J. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) Currey.

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Tonty was obliged to retire ; which he did by way of Chicago and along the west
shore of Lake Michigan, reaching Green Bay in December. This was Tonty's
first visit to the site of Chicago, 14 a place he passed often in later years. While
La Salle was making his preparations for a return to the Illinois Country, mes-
sengers arrived with the news that the mutineers from Crevecoeur were on the way.
La Salle made his plans to intercept them, which he did as they were nearing
Frontenac, killing two and making prisoners of the others. 15 Still hoping that
Tonty was keeping a foothold on the Illinois for he had not heard of his retire-
ment to Green Bay , he set out on the 10th of August, with a fresh body of men
and supplies to reinforce his faithful lieutenant.


La Salle arrived again at the mouth of the St. Joseph river on the 4th of No-
vember, where, leaving a part of his force, he anxiously pushed on with six French-
men and an Indian. Passing over the portage he descended the Kankakee, hear-
ing nothing of Tonty on the way. On the Illinois river he saw the ruin and desola-
tion caused by the recent Iroquois invasion, and, arriving at the Rock of St. Louis,
where he hoped to find Tonty, he found no signs of an occupation by the French. As-
tonished and confounded, he passed on to Fort Crevecoeur looking for signs of his
friend on the way. At the fort there were only the ruins of the structure which
he had left in the early spring. No Indians were visible, no tidings of Tonty,
only the vessel left on the stocks, fortunately uninjured. Still hoping to find his
Frenchmen he descended the river to its mouth, where on the 7th of December, he

14 Mason, p. 108.

15 Parkman, pp. 188-197.

Prom "The Indian and The Northwest"


Explorer and colonist, who in 1679 entered
the land of the Illinois, in his explorations
to find a route to Mexico.


From photograph taken for this history


Upon this cliff La Salle and Tonti erected a fort in 1682. which they named Fort St.
Louis. For twenty years the fort was used as a military post, then as a traidng post, and
finally burned by 'the Indians in 1718. In 1769 a band of Illinois Indians who had sought
refuse on the cliff from the attacks of hostile Indians were besieged for twelve days. when,
destitute of food and drink, they made a gallant but hopeless and unsuccessful sortie in
which they were massacred. From the catastrophe the cliff takes its name. Starved Rock.
The tracts of land in which Starved Rock is located was in 1911 purchased by the state or
Illinois to be used as a state park.


saw before him the broad current of the Mississippi, the "object of his day-dreams,
the destined avenue of his ambition and his hopes." But though this was La
Salle's first view of the great river he had no time for reflection, and the prow
of his canoe was turned northward. On the llth, he had again reached the Rock
of St. Louis where he had left three of his men concealed on an island in the river.
These men rejoined him with their canoe and thus they pushed on to the junction
of the Kankakee and Desplaines. At this time the great comet of that year was
visible in all its splendor, and night after night the men watched it as it reached
its culmination, and during the following month as it slowly faded away. 10

La Salle felt sure by this time that Tonty had passed north by way of the Des-
plaines, then called the Divine river (having been so named by Joliet), and began
the ascent of this river. The winter being then far advanced, and the smaller stream
closed by ice, on the 6th of January, 1681, he left two of his men with a great part
of his equipment at a point a few miles above the mouth of the Desplaines, and
proceeded on foot with his five remaining men. Turning in the direction of St.
Joseph he crossed the open country, through heavy snows, and at the end of Janu-
ary he was again at the mouth of the St. Joseph, but did not find Tonty; who, as
we have seen, had gone north three -months before by way of the Chicago portage
and along the west shore of the lake.


