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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

Late May, 1673: At Green Bay

Editor's Note:

The vicinity of modern Green Bay had long been a popular place for Native American tribes to gather, especially in the autumn when as many as 15,000 people from 10 different tribes might assemble there. Marquette describes it only briefly here, perhaps in part because a longer description (which appears in our next entry) had already been written by Fr. Claude Dablon.

The mission "at the bottom of the Bay des Puants, where our Fathers labor successfully for the conversion of these peoples" had been founded two years before at the first rapids on the Fox River. Marquette's colleague Fr. Claude Allouez had established the Mission St. Francis Xavier there in 1671 with Fr. Louis Andre. The presence of two missionaries gave the spot the name "Rapides des Peres" which has come down to us in the name of the city of DePere, Wisconsin. Allouez left this account of his time in the Fox Valley.

The early French names of Green Bay are worth explaining. The French "puan" literally means stinking or bad-smelling. The French used it for an Algonkin word they transliterated phonetically as "Ouinipegou" which has survived in the names Winnebago and Winnipeg. As Marquette notes, that Indian word also meant salty ("sallee") which led French officials to suspect the Pacific Ocean might be near and caused Marquette to look for salt-water springs.

This entry shows Marquette's curiousity about scientific matters, as will many subsequent ones. He was as devout a Christian as anyone who ever lived, but this did not keep him from inquiring with a startlingly modern sensibility about curiousities of natural history.

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Marquette's Journal: "Embarking then in our canoes, we [left the Menominee and] arrived shortly afterward at the bottom of the Bay des Puants, where our Fathers labor successfully for the conversion of these peoples, over two thousand of whom they have baptized while they have been there.

"This bay bears a name which has a meaning not so offensive in the language of the savages; for they call it la Baye Sallee rather than Bay des Puans, although with them this is almost the same and this is also the name which they give to the sea. This led us to make very careful researches to ascertain whether there were not some salt-water springs in this quarter, as there are among the Iroquois, but we found none. We conclude, therefore, that this name has been given to it on account of the quantity of mire and mud which is seen there, whence noisome vapors constantly arise, causing the loudest and most continual thunder that I have ever heard.

"The bay is about thirty leagues in depth and eight in width at its mouth; it narrows gradually to the bottom, where it is easy to observe a tide which has its regular ebb and flow, almost like that of the sea. This is not the place to inquire whether these are real tides; whether they are due to the wind, or to some other cause; whether there are winds, the precursors of the moon and attached to her suite, which consequently agitate the lake and give it an apparent ebb and flow whenever the moon ascends above the horizon. What I can positively state is, that, when the water is very calm, it is easy to observe it rising and falling according to the course of the moon; although I do not deny that this movementmay be caused by very remote winds, which, pressing on the middle of the lake, cause the edges to rise and fall in the manner which is visible to our eyes."

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