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The same year in which William Penn laid out Philadelphia and there made a treaty with the Indians, a noted Frenchman sailed down the Mississippi River, exploring it in the interests of France. This man was Robert Cavelier, Better known as La Salle, who, like many of his countrymen, was trying, just as the Spaniards and Englishmen had tried, to find or do something in America that would not only bring glory to his own name, but also wealth and honor to his fatherland. We have now to consider the work of the French in America.

In 1534 Cartier, a French explorer, discovered the St. Lawrence, and sailed up the river as far as an Indian village on the present site of Montreal. He took possession of Canada in the name of the French King, and his favorable reports led to several unsuccessful attempts to plant settlements there.

More than seventy years after the discovery of the St. Lawrence, another French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, sailed up the noble river. Much impressed with the great beauty of the St. Lawrence Valley and its wealth of forests and furs, he longed to bring all this vast new country under the control of France. In 1608 he planted the first permanent French settlement in Canada, at Quebec, and the following year discovered the lake which bears his name.

Although Champlain loved his country and desired to increase its glory and power, he made an unfortunate blunder, which proved fatal to the best interests of France in the New World. In planting the settlement at Quebec, in 1608, he found that the neighboring tribes of Algonquin Indians were bitter enemies of the Mohawks, one of the Five Nations, or Iroquois, who lived in New York.

Longhouse of the Iroquois.Longhouse of the Iroquois.

The Algonquins begged him to join them in an attack upon the Mohawks, and he unwisely consented. Having gone up Lake Champlain with a canoe-party of sixty Indians, he landed near the site of Ticonderoga to fight a battle with two hundred hardy Mohawk warriors. Champlain, clad in light armor and gun in hand, advanced at the head of his war-party and, shooting into the ranks of the astonished Mohawks, who stood in battle array, brought to the earth two of their chiefs. The others fled in terror and confusion, while their enemies, Champlain's dusky allies, yelled with joy, and filled the woods with their terrible warwhoops.

From that day, however, the Iroquois were the bitter enemies of the French, and this enmity seriously interfered with the successful carrying out of French plans. Having control of the St. Lawrence River, France greatly desired to get control of the Mississippi River as well. Once securing possession of these two great streams, she would come into possession of the wealth of the North American Continent.

But the Iroquois Indians were strongly posted in the Mohawk River Valley, and thus held the key to the situation. In this way they blocked the path of the French, who wished to reach the Ohio and the Mississippi through Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. So the French were driven to seek a route farther north, a route which was much longer and more difficult. It would be well for you to trace on your map this roundabout way, which extended up the Ottawa River into Georgian Bay, through Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, across into the Illinois River, and through that into the Mississippi.

In the same year that Champlain made the Iroquois bitter enemies of the French, Henry Hudson won their lasting friendship for the Dutch. About the time the Frenchman was fighting in the battle against the Mohawks at Ticonderoga, Hudson, with a crew of twenty men in the Half Moon, was sailing up the river that now bears his name. Instead of finding the short passage to the Pacific, for which he was searching in the interests of the Dutch, he discovered the great water-way to the interior. Having received just treatment from him, the Iroquois Indians became his friends and the friends of the Dutch settlers and traders that came later.

From that time, in fact, these Iroquois Indians were as ready to sell their furs to the Dutch and to the English, who in 1664 took New York away from the Dutch, as they were to oppose the French and compel them to go many hundred miles out of their way in the tedious explorations in search of the Mississippi.

This toilsome work of exploration was largely accomplished by the Jesuit missionaries. Fearless in their heroic efforts to advance their faith, they suffered all sorts of hardships, many being put to death, in their earnest struggle to bring religious truth to the ignorant red men of the woods. In their journeys through the forests and over the lakes, these Jesuit Fathers made many valuable discoveries and explorations which they carefully recorded in their journals.

It was one of these missionaries, Father Marquette, who succeeded in reaching the waters of the Mississippi. Attended by Joliet and five other Frenchmen, he went, in 1673, as far down the mighty river as the mouth of the Arkansas. This was sixty-five years after Champlain made his settlement at Quebec.

Map Showing Routes of Cartier, Champlain, and La Salle, also French and English Possessions at the Time of the Last French War.Map Showing Routes of Cartier, Champlain, and La Salle, also French and English Possessions at the Time of the Last French War.

But the most important of all the French explorations were made by the daring and tireless La Salle. He was born in France in 1643, and belonged to an old and rich family. Strong in mind and character, he received a good education, and became an earnest Catholic. With a heart ready to brave any danger in the achievement of glory for himself and for France, this young man at the age of twenty-three sailed for Canada.

