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Chapter 8

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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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 10
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p117  Chapter IX

Hennepin returns to Quebec, Starved Rock
— Tonty's return to Green Bay

Here let us pause and bring our thoughts to bear upon the fragments into which this daring band was broken. First of all, the tragical fate of those in "the Griffin" arrests our attention. As she was the first to spread her tiny sails and trim her slender yards to the breezes of Michigan, so she was the first to be engulfed within its waters. The gorgeous steamboat, with her peopled decks, often passes the spot where she sunk, but how few of all the multitudes that crowd them have heard of her fate.

Next we behold the pious and devoted Friar Membré separating himself, at the Illinois lake, from his companions, and becoming a voluntary exile, for the only purpose of aiding in the conversion of the savages there, and the propagation of his faith among them. The undaunted chief himself, with three men only, in the winter  p118 season, to tempt the toils and dangers of an unknown wilderness journey of twelve hundred miles back to the place of his departure. The Friar Hennepin, with but two men, to take an opposite direction, in search of the great river flowing to some unvisited sea, and Tonty to remain environed by savages, with old Father Gabriel and but eight men to maintain Crève Coeur, that lone and desolate spot, and though a stronghold and a defense, yet by numbers it might be overpowered, and soon become their graves.

What dauntless resolution they all possessed. What a contempt for danger. What unyielding energy of will. What fearless confidence, each in his ability to carry out successfully his allotted part. The morning of the 29th and last day of February, 1680, appeared, when Father Hennepin and his leader La Salle separated, the latter to wend his weary way overland to the northern border of Lake Ontario, and the former to track in his light canoe the Father of Waters to its source.

The frail barque is pushed from the shore, the light paddles are ready, his companions, Picard Du Gay and Michael Ako, leap into it with  p119 him, and with the parting "Benedicite" of the good old Father Gabriel, who advances to the water's edge to bestow it, he is once more upon the river, bound on a tedious and a dangerous voyage. The light vessel moves swiftly upon the gentle current, and as Marquette was, so is Hennepin charmed with the appearance of the country. He bestows upon it the appellation of "The delight of America," and meeting with no obstacles, he safely reaches the Mississippi, and finds it filled with floating ice, a sight well calculated, as it did, to shake the nerves of his less hardy companions. After a detention by this circumstance until the 12th of March, the prow of his little barque is turned against the current of that majestic river. I will not follow this intrepid friar as he ascends it nor stay to recount his capture above the Wisconsin by a war party of the Sioux — his transportation by them to the Falls, which he named after the patron of the expedition, St. Anthony of Padua, his baptizing Indian children, and the wild buffalo hunts in which he engaged, his journey to the mouth of the Wisconsin, according to promise, to meet La Salle, and his disappointment, his return to the Sioux  p120 village, still in captivity, or the various other incidents in which his narrative abounds, being content to state, that having, in the fall, obtained permission from the chief of the band to whom he belonged, to return to Canada, and provided by him with a map of the country by the route of the Wisconsin, sketched on bark, he turned his canoe into that river, ascended it to the portage, across that to Fox river, which he descended to Green Bay. Thence he proceeded to Mackinac, wintering there with Father Pearson, a Jesuit, then in charge of the Mission of Saint Ignace. On the last day of March, 1681, he re‑embarked on Lake Huron, passed over Lake Erie, made the portage at the Falls, reached Frontenac, then Montreal, and on the last of April is once more under the walls of the Castle of Quebec, from which he had been absent two years and a half.

Meanwhile his dauntless leader pursues his lonely way on foot over snow banks and ice, with no provisions but such as his gun could procure, through tangled forests and over rugged hills, calling into request all his great powers of endurance and his wonderful fortitude,  p121 back to Frontenac, for further means to facilitate his great adventure.

