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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

Villages at the Arkansas River

Editor's Note:

For reasons we will soon discover, Marquette and Joliet dared go no further south than the mouth of the Arkansas River. In the years that followed, other explorers and missionaries also stopped here and in this entry we give extracts from two of their reports.

After the abortive mission described here, LaSalle's friend Henri Joutel, an uncle, a nephew, a priest, and three other Frenchmen ultimately made it back to Canada thanks to horses, canoes, and three guides provided by the Indians; the next year they even got home to France. Other colonists, including three children named Talon, were rescued by the Spanish after years of captivity among Gulf Coast Indians. You can read their accounts of their adventures at American Journeys. We'll hear from Joutel and Gravier again, as well as from the great LaSalle himself, before Marquette and Joliet are safely home.

The subsequent history of the Quapaw nation is briefly told in the online Catholic Encyclopedia.

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The lower Mississippi in 1687 and 1700

In the previous entry we found Marquette and Joliet among the Quapaw Indians at the mouth of the Arkansas River. In the wake of their voyage, the explorer LaSalle saw that a great crescent of French posts could sweep from Quebec to the mouth of the Mississippi, and in 1687 he sailed for Louisiana to plant a colony at the arc's southern end. The visionary undertaking was doomed. LaSalle sailed past the Mississippi in the fog or darkness, and his vessel was shipwrecked near Galveston, Texas. Most of the colonists succumbed to disease or Indian attacks, and he himself was murdered in a Texas swamp by his own troops. Eventually seven survivors managed to head overland for the Great Lakes. Among them was Henri Joutel, who kept a journal of the whole affair. We excerpt here his description of the Quapaw villages 14 years after Marquette and Joliet came upon them; you can read his entire journal, as it was originally published in London in 1714, in our American Journeys collection:

Joutel's Journal, on the Arkansas River, July 1687: "The House we were then in [built by a French advance guard sent down from the Illinois country to meet LaSalle] was built of Pieces of Cedar laid one upon another, and rounded away at the Corners. It is seated on a small Eminency, half a Musket-shot from the Village, in a Country abounding in all Things. The Plains lying on one Side of it, are stor'd with Beeves [buffalo], wild Goats, Deer, Turkeys, Bustards [Canada geese], Swans, Ducks, Teal and other Game. The Trees' produce plenty of Fruit, and very good, as Peaches, Plumbs, Mulberries, Grapes, and Wallnuts. They have a Sort of Fruit they call Piaguimina, not unlike our Medlars but much better and more delicious.

"Such as live near the Rivers, as that House is, do not want for Fish of all Sorts, and they have Indian Wheat, whereof they make good Bread. There are also fine Plains diversify'd with feveral Sorts of Trees, as I have faid before.

"The Nation of the Accancea's [Arkansas, or Quapaw] consists of four Villages. The first is call'd Otsotchove, near which we were; the second Toriman, both Nations of them seated on the River; the third Tonginga; and the fourth Cappa, on the Bank of the Mississipi. These Villages are built after a different manner from the others we had seen before, in this Point, in that the Cottages, which are alike as to their Materials and Rounding at the Top, are long, and cover'd with the Bark of Trees, and so very large, that several of them can hold two hundred Persons, belonging to several Families..."

In the year 1700 another Jesuit missionary, Fr. Jacques Gravier, retraced Marquette and Joliet's route, even bringing Thevenot's first printing of Marquette's report with him in his canoe. When he reached the Arkansas villages at the end of October, he recognized them from Marquette's description and met an elder of the tribe who recalled the two explorers. You can read Gravier's account of the trip in Creighton University's online editions of the complete Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, edited and translated in Madison a century ago by Society director Reuben Gold Thwaites and the staff. Gravier's report is in volume 65 on pp. 100-179; this excerpt is from pp. 117-119.

Gravier's Journal: "... on the 30th we Encamped a league lower down, half a league from the old Village of the Akansea (where they formerly received the Late Father Marquette), which is now recognized only by its old outworks, for not a Cabin remains. ... I asked [the Chief] whether he remembered having formerly seen in their village a frenchman, clad in black, and dressed as I was. He replied that he remembered it very well, but that it was so long ago that he could not count the years. I told him that it was more than 28 years ago. He also told me that they had danced to him the Captain's Calumet -- which I did not at first understand, for I thought that he spoke of the Calumet of the Illinois, which the Kaskaskia had given to Father Marquette to carry with Him in the Mississipi country, as a Safeguard; but I have found, in the Father's journal, that they had indeed danced the Calumet to him."

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