French Influence

The grand march of French exploration and discovery up the valley of the St Lawrence, through Cartier and Champlain; around the fringes of the upper Great Lakes and gradually into the outlying country by the same far-seeing, brave and patriotic Champlain; the wonderful combination of Church and State, which penetrated the wilderness, subdued its savages both by the mysteries of Catholicism, gentle and brotherly offices and the pageantry of a gorgeous government all these successive steps leading to the voyages of Marquette and Joliet which drove the wedge into the very center of the American continent and commenced to let in the light of the world, have been so often told that they comprise the common knowledge of the reading universe.

A landing on Illinois soil was effected on their trip down the Mississippi, in June, 1673. On the 17th of that month their canoes, containing Joliet, Marquette, five French boatmen, or voyageurs, and two Indian guides, shot from the mouth of the Wisconsin into the broad Mississippi. The voyagers were filled with a joy unspeakable. The journey now began down the stream without any ceremony. Marquette made accurate observations of the lay of the land, the vegetation and the animals. Among the animals he mentions are deer, moose, and all sorts of fish, turkeys, wild cattle, and small game. Somewhere, probably below Rock Island, the voyagers discovered footprints and they knew that the Illinois were not far away. Marquette and Joliet left their boats in the keeping of the five Frenchman and after prayers they departed into the interior, following the tracks of the Indians. They soon came to an Indian village. The chiefs received the two whites with very great ceremony. The peace pipe was smoked and Joliet, who was trained in all the Indian languages, told them of the purpose of their visit to this Illinois country. A chief responded and after giving the two whites some presents among which were a calumet and an Indian slave boy, the chief warned them not to go further down the river for great dangers awaited them. Marquette replied that they did not fear death and nothing would please them more than to lose their lives in God’s service. After promising the Indians they would come again, they retired to their boats, accompanied by six hundred warriors from the village. They departed from these Indians about the last of June and were soon on their journey down the river. As they moved southward the bluffs became quite a marked feature of the general landscape. After passing the mouth of the Illinois River, they came to unusually high bluffs on the Illinois side of the Mississippi. At a point about six miles above the present city of Alton, they discovered on the high smooth-faced bluffs a very strange object, which Marquette describes as follows: “As we coasted along the rocks, frightful for their height and length, we saw two monsters painted on these rocks, which startled us at first, and on which the boldest Indian dare not gaze long. They are as large as a calf, with horns on the head like a deer, a frightful look, red eyes, bearded like a tiger, the face somewhat like a man’s, the body covered with scales and the tail so long that it twice makes the turn of the body, passing over the head and down between the legs, and ending at last in a fish’s tail. Green, red, and a kind of black are the colors employed. On the whole, these two monsters are so well painted that we could not believe any Indian to have been the designer, as good painters in France would find it hard to do as well; besides this, they are so high upon the rock that it is hard to get conveniently at them to paint them.”

As Marquette and Joliet proceeded down the river they passed the mouth of the Missouri, which at that time was probably subject to a great flood. When considerably below the mouth of the Kaskaskia River they came to a very noted object at least the Indians had many stories about it. This is what is known today as the Grand Tower. This great rock in the Mississippi causes a great commotion in the water of the river and probably was destructive of canoes in those days. On they went down the river past the mouth of the Ohio, into the region of semi-tropical sun and vegetation. The cane-brakes lined the banks, and the mosquitoes became plentiful and very annoying. Here also, probably in the region of Memphis, they stopped and held councils with the Indians. They found the Indians using guns, axes, hoes, knives, beads, etc., and when questioned as to where they got these articles, they said to the eastward. These Indians told the travelers that it was not more than ten days’ travel to the mouth of the river. They proceeded on down the river till they reached Choctaw Bend, in latitude 33 degrees and 40 minutes. Here they stopped, held a conference, and decided to go no further.

Tonti was displaced as commander at Fort St. Louis and ordered to Quebec. La Salle not only secured a fleet for the trip to the mouth of the Mississippi, but also had Tonti restored to command at Fort St. Louis. La Salle sailed to the Gulf in the spring of 1685. He failed to find the mouth of the river and landed in what is now Texas. After hardships and discouragement almost beyond belief, he was murdered by some of his own men the latter part of March, 1687.

Illinois Genealogy

Source: A Standard History of Champaign County, Illinois, by J. R. Stewart, published by The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago And New York, 1918.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top