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THE great and growing Commonwealth of Illinois possesses an area of 55,410

square miles. It averages 150 miles in width and 400 in length, comprising a latitude from Maine to North Carolina. Its variety of climate is manifold and attractive. A northern temperature derived from one of the largest fresh-water seas, which preserves from greatest extremes of heat and cold; washed on its entire western length by the tide of the Father of Waters; ameliorated on the eastern border by the spent airs of the Alleghanies, it is one of the most fertile and favored of all the United States of America. The health maps, drawn for the government, represent a remarkably superior record. A table land of 600 to 1,600 feet above the level of the sea, it is, at the present stages of civilization and cultivation, largely free from malarial diseases and consumption.

The Delaware Indians designated this vast tract as the abode of Superior Men—the Illini. Early French settlers rendered it Illinois. To the antiquarian of the future the double significance or construction of the word will convey more meaning, perhaps, than at present.

The appellation, Illini, was, doubtless, most appropriate to the primitive inhabitants of the Prairie State. Their prowess was long a successful foil to their fierce Iroquois foes on one side, and the relentless Sacs and Foxes on the other. This brave division of the aborigines was long a powerful confederacy occupying the most accessible and fertile region in the Upper Valley of the Mississippi. The beautiful country seems to have been the especial envy of their enemies, and the cause of prolonged struggles rather than petty feuds or the provocations of warfare. The territory was finally wrested from them and they were gradually diminished. The tradition of “Starved Rock,” on the Mississippi, commemorates their last brave resistance, where the remnant of the tribes starved because they would not surrender.

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The earliest European discoveries in Illinois date back over two hundred years. The middle of the seventeenth century brought French Canadian missionaries and fur traders into the Mississippi Valley.

This was the cause, at a later period, of the establishment of the civil and religious power of France, from the foot of the Alleghanies to the Rocky Mountains, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico.

The dreamer and the conqueror of Florida, Hernando De Soto, had discovered the great river of the Western World, from Alabama's shore, three-fourths of a century previous to the founding of Quebec, in 1608, by the French. The Spanish adventurers, after burying their chief, De Soto, according to his directions, in the Mississippi, left the wilderness, having made no settlement on their broken march from the coast of Florida to the river.

In the condition found by the followers of De Soto the vast tract that they traversed remained, without farther exploration or settlement, until the Mississippi was again discovered, in 1673, by two agents of the French Canadian Government, named Joliet and Marquette. These explorers were not, however, the first white travelers in Illinois, although the greater renown attaches to their expedition. In 1671, a man was sent by Talon as an agent of the Canadian Government, to call a convention of Indians at Green Bay. This man's name was Nicholas Perrot, and he made headquarters at Chicago. It was considered politic and advisable to secure all possible co-operation from the Indians before making an undertaking that their hostility might render totally disastrous. The pipe of peace and their friendship might afford assistance and success. Perrot called the Northwestern tribes into council and promised for the French Government its protection and advantages of commerce. On arriving at Green Bay, he procured an escort of friendly Pottawattomies and a bark canoe and made his visit to Chicago. He was, doubtļess, the first European who set foot on the soil of the future great State of the West.

The story of Marquette and Joliet is well known. The former was a native of France, born in 1637, a Jesuit, a man of zealous devotion to the extension of Roman Catholicism among the American Indians. He was a man of rigid faith. Arriving in Canada, in 1666, he established a post at Sault Ste Marie two years later.

He removed, the succeeding year, to La Pointe, in Lake Superior, where he taught a branch of the Hurons in the holy faith, till 1670. Then he went South and founded the mission at St. Ignace, on the Straits of Mackinac. Here he studied the language under a native teacher, and was joined, in the spring of 1673, by Joliet. They then moved forward by way of Green Bay, the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers, and, subsequently, entered the Mississippi. They explored it to the mouth of the Arkansas, and returned by way of the Illinois and Chicago Rivers to Lake Michigan.

Marquette, on his way up the Illinois, visited the village of the Kaskaskias, near the present Utica, in the county of La Salle. The next year, he returned and established the mission of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. This was the first mission founded in the Mississippi Valley and Illinois. He spent a winter in a hut on the Chicago River not far from its mouth. He died in Michigan on his way back to Green Bay, May 18, 1675.

Other Jesuit missionaries previous to Marquette courageously braved the perils of the unknown wilderness of the Northwest. In 1672, Fathers Claude Allouez and Claude Dablon went from the mission at Green Bay through Western Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, among the Foxes, Mascoutins and Kickapoos, partly the route afterward followed by Marquette.


The name of Robert Cavalier de la Salle is inseparably connected with the pioneer history of Illinois. Dr. J. W. Foster has styled him one of the grandest characters that ever figured in American history; a man capable of originating the vastest schemes, and endowed with a will and a judgment capable of carrying them to successful results. He was born at Rouen, France, in 1643. He renounced a patrimony to enter a college of the Jesuits, separating from them after ward and coming to Canada in 1666. He had a brother among the priests of St. Sulpice, who were the proprietors of Montreal. The Superior of the convent granted to La Salle a large tract at La Chine, not far from Montreal, where he engaged in the fur trade. He outran all his competitors in commerce with the Indians, whom he awed by his daring and exploits of travel. In 1669, he visited the great Iroquois Confederacy, at Onondaga, New York State, and thence with guides explored the Ohio River to the Falls of Louisville.

