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Sieur de la Salle, who had already begun to have anxious forebodings of the fate of his vessel. Judging from her first voyage, she might reasonably be expected to arrive at the Miamis River in forty-five days from the time she left the island, and seventy days had now elapsed. In the sequel, it turned out that she was lost; no news of her ever came to light; and she was probably swallowed up by the waves of Lake Michigan while on her passage from the island to Mackinac. There was
a report that she was plundered and burned by the Indians, but of the accuracy of this report no credible proof was ever produced.
Having waited as long as prudence would admit, La Salle resolved to go forward. Ice had formed in the river, but it was dissolved by a favorable change of the weather. On the 3d of December, the whole party, consisting of thirtythree persons, took their departure from the fort in eight canoes, and ascended to the portage.*
* This is according to the statement of Hennepin, but Le Clercq says that four men were left at the fort. No other account mentions this fact, and it is not probable that so small a number would have been left there, exposed to the attacks of roving savages. There seems no good reason for questioning the accuracy of this part of Hennepin's narrative. Forty-two years afterwards, Charlevoix travelled over the same route, and his description of natural objects, the courses of rivers, and distances, agrees very closely with
The distance was about seventy miles. Although a canoe had before gone up the river to search for the portage, yet its exact position had not been ascertained. The Sieur de la Salle landed to explore the country alone, and was gone so long that his companions began to be alarmed for his safety. While he was wandering at some distance from the river, hoping to discover the sources of the eastern branch of the Illinois, he fell upon marshy grounds covered with thick bushes, which compelled him to take a large circuit, and darkness overtook him on his way. He fired his gun, but the signal was not answered. By good luck, however, he espied a light not far off, which he approached, and found near the fire a bed of leaves, upon which a man had just been reposing, probably an Indian, who, startled at the sound of the gun, had made a precipitate escape. Weary with the fatigues of the day, and chilled by the falling snow, La Salle at once came to the resolution of appropriating these comfortable quarters to himself for the night. Cutting down the bushes, and so arranging them around his little encampment that no one could approach without making a noise that would arouse him
Hennepin's. At the time of Charlevoix's visit, there was a French fort and garrison a few miles below the portage. The river was then called the St. Joseph.
from his slumbers in time for defence, he threw himself upon the couch of leaves, and slept undisturbed till morning. In the afternoon he rejoined his companions, who were overjoyed at his safe return. Two opossums were hanging from his belt, which he had killed with a club while suspended by their tails from the branches of trees.
Two days had passed away in an unsuccessful search for the portage. At last the faithful Indian hunter, who had been out to look for deer, came in and told them where it was, and that they had gone too far up the river. By his aid the place was found, and the canoes and all their contents were carried over a distance of five or six miles to the head-waters of the Kankakee.* The precaution had been taken to leave letters hanging from branches of trees in conspicuous places, both at the fort and the portage, containing instructions for the captain of the Griffin, in case he should arrive. For nearly a hundred miles from its source, the Kankakee winds through marshes, which afford growth to little else than tall rushes and alders. A more desolate scene in the midst of winter could hardly be imagined As one comfort to our travellers,
* The present name of the eastern branch of the Illinois River. This word is a corruption of the Indian name Theakiki, which the French called Kiakiki.
however, the frozen ground enabled them to go on shore at night, build fires, and take their repose. Emerging from the marshes, they entered a vast prairie, where the stream became broader, and nature put on a more cheering aspect. They now began to be straitened for provisions, and were disappointed in the supplies they had expected from the chase. At this season, the buffaloes had migrated to a more genial clime, and for several days the hunters succeeded in killing only two deer, as many wild turkeys, and a few swans. In this extremity, Father Hennepin says, Providence came to their relief. A stray buffalo was found sticking fast in a marsh. Thus disabled, he fell an easy victim to the prowess of the hunters, and this fortunate supply revived the flagging spirits and failing strength of the whole party.
At length the canoes floated on the waters of the Illinois, after a voyage of three hundred miles, by the windings of the Kankakee, from the portage. This river is considerably larger than the one in which it loses its name at the place of their junction. Charlevoix says he has seen a buffalo wade across the western branch at the fork, whereas the Kankakee is deep and broad, and, as he calls it, a beautiful river.
The current of the Illinois soon conducted the voyagers to a large Indian village, situate on the right bank of the river, not far below the present town of Ottawa. Not a human being was seen in the whole village, though it contained between four and five hundred cabins, many of them well built, and covered with mats of rushes. The inhabitants, according to their custom, had separated, and gone away to the hunting grounds, where they were to pass the winter, this being the proper season for the chase and for taking furs. Great quantities of corn were found carefully buried in dry places, a temptation too seductive for men who had subsisted for months on the flesh of wild animals alone. The Sieur de la Salle knew the hazard he should run by appropriating to his use a portion of this corn, and the vengeance which such an act might bring upon him from its owners; but the call of necessity was more imperious than that of danger, and he caused about fifty bushels of it to be carried to the canoes, trusting in his good fortune to appease and satisfy the savages, when he should meet them, by presents and a fair recompense.
Embarking again on the river, they descended four days without any incidents worthy of note, till the 1st of January, 1680, the morning of which day was commemorated by mutual salutations, by religious services from the missionaries, and by such other ceremonies as were suited to bid a welcome to the opening of a new year.