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LA SALLE AND TONTI.
The Hard Fate of Pioneer Explorers.
BY REV. CYRUS CORT.
In my former article I told of the settlement of the French colony around Fort St. Louis, in the fall of 1682, two hundred years ago, under the auspices of La Salle. Robert Cavalier, or La Salle, as he is known in history, was born at Rouen, of wealthy parentage, and was educated for the priesthood. He had fine mental and physical powers, and was of an enterprising and adventurous disposition. His large fortune was spent in exploring expeditions, and much of it lost through misplaced confidence in treacherous subordinates, and finally he was assassinated by some of them amid the wilds of Texas. In 1669 he built the first large vessel that ever navigated the upper Lakes, and sailed from Niagara Falls, where his vessel, the Griffio, had been built, to Mackinaw Straits. At the harbor of St. Ignace, it was loaded with a valuable cargo of furs, and started back to Niagara, but was never heard from again. La Salle believed that the crew had disposed of the cargo for their own benefit, and bad then left the country. After dispatching the Griffin La Salle proceeded to the Illinois river, which he reached after great hardships.
On New Year's day, 1680, the plorers spent the day in camp, midway between La Vantum and Peoria. Father Hennepin preached, and Mass was said, but when he came to open the vessel that contained the wine for the holy Sacrament he was horrified to find it empty. The blacksmith (La Forge) had smuggled the contents on the way. For this sacrilegious act the indignant priest pronounced a curse against him
that was doubtless intended to involve him in the calamity that came upon the mythological father of the craft, old Vulcan himself, who was twice hurled out of heaven by the Olympian deities.
During the winter the priests gathered a supply of wild grapes, and put the juice in the communion cask. But, alas! when hot weather came, the wine soured, and when Father Gabriel sought to administer the Sacrament, at La Vantum, next summer, to Tonti, the three soldiers and their squaw wives, together with Chassagoc and the few surviving converts of Marquette who remained faithful to the ordinances of the Christian profession, he was greatly chagrined to find the wine unfit to be used in the miracle of Transubstantiation.
On the 3d of January, 1680, La Salle landed at the Indian village on the west bank of Peoria Lake. A fort was built, which, on account of the desertion of some of his men, and gloomy prospects in general, he called Creve Coeur (Broken Heart). Early in the spring La Salle returned to Canada for men aud supplies. Soon after he left, most of his soldiers deserted and the fort had to be abandoned.
But there was one man of a different
stamp, to whom, as Dr. Sparks says, history can never do justice. The discoveries and settlement of the great West were largely due to his selfex-sacrificing spirit. Henry de Tonti, the lieutenant of La Salle, was of noble Italian birth, and a man of the Christopher Columbus order. His ancestors had settled at Rouen, France, after taking part in an unsuccessful attempt at revolution in Italy. Tonti had a military education, and served five years as captain in the National Guards. In the Sicilian war his right hand was shot off, but it was replaced
with an iron one, covered with a glove, with which unruly Indians and other disorderly persons were frequently knocked down as if stricken by a thunderbolt. Hence he was supposed by some to possess supernatural power. On his way up the Illinois river La Salle discovered and examined Le Rocher, or the rock on which, two years later, Fort St. Louis was erected. He sent word back to Tonti to occupy it instead of Creve Coeur. Tonti, with three soldiers and Fathers Gabriel and Zenobe, placed the valuables of the fort in two canoes and returned to La Vantum. His force being too small to build or occupy the proposed fort, he accepted the hospitality of the Indians, and awaited the return of La Salle. Tonti applied himself earnestly to the task of learning the Indian language. The two priests preached regularly to the savages, and the two soldiers basked in the smiles of squaws, whom they promptly married. At this time the Illinois Indians claimed all the country between the Wabash and Mississippi from Lake Michigan to the Ohio.
La Vantum was their greatest town, and had at times 8,000 inhabitants, and as many as 20 000 Indians were assembled in that vicinity on extraordinary festive occasions. The Iroquois, or Five Nations, from the Mohawk Valley, in Central and Western New York, and their allies, made raids upon the Illinois, and owing to their earlier use of firearms, obtained from the Dutch and French in New York and Canada, defeated the Illinois in many bloody battles, and carried away vast booty in the shape of furs, pelts, etc. In one of these raids the Iroquois captured 800 prisoners, mostly squaws and papooses, all of whom they burnt at their village on Lake Seneca. A few months after Tonti and his friends had come to La Vantum the Iroquois suddenly appeared in great force.
