Catholic World – Father James Marquette, S.J.

Father MarquetteAmong the names that have become immortalized in the history of our country, there are few more certainly destined for perpetual fame than those connected with the discovery and exploration of that mighty river which courses so boldly and majestically through this vast continent. Thus it is probable that there never will be a time when even children at school will not be familiar with such names as De Soto, Marquette, and La Salle.

James Marquette was born in the city of Laon, near a small branch of the Oise, in the department of Aisne, France, in the year 1637. His family was the most ancient of that ancient city, and had, during many generations, filled high offices and rendered valuable services to their country, both in civil and military life. We have accounts of eminent services rendered to his sovereign by one of his ancestors as early as 1360. The usefulness and public spirit of the family, we may well suppose, did not expire with the distinguished subject of this memoir; for we find that, in the French army that aided our fathers in the achievement of American Independence, there were no less than three Marquettes who laid down their lives in the cause of liberty. His maternal name was no less distinguished in the annals of the church. On the side of his mother, Rose de la Salle, he was connected with the good and venerable John Baptist de la Salle, founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, so distinguished for their successful services in the cause of popular religious education. It was this pious mother that instilled into her illustrious son that tender and fervid devotion to the Blessed Virgin which so ravished his soul and adorned his whole life. In 1654, when but seventeen years old, he entered the Society of Jesus, in which the time of his novitiate, the terms of teaching and of his own theological studies, consumed twelve years. He had chosen for his model Saint Francis Xavier, and in studying his patron’s life, and meditating on his virtues, the young priest conceived a holy longing to enter the field of missionary toil. He was enrolled in the province of Champagne; but, as this had no foreign missions, he caused himself to be transferred to the province of France. His cherished object was soon attained. In 1666, he was sent out to Canada, and arrived at Quebec on the 20th of September of that year.

F. Marquette was at first destined for the Montagnais mission, whose central station was at Tadousal, and on the 10th of October he started for Three Rivers, in order to study the Montagnais language, a key to many neighboring Indian tongues, under that celebrated philologist as well as renowned missionary, F. Gabriel Druilletes. His intervals of leisure were here employed in the offices of the holy ministry. F. Marquette was thus occupied till April, 1668, when his destination was changed, and he received orders to prepare for the mission on Lake Superior, known as the Ottawa mission. He accordingly returned to Quebec, and thence set out for Montreal on the 21st of April, with Brother Le Boesme and two other companions; and from the latter place he embarked on the Ottawa flotilla. He was accompanied by other missionaries on this toilsome and dangerous voyage up the Ottawa, through French River, to and across Lake Huron, and to the Sault St. Mary. This region had long before been dedicated to God by the erection of the cross by Fathers Jogues and Raymbault, and twenty years later, 1660, F. Ménard became the founder of the Ottawa mission; and when F. Marquette arrived in Canada, F. Allouez was then pushing his spiritual conquests beyond any points reached by his zealous predecessors. On the advent of F. Marquette to the shores of Lake Superior, it was found expedient to establish two missions, one of which should be located at the Sault St. Mary, and the other at Green Bay. Erecting his cabin at the foot of the rapids on the American side, F. Marquette opened his mission at the Sault, where he was joined the following year by F. Dablon, Superior of the Ottawa mission. These two zealous missionaries soon gathered a Christian flock around them, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was now offered up in that wild region in “a sanctuary worthy of the faith.” “It is,” says Bancroft, “the oldest settlement begun by Europeans within the present limits of the commonwealth of Michigan.” So rich was the harvest which the enthusiastic and apostolical Marquette saw before him that he writes in one of his letters: “Two thousand souls were ready to embrace the faith, if the missionary were faithful to his task.” Yet knowing the uncertainty of the Indian character, he proceeded cautiously and prudently in his undertakings. Though his ardent hopes were not fully realized, the harvest was not a fruitless one; and Fathers Dablon and Marquette labored on with undaunted courage and undiminished zeal, instructing the people, baptizing such as were in danger of death, and laying the solid foundations of a future Christian commonwealth.

In August of 1669, F. Marquette was transferred from the Sault to Lapointe, to conduct the missions of the Holy Ghost among the Ottawas, and to fill the place recently occupied by F. Allouez, who had gone to Green Bay. After a perilous and exhausting navigation, amid snow and ice, of a month’s duration, he reached Lapointe in safety, and full of ardor for the work before him. A few extracts from the account of this mission, which F. Marquette gave to his superior in his letter of the following year, will be more acceptable to the reader than any synopsis we could prepare from it:

“Divine Providence having destined me to continue the mission of the Holy Ghost begun by Allouez, who had baptized the chiefs of the Kiskakonk, I arrived there on the thirteenth of September, and went to visit the Indians who were in the clearings, which are divided into five towns. The Hurons, to the number of about four or five hundred, almost all baptized, still preserve some little Christianity. A number of the chiefs assembled in council were at first well pleased to see me; but I explained that I did not yet know their language perfectly, and that no other missionary was coming, both because all had gone to the Iroquois, and because F. Allouez, who understood them perfectly, did not wish to return that winter, as they did not love the prayer enough. They acknowledged that it was a just punishment, and during the winter held talks about it, and resolved to amend, as they tell me.

