The French in the Heart of America by John Finley

Produced by Anne Soulard, Tiffany Vergon and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team THE FRENCH IN THE HEART OF AMERICA BY JOHN FINLEY PREFACE Most of what is here written was spoken many months ago in the Amphithéâtre Richelieu of the Sorbonne, in Paris, and some of it in Lille, Nancy, Dijon, Lyons, Grenoble, Montpellier, Toulouse,
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1915
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

Produced by Anne Soulard, Tiffany Vergon and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team




Most of what is here written was spoken many months ago in the Amphithéâtre Richelieu of the Sorbonne, in Paris, and some of it in Lille, Nancy, Dijon, Lyons, Grenoble, Montpellier, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Poitiers, Rennes, and Caen; and all of it was in the American publisher’s hands before the great war came, effacing, with its nearer adventures, perils, sufferings, and anxieties, the dim memories of the days when the French pioneers were out in the Mississippi Valley, “The Heart of America.”

As it was spoken, the purpose was to freshen and brighten for the French the memory of what some of them had seemingly wished to forget and to visualize to them the vigorous, hopeful, achieving life that is passing before that background of Gallic venturing and praying. It was planned also to publish the book simultaneously in France; and, less than a week before the then undreamed-of war, the manuscript was carried for that purpose to Paris and left for translation in the hands of Madame Boutroux, the wife of the beloved and eminent Émile Boutroux, head of the Fondation Thiers, and sister of the illustrious Henri Poincaré. But wounded soldiers soon came to fill the chambers of the scholars there, and the wife and mother has had to give all her thought to those who have hazarded their all for the France that is.

But it was my hope that what was spoken in Paris might some day be read in America, and particularly in that valley which the French evoked from the unknown, that those who now live there might know before what a valorous background they are passing, though I can tell them less of it than they will learn from the Homeric Parkman, if they will but read his immortal story.

My first debt is to him; but I must include with him many who made their contributions to these pages as I wrote them in Paris. The quotation- marks, diligent and faithful as they have tried to be, have, I fear, not reached all who have assisted, but my gratitude extends to every source of fact and to every guide of opinion along the way, from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, even if I have not in every instance known or remembered his name.

As without Parkman’s long labors I could not have prepared these chapters, so without the occasion furnished by the Hyde Foundation and the nomination made by the President of Harvard University to the exchange lectureship, I should not have undertaken this delightful filial task. The readers’ enjoyment and profit of the result will not be the full measure of my gratitude to Mr. James H. Hyde, the author of the Foundation, to President Lowell, and to him whose confidence in me persuaded me to it. But I hope these enjoyments and profits will add something to what I cannot adequately express.

That what was written could, in the midst of official duties, be prepared for the press is due largely to the patient, verifying, proof-reading labors of Mr. Frank L. Tolman, my young associate in the State Library.

The title of this book (appearing first as the general title for some of these chapters in _Scribner’s Magazine_ in 1912) has a purely geographical connotation. But I advise the reader, in these days of bitterness, to go no further if he carry any hatred in his heart.

STATE EDUCATION BUILDING, ALBANY, N. Y. Washington’s Birthday, 1915.























From “a series of letters to a friend in England,” in 1793, “tending to shew the probable rise and grandeur of the American Empire”:

“_It struck me as a natural object of enquiry to what a future increase and elevation of magnitude and grandeur the spreading empire of America might attain, when a country had thus suddenly risen from an uninhabited wild, to the quantum of population necessary to govern and regulate its own administration._”

(“A captain in the American Army during the late war, and a commissioner for laying out land in the back settlements”).



I address the reader as living in the land from which the pioneers of France went out to America; first, because I wrote these chapters in that land, a few steps from the Seine; second, because I should otherwise have to assume the familiarity of the reader with much that I have gathered into these chapters, though the reader may have forgotten or never known it; and, third, because I wish the reader to look at these new-world regions from without, and, standing apart and aloof, to see the present restless life of these valleys, especially of the Mississippi Valley, against the background of Gallic adventure and pious endeavor which is seen in richest color, highest charm, and truest value at a distance.

But, while I must ask my readers in America to expatriate themselves in their imaginations and to look over into this valley as aliens, I wish them to know that I write, though myself in temporary exile, as a son of the Mississippi Valley, as a geographical descendant of France; that my commission is given me of my love for the boundless stretch of prairie and plain whose virgin sod I have broken with my plough; of the lure of the waterways and roads where I have followed the boats and the trails of French voyageurs and coureurs de bois; and of the possessing interest of the epic story of the development of that most virile democracy known to the world. The “Divine River,” discovered by the French, ran near the place of my birth. My county was that of “La Salle,” a division of the land of the Illinois, “the land of men.” The Fort, or the Rock, St. Louis, built by La Salle and Tonty, was only a few miles distant. A little farther, a town, Marquette, stands near the place where the French priest and explorer, Père Marquette, ministered to the Indians. Up-stream, a busy city keeps the name of Joliet on the lips of thousands, though the brave explorer would doubtless not recognize it as his own; and below, the new- made Hennepin Canal makes a shorter course to the Mississippi River than that which leads by the ruins of La Salle’s Fort Crèvecoeur. It is of such environment that these chapters were suggested, and it has been by my love for it, rather than by any profound scholarship, that they have been dictated. I write not as a scholar–since most of my life has been spent in action, not in study–but as an academic coureur de bois and of what I have known and seen in the Valley of Democracy, the fairest and most fruitful of the regions where France was pioneer in America.

There should be written in further preface to all the chapters which follow a paragraph from the beloved historian to whom I am most indebted and of whom I shall speak later at length. I first read its entrancing sentences when a youth in college, a quarter of a century ago, and I have never been free of its spell. I would have it written not only in France but somewhere at the northern portals of the American continent, on the cliffs of the Saguenay, or on that Rock of Quebec which saw the first vessel of the French come up the river and supported the last struggle for formal dominion of a land which the French can never lose, _except by forgetting_: “Again their ghostly camp-fires seem to burn, and the fitful light is cast around on lord and vassal and black-robed priest, mingled with wild forms of savage warriors, knit in close fellowship on the same stern errand. A boundless vision grows upon us; an untamed continent; vast wastes of forest verdure; mountains silent in primeval sleep; river, lake, and glimmering pool; wilderness oceans mingling with the sky. Such was the domain which France conquered for Civilization. Plumed helmets gleamed in the shade of its forests, priestly vestments in its dens and fastnesses of ancient barbarism. Men steeped in antique learning, pale with the close breath of the cloister, here spent the noon and evening of their lives, ruled savage hordes with a mild, parental sway, and stood serene before the direst shapes of death. Men of courtly nurture, heirs to the polish of a far-reaching ancestry, here, with their dauntless hardihood, put to shame the boldest sons of toil.” [Footnote: Parkman: “Pioneers of France in the New World.” New library edition. Introduction, xii-xiii.]

These are the regions we are to explore, and these are the men with whom we are to begin the journey.



We shall not be able to enter the valley of the Mississippi in this chapter. There is a long stretch of the nearer valley of the St. Lawrence that must first be traversed. Just before I left America in 1910 two men flew in a balloon from St. Louis, the very centre of the Mississippi Valley, to the Labrador gate of the St. Lawrence, the vestibule valley, in a few hours, but it took the French pioneers a whole century and more to make their way out to where those aviators began their flight. We have but a few pages for a journey over a thousand miles of stream and portage and a hundred years of time. I must therefore leave most of the details of suffering from the rigors of the north, starvation, and the Iroquois along the way to your memories, or to your fresh reading of Parkman, Winsor, Fiske, and Thwaites in English, or to Le Clercq, Lescarbot, Champlain, Charlevoix, Sagard, and others in French.

The story of the exploration and settlement of those valleys beyond the cod-banks of Newfoundland begins not in the ports of Spain or Portugal, nor in England, but in a little town on the coast of France, standing on a rocky promontory thrust out into the sea, only a few hours’ ride from Paris, in the ancient town of St. Malo, the “nursery of hardy mariners,” the cradle of the spirit of the West. [Footnote: After reaching Paris on my first journey, the first place to which I made a pilgrimage, even before the tombs of kings and emperors and the galleries of art, was this gray-bastioned town of St. Malo.]

For a son of France was the first of Europeans, so far as we certainly know, to penetrate beyond the tidewater of those confronting coasts, the first to step over the threshold of the unguessed continent, north, at any rate, of Mexico. Columbus claimed at most but an Asiatic peninsula, though he knew that he had found only islands. The Cabots, in the service of England, sailing along its mysterious shores, had touched but the fringe of the wondrous garment. Ponce de Leon, a Spaniard, had floundered a few leagues from the sea in Florida searching for the fountain of youth. Narvaez had found the wretched village of Appalache but had been refused admission by the turbid Mississippi and was carried out to an ocean grave by its fierce current; Verrazano, an Italian in the employ of France, living at Rouen, had entered the harbor of New York, had enjoyed the primitive hospitality of what is now a most fashionable seaside resort (Newport), had seen the peaks of the White Mountains from his deck, and, as he supposed, had looked upon the Indian Ocean, or the Sea of Verrazano, which has shrunk to the Chesapeake Bay on our modern maps and now reaches not a fiftieth part of the way to the other shore.

It was a true son of France who first had the persistence of courage and the endurance of imagination to enter the continent and see the gates close behind him–Jacques Cartier, a master pilot of St. Malo, commissioned of his own intrepid desire and of the jealous ambition of King Francis I to bring fresh tidings of the mysterious “square gulf,” which other Frenchmen, Denys and Aubert, may have entered a quarter of a century earlier, and which it was hoped might disclose a passage to the Indies.

It was from St. Malo that Carrier set sail on the highroad to Cathay, as he imagined, one April day in 1534 in two ships of sixty tons each. [Footnote: I crossed back over the same ocean, nearly four hundred years later, to a French port in a steamship of a tonnage equal to that of a fleet of four hundred of Carrier’s boats; so has the sea bred giant children of such hardy parentage.] There is preserved in St. Malo what is thought to be a list of those who signed the ship’s papers subscribed under Carrier’s own hand. It is no such instrument as the “Compact” which the men of the _Mayflower_ signed as they approached the continent nearly a century later, but it is none the less fateful.

The autumn leaves had not yet fallen from the trees of Brittany when the two ships that started out in April appeared again in the harbor of St. Malo, carrying two dusky passengers from the New World as proofs of Carrier’s ventures. He had made reconnoissance of the gulf behind Newfoundland and returned for fresh means of farther quest toward Cathay.

The leaves were but come again on the trees of Brittany when, with a larger crew in three small vessels (one of only forty tons), he again went out with the ebb-tide from St. Malo; his men, some of whom had been gathered from the jails, having all made their confession and attended mass, and received the benediction of the bishop. In August he entered the great river St. Lawrence, whose volume of water was so great as to brighten Carrier’s hopes of having found the northern way to India. On he sailed, with his two dusky captives for pilots, seeing with regret the banks of the river gradually draw together and hearing unwelcome word of the freshening of its waters–on past the “gorge of the gloomy Saguenay with its towering cliffs and sullen depths, depths which no sounding-line can fathom, and heights at whose dizzy verge the wheeling eagle seems a speck”; on past frowning promontory and wild vineyards, to the foot of the scarped cliff of Quebec, now “rich with heroic memories, then but the site of a nameless barbarism”; thence, after parley with the Indian chief Donnacona and his people, on through walls of autumn foliage and frost- touched meadows to where the Lachine Rapids mocked with unceasing laughter those who dreamed of an easy way to China. There, entertained at the Indian capital, he was led to the top of a hill, such as Montmartre, from whose height he saw his Cathay fade into a stretch of leafy desert bounded only by the horizon and threaded by two narrow but hopeful ribbons of water. There, hundreds of miles from the sea, he stood, probably the only European, save for his companions, inside the continent, between Mexico and the Pole; for De Soto had not yet started for his burial in the Mississippi; the fathers of the Pilgrim Fathers were still in their cradles; Narvaez’s men had come a little way in shore and vanished; Cabeça de Vaca was making his almost incredible journey from the Texas coast to the Pacific; Captain John Smith was not yet born; and Henry Hudson’s name was to remain obscure for three quarters of a century. Francis I had sneeringly inquired of Charles V if he and the King of Portugal had parcelled out the world between them, and asked to see the last will and testament of the patriarch Adam. If King Francis had been permitted to see it, he would have found a codicil for France written that day against the bull of Pope Alexander VI and against the hazy English claim of the Cabots. For the river, “the greatest without comparison,” as Cartier reported later to his king, “that is known to have ever been seen,” carried drainage title to a realm larger many times than all the lands of the Seine and the Rhone and the Loire, and richer many times than the land of spices to which the falls of Lachine, “the greatest and swiftest fall of water that any where hath beene scene,” seemed now to guard the way.

