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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 12

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Early History of Illinois

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.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 14
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p151  Chapter XIII

The church, and not a fort, the beginning of the colony in Illinois

A fort is usually the first erection of all intruders into new colonies, as a protection against those whose animosity is so apt to be excited by the intrusion, but in this part of the valley it was a church — the cross was planted instead of palisades, and the priest in his frock was more potent than the soldier in his armor. As every community has within itself its peculiar principle of happiness, so had this. The means of subsistence were ample and easily obtained, the climate was mild and healthful, or if the ague did occasionally attack them, the priests, who possessed consummate skill in pharmacy, and had long before discovered the tonic properties of the Peruvian bark, and hence called "Jesuit's bark," would soon allay the paroxysms.

 p152  As for taxes, that scourge of our race, there were none to pay, as there was no government to support, and they were too far removed to become the subjects of royal examinations, or to be made to surrender any part of their means to sustain a pampered and heartless nobility. The dues to the priest and the fiddler were cheerfully rendered, for from both they received a valuable consideration — from the one masses, and from the other music.

To those then fond of inaction, and content to vegetate only, no spots could have been found more desirable than those thus early selected in this magnificent valley, and if love of music and of dancing be an evidence of refinement, what places could boast a more refined and polished people?

That Peoria, the Starved Rock, Cahokia and Kaskaskia should have been the principal points of attraction is not wonderful, when it is considered that each was the village of a populous tribe of Indians of the Illinois Nation, the other tribes the Mitchiganias, whose village cannot now be located, and the Tamaroas, occupying the present village of that name on the banks of the Okaw or Kaskaskia river, both  p153 too insignificant in numbers to justify an established mission, being supplied with spiritual food from the priests at the others.

There was nothing in the scenery of Cahokia to attract a lover of the "picturesque" — it had a sluggish, muddy creek, long since, however, taken "French leave" of it, having found a shorter channel to the Mississippi, through the soft and yielding alluvion of its banks, leaving the village upon a dry ridge of sand and surrounded by ponds and marshes, exhaling mephitic vapors charged with ague-breeding miasma.

At Kaskaskia, however, there was something to captivate the eye and ravish the senses. The velvet verdure of the plain, the glossy surface of the idle river, the lofty hill with its stately forest, the air scented with the fragrance of its clustered wild flowers, the little springs gushing from its side in sparkling beauty, all reposing in the sleep of nature, with their virgin freshness then upon them — there was a landscape to charm her most capricious lover.

Peoria, too, had its peculiar and attractive beauties. Its lovely lake and pebbly shore rising in pleasing swell and gentle ascent westward to the prairie, where it is met by a higher elevation,  p154 presents a scene well calculated to call forth the poetic exclamation of the disguised king when wandering amid the scenery of Loch Katrina:

"And what a scene were here, he cried,

For princely pomp or churchman's pride!

On this bold brow a lordly tower;

In that soft vale a lady's bower.

"On yonder meadow, far away,

The turrets of a cloister gray —

How blithely might the bugle horn

Chide on this lake the lingering morn!

"And when the midnight moon should lave

Her forehead in the silver wave,

How solemn on the ear would come

The holy matin's distant hum!"a

The early missionaries and traders must have been charmed with the view, as it met their ardent gaze, and its native occupants, the dwellers in the country of Pimitoui, now a wretched and feeble remnant of their former power, must look back upon it from the hills of their home in the far west, with undying, ceaseless affection.

By a rule of the order of Jesuits, the missionaries to all parts of the world were required to furnish, periodically, full reports, not only of the spiritual condition of their catechumens, but accurate  p155 descriptions of the different countries in which they were laboring, together with such conjectures and remarks as their keen observation would justify.

This was punctually observed by the Jesuits in this valley, embraced in their numerous letters, "curious and edifying," and published under that title.

From these accounts thus sent into the world, from this, their seclusion — of its desirable climate, fruitful soil, abundant native products, and vast rivers, together with their conjectures, that the useful and the precious metals might be found lurking beneath the surface, or in the crevices of its rocks, or in the sands of its streams, the cupidity of the more enterprising was awakened, and the royal bosom itself glowed with the desire to appropriate the anticipated spoils.

Engaged in the long and bloody wars for the Spanish succession, then waged with the most persevering resolution, the French monarch had no opportunity of attending to his possessions here, and no time to indulge in schemes of distant colonization. The treaty of Ryswick, in 1697, gave peace to Europe, and stopped the  p156 currents of blood which had been so copiously poured out upon her plains, and fifteen years afterward, his royal regard was awakened to a sense of its importance, when the Sieur Anthony Crozat besought privileges in it.

Thayer's Note:

a A perfect example of the common fallacy found in so many writers: that the moon sets at dawn. She doesn't, except when she is full.

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Page updated: 11 Sep 16