“The nation of the Outaouaks Sinagaux is far from the kingdom of God, and being above all other nations addicted to lewdness, sacrifices, and juggleries. They ridicule the prayer, and will scarcely hear us speak of Christianity. They are proud and undeveloped, and I think that so little can be done with this tribe that I have not baptized healthy infants who seem likely to live, watching only for such as are sick. The Indians of the Kinouché tribe declare openly that it is not yet time. There are, however, two men among them formerly baptized. One, now rather old, is looked upon as a kind of miracle among the Indians, having always refused to marry, persisting in this resolution in spite of all that had been said. He has suffered much, even from his relatives, but he is as little affected by this as by the loss of all the goods which he brought last year from the settlement, not having even enough left to cover him. These are hard trials for Indians, who generally seek only to possess much in this world. The other, a new-married young man, seems of another nature than the rest. The Indians, extremely attached to their reveries, had resolved that a certain number of young women should prostitute themselves, each to choose such partner as she liked. No one in these cases ever refused, as the lives of men are supposed to depend on it. This young Christian was called; on entering the cabin, he saw the orgies that were about to begin, and, feigning illness, immediately left, and, though they came to call him back, he refused to go. His confession was as prudent as it could be, and I wondered that an Indian could live so innocently, and so nobly profess himself a Christian. His mother and some of his sisters are also good Christians. The Ottawas, extremely superstitious in their feasts and juggleries, seem hardened to the instructions given them, yet they like to have their children baptized. God permitted a woman to die this winter in her sin; her illness had been concealed from me, and I heard it only by the report that she had asked a very improper dance for her cure. I immediately went to a cabin where all the chiefs were at a feast, and some Kiskakonk Christians among them. To these I exposed the impiety of the woman and her medicine men, and gave them proper instructions. I then spoke to all present, and God permitted that an old Ottawa rose to advise granting what I asked, as it made no matter, he said, if the woman did die. An old Christian then rose and told the nation that they must stop the licentiousness of their youth, and not permit Christian girls to take part in such dances. To satisfy the woman, some child’s play was substituted for the dance; but this did not prevent her dying before morning. The dangerous state of a sick man caused the medicine men to proclaim that the devil must be invoked by extraordinary superstitions. The Christians took no part. The actors were these jugglers and the sick man, who was passed over great fires lighted in every cabin. It was said that he did not feel the heat, although his body had been greased with oil for five or six days. Men, women, and children ran through the cabins, asking, as a riddle, to divine their thoughts, and the successful guesser was glad to give the object named. I prevented the abominable lewdness so common at the end of these diabolical rites. I do not think that they will recur, as the sick man died soon after.

“The nation of Kiskakous, which for three years refused to receive the Gospel preached them by F. Allouez, resolved in the fall of 1668 to obey God. This resolution was adopted in full council, and announced to that father, who spent four winter months instructing them. The chiefs of the nation became Christians, and, as F. Allouez was called to another mission, he gave it to my charge to cultivate, and I entered on it in September, 1669.

“All the Christians were then in the fields harvesting their Indian corn; they listened with pleasure when I told them that I came to Lapointe for their sake and that of the Hurons; that they never should be abandoned, but be beloved above all other nations; and that they and the French were one. I had the consolation of seeing their love for the prayer and their pride in being Christians. I baptized the new-born infants, and instructed the chiefs whom I found well disposed. The head chief having allowed a dog to be hung on a pole near his cabin, which is a kind of sacrifice the Indians make to the sun, I told him that this was wrong, and he went and threw it down.

“Having invited the Kiskakous to come and winter near the chapel, they left all the other tribes, to gather around us so as to be able to pray to God, be instructed, and have their children baptized. They all call themselves Christians; hence in all councils and important affairs I address them, and, when I wish to show them that I really wish what I ask, I need only address them as Christians; they told me even that they obeyed me for that reason. They have taken the upper hand, and control the three other tribes. It is a great consolation to a missionary to see such pliancy in savages, and to live in such peace with the Indians, spending the whole day in instructing them in our mysteries, and teaching them the prayers. Neither the rigor of the winter nor the state of the weather prevents their coming to the chapel; many never let a day pass, and I was thus busily employed from morning till night, preparing some for baptism, some for confession, disabusing others of their reveries. The old men told me that the young men had lost their senses, and that I must stop their excesses. I often spoke to them of their daughters, urging them to prevent their being visited at night. I knew almost all that passed in two tribes near us; but, though others were spoken of, I never heard anything against the Christian women, and when I spoke to the old men about their daughters, they told me that they prayed to God. I often inculcated this, knowing the importunities to which they are constantly exposed, and the courage they need to resist. They have learned to be modest, and the French who have seen them perceive how little they resemble the others from whom they are thus distinguished.

“After Easter, all the Indians dispersed to seek subsistence; they promised me that they would not forget the prayer, and earnestly begged that a father should come in the fall when they assemble again. This will be granted, and, if it please God to send some father, he will take my place, while I, to execute the orders of my father-superior, will go and begin my Illinois mission.

“The Illinois are thirty days’ journey by land from Lapointe by a difficult road; they lie south-southwest of it. On the way you pass the nation of the Ketchigamins, who live in more than twenty large cabins; they are inland, and seek to have intercourse with the French, from whom they hope to get axes, knives, and ironware. So much do they fear them that they unbound from the stake two Indian captives, who said, when about to be burned, that the Frenchman had declared that they wished peace all over the world. You pass then to the Miamiwek, and by great deserts reach the Illinois, who are assembled chiefly in two towns containing more than eight or nine thousand souls. These people are well enough disposed to receive Christianity. Since F. Allouez spoke to them at Lapointe to adore one God, they have begun to abandon their false worship; for they adored the sun and thunder. Those seen by me are apparently of good disposition, and they are not night-runners, like the other Indians. A man kills his wife if he finds her unfaithful. They are less prodigal in sacrifices, and promise me to embrace Christianity, and do all I require in their country. In this view, the Ottawas gave me a young man recently come from their country, who initiated me to some extent in their language during the leisure given me in the winter by the Indians at Lapointe. I could scarcely understand it, though there is something of the Algonquin in it; yet I hope, by the help of God’s grace, to understand and be understood if God by his goodness leads me to that country.

