HEROES OF THE MIDDLE WEST
MARY HARTWELL CATHERWOOD
GINN AND COMPANY
BOSTON . NEW YORK . CHICAGO . LONDON ATLANTA . DALLAS . COLUMBUS . SAN FRANCISCO
Copyright, 1898 By MARY HARTWELL CATHERWOOD
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 317.8
The Athenaeum Press GINN AND COMPANY . PROPRIETORS . BOSTON . U. S. A.
Let any one who thinks it an easy task attempt to cover the French discovery and occupation of the middle west, from Marquette and Jolliet to the pulling down of the French flag on Fort Chartres, vivifying men, and while condensing events, putting a moving picture before the eye. Let him prepare this picture for young minds accustomed only to the modern aspect of things and demanding a light, sure touch. Let him gather his material—as I have done—from Parkman, Shea, Joutel, Hennepin, St. Cosme, Monette, Winsor, Roosevelt—from state records, and local traditions richer and oftener more reliable than history; and let him hang over his theme with brooding affection, moulding and remoulding its forms. He will find the task he so lightly set himself a terribly hard and exhausting one, and will appreciate as he never before appreciated the labors of those who work in historic fields.
I. The Discoverers of the Upper Mississippi 1
II. Bearers of the Calumet 19
III. The Man with the Copper Hand 44
IV. The Undespairing Norman 71
V. French Settlements 102
VI. The Last Great Indian 117
HEROES OF THE MIDDLE WEST.
THE DISCOVERERS OF THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI.
The 17th of May, 1673, Father Jacques Marquette, the missionary priest of St. Ignace, on what is now called the north shore of Michigan, and Louis Jolliet, a trader from Montreal, set out on a journey together.
Huron and Ottawa Indians, with the priest left in charge of them, stood on the beach to see Marquette embark,—the water running up to their feet and receding with the everlasting wash of the straits. Behind them the shore line of St. Ignace was bent like a long bow. Northward, beyond the end of the bow, a rock rose in the air as tall as a castle. But very humble was the small mission station which Father Marquette had founded when driven with his flock from his post on the Upper Lakes by the Iroquois. A chapel of strong cedar posts covered with bark, his own hut, and the lodges of his people were all surrounded by pointed palisades. Opposite St. Ignace, across a league or so of water, rose the turtle-shaped back of Michilimackinac Island, venerated by the tribes, in spite of their religious teaching, as a home of mysterious giant fairies who made gurgling noises in the rocks along the beach or floated vast and cloud-like through high pine forests. The evergreens on Michilimackinac showed as if newborn through the haze of undefined deciduous trees, for it was May weather, which means that the northern world had not yet leaped into sudden and glorious summer. Though the straits glittered under a cloudless sky, a chill lingered in the wind, and only the basking stone ledges reflected warmth. The clear elastic air was such a perfect medium of sight that it allowed the eye to distinguish open beach rims from massed forests two or three leagues away on the south shore, and seemed to bring within stone's throw those nearer islands now called Round and Bois Blanc.
It must have wrung Marquette's heart to leave this region, which has an irresistible charm for all who come within its horizon. But he had long desired to undertake this journey for a double purpose. He wanted to carry his religion as far as possible among strange tribes, and he wanted to find and explore that great river of the west, about which adventurers in the New World heard so much, but which none had seen.
A century earlier, its channel southward had really been taken possession of by the Spaniards, its first discoverers. But they made no use of their discovery, and on their maps traced it as an insignificant stream. The French did not know whether this river flowed into the Gulf of California—which was called the Red Sea—or to the western ocean, or through Virginia eastward. Illinois Indians, visiting Marquette's mission after the manner of roving tribes, described the father of waters and its tributaries. Count Frontenac, the governor of Canada, thought the matter of sufficient importance to send Louis Jolliet with an outfit to join the missionary in searching for the stream.
The explorers took with them a party of five men. Their canoes, we are told, were of birch bark and cedar splints, the ribs being shaped from spruce roots. Covered with the pitch of yellow pine, and light enough to be carried on the shoulders of four men across portages, these canoes yet had toughness equal to any river voyage. They were provisioned with smoked meat and Indian corn. Shoved clear of the beach, they shot out on the blue water to the dip of paddles. Marquette waved his adieu. His Indians, remembering the dangers of that southern country, scarcely hoped to see him again. Marquette, though a young man, was of no such sturdy build as Jolliet. Among descendants of the Ottawas you may still hear the tradition that he had a "white face, and long hair the color of the sun" flowing to the shoulders of his black robe.
The watching figures dwindled, as did the palisaded settlement. Hugging the shore, the canoes entered Lake Michigan, or, as it was then called, the Lake of the Illinois. All the islands behind seemed to meet and intermingle and to cover themselves with blue haze as they went down on the water. Priest and trader, their skins moist with the breath of the lake, each in his own canoe, faced silently the unknown world toward which they were venturing. The shaggy coast line bristled with evergreens, and though rocky, it was low, unlike the white cliffs of Michilimackinac.
Marquette had made a map from the descriptions of the Illinois Indians. The canoes were moving westward on the course indicated by his map. He was peculiarly gifted as a missionary, for already he spoke six Indian languages, and readily adapted himself to any dialect. Marquette, the records tell us, came of "an old and honorable family of Laon," in northern France. Century after century the Marquettes bore high honors in Laon, and their armorial bearings commemorated devotion to the king in distress. In our own Revolutionary War it is said that three Marquettes fought for us with La Fayette. No young man of his time had a pleasanter or easier life offered him at home than Jacques Marquette. But he chose to devote himself to missionary labor in the New World, and had already helped to found three missions, enduring much hardship. Indian half-breeds, at what is now called the "Soo," on St. Mary's River, betwixt Lake Huron and Lake Superior, have a tradition that Father Marquette and Father Dablon built their missionary station on a tiny island of rocks, not more than two canoe lengths from shore, on the American side. But men who have written books declare it was on the bank below the rapids.
Jolliet had come of different though not less worthy stock. He was Canadian born, the son of a wagon-maker in Quebec; and he had been well educated, and possessed an active, adventurous mind. He was dressed for this expedition in the tough buckskin hunting suit which frontiersmen then wore. But Marquette retained the long black cassock of the priest. Their five voyageurs—or trained woodsmen—in more or less stained buckskin and caps of fur, sent the canoes shooting over the water with scarcely a sound, dipping a paddle now on this side and now on that, Indian fashion; Marquette and Jolliet taking turns with them as the day progressed. For any man, whether voyageur, priest, or seignior, who did not know how to paddle a canoe, if occasion demanded, was at sore disadvantage in the New World.
The first day of any journey, before one meets weariness or anxiety and disappointment, remains always the freshest in memory. When the sun went down, leaving violet shadows on the chill lake, they drew their boats on shore; and Pierre Porteret and another Frenchman, named Jacques, gathered driftwood to make a fire, while the rest of the crew unpacked the cargo. They turned each canoe on its side, propping the ends with sticks driven into the ground, thus making canopies like half-roofs to shelter them for the night.
"The Sieur Jolliet says it is not always that we may light a camp-fire," said Pierre Porteret to Jacques, as he struck a spark into his tinder with the flint and steel which a woodsman carried everywhere.
"He is not likely to have one to-night, even in this safe cove," responded Jacques, kneeling to help, and anxious for supper. "Look now at me; I know the Indian way to start a blaze by taking two pieces of wood and boring one into the other, rubbing it thus between my palms. It is a gift. Not many voyageurs can accomplish that."
"Rub thy two stupid heads together and make a blaze," said another hungry man, coming with a kettle of lake water. But the fire soon climbed pinkly through surrounding darkness. They drove down two forked supports to hold a crosspiece, and hung the kettle to boil their hulled corn. Then the fish which had been taken by trolling during the day were dressed and broiled on hot coals.
The May starlight was very keen over their heads in a dark blue sky which seemed to rise to infinite heights, for the cold northern night air swept it of every film. Their first delicious meal was blessed and eaten; and stretched in blankets, with their feet to the camp fire, the tired explorers rested. They were still on the north shore of what we now call the state of Michigan, and their course had been due westward by the compass. A cloud of Indian tobacco smoke rose from the lowly roof of each canoe, and its odor mingled with the sweet acrid breath of burning wood. Jolliet and the voyageurs had learned to use this dried brown weed, which all tribes held in great esteem and carried about with them in their rovings.
"If true tales be told of the water around the Bay of the Puans," one of the voyageurs was heard to say as he stretched himself under the canoe allotted to the men, "we may save our salt when we pass that country."
"Have you ever heard, Father," Jolliet inquired of the missionary, "that the word Puan meant foul or ill-smelling instead of salty?"
