Lake Huron Discovered By Le Caron And Champlain -- Champlain's Voyage -- Lake Superior Discovered -- Nicolet First Navigates Lake Michigan -- A Down Trip On Lake Erie -- First Passage Through Detroit River -- Early Explorations On The St. Lawrence -- The Discoverer Of Lake Michigan -- The Career Of Nicolet -- The Discovery Of Niagara Falls -- The French Missions And Missionaries -- Iroquois Destroy The Huron Missions -- Missions On The Upper Lakes -- "Hiawatha" -- Character Of The Jesuit Fathers -- Parkman's Estimate -- The Fur Trade -- The Magnet Of Immigration -- The Coureur De Bois -- Explorations Of Trader Joliet -- Copper In The Lake Superior Regions.
THIS is the order in which the Great Lakes were discovered by the French explorers: Huron in 1615, by Le Caron, the Recollect friar, and by Champlain, one of the greatest navigators in New France; Ontario, during the same year, by Champlain; Superior, about 1629, by Etienne Brule; Michigan, in 1634, by Jean Nicolet; Erie, probably by Joliet, in 1669. It seems somewhat remarkable, from the positions of the lakes, that Erie should have been the last of the five to come under the dominion of the white men. The reason is this. It lay deep in the recesses of a hostile country, guarded by the "Romans of the West," the Iroquois or Five Nations. From Montreal the course of the French missionaries and traders westward was up the Ottawa river, the route to the upper lakes which was followed by the Hurons.
Joseph Le Caron, the Franciscan friar, who first discovered Lake Huron, reached Quebec in May, 1615, with three other Franciscans. To Le Caron was assigned the district of the Hurons as his mission field. His garb was the customary rude garment of coarse, gray cloth, girt at the waist with a knotted cord, and surmounted by a peaked hood. He was shod with wooden sandals an inch or more in thick-He hastened at once to the site of language and resolved to winter in their villages. Accompanied by twelve Frenchmen he set out about July 1, 1615, with the concourse of Hurons up the Ottawa river, and after many hardships reached the seat of the Huron nation, near the entrance of the bay of Matchedash. Here within an area of thirty or forty miles were many Huron villages, containing a population variously estimated at from 10,000 to 30,000 inhabitants.
Champlain's Voyage. -- Champlain, with two canoes, two Frenchmen and ten Indians followed Le Caron a few days later, and in his narrative describes the journey by way of Lake Nipissing, and thence down its outlet until along the western sky was traced the watery line of the "Fresh-Water Sea" of the Hurons, the Mer Douce or Lake Huron, and southward spread the shores of the Georgian Bay. For more than a hundred miles Champlain followed its dented outlines; thence following an Indian trail inland his eyes soon beheld a scene of cultivated fields, and palisaded villages, the ancient home of the Hurons. Here he met Le Caron, and from this center Champlain led the Huron braves the same year in an unsuccessful campaign against their enemies, the Iroquois, below Lake Oneida, probably crossing Lake Ontario en route from the mouth of the river Trent to a point of land west of Hungry bay.
A controversy has arisen among historians as to the route which Champlain took in 1615 across Lake Ontario. Dr. John Gilmary Shea, of New York, and Gen. James S. Clark, of Auburn, N. Y., basing their opinions partially upon a map printed to the 1632 edition of Champlain's account of the expedition, say the starting point was from what is now Kingston. O. H. Marshall and others have contended that it started from the mouth of river Trent, opposite Point Pleasant. Champlain gives the distance across as fourteen leagues or thirty-five miles. He says they crossed the lake, and from this statement it is argued that they did not merely skirt its edges. This is the first recorded visitation of Lake Ontario by a white man. The Hurons had expected with the aid of Champlain and the few Frenchmen accompanying him, armed with terror-inspiring and death-dealing muskets, to utterly put to rout their ancient enemies, the Iroquois. They concealed their canoes in the forest on the shores of Lake Ontario, and proceeded cautiously inland. The village of Onondaga, near Lake Oneida, was attacked October 10, 1615. It was protected by palisades, and although the Frenchmen did execution with their firearms, the Hurons were undisciplined and fought in their own disordered and disconnected manner, disregarding the instructions of their French leader. Champlain was wounded, and the party finally retired. Finding their canoes unharmed, they re-crossed Lake Ontario, and Champlain passed the winter with the Hurons in the vicinity of Lake Simcoe. This attack upon the Iroquois fanned their hatred against the French. It smoldered for a generation, and then burst out in a fierce flame of destruction.
Lake Superior Discovered. -- Etienne or Stephen Brule had served Champlain as an interpreter in his journey to Lake Huron, but did not return with him. Sagard mentions that Brule, with another Frenchman, Grenoble, made a long journey and returned with an ingot of red copper and with a description of Lake Superior. He said it required nine days to reach its upper extremity, and that it discharged itself into Lake Huron by a fall. This trip was made prior to 1629, and to Brule, the unlettered and adventurous voyageur, is probably due the credit for the discovery of the grandest of all the inland lakes.
Nicolet First Navigates Lake Michigan. -- Jean Nicolet, an employe of the fur company, known as the "Hundred Associates," in the summer of 1634 threaded his way in a birch canoe from Georgian Bay through the straits of Mackinaw, and thus discovered Lake Michigan. Turning southward, he reached Green bay, and was impressed with its length and vastness. Here dwelt the people of the salt or , bad-smelling water, neither Algonquin nor Huron, who said they had come from the shores of a far-distant sea in the West, whose waters were salt, and who called themselves "the people of the stinking water." Calling a council of these Winnebagoes and neighboring tribes, Nicolet arrayed himself in a robe of damask China, gorgeously worked with birds and flowers, and, firing pistols from both hands, declared that he had come among them for peace. He awed the rude savages, and was invited to a royal feast.
