Western Characters Part 3

[46] "The Indians are immoderately fond of play."--_Warburton_, vol. i., p. 218.

[47] These used cards; but they have, among themselves, numerous games of chance, older than the discovery of the continent.

[48] "The Cherokee and Mobilian families of nations are more numerous now than ever."--_Bancroft_, vol. iii., p. 253. In speaking of this declamation about the extinction of the race, Mr. Flint very pertinently remarks: "One would think it had been discovered, that the population, the improvements, and the social happiness of our great political edifice, ought never to have been erected in the place of these habitations of cruelty."--_Geography_, vol. i., p. 107.

[49] Idem.

[50] This is De Tocqueville's estimate.--_Democracy in America_, vol.

ii., chap. 10.

[51] "We may as well endeavor to make the setting sun stand still on the summit of the Rocky Mountains, as attempt to arrest the final extermination of the Indian race!"--_Merivale on Colonization_--_Lecture_ 19.

The principle stated in the text will apply with equal force to the negro-race; and those who will look the facts firmly in the face, can not avoid seeing, that the ultimate solution of the problem of American Slavery, can be nothing but _the sword_.



"Spread out earth's holiest records here, Of days and deeds to reverence dear: A zeal like this, what pious legends tell?"

The shapeless knight-errantry of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, rich as it was in romance and adventure, is not to be compared, in any valuable characteristic, to the noiseless self-devotion of the men who first explored the Western country. The courage of the knight was a part of his savage nature; his confidence was in the strength of his own right arm; and if his ruggedness was ever softened down by gentler thoughts, it was only when he asked forgiveness for his crimes, or melted in sensual idolatry of female beauty.

It would be a curious and instructive inquiry, could we inst.i.tute it with success, how much of the contempt of danger manifested by the wandering knight was referable to genuine valor, and what proportion to the strength of a Milan coat, and the temper of a Toledo or Ferrara blade. And it would be still more curious, although perhaps not so instructive, to estimate the purity and fidelity of the heroines of chivalry; to ascertain the amount of true devotion given them by their admirers, "without hope of reward."

But without abating its interest by invidious and ungrateful inquiries, we can see quite enough--in its turbulence, its cruelty, arrogance, and oppression--to make us thank Heaven that "the days of chivalry are gone." And from that chaotic scene of rapine, raid, and murder, we can turn with pleasure to contemplate the truer, n.o.bler chivalry--the chivalry of love and peace, whose weapons were the kindness of their hearts, the purity of their motives, and the self-denial of their lives.

The term "_voyageur_"[52] literally signifies "traveller;" and by this modest name are indicated some of the bravest adventurers the world has ever seen. But it is not in its usual, common-place signification that I employ the word, nor yet in that which is given it by most writers on the subject of early French settlements and explorations. Men are often affected by the names given them, either of opprobrium or commendation; but words are quite as frequently changed, restricted, or enlarged in meaning, by their application to men. For example: you apply the word soldier to a cla.s.s of men; and if robbery be one of the characteristics of that cla.s.s, "soldier" will soon come to mean "robber" too. And thus, though the parallel is only logical, has it been with the term "_voyageur_." The cla.s.s of men to whom it is applied were travellers--_voyageurs_; but they were _more_; and as the habits and qualities of men came in time to be better understood than the meaning of French words, the term, used in reference to Western history, took much of its significance from the history and character of the men it a.s.sumed to describe. Thus, _un voyageur_ means not only a traveller, but a traveller with a purpose; an adventurer among the Western wilds; a chivalrous missionary, either in the cause of science or religion. It includes high courage, burning zeal for church and country, and the most generous self-devotion. It describes such men as Marquette, La Salle, Joliet, Gravier, and hundreds of others equally ill.u.s.trious, who lived and died among the dangers and privations of the wilderness; who opened the way for civilization and Christianity among the savages, and won, many of them, crowns of martyrdom.

They were almost all Frenchmen. The Spaniards who came to this continent were mere gold-seekers, thirsting only for wealth; and if they sought to propagate Christianity, or rather the Christian _name_, it was only a sanguinary bigotry that prompted them. On the other hand, the English emigrants came to take possession of the country for themselves. The conversion of the natives, or territorial acquisition for the mother-country, were to them objects of barely secondary importance.

They believed themselves persecuted--some of them _were_ persecuted--and they fled: it was only safety for themselves, and the rich lands of the Indian, that they sought. Providence reserved for the French chevaliers and missionaries the glory of leaving their homes without compulsion, real or imaginary, to penetrate an inhospitable wilderness; to undergo fatigues; to encounter dangers, and endure privations of a thousand kinds; enticed by no golden glitter, covetous of no riches, save such as are "laid up in heaven!" They came not as conquerors, but as ministers of peace, demanding only hospitality. They never attacked the savages with sword or f.a.got; but extending hands not stained by blood, they justified their profession by relief and love and kindly offices.

