Builders of our Country Vol. I - G. Southworth

Joliet and Marquette

When Champlain died he left the power of the French firmly planted in Canada, which was fast becoming a famous trading post for the fur traders.

Besides the fur traders and those looking simply for adventure, there was another class of Frenchmen who came to Canada as the years went by. These were the hardest workers and bravest adventurers of all. They were the Jesuits, a society of French Roman Catholics who had sworn to do all they could to convert the world to the Catholic religion. Brave and fearless, they were eager to go into the wilds of America and make the Indians a great Catholic nation. Soon they pushed their way along the borders of the Great Lakes and established settlements, or missions, where they tried to teach and civilize the wayward red men.

At one of these missions, on Lake Superior, was a young Jesuit priest named Jacques Marquette, or Father Marquette, as he was called. Father Marquette loved the Indians and tried very hard to make them Christians. He learned to speak six different Indian languages.

Every year the Illinois Indians used to come to the Jesuit settlement, and from them Father Marquette heard about a great river which they had to cross on their way. This river they called the "Mesipi." Father Marquette was very anxious to find this river, which he thought must flow into the Gulf of California.

At this time the Governor of Canada was Count Frontenac. Through the Indians he, too, heard about the great river; and he resolved to send some one to find it and to explore it for France. For this expedition he selected a brave young man by the name of Louis Joliet and gave him orders to take Father Marquette on the voyage.

In May, 1673, they started. They coasted along the shores of Lake Michigan until they came to a village of the Menomonies, or "wild-rice" Indians. These Indians did all they could to prevent Joliet and Marquette from going farther. "There are fierce tribes on the banks of the Mississippi who tomahawk all strangers," they said. "Besides, there is a demon in the river, who will drown you in the cave where he lives. And even if you should escape these dangers, the heat will burn you up."

But the white men were not frightened. Marquette taught the Indians a prayer and again set forth with his companions. When they came to the head of Green Bay they entered the Fox River. After paddling for several days between fields of wild rice and prairies covered with deer and elk, they came to a little hill on which was an Indian village. The Indians were friendly, and Marquette was very glad to find a cross set up hung with deer-skins and red girdles and bows and arrows. These, the Indians said, were offerings to the god of the French.

Joliet asked these Indians for guides to the Wisconsin River. These were readily given. The Fox became narrower and narrower as it wound through marshes of wild rice; and, but for the guides, the Frenchmen would surely have lost their way.

French Territory in New World

Finally they reached a place where the Fox and Wisconsin rivers are only a mile and a half apart. They carried their canoes across this distance and launched them on the Wisconsin. They sailed down this peaceful river, among islands covered with trees and tangled grape-vines until, on June 17th, they saw before them a mighty water which met the Wisconsin. They knew at once that it was the "Father of Waters," the Mississippi.

As the canoes floated easily down the great river there was no sign of human life anywhere.

One day they found human footprints in the mud on the western bank, and a path leading off into the prairies. Joliet and Marquette left the canoes with their men and started out upon the path.

After walking six miles they saw an Indian village a little way off. They stopped and prayed God to help them, and then went on until they could hear the voices of the Indians. Here they stood still and shouted. This caused great excitement in the village, and all the inhabitants turned out. Four of the warriors came forward with great dignity, holding up two calumets or peace pipes. Standing in front of the Frenchmen they looked at them in silence. When Marquette saw that they wore French cloth, he made up his mind that they were friends.

You may judge how glad he was when he found that these Indians were Illinois, members of the very tribe that had first told him of the great river, and that had often invited him to come and teach them.

After the peace pipes had been smoked, they went together to the village. The chief met them at the door of a large wigwam. He held up both hands to his eyes as if to shield them from a great light. "Frenchmen, how bright the sun shines when you come to visit us," he said. "Enter our wigwam in peace."

After once more smoking the peace pipe Marquette and Joliet were invited to go to another village to visit the great chief of all the Illinois.

Here Marquette spoke to the Indians in the Algonquin language and told them that he was a messenger of God to them. He told them also of Count Frontenac, the great Governor of Canada, and asked about the Mississippi and the tribes along its banks.

Then a great feast was served. After the feast was over buffalo robes were spread on the ground; and here Joliet and Marquette slept till morning, when the chief and six hundred of his men took them back to their canoes and bade them farewell as they went on their way.

Marquette and Jolie


Down the great river they paddled, past the mouth of the Illinois and past the wonderful rocks which at this point line the eastern shore. On one of the rocks were painted two monsters. These were Indian gods. The voyagers were so excited over the strange picture that they scarcely noticed where they were going. Suddenly they saw before them a great torrent of yellow mud rushing out into the peaceful blue water and sweeping along on its current branches and uprooted trees. The canoes were whirled like chips upon the angry waters. They had reached the mouth of the Missouri. In spite of the danger, the travelers got safely past.

In a few days more they reached the mouth of the river which the Indians called the Ohio, or "Beautiful River." After they had passed this, the weather grew warmer very rapidly, and the mosquitoes tormented them day and night.



As Joliet and Marquette neared the mouth of the Arkansas River, they saw a group of wigwams on the western bank. The inhabitants stood waving their hatchets and yelling the war whoop. Boat loads of them came out on both sides of the white men, so that they could go neither forward nor backward, while a swarm of daring young braves waded out into the river. The white men were terribly frightened and called upon the saints to protect them, Marquette holding up his peace pipe all the while. The young warriors paid no attention to this; but when the older ones saw it, they quieted, the young braves and told the Frenchmen to come on shore. This they did, and were treated kindly.

Soon after this Marquette and Joliet began to consider what they should do next. They had gone far enough to make sure that the Mississippi flowed, not into the Gulf of California, but into the Gulf of Mexico. If they went on to the mouth of the river they might be killed by savage Indians, or by Spaniards. So they decided to go back to Canada and report what they had found.



The homeward journey through the July heat was very trying; and Father Marquette, who was never very strong, fell sick on the way. When the travelers came to the Illinois River they entered its mouth and made their way up its quiet waters, between shady forests, and grassy plains abounding in deer and buffalo. From one of the Indian villages along the shore, a young chief and his warriors acted as guides to Lake Michigan. Coasting along the edge of this lake, the party once more reached Green Bay. It was now the end of September. The travelers had been gone four months and had made a canoe voyage of more than two thousand five hundred miles.

Joliet went on to Quebec to tell Count Frontenac of all they had discovered. But Marquette was worn out by the hardships of the journey and stayed at Green Bay to rest.

The next fall he went to the home of the Illinois Indians. Here he preached to the savages until he felt that he was dying. Then he asked his companions to take him back to Green Bay.

But he did not live to reach Green Bay. His companions cared for him tenderly to the last and buried him on the shore of Lake Michigan.