A Down Trip on Lake Erie. -- Singular as it may appear, the first known trip on Lake Erie by white men was a down passage. Joliet had in 1669 made a voyage from Montreal, via Lake Nipissing, to Lake Superior in search of copper, and to discover a more direct route from Lake Superior to Montreal. At Sault Ste. Marie he found among the Ottawas an Iroquois prisoner, and obtained permission to take him back to Canada. The Iroquois guided him from Lake Erie through the Grand river valley to Lake Ontario, where near Burlington bay he met La Salle and two Sulpitian priests. It was a strange and unexpected meeting. La Salle had started westward on a tour of extended exploration, and, doubtless, listened eagerly to the information imparted by Joliet. The latter must have descended the Detroit river, and sailed eastward along the north shores of Lake Erie. The latter body of water had been known to the French as early as 1640, but there is no record of its navigation by white men till this accidental meeting of Joliet and La Salle. What the conversation with Joliet was, is not known. It changed, however, the plans of La Salle. He was seeking a passage to the Pacific coast, and, doubtless, learning from Joliet of the connection between Lake Erie and the upper lakes, he resolved to explore the great river (Ohio) flowing westward to the south of the lakes, leaving the Sulpitian priests to pursue, unattended by him, their journey to the Pottawatomies on the shores of Lake Michigan.
First Passage through Detroit River. -- The first recorded passage of white men through the Detroit river was made in 1670 by these Sulpitian priests. When they parted company with La Salle in September, 1669, and descended Grand river to Lake Erie, they found it tossed by an angry storm and wisely resolved to delay until the following spring their journey to the Potta-watomies. Building a log cabin and collecting a supply of nuts and fruits, they subsisted comfortably upon these and the game which they obtained. In early spring they proceeded up the lake, but encountered many trials. While encamped one night near Point Pelee, a storm suddenly arose and swept away much of their baggage, which had been carelessly left at the water's edge. Among the lost effects was their altar service, a misfortune ascribed to the malignity of the evil one. Entering Detroit river, they landed near where the city of Detroit now stands. Here they discovered a large stone, rudely featured like a human being, daubed with paint and worshiped by the heathenish Indians as a Manitou. The sight of the hideous idol aroused their anger. "After the loss of our altar service and the hunger we had suffered," writes Galinee, "there was not a man of us who was not filled with hatred against the false deity. I devoted one of my axes to breaking him to pieces; and then, having fastened our canoes side by side, we carried the largest piece to the middle of the river and threw it, with all the rest, into the water that he might never be heard of again. God rewarded us immediately for this good action, for we killed a deer and a bear that same day." Joliet had, doubtless, passed down the river previously on his return from the upper lakes, but the usual route of the Jesuits and fur traders was by way of the Georgian Bay. The enmity of the fierce Iroquois had closed the Niagara portage against them. The two Sulpitian priests, Galinee and Dollier, followed the eastern shores of Lake Huron, passed near the great mission of the Hurons, which had been destroyed twenty years before, passed the Manitoulins, and reached Sault Ste. Marie May 25, 1670. Here they found the Jesuits, Dablon and Marquette, living in a square fort and surrounded by a few Indians, some of whom they had baptized. The welcome was cold, and soon after, accompanied by a French guide, the Sulpitians started for Montreal, which they reached June 18.
Columbus discovered America in 1492, and from that time on bold mariners at different times and places sought adventure and fortune in the New World. While the Spaniards were the energetic explorers of the southern part of the continent of North America, the French were the first to visit and penetrate the regions north and south of the Great Lakes. In 1508, it is claimed by Desmarquets and others, Thomas Aubert passed up the St. Lawrence river to a distance of eighty leagues. If this be correct it was the first exploration of that river by any European. The French had established a fishing station just within the Straits of Belle Isle, which they called Brest, early in the sixteenth century, but it is difficult to determine the date, and there is some evidence that the Portuguese explored the region of the mouth of the St. Lawrence early in the same century. And it is well known that the great volume of water flowing into the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the St. Lawrence river suggested to early explorers that an immense continent lay to the west. This supposition arose first from Verrazano's experience on the coast in 1524, which was the first decided and official manifestation of French activity in this region.
King Francis I of France intended to follow up this voyage of Verrazano, but the political exigencies, in which he found himself involved at the time, caused considerable delays, and it was not until ten years afterward that he commissioned Cartier to visit and explore the country west of Newfoundland, and to add glory to the flag of France. Cartier left St. Malo in April, 1534, and arrived off Newfoundland, May 10. On May 27 he was at the opening of the Straits of Belle Isle, near which place he met a ship from La Rochelle, and some of the natives of the region. Turning south he followed the inner coasts of Newfoundland, and afterward steered westwardly, passed the Magdalene Islands to Prince Edward Island, whence he headed north, and on July 2 reached the Bay of Chaleur, which he named from the excessive heat he experienced in that bay. After making the circuit of the gulf, he passed again out to sea, August 15, and early in September entered the harbor of St. Malo.
