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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

ca. June 12, 1673: Crossing the Portage

Editor's Note:

This is the first description of one of the most important places in Wisconsin history, which eventually became the city of Portage in Columbia County. Seven years later, in Sept. 1680, the French Recollet priest Louis Hennepin went over the same route in the opposite direction, from the Mississippi up the Wisconsin-Fox waterway to Green Bay, and spent a night at the portage. His account of this trip is in Chapter LXVII (starting on page 305) of his book, A New Discovery of a Vast Country in America published in 1698. You can read it in our American Journeys collection.

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Marquette's Journal:

"[Joliet] informed [the Mascoutens] that we needed two guides to show us the way; and we gave them a present, by it asking them to grant us the guides. To this they very civilly consented; and they also spoke to us by means of a present, consisting of a mat to serve us as a bed during the whole of our voyage. On the following day, the tenth of June, two Miamis who were given us as guides embarked with us, in the sight of a great crowd, who could not sufficiently express their astonishment at the sight of seven Frenchmen, alone and in two canoes, daring to undertake so extraordinary and so hazardous an expedition.

"We knew that, at three leagues from Maskoutens, was a river which discharged into Missisipi. We knew also that the direction we were to follow in order to reach it was west-southwesterly. But the road is broken by so many swamps and small lakes that it is easy to lose one's way, especially as the river leading thither is so full of wild oats that it is difficult to find the channel. For this reason we greatly needed our two guides, who safely conducted us to a portage of 2,700 paces, and helped us to transport our canoes to enter that river; after which they returned home, leaving us alone in this unknown country, in the hands of Providence.

"Thus we left the waters flowing to Quebec, four or five hundred leagues from here, to float on those that would thenceforward take us through strange lands. Before embarking thereon, we began all together a new devotion to the blessed Virgin Immaculate, which we practiced daily, addressing to her special prayers to place under her protection both our persons and the success of our voyage; and, after mutually encouraging one another, we entered our canoes."

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