“No one must hope to escape crosses in our missions, and the best means to live happily is not to fear them, but, in the enjoyment of little crosses, hope for others still greater. The Illinois desire us, like Indians, to share their miseries and suffer all that can be imagined in barbarism. They are lost sheep, to be sought amid woods and thorns, especially when they call so piteously to be rescued from the jaws of the wolf. Such, really, can I call their entreaties to me this winter. They have actually gone this spring to notify the old men to come for me in the fall.

“The Illinois always come by land. They sow maize, which they have in great plenty; they have pumpkins as large as those of France, and plenty of roots and fruit. The chase is very abundant in wild cattle, bears, stags, turkeys, duck, bustard, wild pigeon, and cranes. They leave their towns at certain times every year to go to their hunting-grounds together, so as to be better able to resist if attacked. They believe that I will spread peace everywhere if I go, and then only the young will go to hunt.

“When the Illinois come to Lapointe, they pass a large river almost a league wide. It runs north and south, and so far that the Illinois, who do not know what canoes are, have never yet heard of its mouth; they only know that there are very great nations below them, some of whom raise two crops of maize a year. East-southeast of the country is a nation they call Chawawon, which came to visit them last summer. They wear beards, which shows intercourse with Europeans; they had come thirty days across land before reaching their country. This great river can hardly empty in Virginia, and we rather believe its mouth is in California. If the Indians, who promise to make me a canoe, do not fail to keep their word, we shall go into this river as soon as we can, with a Frenchman and this young man given me, who knows some of these languages, and has a readiness for learning others; we shall visit the nations which inhabit it, in order to open the way to so many of our fathers who have long awaited this happiness. This discovery will give us a complete knowledge of the southern or western sea.

“The Illinois are warriors; they make many slaves, whom they sell to the Ottawas for guns, powder, kettles, axes, and knives. They were formerly at war with the Nadouessi, but, having made peace some years since, I confirmed it, to facilitate their coming to Lapointe, where I am going to await them, in order to accompany them to their country.”

Much as he loved his children at Lapointe, and faithfully as he had served them, the voice of his superior had ordered him to this new, vaster, and more laborious field, which to his true Jesuit obedience was a task of love. The Illinois at once become dear to his heart as his future children; he studies their language, loses no opportunity of learning all about their country, its tribes and their customs, sends them presents of pious pictures and the loving messages of a father, welcomes every member of their nation who might visit Lapointe with open arms, and presses him to his heart, and devotes every moment of leisure afforded him from his labors to sedulous preparation for the contemplated mission of the Immaculate Conception. His intelligent mind fully comprehended the vast importance of the undertaking in its relations to the church and the civilized world, and conceived at once the bold and daring project of a thorough exploration of the great river around which so much mystery, intermingled with romantic fables and dim traditions, still hung. It is with equal truth and justice that Bancroft writes: “The purpose of discovering the Mississippi, of which the tales of the natives had published the magnificence, sprang from Marquette himself.”

It has already been stated that F. Marquette had sent some pious pictures to the Illinois, and by the same messenger to the Sioux, whom he expected to be embraced in his intended mission. The messenger who carried the father’s presents also bore his request for protection and a safe-conduct to such European missionaries as might visit or pass through their country, and a message, “That the black-gown wished to pass to the country of the Assinipoils and Kilistinons; that he was already among the Outagamis; and that he himself was going in the fall to the Illinois.”

Sad indeed must have been the feelings of the good father, when, early in the winter, the Sioux returned to him the pious pictures he had sent them, in which he saw an ominous forerunner of impending war. The Ottawas and Hurons had by their insolence aroused the indignation of the Sioux, and the latter had seized the tomahawk and prepared for the bloody and revengeful strife. His hopes of reaching the cabins of the Sioux by an overland route now vanished before the approaching storm. The Indians at Lapointe could not withstand the fierce onsets of the Dakotah war-parties, and first the Ottawas, abandoning their village, launched their canoes upon the lake, and were soon gathered in Ekaentoulon Island. The Hurons remained alone at Lapointe, and F. Marquette remained in the midst of them to minister to their spiritual wants, share their dangers, and uphold their faith and courage. And when they too were forced to depart, the good father, ever true to his spiritual flock, was content to “turn his back on his beloved Illinois to accompany his Hurons in their wanderings and hardships.” The Hurons settled at Mackinaw, a bleak and desolate spot, but the abundance of fish the neighboring waters afforded was certain to secure the fugitives from starvation, while the very desolation of the scene seemed a protection from hostile bands. Scarcely had the Hurons thrown up their cabins on this dreary shore, when a rude sylvan chapel, surmounted by a cross, graced and cheered the scene, and became the cradle of religion at the mission of Saint Ignatius. Such was the early origin of Michilimackinac. Beside the enclosure of cabins and chapel arose a palisade fort for defence. For several years F. Marquette labored in this remote and arduous station, cheered only by the consolations which spring from faith and by the bountiful harvests of souls he reaped.