Cartier started on his second voyage May 19, 1535, with three ships and 110 men, reaching the little harbor of Blanc Sablon late in July. Not long afterward he entered, on the north shore between Anticosti island and the mainland, a harbor, which he named the St. Lawrence, the first appearance of this name, which was to be the name of the great gulf between Newfoundland and the mainland, and also of the great river draining the Great Lakes. He gave the name to Assumption island August 15; and passing on to the westward found himself at last in the St. Lawrence river. September 1 he was opposite the mouth of the Saguenay river, where he met some Indians in canoes, who were encouraged to come near his ships from the fact of his having two Indian interpreters on board. Leaving the Saguenay without exploring it, he continued up the main stream to the Isle aux Coudres, where he remained some time. On Sunday, September 7, religious services were conducted, though there was no priest in his party. At last the ship reached the island, which he named the Island of Bacchus, from the number of vines he saw festooning the forest trees. He found a wintering place a short distance above the St. Charles river.
On September 19, Cartier started on up the St. Lawrence river in the Emerillon, one of his three ships, having along with him fifty men, and reaching Lake Angouleme on the 28th. Above this lake the current of the river was so strong that the Emerillon could not ascend, and so Cartier with a picked crew went forward in two boats. On October 2, he drew his boats up beside a piece of level land, and found he was but three miles below an Indian village named Hochelaga, where he was met by large numbers of Indians, offering food, and manifesting delight at the presence of the white strangers. This village of Hochelaga was a short distance below the eminence, to which Cartier gave the name of Mont Royale, and the capital town, which now occupies the site of Hochelaga, is a reminder of the first European who surveyed the site of Montreal. After remaining here a short time, he exchanged courtesies with his new found Indian friends, took his boats for his galley, which he reached October 4, and on the 11th was again in the Havre de Sainte Croix, as his station on the St. Charles had been named.
After a futile attempt at colonization by Francis Grave, or Pontgrave, as he was more frequently called, in 1600, the most commanding figure in the early history of Canada and the St. Lawrence river, comes upon the scene in the person of Samuel de Champlain, who on March 15, 1603, with Pontgrave sailed from Honfleur, On June 7, Champlain started to explore the Saguenay, and on the 23d he saw the famous Falls of Montmorency. On the 29th he entered and named St. Peter's Lake. Failing to get beyond the Lachine rapids, he endeavored to learn from the Indians what lay beyond. They told him of the Ottawa river, and also told him that by following up the St. Lawrence and passing rapids and expansions of the stream, he would reach a large body of water flowing through a channel broken by a cataract, and above this cataract there was a salubrious lake. At the farther end of this lake it received a river through which the boatman could push his skiff into an immense sea of salt water.
Champlain, from this description, in his fancy visited the waters of Lake Ontario, the Niagara river, whose falls he never saw, then Lake Erie, and thence the Detroit river to Lake Huron, which he afterward knew so far as Georgian Bay was concerned. Shortly afterward he returned to Tadoussac, and then to the mouth of the Saguenay, where he found the ships laden with furs and ready for the homeward voyage.
The next expedition to this part of North America was that of Demonts and Champlain, in 1608, the latter of whom reached Tadoussac June 3, and there set to work to build a shallop of about fourteen tons, in which he soon afterward made his way up the St. Lawrence river, and almost immediately afterward founded the town of Quebec. Here he discovered a plot to murder him, and meted out punishment in the most summary manner to the ringleaders in the conspiracy, hanging one and putting three of them in irons. After making one or two voyages across the Atlantic, which resulted in but little of interest, he again set sail for the New World April 24, 1615, his ship being again commanded by Pont-grave. This time he was accompanied by six priests of the Recollect order, named Dennis Jamay, John d'Olbean and Joseph le Caron, and a lay brother named Pacificus du Plessis.
The ship reached Quebec in May, and a chapel was at once erected, in which the priests said their first mass on June 15. Jamay remained at the settlement, D'Olbean went to the Montagnais, and Le Caron
to the Hurons. The Iroquois Indians then occupied the region immediately south of the upper St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario, and further to the west and south were the Hurons, the Tobacco nation, the Neuters, the Eries and the Andastes. Champlain had previously incurred the hostility of the Iroquois. His voyage to Lake Huron and passage across Lake Ontario have been recited above.
The Discoverer of Lake Michigan. -- Nicolet, the discoverer of Lake Michigan, was a young Norman, who came to this country first in 1618. He was sent, in 1634, by Champlain west among the Indians to further learn their language and customs. Having already been for about sixteen years among the Iroquois and Nipissings, he was well qualified for his new mission. Nicolet's peculiar mission at this time was to learn something definite about those distant western people, who had neither hair nor beard, and who journeyed in great canoes, and who lived by the great salt sea. His course lay up the Ottawa and by Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, and thence to the Huron villages. Here he renewed old acquaintances and secured seven guides from among the Hurons, and, launching their canoes at the head of Georgian Bay, they skirted the eastern and northern shores of Lake Huron until they found their progress checked by the rapids in the Sault Ste. Marie.
From the Sault Nicolet retraced his steps, and, following the shore of the northern peninsula of Michigan, soon came to the Straits of Mackinac, just a century after Cartier reached the great northern gateway to the interior of the continent at the Straits of Belle Isle. From the Straits of Mackinac, Nicolet passed on to Green bay, and at length reached its southern extremity. Here he encountered the Winnebago Indians, who looked upon him as a strange spirit, as he stalked among them in his robe and carrying his pistols, which every little while belched forth fire and smoke.
