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Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Early History of Illinois

by
Sidney Breese

published by E. B. Myers & Company,
Chicago, 1884

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 11
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p126  Chapter X

La Salle at length reaches the mouth of the Mississippi and takes formal possession in the name of France

Again we behold this restless man, this resolute chief, La Salle, this determined adventurer, organizing a force with which to prosecute his favorite scheme. Again we see him in his bark canoe, with the faithful Tonty and Zenobe Membré, a few Frenchmen and some Indians of the eastern tribes, on the broad bosom of our ocean lakes. Again we see him in November, 1681, at the river of the Miamis, and after spending six weeks in making the necessary arrangements we see him abandoning the old route by the Saint Joseph and Kankakee, traveling on foot around the southern bend of Lake Michigan to the mouth of the Chicago, whither he had directed Tonty and Father Zenobe to proceed in canoes with their equipage and men. The waters of that river and of the Illinois were  p127 frozen over, and canoes, baggage and all their equipment were conveyed on sledges over the frozen surface to Lake Peoria, and there launched upon the open water.

From this point, after various fortune, they descend to the Mississippi, and borne upon its mighty current, reach the gulf on the 9th day of April, 1682, where, and on that day, La Métairie, a Canadian notary, who had accompanied the expedition, drew up, at the request of La Salle, a formal declaration of their discovery and the taking possession of the whole country watered by that stream, in the name of Louis XIV, king of France and Navarre. A leaden plate, with the arms of France and an appropriate Latin inscription engraved upon it, was buried near a tree, and a rude cross erected, in token that "his Majesty, as eldest son of the Church, would annex no country to his crown without making it his chief care to establish the Christian religion therein."

These acts gave Louis an empire far more extensive and fertile than his vast hereditary European possessions, but not destined, in the dispensation of Providence, long to remain an appanage to his crown. This declaration by  p128 the notary, Métairie, has been copied from the archives in the Marine Department at Paris,1 and settles the question, as to who was the first French discoverer of the mouth of our great river, Hennepin having claimed it for himself as having been made by him in 1680, but for certain very unsubstantial reasons, which he gives, he omitted it in his publication of that voyage entitled "History of Louisiana," printed in Paris in 1683.

In his after publication of his "New Discovery," printed at Utrecht in 1698, he did insert an account of an alleged expedition to the gulf, made by him and his two companions, Picard Du Gay and Michael Ako, in 1680, who, instead of going up the river as ordered by La Salle on separating at Crève Coeur, proceeded down it. Before this publication, however, Tonty's relation had been published, and in 1691, a work entitled "The Establishment of the Faith in New France," by a Recollect Missionary Father Le Clercq, who had derived his materials relating to La Salle's expedition to the gulf from the letters which the Father Zenobe Membré, who accompanied it, had written to the Bishop of Quebec.

 p129  Parallel passages from Le Clercq and Hennepin have been examined, so closely resembling, in every important particular, as to compel the belief that Hennepin's publication of 1698 is a piracy upon it, and a wicked attempt to deprive La Salle of his hard-earned honor.

In the summer of 1683, La Salle returned to the Illinois, caused the Fort Saint Louis at the "Starved Rock" to be completed and occupied, and leaving Tonty in command, in the autumn of that year departed for Quebec, and thence for France, to unfold to his sovereign his plans for the settlement of the country of which he had thus taken possession.

We have all heard of his expedition by sea for that purpose, with a small but well-appointed fleet, of his disasters and accidents, his failure to find the mouth of the great river, his landing and settlement far west of it, at the bay of Matagorda in Texas in 1685, and there erecting the Fort Saint Louis; the various attempts he made to penetrate the wilderness from that point to the Mississippi, and his disappointments; and finally, of his truly melancholy fate, whilst engaged in one of these efforts in 1687, being assassinated in  p130 the most cowardly and cruel manner by one of his own men, and who, with other malcontents of his little band, had but a few days previously, butchered with an axe, as they slept, three of his most devoted followers, one of them his nephew, to whom he was devotedly attached.

The unfortunate chief spoke not after receiving the fatal shot, but grasping the hand of his only companion, the Father Anastasius, he calmly died and his body was left to be devoured by the beasts of the wilderness, on a branch of the Trinity, where he fell. No one now can indicate the spot where the neglected remains of the noble-minded, the chivalric, the dauntless La Salle were left.

It cannot now be distinguished, and the pilgrim to the banks of that river will search in vain for the place where mingle the ashes of one whose mind grasped the most magnificent conceptions, whose persevering energy added to the dominions of his native prince a rich imperial valley.

After his death, the party proceeded, through much suffering and difficulty, to "Fort Saint Louis," of the Illinois, reaching it on the 14th  p131 of September, 1687, cordially greeted by the faithful Tonty, who related to them, that in the previous year, with forty men in canoes, he had descended the Mississippi to the gulf in search of La Salle, and that he had established the fort at the Arkansas, which they saw on their way up.

The friendly Indians of the Illinois had built their new village around this fort, and under Tonty had aided, in 1684, in repelling an attack upon it, made by the warlike Iroquois.

This was the seat of French power in Illinois, with Tonty the highest executive officer until 1689, and considered by the Governor of Canada a post of no trifling importance.

Its history, subsequent to this, is obscure, and the bare summit of the rock affords now no traces of its ancient and long-continued military occupancy.

These accounts, thus intimately connected with our earliest history, are full of interest to us certainly, who are in the safe enjoyment of the many fruits of the wild and hazardous adventures they record.

These fair fields yearly blossoming with their varied products, the stirring multitudes who  p132 now fill these plains, this rich fruition of a doubtful promise which we so abundantly enjoy, are the results of the adventures of the meek Marquette.

In his little barque was borne the seed from they have all sprung up, and those rivers and lakes which were its pathway now reflect, from their surfaces, civilization, commerce, wealth and all the varied embellishments of life. These verdant prairies are no longer a solitude, these forests, in their gorgeous drapery, no more shelter the savage or echo to his warwhoop, these smokes that curl to heaven are not of the council fires, the wigwam and its tenant have alike disappeared, the dominion of civilized man is there, and the whole valley is filled with its busy hum.


The Editor's Note:

1 By Jared Sparks.


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