His plans, as finally worked out, were twofold: (1) To build forts and trading centres at various points along the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi; and (2) to plant a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi. Wishing to get control of the rich fur trade for France, his forts and his colony would help to protect and further this trade, which could be carried on more easily by way of the Mississippi, than by way of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence. For along the latter route lay the hostile Iroquois, who were friendly to the Dutch and the English; and, moreover, the St. Lawrence was ice-bound nearly one-half of the year.

Early in August, 1679, after long and weary efforts spent in preparation, La Salle launched on the Niagara River above the Falls, his little vessel, the Griffin, of forty tons burden, which was to bear him through the lakes on his way to the Mississippi.

Nearly a year before starting, La Salle had sent up the lakes fifteen men to trade for furs. He expected them to have ready, against the time of his arrival, a cargo of furs to be sent back to Canada. For La Salle needed a great deal of money with which to buy provisions, ammunition, and tools, and to pay his men for their services. Besides, he wished to get cables, anchors, and rigging for a new vessel to be built on the Illinois River, for the purpose of making his expedition to the mouth of the Mississippi. The expected cargo of furs, taken back and sold in Canada, would give him the money he needed to carry out his plans.

Having arrived at the head of Lake Huron, therefore, he collected the cargo awaiting him, loaded the Griffin with furs, and on September 18, 1679, despatched it in charge of six men to Niagara. La Salle himself pushed on to the mouth of the St. Joseph River, where he built a fort, and waited long and anxiously for the Griffin's return. But he waited in vain, for he never heard from his vessel again. It was a great loss and a keen disappointment. After waiting long he continued his way, careworn and weary, with eight canoes and a party of thirty-three men.

They rowed up the St. Joseph in search of the carrying-place leading to the head-waters of the Illinois River. On landing, La Salle started off alone to look for the pathway. In the midst of a blinding snow-storm he lost his bearings in the dense forest, and wandered until about two o'clock in the morning, when he found himself once more at the river, and fired his gun as a signal to the party.

Then his eyes caught the welcome sight of a fire burning in the woods. Believing he was near his friends, he quickened his steps, only to find himself mistaken. Near the fire, under a tree, was a bed of dried grass which was still warm, and showed plainly that a man had but a few minutes before been lying there. Very likely the man was an Indian, who had been frightened off by the sound of the gun. La Salle carefully placed brush for a sort of barricade on each side of the newly found bed, and then lay down by the blazing fire and slept till daybreak. He did not find his friends until four o'clock next afternoon.

On rejoining his party they made their way down the Illinois River, until their eyes fell upon some Indian wigwams on the forest-covered bank. The Indians, being friendly, received the Frenchmen with generous hospitality. They urged La Salle not to go down the Mississippi. They indeed said so much of the danger of the journey that six of La Salle's followers deserted, and another tried to poison him. These were sad days for La Salle and, like all his days, were beset with troubles and dangers. To protect himself from attack during the winter, he now planned the building of a fort which he called Crèvecoeur, the French word for heartbreak, surely a fitting name.

Up to this time the iron-willed La Salle had not given up hope of hearing from the Griffin, but now he decided that his vessel was lost. There was but one thing to do. He must make an overland journey to Canada, 1,500 miles away, to get supplies for his expedition down the Mississippi. It was a dangerous undertaking. But on March 1, 1680, with an Indian hunter and four Frenchmen, the dauntless explorer started in two canoes.

The season was the worst in the year for such a journey. The ground was covered with melting snow, and the rivers in many places were frozen with ice, too thick to be broken by the boats. Much of the time the party had to pull the canoes on rough sleds overland or carry them on their shoulders until, a few days after starting, they hid them in the woods and pushed forward on foot to the head of Lake Michigan.

Reaching that point, it was now necessary for them to thread their toilsome way through the deep forests of Southern Michigan to the head of Lake Erie. For three days the undergrowth was so thick with thorns that it tore their clothing into shreds, and scratched their faces until they were covered with blood. Another three days were spent in wading, sometimes up to their waists, in the mud and water of the flood-covered marshes. At night they would take off their clothing and, covering their bodies with blankets, lie down to sleep on some dry hillock. One frosty night their clothes froze so stiff that in the morning they had to be thawed by the fireside before they could be put on. Amid such exposure some of the men fell sick, and thus delayed the party. But early in May, at the end of sixty-five days, they reached Canada.

As soon as he could arrange his affairs in Canada, La Salle again returned to the Illinois River and reached its mouth. But owing to fresh disappointments, he had to make still another journey through the wilderness to the base of his supplies on the St. Lawrence.