Though longing to proceed on his mission to the Illinois, as all his letters so earnestly manifest, F. Marquette found ample work both for his mind and hands in arranging matters at Lapointe, so that his departure should cause as little damage as possible to that mission, to which he had been so faithful and devoted, and which he was now about to confide to the care of another, and in making the necessary preparations for his departure; for his time seemed now near at hand. The dreary days of winter were enlivened by recounting the projected plans of the coming spring, and in gathering all the information within his reach concerning the Mississippi and the nations inhabiting its banks. Most of the actual knowledge then possessed on the subject was derived from the accounts and relations of the Jesuit missionaries of the Northwest, and from the reports of the Canadian traders among the Indians. His inquiries of the more northern tribes were eagerly answered by startling fables of various hues and contradictory generalities, but nothing definite could be learned from them as to the course of the great river, its direction or outlet, or of the natives along its course. All was conjecture and theory. As early as 1639 the Sieur Nicolet, who was the interpreter of the French colony of New France, had penetrated westward to the furthest grounds of the Algonquins, and had encountered the Winnebagoes, “a people called so because they came from a distant sea, but whom the French erroneously called Puents.” And we learn from F. Vimont that “the Sieur Nicolet, who had penetrated furthest into those distant countries, avers that, had he sailed three days more on a great river which flows from that lake (Green Bay), he would have found the sea.” And although the Indians called the Mississippi itself “the sea,” and the Sieur Nicolet may have fallen into the same error, in either case it seems quite certain that he was the first to reach the waters of that river. In 1641, Fathers Isaac Jogues and Charles Raymbaut carried their missionary labors to the Sault St. Mary, and received distinct accounts of the Sioux, and of the great river on whose banks they lived. In 1658, after F. Garreau had suffered martyrdom on the St. Lawrence on his way to renew the Western missions destroyed by the recent Iroquois war, De Groseilles and another Frenchman penetrated to Lake Superior, and passed the winter on its shores. They visited the Sioux, learned with greater clearness and particularity of the course of the great river on whose banks they stood. Their annalist writes: “It was a beautiful river, large, broad, and deep, which would bear comparison, they say, with the St. Lawrence.” The missionaries of the Saguenay had also “heard of the Winnipegouek, and their bay whence three seas could be reached.” And war parties of the Iroquois told the missionaries of New York of their wars with the Ontoagannha, “whose towns lay on a beautiful river (Ohio), which leads to the great lake, as they called the sea, where they traded with Europeans who pray to God as we (the French) do, and have rosaries and bells to call men to prayer.” F. Ménard, the founder of the Ottawa mission, also heard, in 1660, of the Mississippi and the nations on its banks, and was only prevented from visiting them by meeting with a martyr’s death while prosecuting his work. F. Allouez, his successor, also writes of the great river, “which empties, as far as I can conjecture, into the sea of Virginia,” and was the first to reveal to Europeans its Indian name; for, in speaking of one of its tribes, he says: “They live on a great river called Messipi.” At the time that F. Dablon was appointed Superior of the Ottawa missions, and F. Marquette appointed to establish the intended Illinois mission, and the exploration of the river was about to be undertaken, the latter, as already stated, was for some time engaged in gathering information concerning its course and outlet. Three principal conjectures prevailed at this time: first, that it ran towards the southwest, and entered the Gulf of California; second, that it flowed into the Gulf of Mexico; third, that it took a more easterly direction, and discharged itself into the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere on the coast of Virginia. To F. Marquette belonged the glory of solving the problem, and thus of opening the interior of the continent to Christianity and civilization.

The war which was raging in the country rendered it impossible for the missionaries of themselves to undertake the opening of the long-desired mission of the Illinois, and they had accordingly applied for assistance to the French government to further this great enterprise. F. Marquette, as we have seen from his letters, remained ever ready at a moment’s notice from his superiors to advance into this dangerous field. He was not deterred by a consciousness of his own declining health, already enfeebled by labors and exposures, nor by the hostile character of the nations through whose country he would have to pass, nor by the danger of a cruel death at the hands of the fierce Dakotah. This last only made the prospect more enticing to one whose highest ambition was to win the glorious crown of martyrdom in opening the way for his brother Jesuits to follow in the battle of the faith. The same flotilla that carried his letter to F. Dablon to Quebec in the summer of 1672, on its return conveyed to him the joyous news that the petition of the missionaries had found favor with the government; that the Sieur Jolliet was designated to undertake the exploration of the Mississippi; and that F. Marquette was chosen the missionary of the expedition. It was the Blessed Virgin whom, F. Marquette says, “I had always invoked, since my coming to the Ottawa country, in order to obtain of God the favor of being able to visit the nations on the Mississippi River.” It was on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the same Blessed Virgin Mary that he received the glorious tidings that the realization of his hopes and prayers was at hand. He bestowed upon the great river the name of the Immaculate Conception, which, however, as well as its earlier Spanish name of River of the Holy Ghost, has since yielded to its original Indian appellation.