"I know," Marquette answered, "that salt has a vile odor to the Indians. They do not use it with their food, preferring to season that instead with the sugar they make from the maple tree. Therefore, the bay into which we are soon to venture they call the Bay of the Fetid, or ill-smelling salty country, on account of saline water thereabout."
"Then why do the Winnebago tribe on this bay allow themselves to be called Puans?"
"That has never been explained by the missionaries sent to that post, though the name seems to carry no reproach. They are well made and tall of stature. I find Wild Oats a stranger name—the Menomonies are Wild Oats Indians. Since the gospel has been preached to all these tribes for some years past, I trust we may find good Christians among them."
"What else have you learned about the country?"
"Father Dablon told me that the way to the head of that river called Fox, up which we must paddle, is as hard as the way to heaven, specially the rapids. But when you arrive there it is a natural paradise."
"We have tremendous labor before us," mused Jolliet. "Father, did you ever have speech with that Jean Nicollet, who, first of any Frenchman, got intimations of the great river?"
"I never saw him."
"There was a man I would have traveled far to see, though he was long a renegade among savages, and returned to the settlements only to die."
"Heaven save this expedition from becoming renegade among savages by forgetting its highest object!" breathed Marquette.
His companion smiled toward the pleasant fire-light. Jolliet had once thought of becoming a priest himself. He venerated this young apostle, only half a dozen years his senior. But he was glad to be a free adventurer, seeking wealth and honor; not foreseeing that though the great island of Anticosti in the Gulf of St. Lawrence would be given him for his services, he would die a poor and neglected man.
When, after days of steady progress, the expedition entered the Bay of Puans, now called Green Bay, and found the nation of Menomonies or Wild Oats Indians, Marquette was as much interested as Jolliet in the grain which gave these people their bread. It grew like rice, in marshy places, on knotted stalks which appeared above the water in June and rose several feet higher. The grain seed was long and slender and made plentiful meal. The Indians gathered this volunteer harvest in September, when the kernels were so ripe that they dropped readily into canoes pushed among the stalks. They were then spread out on lattice work and smoked to dry the chaff, which could be trodden loose when the whole bulk, tied in a skin bag, was put into a hollow in the ground made for that purpose. The Indians pounded their grain to meal and cooked it with fat.
The Menomonies tried to prevent Marquette and Jolliet from going farther. They said the great river was dangerous, full of frightful monsters that swallowed both men and canoes; that there was a roaring demon in it who could be heard for leagues; and the heat was so intense in those southern countries through which it flowed, that if the Frenchmen escaped all other dangers, they must die of that. Marquette told them his own life was nothing compared to the good word he wanted to carry to those southern tribes, and he laughed at the demon and instructed them in his own religion.
The aboriginal tribes, by common instinct, tried from the first to keep the white man out of countries which he was determined to overrun and possess, regardless of danger.
At the end of a voyage of thirty leagues, or about ninety miles, the explorers reached the head of the Bay of Puans, and a region thickly settled with Winnebagoes and Pottawotomies between the bay and Winnebago Lake, Sacs on Fox River, and Mascoutins, Kickapoos, and Miamis. Fox River, which they followed from the head of the bay, and of which the lake seemed only an expansion, was a rocky stream. A later traveler has told us that Fox River in its further extent is very crooked, and while seeming wide, with a boundary of hills on each hand, it affords but a slender channel in a marsh full of rushes and wild oats.
The Kickapoos and Mascoutins were rude, coarse-featured Indians. Though the missionary exhorted them as seriously as he did their gentler neighbors, he could not help remarking to Jolliet that "the Miamis were better made, and the two long earlocks which they wore gave them a good appearance."
It was the seventh day of June when the explorers arrived in this country of cabins woven of rushes; and they did not linger here. Frenchmen had never gone farther. They were to enter new lands untrodden by the white race. They were in what is now called the state of Wisconsin, where "the soil was good," they noted, "producing much corn; and the Indians gathered also quantities of plums and grapes." In these warmer lands the season progressed rapidly.
Marquette and Jolliet called the chiefs together and told them that Jolliet was sent by the governor to find new countries, and Marquette had been commissioned of Heaven to preach. Making the chiefs a present, without which they would not have received the talk seriously, the explorers asked for guides to that tributary which was said to run into the great river.
The chiefs responded with the gift of a rush mat for Marquette and Jolliet to rest on during their journey, and sent two young Miamis with them. If these kindly Indians disliked to set the expedition further on its way, they said nothing but very polite things about the hardihood of Frenchmen, who could venture with only two canoes, and seven in their party, on unknown worlds.
The young Miamis, in a boat of their own, led out the procession the tenth morning of June. Taking up paddles, the voyageurs looked back at an assembled multitude—perhaps the last kindly natives on their perilous way—and at the knoll in the midst of prairies where hospitable rush houses stood and would stand until the inmates took them down and rolled them up to carry to hunting grounds, and at groves dotting those pleasant prairies where guests were abundantly fed.
Three leagues up the marshy and oats-choked Fox River, constantly widening to little lakes and receding to a throat of a channel, brought the explorers to the portage, or carrying place. The canoes then had to be unloaded, and both cargo and boats carried overland to a bend of the Miscousing, which was the Indian name for Wisconsin River. "This portage," says a traveler who afterwards followed that way, "is half a league in length, and half of that is a kind of marsh full of mud." In wet seasons the head of Fox River at that time seemed not unlikely to find the Wisconsin, for Marquette has set it down in his recital that the portage was only twenty-seven hundred paces.
When the two Miamis had helped to carry the goods and had set the French on the tributary of the great river, they turned back to their own country. Before the men entered the boats Marquette knelt down with them on the bank and prayed for the success of the undertaking. It was a lovely broad river on which they now embarked, with shining sands showing through the clear water, making shallows like tumbling discs of brilliant metal,—a river in which the canoes might sometimes run aground, but one that deceived the eye pleasantly, with islands all vine covered, so when a boat clove a way between two it was a guess how far the Wisconsin spread away on each side to shores of a fertile land. Oaks, walnuts, whitewood, and thorn trees crowded the banks or fell apart, showing prairies rolling to wooded hills. Deer were surprised, stretching their delicate necks down to drink at the margin. They looked up with shy large eyes at such strange objects moving on their stream, and shot off through the brush like red-brown arrows tipped with white. The moose planted its forefeet and stared stolidly, its broad horns set in defense.
"Sieur Jolliet," said the missionary, once when the canoes drew together, "we have now left the waters which flow into the great lakes and are discharged through the St. Lawrence past Quebec to the sea. We follow those that lead us into strange lands."
"This river Miscousing on which we now are," returned Jolliet, "flows, as we see by our compass, to the southwestward. We know it is a branch of the great river. I am becoming convinced, Father, that the great river cannot discharge itself toward the east, as some have supposed."
The explorers estimated the distance from the country of the Mascoutins to the portage to be three leagues, and from the portage to the mouth of the Miscousing forty leagues. This distance they covered in a week. Drawing their canoes to the shore at night, they pitched camp, varying the monotony of their stores with fish and game. Perhaps they had learned that wild grapes then budding were not really fit to eat until touched by frost. Pierre Porteret said in Marquette's hearing, "the Indians could make good wine of grapes and plums if they desired."
The 17th of June, exactly one month from the day on which they had left St. Ignace mission, the explorers paddled into a gentle clear river, larger than the Miscousing but not yet monstrous in width, which ran southward. High hills guarded the right-hand shore, and the left spread away in fair meadows. Its current was broken with many little islands, like the Miscousing, though on sounding, Jolliet found the water to be ten fathoms, or sixty feet, deep. The shores receding, and then drawing in, gave unequal and irregular width to the stream. But it was unmistakably the great river they had sought, named then as now by the Indians, Mississippi, though Marquette at once christened it Conception, and another Frenchman who came after him gave it the name of Colbert. It was the river of which Nicollet had brought hints from his wanderings among northwestern tribes: the great artery of the middle continent, or, as that party of explorers believed, of the entire west. Receiving into itself tributaries, it rolled, draining a mighty basin, to unknown seas.
The first white men ventured forth upon its upper channel in two birch canoes. Five hardy voices raised a shout which was thrown back in an echo from the hills; five caps were whirled as high as paddles could raise them. But Marquette said, "This is such joy as we cannot express!" The men in both canoes silenced themselves while he gave thanks for the discovery.
BEARERS OF THE CALUMET.
Moving down the Mississippi, league after league, the explorers noted first of all its solitude. Wigwam smoke could not be seen on either shore. Silence, save the breathing of the river as it rolled on its course, seemed to surround and threaten them with ambush. Still, day after day, the sweet and awful presence of the wilderness was their only company. Once Pierre Porteret dropped his paddle with a yell which was tossed about by echoing islands. A thing with a tiger's forehead and a wildcat's whiskered snout, holding ears and entire gray and black head above the water, swam for the boat. But it dived and disappeared; and the other voyageurs felt safe in laughing at him. Not long after, Jacques bellowed aloud as he saw a living tree glide under the canoe, jarring it from end to end. The voyageurs soon learned to know the huge sluggish catfish. They also caught plenty of sturgeon or shovel fish when they cast in their nets.
