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Chapter 2

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.

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Chapter 4
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 p78  Chapter III

Marquette as a discoverer of the Mississippi

To the adventure of Marquette with Allouez and Dablon, to the western extremity of Lake Superior in 1668, is the world indebted for the discovery of Illinois and the vast valley of the Mississippi, of which it forms such a desirable portion.

The roving Sioux Indian, who lived upon the prairies which this vast river drains, in their visits to the Mission of the Holy Spirit, had much to tell of the country they inhabited — boasted of its beauties, of its verdure, and of the river, which they called "Mississippi," running to the south, no one of whom had, however, traced its course or knew into what ocean it was lost; it flowed by their hunting grounds, and it was "a great river."

This was rich food for Marquette and his companions, and he, at once, formed the determination to visit it, in the following autumn,  p79 being well satisfied he should find upon its banks new nations, among whom he could erect the symbol of his faith. Having already a knowledge of the Illinois from the Miamis at Saint Joseph, through which nation he would expect to pass, he acquired their dialect to aid him in his intercourse with them; but, his missionary labors among the remains of the Hurons, now scattered and dispersed, and those on the northern verge of Michigan, prevented him from carrying his design into effect.

The views which the French government then entertained, and which the vigilant Talon, then its Intendant in New France, desired to carry out to the fullest extent, were powerful auxiliaries to the design of Marquette, theirs being political, and his, religious only. At that time too a western passage to China and the Japan islands, by which the dangers and delays of the usual one, by doubling the Cape of Good Hope, might be avoided, occupied, to a great extent, the minds of the adventurous and enterprising, and every fact was eagerly seized upon which seemed to encourage the hope even of such a discovery. This  p80 large river in the west might flow into the Pacific ocean, a sea whose name indicated its character, and whose wave lashed the shores of those rich and distant countries, and he who should first explore that passage, who should demonstrate that it did exist, would achieve not only for himself an enviable game, but for his age imperishable glory. To search it out, to give such a boon to his country, or in the attempt, to subject the natives who might be discovered in the search to French control, instigated this Intendant of his sovereign's interests, to set on foot the enterprise, to take the initiative in a purpose pregnant with so many, and such important advantages.

Marquette had no ambitious designs of this character. He was a meek and a humble, though a fearless and zealous man. All that he did or attempted seems to have been to make known the glory of his God; and if he indulged in any aspirations, they were, that he might be a martyr in the cause to which he was devoted; and though he might have no burial place, and no other obsequies but the eagle's scream, such a fate would be to him the brightest glory he could achieve.

 p81  As the moment of commencing the expedition approached, Marquette was engaged in his labors at the Mission of St. Francis Xavier, and was then joined by Joliet from Quebec, whose name is perpetuated by that remarkable mound which arrests the attention of every traveler to that beautiful region in which it stands, known as "Mount Joliet," quite as effectually as by his companionship with the man who gave to France such an empire as he did.

These two, with a few Frenchmen to paddle their canoes, and two Indians of the Algonquin nation as guides to the Wisconsin, proceed from the Mission to the last Indian village on Fox river, and soon reach the portage, a remarkable spot, where, upon the same level, and not two miles asunder, the stream they had just left pursues its way north-eastwardly to the lakes and the Atlantic and the other upon which they were to embark south-westerly to some then unknown recipient.

With their baggage and canoes upon their backs, they crossed the portage, and on the 10th of June, 1673, reached the Wisconsin, where re‑embarking, escaping all the dangers of that stream, its current bearing them upon a course  p82 new and unusual to them, on the 17th their vision was gladdened by the sight of the large and beautiful river, of which the Sioux had spoken, and which Marquette had so long wished to behold.

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