“Hochelaga” the Indians called their city–the capital of the river into which the sea had narrowed, a thousand miles inland from the coasts of Labrador which but a few years before were the dim verge of the world and were believed even then to be infested with griffins and fiends–a city which vanished within the next three quarters of a century. For when Champlain came in 1611 to this site to build his outpost, not a trace was left of the palisades which Cartier describes and one of his men pictures, not an Indian was left of the population that gave such cordial welcome to Cartier. And for all Champlain’s planning it was still a meadow and a forest–the spring flowers “blooming in the young grass” and birds of varied plumage flitting “among the boughs”–when the mystic and soldier Maisonneuve and his associates of Montreal, forty men and four women, in an enterprise conceived in the ancient Church of St. Germain-des-Prés and consecrated to the Holy Family by a solemn ceremonial at Notre-Dame, knelt upon this same ground in 1642 before the hastily reared and decorated altar while Father Vimont, standing in rich vestments, addressed them. “You are,” he said, “a grain of mustard-seed that shall rise and grow till its branches overshadow the earth. You are few, but your work is the work of God. His smile is on you and your children shall fill the land.” [Footnote: François Dollier de Casson, “Histoire du Montreal,” quoted in Parkman’s “Jesuits in North America,” p. 209, a free rendering of the original. “Voyez-vous, messieurs, dit-il, ce que vous voyez n’est qu’un grain de moutarde, mais il est jeté par des mains si pieuses et animées de l’esprit de la foi et de la religion que sans doute il faut que le ciele est de grands desseins puisqu’il se sert de tels ouvriers, et je ne fais aucun doute que ce petit grain ne produise un grand arbre, ne fasse un jour des merveilles, ne soit multiplié et ne s’étende de toutes parts.”] Parkman (from the same French authority) finishes the picture of the memorable day: “The afternoon waned; the sun sank behind the western forest, and twilight came on. Fireflies were twinkling over the darkened meadow. They caught them, tied them with threads into shining festoons and hung them before the altar, where the Host remained exposed. Then they pitched their tents, lighted their bivouac fires, stationed their guards and lay down to rest. Such was the birth-night of Montreal.” [Footnote: François Dollier de Casson, “Histoire du Montreal,” quoted in Parkman’s “Jesuits in North America,” p. 209, a free rendering of the original. “On avait point de lampes ardentes devant le St. Sacrement, mais on avait certaines mouches brillantes qui y luisaient fort agréablement jour et nuit étant suspendues par des filets d’une façon admirable et belle, et toute propre à honorer selon la rusticité de ce pays barbare, le plus adorable de nos mystères.”]

On the both of September in 1910 two hundred thousand people knelt in that same place before an out-of-door altar, and the incandescent lights were the fireflies of a less romantic and a more practical age. Maisonneuve and Mademoiselle Mance would have been enraptured by such a scene, but it would have given even greater satisfaction to the pilot of St. Malo if he could have seen that commercial capital of the north lying beneath the mountain which still bears the name he gave it, and stretching far beyond the bounds of the palisaded Hochelaga. It should please France to know that nearly two hundred thousand French keep the place of the footprint of the first pioneer, Jacques Cartier. When a few weeks before my coming to France I was making my way by a trail down the side of Mount Royal through the trees–some of which may have been there in Cartier’s day–two lads, one of as beautiful face as I have ever seen, though tear-stained, emerged from the bushes and begged me, in a language which Jacques Cartier would have understood better than I, to show them the way back to “rue St. Maurice,” which I did, finding that street to be only a few paces from the place where Champlain had made a clearing for his “Place Royale” in the midst of the forest three hundred years ago. That beautiful boy, Jacques Jardin, brown-eyed, bare-kneed, in French soldier’s cap, is to me the living incarnation of the adventure which has made even that chill wilderness blossom as a garden in Brittany.

But to come back to Cartier. It was too late in the season to make further explorations where the two rivers invited to the west and northwest, so Cartier joined the companions who had been left near Quebec to build a fort and make ready for the winter. As if to recall that bitter weather, the hail beat upon the windows of the museum at St. Malo on the day when I was examining there the relics of the vessel which Cartier was obliged to leave in the Canadian river, because so many of his men had died of scurvy and exposure that he had not sufficient crew to man the three ships home. And probably not a man would have been left and not even the _Grande Hermine_ would have come back if a specific for scurvy had not been found before the end of the winter–a decoction learned of the Indians and made from the bark or leaves of a tree so efficacious that if all the “doctors of Lorraine and Montpellier had been there, with all the drugs of Alexandria, they could not have done so much in a year as the said tree did in six days; for it profited us so much that all those who would use it recovered health and soundness, thanks to God.”

Cartier appears again in July, 1536, before the ramparts of St. Malo with two of his vessels. The savages on the St. Charles were given the _Petite Hermine_, [Footnote: James Phinney Baxter, “A Memoir of Jacques Cartier,” p. 200, writes: “The remains of this ship, the _Petite Hermine_, were discovered in 1843, in the river St. Charles, at the mouth of the rivulet known as the Lairet. These precious relics were found buried under five feet of mud, and were divided into two portions, one of which was placed in the museum of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, and destroyed by fire in 1854. The other portion was sent to the museum at St. Malo, where it now remains. For a particular account _vide Le Canadien_ of August 25, and the _Quebec Gazette_ of August 30, 1843; ‘Transactions of the Quebec Literary and Historical Society for 1862’; and ‘Picturesque Quebec,’ Le Moine, Montreal, 1862, pp. 484-7.”] its nails being accepted in part requital for the temporary loss of their chief. Donnacona, whom Cartier kidnapped.

A cross was left standing on the shores of the St. Lawrence with the fleur-de-lis planted near it. Donnacona was presented to King Francis and baptized, and with all his exiled companions save one was buried, where I have not yet learned, but probably somewhere out on that headland of France nearest Stadacone, the seat of his lost kingdom.

Cartier busied himself in St. Malo (or Limoilou) till called upon, in 1541, when peace was restored in France to take the post of captain- general of a new expedition under Sieur de Roberval, “Lord of Norembega, Viceroy and Lieutenant-General of Canada, Hochelaga, Saguenay, Newfoundland, Belle Isle, Carpunt, Labrador, the Great Bay and Baccalaos,” [Footnote: Baxter, “Memoir of Jacques Cartier,” note, p. 40, writes: “These titles are given on the authority of Charlevoix, ‘Histoire de la Nouvelle France,’ Paris, 1744, tome I, p. 32. Reference, however, to the letters patent of January 15, 1540, from which he professes to quote and which are still preserved and can be identified as the same which he says were to be found in the Etat Ordinaire des Guerres in the Chambre des Comptes at Paris, does not bear out his statement.”] with a commission of discovery, settlement, and conversion of the Indians, and with power to ransack the prisons for material with which to carry out these ambitious and pious designs, thereby, as the king said, employing “clemency in doing a merciful and meritorious work toward some criminals and malefactors, that by this they may recognize the Creator by rendering Him thanks, and amending their lives.” Again Cartier (Roberval having failed to arrive in time) sets out; again he passes the gloomy Saguenay and the cliff of Quebec; again he leaves his companions to prepare for the winter; again he ascends the river to explore the rapids, still dreaming of the way to Asia; again after a miserable winter he sails back to France, eluding Roberval a year late, and carrying but a few worthless quartz diamonds and a little sham gold. Then Roberval, the Lord of Norembega, reigns alone in his vast and many-titled domain, for another season of snows and famine, freely using the lash and gibbet to keep his penal colonists in subjection; and then, according to some authorities, supported by the absence of Carder’s name from the local records of St. Malo for a few months, Cartier was sent out to bring the Lord of Norembega home.

So Cartier’s name passes from the pages of history, even if it still appears again in the records of St. Malo, and he spends the rest of his days on the rugged little peninsula thrust out from France toward the west, as it were a hand. A few miles out of St. Malo the Breton tenants of the Cartier manor, Port Cartier, to-day carry their cauliflower and carrots to market and seemingly wonder at my curiosity in seeking Cartier’s birthplace rather than Châteaubriand’s tomb. It were far fitter that Cartier instead of Châteaubriand should have been buried out on the “Plage” beyond the ramparts, exiled for a part of every day by the sea, for the amphibious life of this master pilot, going in and out of the harbor with the tide, had added to France a thousand miles of coast and river, had opened the door of the new world, beyond the banks of the Baccalaos, to the imaginations of Europe, and unwittingly showed the way not to Asia, but to a valley with which Asia had nothing to compare.

For a half century after Cartier’s home bringing of Roberval–the very year that De Soto’s men quitted in misery the lower valley of the Mississippi–there is no record of a sail upon the river St. Lawrence. Hochelaga became a waste, its tenants annihilated or scattered, and Cartier’s fort was all but obliterated. The ambitious symbols of empire were alternately buried in snows and blistered by heat. France had too much to think of at home. But still, as Parkman says, “the wandering Esquimaux saw the Norman and Breton sails hovering around some lonely headland or anchored in fleets in the harbor of St. John, and still through salt spray and driving mist, the fishermen dragged up the riches of the sea.” For “codfish must still be had for Lent and fast-days.” Another authority pictures the Breton babies of this period playing with trinkets made of walrus tusks, and the Norman maidens decked in furs brought by their brothers from the shores of Anticosti and Labrador.

Meanwhile in Brouage on the Bay of Biscay a boy is born whose spirit, nourished of the tales of the new world, is to make a permanent colony where Cartier had found and left a wilderness, and is to write his name foremost on the “bright roll of forest chivalry”–Samuel Champlain.

Once the sea, I am told, touched the massive walls of Brouage. There are still to be seen, several feet below the surface, rings to which mariners and fishermen moored their boats–they who used to come to Brouage for salt with which to cure their fish, they whose stories of the Newfoundland cod-banks stirred in the boy Champlain the desire for discovery beyond their fogs. The boys in the school of Hiers-Brouage a mile away–in the Mairie where I went to consult the parish records–seemed to know hardly more of that land which the Brouage boy of three centuries before had lifted out of the fogs by his lifelong heroic adventures than did the boy Champlain, which makes me feel that till all French children know of, and all American children remember Brouage, the story of France in America needs to be retold. The St. Lawrence Valley has not forgotten, but I could not learn that a citizen of the Mississippi Valley had made recent pilgrimage to this spot. [Footnote: For an interesting account of Brouage to-day, see “Acadiensis,” 4:226.]

In the year of Champlain’s birth the frightful colonial tragedy in Florida was nearing its end. By the year 1603 he had, in Spanish employ, made a voyage of two years in the West Indies, the unique illustrated journal [Footnote: “Brief Discours des Choses plus remarquables que Sammuel Champlain de Brouage, reconnues aux Indies Occidentalles au voiage qu’il en a faict en icelles en l’annee V’C IIIJ’XX XIX (1599) et en l’annee VJ’C J (1601) comme ensuite.” Now in English translation by Hakluyt Society, 1859.] of which in his own hand was for two centuries and more in Dieppe, but has recently been acquired by a library in the United States [Footnote: The John Carter Brown Library at Providence, R. I.]–a journal most precious especially in its prophecy of the Panama Canal: [Footnote: Several earlier Spanish suggestions for a canal had been made. See M. F. Johnson, “Four Centuries of the Panama Canal.”] “One might judge, if the territory four leagues in extent, lying between Panama and the river were cut thru, he could pass from the south sea to that on the other side, and thus shorten the route by more than fifteen hundred leagues. From Panama to Magellan would constitute an island, and from Panama to Newfoundland would constitute another, so that the whole of America would be in two islands.”