The river descended from its hilly cradle to a country of level distances. The explorers, seeing nothing of men, gave more attention to birds and animals. Wild turkeys with burnished necks and breasts tempted the hunters. The stag uttered far off his whistling call of defiance to other stags. And they began to see a shaggy ox, humped, with an enormous head and short black horns, and a mane hanging over low-set wicked eyes. Its body was covered with curly rough hair. They learned afterwards from Indians to call these savage cattle pisikious, or buffaloes. Herds of many hundreds grazed together, or, startled, galloped away, like thunder rolling along the ground.
The explorers kindled very little fire on shore to cook their meals, and they no longer made a camp, but after eating, pushed out and anchored, sleeping in their canoes. Every night a sentinel was set to guard against surprise. By the 25th of June they had passed through sixty leagues of solitude. The whole American continent was thinly settled by native tribes, many in name indeed, but of scant numbers. The most dreaded savages in the New World were the Iroquois or Five Nations, living south of Lake Ontario. Yet they were never able to muster more than about twenty-two hundred fighting men.
The canoes were skirting the western bank, driven by the current, when one voyageur called to another:
"My scalp for the sight of an Indian!"
"Halt!" the forward paddler answered. "Look to thy scalp, lad, for here is the Indian!"
There was no feathered head in ambush, but they saw moccasin prints in the low moist margin and a path leading up to the prairie.
Marquette and Jolliet held the boats together while they consulted.
"Do you think it wise to pass by without searching what this may mean, Father?"
"No, I do not. We might thus leave enemies behind our backs to cut off our return. Some Indian village is near. It would be my counsel to approach and offer friendship."
"Shall we take the men?" debated Jolliet. "Two of them at least should stay to guard the canoes."
"Let them all stay to guard the canoes. If we go unarmed and unattended, we shall not raise suspicion in the savages' minds."
"But we may raise suspicion in our own minds."
"The barbarous people on this unexplored river have us at their mercy," he declared, "We can at best do little to defend ourselves."
"Let us reconnoitre," said Jolliet.
Taking some of the goods which they had brought along for presents, Jolliet bade the men wait their return and climbed the bank with the missionary. The path led through prairie grass, gay at that season with flowers. The delicate buttercup-like sensitive plant shrank from their feet in wet places. Neither Frenchman had yet seen the deadly rattlesnake of these southern countries, singing as a great fly might sing in a web, dart out of its spotted spiral to fasten a death bite upon a victim. They walked in silence, dreading only the human beings they were going to meet. When they had gone about two leagues, the path drew near the wooded bank of a little stream draining into the Mississippi which they had scarcely noticed from the canoes. There they saw an Indian village, and farther off, up a hill, more groups of wigwams. They heard the voices of children, and nobody suspected their approach.
Jolliet and Marquette halted. Not knowing how else to announce their presence, they shouted together as loud as they could shout. The savages ran out of their wigwams and darted about in confusion until they saw the two motionless white men. The long black cassock of Marquette had instant effect upon them. For their trinkets and a few garments on their bodies showed that they had trafficked with Europeans.
Four old Indians, slowly and with ceremony, came out to meet the explorers, holding up curious pipes trimmed with many kinds of feathers. As soon as they drew near, Marquette called out to them in Algonquin:
"What tribe is this?"
"The Illinois," answered the old man. Being a branch of the great Algonquin family, which embraced nearly all northern aboriginal nations, with the notable exception of the Iroquois, these people had a dialect which the missionary could understand. The name Illinois meant "The Men."
Marquette and Jolliet were led to the principal lodge. Outside the door, waiting for them, stood another old Indian like a statue of wrinkled bronze. For he had stripped himself to do honor to the occasion, and held up his hands to screen his face from the sun, making graceful and dignified gestures as he greeted the strangers.
"How bright is the sun when you come to see us, O Frenchmen! Our lodges are all open to you."
The visitors were then seated in the wigwam, and the pipe, or calumet, offered them to smoke, all the Indians crowding around and saying:
"You do well to visit us, brothers."
Obliged to observe this peace ceremony, Marquette put the pipe to his lips, but Jolliet, used to the tobacco weed, puffed with a good will.
The entire village then formed a straggling procession, gazing at the Frenchmen, whom they guided farther to the chief's town. He also met them standing with a naked retinue at his door, and the calumet was again smoked.
The Illinois lodges were shaped like the rounded cover of an emigrant wagon, high, and very long, having an opening left along the top for the escape of smoke. They were made of rush mats, which the women wove, overlapped as shingles on a framework of poles. Rush mats also carpeted the ground, except where fires burned in a row along the middle. Each fire was used by two families who lived opposite, in stalls made of blankets. The ends of the lodge had flaps to shut out the weather, but these were left wide open to the summer sun. During visits of ceremony a guest stood where he could be seen and heard by all who could crowd into the wigwam. But when the Illinois held important councils they made a circular inclosure, and built a camp-fire in the center. Many families and many fires filled a long wigwam, though Jolliet and Marquette were lodged with the chief, who had one for himself and his household.
Whitening embers were sending threads of smoke towards a strip of blue sky overhead when the missionary stood up to explain his errand in the crowded inclosure, dividing his talk into four parts with presents. By the first gift of cloth and beads he told his listeners that the Frenchmen were voyaging in peace to visit nations on the river. By the second he said:
"I declare to you that God, your Creator, has pity on you, since, when you have been so long ignorant of him, he wishes to become known to you. I am sent on his behalf with this design. It is for you to acknowledge and obey him."
By the third gift they were informed that the chief of the French had spread peace and overcome the Iroquois. And the last begged for all the information they could give about the sea and intervening nations.
When Marquette sat down, the chief stood up and laid his hand on the head of a little slave, prisoner from another tribe.
"I thank you, Blackgown," he said, "and you, Frenchman, for taking so much pains to come and visit us. The earth has never been so beautiful, nor the sun so bright, as to-day; never has the river been so calm and free from rocks, which your canoes removed as they passed! Never has our tobacco had so fine a flavor, nor our corn appeared so beautiful as we find it to-day. Here is my son. I give him to you that you may know my heart. Take pity on us and all our nation. You know the Great Spirit who made all: you speak to him and hear him; ask him to give us life and health and come and dwell with us."
When the chief had presented his guests with the Indian boy, and again offered the calumet, he urged them, with belts and garters of buffalo wool, brilliantly dyed, to go no farther down the great river, on account of dangers. These compliments being ended, a feast was brought in four courses. First came a wooden dish of sagamity or corn-meal boiled in water and grease. The chief took a buffalo-horn spoon and fed his guests as if they had been little children; three or four spoonfuls he put in Marquette's mouth and three or four spoonfuls in Jolliet's. Three fish were brought next, and he picked out the bones with his own fingers, blew on the food to cool it, and stuffed the explorers with all he could make them accept. It was their part to open their mouths as young birds do. The third course was that most delicate of Indian dishes, a fine dog; but seeing that his guests shrank from this, the chief ended the meal with buffalo meat, giving them the fattest parts.
The Illinois were at that time on the west side of the Mississippi, because they had been driven from their own country on the Illinois River by the Iroquois. The Illinois nation was made up of several united tribes: Kaskaskias, Peorias, Kahokias, Tamaroas, and Moingona. Flight scattered them, and these were only a few of their villages. They afterwards returned to their own land. Their chief wore a scarf or belt of fur crossing his left shoulder, encircling his waist and hanging in fringe. Arm and leg bands ornamented him, and he also had knee rattles of deer hoofs. Paint made of colored clays streaked his face. This attractive creature sent the Indian crier around, beating a drum of deer hide stretched over a pot, to proclaim the calumet dance in honor of the explorers.
Marquette and Jolliet were led out in the prairie to a small grove which sheltered the assembly from the afternoon sun. Even the women left their maize fields and the beans, melons, and squashes that they were cultivating, and old squaws dropped rush braiding, and with papooses swarming about their knees, followed. The Illinois were nimble, well-formed people, skillful with bow and arrow. They had, moreover, some guns among them, obtained from allies who had roved and traded with the French. Young braves imitated the gravity of their elders at this important ceremony. The Illinois never ate new fruits or bathed at the beginning of summer, without first dancing the calumet.