Sometimes, indeed, they received little tracts of land; not seized by the hand of power, nor grasped by superior cunning, but possessed as the free gift of simple grat.i.tude; and upon these they lived in peace, surrounded by savages, but protected by the respect inspired by blameless and beneficent lives. Many of those whose vows permitted it, intermarried among the converted natives, and left the seeds of many meliorations in a stony soil; and many of them, when they died, were as sincerely mourned by the simple children of the forest, as if they had been chiefs and braves.

Such were the men of peace who penetrated the wilderness through the French settlements in Canada, and preached the gospel to the heathen, where no white man had ever before been seen; and it is particularly to this cla.s.s that I apply the word at the head of this article. But the same gentle spirit pervaded other orders of adventurers--men of the sword and buckler, as well as of the stole and surplice. These came to establish the dominion of _La Belle France_; but it was not to oppress the simple native, or to drive him from his lands. Kindness marked even the conduct of the rough soldier; and such men as La Salle, and Iberville, who were stern enough in war, and rigid enough in discipline, manifested always an anxious solicitude for the _rights_, as well as for the spiritual welfare of the Indian. They gave a generous confidence where they were conscious of no wish to injure; they treated frankly and on equal terms, with those whom their religion and their native kindness alike taught them to consider brethren and friends. Take, for example, that significant anecdote of La Salle, related by the faithful chronicler[53] of his unfortunate expeditions. He was building the fort of _Crevecoeur_, near the spot where now stands the city of Peoria, on the Illinois river; and even the name of his little fortress (_Crevecoeur_, Broken Heart) was a mournful record of his shattered fortunes. The means of carrying out his n.o.ble enterprise (the colonizing of the Mississippi valley) were lost; the labor of years had been rendered ineffectual by one shipwreck; his men were discontented, even mutinous, "attempting," says Hennepin, "first to poison, and then desert him;" his mind was distracted, his heart almost broken, by acc.u.mulated disasters. Surrounded thus by circ.u.mstances which might well have rendered him careless of the feelings of the savages around him, he observed that they had become cold and distant--that in effect they no longer viewed him as their friend. The Iroquois,[54] drifting from the sh.o.r.es of Lake Ontario, where they had always been the bitterest foes of the French, had instilled fear and hatred into their minds; it was even said that some of his own men had encouraged the growing discontent. In this juncture, what measures does he take? Strengthen his fortifications, and prepare for war, as the men of other nations had done? Far from it. Soldier and adventurer as he was, he had no wish to shed innocent blood; though with his force he might have defied all the nations about him. He went as a friend, frankly and generously, among them, and demanded the reasons of their discontent. He touched their hearts by his confidence, convinced them of his friendship, and attached them to himself more devotedly than ever. A whole history in one brief pa.s.sage!

But it is more especially to the _voyageurs_ of the church--the men of faith and love--that I wish to direct my readers' attention: To such men as Le Caron, a Franciscan, with all the zeal and courage and self-abnegation of his order, who wandered and preached among the b.l.o.o.d.y Iroquois, and upon the waters of Huron, as early as 1616: to Mesnard, a devoted missionary of the same order, who, in 1660, founded a mission at the Sault de Ste. Marie, and then went into the forest to induce the savages to listen to the glad tidings he had brought, and never came back: to Father Allouez, who rebuilt the mission five years afterward (the first of these houses of G.o.d which was not destroyed or abandoned), who subsequently crossed the lakes, and preached to the Indians on Fox river, where, in one of the villages of the Miamis and Mascoutens, Marquette found a cross still standing, after the lapse of years, where Allouez had raised it, covered with the offerings of the simple natives to an unknown G.o.d. He is the same, too, who founded Kaskaskia, probably the earliest settlement in the great valley, and whose history ends (significant fact!) with the record of his usefulness. To Father Pinet, who founded Cahokia, and was so successful in the conversion of the natives, that his little chapel could not contain the numbers who resorted to his ministrations: to Father Marest, the first preacher against intemperance; and, finally, to Marquette, the best and bravest of them all, the most single-hearted and unpretending!

Enthusiasm is a characteristic of the French nation; a trait in some individuals elevated to a sublime self-devotion, and in others degraded to mere excitability. The vivacity, gesticulation, and grimace, which characterize most of them, are the external signs of this nature; the calm heroism of the seventeenth century, and the insane devotion of the nineteenth, were alike its fruits. The _voyageur_ possessed it, in common with all his countrymen. But in him it was not noisy, turbulent, or egotistical; military glory had "neither part nor lot" in his schemes; the conquests he desired to make were the conquests of faith; the dominion he wished to establish was the dominion of Jesus.

