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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Talk About Bad Luck!


Today is Friday the 13th, traditionally considered an unpropitious day for new enterprises. One of the most unlucky events in Wisconsin history was the capsizing of Louis Joliet’s canoe in the summer of 1674.

Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette had traveled the previous year from Green Bay, across Wisconsin to the Mississippi, and then down the great river far enough to prove that it emptied into the Gulf of Mexico. When they returned north the two spent the winter in the Great Lakes, and when the rivers opened in the spring of 1674, Marquette turned back into the wilderness on his missionary labors and Joliet headed for Montreal with his diary of the trip, the first map of the Mississippi, the specimens collected, gifts from the tribes they had visited, and other records of their historic journey.

But as he reached home, after having ssafely passed thousands of miles on some of the continent's largest waterways, Joliet's canoe overturned while shooting the Lachine rapids. “When I was just about to reach Montreal,” he wrote in a letter, “my canoe capsized, and I lost two men and the box in which were all my papers and journals, with some rarities of those far-off countries. … I was saved after having spent four hours in the water, having lost consciousness, by some fisherman, who never go to this strait and who would not have been there if the Blessed Virgin had not obtained for me this grace from God, who stayed the course of nature in order to save me from death. “

A few weeks later he was interviewed about his travels by an editor in Montreal. The Society possesses a photostat of the editor’s handwritten notes from that interview, as well as Joliet’s letter describing his trip (quoted above). You can see them both at Turning Points in Wisconsin History. Click “Page & Text” to see a typed English translation of any page.
:: Posted in Bizarre Events on May 13, 2005

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