He had also made one expedition to the St. Lawrence, reaching the deserted Hochelaga, seeing the Lachine Rapids, and getting vague reports of the unknown West. He must have been back in Paris in time to see the eleven survivors of La Roche’s unsuccessful expedition of 1590, who, having lived twelve years and more on Sable Island, were rescued and brought before King Henry IV, “standing like river gods” in their long beards and clad in shaggy skins. During the next three years this indefatigable, resourceful pioneer assisted in founding Acadia and exploring the Atlantic coast southward. Boys and girls in America are familiar with the story of the dispersion of the Acadians, a century and more later, as preserved in our literature by the poet Longfellow. But doubtless not one in a hundred thousand has ever read the earlier chapters of that Aeneid.

The best and the meanest of France were of the company that set out from Dieppe to be its colonists: men of highest condition and character, and vagabonds, Catholic priests and Huguenot ministers, soldiers and artisans. There were theological discussions which led to blows before the colonists were far at sea. Fiske, the historian, says the “ship’s atmosphere grew as musty with texts and as acrid with quibbles as that of a room at the Sorbonne.” There was the incident of the wandering of Nicolas Aubry, “more skilled in the devious windings of the [Latin Quarter] than in the intricacies of the Acadian Forest,” where he was lost for sixteen days and subsisted on berries and wild fruits; there was the ravage of the relentless maladie de terre, scurvy, for which Cartier’s specific could not be found though the woods were scoured; there were the explorations of beaches and harbors and islands and rivers, including the future Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth, and the accurate mapping of all that coast now so familiar; there were the arrivals of the ship _Jonas_ once with temporal supplies and again, as the _Mayflower of the Jesuits_, with spiritual teachers; there was the “Order of Good Times,” which flourished with as good cheer and as good food at Port Royal in the solitude of the continent as the gourmands at the Rue aux Ours had in Paris and that, too, at a cheaper rate; [Footnote: “Though the epicures of Paris often tell us we have no Rue aux Ours over there, as a rule we made as good cheer as we could have in this same Rue aux Ours and at less cost.” Lescarbot, “Champlain Society Publication,” 7:342.] there was later the news of the death of Henry IV heard from a fisherman of Newfoundland; and there was, above all else except the “indomitable tenacity” of Champlain, the unquenchable enthusiasm, lively fancy, and good sense of Lescarbot, the verse-making advocate from Paris.

There is so much of tragic suffering and gloom in all this epic of the forests that one is tempted to spend more time than one ought, perhaps, on that bit of European clearing (the only spot, save one, as yet in all the continent north of Florida and Mexico), in the jolly companionship of that young poet-lawyer who had doubtless sat under lecturers in Paris and who would certainly have been quite as capable and entertaining as any lecturers on the new world brought in these later days from America to Paris, a man “who won the good-will of all and spared himself naught,” “who daily invented something for the public good,” and who gave the strongest proof of what advantage “a new settlement might derive from a mind cultivated by study and induced by patriotism to use its knowledge and reflections.”

It cannot seem unworthy of the serious purpose of this book to let the continent lie a few minutes longer in its savage slumber, or, as the Jesuits thought it, “blasted beneath the sceptre of hell,” while we accompany Poutrincourt and Champlain, returning wounded and weather-beaten from inspecting the coast of New England, to find the buildings of Port Royal, under Lescarbot’s care, bright with lights, and an improvised arch bearing the arms of Poutrincourt and De Monts, to be received by Neptune, who, accompanied by a retinue of Tritons, declaimed Alexandrine couplets of praise and welcome, and to sit at the sumptuous table of the Order of Good Times, of which I have just spoken, furnished by this same lawyer- poet’s agricultural industry. We may even stop a moment longer to hear his stately appeal to France, which, heeded by her, would have made Lescarbot’s a name familiar in the homes of America instead of one known only to those who delve in libraries:

“France, fair eye of the universe, nurse from old of letters and of arms, resource to the afflicted, strong stay to the Christian religion, Dear Mother … your children, our fathers and predecessors, have of old been masters of the sea…. They have with great power occupied Asia…. They have carried the arms and the name of France to the east and south…. All these are marks of your greatness, … but you must now enter again upon old paths, in so far as they have been abandoned, and expand the bounds of your piety, justice and humanity, by teaching these things to the nations of New France…. Our ancient practice of the sea must be revived, we must ally the east with the west and convert those people to God before the end of the world come…. You must make an alliance in imitation of the course of the sun, for as he daily carries his light hence to New France, so let your civilization, your light, be carried thither by your children, who henceforth, by the frequent voyages they shall make to these western lands, shall be called children of the sea, which is, being interpreted, children of the west.” [Footnote: Lescarbot, “Histoire de la Nouvelle France,” 1618, pp. 15-22.]

“Children of the west.” His fervid appeal found as little response then as doubtless it would find if made to-day, and the children of the sea were interpreted as the children of the south of Africa. The sons of France have ever loved their homes. They have, except the adventurous few, preferred to remain children of the rivers and the sea of their fathers, and so it is that few of Gallic blood were “spawned,” to use Lescarbot’s metaphor, in that chill continent, though the venturing or missionary spirit of such as Cartier and Champlain, Poutrincourt and De Monts gave spawn of such heroism and unselfish sacrifice as have made millions in America whom we now call “children of the west,” geographical offspring of Brittany and Normandy and Picardy.

The lilies of France and the escutcheons of De Monts and Poutrincourt, painted by Lescarbot for the castle in the wilderness, faded; the sea which Lescarbot, as Neptune, impersonated in the pageant of welcome, and the English ships received back those who had not been gathered into the cemetery on land; and the first agricultural colony in the northern wilds lapsed for a time at least into a fur traders’ station or a place of call for fishermen.

It was only by locating these points on Champlain’s map of Port Royal that I was able to find in 1911 the site of the ancient fort, garden, fish- pond, and cemetery. The men unloading a schooner a few rods away seemed not to know of Lescarbot or Poutrincourt or even Champlain, but that was perhaps because they were not accustomed to my tongue.

The unquiet Champlain left Acadia in the summer of 1607, the charter having been withdrawn by the king. In the winter of 1607-8 he walked the streets of Paris as in a dream, we are told, longing for the northern wilderness, where he had left his heart four years before. In the spring of 1608 the white whales are floundering around his lonely ship in the river of his dreams. At the foot of the gray rock of Quebec he makes the beginning of a fort, whence he plans to go forth to trace the rivers to their sources, discover, perchance, a northern route to the Indies, and make a path for the priests to the countless savages “in bondage of Satan.” Parkman speaks of him as the “Aeneas of a destined people,” and he is generally called the “father of Canada.” But I think of him rather as a Prometheus who, after his years of bravest defiance of elements and Indians, is to have his heart plucked out day by day, chained to that same gray rock–only that death instead of Herculean succor came.

There is space for only the briefest recital of the exploits and endurances of the stout heart and hardy frame of the man of whom any people of any time might well be proud. The founding of Quebec, the rearing of the pile of wooden buildings where the lower town now stretches along the river; the unsuccessful plot to kill Champlain before the fort is finished; the death of all of the twenty-eight men save eight before the coming of the first spring–these are the incidents of the first chapter.

The visit to the Iroquois country; the discovery of the lake that bears his name; the first portentous collision with the Indians of the Five Nations, undertaken to keep the friendship of the Indian tribes along the St. Lawrence; a winter in France; the breaking of ground for a post at Montreal; another visit to France to find means for the rescue and sustenance of his fading colony, make a depressing second chapter.

Then follows the journey up the Ottawa with the young De Vignau, who had stirred Paris by claiming that he had at last found the northwest passage to the Pacific, when he had in fact spent the winter in an Indian lodge not two hundred miles from Montreal; the noble forgiveness of De Vignau by Champlain; his crestfallen return and his going forth from France again in 1615 with four Récollet friars (Franciscans of the strict observance) of the convent of his birthplace (Brouage) inflamed by him with holy zeal for the continent of savages. For a little these “apostolic mendicants” in their gray robes girt with the white cord, their feet naked or shod in wooden sandals, tarried beneath the gray rock and then set forth east, north, and west, soon (1626) to be followed and reinforced by their brothers of stronger resources, the Jesuits, the “black gowns,” upon a mission whose story is as marvellous as a “tale of chivalry or legends of lives of the saints.”

Meanwhile Champlain, exploring the regions to the northwest, is the first of white men to look upon the first of the Great Lakes–the “Mer Douce” (Lake Huron) being discovered before the lakes to the south–the first after the boy Étienne Brûlé and Friar Le Caron: the latter having gone before him, celebrated the first mass on Champlain’s arrival the 12th of August, 1615, a day “marked with white in the friar’s calendar,” and deserving to be marked with red in the calendar of the west.

There follow twenty restless years in which Champlain’s efforts are divided between discovery and strengthening the little colony, and his occupations between holding his Indian allies who lived along the northern pathway to the west, fighting their enemies to the south, the Iroquois, restraining the jealousies of merchants and priests, trade and missions, reconciling Catholics and Huguenots, going nearly every year to France in the interests of the colony, building and repairing, yielding for a time to the overpowering ships of the English. The grizzled soldier and explorer, restored and commissioned anew under the fostering and firm support of Richelieu, struggled to the very end of his life to make the feeble colony, which eighteen years after its founding “could scarcely be said to exist but in the founder’s brain,” not chiefly an agricultural settlement but a spiritual centre from which the interior was to be explored and the savage hordes won–at the same time to heaven and to France–subdued not by being crushed but by being civilized, not by the sword but by the cross. It was a far different colony that was beginning to grow fronting the harbor of Plymouth, where men quite as intolerant of priests as Richelieu was intolerant of Huguenots were building homes and making firesides in enjoyment of religious and political freedom.

Champlain lay dying as the year 1635 went out, asking more help from his patron Richelieu, but his great task had been accomplished. The St. Lawrence had been opened, the first two of the Great Lakes had been reached, and explorer and priest were already on the edge of that farther valley of the “Missipi,” which we are to enter in the next chapter.



It was exactly a hundred years, according to some authorities, after Jacques Cartier opened and passed through the door of the St. Lawrence Valley that another son of France, Jean Nicolet, again the first of Europeans so far as is now certainly known, looked over into the great valley of the Mississippi from the north.

Champlain, dying beneath the Rock of Quebec, had touched two of the Great Lakes twenty years before. He never knew probably that another of those immense inland seas lay between, though, as his last map indicates, he had some word several years before his death of a greater sea beyond, where now two mighty lakes, the largest bodies of fresh water on the globe, carry their sailless fleets and nourish the life of millions on their shores.

From the coureurs de bois, “runners of the woods,” whom he, tied by the interests of his feeble colony to the Rock, had sent out, enviously no doubt, upon journeys of exploration and arbitration among the Indians, and from the Gray Friars and Black Gowns who, inflamed of his spirit, had gone forth through the solitudes from Indian village to village, from suffering to suffering, reports had come which he must have been frequently translating with his practised hand into river and shore line of this precious map, the original of which is still kept among the proud archives of France. He was disappointed the while, I have no doubt, that still the fresh water kept flowing from the west, and that still there was no word of the salt sea.

The straight line which makes the western border of his map is merciful of his ignorance, but merciless of his hopes. It admits no stream that does not flow into one of the lakes or into the St. Lawrence. But it was made probably four years before his death and it is possible, indeed probable, that just before paralysis came upon him, he had heard through the famous coureur de bois, Jean Nicolet, whom he had despatched the year previous, of a river which this man of the woods had descended so far that “in three days more” he would have reached what the Indians called the “Great Water.” [Footnote: The Mississippi. Nicolet probably did not go beyond the Fox portage. See C. W. Butterfield, “The Discovery of the Northwest by Jean Nicolet.”] There is good reason, in the appointment of this same coureur de bois as a commissioner and interpreter at Three Rivers, for thinking (as one wishes to think) that like Moses, Champlain had, through him a vision of the valley which he himself might not enter, but which his compatriots were to possess.

The historian Bancroft said of that land: “Not a cape was turned, not a river entered, but a Jesuit led the way.” But the men of sandalled feet had not yet penetrated so far in 1635. It is an interesting tribute to these spiritual pioneers, however, that the particular rough coureur de bois who first looked into that far valley of solitude, inhabited only by Indians and buffaloes and other untamed beasts, would doubtless never have left his Indian habits and returned to civilization if he could have lived without the sacraments of the church.

This coureur de bois Nicolet presents a grotesque appearance as he mounts the rims of the two valleys where the two bowls touch each other, bowls so full that in freshet the water sometimes overflows the brim and makes one continuous valley.