With great difficulty Tonti and his friends persuaded the Illinois Indians that they were not in league with the Iroquois, and barely escaped massacre in the excitement that ensued. The squaws, children and old men sought safety on a marshy island a few miles down the river. Chassagoac, the head chief, and many
warriors, were absent at the time of the attack, and only 500 were on hand to defend the town. But these boldly marched out and fiercely assaulted the advancing Iroquois just as they were about to enter the timber along the river. At first the Iroquois were repulsed, but soon rallied, and a bloody battle ensued. At imminent risk, in the midst of the fight, Tonti vainly sought to mediate between the feroci us savages. Several times tomahawks were brandished over his head by bloodthirsty warriors. In the end, the Iroquois being superior in numbers and weapons, drove the Illinois Indians into L Vantum, which they burnt after killing most of its defenders. The poor women and children on the island were discovered and massacred in cold blood by the victorious Iroquois; many were tied to trees and burnt to death. Tonti and his five white friends were finally released and returned to Creve Cœur in a leaky canoe. On the way down they stopped to repair their canoe. While doing so Father Gabriel retired to the woods for prayer and meditation. There he was captured by two Indians and taken to their camp, where he was tortured by fire at the stake, and finally tomahawked. Thus perished the only hir of a wealthy Burgundian house, who had left riches and comforts of civilized society to preach the gospel to the savage heathen who became his murderers. Such has been the experience of countless other missionaries both in the old and the new world.
In midwinter La Salle, with twelve companions, returned from Canada. They were horrified to find the carcasses of the slaughtered Indians at the town and island, and anxiously sought Tonti and his little band, whom they were rejoiced to find at Peoria Lake.
In the early part of 1682 La Salle descended to the mouth of the Missis sippi, and, having erected (April 9, 1682) a rude cross and pillar on the highest point of the adjacent land, took possession of the great river and valley in the name of Louis the XIV, king of France. It was on the strength of this transaction that France claimed possession from the Alleghany to the Rocky Mountains and built a line of forts along the Lakes and along the Ohio river.
Great Britain's resistance to this claim search of La Salle, but failed to find led to the fray between Washington and him. Again in 1689 he made a similar Jummonville, in West Pennsylvania, expedition, hoping to find a remnant of and finally to the loss of French domin- his followers, and to bring back the ion in America. bones of his old commander. He made important discoveries, but did not find La Salle or his bones.
In the fall of 1682, as stated in the former article, La Salle erected Fort St. Louis, on Starved Rock. The Indian town, a few miles below, was restored, and 6,000 Illinois Indians occupied the scene of the horrible massacre of their kindred two years before.
The devotion of Tonti to La Sal'e and his memory would indicate that La Salle was a more magnetic and less selfish and arbitrary man than some of our magazines have recently represented him. Like De Soto, he was maligned
Two years later La Salle left Tonti in command while he departed to by those who envied his renown or who France. The French court aided him rebelled against his just authority, and in fitting out an expedition of three were perhaps guilty of his death, when ships, with which he sailed to the Gulf he was engaged in gigantic enterprises of Mexico, to establish a colony at the for the benefit of mankind. mouth of the Mississippi. The project was a failure, and the daring explorer was assassinated by some of his own men while trying to get back to Fort St. Louis on the Illinois.
In 1687 Touti, with fifty French soldiers and two hundred Indian allies, went to Canada, and aided Gen. Denonville in a victorious campaign against the Iroquois Indians along the Mohawk, many of whose towns were destroyed. Tonu then returned to Fort St. Louis, taking along back a large body of emigrants from Canada, including many women, the wives and daughters of soldiers and traders at the Fort. A grand ball and dance at the Fort and a dog feast at La Vantum celebrated the return of Tonti and his Indian allies, with their much prized addition to the colony. An air of refinement now pervaded the colony. With great courage and address Tonti prevented a bloody war between the Illinois Indians and their Winnebago neighbors, in the fall of 1688, by proceeding across the prairies to their chief town, near the head of Rock river, and ac ing the part of mediator after the Winnebago war-dance had aleady begun. With twenty soldiers and twenty warriors he made the perilous trip.
On his return to Fort St. Louis Tonti was surprised and delighted to find Father Cavalier, a Jesuit priest and brother of La Salle, who with five companions, had worked their way up the Mississippi and Jilinois rivers in a leaking canoe, after the assassination of La Salle, in Texas.
Tonti managed the colony well for eighteen years, acting honorably to whites and Indians alike.
Immense quantities of furs and pelts were sent East by way of Illinois river, across the Portage through Mud Lake into Chicago river, and thence over the great lakes to Canada, and articles for the Indian trade were brought back in
Two years after the building of Fort St. Louis (i. e. in 1684) the Iroquoi Indians returned in great force. The Illinois Indians with their families fled down the river in canoes, or across the prairies on ponies. The French settlers collected inside the fort. Finding the town deserted, the Iroquois beseiged the fort which Tonti held with fifty soldiers and a hundred Indian allies. For six days 2,000 Iroquois assailed the little garrison, firing from the adjacent cliffs, but with little effect. Tonti did not reply to their fusilade until, emboldened by their impunity, the savages massed their forces for an assault in the timber at the foot of the accessible side of the hill. When within close range, the cannon and musketry opened on the assailants so destructive a fire that the Iroquois fled in a panic and never again returned to the country of the Illinois.
In 1686 Tonti, at his own expense, descended the river to the Gulf of Mexico, with forty men in canoes, in
The unscrupulous priest was anxious to secure a large amount of pecuniary aid (4,000 livres) from Tonti, and deemed it expedient to conceal the death of his brother. Hence he represented La Salle
as in fine health and spirit, and his colony in prosperous condition, at the mouth of the Mississippi. The following year the fraud became known at Fort St. Louis, and Tonti made the second trip down the river, already referred to, in vain s arch for the bones of La Salle and the remnant of his colony.
