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Bill Thayer

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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 1
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p63  Introduction

All who are acquainted with Illinois history are apprized that it has several distinct epochs, each with its own peculiar and marked characteristics.

The first, embracing ninety years of time, takes in the period of its discovery by the French, in 1673, and its dominion by them until its cession to Great Britain, by the Treaty of Paris of 1763. This I have chosen as the subject of my sketch, for the reason that it is less generally known than the others which follow it and, therefore, more entitled to examination, and promising much more interest, and the one upon which I have bestowed some care and attention.

It was my fortune, at an early period of my life, to be a resident of Kaskaskia, a village, then the largest in the State, composed, for the most part, of the descendants of those who occupied it when it was the seat of French Empire, in this part of the great valley — its Heart — whose slightest throb was felt from the banks of the "little river" to the remotest part, and they pointed to  p64 the ruins that met the eye on every hand, covered with the moss and the ivy, to the dismantled and crumbling fortresses, the home of the bat and the reptile, as evidences of her former grandeur and ancient power.

It was there I passed some of the happiest moments of my life and, in her withered fortunes and waning glory, she wove a spell about my heart which, it is no shame to say, separation has not broken; and coming age but adds to the potency of the enchantment —

"Yet does the memory of my boyhood stay —

A twilight of the brightness passed away."

The manners, appearance, modes of dress, customs and pursuits of the remnant of that peculiar people, once so powerful here, could not fail to interest and amuse me, and, as was natural, I sought to know something of their history.

The aged and intelligent villagers were consulted; books, also, of which there were but few, and some written records raked from among forgotten lumber. Meagre as these gleanings were, they served to beguile many a lonely hour, and interested me greatly; but, I fear they will not you, my skill not being adequate to the task of working them up in an engaging, or even an apt and regular form; I have no flowers of rhetoric to twine among them, whose fragrance and whose beauty might delight you; nor an inventive fancy; nor yet that talent for description so necessary to the interest of a mere narrative; nor, even, that kind of intellectual power essential to produce a learned or an elaborate address.  p65 But, in my own way I can exhibit the spoils I have gathered, trusting you will not scrutinize too closely their value or their variety, the more especially as I groped for them into the obscurity of the past, with but a feeble ray, from any quarter, to light me in my labor.

I do not come to speak of battles, of sieges, the sacking of cities, or of bloody revolutions; nor am I about to relate adventures like those performed by him whose marble tells that he who sleeps beneath it "gave a new world to Castile and Leon;" nor portray any exciting scenes; nor yet a polished people, whose acts and science and commerce and wealth have rendered them conspicuous. I came for an humbler purpose, and bring a far more humble offering.

I come to speak of one, a pious and a lowly man, now almost forgotten, and of an obscure people, having no place in any but the humblest chronicles, who, led hither by the little lamp he bore, reared the first symbols of christianity, established the first civilized social system, first broke the virgin soil and erected the first permanent structures within this magnificent valley — the pioneers of those millions who now possess it and enjoy it.

Sculpture, poetry and painting unite their aid to blazon the deeds of the hero, flushed from the field of victory, regardless alike of the blood he has spilt and the havoc he has dealt; but, the benefactors of mankind, if obscure, live and die unhonored. Silent and ceaseless, but unobserved efforts to ameliorate the condition of humanity  p66 are followed by but slight applause and win but few admirers.

But should not the marble and the canvas story their deeds? Should the tongue refuse to speak their praise? Should their names have no place on the page of history, or in the melodies of song? Shall no tribute be paid to those who ventured into these wilds, tamed the savage and lighted up the fires of civilization?

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