At Fort Miami, the name given by La Salle to the fort at the mouth of the St.
Joseph, he found the men and supplies he had left. Here he was told by a wan-
dering Indian that Tonty was no more, that he had been burned at the stake by
the Illinois Indians. This falsehood, deliberately contrived by his enemies, was
the last and bitterest drop added to La Salle's cup of sorrow. However, his
first duty was to return to the men whom he had left on the Desplaines ; and ac-
cordingly he set forth on the 1st of March with all of his men, including those
who had been left at Fort Miami, traveling on snow shoes. He encountered some
Indians who had lately been at Green Bay and who informed him that Tonty was
safe and well. This good news animated La Salle and his party with fresh ambi-
tion, and soon after he found his men on the Desplaines, the greater part of the
reunited force returning to Miami. La Salle sent a party to Mackinac to communi-
cate with Tonty and request him to come to that point, where La Salle could meet
him. The message was good news to Tonty, who had believed that La Salle was
dead. After making some important agreements with the Indians La Salle him-
self departed for Mackinac, where, on the 4th of June, 1681, the two heroes who
had parted "more than fourteen months before and had believed each other dead,
greeted one another as if they had returned from the spirit land."


It was now necessary that La Salle should go to Fort Frontenac to procure a
fresh outfit, on which journey he was accompanied by Tonty. In the early au-
tumn another start was made, the third beginning of his cherished enterprise; and

16 Mason, p. 92.


late in the season he was once more at the fort at the mouth of the St. Joseph
river. Here he found a few Indians whom he added to his twenty-three French-
men, and thus proceeded with a total of fifty persons in the expedition. Instead,
however, of ascending the St. Joseph, as he had done on his two previous journeys,
he set out along the shore of the lake to the Chicago river, where he and his party
arrived in the dead of winter. The stream was frozen, so they made sledges, on
which were placed the canoes and baggage; crossed from the Chicago to the Des-
plaines, and filed in a long procession down its frozen course. At length they
reached the open water below Lake Peoria. 17

La Salle abandoned his idea of building a vessel for the navigation of the Mis-
sissippi, resolving to trust to his canoes alone. "They embarked again, floating
prosperously down between the leafless forests that flanked the tranquil river; till,
on the 6th of February, 1682, they issued upon the majestic bosom of the Mis-

Following the river in its southward flow they passed the Indian village which
was the limit of Joliet's exploration, and "with every stage of their adventurous
progress the mystery of this vast New World was more and more unveiled." At
length the party issued forth upon the Gulf of Mexico, and La Salle's grand work
was accomplished ; the Mississippi was now explored from its upper waters to
its mouth, a distance of more than two thousand miles. A column containing an
inscription was set up on a spot of dry ground, there was a salute by a volley of
musketry, and the occasion was solemnized by religious services. The date given
on the column was April 9, 1682. "On that day," says Parkman, "the realm of
France received on parchment a stupendous accession. The fertile plains of Texas;
the vast basin of the Mississippi, from its frozen northern springs to the sultry bor-
ders of the Gulf; from the woody ridges of the Alleghanies to the bare peaks of the
Rocky Mountains;" all this territory passed beneath the sceptre of the King
of France. La Salle bestowed upon this vast domain the name of Louisiana in honor
of the French King.

La Salle now began retracing his course, and after many hardships he and his
party safely reached Mackinac, by way of Fort Miami, in September; but only
to remain long enough to recuperate from the effects of "a deadly disease" which
had attacked him while on the Mississippi. He did not attempt to make the jour-
ney to Quebec, as he was in no condition to endure the hardships incident thereto,
though it would have been for his interest to have done so. But later in the fall,
finding himself much improved in health, he started again for the Illinois Country
to rejoin Tonty.


By the 2nd of December, 1682, La Salle was back once more on the St. Joseph
river and later in the month had arrived at Ft. Crevecoeur. La Salle and Tonty
now determined to establish their fort and settlement at the Rock of St. Louis,
and early in January of 1683, they began the work of fortifying its summit. Pali-
sades and redoubts were constructed, with dwellings and storehouses within the
enclosure at the summit. In March the work was completed and the royal ensign
of France was unfurled above the walls of Fort St. Louis.