Nicolet would not be recognized for the Frenchman that he was, as he appears yonder; for, having been told that the men whom he was to meet were without hair upon their faces and heads, and thinking himself to be near the confines of China, he had attired himself as one about to be received at an Oriental court. Accordingly, he stands upon the edge of the prairies in a robe of Chinese damask embroidered with flowers and birds– but with a pistol in each hand. Having succeeded in his mission to these barbarians (for such he found them to be, wearing breech-clouts instead of robes of silk), he was impelled or lured over into the great valley, it is believed. He passed from the lake on the border of Champlain’s map [Footnote: Lake Michigan.] up a river (the Fox) that by and by became but a stream over which one might jump. He portaged from this stream or creek across a narrow strip of prairie, only a mile wide, to the Wisconsin River, a tributary of the Mississippi. The statement over which I have pondered, walking along that river, that he might have reached the “great water” in three more days, is intelligible only in this interpretation of his course.

The next Europeans to look out over the edge of the basin of the lakes were two other sons of France, one a man of St. Malo, Radisson, a voyageur and coureur de bois, the other his brother-in-law, Groseilliers (1654). It is thought that these companions went all the way to the Mississippi and so became the discoverers of her northern waters. The journal of the voyage is unfortunately somewhat obscure. The great “rivers that divide themselves in two” are many in that valley, and no one can be certain of the identity of that river “called the forked” mentioned in the “relation” of Radisson, which had “two branches, one towards the west, the other towards the south,” and, as the travellers believed, ran toward Mexico. [Footnote: See Warren Upham. Groseilliers and Radisson, the first white men in Minnesota, 1655-6 and 1659-60, and their discovery of the Upper Mississippi River, in Minn. Historical Society Collections, 10:449-594.]

Then came the Hooded Faces, the friars and the priests. To the four Récollet friars whom Champlain brought out with him in 1615 from the convent of his native town (Brouage), Jamay, D’Olbeau, Le Caron, and a lay brother, Du Plessis, others were added, but there were not more than six in all for the missions extending from Acadia to where Champlain found Le Caron in 1615 in the vicinity of Lake Huron. Their experiences and ardor (not unlike those of other missionaries in other continents and in our own times) have illustration in this extract from a letter written by Le Caron: “It would be difficult to tell you the fatigue I have suffered, having been obliged to have my paddle in hand all day long and row with all my strength with the Indians. I have more than a hundred times walked in the rivers over the sharp rocks, which cut my feet, in the mud, in the woods, where I carried the canoe and my little baggage, in order to avoid the rapids and frightful waterfalls. I say nothing of the painful fast which beset us, having only a little sagamity, which is a kind of pulmentum composed of water and the meal of Indian corn, a small quantity of which is dealt out to us morning and evening. Yet I must avow that amid my pains I felt much consolation. For alas! when we see such a great number of infidels, and nothing but a drop of water is needed to make them children of God, one feels an ardor which I cannot express to labor for their conversion and to sacrifice for it one’s repose and life.” [Footnote: Le Clercq, “First Establishment of the Faith in New France (Shea),” 1:95.]

“Six months before the Pilgrims began their meeting-house on the burial hill at Plymouth,” he and his brother priests laid the corner-stone of “the earliest church erected in French-America.” It was a bitter disappointment when, in 1629, he was carried away by the English from his infant mission to spend his latter days far from his savage converts, perhaps in his whitewashed cell in the convent of Brouage, and to administer before an altar where it was not necessary to have neophytes wave green boughs to drive off the mosquitoes–those pestiferous insects from whose persecutions a brother Récollet said he suffered his “worst martyrdom” in America. But more bitter chagrin was in store for Le Caron, for when the French returned to Quebec, in 1632, after the restoration under the treaty, the Gray Apostles of the White Cord (who had invited the Black Gowns to join them in their missions years before and had so hospitably entertained them when denied shelter elsewhere in Quebec) were not permitted to be of the company. [Footnote: Le Caron, says Le Clercq, when he “saw all his efforts were useless, experienced the same fate as Saint Francis Xavier, who when on the point of entering China, found so many secret obstacles to his pious design that he fell sick and died of chagrin. So was Father Joseph a martyr to the zeal which consumed him, and of that ardent charity which burned in his heart to visit his church again.”–Le Clercq, 1.c. 1:324.] The Jesuits went alone. Repairing their dilapidated buildings of Notre Dame des Anges, a little way out of Quebec on the St. Charles River, where Cartier had spent his first miserable winter in America, they began their enterprises _ad majorem Dei gloriam_ in a field of labor whose vastness “might,” as Parkman says, “tire the wings of thought itself.” Le Jeune left the convent at Dieppe, De Noue that at Rouen, and they went out from Havre together to begin their labors among a people whose first representatives came aboard the vessel at Tadoussac with faces variously painted, black and red and yellow, as a party of “carnival maskers.” One cannot well conjecture a more hopeless undertaking than that of making those half-naked, painted barbarians understand the mystery of the Trinity, for example, or the significance of the cross. Think of this gentle, holy father, Le Jeune, seated in a hovel beside one of these savages, whose language he is trying to learn, bribing his Indian tutor with a piece of tobacco at every difficulty to make him more attentive, or with half-frozen fingers writing his Algonquin exercises, or making translations of prayers for the tongues of his prospective converts–and you will be able to appreciate the beginnings of the task to which these men without the slightest question set themselves.

It was a life, once these men left the mission house of Notre Dame des Anges, that was without the slightest social intercourse, that was beyond the prizes of any earthly ambition, that was frequently in imminence of torture and death, and that was usually in physical discomfort if not in pain. Obscure and constant toil for tender hands, solitude, suffering, privation, death–these made up the portion of the messengers of the faith who turned their faces toward the wilderness, their steps into the gloom of the forests, pathless except for the traces of the feet of savages and wild beasts.

For it is twenty-five years after that memorable day when Le Caron first said mass on the shores of one of the Great Lakes (Champlain being present) before the farthermost shore of the farthest lake is reached by these patient and valorous pilgrims of the west. The story of that heroic journey, of the consecration of those forests and waters and clearings by suffering and unselfish ministry, fills many volumes (forty in the French edition and seventy-two in the edition recently published in the United States, the English translation being presented on the pages opposite the Latin or French originals). There is material in them for many chapters of a new-world “Odyssey.” To these “Relations,” as they were called, we owe the great body of information we have concerning New France, from 1603 in Acadia to the early part of the eighteenth century in the Mississippi and St. Lawrence Valleys; for they who wrote them were not priests alone, they were at the same time explorers, scientists, historical students, ethnologists (the first and best-fitted students of the North American Indian), physicians to the bodies as well as ministers to the souls of those wild creatures.

There was a time when these “Relations,” as they came from the famous press of Cramoisy, were eagerly awaited and devoured, and were everywhere the themes of enthusiastic discussion in circles of high devotion in Paris and throughout France, where it is doubtless believed by many to-day that the borders of the lakes which the authors of these “Relations” traversed are still possessed by Indians, or at best by half-civilized, half- barbaric peoples who would stand agape in the Louvre as the Goths stood before the temples and the statues of Rome.

The “Relations” of Jesuits are among our most precious chronicles in America. With these the history of the north–the valleys of the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi–begins. The coureurs de bois may have anticipated the priests in some solitary places, but they seldom made records. Doubtless, like Nicolet, they told their stories to the priests when they went back to the altars for sacrament, so that even their experiences have been for the most part preserved. But when we know under what distracting and discouraging conditions even the priest wrote, we wonder, as Thwaites says, that anything whatever has been preserved in writing. The “Relations” were written by the fathers, he reminds us, [Footnote: “Jesuit Relations,” 1:39, 40.] in Indian camps, the aboriginal insects buzzing or crawling about them, in the midst of a chaos of distractions, immersed in scenes of squalor and degradation, overcome by fatigue and improper sustenance, suffering from wounds and disease, and maltreated by their hosts who were often their jailers. What they wrote under these circumstances is simple and direct. There is no florid rhetoric; there is little self-glorification; no unnecessary dwelling on the details of martyrdom; and there is not a line to give suspicion “that one of this loyal band flinched or hesitated.”

“I know not,” says one of these apostles [Footnote: Fr. Francesco Giuseppe Bressani, “Jesuit Relations” (Thwaites), 39:55.] in an epistle to the Romans (for this particular letter went to Rome), “I know not whether your Paternity will recognize the letter of a poor cripple, who formerly, when in perfect health was well known to you. The letter is badly written, and quite soiled because in addition to other inconveniences, he who writes it has only one whole finger on his right hand; and it is difficult to avoid staining the paper with the blood which flows from his wounds, not yet healed: he uses arquebus powder for ink, and the earth for a table.” This particular early American writer, besides having his hand split and now one finger-nail or joint burned off and now another, his hair and beard pulled out, his flesh burned with live coals and red-hot stones, was hung up by the feet, had food for dogs placed upon his body that they might lacerate him as they ate, but finally escaped death itself through sale to the Dutch.

Two other chroniclers of that life of which they were a part, were two men of noble birth: the giant Brébeuf, “the Ajax of the mission,” a man of vigorous passions tamed by religion (as Parkman says, “a dammed-up torrent sluiced and guided to grind and saw and weave for the good of man”); and in marked and strange contrast with him, Charles Garnier, a young man of thirty-three, of beardless face–laughed at by his friends in Paris, we are told, because he was beardless but admired by the Indians for the same reason–of a delicate nature but of the most valiant spirit.

It was Brébeuf who kept the westernmost outpost for many years. A man of iron frame and resoluteness, the only complaint of his that I have found, is one which would furnish a study for a great artist: it was that he had “no moment to read his breviary, except by moonlight or the fire, when stretched out to sleep on a bare rock by some savage cataract,–or in a damp nook of the adjacent forest.” There is another picture of him in action, crouched in a canoe, barefoot, toiling at the paddle, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, behind the lank hair and brown shoulders and long, naked arms of his aboriginal companion. Still another simple “Relation” shows him teaching the Huron children to chant and repeat the commandments under reward of beads, raisins, or prunes. In 1637, accused of having bewitched the Huron nation and having brought famine and pest, he was doomed to death; he wrote his farewell letter to his superior, gave his farewell dinner to his enemies, taking that opportunity to preach a farewell sermon concerning the Trinity, heaven and hell, angels and fiends–the only real things to him–and so wrought upon his guests that he was spared to labor on, though often in peril, until the Iroquois (1649), still following the Hurons, found him with a brother priest giving baptism and absolution to the savages dying in that last struggle this side of the Lakes against their ancient enemies. They tied him to a stake, hung a collar of “hatchets heated red-hot” about his neck, baptized him with boiling water, cut strips of flesh from his limbs, drank his blood as if to inherit of his valiance, and finally tore out and ate his heart for supreme courage. Such cannibalism seems poetically justifiable in tribute to such unflinching constancy of devotion.

His brother priest, Lalemant, who was tortured to death at the same time, had thought it no good omen ten years before (1639) that no martyr’s blood had yet furnished seed for the church in that new soil, though consoling himself with the thought that the daily life amid abuse and threats, smoke, fleas, filth, and dogs might be “accepted as a living martyrdom.” There was ample seed by now, and still more was soon to be added, for very soon, the same year, the gentle Garnier is to die the same death ministering to these same Hurons, whose refugees, flying beyond two lakes to escape from their murderous foes, are to lure the priests on still farther westward till, even in their unmundane thoughts, the great, mysterious river begins to flow toward a longed-for sea.

It was by such a path of danger and suffering, a path which threads gloomy forests, that the first figures clad in black gowns came and peered over the edge of the valley of this mysterious stream, even before Radisson and Groseilliers wandered in that wooded and wet and fertile peninsula which, beginning at the junction of three lakes, widens to include the whole northwest of what is now the United States. You may travel in a day and a night now up the Ottawa River, above Lake Nipissing, around Huron to the point of that peninsula, from Montreal, and if you go in the season of the year in which I once made the journey you will find this path (the path on which Champlain came near losing his life, where Récollet and Jesuit, coureur de bois and soldier toiled up hundreds of portages) bordered as a garden path much of the way by wild purple flowers (that doubtless grew red in the blood-sodden ground of the old Huron country), with here and there patches of gold.