The exploring party, consisting of “the meek, single-hearted, unpretending, illustrious Marquette, with Jolliet for his associate, five Frenchmen for his companions, and two Algonquins as guides, lifting their canoes on their backs, and walking across the narrow portage that divides the Fox River from the Wisconsin,” set out upon their glorious expedition. Mr. J. G. Shea, to whom we are so much indebted for his researches into this interesting part of the history of our country, describes the voyage in the following graphic and eloquent manner:

“In the spring they embarked at Mackinaw in two frail bark canoes; each with his paddle in hand, and full of hope, they soon plied them merrily over the crystal waters of the lake. All was new to Marquette, and he describes as he went along the Menonomies, Green Bay, and Maskoutens, which he reached on the 7th of June, 1673. He had now attained the limit of former discoveries; the new world was before them; they looked back a last adieu to the waters which, great as the distance was, connected them with Quebec and their countrymen; they knelt on the shore to offer, by a new devotion, their lives, their honor, and their undertakings to their beloved Mother, the Virgin Mary Immaculate; then, launching on the broad Wisconsin, sailed slowly down its current, amid its vine-clad isles and its countless sand-bars. No sound broke the stillness, no human form appeared, and at last, after sailing seven days, on the 17th of June they happily glided into the great river. Joy that could find no utterance in words filled the grateful heart of Marquette.

“The broad river of the Conception, as he named it, now lay before them, stretching away hundreds of miles to an unknown sea. Soon all was new; mountain and forest had glided away; the islands, with their groves of cottonwood, became more frequent, and moose and deer browzed on the plains; strange animals were seen traversing the river, and monstrous fish appeared in its waters. But they proceeded on their way amid this solitude, frightful by its utter absence of man. Descending still further, they came to the land of the bison, or pisikiou, which, with the turkey, became sole tenants of the wilderness; all other game had disappeared. At last, on the 25th of June, they descried footprints on the shore. They now took heart again, and Jolliet and the missionary, leaving their five men in the canoes, followed a little beaten path to discover who the tribe might be. They travelled on in silence almost to the cabin-doors, when they halted, and with a loud halloa proclaimed their coming. Three villages lay before them; the first, roused by the cry, poured forth its motley group, which halted at the sight of the new-comers and the well-known dress of the missionary. Old men came slowly on, step by measured step, bearing aloft the all-mysterious calumet. All was silence; they stood at last before the two Europeans, and Marquette asked, ‘Who are you?’ ‘We are Illinois,’ was the answer, which dispelled all anxiety from the explorers, and sent a thrill to the heart of Marquette; the Illinois missionary was at last amid the children of that tribe which he had so long, so tenderly yearned to see.

“After friendly greetings at this town of Pewaria, and the neighboring one of Moing-wena, they returned to their canoes, escorted by the wondering tribe, who gave their hardy visitants a calumet, the safeguard of the West. With renewed courage and lighter hearts, they sailed in, and, passing a high rock with strange and monstrous forms depicted on its rugged surface, heard in the distance the roaring of a mighty cataract, and soon beheld Pekitanoui, or the Muddy River, as the Algonquins call the Missouri, rushing like some untamed monster into the calm and clear Mississippi, and hurrying in with its muddy waters the trees which it had rooted up in its impetuous course. Already had the missionaries heard of the river running to the western sea, to be reached by the branches of the Mississippi, and Marquette, now better informed, fondly hoped to reach it one day by the Missouri. But now their course lay south, and, passing a dangerous eddy, the demon of the Western Indians, they reached the Waboukigou, or Ohio, the river of the Shawnees, and, still holding on their way, came to the warm land of the cane, and the country which the mosquitoes might call their own. While enveloped in their sails as a shelter from them, they came upon a tribe who invited them to the shore. They were wild wanderers, for they had guns bought of Catholic Europeans at the East.

“Thus, after all had been friendly, and encouraged by this second meeting, they plied their oars anew, and, amid groves of cottonwood on either side, descended to the 33d degree, when, for the first time, a hostile reception was promised by the excited Metchigameas. Too few to resist, their only hope on earth was the mysterious calumet, and in heaven the protection of Mary, to whom they sent up fervent prayers. At last the storm subsided, and they were received in peace; their language formed an obstacle, but an interpreter was found, and after explaining the object of their coming, and announcing the great truths of Christianity, they embarked for Akamsea, a village thirty miles below on the eastern shore.

“Here they were well received, and learned that the mouth of the river was but ten days’ sail from this village; but they heard, too, of nations there trading with Europeans, and of wars between the tribes, and the two explorers spent a night in consultation. The Mississippi, they now saw, emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, between Florida and Tampico, two Spanish points; they might, by proceeding, fall into their hands. Thus far only Marquette traced the map, and he put down the names of other tribes of which they heard. Of these, in the Atotchasi, Matora, and Papihaka, we recognize Arkansas tribes; and the Akoroas and Tanikwas, Pawnees and Omahas, Kansas and Apiches, are well known in after-days.

“They accordingly set out from Akensea, on the 17th of July, to return. Passing the Missouri again, they entered the Illinois, and, meeting the friendly Kaskaskias at its upper portage, were led by them in a kind of triumph to Lake Michigan; for Marquette had promised to return and instruct them in the faith. Sailing along the lake, they crossed the outer peninsula of Green Bay, and reached the mission of Saint Francis Xavier just four months after their departure from it.

“Thus had the missionaries achieved their long-projected work. The triumph of the age was thus completed in the discovery and exploration of the Mississippi, which threw open to France the richest, most fertile and accessible territory of the New World. Marquette, whose health had been severely tried in this voyage, remained at St. Francis to recruit his strength before resuming his wonted missionary labors; for he sought no laurels, he aspired to no tinsel praise.