17 Parkman, pp. 276-288.


Owing to a change in the governorship, by which La Barre had succeeded Fron-
tenac, La Salle's improved prospects had become clouded again. La Barre com-
missioned an officer to proceed to the Illinois and relieve La Salle, and take pos-
session of the fort which the latter had after so many years of titanic effort built
and occupied. This officer was Olivier Morel de La Durantaye, who had been
a captain in one of the "crack regiments" of France. His commission recited that
he had been selected because he was a man of experience, worth and approved
wisdom. During the succeeding spring and summer La Salle had gathered around
him four thousand or more Miami and Illinois Indians to oppose the advance of
another Iroquois invading force. The Miamis had retired from their usual dwell-
ing places near the St. Joseph river, had coasted along the southern shore of Lake
Michigan and swarmed over the Chicago and Desplaines portage on their way
to the Illinois river fortress. La Salle himself came up to Chicago from the
Illinois and for a time inhabited a log house enclosed by a little stockade. "This
was the first known structure of anything like a permanent character upon the
site of Chicago, and the first habitation of white men there since Marquette's en-
campment in the winter of 1674." From here La Salle forwarded a letter to
the Governor dated, "Du portage de Chicagou, 4 Juin, 1683," which is, as Mason
says, "probably the first document wholly written at that place, and comes next
in point of time to that portion of Marquette's journal actually indited there."


La Salle's previous visit to the Chicago portage was made in mid-winter, when
one could not easily determine the character of the region. On this occasion he
came in the early summer, and doubtless then prepared or obtained the facts for
his description of the place, probably written later in 1683. He says: "The
portage de Checagou is an isthmus of land at forty-one degrees and fifty minutes
north latitude 18 to the west of the lake of the Illinois, which is reached by a
channel formed by the meeting of many rivulets or rainfalls of the prairie. It
is navigable about two leagues to the border of the prairie a quarter of a league
westward. There, there is a little lake divided into two by a beaver dam about a
league and a half in length, whence there flows a little stream which, after mean-
dering half a league among the rushes, falls into the river Checagou, and by it
into the river Illinois. This lake, when filled by the great rains of summer or
the floods of spring, flows into the channel leading to the lake of the Illinois, the
surface of which is seven feet lower than the prairie in which the former lake
lies. The river Checagou does the same in the spring when its channel is full;
it discharges by this little lake a part of its waters into the lake of the Illinois.
And at this time, which would be the summer, Joliet says that a little canal a
quarter of a league long from this lake to the basin which leads to the lake of
the Illinois, would enable barks to enter the Checagou and descend to the sea.
That perhaps might happen in the spring, but not in summer, because there is then
no water in the river as far as Fort St. Louis, where the navigation of the Illinois
commences in summer time and thence is good as far as the sea. It is true, there

18 The official determination of the latitude is 41 degrees, 53 minutes.


is besides a difficulty that this ditch would not be able to remedy, which is that
the lake of the Illinois always forms a bank of sand at the entrance of the channel
leading from it. And I greatly doubt, whatever any one says, whether this could
be swept away or scattered by the force of the current of the Checagou, if made
to flow there, since much stronger ones in the same lake have not been able to do
it. Furthermore, the utility of it would be small, since I doubt whether, when all
was completed, a vessel would be able to ascend against the great flood which the
currents cause in the Checagou in the spring, much more violent than those of
the Rhone. Then it would be for only a little time, and at most for only fifteen
to twenty days a year, after which there would be no more water. What confirms
me besides in the opinion that the Checagou would not be able to keep the mouth
of the channel clear, is that the lake is full of ice which blocks the navigable
openings at the time in question, and when the ice is melted, there is not water
enough in the Checagou to prevent the sand from stopping up the channel. In-
deed I would not have mentioned this matter, if Joliet had not proposed it, with-
out having sufficiently guarded against the difficulties." The channel first spoken
of is the present Chicago river, the little lake is Mud Lake, since drained away,
and the then Checagou is now the Des Plaines, whose spring floods rushing through
the Chicago river to Lake Michigan are but a thing of yesterday, while the sand
bar at the junction of river and lake is not yet forgotten. In every particular
the description coincides so exactly with the existing or former characteristics of
the place that it alone determines the location of the Chicago portage within the
limits of the present city of the name, beyond the shadow of a doubt.