The Winnebagoes were the first Indians that he had met that were of the Da-kotah stock, and he could not well understand them, as he had not learned their language, the Algonquin and the Huron languages being the only ones that he had thus far acquired. Still he managed to make them understand that his message was one of peace and good will, in which spirit he was received, and the professions on each side were enforced and fortified with feast and speech.
On his return down Green bay Nicolet exchanged friendly courtesies with the Pot-tawatomies, who were then scattered along the western shore of Lake Michigan, and passed on back toward Three Rivers by the way he had gone. At length he reached the Ottawa, and went on down that river to Three Rivers, reaching this place sometime in July. On December 25, 1635, Champlain died of paralysis at Quebec, he who has been appropriately styled the Father of Canada.
Discovery of Niagara Falls. -- Many of the early explorers made references to the Niagara region and river, even before any white man had seen them, these writers having received their information from the Indians. Champlain, in his work published in 1603, mentions a fall which is believed to be Niagara Falls, and in his work published in 1613 he locates on a map a river which is believed to be the Niagara, and in that river he marks a Sault d'eau, or waterfall. Etienne Brule, who was with Champlain as interpreter, was in the vicinity of Niagara in 1615, and some think he may have seen the Falls, and if this be true he was probably the first white man to see these great wonders.
In 1626 Joseph de la Roche Dallion was on the Niagara river engaged in a mission among the Neuter Indians. In 1632 Champlain locates a waterfall very high at the end of Lac St. Louis (Ontario). In the Jesuit Relations, published in 1642, L'Allement mentions the Neuter nation of Indians (Onguiaahra) as having the same name as the river on which they lived. In 1649 Ragueneau speaks of "Lake Erie which is formed by the waters of Lake Huron and which discharges itself into a third lake, called Ontario, over a cataract of fearful height." De Creuxius, mentioned elsewhere in this work as giving Latin names to the five Great Lakes, locates the Niagara region, and calls the Falls "Ongiara Cataractes."
However, Galinee, who was with La Salle in 1669, at the western end of Lake Ontario, gives the first description that is known to exist of the Great Falls, but which he never saw. He says: "We found a river one-eighth of a league broad and extremely rapid, forming an outlet or communication from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. The outlet is forty leagues long, and has from ten to twelve leagues above its embrochure into Lake Ontario the finest falls of water in the world; for all the Indians whom I have inquired about it say that the water falls at that place from a rock higher than the tallest pines, that is about 300 feet."
In 1678 Father Hennepin visited the Falls, and in 1683 he published his first work in which he places the height of the falls in the Niagara river at 500 feet. In 1697 he published another work called the "New Discovery," in which he gives a description of the Falls, beginning as follows: "Betwixt the Lakes Ontario and Erie, there is a vast and prodigious cadence of water, which falls down after a surprising and astonishing manner, insomuch that the universe does not afford a parallel." In the same work he gives the height at 600 feet. From the time of this publication, which was translated into many of the languages of Europe, most Europeans became familiar at least with the name of this great natural wonder.
While these early discoveries, thus related, are the records that have been preserved, it is far from improbable that the first explorers were fur-traders, trappers and voyageurs who had neither ability nor inclination to record their wanderings, nor would these prior journeyings be likely to be mentioned in subsequent writings, for they would detract from the latter explorations, and possibly jeopardize claims.
By the close of Champlain's activity the forces in New France which were destined to affect for almost two centuries the history of the Great Lakes might all have been seen in embryo. The Jesuits were engaged in their heroic but ineffectual efforts to Christianize the savages. The fur trade had excited the cupidity of men, and Richelieu had already made it a monopoly by establishing the company of the "Hundred Associates." Copper to a lesser extent was an incentive to perilous exploration. The search for a route to China was a spur to the adventurous. France had laid claim to this vast territory. The deep hostility of the Iroquois had been incurred, and the great struggle with the English for the mastery of the lakes had been commenced.
The missionary spirit was active in the Catholic Church in France when the early voyages of exploration were made to the New World, and side by side with the adventurer in search of gain or fame came the priest, who held it his highest duty to convert the savage nations to Christianity. The Jesuits were first in the mission field of Canada, but they were soon followed by the Recollects, a reformed branch of the Franciscan order. With Champlain, in May, 1615, came four of the Gray Friars, and of these Joseph le Caron was appointed to labor among the Hurons on Georgian Bay. The Recollects invited the assistance of the Jesuit. These missions were scattered throughout New France, and quickly penetrated the region of the Great Lakes. Father Joseph de la Roche d'Aillon founded a mission among the neutral nations on the Niagara river, and urged the French to open up communication by way of Lake Ontario; but he spoke too soon.
The mission of the Hurons, begun in 1615 by the Recollects, was continued by the Jesuits. The Hurons dwelt in palisaded villages. Diligently the advocates of the better life labored, and heroically they endured the hardships and privations of the forest life, yet in 1640 they could claim but 100 Christians out of 16,000 Hurons. New stations were formed to the southward among the neutrals, and to the northward among the Algonquin tribes.
Iroquois Destroy Huron Missions. -- In the mid-summer of 1648 a band of Mohawks and Senecas entered the Huron country in the absence of the warriors, devastated one of their towns and scattered the inhabitants. During the following winter they fell on St. Ignace and made a still more dreadful havoc, and then one after another fifteen towns succumbed or were abandoned. The Hurons were in this way destroyed as a people, and the remnants of the tribe found lodgment in other tribes and nations, many of them being adopted by their conquerors. During the fierce irruption of the Iroquois, in 1648, several of the missionaries became martyrs to their religion. The venerable Brebeuf was inhumanly tortured to death, and Father Daniel fell riddled with arrows at the front portal of his chapel. A few of the missionaries fled with the Hurons before the gathered storm, but the mission was broken beyond repair. It had engaged the services of twenty-nine missionaries, seven of whom yielded up their lives in the cause.
