Father Jacques Marquette


In 1640 French Jesuits took possession of Montreal, and a united prayer went up from the people of France that the Queen of Angels might take that region under her protection. Missionary after missionary followed; and in the space of thirteen years, forty-two of them had carried the Gospel and French power from the Niagara River to the remotest bounds of Lake Superior. They established mission-houses here and there, and encountered the greatest perils among the Indians, who were continually at war. These Jesuits carried their lives in their hands, and often lost them. Upon those seemingly weak props rested the fabric of French colonization in America. At times these props seemed to be giving way, for whole villages of converted Indians would sometimes be destroyed in an hour by some hostile tribe, and the pitiful sight of women and children clinging to the knees of the priest for protection from the tomahawk would be presented.

In 1654, two young traders went from Quebec to the wilderness far west-ward toward the Mississippi River. Two years afterward they returned with fifty canoes and retinue of Indians. Their tales of the magnificent countries which they had traversed excited great enthusiasm, and the church and state determined to possess that goodly land. Father Allouez, a daring Jesuit, went boldly into that region. Among the Chippewas he proclaimed the King of France as their sovereign, and built mission-houses there. He preached to the fiery Sioux; and from them he heard of the magnificent Mississippi River, which the Indians called the Father of Waters. This intelligence was sent back to Quebec, and Fathers Marquette and Dablon, two energetic priests, set out to explore the mysterious land and plant the banner of the Cross in the very heart of the heathen world. Among the Chippewas they labored lovingly for their God and their king. And when Joliet, and agent of the French government of Canada, arrived there, Marquette gave him efficient aid in his political designs. He summoned a convention of all the surrounding tribes, at the Falls of St. Mary, between Lakes Superior and Huron, where he had erected a rude chapel and founded a mission. There, by the side of the cross, the national emblems of France were raised in token of the dominion of Louis the Fourteenth.

Marquette resolved to seek for the Mississippi River. He, an "ambassador of God," and Joliet, an "envoy to discover new countries," went up the Fox River to the water-shed between the Mississippi and the Lakes, in birch canoes, and crossing the portage went down the Wisconsin River until its waters were mingled with those of the great stream. Late in June, 1673, they were upon the bosom of that mighty river which De Soto had discovered, nearer the Gulf, a century and a quarter before. The Indians called it Mississippi, which, in their language, signified The Great Water. So it was that the seeds of civilization and Christianity were first planted in the Valley of the Mississippi.

Marquette and his companions spread light sails over their canoes and voyaged quite rapidly on the bosom of the Mississippi with winds and currents, past the inflowing waters of the Missouri and Ohio, and other less tributaries, stopping on the shores and holding friendly intercourse with the natives. At length they reached a point below the mouth of the Arkansas River, where they found a tribe of sun-worshippers who appeared hostile. The missionaries would, undoubtedly, have been destroyed had not a revered symbol been held by Marquette. On the borders of Iowa a chief had presented him with a beautifully wrought and richly ornamented calumet, or pipe of peace, which the good father held aloft. Its well-known form, and the rich plumage that adorned it, commanded the attention of the fierce Indians, when their leader, a venerable man, with nine others in an immense log canoe, came toward those of Marquette and Joliet. The old man bore in his hand a calumet, and, singing as he approached, he offered it to Marquette as a token of friendship. These Indians had axes of steel, which implied intercourse with Europeans.

Having satisfied himself that the Mississippi did not flow into the Atlantic nor the Pacific Ocean, but at some intermediate receptacle, Marquette turned the prow of his canoe northward, and he and Joliet reached Green Bay before the frosts of October were seen there. Two years longer Marquette labored among the barbarians in the vicinity of Chicago, when he crossed to the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Suffering from mortal sickness, and conscious that his death was near, he passed along that shore in his canoe, propelled by two men, until it entered a small stream which bore his name a long time afterward. They carried him tenderly ashore, and laid him upon the leaves in the shadows of the forest. He told them, with joy, that he was about to die, but requested them to leave him alone while they should unload the canoe; and promising to call them when his end should be nigh. He did so very soon. Then he asked for some holy water which he had prepared, and taking a crucifix from his neck, placed it in the hands of one of his companions and desired him to hold it constantly before his eyes while he lived. With clasped hands he then pronounced aloud the profession of his faith, and soon afterward he died, as he had desired to do, in the bosom of the wilderness in the service of his Master, without human aid. Then his companions carried him to a grave they had dug, ringing his little chapel bell which he had brought with him and so wished them to do. Near his grave they erected a large cross as a mark for passers-by. So disappeared the mortal remains of a discoverer of the Mississippi and the founder of Michigan. "The people of the West," wrote Bancroft almost forty years ago, "will build his monument." Steps were taken late in 1873 for the fulfillment of the prophecy. Marquette's remains lie in the bosom of Michilimackinack or Mackinack.

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