A large gay mat of rushes was spread in the center of the grove, and the warrior selected to dance put his god, or manitou—some tiny carven image which he carried around his person and to which he prayed—on the mat beside a beautiful calumet. Around them he spread his bow and arrows, his war club, and stone hatchet. The pipe was made of red rock like brilliantly polished marble, hollowed to hold tobacco. A stick two feet long, as thick as a cane, formed the stem. For the dance these pipes were often decked with gorgeous scarlet, green, and iridescent feathers, though white plumes alone made them the symbol of peace, and red quills bristled over them for war.
Young squaws and braves who were to sing, sat down on the ground in a group near the mat; but the multitude spread in a great circle around it. Men of importance before taking their seats on the short grass, each in turn lifted the calumet, which was filled, and blew a little smoke on the manitou. Then the dancer sprang out, and, with graceful curvings in time to the music, seized the pipe and offered it now to the sun and now to the earth, made it dance from mouth to mouth along the lines of spectators, with all its fluttering plumes spread. The hazy sun shone slanting among branches, tracing a network of flickering leaf shadows on short grass; and liquid young voices rising and falling chanted,
"Nanahani, nanahani, nanahani, Naniango!"
The singers were joined by the Indian drum; and at that another dancer sprang into the circle and took the weapons from the mat to fight with the principal dancer, who had no defense but the calumet. With measured steps and a floating motion of the body the two advanced and attacked, parried and retreated, until the man with the pipe drove his enemy from the ring. Papooses of a dark brick-red color watched with glistening black eyes the last part of the dance, which celebrated victory. The names of nations fought, the prisoners taken, and all the trophies brought home were paraded by means of the calumet.
The chief presented the dancer with a fine fur robe when he ended; and, taking the calumet from his hand, gave it to an old man in the circle. This one passed it to the next, and so it went around the huge ring until all had held it. Then the chief approached the white men.
"Blackgown," he said, "and you, Frenchman, I give you this peace-pipe to be your safeguard wherever you go among the tribes. It shall be feathered with white plumes, and displaying it you may march fearlessly among enemies. It has power of life and death, and honor is paid to it as to a manitou. Blackgown, I give you this calumet in token of peace between your governor and the Illinois, and to remind you of your promise to come again and instruct us in your religion."
The explorers slept soundly all night in the chief's lodge, feeling as safe as among Christian Indians of the north, who stuck thorns in a calendar to mark Sundays and holy days. Next morning the chief went with several hundred of his people to escort them to their canoes; but it was three o'clock in the afternoon before the voyageurs, dropping down stream, saw the last of the friendly tribe.
Day after day the boats moved on without meeting other inhabitants. Mulberries, persimmons, and hazelnuts were found on the shores. They passed the mouth of the Illinois River without knowing its name, or that it flowed through lands owned by the tribe that had given them the peace-pipe. Farther on, the Mississippi made one of its many bends, carrying them awhile directly eastward, and below great rocks like castles. As the canoes ran along the foot of this east shore, some of the voyageurs cried out. For on the face of the cliff far up were two painted monsters in glaring red, green, and black; each as large as a calf, with deer horns, blood-colored eyes, tiger beard, a human face, and a body covered with scales. Coiled twice around the middle, over the head, and passing between the hind legs of each, extended a tail that ended like a fish. So startling was this sight, which seemed a banner held aloft heralding unseen dangers, that the men felt threatened by a demon. But Marquette laughed at them and beckoned for the canoes to be brought together.
"What manner of thing is this, Sieur Jolliet?"
"A pair of manitous, evidently. If we had Indians with us, we should see them toss a little tobacco out as an offering in passing by."
"I cannot think," said Marquette, "that any Indian has been the designer. Good painters in France would find it hard to do as well. Besides this, the creatures are so high upon the rock that it was hard to get conveniently at them to paint them. And how could such colors be mixed in this wilderness?"
"We have seen what pigments and clays the Illinois used in daubing themselves. These wild tribes may have among them men with natural skill in delineating," said Jolliet.
"I will draw them off," Marquette determined, bringing out the papers on which he set down his notes; and while the men stuck their paddles in the water to hold the canoes against the current, he made his drawing.
One of the monsters seen by the explorers remained on those rocks until the middle of our own century. It was called by the Indians the Piasa. More than two centuries of beating winter storms had not effaced the brilliant picture when it was quarried away by a stupidly barbarous civilization. The town of Alton, in the state of Illinois, is a little south of that rock where the Piasa dragons were seen.
As the explorers moved ahead on glassy waters, they looked back, and the line of vision changing, they saw that the figures were cut into the cliff and painted in hollow relief.
They were still talking about the monsters when they heard the roar of a rapid ahead, and the limpid Mississippi turned southward on its course. It was as if they had never seen the great river until this instant. For a mighty flood, rushing through banks from the west, yellow with mud, noisy as a storm, eddying islands of branches, stumps, whole trees, took possession of the fair stream they had followed so long. It shot across the current of the Mississippi in entering so that the canoes danced like eggshells and were dangerously forced to the eastern bank. Afterwards they learned that this was the Pekitanoui, or, as we now call it, the Missouri River, which flows into the Mississippi not far above the present city of St. Louis; and that by following it to its head waters and making a short portage across a prairie, a man might in time enter the Red or Vermilion Sea of California.
Having slipped out of the Missouri's reach, the explorers were next threatened by a whirlpool among rocks before they reached the mouth of Ouaboukigou, the Ohio River. They saw purple, red, and violet earths, which ran down in streams of color when wet, and a sand which stained their paddles like blood. Tall canes began to feather the shore, and mosquitoes tormented them as they pressed on through languors of heat. Jolliet and Marquette made awnings of sails which they had brought as a help to the paddles. They were floating down the current of the muddy, swollen river when they saw Indians with guns on the east shore. The voyageurs dropped their paddles and seized their own weapons. Marquette stood up and spoke to the Indians in Huron. They made no answer. He held up the white calumet. Then they began to beckon, and when the party drew to land, they made it clear that they had themselves been frightened until they saw the Blackrobe holding the calumet. A long-haired tribe, somewhat resembling the Iroquois, but calling themselves Tuscaroras; they were rovers, and had axes, hoes, knives, beads, and double glass bottles holding gunpowder, for which they had traded with white people eastward.
They fed the French with buffalo meat and white plums, and declared it was but a ten days' journey to the sea. In this they were mistaken, for it was more than a thousand miles to the Gulf of Mexico.
To each tribe as he passed, Marquette preached his faith by the belt of the prayer. For each he had a wampum girdle to hold while he talked, and to leave for a remembrance. His words without a witness would be forgotten.
Three hundred miles farther the explorers ventured, and had nearly reached the mouth of the Arkansas River, floating on a wide expanse of water between lofty woods, when they heard wild yelling on the west shore, and saw a crowd of savages pushing out huge wooden canoes to surround them. Some swam to seize the Frenchmen, and a war club was thrown over their heads. Marquette held up the peace-pipe, but the wild young braves in the water paid no attention to it. Arrows were ready to fly from all sides, and Marquette held the peace-pipe on high and continually prayed. At once old Indians restrained the young ones. In their turmoil they had not at first seen the calumet; but two chiefs came directly out to bring the strangers ashore.
Not one of the missionary's six languages was understood by these Indians. He at last found a man who spoke a little Illinois, and Jolliet and he were able to explain their errand. He preached by presents, and obtained a guide to the next nation.
On that part of the river where the French came to a halt, the Spanish explorer De Soto was said to have died two hundred years before. In this region the Indians had never seen snow, and their land yielded three crops a year. Their pots and plates were of baked earth, and they kept corn in huge gourds, or in baskets woven of cane fibers. They knew nothing of beaver skins; their furs were the hides of buffaloes. Watermelons grew abundantly in their fields. Though they had large wigwams of bark, they wore no clothing, and hung beads from their pierced noses and ears.
These Akamsea, or Arkansas Indians showed traits of the Aztecs under Spanish dominion; for what is now the state of Texas was then claimed by Spain. Marquette and Jolliet held a council. They were certain that the great river discharged itself into the Gulf of Mexico. If they ventured farther, they might fall into the hands of Spaniards, who would imprison them; or they might be killed by fiercer tribes than any yet encountered, and in either case their discoveries would be lost. So they decided to turn back.
All day the Arkansas feasted them with merciless savage hospitality, and it was not polite to refuse food or the attention of rocking. Two stout Indians would seize a voyageur between them and rock him back and forth for hours. If the motion nauseated him, that was his misfortune.
Pierre Porteret crept out behind one of the bark lodges looking very miserable in the fog of early morning. His companion on many a long journey, never far out of his shadow, sat down to compare experiences.
"Did they rock thee all night, Pierre?"
"They rocked me all night, Jacques. I can well endure what most men can, but this is carrying politeness too far."
"I was not so favored. They would have saved you if they had killed the rest of us. And they would have saved the good father, no doubt, since the chief came and danced the calumet before him."