The occupation of territorial Illinois for the French was accomplished by La Salle in 1680, seven years after that of Marquette and Joliet. He constructed a vessel named the Griffin, above Niagara Falls, and sailed to Green Bay. He passed from thence in canoes to the mouth of St. Joseph River, reached the Illinois, via the Kankakee, in January, 1680, and erected a fort at the lower end of Peoria Lake, where the city of Peoria now stands. He named this fort Crevecoeur. The site of the ancient fort is still to be seen.

From this point, the bold La Salle determined to descend the Mississippi to its mouth. He did not accomplish the feat until two years later. Returning to Fort Frontenac, to get material for rigging his vessel, he left Crevecoeur in charge of Tonti, his lieutenant, who was soon driven off by the Iroquois. These Indians devastated the settlement of the Illinois, leaving nothing but ruin in their way. On their return, La Salle and his company beheld a sight like the following picture from Davidson's History of Illinois :

“At the great town of the Illinois they were appalled by the scene which opened to their view. No hunter appeared to break its death-like silence with a salutatory whoop of welcome. The plain was strewn with charred fragments of lodges, which had so recently swarmed with savage life and hilarity. Large numbers of skulls had been placed on the upper extremities of lodge poles, which had escaped the devouring flames. In the midst of these horrors was the rude fort of the spoilers. A near approach showed that the graves had been robbed of their bodies, and swarms of buzzards were discovered glutting their loathsome stomachs on the reeking corruption. The growing corn of the village had been cut down and burned, while the pits containing the products of previous years had been rifled, and their contents scattered. The suspected blow of the Iroquois had fallen with relentless fury.”

“Tonti had escaped. While passing down the lake in search of him and his men, La Salle discovered that the fort had been also destroyed. His partly constructed vessel remained on the stocks, but slightly injured. Not finding Tonti after continued search, he fastened to a tree a painting that pictured himself and party sitting in a canoe, bearing a pipe of peace. To the picture was attached a letter addressed to Tonti.”

After fearful privations, Tonti had found shelter among the Pottowattomies at Green Bay. One of their friendly chiefs used to say there were “but three great captains in the world, himself, Tonti and La Salle."

The singular genius of La Salle may better be understood by the following considerations :

Traders and missionaries, previous to his time, had no recourse to the Northwest, save by the Ottawa River of Canada. The insatiate hostility of the Iroquois along the lower lakes and Niagara River had closed this route to the upper lakes. Their commerce was carried on mainly by canoes, paddled along the Ottawa to Lake Nipissing, thence carried across the Portage to French River, descending it to Lake Huron. This exclusive Northwestern route for commerce in that early period was the means of establishing Jesuit missions in the region of the upper lakes. La Salle pondered and brought out the idea of opening a route by the Niagara River and the lower lakes to Canadian commerce with sạil vessels, and connection with the Mississippi. It was a magnificent theory, and must have inspired him during many hardships in unsurpassed difficulties and great achievements.

As a first step toward his object, he established himself on Lake Ontario, built and garrisoned Fort Frontenac, near the present city of Kingston, Canada. Here the French crown made him a grant of land, and provided a body of troops which enabled him to clear his passage to Niagara Falls, holding back the invading Iroquois. Successful in this, he deemed it safe to attempt another

great and heretofore untried undertaking, that of advancing to the Falls with an outfit for building a ship to navigate on the lakes. All credit to his daring project, though the purpose was defeated by a combination of unfavorable circumstances. The Jesuits were enemies of La Salle, because he had abandoned them and affiliated with a rival order; therefore they plotted against his designs.

The trade of Lake Ontario, which otherwise would have flowed to Quebec, was under the control of La Salle, at La Chine, and turned into the new channels he projected; this also excited the jealousy of the fur traders. While only bark canoes were paddled at snail's pace along the Ottawa, he was preparing to appropriate, in his own way, the trade currents and centers of the lakes and the Mississippi. The small traders were envious; treasonable revolt split the ranks of his own associates. All this ended in his assassination, prematurely cut off his great plans, and finished his achievements. He was shot by one of his men, on the 19th of March, 1687, near the mouth of Trinity River, in the valley of the Colorado. At the time of his murder, he was on his way to Illinois, having determined to travel the long distance on foot. Subsequent to this, he had explored a portion of New Mexico in search of silver mines, but met only disappointment. Returning to his colony of French emigrants, which he had conducted from their mother country to Illinois, he found them reduced to forty souls.

In 1682, after leaving Fort Creveccur in charge of Tonti, he descended the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. There he erected a standard, inscribed with the arms of France, and taking formal possession of the whole known valley, in the name of Louis XIV, the reigning sovereign, he named it LOUISIANA. He then proceeded to France, was appointed Governor of these possessions in the New World, and returned with his fleet and emigrants.

Dr. Foster, whose words we have before quoted, remarks: “Had ample facilities been placed by the King of France at the disposal of Robert Cavalier de la Salle, the result of the colonization of this continent might have been different from what we now behold.”


The old Indian Kaskaskia village on the Illinois River, in the county of La Salle, was the scene of a temporary settlement in 1682. It was called Fort St. Louis. A mission was connected with it, and, in 1690, it was altogether removed to Kaskaskia, on the river of that name, which empties into the Mississippi in St. Clair County. The settlement of Cahokia was also begun in the same year, and ranks as the oldest one in the State.

It is supposed that the removal of the Kaskaskia mission was because the Chicago portage had been nearly abandoned, and in consideration of the dan

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