Sated with the annihilation of their enemies, and harassed with fresh wars with the Eries and Susquehannas, the Iroquois, about 1654, sought peace with the French and requested that missionaries be sent to them. The zealous and fearless priests responded promptly. It was only a lull in the active warfare of the Five Nations. Embroilments quickly followed, and after a few years of moderate success the Jesuits were compelled to abandon the missions in 1687, when the clouds of war looked blackest.
The route to Lake Superior was natural and easy from the missions on Lake Huron. In 1641 Fathers Jogues and Raymbault visited the Chippewas at Sault Ste. Marie. They found about two thousand Indians there encamped, a number of the Potta-watomies having joined the Ojibways, having been driven north by the Iroquois. From the Pottawatomies these priests heard of the tribe of Indians now known as the Sioux. Raymbault soon afterward died, and in reporting the event to his superiors in Paris, Vimont said that this good Jesuit father had intended to continue his course westward to China, but that God diverted him to Heaven.
While returning to the St. Lawrence country the next year, Father Jogues was taken prisoner by the Iroquois, and he and his Huron companions soon found their canoes floating down toward Lake Champlain, and Jogues was thus the first European to see the wild beauties of Lake George. He was rescued in 1643 by the Dutch. He afterward went to France, and in 1646, having returned to his missionary labors among the wild sons of the forest, was killed by the Mohawks while on an errand of peace to that tribe, being treacherously struck down as he was entering a tent, to which he had been invited to partake of a feast.
Missions on the Upper Lakes. -- The destruction of the Hurons or Wyandots by the Iroquois cut off communication between the St. Lawrence and the Upper Lakes. In 1656 Garreau, while on his way to the Ottawa country with a flotilla of Indians, was ambushed by the Iroquois and killed.
In August, 1660, the venerable Menard, a veteran of the Huron missions, set out with another Ottawa flotilla in search of the vanished tribe so broken in spirit that it concealed its habitations from even its friends. When he left Quebec, he took with him a scanty stock of necessaries, "for I trust," said he, "in that Providence which feeds the little birds of the air, and clothes the wild flowers of the desert." He was past the meridian of life, but possessed all the zeal of youth. He went forth with the presentiment that he was performing his last journey, for, in writing back to a friend, he remarked: "In three or four months you may add my name to the memento of deaths." Having arrived at the Sault, he proceeded to coast along the southern shore in a canoe, and October 15 reached the head of Keweenaw bay, which he named St. Theresa -- the day of his arrival being the anniversary day of that patron saint.
Deserted here by his Ottawa guides, the aged priest wrote: "Here I had the consolation of saying mass, which repaid me with usury for all my past hardships. Here I began a mission, composed of a flying church of Christian Indians from the neighborhood of the settlement, and of such as God's mercy had gathered in here."
There he remained until the following spring, when he left, accompanied by a single Indian, for Chaquamegon bay, near the head of the lake. They took the route through Portage lake; and while the voyageur was conveying the canoe across the portage, the good Father wandered into the woods, and no trace of him was afterward obtained.
Claude Allouez was the next Jesuit missionary assigned to this remote region. He set out in the summer of 1665 with a flotilla of canoes and about 400 savages on their return from a trading voyage to Montreal, and reached Chaquamegon bay, on Lake Superior, October 1. At La Pointe du St. Esprit he began his first mission, and for thirty years afterward was a faithful apostle of Christ throughout the Lake Superior country. In his intercourse with the various tribes of the Algonquins, he heard of the "great water," which in Allouez's phonetic rendering took the form of "Mes-sipi," which river he was inclined to think entered Chesapeake bay. Here he fell in with a party of the Sioux nation, who represented their country as lying to the west of Lake Superior, and as being a prairie country.
Leaving the Ottawa mission at La Pointe in charge of Marquette, he proceeded, in 1669, to Green Bay, where he established the mission of St. Francis Xavier among the Sacs and Foxes, Pottawatomies and Winnebagoes. With Marquette he founded the Illinois mission, and traveled extensively among the tribes westward from the Great Lakes. Other missionaries were sent out, but progress was slow; lay-brothers, who were skilled artisans and workers of metal, had the greatest success on account of the material services they could render their converts.
In 1668 Marquette established the mission at the Sault Ste. Marie, the earliest in what is now the State of Michigan, where he was soon joined by Dablon, who, in September, 1669, was sent to La Pointe to relieve Allouez, who from that place went to Green Bay to labor among the Indians and a group of coureurs de bois congregated there. In April, 1670, he ascended the Fox river, and found Indians on Lake Winnebago, mourning losses inflicted on them by the Senecas. On the Wolf river, an affluent of the Fox river, he founded the mission of St. Mark, and for some time ministered at both missions. Later he reached the head of the Wisconsin, and states that that river leads to the great river "Messisipi."
