La Salle Starts For The Illinois Country

On September 18th, the Griffin, in charge of a trusted pilot, a super-cargo and five sailors, started on the return voyage. La Salle on the 19th of September, 1679, with a company of fourteen persons in four birch bark canoes, loaded with a blacksmith’s forge, carpenter’s tools, merchandise, arms, provisions, etc., started on his journey for the Illinois country. He coasted along the western shore of Lake Michigan. Their provisions were exhausted before they reached the present site of Milwaukee. They had been forced ashore three times to save their boats and their lives. They now went in search of food and fortunately found a deserted Indian village with plenty of corn. They appropriated the corn, but left some articles as pay. The next day the Indians returned and followed the whites to their boats and it was only by presenting the calumet that La Salle was able to appease them. From Milwaukee they coasted south past the mouth of the Chicago River and following the southerly bend of the lake reached the mouth of the St. Joseph River November 1, 1679. This had been appointed as the meeting place of the two expeditions the one under La Salle and the one under Tonti. La Salle was anxious to get to the Illinois country, but he also desired the help of Tonti and as the latter had not yet arrived, La Salle occupied the time of his men in building a palisade fort which he named Fort Miami. Near by, he erected a bark chapel for the use of the priests, and also a storehouse for the goods which the Griffin was to bring from Niagara on its return.

Henri de Tonti arrived at Fort Miami on the 12th of November with only a portion of his company, the rest remaining behind to bring word of the Griffin. La Salle was now impatient to proceed, and dispatching Tonti for the rest of his crew waited for his return. The ice began to form and fearing the freezing over of the river, La Salle ascended the St. Joseph in search of the portage between the Kankakee and the St. Joseph. He went up the St. Joseph beyond the portage and while searching for it was overtaken by a courier who told him Tonti and his party were at the portage farther down the river. This point is supposed to have been near the present city of South Bend, Indiana. Here was now assembled the party which was to become a very historic one. There were in all twenty-nine Frenchmen and one Indian. Among them were La Salle, De Tonti, Fathers Louis Hennepin, Zenobe Membre, Gabriel de La Ribourde, La Metairie (a notary) and De Loup, the Indian guide. They crossed the portage of three or four miles under great difficulties, dragging their canoes and their burdens on sledges. The ice was getting thick and a heavy snow storm was raging.

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.

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