The first of these was Father Raymbault and with him Father Isaac Jogues, who was later to knock with mutilated hands for shelter at the Jesuit college in Rennes. Jogues was born at Orleans; he was of as delicate mould as Garnier, modest and refined, but “so active that none of the Indians could surpass him in running.” In the autumn of 1641 he stood with his companion at the end of the peninsula between the Lakes, their congregation to the number of two thousand having been gathered for them from all along the southern shore of Lake Superior, the land of the Chippewas. Father Raymbault died at Quebec from exposure and hardship encountered here, the first of the Christian martyrs on that field, and Jogues was soon after sent upon an errand of greater peril. While on his way from Quebec to the new field (the old Huron station) with wine for the eucharist, writing materials, and other spiritual and temporal supplies, he was captured by the Iroquois and with his companions subjected to such torture as even Brébeuf was not to know. Journeying from the place of his capture on the St. Lawrence to that of his protracted torture he, first of white men, saw the Lake Como of America which bears the name of “George,” a king of England, instead of “Jogues,” whom the holy church may honor with canonization, but who should rather be canonized by the hills and waters where he suffered. His fingers were lacerated by the savages before the journey was begun; up the Richelieu River he went, suffering from his wounds and “the clouds of mosquitoes.” At the south end of Lake Champlain this gentle son of France was again subjected to special tortures for the gratification of another band of Iroquois; his hands were mangled, his body burned and beaten till he fell “drenched in blood.” Where thousands now land every summer at the head of Lake George for pleasure he staggered forth under his portage burden to the shores of the Mohawk, where again the chief called the crowd to “caress” the Frenchmen with knives and other instruments of torture, the children imitating the barbarity of their elders. I should not repeat such details of this horrible story here except to give background to one moment’s act in the midst of it all, illustrative of the motive which was back of this unexampled endurance. While he and his companions were on the scaffold of torture, four Huron prisoners were brought in and put beside the Frenchmen: whereupon Father Jogues began his ministry anew, for when an ear of green corn was thrown him for food, discovering a few rain-drops clinging to the husks, he secretly baptized two of his eleventh-hour converts.

This was not the end, but after months of pain and privation, which make one wonder at what a frail body, fitted with a delicate organism, can endure, he escaped by the aid of the Dutch at Fort Orange (now the capital of the State of New York), whither the Iroquois had gone to trade, and after six weeks in hiding there, was sent to New Amsterdam–then a “delapidated fort garrisoned by sixty soldiers” and a village of only four or five hundred inhabitants, but even at that time so cosmopolitan that, as one of my friends who has recently revived a census of that day shows, nearly twenty different languages were spoken.

It is thus that a little French father of the wilderness comes from a thousand miles behind the mountains, from the shores of the farthest lake, in the middle of the continent, at a time when New York and Boston had together scarcely more inhabitants than would fill a hall in the Sorbonne.

If only Richelieu (who died in the very year that Jogues was exemplifying so faithfully the teaching of Him whose brother he called himself) had permitted the Huguenot who wanted to go, to follow this little priest into those wilds, instead of trying in vain to persuade those to go who would not, who shall say that American visitors from that far interior might not be speaking to-day in a tongue which Richelieu, were he alive, could best understand.

The little father, who has always seemed to me an old man, though he was then only thirty-six, was carried back to England, suffering from nature and pirates almost as much as from the Iroquois, and at last reached Rennes, where, after his identity was disclosed, the night was given to jubilation and thanksgiving, we are told. He was summoned to Paris, where the queen “kissed his mutilated hands” and exclaimed: “People write romances for us–but was there ever a romance like this, and it is all true?” Others gladly did him honor. But all this gave no satisfaction to his soul bent upon one task, and as soon as the Pope, at the request of his friends, granted a special dispensation [Footnote: The answer of Pope Urban VIII was: “Indignum esset martyrem Christi, Christi non bibere sanguinem.”] which permitted him, though deformed by the “teeth and knives of the Iroquois,” to say mass once more, he returned to the wilderness where within a few months the martyrdom was complete and his head was displayed from the palisades of a Mohawk town.

So vanished the face of the first priest of France from the edge of the great valley, he, too, as Raymbault, perhaps, hoping “to reach China across the wilderness” but finding his path “diverted to heaven.”

It was not until 1660 that another came into that peninsula at whose point Jogues had preached, the aged Ménard, who after days among the tangled swamps of northern Wisconsin was lost, and only his cassock, breviary, and kettle were ever recovered. A little later came Allouez and Dablon, and Druilletes who had been entertained at Boston by Winslow and Bradford and Dudley and John Eliot, and last of those to be selected from the increasing number of that brotherhood for mention, the young Père Marquette, “son of an old and honorable family at Laon,” of extraordinary talents as a linguist (having learned, as Parkman tells us, to speak with ease six Indian languages) and in devotion the “counterpart of Garnier and Jogues.” When he first appears in the west it is at the mission of Pointe de St. Esprit, near the very western end of Lake Superior. There he heard, from the Illinois who yearly visited his mission, of the great river they had crossed on their way, and from the Sioux, who lived upon its banks, “of its marvels.” His desire to follow its course would seem to have been greater than his interest in the more spiritual ends of his mission, for he disappointedly, it is intimated, followed his little Huron flock suddenly driven back toward the east by the Iroquois of the West–the Sioux. At Point St. Ignace, a place midway between the two perils, the Sioux of the West and the Iroquois of the East, they huddled under his ministry.

It was there in the midst of his labors among his refugees, that Louis Joliet, the son of a wagon-maker of Quebec, a grandson of France, found him on the day, as he writes in his journal, of “the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Virgin, whom I had continually invoked since I came to this country of the Ottawas to obtain from God the favor of being enabled to visit the Nations on the river Missisipi.” Joliet carried orders from Frontenac the governor and Talon the intendant, that Marquette should join him–or he Marquette–upon this voyage of discovery, so consonant with Marquette’s desire for divine ordering. Marquette quieted his morbid conscience, which must have reproved his exploring ambitions, by reflecting upon the “happy necessity of exposing his life” for the salvation of all the tribes upon that particular river, and especially, he adds, as if to silence any possible lingering remonstrance, “the Illinois, who when I was at St. Esprit, had begged me very earnestly to bring the Word of God among them.”

So the learned son of Laon and the practical son of the wagon-maker of Quebec set out westward upon their journey under the protection of Marquette’s particular divinity, but provided by Joliet with supplies of smoked meat and Indian corn, and furnished with a map of their proposed route made up from rather hazy Indian data. Through the strait that leads into Lake Michigan, and along the shores of this wonderful western sea they crept, stopping at night for bivouac on shore; then up Green Bay to the old mission; and then up the Fox River, where Nicolet had gone, in his love not of souls but of mere adventure. What interests one who has lived in that region, is to hear the first word of praise of the prairies extending farther than the eye can see, interspersed with groves or with lofty trees. [Footnote: “Jesuit Relations” (Thwaites), 59:103.]

I have spoken of the little river, dwindling into a creek of perplexed channel before the trail is found that ties the two great valleys together. One cannot miss it now, for when I last passed over it it was being paved, or macadamized, and a steam-roller was doing in a few days what the moccasined or sandalled feet of the first travellers there would not have accomplished in a thousand thousand years. I shall speak later of what has grown upon this narrow isthmus (now crossed not merely by trail and highway, but by canal as well), but I now must hasten on where the impatient priest and his sturdy, practical companion are leading, toward the Wisconsin.

Nicolet may have put his boat in this same Wisconsin River, but if he did he did not go far below the portage. La Salle may even have walked over this very path only a year or two before. But, after all, it is only a question as to which son of France it was, for we know of a certainty that on a day in June of 1673 Joliet and Marquette did let their canoes yield to the current of this broad, tranquil stream after their days of paddling up the “stream of the wild rice.”

I have walked in the wide valley of the Wisconsin River and have seen through the haze of an Indian summer day the same dim bluffs that Marquette looked upon, and by night the light of the same stars that Marquette saw reflected from its surface. But having never ridden upon its waters, I take the description of one who has followed its course more intimately if not more worshipfully. “They glided down the stream,” he writes, “by islands choked with trees and matted with entangling grape- vines, by forests, groves and prairies, the parks and pleasure-grounds of a prodigal nature; by thickets and marshes and broad bare sand-bars; under the shadowing trees between whose tops looked down from afar the bold brow of some woody bluff. At night, the bivouac, the canoes inverted on the bank, the nickering fire, the meal of bison-flesh or venison, the evening pipes, and slumber beneath the stars; and when in the morning they embarked again, the mist hung on the river like a bridal veil, then melted before the sun, till the glassy water and the languid woods basked breathless in the sultry glare.” [Footnote: Parkman, “La Salle,” pp. 63 and 64.]

But to those first voyagers it had a charm, a lure which was not of stars or shadows or wooded bluffs or companionable bivouac. It led to the great and the unknown river, which in turn led to a sea remote from that by which the French had come out of Europe into America. They were travelling over the edge of Champlain’s map, away from Europe, away from Canada, away from the Great Lakes. As far as that trail which led through the grass and reeds up from the Fox, one might have come every league of the way from Havre or even from a quay of the Seine, by water, except for a few paces of portage at La Chine and at Niagara. But that narrow strip of prairie which they crossed that June day in 1673 was in a sense the coast of a new sea, they knew not what sea–or, better, it was the rim of a new world.

On the 17th of June they entered the Mississippi with a joy which they could not express, Marquette naming it, according to his vow, in honor of the Virgin Mary, Rivière de la Conception, and Joliet, with an earthly diplomacy or gratitude, in honor of Frontenac, “La Buade.” For days they follow its mighty current southward through the land of the buffalo, but without sight for sixty leagues of a human being, where now its banks are lined with farms, villages, and towns. At last they come upon footprints of men, and following them up from the river they enter a beautiful prairie where a little way back from the river lay three Indian villages. There, after peaceful ceremonies and salutations, they, the first Frenchmen on the farther bank, their fame having been carried westward from the missions on the shores of the lakes, were received.

“I thank thee,” said the sachem of the Illinois, addressing them; “I thank thee, Black Gown, and thee, O frenchman,” addressing himself to Monsieur Jollyet, “for having taken so much trouble to come to visit us. Never has the earth been so beautiful, or the sun so Bright, as to-day; Never has our river been so Calm, or so clear of rocks, which your canoes have Removed in passing; never has our tobacco tasted so good, or our corn appeared so fine, as We now see Them. Here is my son, whom I give thee to Show thee my Heart. I beg thee to have pity on me, and on all my Nation. It is thou who Knowest the great Spirit who has made us all. It is thou who speakest to Him, and who hearest his word. Beg Him to give me life and health, and to come and dwell with us, in order to make us Know him.” [Footnote: “Jesuit Relations” (Thwaites), 59:121.]

Knowing the linguistic attainments of Marquette and his sincerity, one must credit this first example of eloquence and poetry of the western Indians, cultivated of life amid the elemental forces of the water, earth, and sky. [Footnote: It was of these same prairies, rivers, and skies, these same elemental ever-present forces, that Abraham Lincoln learned the simple, rugged eloquence that made him the most powerful soul that valley has known.] A beautiful earth, sprinkled with flowers, a bright sun, a calm river free of rocks, sweet-flavored tobacco, thriving corn, an acquaintance with the Great Spirit–well might the old man who received the French man say: “thou shalt enter all our cabins in peace.”

Indian eloquence is not of the lips only. It is a poor Indian speech indeed that is not punctuated by gifts. And so it was that the French travellers resumed their journey laden with presents from their prairie hosts, and a slave to guide them, and a calumet to procure peace wherever they went.

It is enough now, perhaps, to know that the voyagers passed the mouth of the Illinois, the Missouri, the Ohio, and reached the mouth of the Arkansas, when thinking themselves near the gulf and fearing that they might fall into the hands of the Spaniards if they ventured too near the sea, and so be robbed of the fruits of their expedition, they turned their canoes up-stream. Instead, however, of following their old course they entered the Illinois River, known sometimes as the “Divine River.” I borrow the observing father’s description of that particular valley as it was just two centuries before I first remember seeing it. “We have seen nothing like this river for the fertility of the land, its prairies, woods, wild cattle, stag, deer, wildcats, bustards, swans, ducks, parrots, and even beaver; its many little lakes and rivers.” [Footnote: B. F. French, “Historical Collections of Louisiana,” 4:51. “Jesuit Relations” (Thwaites), 59:161.] Through this paradise of plenty they passed, up one of the branches of the Illinois, till within a few miles of Lake Michigan, where they portaged a thousand paces to a creek that emptied into the lake of the Illinois. If they were following that portage path and creek today they would be led through that city which stands next to Paris in population–the city of Chicago, in the commonwealth that bears the name of the land through which the French voyagers passed, “Illinois.”