"Were these red cradle-rockers intending to make an end of us in the night?"
"So the chief says; but he broke up the council, and will set us safely on our journey up river to-day."
"I am glad of that," said Pierre. "Father Marquette hath not the strength of the Sieur Jolliet for such rude wanderings. These southern mists, and torturing insects, and clammy heats, and the bad food have worked a great change in him."
"We have been gone but two months from the Mission of St. Ignace," said Jacques. "They have the bigness of years."
"And many more months that have the bigness of years will pass before we see it again."
They grew more certain of this, when, after toiling up the current through malarial nights and sweltering days, the explorers left the Mississippi and entered the river Illinois. There, above Peoria Lake, another Illinois town of seventy-four lodges was found, and these Kaskaskias so clung to the Blackrobe that he promised to come back and teach them. From the head waters of the Illinois a portage was made to Lake Michigan, and the French returned to the Bay of the Puans alongshore. They had traveled over twenty-five hundred miles, and accomplished the object of their journey.
Jolliet, with his canoe of voyageurs, his maps and papers, and the young Indian boy given him by the Illinois chief, went on to Montreal. His canoe was upset in the rapids of Lachine just above Montreal, and he lost two men, the Indian boy, his papers, and nearly everything except his life. But he was able to report to the governor all that he had seen and done.
Marquette lay ill, at the Bay of the Puans, of dysentery, brought on by hardship; and he was never well again. Being determined, however, to go back and preach to the tribe on the Illinois River, he waited all winter and all the next summer to regain his strength. He carefully wrote out and sent to Canada the story of his discoveries and labors. In autumn, with Pierre Porteret and the voyageur Jacques, he ventured again to the Illinois. Once he became so ill they were obliged to stop and build him a cabin in the wilderness, at the risk of being snowed in all winter. It was not until April that he reached what he called his Mission of the Immaculate Conception, on the Illinois River, through snow, and water and mud, hunger and misery. He preached until after Easter, when, his strength being exhausted, Pierre and Jacques undertook to carry him home to the Mission of St. Ignace. Marquette had been two years away from his palisaded station on the north shore, and nine years in the New World.
It was the 19th of May, and Pierre and Jacques were paddling their canoe along the east side of that great lake known now as Michigan. A creek parted the rugged coast, and dipping near its shallow mouth they looked anxiously at each other.
"What shall we do?" whispered Jacques.
"We must get on as fast as we can," answered Pierre.
They were gaunt and weather-beaten themselves from two years' tramping the wilderness. But their eyes dwelt most piteously on the dying man stretched in the bottom of the canoe. His thin fingers held a cross. His white face and bright hair rested on a pile of blankets. Pierre and Jacques felt that no lovelier, kinder being than this scarcely breathing missionary would ever float on the blue water under that blue sky.
He opened his eyes and saw the creek they were slipping past, and a pleasant knoll beside it, and whispered:—
"There is the place of my burial."
"But, Father," pleaded Pierre, "it is yet early in the day. We can take you farther."
"Carry me ashore here," he whispered again.
So they entered the creek and took him ashore, building a fire and sheltering him as well as they could. There a few hours afterward he died, the weeping men holding up his cross before him, while he thanked the Divine Majesty for letting him die a poor missionary. When he could no longer speak, they repeated aloud the prayers he had taught them.
They left him buried on that shore with a large cross standing over his grave. Later his Indians removed his bones to the Mission of St. Ignace, with a procession of canoes and a priest intoning. They were placed under the altar of his own chapel. If you go to St. Ignace, you may see a monument now on that spot, and people have believed they traced the foundation of the old bark chapel. But the spot where he first lay was long venerated.
A great fur trader and pioneer named Gurdon Hubbard made this record about the place, which he visited in 1818:—
"We reached Marquette River, about where the town of Ludington now stands on the Michigan shore. This was where Father Marquette died, about one hundred and forty years before, and we saw the remains of a red-cedar cross, erected by his men at the time of his death to mark his grave; and though his remains had been removed to the Mission, at Point St. Ignace, the cross was held sacred by the voyageurs, who, in passing, paid reverence to it, by kneeling and making the sign of the cross. It was about three feet above the ground, and in a falling condition. We reset it, leaving it out of the ground about two feet, and as I never saw it after, I doubt not that it was covered by the drifting sands of the following winter, and that no white man ever saw it afterwards."
THE MAN WITH THE COPPER HAND.
One day at the end of August, when Marquette's bones had lain under his chapel altar nearly two years and a half, the first ship ever seen upon the lakes was sighted off St. Ignace. Hurons and Ottawas, French traders, and coureurs de bois, or wood-rangers, ran out to see the huge winged creature scudding betwixt Michilimackinac Island and Round Island. She was of about forty-five tons' burden. Five cannon showed through her port-holes, and as she came nearer, a carved dragon was seen to be her figurehead; she displayed the name Griffin and bore the white flag of France. The priest himself felt obliged to receive her company, for three Recollet friars, in the gray robe of St. Francis, appeared on the deck. But two men, one in a mantle of scarlet and gold, and the other in white and gold French uniform, were most watched by all eyes.
The ship fired a salute, and the Indians howled with terror and started to run; then turned back to see her drop her sails and her anchor, and come up in that deep crescent-shaped bay. She had weathered a hard storm in Lake Huron; but the men who handled her ropes were of little interest to coureurs de bois on shore, who watched her masters coming to land.
"It is the Sieur de la Salle in the scarlet mantle," one coureur de bois said to another. "And this is the ship he hath been building at Niagara. First one hears that creditors have seized his fort of Frontenac, and then one beholds him sailing here in state, as though naught on earth could daunt him."
"I would like service with him," said the other coureur de bois.
His companion laughed.
"Service with La Salle means the hardest marching and heaviest labor a voyageur ever undertook. I have heard he is himself tough as iron. But men hereabouts who have been in his service will take to the woods when they hear he has arrived; traders that he sent ahead with goods. If he gets his hand on them after he finds they have squandered his property, it will go hard with them."
"He has a long gray-colored face above his broad shoulders. I have heard of this Sieur Robert Cavelier de la Salle ever since he came to the province more than ten years ago, but I never saw him before. Is it true that Count Frontenac is greatly bound to him?"
"So true that Sieur de la Salle thereby got favor at court. It was at court that a prince recommended to him yon swart Italian in white and gold that he brought with him on his last voyage from France. Now, there is a man known already throughout the colony by reason of his hand."
"The right one."
"I see naught ailing that. He wears long gauntlets pulled well over both wrists."
"His left hand is on his sword hilt. Doth he not hold the right a little stiffly?"
"It is true. The fingers are not bent."
"They never will be bent. It is a hand of copper."
"How can a man with a copper hand be of service in the wilderness?"
The first ranger shrugged. "That I know not. But having been maimed in European wars and fitted with a copper hand, he was yet recommended to Sieur de la Salle."
"But why hath an Italian the uniform of France?"
"He is a French officer, having been exiled with his father from his own country."
The coureur de bois, who had reached the settlement later than his companion, grunted.
"One would say thou wert of the Griffin crew thyself, with the latest news from Quebec and Montreal."
"Not I," laughed the first one. "I have only been in the woods with Greysolon du Lhut, who knows everything."
"Then he told thee the name of this Italian with the copper hand?"
"Assuredly. This Italian with the copper hand is Sieur Greysolon du Lhut's cousin, and his name is Henri de Tonty."
"I will say this for Monsieur Henri de Tonty: a better made man never stepped on the strand at St. Ignace."
Greysolon du Lhut was the captain of coureurs de bois in the northwest. No other leader had such influence with the lawless and daring. When these men were gathered in a settlement, spending what they had earned in drinking and gaming, it was hard to restrain them within civilized bounds. But when they took service to shoulder loads and march into the wilderness, the strongest hand could not keep them from open rebellion and desertion. There were few devoted and faithful voyageurs, such as Pierre Porteret and Jacques had proved themselves in following Marquette. The term of service was usually two years; but at the first hardship some might slip away in the night, even at the risk of perishing before they reached the settlements.
St. Ignace made a procession behind La Salle's party and followed them into the chapel to hear mass—French traders, Ottawas, Hurons, coureurs de bois, squaws, and children. When the priest turned from the altar, he looked down on complexions ranging from the natural pallor of La Salle to the black-red of the most weather-beaten native.
The Hurons then living at St. Ignace, whom Father Marquette had led there from his earlier mission, afterwards wandered to Detroit and Sandusky, the priests having decided to abandon St. Ignace and burn the chapel. In our own day we hear of their descendants as settled in the Indian Territory, the smallest but wealthiest band of all transplanted Indians.