At La Pointe, Marquette was not satisfied. He had the remnants of the Hurons and Ottawas about him, and bands of the Sioux came to visit him there. A war between the Hurons and the Sioux delayed Marquette in carrying out his plan to go south among the Illinois, to found a mission among them. He was also determined to go to the great river and descend to its mouth, in order to settle the great question as to the ultimate direction of its flow. But the difficulty between the Hurons and the Sioux drove the former tribe and the Ottawas away from La Pointe, and La-Salle went to the Sault, where Dollier found him in 1670. In 1671 he was among the Hurons on the north side of the Straits of Mackinac, where he founded the mission of St. Ignace. About the same time another priest, Louis Andre, who had joined Marquette at La Pointe, settled with the Ottawas on their retreat to the great Manitoulin island.
Marquette died in the spring of 1675, by the side of a little stream, which enters the west side of Lake Michigan, and a few months later his remains were taken by some of the Ottawa Indians, who knew him and loved him well, to the mission at St. Ignace, and were there buried beneath the little mission chapel.
When the Hurons fled from the wrath of the Sioux to Mackinaw, the mission there was in its most flourishing condition. Between 1670 and 1680 it included 500 Huron, and 1,300 Ottawas, and was then located at Point St. Ignace.
The scene of Longfellow's beautiful poem, Hiawatha, is among the Ojibways, on the southern shore of Lake Superior, in the region between the Pictured Rocks and the Grand Sable. The poet, in the following verses, relates the coming of the missionaries:
By the shores of Gitche Gumee,*
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant summer morning,
Hiawatha stood and waited.
O'er the water floating, flying,
Something in the hazy distance,
Something in the mists of morning,
Loomed and lifted from the water,
Now seemed floating, now seemed flying,
Coming nearer, nearer, nearer.
* * * *
It was neither goose nor diver,
Neither pelican nor heron,
O'er the water, floating, flying,
Through the shining mist of morning,
But a birch canoe with paddles,
Rising, sinking on the water,
Dripping, flashing in the sunshine;
And within it came a people
From the distant land of Wabun,
From the farthest realms of morning
Came the Black-Robe chief, the Prophet,
He the Priest of Prayer, the Pale-face,
With his guides and his companions.
And the noble Hiawatha,
With his hands aloft extended,
Held aloft in sign of welcome,
Waited, full of exultation,
Till the birch canoe with paddles,
Grated on the shining pebbles,
Stranded on the sandy margin,
Till the Black-Robe chief, the Pale-facer
With the cross upon his bosom,
Landed on the sandy margin.
* * * *
Then the Black-Robe chief, the Prophet,
Told his message to the people,
Told the purport of his mission,
Told them of the Virgin Mary,
And her blessed son, the Savior,
How in distant lands and ages
He had lived on earth as we do;
How He lasted, prayed, and labored;
How the Jews, the tribe accursed,
Mocked him, scourged him, crucified him;
How He walked from where they laid him,
Walked again with his disciples,
And ascended into heaven.
And the chiefs made answer, saying:
"We have listened to your message,
We have heard your words of wisdom,
We will think on what you tell us.
It is well for us, O brothers,
That you came so far to see us! "
Then they rose up and departed
Each one homeward to his wigwam,
To the young men and the women
Told the story of the strangers,
Whom the Master of Life had sent them
From the shining land of Wabun.
"The record of the Jesuit missionaries in French North America," says John Gil-mary Shea in the "Narration of Critical History of North America," "is a chapter full of personal devotedness, energy, courage and perseverance; none can withhold the homage of respect to men like Jogues, Brebeuf, Garmer, Allouez and Marquette. Men of intelligence and education, they gave up all that civilized life can offer to share the precarious life of wandering savages, and were the first to reveal the character of the interior of the country, its soil and products, the life and ideas of the natives and the system of American languages."
Another historian pays them this tribute: "One of the noblest chapters of the Jesuits deals with the heroic devotion of its missionaries in the woods of America. They were appalled at no perils, shrank from no toils. Men educated in the learning of their time traversed the gloomy forest, and set up the cross at the farthest shores of the Great Lakes. They lived in the smoky huts and dined on the disgusting food of the savages; torture and burning only called out renewed devotions."
"Allouez, Marquette and Jogues," says another writer, "were remarkable men, and had their lots been cast in a different sphere they would have left a more durable impress upon the age in which they lived. Their efforts to win the tribes of the northwest to the standard of the cross, prosecuted with great zeal, and under circumstances of privation and suffering, may be regarded as abortive. There is something impressive in the rites of the Catholic church -- something in its mysteries calculated to overawe the wild men of the woods. So long as the missionary was in their midst and superintended their labors, they yielded to his guidance and adopted his recommendations, so far at least as conduced to their comfort; but when he withdrew, with equal facility they glided into their former habits. The superstructure raised with so much care fell to the ground the moment the sustaining hand was withdrawn."
Speaking of the failure of the missionaries to attain the success which they deserved, Mackenzie, an English traveler, in 1801, remarks that the Canadian missionaries should have been contented to improve the morals of their own countrymen, so that by meliorating their character and conduct they would have given a striking example of the effect of religion to the surrounding savages. "The whole of their long route I have often traveled," he continues, "and the recollection of such a people as the missionaries having been there was confined to a few superannuated Canadians, who had not left that country since the cession to the English in 1763, and who particularly mentioned the death of some, and the distressing situation of them all."