At the end of September, having been absent four months, and having paddled their canoes over twenty-five hundred miles, they reached Green Bay again. There these two pioneers, companions forever in the history of the new world, separated–Joliet to bear the report of the discovery of the Rivière de Buade to Count Frontenac, Marquette to continue his devotions to his divinity and recruit his wasted strength, that he might keep his promise to return to minister to the Illinois, whom he speaks of as the most promising of tribes, for “to say ‘Illinois’ is in their language to say ‘the men.'”

By most unhappy fate Joliet’s canoe was upset in the Lachine Rapids, when almost within sight of Montreal, and all his papers, including his precious map, were lost in the foam. But several maps were made under his direction or upon his data.

Marquette’s map, showing nothing but their course and supplying nothing from conjecture, was found nearly two hundred years later in St. Mary’s College in Montreal, furnishing, I have thought, a theme and design for a mural painting in the interesting halls of the Sorbonne, where so many periods, personages, and incidents of the world’s history are worthily remembered. The art of that valley has sought to reproduce or idealize the faces of these pioneers. The more eloquent, visible memorial would be the crude map from the hand of the priest Jacques Marquette, son of Rose de la Salle of the royal city of Rheims.

Of his setting out again for the Illinois, where he purposed establishing a mission, of his spending the winter, ill, in a hut on the Chicago portage path, of his brief visit to the Illinois, of his journey northward, of his death by the way, and of the Indian procession that bore his bones up the lake to Point St. Ignace–of all this I may not speak in this chapter.

Here let me say only the word of tribute that comes to him out of his own time, as the first stories of history came, being handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, till a poet or a historian should make them immortal. The story of Marquette I had known for many years from the blind Parkman, but not long ago I met one day an Indian boy, with some French blood of the far past in his veins, the son of a Chippewa chief, a youth who had never read Parkman or Winsor but who knew the story of Marquette better than I, for his grandmother had told him what she had heard from her grandmother, and she in turn from her mother or grandmother, of listening to Marquette speak upon the shores of Superior, of going with other French and Indians on that missionary journey to the Illinois to prepare food for him, and of hearing the mourning among the Indians when long after his death the report of his end reached their lodges.

The grim story of the labors of the followers of Loyola among the Indians has its beatific culmination in the life of this zealot and explorer. Pestilence and the Iroquois had ruined all the hopes of the Jesuits in the east. Their savage flocks were scattered, annihilated, driven farther in the fastnesses, or exiled upon islands. The shepherds who vainly followed their vanishing numbers found themselves out upon the edge of a new field. If the Iroquois east and west could have been curbed, the Jesuits would have become masters of that field and all the north. We shall, thinking of that contingency, take varying views, beyond reconciliation, as to the place of the Iroquois in American history; but we shall all agree, whatever our religious and political predilection, men of Old France and men of New France alike, in applauding the sublime disinterestedness, fearless zeal, and unquestioned devotion to something beyond the self, which have consecrated all that valley of the Lakes and have, in the person of Marquette, the son of Laon, made first claim upon the life of the valley, whose great water he helped to discover.



Père Marquette was still in a convent in Rheims when a French wood-ranger and fur trader was out in those western forests making friends for the French, one Sieur Nicolas Perrot, who would doubtless have been forgotten with many another of his craft if he had not been able-as few of them were-to read and write. And Marquette was but on his way from France to Canada when Sieur Perrot was ministering with beads and knives and hatchets and weapons of iron to these stone-age men on the southern shore of Superior, where the priest was later to minister with baptismal water and mysterious emblems. It was Perrot, whom they would often have worshipped as a god, who prepared the way for the altars of the priests and the forts of the captains; for back of the priests there were coming the brilliantly clad figures of the king’s representatives. Once when Perrot was receiving such adoration, he told the simple-minded worshippers that he was “only a Frenchman, that the real Spirit who had made all, had given the French the knowledge of iron and the ability to handle it as if it were paste”; that out of “pity for His creatures He had permitted the French nation to settle in their country.” [Footnote: Emma H. Blair, “Indian Tribes of the Upper Mississippi Valley,” 1:310.] At another time he said: “I am the dawn of that light, which is beginning to appear in your lands,” and having learned by experience the true Indian eloquence, he proceeded in his oration with most impressive pauses: “It is for these young men I leave my gun, which they must regard as the pledge of my esteem for their valor. They must use it if they are attacked. It will also be more satisfactory in hunting cattle and other animals than are all the arrows that you use. To you who are old men I leave my kettle (pause); I carry it everywhere without fear of breaking it” (being of copper or iron instead of clay). “You will cook in it meat that your young men bring from the chase, and the food which you offer to the Frenchmen who come to visit you.” [Footnote: Blair, “Indian Tribes of the Upper Mississippi Valley,” 1:330, 331.] And so he went on, throwing iron awls to the women to be used instead of their bone bodkins, iron knives to take the place of pieces of stone in killing beavers and cutting their meat, till he reached his peroration, which was punctuated with handfuls of round beads for the adornment of their children and girls.

Do not think this a petty relation. It is a detail in the story of an age of iron succeeding, in a single generation, an age of stone. The splendor of the court and age of Louis XIV was beginning to brighten the sombreness of the northern primeval forests.

It is this ambassador Perrot, learned in the craft of the woods rather than in that of the courts, more effective in his forest diplomacy than an army with banners, who soon after (1671) appears again on those shores, summoning the nations to a convocation by the side of that northern tumultuous strait, known everywhere now as the “Soo,” then as the Sault Ste. Marie, there to meet the representatives of the king who lived across the water and of the Onontio who governed on the St. Lawrence.

This convocation, of which Perrot was the successful herald, was held in the beginning of summer in the year 1671 (the good fishing doubtless assisting the persuasiveness of Perrot’s eloquence in procuring the great savage audience). When the fleets of canoes arrived from the west and the south and east, Daumont de St. Lusson and his French companions, sent out the previous autumn from Quebec, having wintered in the Mantoulin Island, were there to meet them. It is a picture for the Iliad. Coureur de bois and priest had penetrated these regions, as we have seen; but now was to take place the formal possession by the crown of a territory that was coming to be recognized as valuable in itself, even if no stream ran though it to the coasts that looked on Asia.

The scene is kept for us with much detail and color. On a beautiful June morning the procession was formed, the rapids probably furnishing the only music for the stately march of soldier and priest. After St. Lusson, four Jesuits led the processional: Dablon, Allouez, whom we have already seen on the shores of Superior, André from the Mantoulin Island, and Druilletes; the last, familiar from his long visit at Plymouth and Boston with the character of the Puritan colonies and doubtless understanding as no one else in that company, the menace to the French of English sturdiness and industry and self-reliant freedom. He must have wondered in the midst of all that formal vaunt of possession, how long the mountains would hold back those who were building permanent bridges over streams, instead of traversing them in ephemeral interest, or as paths to waters beyond; who were working the iron of the bogs near by, instead of hunting for the more precious ores or metals on remote shores; who were sawing the trees into lumber for permanent homes and shops, instead of adapting themselves to the more primitive life and barter in the woods; who were getting riches from the cleared fields, instead of from the backs of beavers in the sunless forests; who were raising sheep and multiplying cattle, instead of hunting deer and buffaloes; who were beginning to trade with European ports not as mere voyageurs but as thrifty merchants; who were vitally concerned about their own salvation first, and then interested in the fate of the savage; and who, above all, were learning in town meetings to govern themselves, instead of having all their daily living regulated from Versailles or the Louvre. Druilletes, remembering New England that day, must have wondered as to the future of this unpeopled, uncultivated empire of New France, without ploughs, without tame animals, without people, even, which St. Lusson was proclaiming. [Footnote: See Justin Winsor “Pageant of St. Lusson,” 1892.] Was its name indeed to be written only in the water which their canoes traversed?

There were fifteen Frenchmen with St. Lusson, among them the quiet, practical, unboastful Joliet, trained for the priesthood, but turned trader and explorer, who had already been two years previous out on the shores of Superior looking for copper. Marquette was not with the priests but was urging on the reluctant Hurons and Ottawas who did not arrive until after the ceremony.

The French were grouped about a cross on the top of a knoll near the rapids, and the great throng of savages, “many-tinted” and adorned in the mode of the forest, sat or stood in wider circle. Father Dablon sanctified a great wooden cross. It was raised to its place while the inner circle sang _Vexilla Regis_. Close to the cross a post bearing a plate inscribed with the royal arms, sent out by Colbert, was erected, and the woods heard the _Exaudiat_ chanted while a priest said a prayer for the king. Then St. Lusson (a sword in one hand and “crumbling turf in the other”) cried to his French followers who applauded his sentences, to the savages who could not understand, to the rapids which would not heed, and to the forests which have long forgotten the vibrations of his voice, the words in French to which these words in English correspond:

“‘In the name of the most high, most mighty and most redoubtable monarch Louis, the XIVth of the name, most Christian King of France and Navarre, we take possession of the said place of Ste Mary of the Falls as well as of Lakes Huron and Supérieur, the Island of Caientoton and of all other Countries, rivers, lakes and tributaries, contiguous and adjacent thereunto, as well discovered as to be discovered, which are bounded on the one side by the Northern and Western Seas and on the other side by the South Sea, including all its length or breadth;’ Raising at each of the said three times a sod of earth whilst crying Vive le Roy, and making the whole of the assembly as well French as Indians repeat the same; declaring to the aforesaid Nations that henceforward as from this moment they were dependent on his Majesty, subject to be controlled by his laws and to follow his customs, promising them all protection and succor on his part against the incursion or invasion of their enemies, declaring unto all other Potentates, Princes and Sovereigns, States and Republics, to them and their subjects, that they cannot or ought not seize on, or settle in, any places in said Country, except with the good pleasure of his said most Christian Majesty and of him who will govern the Country in his behalf, on pain of incurring his hatred and the effects of his arms; and in order that no one plead cause of ignorance, we have attached to the back the Arms of France thus much of the present our Minute of the taking possession.” [Footnote: “Wisconsin Historical Collections,” 11:28.]

Then the priest Allouez (as reported by his brother priest Dablon), after speaking of the significance of the cross they had just raised, told them of the great temporal king of France, of him whom men came from every quarter of the earth to admire, and by whom all that was done to the world was decided.

“But look likewise at that other post, to which are affixed the armorial bearings of the great Captain of France whom we call King. He lives beyond the sea; he is the Captain of the greatest Captains, and has not his equal in the world. All the Captains you have ever seen, or of whom you have ever heard, are mere children compared with him. He is like a great tree, and they, only like little plants that we tread under foot in walking. You know about Onnontio, that famous Captain of Quebec. You know and feel that he is the terror of the Iroquois, and that his very name makes them tremble, now that he has laid waste their country and set fire to their Villages. Beyond the sea there are ten thousand Onnontios like him, who are only the Soldiers of that great Captain, our Great King, of whom I am speaking. When he says, ‘I am going to war,’ all obey him; and those ten thousand Captains raise Companies of a hundred soldiers each, both on sea and on land. Some embark in ships, one or two hundred in number, like those that you have seen at Quebec. Your Canoes hold only four or five men–or, at the very most, ten or twelve. Our ships in France hold four or five hundred, and even as many as a thousand. Other men make war by land, but in such vast numbers that, if drawn up in a double file, they would extend farther than from here to Mississaquenk, although the distance exceeds twenty leagues. When he attacks, he is more terrible than the thunder: the earth trembles, the air and the sea are set on fire by the discharge of his Cannon; while he has been seen amid his squadrons, all covered with the blood of his foes, of whom he has slain so many with his sword that he does not count their scalps, but the rivers of blood which he sets flowing. So many prisoners of war does he lead away that he makes no account of them, letting them go about whither they will, to show that he does not fear them. No one now dares make war upon him, all nations beyond the sea having most submissively sued for peace. From all parts of the world people go to listen to his words and to admire him, and he alone decides all the affairs of the world. What shall I say of his wealth? You count yourselves rich when you have ten or twelve sacks of corn, some hatchets, glass beads, kettles, or other things of that sort. He has towns of his own, more in number than you have people in all these countries five hundred leagues around; while in each town there are warehouses containing enough hatchets to cut down all your forests, kettles to cook all your moose, and glass beads to fill all your cabins. His house is longer than from here to the head of the Sault”–that is, more than half a league–“and higher than the tallest of your trees; and it contains more families than the largest of your Villages can hold.” [Footnote: “Jesuit Relations” (Thwaites), 55:111-113.]

