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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

Fr. Claude Dablon at Green Bay

Editor's Note:

Dablon's glowing tribute to Green Bay ranks as one of the best early descriptions of Wisconsin. Many tribes camped at Green Bay seasonally, but the area was (and still is) especially revered by the Ho-Chunk, who hold Red Banks as their place of origin. In an oral tradition passed down the generations, they recalled the visits of early Frenchmen and how they perceived these strange newcomers. You can read it here, in Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

An arpent was 192 feet; Dablon's prairies was therefore about 1000 feet across.

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[Fr. Marquette was by no means the first writer to visit Green Bay, and while he spends his time at the DePere mission, we supplement his journal account with this description by Fr. Claude Dablon, who arrived there three years earlier, in the fall of 1670. It is from the Jesuit Relations, volume 56: pages 131-134]

"The bay commonly called des Puans receives a river, in which wild fowl and fish are caught both together. Of this practice the Savages are the inventors; for, perceiving that Ducks, Teal, and other birds of that kind dive into the water in quest of the grains of wild rice to be found there toward the Autumn season, they stretch nets for them with such skill that, without counting the fish, they sometimes catch in one night as many as a hundred wild fowl. This fishing is equally pleasant and profitable; for it is a pleasure to see in a net, when it is drawn out of the water, a Duck caught side by side with a pike, and Carp entangled in the same meshes with Teal. The Savages subsist on this manna nearly three months.

"...These two kinds of fishing draw to this spot many Savages from all directions. The situation of the place contributes not a little to this result; for, bordering that river, near the spot of which we have just spoken, we see a prairie of four or five arpents in width, bounded on either side by woods of full-grown trees. And besides the grapes, plums, apples, and other fruits, which would be fairly good if the Savages had patience to let them ripen, there also grows on the prairies a kind of lime resembling that of France, but having no bitter taste — not even in its rind. The plant bearing it slightly resembles the fern.

"The Bear and the Wildcat — the latter being as large as a medium-sized dog — abound in the country; and as the woods are free from underbrush, extensive prairies are seen in the forests, and contribute to the pleasure of living there. The above-named animals, as well as the Stag, are easily hunted, — both in the woods, which are not dense, and on the river, into which the last-named animal often plunges in its course, when it is pursued, and is taken without difficulty.

"To all the advantages of this place may be added the fact of its being the great — and the only — thoroughfare for all the surrounding Nations, who maintain a constant intercourse, either in visiting or trading. Hence it was that we turned our eyes thither, with a view to placing our Chapel there in the midst of more than ten different Nations, who can furnish us over fifteen thousand souls to be instructed in the truths of Christianity. There Fathers Claude Allouez and Louis André have taken up their abode, for the purpose of laboring to save all those peoples; and, for their greater convenience in this pursuit, they have divided the work, — one devoting himself to the more remote Nations in the forests, and the other to those gathered on the shores of the bay des Puans."

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