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Historic Diaries: Marquette and Joliet

Late September, 1673: Sturgeon Bay Portage

Editor's Note:

The portage by which Marquette crossed to Lake Michigan was made into a ship canal that opened July 4, 1879.

His description is from "Marquette's Last Voyage, 1674-1675: Unfinished Journal of Father Jacques Marquette, addressed to
the Reverend Father Claude Dablon, Superior of the Missions." in Kellogg, Louise P. (editor). Early Narratives of the Northwest, 1634-1699. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917). Pages 261-280. You can read it in our American Journeys online collection of early explorers' narratives.

When Marquette and Joliet reached the Door Penninsula toward the end of September, 1673, they could save 150 miles of paddling by portaging about a mile and a half at modern Sturgeon Bay. A year later Marquette wrote this description of that portage in his diary:

Marquette's 1674 Diary: "We learned that 5 canoes of Poutewatamis, and 4 of Ilinois, had started to go to the Kaskaskia. We were delayed in the morning by rain; in the afternoon, we had fine, calm weather, so that at sturgeon bay we joined the savages, who traveled ahead of us. We reached the portage. A canoe that had gone ahead prevented us from killing any game. We began our portage and slept on the other shore, where the stormy weather gave us much trouble. Pierre did not arrive until an hour after dark, having lost his way on a path where he had never been. After the rain and thunder, snow fell. Being compelled to change our camping-ground, we continue to carry our packs. The portage covers nearly a league, and is very difficult in many places. The Ilinois assemble in the evening in our cabin, and ask us not to leave them, as we may need them, and they know the lake better than we do. We promise them this.

"The Ilinois women complete our portage in the morning. We are delayed by the wind. There are no animals. We start, with tolerably fair weather, and sleep at a small river. The road by land from sturgeon bay is very difficult. Last autumn, we were traveling not far from it when we entered the forest. After I said holy mass, we came for the night to a river, whence one goes to the Poutewatamis by a good road. Chachagwessiou, an Ilinois greatly esteemed among his nation, partly because he engages in the fur trade, arrived at night with a deer on his back, of which he gave us a share. After holy mass, we travel all day in very fine weather. We kill two [wild]cats, which are almost nothinp but fat. While I am ashore, walking on fine sand, — the whole water’s edge being covered with grass similar to that which is hauled up by the nets at st. Ignace, — I come to a river which I am unable to cross. Our people enter it, in order to take me on board; but we are unable to go out, on account of the waves. All the other canoes go on, excepting one, which came with us."

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