For fifteen years after the death of La Salle the trade with the Illinois Indians was carried on by Tonti and his friend La Frost in Canada. In 1702 the Governor of Canada in an arbitrary and unjust wav, by military force, took possession of Fort St. Louis and seized all the stock in trade. By this outrage Tonti was in a measure disgraced and beggared. His own private fortune and the rich results of many years of noble effort were ruthlessly confiscated. He bade farewell to his friends, and amid lamentations and weeping, of whites and Indians, he set out for the lower Mississippi, where he joined D' Iberville and assisted in establishing his colony. For sixteen years he remained in the South until sickness and Spanish invasion destroyed the colony. Broken down in health and expecting soon to die, he longed to return to the loved friends and scenes on the Illinois, that he might die where so long he had been honored and obeyed.
In the latter part of August, 1718, Tonti returned to Fort St. Louis in a canoe rowed by two Indians. He was so changed that his most intimate friends scarcely recognized him. The tall and graceful form was bent with disease, the piercing black eyes were dim, and his raven hair was white. He claimed that he was the rightful commander, and that La Motte was a usurper, and that he (Tonti) had come back to die. In a few days he took the Sacrament, and gazing upon a gold crucifix, he gave up the lofty spirit that long had made him a dauntless leader. He was buried on the river-bank close to the west end of S.arved Rock. For many years French and Indian voyagers alike would land and show reverence to the hallowed spot where reposed the mortal remains of Tonti.
Things went badly after Tonti's unjust ejection from command. The officers and traders vied in defrauding the Indians and in corrupting their squaws. |
Immorality and riotous living went hand in hand with fraud and peculation, until even the stolid savages could stand it no longer. Not many weeks after Tonti had breathed his last the garrison was surprised after a night of revelry and debauchery. Fort St. Louis was destroyed by indignant Indians, under the head chief Jero, from La Vantum; the colony was broken up. Some of the settlers returned to Canada, and others located at Peoria Lake, Cahokia, etc.
Thus it is and always shall be. Righteousness exalts nations, families and individuals, but sin is the reproach and ruin of all who indulge in it. Ingratitude, wrong and outrage have been the portion meted out to many of the world's benefactors, and especially to American discoverers, explorers and pioneers, from the days of the great Columbus down. And much of this wrong has been done under the garb of law in church and state.
But another article is needed to finish the tragic and romantic history of La Vantum and Starved Rock, where at length the powerful tribe or nati n of Illinois Indians was extermiuated in expiation of the assassination of the great Pontiac, whose name was once a terror from the Mississippi to the Atlantic. Before closing I must acknowledge my great indebtedness to the work of N. Matson on the "French and Indians of the Illinois River," in the preparation of these articles. The copy of his instructive and valuable book, presented to me by the author, seven years ago, I have re-read with special interest. As a help and inspiration to the proposed bi-centennial celebration of the settlement of the Great Mississippi Valley, the story deserves to be extensively circulated.
SUPPOSE the pastor, every few Sabbaths, should fail to appear in his pulpit at the hour of service, with no substitute and no notification of his absence, leaving the elders to hold some kind of a meeting or send the people away-how long could such a pastor retain his place? Teachers who stay away from their classes and make no provision for them, can work out the meaning of this paragraph.- Westminster Teacher.
THE RAIN CONGRESS.
(From the German of Chamisso.*)
BY THE EDITOR.
I cannot vouch for this, though 'tis no mystery,
And thence I bodily the story took.
As though the harvest's joy would change to weeping;
As though the crops, upon the fields remaining, Would soon be spoiled, and not deserve their keeping.
Then from the people rose a loud complain
At once they called a congress to decide What must be done to stop this ceaseless raining.
The delegates from all the country hied,
The congress met, and by their laws' provision
The subject seemed too heavy for digestion,
A serious matter, as your lordship knows;
All hasty and imprudent legislation.
The resolution passed without dissension;
In old-time feasting spent the weary hours.
Which witnessed still the dreadful, driving
Then rose the mighty marshal of the nation,
This is no time for idle hesitation;
The time has come for action-
I pray you wait no longer-give us light!
In words expressive of determination,
And then the marshal said: "Now speak, I
The vote was taken then by acclamation;
If any one can offer a suggestion,
And said: "Full well I know the people's
A fortnight; and if then it still is raining,
He said no more the delegates retaining
Across the ancient hall there rolled, like
The congress was concluded; and, indeed, There's many a one that led to conflicts gory (Of which such full accounts we often read
With praise rehearsed in ancient song and
Has done far less, I'm very sure, to render
There was a feast: it was but right to tender
The sun burst forth, and dried the golden grain.
*NOTE.-Adalbert von Chamisso (born 1781-died 1838), was a French nobleman, who, with his parents, found a refuge in Germany during the Reign of Terror. He became a celebrated German poet, though it is said he never learned to speak the language with fluency. The above po m is an example of his keen and kindly satire, directed, as it is, against a class of men who assume to be wiser than Providence, and thereby prove their own stupidity.