In the pursuit of these objects, or rather of this single object, I have said he manifested the enthusiasm of his race; but it was the n.o.blest form of that characteristic. The fire that burned in his bosom was fed by no selfish purpose. To have thought of himself, or of his own comforts, or glory, to the detriment of any Christian enterprise, however dangerous or unpromising, would, in his eyes, have been a deadly sin.

At Sault de Ste. Marie, Father Marquette heard of many savages (whom he calls "G.o.d's children") living in barbarism, far to the west. With five boatmen and one companion, he at once set out for an unexplored, even unvisited wilderness. He had what they had not--the gospel; and his heart yearned toward them, as the heart of a mother toward an afflicted child. He went to them, and bound them to him "in the bond of peace." If they received him kindly--as they usually did, for even a savage recognises and respects genuine devotion--he preached to them, mediated among them, softened their hearts, and gathered them into the fold of G.o.d. If they met him with arms in their hands--as they sometimes did, for savages, like civilized men, do not always know their friends--he resolutely offered peace; and, in his own simple and pious language, "G.o.d touched their hearts," and they cast aside their weapons and received him kindly.

But the _voyageur_ had higher qualities than enthusiasm. He was capable of being so absorbed in a cause as to lose sight of his own ident.i.ty; to forget that he was more than an instrument in the hands of G.o.d, to do G.o.d's work: and the distinction between these traits is broad indeed!

Enthusiasm is noisy, obtrusive--self-abnegation is silent, retiring; enthusiasm is officious, troublesome, careless of time and place--self-abnegation is prudent, gentle, considerate. The one is active and fragmentary--the other pa.s.sive, but constant.

Thus, when the untaught and simple native was to be converted, the missionary took note of the spiritual capacity as well as of the spiritual wants; he did not force him to receive, at once, the whole creed of the church, as a mere enthusiast would have done; for _that_ wisdom would feed an infant with strong meats, even before it had drawn its mother's milk. Neither did he preach the gospel with the sword, like the Spaniard, nor with fire and f.a.got, like the puritan. He was wise as the serpent, but gentle as the dove. He took the wondering Indian by the hand; received him as a brother; won him over to listen patiently; and then taught him first that which he could most easily comprehend: he led him to address the throne of grace, or, in the language of the time, "to embrace the prayer;" because even the savage believed in Deity. As his understanding was expanded, and his heart purified--as every heart must be which truly lifts itself to G.o.d--he gradually taught him the more abstruse and wonderful doctrines of the Church of Christ. Gently and imperceptibly he led him on, until the whole tremendous work was done. The untutored savage, if he knew nothing else, yet knew the name of his Redeemer. The b.l.o.o.d.y warfare, the feuds and jealousies of his tribe, if not completely overcome, at least were softened and ameliorated. When he could not convert, he endeavored to humanize; and among the tribes of the Illinois,[55] though they were never thoroughly Christianized, the influence of the good fathers soon prevailed to abolish the barbarous practice of torturing captives.[56] For though they might not embrace the religion, the savages venerated its teachers, and loved them for their gentleness.

And this gentleness was not want of courage; for never in the history of the world has truer valor been exhibited than that shown by the early missionary and his compeers, the first military adventurers! Read Joutel's account of the melancholy life and death of La Salle; read the simple, unpretending "Journal" of Marquette;[57] and compare their constancy and heroism with that displayed at any time in any cause! But the _voyageur_ possessed higher qualities than courage, also; and here again we recur to his perfect abnegation of himself; his renunciation of all personal considerations.

Courage takes note of danger, but defies it: the _voyageur_ was careless of danger, because he counted it as nothing; he gave it no thought, because it only affected _himself_; and he valued not his own safety and comfort, so long as he could serve the cause by forgetting them. Mere courage is combative, even pugnacious; but the _voyageur_ fought only "the good fight;" he had no pride of conquest, save in the victories of Faith, and rather would suffer, himself, than inflict suffering upon others. Mere courage is restless, impatient, purposeless: but the _voyageur_ was content to remain wherever he could do good, tentative only in the cause of Christ, and distracted by no objects from his mission. His religion was his inspiration; his conscience his reward.

His system may have been perverted, his zeal mistaken, his church a sham; we are not arguing that question. But the purity of his intentions, the sincerity of his heart, can not be doubted; and the most intolerant protestant against "the corruptions of Rome" will, at least, admit that even catholicism was better than the paganism of the savage.