La Salle's letter of April 2d, 1683, to the Governor 1B was a protest against
the treatment he was receiving at his hands. Tonty, who had remained at Fort
St. Louis ("Starved Rock"), was obliged to send word to his chief while he was
still at the Chicago portage that it was necessary for him to return to the Illinois
in order to defend the fort against a threatened attack from the Iroquois, which
he did. But Durantaye was on the way with the Governor's commission in his
pocket, while La Salle, finding no urgent need of his presence at the fort, started
on a journey to Quebec, intending to proceed to France and make an appeal in
person to the King. On his way he met the advance guard of Durantaye's party
in charge of De Baugy, his deputy. This young officer read the Governor's orders,
and thus La Salle found himself superseded. De Baugy passed on to the fort,
where his authority was acknowledged by Tonty, and La Salle continued his route
to the Chicago portage, which he reached by the first of September. On
that day he wrote another letter, dated "at Checagou," to the people at the fort,
advising them to obey the new authorities, follow Tonty 's council, and wait pa-
tiently for his own return. This was La Salle's "farewell to the region in which
he had toiled and suffered, hoped and sorrowed in the cause of civilization in the
west, of which he was the pioneer. As he pursued the long and weary way which
led to the settlements on the St. Lawrence, the beautiful land of the Illinois must

19 The original letter is in the collection of the Chicago Historical Society, and has never
been published.


have been often in his thoughts. He never failed to sound its praises in all that
he wrote thereafter. And it held a most important place in his future plans,
which always contemplated his return thither. But fate was adverse, and he never
saw it more."

Durantaye himself did not arrive at the fort on the Illinois, until May of the
following year, and when he did at length do so, Tonty surrendered his charge
and set out for Quebec, which he reached some time in September, 168-1, after
an absence of six years. Meantime, La Salle had sailed for France, where as
soon as the King heard his story he reversed La Barre's action, and "issued a new
commission to La Salle as commandant of the whole region from Fort St. Louis
on the river of the Illinois" to Mexico. For Tonty, he ordered to be sent to him
the well-deserved commission of a captain in the French army, and the appoint-
ment of Governor of Fort St. Louis. By June, 1685, Tonty was back at the fort
and was warmly greeted by the little garrison there. De Baugy and his party
then quitted the fort, thus passing out of our history.

La Salle's plans were now to obtain ships and go to the mouth of the Mis-
sissippi by sea, and thus open a water route to his proposed settlement on the Illi-
nois. He meant to establish "a colony of French and Indians to answer the double
purpose of a bulwark against the Iroquois, and a place of storage for the furs of
all the western tribes." 20 Having secured four vessels from the King with which
to reach the Mississippi by way of the Gulf of Mexico, he embarked with a large
force with the intention of establishing a colony at the mouth of the river as well
as in the Illinois Country.

During the autumn of 1685 reports reached Tonty at Fort St. Louis that La
Salle would attempt to join him by way of the Gulf and the Mississippi, but hav-
ing received no official notice he determined to go to Mackinac and learn the
truth of the reports.


Arriving at Mackinac he was rejoiced to hear that La Barre had been super-
seded by the Marquis of Denonville as Governor of New France, and he also
learned definitely of La Salle's expedition to the Gulf of Mexico. The faithful
lieutenant at once resolved to go with a party down the river to meet his chief,
to whom he felt he owed his first duty. He left Mackinac November 30th, 1685,
but as they skirted the western shore of the lake, his party encountered floating
ice in such quantities that they were obliged to abandon their canoe and make
their way along the shore, which they traversed on foot, suffering greatly from
want of provisions and the severe weather, until they at length arrived at Chicago.
Here they found a fort, a new structure, apparently built during the previous
summer. A map, known as Franquelin's map of 1684, however, shows no fort at
Chicago, although it indicates the location of an Indian village there; the fort
which Tonty found had apparently been built in the interest of parties hostile
to La Salle; for when Fort St. Louis was restored to the latter by the King's
command, the royal commission was construed to mean that La Salle's juris-
diction no longer extended to Lake Michigan. The Chicago river, being one of