“The distance passed over by F. Marquette on this great expedition, in his little bark canoe, was two thousand seven hundred and sixty-seven miles. The feelings with which he regarded an enterprise having so grave a bearing on the future history and development of mankind may be appreciated from the following closing passage of the ninth section of his Voyages and Discoveries:

“?‘Had all this voyage caused but the salvation of a single soul, I should deem all my fatigue well repaid. And this I have reason to think; for, when I was returning, I passed by the Indians at Peoria. I was three days announcing the faith in all their cabins, after which, as we were embarking, they brought me to the water’s edge a dying child, which I baptized a little before it expired, by an admirable Providence, for the salvation of that innocent soul.’?”

F. Marquette prepared a narrative of his voyage down the Mississippi (from which the foregoing quotation is taken), and a map of that river; and on his return transmitted copies to his superior, by the Ottawa flotilla of that year. It is also probable that Frontenac, the Governor of New France, as he had promised, sent a copy of them to the French government. The loss of Jolliet’s narrative and map gave an inestimable value to those of Marquette. Yet the French government did not publish them, probably in consequence of the discontinuance of the publication of the Jesuit Relations about this time; and thus the great interests involved in the discovery were neglected. Fortunately, F. Marquette’s narrative fell into the hands of Thevenot, who had just published a collection of travels, and such was his appreciation of it that he issued a new volume, entitled Recueil de Voyages, in 1681, containing the narrative and map of the Mississippi. Mr. Sparks, in his life of F. Marquette, speaks thus of the narrative:

“It is written in a terse, simple, and unpretending style. The author relates what occurs, and describes what he sees, without embellishment or display. He writes as a scholar and as a man of careful observation and practical sense. There is no tendency to exaggerate, nor any attempt to magnify the difficulties he had to encounter, or the importance of his discovery. In every point of view, this tract is one of the most interesting of those which illustrate the early history of America.”

Having reached Green Bay, the exhausted voyager sank down under the effects of his recent travels and exposures. His disease was so obstinate and protracted that he suffered during the entire winter, though with patience and resignation, and did not recover before the end of the following summer. Having received from his superior the necessary orders for the establishment of the Illinois mission, he started on the 25th of October, 1674, for Kaskaskia. He was accompanied and assisted by two faithful and devoted Frenchmen, and by a number of Pottawattomies and Illinois Indians. They coasted along the mouth of Fox River, and then, advancing up as far as the small bay breaking into the peninsula, they reached the portage leading to the lake. As the canoes proceeded along the lake shore, the missionary walked upon the beach, returning to the canoes whenever the beach was broken by a river or stream; and their provisions were obtained from the abundant yield of the chase. On the 23d of November, the courageous missionary found his malady returning, but pushed on, amid cold and snow, until, on the 4th of December, he reached the Chicago River, which was closed with ice. Here again the unpropitious elements and his own infirmities compelled him to stop and spend the winter. But his time was not idly spent during this detention, for his missionary zeal found occupation in the spiritual care of his Indian companions, whom he instructed as well as he could, and sent them forward on their journey. His faithful Frenchmen remained now alone with him; but at a distance of fifty miles was an Illinois village, where there were two Frenchmen, traders and trappers; and these, hearing of the forlorn condition of the missionary, arranged that one of them should go and visit him. They had prepared a cabin for him, and the Indians, alarmed for his safety, were also anxious to send some of their tribe to convey their father and his effects to their village. Touched by their attentions, he sent them every assurance of his visiting them, intimating, however, the uncertainty of his doing so in the spring, in consequence of his continued illness. These messages only added to the alarm of the Indians, and the sachems assembled and sent a deputation to the black-gown. The presents they bore were three sacks of corn, dried meat, and pumpkins, and twelve beaver skins. The objects of their visits were, first, to make him a mat to sit on; second, to ask him for powder; third, supply him with food; fourth, to get some merchandise. The good father made answer in characteristic terms, as follows: “First, that I came to instruct them by speaking of the prayer; second, that I would not give them powder, as we endeavor to make peace everywhere, and because I did not wish them to begin a war against the Miamis; third, that we did not fear famine; fourth, that I would encourage the French to bring them merchandise, and that they must make reparation to the traders there for the beads taken from them while the surgeon was with me.” Presenting them with some axes, knives, and trinkets, he dismissed them with a promise to make every effort to visit them in a few days. Bidding their good father to “take heart,” and beseeching him to “stay and die in their country,” the deputation “returned to their winter camps.”