Parkman's Estimate. -- Parkman, in summing up the efforts of the Jesuits in Canada, says: "With the fall of the Hurons, fell the best hopes of the Canadian mission. They, and the stable and populous communities around them, had been the rude material from which the Jesuit would have formed his Christian empire in the wilderness; but one by one these kindred people were uprooted and swept away while the neighboring Algonquins, to whom they had been a bulwark, were involved with them in a common ruin. * * * The cause of the failure of the Jesuits is obvious. The guns and tomahawks of the Iroquois were the ruin of their hopes. Could they have curbed or converted those ferocious bands, it is little less than certain that their dreams would have become a reality. Savages tamed -- not civilized, for that would have been impossible -- would have been distributed in communities through the valleys of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi, ruled by priests in the interest of Catholicity and of France. Their habits of agriculture would have been developed, and their instincts of mutual slaughter repressed. True to her far reaching and adventurous genius, New France would have occupied the West with traders, settlers and garrisons, and cut up the virgin wilderness into fiefs, while as yet the colonists of the English were but a weak and broken line along the shore of the Atlantic; and when at last the great conflict came, England and Liberty would have been confronted, not by a depleted antagonist, but by an athletic champion of the principles of Richelieu and of Loyola.
"Liberty may thank the Iroquois that, by their insensate fury, the plans of her adversary were brought to naught, and a peril and a woe averted from her future. * * * Meanwhile let those who have prevailed yield due honor to the defeated. Their virtues shine amidst the rubbish of error, like diamonds and gold in the gravel of the torrent."
For a century and a half after the discovery of the Great Lakes their commerce was chiefly furs. It was a valuable trade. The lakes penetrated inland nearly a thousand miles, and by means of portages gave ready access to a still wider scope of country, inhabited only by roving bands of savages and wild animals. When the Canadian settlements were established, trade quickly sprang up with the natives, and the Indians made voyages from the upper lake region to Montreal to exchange furs and peltries for the weapons and cheap ornaments of the immigrants. For a long series of years Montreal was the center of a large and profitable trade. Thousands of Frenchmen of all grades of life came over to better their fortunes, and ships bearing the white banners of France crossed the Atlantic, carrying westward passengers and supplies and returning with a freight of peltry. The earliest demand was supplied by the Indians near by. As the helpless beaver, mink and otter became exterminated, the hardy "voyageurs" pushed and rowed their bateaux in all directions, yet made their home in Montreal, where they spent the winters in rioting on the savings of the summers. Still later it was necessary to establish frontier stations to serve as outposts for the merchants of Montreal, and this movement it was that stimulated exploration.
The fur-trader, the wild, daring wood ranger, or coureur de bois, was the pioneer of New France; in his footsteps followed the priest. The trading post and the mission house are the twin types of the French occupation on the shores of the lakes.
"The rich peltries of North America," said the late Frederick Gunther, of New York, in an article on the fur trade in "One Hundred Years of American Commerce," "were the magnet holding forth the promise of commercial gain, that drew hitherwards the pioneers and precursors of civilization. The Canadian provinces owe their first start on the road to prosperity to the fur trade. The French pioneers discovered that as the Indians were ignorant of the value of the furs which they accumulated, an enormous profit was possible to the successful trader in these articles. In the infancy of this industry there was absolutely no limit to the percentage of profit, as the Indians would exchange the most valuable peltries for European trinkets, that were worth nothing except the cost of transportation."
The Indian fur trade is thus described by Colder in his memorial: "The Indians make a long narrow boat, made of the bark of the birch tree, the parts of which they join very neatly. One of these canoes, that can carry a dozen men, can be carried on the shoulders of two men, so that when they have gone as far by water as they can (which is further than is easily to be imagined, for their loaded canoes don't sink six inches into the water) they unload their canoes and carry both goods and canoes upon their shoulders overland, into the nearest branch of the river they intend to follow. Thus the French have an easy communication with all the countries bordering upon the river St. Lawrence and its branches, with all the countries bordering upon these inland seas, and can thereby carry their burdens of merchandise through all these large countries, which could not by any other means than water carriage be carried through so vast a tract of land. By means of the Mississippi river and the lakes there is opened such a scene of inland navigation, as cannot be paralleled in any other part of the world."
The fur trade of Canada produced a class of men hardy, agile, fearless and in habits approximating the savage. Inured to toil, the voyageurs arose in the morning, "when it was yet dark," and, pushing their birch bark canoes into the water, swiftly glided away "like the shade of a cloud upon the prairie, and often did not breakfast till the sun had been for hours above the horizon." Halting for a short period they partook of their coarse fare, then re-embarking they pursued their voyage to the land of the beaver and buffalo, the woods echoing their chansons until the shades of night began to fall.
Parkman thus described the traders: "The fur trade engendered a peculiar class of men, known by the appropriate name of bush rangers, or coureurs de bois, half-civilized vagrants, whose chief vocation was conducting the canoes of the traders along the lakes and rivers of the interior. Many of them, shaking loose every tie of blood and kindred, identified themselves with the Indians, and sank into utter barbarism. The borders of the English colonies displayed no such phenomena of mingling races. The English fur-traders, and the rude men in their employ, showed, it is true, an ample alacrity to fling off the restraints of civilization, but, though they became barbarians, they did not become Indians."
The character of many of these voyageurs gave great offense to the missionaries, and in their estimations seriously jeopardized the success of religious labor among the natives. Complaints were made, and the Canadian Government finally decreed that no one should trade with the Indians unless provided with a license. These licenses were granted to officers and others, who had influence at court, but in prosecuting their privileges they often employed the voyageurs, who were objectionable to the missionaries, and thus defeated the object of the restrictions.