20 Parkman, p. 292.


the natural routes to the interior, had been selected as the headquarters of the
interests hostile to La Salle's settlement on the Illinois ; and a fort had been con-
structed which seems to have occupied a different position from that of La Salle's
stockade of 1683. Mason thinks that it was probably located at the junction
of the two branches of the Chicago river, and further says, "this structure or a
successor upon the same site was doubtless that referred to more than a hundred
years later in Wayne's treaty (Treaty of Greenville, 1795) with the Northwestern
Indians, which identifies the Chicago river as the place where a fort formerly stood."
Durantaye, now shorn of his authority over the Illinois river, was placed in com-
mand there, and this "was the beginning of civilized government where the western
metropolis now stands. The name of Olivier Morel, Sieur de La Durantaye, should
be remembered in this connection as that of a brave and able officer who was the
first commandant at Chicago."


Returning to La Salle's expedition to the mouth of the Mississippi, the four
ships, two of which were men-of-war, sailed from Rochelle, France, on the 24th
of July, ICS 1 !. 21 A-hundred soldiers were enrolled, and besides these there were
thirty volunteers, including gentlemen and burghers of condition, five priests, "as
well as a number of girls lured by the prospect of almost certain matrimony." For
La Salle's plans not only included colonization and missionary work among the
savages; he also intended to make an attack on the Spaniards in Mexico.

Joutel, a fellow townsman of La Salle, a veteran officer of the French army,
was a volunteer in this expedition and became its historian, characterized by
Parkman as "an honest and intelligent man." Matters went badly, for the reason,
mainly, that La Salle did not certainly know where the mouth of the Mississippi
was, as his previous observations had been taken for latitude but not for longitude.
The fleet passed about four hundred miles beyond it; and at last, the ships be-
coming scattered, La Salle with his party of colonists and soldiers landed to search
for the "fatal river," as Joutel calls it in his history. Two of the ships were wrecked
and the others returned to France. The rest of the story is told by Joutel, who
remained with him to the last.


A fort was built near the shores of the Gulf, and from this as a base La Salle
made excursions in different directions to find the Mississippi, but his efforts were
unavailing. The river could not be found. At last he told off a party of men with
which he started to reach the Illinois Country overland. In the party he left
behind were all the women who had thus far survived the terrible hardships, to the
number of seven, besides several children among the families of the colonists.
While still on the march northward one of the men, believing that La Salle would
never able to reach his destination, shot him from ambush, killing him instantly . -

"Thus in the vigor of manhood," says Parkman, "at the age of forty-three, died

21 Ibid., pp. 331-351.

22 Parkman, p. 406.

or's "Narrative and Critical Histcry of America," Vol. IV



Robert Cavelier de La Salle," after more than twenty years of travel, discovery
and exploration in the great and unknown west ; "without question one of the most
remarkable explorers whose names live in history."


Tonty, meantime, in pursuance of his intention to meet La Salle, whom he
expected to come to the Illinois by way of the Mississippi, left his station at Fort
St. Louis and went down to meet him. He 23 reached the mouth of the river and
examined the shores of the Gulf a long distance in both directions without finding
the least trace of him or his ships. Returning, he stopped at the mouth of the
Arkansas, where he left a small party to look out for La Salle if he should be
seen ascending the Mississippi, while he himself went back to the Illinois. So
faithful was the watch kept by this party that they remained a year on this for-
lorn lookout station. At last the wretched survivors, reduced to six persons, now
in charge of Joutel, appeared in the forest on the opposite shore of the Arkansas
where Tonty 's followers had established themselves, and beheld the wooden cross
and cabin which had been erected there.

Their wants were quickly relieved and soon after the united party began the
ascent of the Mississippi, and on the 14th of September, 1687, they reached the
cliff on the Illinois crowned with the palisades of Fort St. Louis, and were wel-
comed by Tonty himself. It was not until October of the following year that
Joutel and his party reached France. Joutel made it his first business to see that
the party of colonists left behind on the shores of the Gulf were rescued, but

Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.1) → online text (page 5 of 59)