The ensuing winter months, though marked by every bodily suffering and privation, were replete with religious consolation. His whole time was spent in prayer. Admonished by his disease that his last end could not be far off, he offered his remaining days entirely to God. He lost sight of the sufferings of his body in the overflow of heavenly consolations with which his soul was ravished. Still the recollection that he had been appointed missionary of the Illinois, and the duty this seemed to impose upon him of laboring for the conversion of those noble but benighted souls, filled his heart with the desire of visiting them, if it should be the will of God, and the establishment of the Illinois mission became the absorbing thought of his mind and the burden of the prayers which he addressed to the throne of heaven. His sufferings he bore not only with patience, but with joy; if he prayed for their cessation, it was only with the view that he might thus be enabled to encounter the new sufferings, labors, and hardships of his mission, and that he might devote his remaining days to the salvation of his beloved Illinois. To obtain this privilege from heaven, he induced his companions to unite with him in a novena of prayers in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Some time after Christmas, 1675, his Patroness in heaven obtained the desired boon of health for her devoted client; for he soon began to recover from his disease, and, though still feeble, was enabled by the 29th of March, when the snow and ice began to melt, and the inundations compelled them to move, to set out for Kaskaskia, in the Upper Illinois. He arrived at that Illinois town on the 8th of April, but his journal was discontinued from the 6th of April, and we have no record of his movements from that time. He was received by his children as an angel from heaven, for they scarcely supposed he had escaped alive the rigors of the winter. It was Monday in Holy Week, and the good man immediately commenced his work. He visited the chiefs and ancients of the town, and gave them and the crowds who assembled in the cabins he visited the first necessary instructions in the Gospel. So great were the throngs that assembled to hear him preach that the narrow accommodations of the cabins could not hold them. On Maundy Thursday he called a general assembly of the people in the open field, a beautiful prairie near the town, which was decorated after the fashion of the country, and spread with mats and bear skins. He formed a little rustic altar by suspending some pieces of Indian taffety on cords, to which were attached, so as to be seen on all four sides, four large pictures of the Blessed Virgin, under whose invocation the mission was placed. The assembly was immense; composed of five hundred chiefs and ancients seated in a circle around the missionary, and around these stood fifteen hundred young men. Besides these, great numbers of women and children attended. He addressed his congregation with ten words or presents, according to the Indian fashion, associating each word or present, which represented some great truth or mystery, with one of the ten beads on the belt of the prayer which he held in his hand. He explained the object of his visit to them, preached Christ crucified – for it was the eve of Good Friday – and explained to them the principal mysteries of the Christian religion. The Holy Mass was then celebrated for the first time in this new mission. On each of the following days he continued his instructions, and on Easter Sunday he celebrated the great Feast of the Resurrection, offering up Mass for the second time. He took possession of the land in the name of his risen Lord, and bestowed upon the mission the name of the Immaculate Virgin Mary.

His former malady now returned with renewed violence. His strength was wasting away. To remain would accomplish no good for his children, for he was unable to discharge the duties of the missionary, and no alternative was left but to make an effort to reach his former mission, Mackinaw, where he hoped to die in the midst of his fellow-members of the Society of Jesus. He was the more willing now to seek rest in the bosom of his Redeemer and in the Society of his Blessed Mother in Heaven, because he had performed his promise, the mission of the Illinois had been founded, his words had been lovingly received by his people, the good seed had been sown in their hearts, the Holy Sacrifice had been offered up in their presence and for their salvation, and future missionaries might now advance to cultivate the field and reap the harvest he had prepared. His docile Indians, with the devotion of children, begged him to return to them as soon as his health should permit. He repeatedly promised them that he or some other missionary would come to continue the good work amongst them. The people followed him on his journey, escorted him thirty leagues on his way with great pomp, showing him every mark of friendship and affection, and many contended among themselves for the honor of carrying the scanty baggage he possessed. Taking the way of the St. Joseph’s River and the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, along which he had yet to travel over a hundred leagues through an unknown route, his strength soon began to fail entirely. He could no longer help himself; his two faithful French companions had to lift him in and out of his canoe when they landed at night; and so exhausted had he become under his wasting disease that they had to handle and carry him like a child. In the midst of his sufferings and the hardships of such a journey in his enfeebled health, his characteristic equanimity, joy, and gentleness never for a moment left him. He could even forget his own sufferings to console his companions. He encouraged them to sustain the fatigues of the way, assuring them that God would protect and defend them. His native mirthfulness was even in this extreme crisis conspicuous in his conversations. He now calmly saw the approach of death, and joyfully and heroically welcome it as the reward of his toils and sacrifices. He had some time before prepared a meditation on death, to serve him in these last hours of his life, which he now used with great consolation. He said his office to his last day. His devotions frequently assumed the shape of colloquies with his merciful Lord, with his Holy Mother, with his angel guardian, and with all heaven. He repeatedly pronounced with fervor the sublime words, “I believe that my Redeemer liveth”; and again, “Mary, Mother of grace, Mother of God, remember me.” Perceiving a river on whose banks loomed up a prominent eminence, he ordered his companions to stop, that he might die and be buried there. He pointed out the spot on this eminence in which he desired them to inter his remains. This river, until recent years, bore his name. His companions still desired to press forward, in the hope of reaching Mackinaw; but they were driven back by the wind, and, entering the River Marquette by its former channel, they erected a bark cabin, under which Marquette, like his great model, Saint Francis Xavier, was stretched upon the shore, and, like him, sighed only to be dissolved and to be with Christ. So cheerfully did he realize his approaching dissolution that he gave all the necessary directions to his companions touching his burial. He had a week before blessed some water, which he instructed them how to use on the occasion, how to arrange his hands, feet, and head, with what religious ceremonies to bury him, even telling them that they should take his little altar bell, and ring it as they carried him to the grave. On the eve of his death, he told them with a countenance radiant with joy that the morrow would be his last day on earth. Still mindful of his sacred ministry, and anxious to be doing good, he administered the sacrament of penance to his two companions for the last time. He thanked them for their charity to him during this arduous and eventful voyage, begged their pardon for the trouble he had given them, and directed them to ask pardon for him and in his name of all the Fathers and Brothers of the Society of Jesus in the Ottawa country; he also gave them a paper in which he had written all his faults since his last confession, which he begged them to give to his superior, that he might pray the more earnestly for him. He promised not to forget them in heaven. Ever mindful of others in this trying moment, and overflowing with charity for his neighbor, he insisted upon his companions taking some rest, leaving him to commune with heaven, assuring them that his hour was not yet at hand, and that he would call them in due time. This he did; summoning them to his side, just as his agony was approaching. Hastening to him, they fell melting into tears at his feet. He embraced them for the last time, called for the holy water he had blessed and his reliquary, and, taking his crucifix from around his neck, and handing it to one of them, he requested him to hold it up before him, so that he could behold it every moment he had yet to live. Clasping his hands, and fixing his eyes affectionately on the image of his expiring Saviour, he pronounced aloud his profession of faith, and thanked God for the favor he enjoyed in dying a Jesuit, a missionary of the cross, and, above all, in dying in a miserable cabin, amid forests, and destitute of all human consolation and assistance. He then communed secretly for some time with his Creator, but his devotion from time to time found vent in the ejaculations, “Sustinuit anima mea in verba ejus,” and “Mater Dei, memento mei.” These were his last words before he was taken with the agony of death. His companions frequently pronounced the names of Jesus and Mary, as he had previously requested them to do, and, when they saw he was about to expire, they called out “Jesus, Maria,” whereupon he repeated those enrapturing names several times with distinctness, and then suddenly, as if his Saviour and Mother had appeared to him, he raised his eyes above the crucifix, gazing with a countenance lit up with pleasure at those blissful apparitions. He expired as peacefully and gently as a child sinking into its evening slumber.