Having entered the lake region with impressive ceremonies, which he well knew how to employ before ignorant men and savages, La Salle threw aside his splendor, and, with his lieutenant, put on the buckskins for marching and canoe journeying into the wilderness. Some of the men he had sent up the lakes with goods nearly a year before had collected a large store of furs, worth much money; and these he determined to send back to Canada on the Griffin, to satisfy his creditors and to give him means for carrying on his plans. He had meant, after sending Tonty on to the Illinois country, to return to Canada and settle his affairs. But it became necessary, as soon as he landed at St. Ignace, to divide his party and send Tonty with some of the men to Sault Ste. Marie after plunderers who had made off with his goods. The others would doubtless desert if left any length of time without a leader. It was a risk also to send his ship back to the colony without standing guard over its safety himself. But he greatly needed the credit which its load of furs would give him. So he determined to send it manned as it was, with orders to return to the head of Lake Michigan as soon as the cargo was safely landed; while he voyaged down the west side of the lake, and Tonty, returning from the Sault, came by the east shore. The reunited party would then have the Griffin as a kind of floating fort or refuge, and by means of it keep easily in communication with the settlements.
La Salle wanted to build a chain of forts from Niagara to the mouth of the Mississippi, when that could be reached. Around each of these, and protected by them, he foresaw settlements of French and Indians, and a vast trade in furs and the products of the undeveloped west. Thus France would acquire a province many times its own size. The undertaking was greater than conquering a kingdom. Nobody else divined at that time the wonderful promise of the west as La Salle pictured it. Little attention had been paid to the discoveries of Marquette and Jolliet. France would have got no benefit from them had not La Salle so soon followed on the track of missionary and trader, verified what had been done, and pushed on.
He had seen Jolliet twice. The first time they met near Niagara, when both were exploring; the second time, Jolliet is said to have stopped with his maps and papers before they were lost at Fort Frontenac, on his return from his Mississippi voyage. La Salle, then master of Fort Frontenac, must have examined these charts and journals with interest. It does not appear that the two men were ever very friendly. Jolliet was too easily satisfied to please La Salle; he had not the ability to spread France's dominion over the whole western wilderness, and that was what La Salle was planning to do before Marquette and Jolliet set out for the Mississippi.
St. Ignace became once more the starting point of an important expedition, though La Salle, before sending the Griffin back, sailed in her as far as the Bay of Puans, where many of his furs were collected. He parted with this good ship in September. She pointed her prow eastward, and he turned south with fourteen men in four canoes, carrying tools, arms, goods, and even a blacksmith's forge.
Through storm, and famine, and peril with Indians they labored down the lake, and did not reach the place where they were to meet Tonty until the first of November. La Salle had the three Recollet friars with him. Though one was a man sixty-four years old, he bore, with his companions, every hardship patiently and cheerfully. The story of priests who helped to open the wilderness and who carried religion to savages is a beautiful chapter of our national life.
Tonty was not at the place where they were to meet him. This was the mouth of the St. Joseph River, which La Salle named the Miamis. The men did not want to wait, for they were afraid of starving if they reached the Illinois country after the Indians had scattered to winter hunting grounds. But La Salle would not go on until Tonty appeared. He put the men to work building a timber stockade, which he called Fort Miamis; thus beginning in the face of discouragement his plan of creating a line of fortifications.
Tonty, delayed by lack of provisions and the need of hunting, reached Fort Miamis with his men in twenty days. But the Griffin did not come at all. More than time enough had passed for her to reach Fort Niagara, unload her cargo, and return. La Salle watched the lake constantly for her sails. He began to be heavy-hearted for her, but he dared wait no longer; so, sending two men back to meet and guide her to this new post, he moved on.
Eight canoes carried his party of thirty-three people. They ascended the St. Joseph River to find a portage to the head waters of the Illinois. This brought them within the present state of Indiana; and when they had reached that curve of the river where South Bend now stands, they left St. Joseph to grope for the Theakiki, or Kankakee, a branch called by some Indians the Illinois itself.
La Salle became separated from the party on this portage, eagerly and fearlessly scouring the woods for the river's beginning. Tonty camped and waited for him, fired guns, called, and searched; but he was gone all night and until the next afternoon. The stars were blotted overhead, for a powder of snow thickened the air, weirdly illuminating naked trees in the darkness, but shutting in his vision. It was past midnight when he came in this blind circle once more to the banks of the St. Joseph, and saw a fire glinting through dense bushes.
"Now I have reached camp," thought La Salle, and he fired his gun to let his people know he was approaching. Echoes rolled through the woods. Without waiting for a shot in reply he hurried to the fire. No person was near it. The descending snow hissed, caught in the flames. Here was a home hearth prepared in the wilderness, and no welcome to it but silence. La Salle called out in every Indian language he knew. Dead branches grated, and the stream rustled betwixt its edges of ice. A heap of dry grass was gathered for a bed under a tree by the fire, and its elastic top showed the hollow where a man had lain. La Salle put some more wood on the fire, piled a barricade of brush around the bed, and lay down in a place left warm by some strolling Indian whom his gun had frightened away. He slept until morning. In the afternoon he found his own camp.
From the first thread of the Kankakee oozing out of swamps to the Indian town on the Illinois River where Marquette had done his last missionary work, was a long canoe journey. It has been said the rivers of the New World made its rapid settlement possible; for they were open highways, even in the dead of winter guiding the explorer by their frozen courses.
The Illinois tribe had scattered to their hunting, and the lodges stood empty. La Salle's men were famished for supplies, so he ventured to open the covered pits in which the Indians stored their corn. Nothing was more precious than this hidden grain; but he paid for what he took when he reached the Indians. This was not until after New Year's day. He had descended the river as far as that expansion now called Peoria Lake.
The Illinois, after their first panic at the appearance of strange white men, received La Salle's party kindly, fed all with their own fingers, and, as they had done with Jolliet and Marquette when those explorers passed them on the Mississippi, tried to coax their guests to go no farther. They and other Indians who came to the winter camp told such tales of danger on that great river about which the French knew so little, that six of La Salle's men deserted in one night.
This caused him to move half a league beyond the Illinois camp, where, on the southern bank, he built a palisaded fort and called it Crevecoeur. He was by this time convinced that the Griffin was lost. Whether she went down in a storm, or was scuttled and sunk by those to whom he intrusted her, nothing was ever heard of her again. The furs he had sent to pay his creditors never in any way reached port. If they escaped shipwreck, they were stolen by the men who escaped with them.
Nothing could bend La Salle's resolution. He meant in some way to explore the west through which the southern Mississippi ran. But the loss of the Griffin hurt him sorely. He could not go on without more supplies; and having no vessel to bring them, the fearful necessity was before him of returning on foot and by canoe to Fort Frontenac to bring them himself.
He began to build another ship on the Illinois River, and needed cables and rigging for her. This vessel being partly finished by the first of March, he left her and Fort Crevecoeur in Tonty's charge, and, taking four Frenchmen and a Mohegan hunter, set out on the long and terrible journey to Fort Frontenac.
The Italian commandant with the copper hand could number on its metal fingers the only men to be trusted in his garrison of fifteen. One Recollet, Father Louis Hennepin, had been sent with two companions by La Salle to explore the upper Mississippi. Father Ribourde and Father Membre remained. The young Sieur de Boisrondet might also be relied on, as well as a Parisian lad named Etienne Renault, and their servant L'Esperance. As for the others, smiths, shipwrights, and soldiers were ready to mutiny any moment. They cared nothing about the discovery of the west. They were afraid of La Salle when he was with them; and, though it is said no man could help loving Tonty, these lawless fellows loved their own wills better.
The two men that La Salle had sent to look for the Griffin arrived at Fort Crevecoeur, bearing a message from him, having met him on the way. They had no news, but he wrote a letter and sent them on to Tonty. He urged Tonty to take part of the garrison and go and fortify a great rock he had noticed opposite the Illinois town. Whatever La Salle wanted done Tonty was anxious to accomplish, though separating himself from Crevecoeur, even for a day, was a dangerous experiment. But he took some men and ascended the river to the rock. Straight-way smiths, shipwrights, and soldiers in Crevecoeur, seizing powder, lead, furs, and provisions, deserted and made their way back to Canada. Boisrondet, the friars, and L'Esperance hurried to tell Tonty; and thus Fort Crevecoeur and the partly finished ship had to be abandoned. Tonty dispatched four men to warn La Salle of the disaster. He could neither hold this position nor fortify the rock in the midst of jealous savages with two friars, one young officer, a lad, and one servant. He took the forge, and tools, and all that was left in Crevecoeur into the very heart of the Indian village and built a long lodge, shaped like the wigwams of the Illinois. This was the only way to put down their suspicion. Seeing that the Frenchmen had come to dwell among them, the Indians were pleased, and their women helped with poles and mats to build the lodge.