Cardinal Richelieu afterward organized the company of the Hundred Associates to colonize and monopolize the fur trade of New France. Restrictions continued throughout the French regime. Henry, the English trader, says: "Under the French government of Canada, the fur trade was subject to a variety of regulations, established and enforced by royal authority; and, in 1765, the period at which I began to prosecute it anew, some remains of the ancient system were still preserved. No person could go into the countries lying northwestward of Detroit, unless furnished with a license; and the exclusive trade of particular districts was capable of being enjoyed, in virtue of grants from military commanders."
Two of the most famous men among the early hunters and trappers were Nicholas Perrot and Daniel Greysolon Duluth, the latter of whom was a kind of Canadian Robin Hood, and like any other forest chieftain had his band of forest rangers. For years he wandered through the northwestern forests, founded posts at various important points, where the fur trade could be prosecuted with advantage, and was so fortunate as to have a city named in his honor.
In 1654 two French traders went to the country west of Lake Michigan, and in August, 1656, they led back a flotilla with furs, reaching Quebec; but it is not known who these Frenchmen were. In 1658-59 Gros-seilliers went to the shore of Lake Superior, and there fell in with some of the Sioux, who told him of a great river far to the west. Being on the St. Lawrence in 1659, he was joined by Radisson, a new expedition was formed, and the two started west with an escort. They reached the Pictured Rocks, which Radisson claimed to have seen first of any Christian. They went on to La Pointe (now Ashland), and there remained for some time, while their Huron guides paid a visit south to some of their kinsmen. Where the two Frenchmen went from La Pointe is uncertain. Radisson says: "We went to the great river which divides itself into two parts where the Hurons had retired. The river is called the Forked, because it has two branches, one toward the south the other toward the west, the southern branch we believe reaching Mexico."
If they really saw the Mississippi at this time, they saw it about a dozen years before it was visited by Joliet. Afterward they wandered around the western end of Lake Superior, and were the first to define its limits in that direction. Here they found themselves among the Dakotahs, in whose language they fancied they detected traces of the Chinese accent.
In 1660 Grosseilliers and Radisson led a flotilla of sixty Lake Superior canoes back to Three Rivers, where the ships gladly received their complement of furs. In August following, Grosseilliers started west once more with a new outfit, accompanied by several Frenchmen, giving escort to the aged Jesuit missionary, Rene Menard, and passed the winter on the southern shore of Lake Superior, on Keweenaw bay, at a mission called St. Theresa's, among the Ottawas. These Indians proving rather intractable, Menard started with a single servant and a few companions to seek a remnant of the Hurons, who were living in what is now Wisconsin. The route was intricate, crossing many sluggish streams, tangled swamps and portages, in consequence of which the aged priest lost the trail of his companions, and was never heard of more.
Radisson and Grosseilliers were unlicensed traders. It is related that their goods were seized by the French, which so enraged them that they went to England and induced the formation of the Hudson Bay Company, one of the early causes of friction between the French and English in the New World.
Explorations of the Trader Joliet. -- Joliet, one of the most successful traders, was selected by Talon, intendant of Canada, to explore the "great water," of which there had been many reports, west of the lakes. He was calm and dispassionate in temperament and inflexible in purpose, well adapted to the mission for which he was chosen. In the spring of 1673 Joliet and Father Marquette, with five compatriots, started in two canoes on their journey through the wilderness, which stretched far beyond what is now called Green bay. Ascending the Fox river, they obtained Indian guides to lead them across the portage to the Wisconsin river, which flowed southwesterly and emptied into the great river, in search of which so many former explorers had failed of success. Upon the placid bosom of the Wisconsin they gently sailed down to the Mississippi, finding themselves upon this great water about a month after leaving St. Ignace. Going down the Mississippi, as far as the mouth of the Arkansas river, they became satisfied that the Mississippi did not, as had been for many years supposed, lead into the Gulf of California, but instead into the Gulf of Mexico. They therefore decided to retrace their steps, and coming to the mouth of the Illinois river they passed up that stream, followed the Des Plaines river, crossed the Chicago portage, and at last found themselves at the southern extremity of Lake Michigan. It was then the end of September, and Joliet did not reach Canada until the following summer, when, passing down the St. Lawrence in his canoe, just after running the La Chine rapids, his boat was capsized and he lost all the original notes of his journey. Count Frontenac, however, received from him a full verbal account of his explorations, which he sent to France.
Copper in the Lake Superior Regions. -- Cartier, the daring navigator, when he reached the site of Montreal, in 1535, listened to descriptions of the country from which the Indians obtained red copper, reached by the Ottawa river.
To the incentive of the fur trade a new impulse was added, when, in the spring of 1609, some Algonquins visited the trading post (Montreal), and one of the chiefs exhibited a sheet of copper one foot in length, of pure quality, and told how it came from the banks of a tributary of a great lake, and how it was their custom to melt the lumps and roll them into sheets with stones.
Pierre Boucher, in a little book published in Paris in 1663, wrote: "In Lake Superior there is a great island, which is fifty leagues in circumference in which there is a very beautiful mine of copper." He also stated that he had heard of other mines from five Frenchmen lately returned, who had been absent three years, and that they had seen an ingot of copper, which they thought weighed more than 800 pounds, and that Indians after making a fire thereon would cut off pieces with their axes. Father Allouez discovered pieces of pure copper, weighing from ten to twenty pounds. In 1669 Baron La Houton visited the lake and described the copper. Charlevoix passed through the region on his way to the Gulf of Mexico in 1721, and mentioned the mines in his "Journal of a Voyage to North America."
Return to Home Port
For an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research see the site maintained by Brendon Baillod.