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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

Early August, 1673: Approaching the Ohio

Editor's Note:

The Chickasaw had first encountered Europeans when Hernan De Soto passed through their homelands in 1540-41. During the French and Indian War of the mid-18th century, they were allies of the British and, though the English ultimately prevailed in the Mississippi Valley, the war took a tremendous toll on the Chickasaw Nation. You can read more about their history and traditions on the Chickasaw Nation home page and see a brief account of them from the University of Tennessee.

Marquette left us no details about this leg of the return trip. But nine years later, going downstream with LaSalle, in 1682, Henri Tonti ran into the Chickasaw in the same vicinity from which Marquette sent his letter on Aug. 4th (see previous entry). Although Marquette left no account of the area, Tonti penned this description:

"We... continued our route as far as the River Ouabache [the Ohio, whose mouth is at modern Cairo, Illinois], which is eighty leagues from that of the Islinois. It comes from the east and is more than 500 leagues in length. It is by this river that the Iroquois advance to make war against the nations of the south.

"Continuing our voyage, we came to a place, about sixty leagues from there, which was named Fort Prudhomme, because one of our men, of that name, lost himself there when out hunting and was nine days in the woods without food.

"As they were looking for him they fell in with two Chicachas [Chickasaw] savages, whose village was three days' journey from there, in the lands along the Mississipy. They have 2,000 warriors, the greatest number of whom have flat heads, which is considered a beauty among them, the women taking pains to flatten the heads of their children, by means of a cushion which they put on their foreheads and bind with a band to the cradle, and thus make their heads take this form, and when they are fat their faces are as big as a large soup-plate. All the nations on the seacoast have the same custom.

"M. de La Salle sent back one of them with presents to his village, so that, if they had taken Prudhomme, they might send him back, but we found him on the tenth day, and as the Chicachas did not return, we continued our route as far as the village of Capa, fifty leagues off."

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