For by this time, so long did it take to cover distances in the wilderness, spring and summer were past, and the Illinois were dwelling in their great town, nearly opposite the rock which La Salle desired to have fortified. Tonty often gazed at it across the river, which flows southwestward there, with a ripple that does not break into actual rapids. The yellow sandstone height, rising like a square mountain out of the shore, was tufted with ferns and trees. No man could ascend it except at the southeast corner, and at that place a ladder or a rope was needed by the unskillful. It had a flat, grassy top shut in by trees, through which one could see the surrounding country as from a tower. A ravine behind it was banked and floored with dazzling white sand, and walled at the farther side by a timbered cliff rising to a prairie. With a score of men Tonty could have held this natural fortress against any attack. Buckets might be rigged from overhanging trees to draw up water from the river. Provisions and ammunition only were needed for a garrison. This is now called Starved Rock, and is nearly opposite the town of Utica. Some distance up the river is a longer ridge, yet known as Buffalo Rock, easy of ascent at one end, up which the savages are said to have chased buffaloes; and precipitous at the other, down which the frightened beasts plunged to death.
The tenth day of September a mellow autumn sun shone on maize fields where squaws labored, on lazy old braves sprawled around buffalo robes, gambling with cherry stones, and on peaceful lodges above which the blue smoke faintly wavered. It was so warm the fires were nearly out. Young warriors of the tribes were away on an expedition; but the populous Indian town swarmed with its thousands.
Father Ribourde and Father Membre had that morning withdrawn a league up the river to make what they called a retreat for prayer and meditation. The other Frenchmen were divided between lodge and garden.
Near this living town was the town of the dead, a hamlet of scaffolds, where, wrapped in skins, above the reach of wolves, Illinois Indians of a past generation slept their winters and summers away. Crows flapped across them and settled on the corn, causing much ado among the papooses who were set to shout and rattle sticks for the protection of the crop.
Suddenly a man ran into camp, having just leaped from the canoe which brought him across the river. When he had talked an instant old braves bounded to their feet with furious cries, the tribes flocked out of lodges, and women and children caught the panic and came screeching.
"What is the matter?" exclaimed Tonty, unable to understand their rapid jargon. The Frenchmen drew together with the instinct of uniting in peril, and, led by old men, the Indian mob turned on them.
"What is it?" cried Tonty.
"The Iroquois are coming! The Iroquois are coming to eat us up! These Frenchmen have brought the Iroquois upon us!"
"Will you stand off!" Tonty warned them. And every brave in the town knew what they called the medicine hand in his right gauntlet, powerful and hard as a war club. They stood in awe of it as something more than human. He put his followers behind him. The Frenchmen crowded back to back, facing the savage crowd. Hampered by his imperfect knowledge of their language, he hearkened intently to the jangle of raging voices, his keen dark eyes sweeping from face to face. Tonty was a man of impressive presence, who inspired confidence even in Indians. They held back from slaying him and his people, but fiercely accused him. Young braves dragged from the French lodge the goods and forge saved from Fort Crevecoeur, and ran yelling to heave everything into the river.
"The Iroquois are your friends! The Iroquois are at peace with the French! But they are marching here to eat us up!"
"We know nothing about the Iroquois!" shouted Tonty. "If they are coming we will go out with you to fight them!"
Only half convinced, but panic-stricken from former encounters with a foe who always drove them off their land, they turned from threatening Tonty and ran to push out their canoes. Into these were put the women and children, with supplies, and all were paddled down river to an island, where guards could be set. The warriors then came back and prepared for fighting. They greased their bodies, painted their faces, made ready their weapons, and danced and howled to excite one another to courage. All night fires along shore, and leaping figures, were reflected in the dark river.
About dawn, scouts who had been sent to watch the Iroquois came running with news that the enemy were almost in sight across the prairie on the opposite side, slipping under cover of woods along a small branch of the Illinois River. They had guns, pistols, and swords, and carried bucklers of rawhide. The scouts declared that a Jesuit priest and La Salle himself led them.
The Frenchmen's lives seemed hardly a breath long. In the midst of maddened, screeching savages Tonty and his men once more stood back to back, and he pushed off knives with his copper hand.
"Do you want to kill yourselves?" he shouted. "If you kill us, the French governor will not leave a man of you alive! I tell you Monsieur de la Salle is not with the Iroquois, nor is any priest leading them! Do you not remember the good Father Marquette? Would such men as he lead tribes to fight one another? If all the Iroquois had stolen French clothes, you would think an army of Jesuits and Messieurs de la Salle were coming against you!"
"But some one has brought the Iroquois upon us!"
"I told you before we know nothing about the Iroquois! But we will go with you now to fight them!"
At that the Illinois put their knives in their belts and ran shouting to throw themselves into the canoes. Warfare with American Indians was always the rush of a mob, where every one acted for himself without military order.
"It is well the good friars are away making their retreat," said Tonty to Boisrondet and Etienne Renault while they paddled as fast as they could across the river with the Illinois. "Poor old L'Esperance must be making a retreat, too."
"I have not myself seen him since last night," Boisrondet remembered.
"He put out in a canoe when the Indians were embarking their women and children," said Etienne Renault. "I saw him go."
And so it proved afterwards. But L'Esperance had slipped away to bring back Father Membre and Father Ribourde to tend the wounded and dying.
Having crossed the river and reached the prairie, Tonty and his allies saw the Iroquois. They came prancing and screeching on their savage march, and would have been ridiculous if they had not been appalling. These Hodenosaunee, or People of the Long House, as they called themselves, were the most terrible force in the New World. Tonty saw at once it would go hard with the Illinois nation. Never at any time as hardy as their invaders, who by frequent attacks had broken their courage, and weakened by the absence of their best warriors, they wavered in their first charge.
He put down his gun and offered to carry a peace belt to the Iroquois to stop the fight. The Illinois gladly gave him a wampum girdle and sent a young Indian with him. Boisrondet and Etienne Renault also walked at his side into the open space between two barbaric armies. The Iroquois did not stop firing when he held up and waved the belt in his left hand. Bullets spattered on the hummocky sod of the prairie around him.
"Go back," Tonty said to Boisrondet and Renault and the young Indian. "What need is there of so many? Take the lad back, Boisrondet."
They hesitated to leave him.
"Go back!" he repeated sharply, so they turned, and he ran on alone. The Iroquois guns seemed to flash in his face. It was like throwing himself among furious wolves. Snarling lips and snaky eyes and twisting sinuous bodies made nightmares around him. He felt himself seized; a young warrior stabbed him in the side. The knife glanced on a rib, but blood ran down his buckskins and filled his throat.
"Stop!" shouted an Iroquois chief. "This is a Frenchman; his ears are not pierced."
Tonty's swarthy skin was blanching with the anguish of his wound, which turned him faint. His black hair clung in rings to a forehead wet with cold perspiration. But he held the wampum belt aloft and spat the blood out of his mouth.
"Iroquois! The Illinois nation are under the protection of the French king and Governor Frontenac! I demand that you leave them in peace!"
A young brave snatched his hat and lifted it on the end of a gun. At that the Illinois began a frenzied attack, thinking he was killed. Tonty was spun around as in a whirlpool. He felt a hand in his hair and a knife at his scalp.
"I never," he thought to himself, "was in such perplexity in my life!"
"Burn him!" shouted some.
"But he is French!" others cried. "Let him go!"
Through all the uproar he urged the peace belt and threatened them with France. The wholesome dread which Governor Frontenac had given to that name had effect on them. Besides, they had not surprised the Illinois, and if they declared a truce, time would be gained to consider their future movements.
The younger braves were quieted, and old warriors gave Tonty a belt to carry back to the Illinois. He staggered across the prairie. Father Ribourde and Father Membre, who had just reached the spot, ran to meet him, and supported him as he half fainted from loss of blood.
Tonty and his allies withdrew across the river. But the Iroquois, instead of retreating, followed. Seeing what must happen, Tonty thought it best for the Illinois to give up their town and go to protect their women and children, while he attempted as long as possible to keep the invaders at bay. Lodges were set on fire, and the Illinois withdrew quietly down river, leaving some of their men in the bluffs less than a league from the town, to bring them word of the result. The Frenchmen, partially rebuilding their own lodge, which had been wrecked when their goods were thrown in the river, stood their ground in the midst of insulting savages.
For the Iroquois, still determined on war and despoiling, opened maize pits, scattering and burning the grain; trampled corn in the fields; and even pulled the dead off their scaffolds. They were angry at the French for threatening them with that invisible power of France, and bent on chasing the Illinois. Yet Tonty was able to force a kind of treaty between them and the retreating nation, through the men left in the bluffs. As soon as they had made it, however, they began canoes of elm bark, to follow the Illinois down river.