This remarkable proclamation and this extraordinary speech are to be found in the records. And the historian would end the incident here. But one may at least wonder what impressions of Louis the Great and Paris and France these savages carried back to their lodges to ponder over and talk about in the winter nights; and one must wonder, too, what impression the proclamation and pantomime of possession made upon their primitive minds. Perrot translated the proclamation for them, and asked them to repeat “Long live the king!” but it must have been a free translation that he made into their idioms; he must have softened “vassals” to “children,” and “king” to “father,” and made them understand that the laws and customs of Versailles would not curb their freedom of coiffure or attire, of chase or of leisure, on the shores of Superior.

The speech of Allouez may seem full of hyperbole to those who know, in history, the king, and, by sight, the palace employed in the priest’s similes; but if we think of Louis XIV not in his person but as a representative of the civilization of Europe that was asserting its first claim there in the wilderness, and give to the word of the priest something of the import of prophecy, the address becomes mild, indeed. Through those very rapids a single fleet of boats carries every year enough iron ore to supply every man, woman, and child in the United States (97,000,000) with a new iron kettle every year; another fleet bears enough to meet the continent’s, if not the world’s, need of hatchets. Trains laden with golden grain, more precious than beads, trains that would encircle the palace at Versailles or the Louvre now cross that narrow strait every day. A track of iron, bearing the abbreviated name of the rapids and the mission, penetrates the forests and swamps from which that savage congregation was gathered in the first great non-religious convocation on the shores of the western lakes where men with the scholarship of the Sorbonne now march every year with emblems of learning on their shoulders.

As to the proclamation, Parkman asks, what now remains of the sovereignty it so pompously announced? “Now and then,” he answers, “the accents of France on the lips of some straggling boatman, or vagabond half-breed– this and nothing more.”

But again I would ask you to think of St. Lusson not as proclaiming merely the sovereignty of Louis XIV or of France, but as heralding the new civilization, for if we are to appreciate the real significance of that pageant and of France’s mission, we must associate with that day’s ceremony, not merely the subsequent wanderings of a few men of French birth or ancestry in all those “countries, rivers, lakes and streams,” “bounded on the one side by the seas of the north and west and on the other by the South Sea,” but all that life to which they led the adventurous, perilous way.

The Iroquois and disease had thinned the Indian populations of the northeast, but here was a new and a friendly menace to that stone-age barbarism whose dusky subjects found their way back to their haunts by the stars, lighted their fires by their flint, and gluttonously feasted in plenty, or stoically fasted in famine.

For the French it was a challenge to “those countries, lakes and islands bounded by the seas.” They must now “make good the grandeur of their hopes.” And a brave beginning is soon to be made. This highly colored scene becomes frontispiece of another glorious chapter, in the midst of whose hardship one will turn many a time to look with a sneer or smile, or with pity, at the figures in court garments, burnished armor, and “cleansed vestments,” standing where the east and the west and the far north and the south meet.

From the shores of a seigniory on the St. Lawrence, eight or nine miles from Montreal, just above those hoarse-voiced, mocking rapids which had lured and disappointed Cartier and Champlain and Maisonneuve, and which were to get their lasting name of derision from the disappointment of the man who now (1668) stands there, Robert René Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, looks across the waters of Lake St. Louis (into which the St. Lawrence for a little way widens) to the “dim forests of Chateauguay and Beauharnois.” His thoughts look still farther, for they are out in that valley of his imagination through which a river “must needs flow,” as he thinks, “into the ‘Vermilion Sea'”–the Gulf of California. The old possessing dream!

This young man (but twenty-five years of age) was a scion of an old and rich family of Rouen. As a youth he showed unusual traits of intellect and character and (it is generally agreed) doubtless because of his promise, he was led to the benches of the Jesuits. Whether this be true or not, he was an earnest Catholic. But his temperament would not let him yield unquestioned submission to any will save his own. For it was will and not mere passion that mastered his course. “In his faults,” says a sympathetic historian, “the love of pleasure had no part.” At twenty-three he had left Rouen, and securing a seigniory, where we have just seen him, in the “most dangerous place in Canada,” he made clearing for the settlement which he named the Seigniory of St. Sulpice (having received it from the seminary of St. Sulpice), but which his enemies named, as they named the rapids, “La Chine.”

There tutored in the Indian languages and inflamed of imagination as he looked day after day off to the west, his thoughts “made alliance with the sun,” as Lescarbot would have said, and dwelt on’ exploration and empire.

It was ten years later that those who were keeping the mission and the trading-post on Point St. Ignace, where to-day candles burn before the portrait of Père Marquette, saw a vessel equipped with sails, as large as the ships with which Jacques Cartier first crossed the Atlantic, come ploughing its way through waters that had never before borne such burdens without the beating of oars or paddles. Its commander is Sieur de la Salle, now a noble and possessed of a seigniory two hundred miles west of that on which we left him–two hundred miles nearer his goal. This galleon, called the _Griffin_ because it carried on its prow the carving of a griffin, “in honor of the armorial bearings of Count Frontenac,” was the precursor of those mighty fleets that now stir those waters with their commerce.

These ten years of disaster and disappointment, but also of inflexible purpose and indomitable persistence, must not be left to lie unremembered, though the recital must be the briefest. In 1669, in company with some Sulpitian priests and others, twenty-four in all, he sets forth from his seigniory. Along the south shore of Ontario they coast, stopping on the way to visit the Senecas, La Salle, at least, hoping to find there a guide to the headwaters of what is now known as the Ohio River. Disappointed, he with them journeyed on westward past the mouth of the Niagara River, hearing but the sound of the mighty cataract. At the head of Lake Ontario they have the astounding fortune to meet Louis Joliet, who with a companion was returning from Superior (two years before the pageant of St. Lusson) and who had just discovered that great inland lake between the two lakes, Ontario and Huron (which had been shown on French maps as connected by a river only). This lake, Erie, now the busiest perhaps of all that great chain, had been avoided because of the hostility of the Iroquois, and so it was that it was last to rise out of the geographic darkness of that region. Even Joliet’s Iroquois guide, although well acquainted with the easier route, had not dared to go to the Niagara outlet but had followed the Grand River from its northern shores and then portaged to Lake Ontario.

The Sulpitian priests and their companions followed to the west the newly found course, but La Salle, the goal of whose thought was still the Ohio, feigning illness (as it is believed), received the sacrament from the priests (an altar being improvised of some paddles), parted from them, and, as they at the time supposed, went back to Montreal. But it was not of such fibre that his purposes were knit. Just where he went it is not with certainty known, but it is generally conceded that he reached and followed the Ohio as far at least as the site of Louisville, Ky. It is claimed by some that he coasted the unknown western shores of Lake Huron; that he reached the site of Chicago; and that he even saw the Mississippi two years at least before Marquette and Joliet. What Parkman says in his later edition, after full and critical acquaintance with the Margry papers in Paris, is this: “La Salle discovered the Ohio, and in all probability the Illinois also; but that he discovered the Mississippi has not been proved, nor, in the light of the evidence we have, is it likely.” Winsor argues that in the minds of those who knew him in Montreal, La Salle’s projects had failed, since it was then that the mocking name was given to his estate–a name which, by the way, has been made good, as some one remarks, “by the passage across La Salle’s old possessions of the Canadian Pacific Railway,” a new way to China.

I think we must admit, with his enemies of that day and hostile authorities of this, despite Margry’s documents, that except for his increased knowledge of the approaches and his acquaintance with Indians and the conditions of nature in that valley, La Salle’s expedition was a failure. It was his first defiance of the wilderness before him and the first victory of his enemies behind him.

While Marquette is spending the winter, sick of a mortal illness, in the hut on the Chicago portage, La Salle is in Paris, bearing a letter from Frontenac, in which he is recommended to Minister Colbert as “the most capable man I know to carry on every kind of enterprise and discovery” and as having “the most perfect knowledge of the state of the country,” [Footnote: Margry, “Découvertes et établissements des Français,” 1:227.] that is, of the west. A letter I find was sent to Colbert under the same or proximate date [Footnote: Winsor dates letter November 14, 1674. Margry, November 11.] acquainting Colbert with the discovery made by Joliet. La Salle must therefore have known of the Mississippi and its course, even if he himself had not beheld it with his own eyes or felt the impulse of its current.

He goes back to Canada possessed of a new and valuable seigniory (having spent the proceeds of the first in his unsuccessful venture) under charge to garrison Fort Frontenac (on the north shore of Ontario) and to gather about it a French colony. For two years he labors there, bringing a hundred acres of sunlight into the forests, building ships for the navigation of the lake, and establishing a school under the direction of the friars. He might have stayed there and become rich “if he had preferred gain to glory”–there where he had both solitude and power. “Feudal lord of the forest around him, commander of a garrison raised and paid by himself, founder of the mission and patron of the church, he reigned the autocrat of his lonely little empire.” But this does not satisfy him. It is but a step toward the greater empire still farther to the west.

In 1677 he comes back again to Paris with a desire not for land, but for authority to explore and open up the western country, which he describes in a letter to Colbert. It is nearly all “so beautiful and fertile; so free from forests and so full of meadows, brooks and rivers; so abounding in fish, game, and venison that one can find there in plenty, and with little trouble, all that is needful for the support of powerful colonies. The soil will produce anything that is raised in France.” [Footnote: Parkman, “La Salle,” p. 122. Margry, 1:331.] He says that cattle may be left out all winter, calls attention to some hides he has brought with him of cattle whose wool is also valuable, and again expresses confidence that colonies would become prosperous, especially as they would be increased by the tractable Indians, who will readily adapt themselves to the French way of life, as soon as they taste the advantages of French friendship. He does not fail to mention the hostility of the Iroquois and the threatened rivalry of the English, who are beginning to covet that country–all of which only animates him the more to action. Lodged in Paris in an obscure street, Rue de la Truanderie, and attacked as a visionary or worse, he is yet petitioning Louis XIV for the government of a realm larger than the king’s own, and holding conference with Colbert.

In the early summer, after his winter of waiting somewhere in the vicinity in which I have written this chapter, a patent comes to him from the summer palace at St.-Germain-en-Laye, which must have been to him far more than his patent of nobility or title to any estate in France:

“Louis, by the grace of God King of France and Navarre, to our dear and well-beloved Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, greeting. We have received with favor the very humble petition made us in your name to permit you to undertake the discovery of the western parts of New France; and we have the more willingly consented to this proposal, since we have nothing more at heart than the exploration of this country, through which, to all appearances, a way may be found to Mexico.” [Footnote: Various translations. Original in Margry, 1:337.] La Salle, accordingly, was permitted to build forts at his own expense, to carry on certain trade in buffalo-hides, and explore to his heart’s content.

This lodger in Rue de la Truanderie now sets about raising funds for his enterprise and, having succeeded chiefly among his brothers and relations, he gathers materials for two vessels, hires shipwrights, and starts from Rochelle for his empire, his commission doubtless bound to his body, taking with him as his lieutenant Henri de Tonty–son of the inventor of the Tontine form of life insurance who had come to France from Naples–a most valuable and faithful associate and possessed of an intrepid soul to match his own.

From Fort Frontenac, an outpost, La Salle’s company pushes out to build a fort below Niagara Falls near the mouth of the Niagara River, the key to the four great lakes above, and to construct a vessel of fifty tons above the Falls for the navigation of these upper lakes. It is on this journey that the world makes first acquaintance of that mendacious historian Friar Hennepin, who, equipped with a portable altar, ministered to his companions and the savages along the way and wrote the chronicles of the expedition. It is he who has left us the first picture of Niagara Falls unprofaned by tourists; of the buffalo, now extinct except for a few scrawny specimens in parks, and of St. Anthony Falls. After loss by wreck of a part of the material intended for the vessel and repeated delays, due to La Salle’s creditors at Frontenac and the Indians on his way, the vessel was at last completed, launched with proper ceremonies, and started on her maiden trip up those lakes where sail was never seen before.

