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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

Aug. 25, 1673: Entering The Illinois River

Editor's Note:

After nearly six weeks of paddling upstream, Marquette and Joliet finally reached the mouth of the Illinois River on August 25th. Although still going against the current, the Illinois was much smaller and less turbulent than the lower Mississippi. This became the preferred route of travelers going from the Great Lakes to St. Louis and points further south, and most commerce with the lower Mississippi subsequently by-passed the Fox-Wisconsin waterway.

The "parroquets" were the now-extinct Carolina parakeet. Joliet's "oxen" were, of course, buffalo, and his speculations about settlers yoking them to the plow show how optimistic he was about the Illinois Country.

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Marquette's Journal: "We have seen nothing like this river that we enter, as regards its fertility of soil, its prairies and woods; its cattle, elk, deer, wildcats, bustards [Canada geeese], swans, ducks, parroquets, and even beaver. There are many small lakes and rivers. That on which we sailed is wide, deep, and still, for 65 leagues."


Joliet: "The river which we named for Saint Louis [the Illinois River], which rises near the lower end of the lake of the Illinois, seemed to me the most beautiful, and most suitable for settlement. ... The river is wide and deep, abounding in catfish and sturgeon. Game is abundant there; oxen, cows, stags, does, and turkeys are found there in greater numbers than elsewhere. For a distance of eighty leagues, I did not pass a quarter of an hour without seeing some.


"There are prairies three, six, ten, and twenty leagues in length, and three in width, surrounded by forests of the same extent; beyond these, the prairies begin again, so that there is as much of one sort of land as of the other. Sometimes we saw the grass very short, and, at other times, five or six feet high; hemp, which grows naturally there, reaches a height of eight feet. A settler would not there spend ten years in cutting down and burning the trees; on the very day of his arrival, he could put his plow into the ground. And, if he had no oxen from France, he could use those of this country, or even the animals possessed by the Western Savages, on which they ride, as we do on horses.


" After sowing grain of all kinds, he might devote himself especially to planting the vine, and grafting fruit-trees; to dressing ox-hides, wherewith to make shoes; and with the wool of these oxen he could make cloth, much finer than most of that which we bring from France. Thus he would easily find in the country his food and clothing, and nothing would be wanting except salt; but, as he could make provision for it, it would not be very difficult to remedy that inconvenience."

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