Two or three days passed, while the Frenchmen sat covering the invaded tribe's retreat. They scarcely slept at night. Their enemies prowled around their lodge or celebrated dances on the ruins of the town. The river flowed placidly, and the sun shone on desolation and on the unaltered ferny buttresses of the great rock and its castellated neighbors. Tonty heard with half delirious ears the little creatures which sing in the grass and fly before man, but return to their singing as soon as he passes by. The friars dressed and tended his fevered wound, and when the Iroquois sent for him to come to a council, Father Membre went with him.
Within the rude fort of posts and poles saved from ruined lodges, which the Iroquois had built for themselves, adding a ruff of freshly chopped trees, the two white men sat down in a ring of glowering savages. Six packs of beaver skins were piled ready for the oration; and the orator rose and addressed Tonty.
With the first two the Indian spokesman promised that his nation would not eat Count Frontenac's children, those cowardly Illinois.
The next was a plaster to heal Tonty's wound.
The next was oil to anoint him and the Recollets, so their joints would move easily in traveling.
The next said that the sun was bright.
And the sixth and last pack ordered the French to get up and leave the country.
When the speaker sat down, Tonty came to his feet and looked at the beaver skins piled before them. Then he looked around the circle of hard weather-beaten faces and restless eyes, and thanked the Iroquois for their gift.
"But I would know," said Tonty, "how soon you yourselves intend to leave the country and let the Illinois be in peace?"
There was a growl, and a number of the braves burst out with the declaration that they intended to eat Illinois flesh first.
Tonty raised his foot and kicked the beaver skins from him. In that very way they would have rejected a one-sided treaty themselves. Up they sprang with drawn knives and drove him and Father Membre from the fort.
All night the French stood guard for fear of being surprised and massacred in their lodge. At daybreak the chiefs ordered them to go without waiting another hour, and gave them a leaky boat.
Tonty had protected the retreat of the Illinois as long as he could. With the two Recollets, Boisrondet, young Renault, and L'Esperance, and with little else, he set out up the river.
THE UNDESPAIRING NORMAN.
"The northward current of the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and the southward current of the western shore," says a writer exact in knowledge, "naturally made the St. Joseph portage a return route to Canada, and the Chicago portage an outbound one." But though La Salle was a careful observer and must have known that what was then called the Chekago River afforded a very short carrying to the Desplaines or upper Illinois, he saw fit to use the St. Joseph both coming and going.
His march to Fort Frontenac he afterwards described in a letter to one of the creditors interested in his discoveries.
"Though the thaws of approaching spring greatly increased the difficulty of the way, interrupted as it was everywhere by marshes and rivers, to say nothing of the length of the journey, which is about five hundred leagues in a direct line, and the danger of meeting Indians of four or five different nations, through whose country we were to pass, as well as an Iroquois army which we knew was coming that way; though we 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, such as blanket, clothing, kettle, hatchet, gun, powder, lead, and skins to make moccasins; sometimes pushing through thickets, sometimes climbing rocks covered with ice and snow; sometimes wading whole days through marshes where the water was waist deep or even more,—all this did not prevent me from going to Fort Frontenac to bring back the things we needed and to learn myself what had become of my vessel."
Carrying their canoes where the river was frozen, and finally leaving them hidden near where the town of Joliet now stands, La Salle and his men pushed on until they reached the fort built at the mouth of the St. Joseph. Here he found the two voyageurs he had sent to search for the Griffin. They said they had been around the lake and could learn nothing of her. He then directed them to Tonty, while he marched up the eastern shore. This Michigan region was debatable ground among the Indians, where they met to fight; and he left significant marks on the trees, to make prowlers think he had a large war party. A dozen or twenty roving savages, ready to pounce like ferocious wildcats on a camp, always peeled white places on the trees, and cut pictures there of their totem, or tribe mark, and the scalps and prisoners they had taken. They respected a company more numerous than themselves, and avoided it.
Stopping to nurse the sick when some fell ill of exposure, or to build canoes when canoes were needed, La Salle did not reach Fort Niagara until Easter, and it was May when Fort Frontenac came into view.
No man ever suffered more from treachery. Before he could get together the supplies he needed, trouble after trouble fell upon him. The men that Tonty had sent to tell him about the destruction of Fort Crevecoeur were followed by others who brought word that the deserters had destroyed his forts at the St. Joseph River and Niagara, and carried off all the goods. The Griffin was certainly lost. And before going back to the Illinois country he was obliged to chase these fellows and take from them what could be recovered. But when everybody else seemed to be against him, it was much comfort to remember he had a faithful lieutenant while the copper-handed Italian lived.
La Salle gathered twenty-five men of trades useful to him, and another outfit with all that he needed for a ship, having made new arrangements with his creditors; and going by way of Michilimackinac, he reached the St. Joseph early in November.
Whenever, in our own day, we see the Kankakee still gliding along its rocky bed, or the solemn Illinois spreading betwixt wooded banks, it is easy to imagine a birch canoe just appearing around a bend, carrying La Salle or Tonty, and rowed by buckskin-clad voyageurs. On the Kankakee thousands of buffaloes filled the plains, and La Salle's party killed many, preparing the flesh in dried flakes by smoking it.
The buffaloes were left behind when they approached the great town on the Illinois. La Salle glanced up at the rock he wanted fortified, but no palisade or Frenchman was to be seen.
"It seems very quiet," he said to the men in his canoe, "and we have not passed a hunter. There—there is the meadow where the town stood; but where is the town?"
Heaps of ashes, charred poles, broken scaffolds, wolves prowling where papooses had played, crows whirling in black clouds or sitting in rows on naked branches, bones,—a horrible waste plain had taken the place of the town.
The Frenchmen scattered over it, eagerly seeking some trace of Tonty and his companions. They labored all day, until the sun set, among dreadful sights which they could never forget, without finding any clue to his fate.
They piled charred wood together and made a fire and camped among ruins. But La Salle lay awake all night, watching the sharp-pointed autumn stars march overhead, and suffering what must have seemed the most unendurable of all his losses.
Determined not to give up his friend, he rose next morning and helped the men hide their heavy freight in the rocks, leaving two of them to hide with and guard it, and went on down the Illinois River. On one bank the retreat of the invaded tribe could be traced, and on the other the dead camp-fires of the Iroquois who had followed them. But of Tonty and his Frenchmen there was still no sign.
La Salle saw the ruins of Fort Crevecoeur and his deserted vessel. And so searching he came to the mouth of the Illinois and saw for the first time that river of his ambitions, the Mississippi. There he turned back, leaving a letter tied to a tree, on the chance of its sometime falling into the hands of Tonty. There was nothing to do but to take his men and goods from among the rocks near the destroyed town and return to Fort Miamis, on the St. Joseph, which some of his followers had rebuilt. The winter was upon them.
La Salle never sat and brooded over trouble. He was a man of action. Shut in with his men and goods, and obliged to wait until spring permitted him to take the next step, he began at once to work on Indian hunters, and to draw their tribes towards forming a settlement around the rock he meant to fortify on the Illinois. Had he been able to attach turbulent voyageurs to him as he attached native tribes, his heroic life would have ended in success even beyond his dreams. Tonty could better deal with ignorant men, his military training standing him in good stead; yet Tonty dared scarcely trust a voyageur out of his sight.
While Tonty and La Salle were passing through these adventures, the Recollet father, Louis Hennepin, and his two companions, sent by La Salle, explored the upper Mississippi. One of these was named Michael Ako; the other, Du Gay, a man from Picardy in France.
They left Fort Crevecoeur on the last day of February, twenty-four hours before La Salle started northward, and entered the Mississippi on the 12th of March. The great food-stocked stream afforded them plenty of game, wild turkeys, buffaloes, deer, and fish. The adventurers excused themselves from observing the Lenten season set apart by the Church for fasting; but Father Hennepin said prayers several times a day. He was a great robust Fleming, with almost as much endurance as that hardy Norman, La Salle.
They had paddled about a month up river through the region where Marquette and Jolliet had descended, when one afternoon they stopped to repair their canoe and cook a wild turkey. Hennepin, with his sleeves rolled back, was daubing the canoe with pitch, and the others were busy at the fire, when a war whoop, followed by continuous yelling, echoed from forest to forest, and a hundred and twenty naked Sioux or Dacotah Indians sprang out of boats to seize them. It was no use for Father Hennepin to show a peace-pipe or offer fine tobacco. The Frenchmen were prisoners. And when these savages learned by questioning with signs, and by drawing on the sand with a stick, that the Miamis, whom they were pursuing to fight, were far eastward out of their reach, three or four old warriors laid their hands on Hennepin's shaven crown and began to cry and howl like little boys.