Passing the "Starved Rock," then as now looking down, in wild and gloomy grandeur, upon the surrounding plains, he was struck with its wonderful capabilities as a defensive position, and dispatching a message to Tonty at Crève Coeur, he ordered him to occupy the rock. Perhaps no other place in the whole valley can be found more capable of defense than that, for on the water side the dark-gray rock rises, with but few projecting angles, nearly perpendicular to a height full two hundred feet above the river, whilst landward, it has no approach but in one direction, and that easily defended by a ditch and pickets and in the midst of game on which to subsist, the vast plains adjacent to it, now dotted with highly cultivated farms, and embellished by industry and art, being then the feeding grounds of immense herds of deer, elk and buffalo.

It is a most romantic spot. I have stood upon the "Starved Rock" and gazed for hours upon the beautiful landscape spread out beneath me. The undulating plains rich in their  p122 verdure, the rounded hills beyond clad in their forest livery, and the gentle river pursuing its noiseless way to the Mississippi and the gulf, all in harmonious association, make up a picture over which the eye delights to wander, and when to these are added the recollection of the heroic adventurers who first occupied it, that there the banner of France so many years floated freely in the winds, that there was civilization, whilst all around them was barbaric darkness, the most intense and varied emotions cannot fail to be awakened.

To this rock Tonty repaired with a part of his little garrison, but whilst engaged in fortifying it, he was alarmed by a report of the revolt of the remainder of his men left at Crève Coeur. His presence there was necessary, where he soon learned that one‑half of them had deserted, with such arms and provisions as they could take away.

Having no other alternative, he with those who were faithful and Father Gabriel retired to the village at the Illinois lake, and accepted, for six months, the kind hospitality of the Illinois, whose confidence he gained, and to whom he became serviceable by teaching them  p123 the use of arms, and the construction of a rude fortification for their village and other arts of military strategy, whilst their missionaries pursued their labors with undiminished ardor, but with less success in christianizing any of them, however attentively they may haveac listened to their learned homilies.

However, a good understanding subsisted among them, until it was announced that an army of Iroquois and Miamis, numbering five hundred men, was advancing into their country, headed by La Salle himself, who was known by his hat and European dress. This proved to be a mistake as to La Salle, but the Iroquois were there in considerable force. Tonty and Zenobe Membré played the part of ambassadors between the two powers, but not being wholly successful in their endeavors to procure a peace, though the calumet was accepted by the Iroquois, and the Illinois warriors, considering that "the better part of valor was discretion," and that was best manifested by running away, fled, leaving Tonty, and Father Gabriel and Zenobe, and three other Frenchmen, his whole disposable force, to manage matters with the enemy as he best could,  p124 and other alternative presenting, he left the village, without supplies of any kind, in an old canoe, and made all speed up the river, in order to reach Green bay. On his expedition, Father Gabriel was cruelly murdered by three Kickapoo scouts, who dispatched him with a war club and left his body a prey to the eagle and the raven.

The remainder of the party, after much suffering, reached Green bay, and thence proceeded to Mackinac, there to await the return of their leader.

He, as if the sport of the most untoward fortune, found all his affairs in Canada in the utmost confusion, his creditors pressing him, or seizing his property in satisfaction of their claims, and a general distrust of his ability to extricate himself from his embarrassments, pervading the minds of his friends. He, however, did not despair. He engaged more men, abandoned the project of a vessel for the Mississippi, and resolving to promote his voyage in canoes, again left Frontenac on the 23d of July, 1680, and at the end of November was once more at the mouth of the Miamis river; thence he pursued his way to the village of the Illinois, which he  p125 found abandoned — no fortification was seen on the "Rock," and no tidings of Tonty and his companions could be heard; he was again, therefore, compelled to relinquish his designs upon the Mississippi and to return to the river of the Miamis. At this post he remained until May, 1681, when he proceeded to Mackinac, and there had the pleasure of meeting with Tonty and his companions, and after mutual congratulations and a short delay, they all proceeded once more to Frontenac.

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