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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

August, 1673: between Cairo & St. Louis.

Editor's Note:

Again we supplement Marquette's slender description of this stretch of the river with an account by one of his contemporaries. Henri Joutel was one of handful of survivors who treked from Texas to Quebec in 1687-88 after LaSalle's assassination. He was heading upstream in August (just like Marquette and Joliet 14 years before) when he made these notes. His party was accompanied by three Indian guides from Arkansas who led them to the French settlements in the Illinois Country.


You can read his book about their adventures, A Journal of the Last Voyage Perform'd by Monsr. de la Sale... and the Travels of His Companions for the Space of Eight Hundred Leagues across That Inland Country of America, Now Call'd Louisiana...(London: Printed for A. Bell, B. Lintott, and F. Baker, 1714) in our American Journeys online collection. You'll also find there other eyewitness accounts of LaSalle's murder, including an interview with two French teenagers who witnessed the explorer's murder and spent the next several years as Indian captives along the Gulf Coast.

Joutel's Journal, August 1687:


"The 19th, we came to the Mouth of the River, call'd Houabache [the Ohio], said to come from the Country of the Iroquois, towards New England. That is a very fine River, its water extraordinary clear, and the Current of it, gentle. Our Indians [three Indians from Arkansas, serving as their guides] offer'd up to it, by Way of Sacrifice, some Tabacco and Beef Steaks, which they fix'd on Forks, and left them on the Bank, to be dispos'd of as the River thought fit.


"We observ'd some other Superstitions among those poor People, one whereof was as follows. There were some certain Days, on which they Fasted, and we knew them, when as soon as they awak'd, they besmear'd their Faces and Arms, or other Parts of their Bodies, with a slimy Sort of Earth, or pounded Charcoal ; for that Day they did not eat till Ten or Eleven of the Clock at Night, and before they did eat they were to wipe off that Smearing, and had Water brought them for that Purpose. The Occasion of their Fasting was, as they gave us to understand, that they might have good Success in Hunting, and kill Abundance of bullocks [bison].


"We held on our Way till the 21st, when the Indians shew'd us a Spring of Salt Water, within a Musket Shot of us, and made us go ashore to view it. We observ'd the Ground about about it was much beaten by Bullocks Feet and it is likely they love that Salt Water. The Country about, was full of Hillocks, cover'd with Oaks and Wallnut-Trees, Abundance of Plum-Trees, almost all the Plums red and pretty-good, befides great Store of other Sorts of Fruits, whose Names we know not, and among them one shap'd like a midling Pear, with Stones in it as bit as large Beans. When ripe it peels like a Peach; the Taste is indifferent good, but rather of the Sweetest."


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