“Thus he died, the great apostle,
Far away in regions West;
By the Lake of the Algonquins
Peacefully his ashes rest;
But his spirit still regards us
From his home among the blest.”

The devoted companions of the illustrious missionary, happy, in the midst of their bereavement, in the privilege of witnessing one of the most heroic and saintly deaths recorded in the history of our race, carried out every injunction of their departed father, and added every act that love and veneration could suggest, and that their impoverished condition in the wilderness could afford. They laid out his remains as he had directed, rang the little altar bell as they carried him with profound respect to the mound of earth selected by himself, interred him there, and raised a large cross to mark the sacred spot.

The surviving companions of the deceased now prepared to embark. One of them had been ill for some time, suffering with such depression of spirits and feebleness of body that he could neither eat nor sleep. Just before embarking he knelt at the grave of his saintly friend, and begged him to intercede for him in heaven as he had promised, and, taking some earth from the breast of the departed, and placing it upon his own breast, it is related that he felt his sadness and bodily infirmity immediately depart, and he resumed his voyage in health and gladness. Many are the pious traditions of miraculous results attributed to the sanctity of F. Marquette; many of them are still handed down among the Western missionaries, and some of them have found a place in the pages of serious history.

The remains of the saintly Jesuit were, two years afterwards, disinterred by his own flock, the Kiskakons, while returning from their hunting-grounds, placed in a neat box of bark, and reverently carried to their mission. The flotilla of canoes, as it passed along in funeral solemnity, was joined by a party of the Iroquois, and, as they approached Mackinaw, many other canoes, including those of the two missionaries of the place, united in the imposing convoy, and the deep, reverential chant, De Profundis, arose heavenward from the bosom of the lake until the body reached the shore. It was carried in procession with cross, burning tapers, and fragrant incense to the church, where every possible preparation had been made for so interesting and affecting a ceremony; and, after the Requiem service, the precious relics were deposited in a vault prepared for them in the middle of the church, “where he reposes,” says the pious chronicler, “as the guardian angel of our Ottawa missions.” “Ever after,” says Bancroft, “the forest rangers, if in danger on Lake Michigan, would invoke his name. The people of the West will build his monument.”

The following notice of the character of F. Marquette is from the gifted pen of Mr. Shea:

“Such was the edifying and holy death of the illustrious explorer of the Mississippi, on Saturday, the 18th of May, 1675. He was of a cheerful, joyous disposition, playful even in his manner, and universally beloved. His letters show him to us as a man of education, close observation, sound sense, strict integrity, a freedom from exaggeration, and yet a vein of humor which here and there breaks out in spite of all his self-command.

“But all these qualities are little compared to his zeal as a missionary, to his sanctity as a man. His holiness drew on him in life the veneration of all around him, and the lapse of years has not even now destroyed it in the descendants of those who knew him. In one of his sanctity we naturally find an all-absorbing devotion to the Mother of the Saviour, with its constant attendants, an angelical love of purity, and a close union of the heart with God. It is, indeed, characteristic with him. The privilege which the Church honors under the title of the Immaculate Conception was the constant object of his thoughts; from his early youth he daily recited the little offices of the Immaculate Conception and fasted every Saturday in her honor. As a missionary, a variety of devotions directed to the same end still show his devotions, and to her he turned in all his trials. When he discovered the great river, when he founded his new mission, he gave it the name of the Conception, and no letter, it is said, ever came from his hand that did not contain the words, ‘Blessed Virgin Immaculate’; and the smile that lighted up his dying face induced his poor companions to believe that she had appeared before the eyes of her devoted client.

“Like Saint Francis Xavier, whom he especially chose as the model of his missionary career, he labored nine years for the moral and social improvement of nations sunk in paganism and vice, and, as he was alternately with tribes of varied tongues, found it was necessary to acquire knowledge of many American languages: six he certainly spoke with ease; many more he is known to have understood less perfectly. His death, however, was, as he had always desired, more like that of the apostle of the Indies; there is, indeed, a striking resemblance between their last moments; and the wretched cabin, the desert shore, the few destitute companions, the lonely grave, all harmonize in Michigan and Sancian.”

– text taken from the article “F. James Marquette, S.J.” in the February 1873 edition of Catholic World magazine, author unknown