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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

June 17, 1673: They Reach the Mississippi

Editor's Note:

A high bluff on the south shore of the Wisconsin towers above the junction of the two rivers. From an overlook atop that bluff, in Wisconsin's Wyalusing State Park, you can easily view the spot where Marquette and Joliet entered the Mississippi. A few miles north lies the riverside plain called Prairie du Chien, where Indians had long gathered for councils and the French would soon set up a fur trading post. The bluffs on either side of the river at this point cannot reasonably be called mountains; Marquette is presumably waxing poetic, now that he has finally reached the river he sought for so long.

A league was 2.4 miles and an "arpent" about 192 feet, so Marquette estimated the width of the Mississippi to range from 1.8 miles to less than 200 yards.

From this point onward, Marquette and Joliet took regular astronomical readings to determine their latitude. Unfortunately, these are usually not only wrong but are incorrect by varying amounts each time, so tracing their exact location as they descend the river becomes a challenge.

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Marquette's Journal: "Here we are, then, on this so renowned river, all of whose peculiar features I have endeavored to note carefully. The Missisipi River takes its rise in various lakes in the country of the northern nations. It is narrow at the place where Miskous [the Wisconsin] empties; its current, which flows southward, is slow and gentle. To the right is a large chain of very high mountains, and to the left are beautiful lands; in various places, the stream is divided by islands. On sounding, we found ten brasses of water. Its width is very unequal; sometimes it is three-quarters of a league, and sometimes it narrows to three arpents. We gently followed its course, which runs toward the south and southeast, as far as the 42nd degree of latitude."

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