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From the Indians, who came from the west, these missionaries heard of the River Mississippi, meaning, in the language of the aborigines, the Great River, a word variously written by the early French authors, according as the sound was caught by different ears from the pronunciation of the Indians. Curiosity was excited by the reports of the natives concerning the magnitude and course of this river. So large a stream must find its way to the ocean. Conjecture was awake, as to the direction it pursued and the place of its outlet. Some supposed that it disembogued itself into the Vermilion Sea, since known as the Gulf of California ; others, that it poured its waters into the Gulf of Mexico; and others again, that it flowed into the Atlantic Ocean somewhere along the coast of Virginia or Florida. Such was at that time the entire ignorance of the geography of the vast regions beyond the Allegany Mountains.
The vague information collected by the missionaries was communicated to the authorities at Quebec. M. Talon, the Intendant-General of Canada, a man of intelligence, enterprise, and large designs, resolved to send a party to explore the Great River, as well for the purpose of solving an important geographical problem, as of extending the power of France in the ne world by the right of prior discovery. As
leaders of the expedition he selected Father Marquette, the missionary, and M. Joliet, a citizen of Quebec. Attended by five other Frenchmen, they left the Island of Mackinac, in two bark canoes, in the month of May, 1673, ascended the Fox River from Green Bay, passed thence across the portage to the Wisconsin, proceeded down that river, and in a few days found themselves floating on the broad waters of the Mississippi. Yielding to the current of this majestic stream, and stopping occasionally to hold a peaceful intercourse with the natives on its banks, they continued their adventurous voyage to Arkansas, a distance of about eleven hundred miles from the mouth of the Wisconsin.
At this point, being convinced by the general course of the river that it flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, and having accomplished the main objects of their expedition, they resolved to return. Ascending the Mississippi to the mouth of the Illinois, they passed up that river, and thence to Green Bay, where they arrived at the end of four months from the date of their departure, having gone over a distance, in their whole route, of at least two thousand five hundred miles. Marquette's narrative of this expedition, written without pretension or parade, and with a fidelity in the description of natural objects, which, although published after his death, confirms its genuineness and accuracy, is among the most valuable and interesting contributions to the early historical literature of America.
Owing to the premature and lamented death of Marquette, however, and to the departure of M. Talon from Canada, no results of moment seem to have issued from these discoveries. But while Marquette was wafting in his bark canoe upon the waters of the Mississippi, discovering countries and gazing at wonders hitherto unknown to the civilized world, there was a man on the banks of the St. Lawrence, whose deep thoughts were brooding over projects of peril and adventure, which he was destined at a future day to put in execution. ROBERT CAVELIER DE LA SALLE came to Canada about the
a native of Rouen in Normandy. Of the day of his birth no record has been preserved. It is only related, that he was of a good family, and that he spent ten or twelve of his earlier years in a seminary of the Jesuits, where he acquired an accomplished education, particularly in the mathematics and physical sciences as they were taught at that day. A career
seems to have been marked out for him in the church, since he received no share in the distribution of his father's property. If such plans were formed, it would be in vain to inquire
what motives induced him to change them. When he left the seminary, however, his superiors gave him testimonials of an unblemished character, and of their approbation of his conduct during the time he had been under their charge.
The objects which first led La Salle into Canada can only be inferred from his subsequent pursuits. For several years no other aim is apparent than that of accumulating a fortune by the Indian trade, consisting chiefly in the barter of European merchandise for beaver skins and other peltries.
Considering the means he possessed, however, his .operations were on a large scale, and conducted with the same bold spirit of enterprise, which afterwards bore him through so many scenes of trial and danger. He pushed forward at once to the frontiers, where he erected trading-houses, and superintended in person the details of his business, freighting his bark canoes and ascending the rapids of the St. Lawrence and other rivers, thereby acquiring a practical skill in the only kind of navigation which then existed on the interior waters of America. In this art the first settlers were everywhere the pupils of the savages. In pursuing his schemes of traffic, La Salle made excursions among the Indian tribes bordering on the shores of Lake Ontario, and among the Hurons farther to the
north, gaining a knowledge of their modes of life, manners, resources, and language.
While thus employed, his thoughts were roaming far beyond the sphere of his immediate occupations. Speculative minds in Europe had long been dreaming of a shorter way to China and Japan across the North American continent. The fervid imagination of La Salle was easily kindled by these dreams. The vast extent of the Great Lakes, which was then beginning to be made known, appeared to him a confirmation of this idea, as he did not doubt, that at their western extremities would be found the heads of rivers flowing into the China Seas, or perhaps a chain of other lakes, that would render the communication easy and direct. To commemorate these anticipations he gave the name of La Chine to his trading establishment on the Island of Montreal, a name it has borne to the present day.
Although he saw glowing visions of fame and fortune in so brilliant a discovery, yet he was not so sanguine as to believe it could be effected without more means than he could then command, either by his personal influence or from his own resources. He set himself to learn a lesson of patience, and resolved to wait the favoring tide of opportunity. Meantime Courcelles, the Governor of Canada, was busy in