It is this ship that found temporary haven in the cove back of Point St. Ignace in 1679 while La Salle, “very finely dressed in his scarlet cloak trimmed with gold lace,” knelt, his companions about him, and again heard mass where the bones of Marquette were doubtless even then gathered before the Jesuit altar. Thence they pushed on to Green Bay, where some of his advance agents had gathered peltries for his coming. The _Griffin_, loaded with these, her first and precious cargo, was sent back to satisfy his creditors, and La Salle with fourteen men put forth in their canoes for the land of his commission, of “buffalo-hides,” and of “the way toward Mexico.”

I will “make the _Griffin_ fly above the crows,” La Salle is recorded to have said more than once in his threat toward those of the Black Gowns who were opposing his imperious plans, because they aimed at the occupation, fortification, and settlement of what the order still hoped to keep for itself. But the flight of this aquatic griffin gave to La Salle no good omen of triumph. The vessel never reached safe port, so far as is known. Tonty searched all the east coast of Lake Michigan for sight of her sail, but in vain. And those whom in America we call “researchers”–those who hunt through manuscripts in libraries–have not as yet had word of her. Many have doubtless walked, as I, the shores of that lake with thoughts of her, but no one has found so much as a feather of her pinions. Whether she foundered in a storm or was treacherously sunk and her cargo stolen, no one will probably ever know.

La Salle and his men in their heavily laden canoes had a tempestuous voyage up the west shore of Lake Michigan. [Footnote: It will illustrate what a change has come over a bit of that shore along which he passed if I tell you that when I landed there one day from a later lake _Griffin_, at a place called Milwaukee–in La Salle’s day but another “nameless barbarism”–the first person whom I encountered chanced to be reading a copy of _the London Spectator_–the ultimate symbol of civilization some would think it.] They passed the site of Chicago, deciding upon another course (which persuades me that La Salle must have been in that region before) and on till they reached the mouth of the St. Joseph River, where precious time was lost in waiting for Tonty and his party coming up the other shore. I take space to speak in such detail of this voyage because it traces another important route into the valley.

About seventy miles up the stream there stands an old cedar-tree bearing, as it is believed by antiquarians, the blaze marks of the old French broadaxes and marking the beginning of another of those historic portage paths over the valley’s low rim. I have visited this portage more than once, and when last there I dug away the sand and soil about the trunk of the tree till I could trace the scar left by the axe of the French. It is only about two miles from this tree at the bend of the St. Joseph to where a mere ditch in the midst of the prairie, a tributary of the Illinois, soon gathers enough eager water to carry a canoe toward the Gulf of Mexico.

I have read in the chronicles, with a regret as great as that of the hungry Hennepin, that the Illinois, from whom La Salle expected hospitality at their village farther down the Illinois River, which had been visited by Marquette twice, were off on their hunting expeditions. But I have satisfaction in knowing that he took needful food from their caches in my own county, now named La Salle.

Early in January they passed on to a village four days beyond–the site of the second largest city in the State of Illinois. There La Salle, detained by Indian suspicions of his alliance with the Iroquois, discouraged by the desertion of some of his own men and by the certainty that the _Griffin_ was lost beyond all question not only with its skins but with the materials for a vessel, which he purposed building for the Mississippi waters, stayed for the rest of the winter, building for shelter and protection a fort which he named Fort Crèvecoeur, not to memorialize his own disheartenments as some hint, but, as we are assured by other historians, to celebrate the demolition of Fort Crèvecoeur in the Netherlands by Louis XIV, in which Tonty had participated. The vessel for the Mississippi he bravely decides to build despite the desertion of his sawyers, who had fled to the embrace of barbarism and who, fortunately, did not return to prevent the employment of the unskilled hands of La Salle himself and some others of his men. And so the first settlement in Illinois begins.

On the last day of February Father Hennepin and two associates were sent down the Illinois River on a voyage of exploration, carrying abundant gifts with which to make addresses to the Indians along the way. We may not follow their tribulations and experiences, but we have reason to believe that they reached the upper waters of the Mississippi. There, taken by the Sioux, they were in humiliating and even perilous captivity till rescued by the aid of Du Lhut. We almost wish that the rumor that Hennepin had been hung by his own waist-cord had been true, if only we could have had his first book without the second.

On the next day La Salle, leaving Tonty in command, set out amid the drifting ice of the river with four or perhaps six [Footnote: Margry, 1:488.] men and a guide for Fort Frontenac, to replace at once the articles lost in the _Griffin_, else another year would be spent in vain. Having walked many, many miles along that particular river on those prairies, I can appreciate, as perhaps some readers cannot, what it means to enter upon a journey of a thousand miles when the “ground is oozy” and patches of snow lie about, and the ice is not strong enough to bear one’s weight but thick enough to hinder one’s progress. La Salle, moreover, was in constant danger of Indians of various tribes. In a letter to a friend he said that though he knew that they must suffer all the time from hunger, sleep on the open ground, and often without food, watch by night and march by day, loaded with baggage, sometimes pushing through thickets, sometimes wading whole days through marshes where the water was waist- deep; still he was resolved to go. Two of the men fell ill. A canoe was made for them and the journey continued. Two men were sent to Point St. Ignace to learn if any news had come of the _Griffin_. At Niagara, where he learned of further misfortune, he left the other two Frenchmen and the faithful Mohigan Indian as unfit for further travel and pushed on with three fresh men to Fort Frontenac, which he reached in sixty-five days from the day of his starting from Fort Crèvecoeur. This gives intimation and illustration of the will which possessed the body of this “man of thought, trained amid arts and letters.” “In him,” said the Puritan Parkman, “an unconquerable mind held at its service a frame of iron.” And Fiske adds: “We may see here how the sustaining power of wide-ranging thoughts and a lofty purpose enabled the scholar, reared in luxury, to surpass in endurance the Indian guide and the hunter inured to the hardships of the forest.” I have wondered how his petition to the king, if written after this journey, would have described this valley. But its attraction seems not to be less despite this experience, for he was setting forth again, when word came to him that his Fort Crèvecoeur had been destroyed, most of his men deserting and throwing into the river the stores and goods they could not carry away!

All has to be begun again. Less than nothing is left to him of all his capital. Nothing is left except his own inflexible spirit and the loyalty of his Tonty in the heart of the wilderness. Still undismayed, he turns his hand to the giant task again, only to find when he reaches the Illinois a dread foreboding of the crowning disaster. The Iroquois, the scourge of the east, had swept down the valley of the Illinois like hyenas of the prairies, leaving total desolation in their path. After a vain, anxious search for Tonty among the ruins and the dead, he makes his way back, finding at last at the junction of the two rivers that make the Illinois a bit of wood cut by a saw.

I fear to tire the reader with the monotony of the mere rehearsal of difficulty and discouragement and despairful circumstance which I feel it needful to present in order to give faithful background to the story of the valley. I have by no means told all: of continued malevolence where there should have been help; of the conspiracy of every possible untoward circumstance to block his way. But the telling of so much will be tolerated in the knowledge that, after all, his master spirit did triumph over every ill and obstacle. With Tonty, who, as he writes, is full of zeal, he confounded his enemies at home, gathered the tribes of the west into a confederacy against the Iroquois, as Champlain had done in the east, gave up for the present the building of the vessel, and in 1681, the river being frozen, set out on sledges at Chicago portage and made a prosperous journey down the Illinois to Fort Crèvecoeur. Re-embarking in his canoes, they paddled noiselessly past tenantless villages into the Mississippi. He went beyond the mouth of the Arkansas, reached by Joliet and Marquette; he was entertained by the Indians of whom Châteaubriand has written with such charm in his “Atala”; and at last, in April, 1682, fifteen years from the days that he looked longingly from his seigniory above the Lachine Rapids, he found the “brackish water changed to brine,” the salt breath of the sea touched his face, and the “broad bosom of the great gulf opened on his sight–limitless, voiceless, lonely as when born of chaos, without a sail, without a sign of life.”

His French companions and his great company of Indians about him, he repeated there, in the subtropical spring, the ceremony which ten years before had been performed two thousand miles and more by the water to the north, but in phrases which his inflexible purpose, valorously pursued, had given him a greater right to pronounce. “In the name of the most high, mighty, invincible and victorious prince, Louis the Great–I,–in virtue of the commission of his majesty which I hold in my hand, and which may be seen by all whom it may concern, have taken and do now take, in the name of his Majesty–possession of this country of Louisiana, the seas, harbors, ports, bays, adjacent straits, and all nations, peoples, provinces, cities, towns, villages, mines, minerals, fisheries, streams, and rivers,–from the mouth of the great river St. Louis, otherwise called the Ohio,–as also along the river Colbert, or Mississippi, and the rivers which discharge themselves thereinto, from its source beyond the Nadouessioux–as far as its mouth at the sea, or Gulf of Mexico, and also to the mouth of the River of Palms, upon the assurance we have had from the natives of these countries, that we are the first Europeans who have descended or ascended the river Colbert.” [Footnote: Margry, 2:191.]

None could have remembered the emaciated followers of De Soto, who cared not for the land since they had found no gold there and asked only to be carried back to the sea, whence they had so foolishly wandered. There were probably not even traditions of the white god who had a century and a half before been buried in the river that his mortality might be concealed. It was, indeed, a French river, from where Hennepin had been captured by the Sioux through the stretches covered by Marquette and Joliet to the very sea which La Salle had at last touched. The water path from Belle Isle, Labrador, to the Gulf of Mexico was open, with only short portages at Lachine and Niagara and of a few paces where the Fox all but touches the Wisconsin, the Chicago the Des Plaines, or the St. Joseph the Kankakee. It took almost a century and a half to open that way, but every league of it was pioneered by the French, and if not for the French forever, is the credit the less theirs?

When the “weathered voyagers” that day on the edge of the gulf planted the cross, inscribed the arms of France upon a tree, buried a leaden plate of possession in the earth and sang to the skies “The banners of heaven’s king advance,” La Salle in a loud voice read the proclamation which I have in part repeated. Thus “a feeble human voice, inaudible at half a mile,” [Footnote: Parkman, “La Salle,” p. 308.] in fact gave to France a river and a stupendous territory, of which Parkman has made this description for the title-deed: “The fertile plains of Texas, the vast basin of the Mississippi, from its frozen springs to the sultry borders of the gulf; from the wooded ridges of the Alleghanies to the bare peaks of the Rocky Mountains–a region of savannas and forests, sun-cracked deserts, and grassy prairies, watered by a thousand rivers, ranged by a thousand warlike tribes.” [Footnote: Parkman, “La Salle,” p. 308.] They gave it to France. That, perhaps, the people of France almost wish to forget. But it is better and more accurately written: “On that day France, pioneer among nations, gave this rich, wide region to the world.”




To the red barbarian tribes, of which Parkman says there were a thousand, the river which passed through their valley was the “Mississippi,” that is, the Great Water. They must have named it so under the compulsion of the awe in which they stood of some parts of it, and not from any knowledge of its length. They must have been impressed, especially they of the lower valley, as is the white man of to-day, by the “overwhelming, unbending grandeur of the wonderful spirit ruling the flow of the sands, the lumping of the banks, the unceasing shifting of the channel and the send of the mighty flood.” No one tribe knew both its fountains and its delta, its sources and its mouth. To those midway of the valley it came out of the mystery of the Land of Frosts and passed silently on, or, in places, complainingly on, to the mystery of the Land of the Sun, into neither of which dared they penetrate because of hostile tribes. While the red men of the Mississippi lowlands were not able as the “swamp angel” of to-day to discern the rising of its Red River tributary by the reddish tinge of the water in his particular bayou, or to measure by changing hues, now the impulses of the Wisconsin or of the Ohio, and now of the richer-silted blood of the Rockies (as Mr. Raymond S. Spears, writing of the river, has graphically described), [Footnote: “The Moods of the Mississippi,” in _Atlantic Monthly_, 102:378-382. See also his “Camping on a Great River,” New York, Harper, 1912, and numerous magazine articles.] yet as they gazed with wonderment at these changes of color, they must