backward, while a swarm of daring young braves waded out into the river. The white men were terribly frightened and called upon the saints to protect them, Marquette holding up his peace pipe all the while. The young warriors paid no attention to this; but when the older ones saw it, they quieted the young braves and told the Frenchmen to come on shore. This they did, and were treated kindly.
Soon after this Marquette and Joliet began to consider what they should do next. They had gone far enough to make sure that the Mississippi flowed, not into the Gulf of California, but into the Gulf of Mexico. If they went on to the mouth of the river they might be killed by savage Indians, or by Spaniards. So they decided to go back to Canada and report what they had found.
The homeward journey through the July heat was very
trying; and Father Marquette, who was never very
strong, fell sick on the way. When the travelers came
to the Illinois River they entered its mouth and made
their way up its quiet waters, between shady forests,
and grassy plains abounding in deer and buffalo. From
one of the Indian villages along the shore, a young
chief and his warriors acted as guides to Lake
Michigan. Coasting along the edge of this lake, the
party once more reached
Joliet went on to Quebec to tell Count Frontenac of all they had discovered. But Marquette was worn out by the hardships of the journey and stayed at Green Bay to rest.
The next fall he went to the home of the Illinois Indians. Here he preached to the savages until he felt that he was dying. Then he asked his companions to take him back to Green Bay.
But he did not live to reach Green Bay. His companions cared for him tenderly to the last and buried him on the shore of Lake Michigan.