Not until February 6, 1682, two years and a half after he first started out in the Griffin, and after three attempts to build a suitable vessel for the journey, did he float out upon the waters of the Mississippi to explore it; and at last he was obliged to make the journey in canoes. This time his party included fifty-four people--eighteen Indian warriors, ten squaws, three Indian children, and twenty-three Frenchmen. On reaching the mouth of the river he planted a column bearing the arms of France, and then, with imposing ceremonies, took possession of the great Mississippi Valley in the name of the French King, Louis XIV., after whom he named the country Louisiana.

By building forts and trading centres along his route, La Salle had carried out the first part of his plan. He now resolved to go to France and get men for a colony which he wished to plant at the mouth of the Mississippi, and thus carry out the second part.

Having succeeded in France in fitting out this colony, he sailed with four vessels early in July, 1684, in search of the Mississippi River by way of the Gulf of Mexico. With his usual bad fortune, however, he missed its mouth and landed at Matagorda Bay, 400 miles to the west. Then followed many disasters, among which were loss of vessels and supplies, lack of food, sickness and death, and attacks by unfriendly Indians. For two years the wretched little colony struggled for life. La Salle was in sore distress. He knew he had many enemies among his men who would gladly take his life, but he hoped for help from France. No help came. It was plain to La Salle that he could save the suffering colony only by making his way to Canada. He therefore started out on January 12, 1687, with a party of seventeen men and five horses, on another long and dangerous journey through the dense forests--this time from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.

The Murder of La Salle by his Followers.The Murder of La Salle by his Followers.

Travelling north, the party crossed the Brazos River and toiled onward to the Trinity River. But La Salle's men were tired of travelling through the forests, and some of them were thirsting for his blood. They were waiting only for a suitable opportunity to carry out their murderous purpose. On the morning of March 19th they lay in ambush, and shot him dead as he approached, probably not far from the Trinity River.

La Salle's life was one of storm and peril; but he was as fearless as a lion. Ambitious for himself and for his country, he had room for little else in his life, His repeated failures brought criticism and lack of confidence from men who had loaned him large sums of money, and these criticisms hardened his spirit. Many enemies making him suspicious, he seemed to lose sympathy with his men, and became harsh in his treatment of them. But he did a great work for France, a work which entitles him to be regarded as one of the most remarkable of all the explorers of America.

 

 

REVIEW OUTLINE
  •   THE COMING OF THE FRENCH TO AMERICA.
  •   CARTIER DISCOVERS THE ST. LAWRENCE.
  •   CHAMPLAIN EXPLORES FOR FRANCE.
  •   CHAMPLAIN'S FATAL GUNSHOT.
  •   THE IROQUOIS BECOME BITTER ENEMIES OF THE FRENCH.
  •   THE IROQUOIS FORCE THE FRENCH TO SEEK A ROUNDABOUT ROUTE TO THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER.
  •   HENRY HUDSON WINS FOR THE DUTCH THE FRIENDSHIP OF THE IROQUOIS.
  •   VALUABLE WORK OF THE JESUIT MISSIONARIES.
  •   FATHER MARQUETTE GOES DOWN THE MISSISSIPPI.
  •   THE DARING AND TIRELESS LA SALLE.
  •   HIS TWOFOLD PLANS.
  •   HIS VOYAGE TO LAKE MICHIGAN IN THE GRIFFIN.
  •   THE GRIFFIN SAILS BACK TO CANADA WITH A CARGO OF FURS.
  •   LA SALLE LOST IN THE FOREST.
  •   WITH FRIENDLY INDIANS ON THE BANKS OF THE ILLINOIS RIVER.
  •   SAD DAYS FOR LA SALLE.
  •   HE DECIDES TO MAKE AN OVERLAND JOURNEY TO CANADA.
  •   TRAVEL IN THE DEEP FORESTS.
  •   LA SALLE AT LAST REACHES THE MOUTH OF THE MISSISSIPPI.
  •   HE GOES TO FRANCE.
  •   HIS COLONY FAILS.
  •   A LONG JOURNEY BEGUN.
  •   LA SALLE MURDERED BY HIS MEN.
  •   HIS CHARACTER AND HIS WORK.

 

 

TO THE PUPIL

 

  1. What did Champlain accomplish? When? Why did the Iroquois become bitter enemies of the French and warm friends of the Dutch?

  2. What were La Salle's twofold plans? Trace his route through the lakes to the mouth of the Mississippi.

  3. Picture him lost in the forest, and spending the night alone.

  4. Describe his overland journey to Canada.

  5. How did his colony suffer? What do you admire in La Salle's character?

  6. What do the following dates mean: 1492, 1541, 1607, 1629, 1676, 1682?