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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

End of August, 1673: in the Illinois country

Editor's Note:

The explorer Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle, his chief lieutnant Henri de Tonti, his employees, French soldiers, and fur traders utilized this route frequently. For more than 150 years it was the chief way settlers and goods were transported between lake cities such as Montreal or Detroit and the rich interior portion of the continent accessible from St. Louis. Fur traders looking for beaver, who needed access to the Upper Mississippi, continued to prefer the more northern Fox-Wisconsin route by which Marquette and Joliet had tarted out in May and June of 1673. But after Marquette and Joliet made the Illinois River route known and LaSalle and his many followers relied on it, its lakeshore terminus at Chicago was destined to grown into Lake Michigan's major port rather than Green Bay.

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LaSalle traveled through the Illinois Country six years later, in December of 1679. While Marquette and Joliet make their way silently upstream, let's read his description of it (from American Journeys):

"The Illinois River is navigable for canoes at a distance of a hundred paces from its source, winding and increases so rapidly that in a short time it becomes almost as broad and deep as the Marne. It runs through vast marshes, winding so much that, although the current is rather strong, they sometimes found after paddling a whole day that they had not advanced two leagues in a straight line; as far as the eye could reach they saw only marshes covered with reeds and alders, and for more than forty leagues of their course, they would have found no place to encamp but for some mounds of frozen ground upon which they rested and lighted their fire. After traversing these marshes, they found no game as they had expected, because there are only great open plains where nothing grows but very tall grass, which is dry at this season, and had been burnt off by the Miamis in the chase of wild cattle. Animals are usually very numerous here, as it was easy to judge from the skeletons and the heads of these cattle which were seen on all sides...

"Many other kinds of animals are found in these vast plains of Louisiana; stags, roe deer, beavers, otters, are common. In the season are seen herds of two hundred and even four hundred wild cattle [buffalo]; bustards [Canada geese], swans, turtle-doves, turkeys, paroquets [Carolina parakeets], partridges, and many other birds are very numerous. There is an abundance of fish, and the soil is extraordinarily fertile.

"It is a country of boundless prairies, interspersed with forests of high trees, where all sorts of timber for building may be had, among the rest excellent oak, solid like that of France and very different from the Canadian oak. The trees, which are of enormous size and height, would furnish the very best timber for ship-building. There are also in the forests several kinds of fruit-trees, and wild grape-vines producing clusters a foot and a half in length, which ripen perfectly, and of which very good wine is made. Open fields are to be seen covered with very good hemp, growing naturally to the height of six or seven feet."

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