"There is not," says Macaulay,[58] "and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church." And certainly all other systems combined have never produced one t.i.the of the astounding results brought about by this alone. Whether she has taught truth or falsehood; whether, on the whole, it had been better or worse for the cause of Christianity, had no such organization ever existed; whether her claims be groundless or well-founded, are questions foreign to our purpose. But that her polity is the most powerful--the best adapted to the ends she has in view--of all that man has. .h.i.therto invented, there can be no doubt. Her missionaries have been more numerous and more successful, ay, and more devoted, than those of any other church. They have gone where even the sword of the conqueror could not cleave his way. They have built churches in the wilderness, which were time-worn and crumbling when the first emigrant penetrated the forests. They have preached to youthful savages who never saw the face of another white man, though they lived to three-score years and ten. They have prayed upon the sh.o.r.es of lonely lakes and rivers, which were not mapped by geographers for centuries after their deaths. They have travelled on foot, unarmed and alone, where an army could not march. And everywhere their zeal and usefulness have ended only with their lives; and always with their latest breath they have mingled prayers for the salvation of their flocks, with aspirations for the welfare of their church. For though countless miles of sea and land were between her and them, their loyalty and affection to the great spiritual Mother were never forgotten. "In spite of oceans and deserts; of hunger and pestilence; of spies and penal laws; of dungeons and racks, of gibbets and quartering-blocks," they have been found in every country, at all times, ever active and zealous. And everywhere, in palace, or hovel, or wilderness, they have been true sons of the church, loyal and obedient.

An organization capable of producing such results is certainly well worth examination. For the influence she has wielded in ages past gives promise of her future power; and it becomes those who think her permanence pernicious to the world, to avoid her errors and yet imitate her wisdom. If the system be a falsehood and a sham, it is a most gigantic and successful one, and it is of strange longevity. It has lived now more than fifteen hundred years, and one hundred and fifty millions of people yet believe it. If it be a counterfeit, it is high time the cheat were detected and exposed. Let those who have the truth give forth its light, that the falsehood may wither and die. Unless they do so, the life which has already extended over so many centuries may gain fresh vigor, and renew its youth. Even yet the vision of the essayist may be realized: "She may still exist in undiminished vigor, when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's!"

It was to this church that the early _voyageurs_ belonged. And I do not use that word "belonged" as it is employed in modern times among protestants: I mean _more_ than that convenient, loosely-fitting profession, which, like a garment, is thrown on and off, as the exigencies of hypocrisy or cupidity may require. These men actually _did belong_ to the church. They were hers, soul and body; hers, in life and in death; hers to go whithersoever she might direct, to do whatsoever she might appoint. They believed the doctrines they taught with an abiding, _active_ faith; and they were willing to be spent in preaching them to the heathen.

It has always been a leading principle in the policy of the Roman church, to preserve her unity, and she has been enabled to do so, princ.i.p.ally by the ramified and elastic polity for which she has been distinguished, to which she owes much of her extent and power, as well as no small part of the reproach so liberally bestowed upon her in the pages of history. There are many "arms" in her service: a man must be impracticable indeed, when she can find no place in which to make him useful, or to prevent his being mischievous. She never drives one from the pale of the church who can benefit it as a communicant, or injure it as a dissenter. If he became troublesome at home, she has, in all ages, had enterprises on foot in which she might clothe him with authority, and send him to the uttermost parts of the earth; thus ridding herself of a dangerous member, and, by the same act, enlarging the sphere of her own dominion. Does an enthusiast become noisy, or troublesome upon unimportant points, the creed is flexible, and the mother will not quarrel with her child, for his earnestness may convince and lead astray more valuable sons and daughters. She will establish a new order, of which the stubborn fanatic shall be founder; the new order is built into the old church organization, and its founder becomes a dignitary of the ecclesiastical establishment. Instead of becoming a dangerous heretic and schismatic, he is attached to orthodoxy by cords stronger than steel; henceforth all his earnest enthusiasm shall be directed to the advancement of his order, and consequently of his church. Does one exhibit inflexibility in some matter of conscience upon which the church insists, there are many of G.o.d's children in the wilderness starving in spirit for the bread of life; and to these, with that bread, shall the refractory son be sent. He receives the commission; departs upon his journey, glad to forget a difference with his spiritual superiors; preaches to the heathen; remembers only that the church is his mother; wins a crown of martyrdom, and is canonized for the encouragement of others!

Thus she finds a place for all, and work enough for each; and thus are thrown off the elements of schism and rebellion. Those who had most courage in the cause of right; all who were likely to be guided in matters of conscience by their own convictions; the most sincere and single-hearted, the firmest and purest and bravest, were, in matters of controversy, the most dangerous champions, should they range themselves against the teaching of the church. They were consequently, at the period of which I am writing, the men whom it was most desirable to send away; and they were eminently well fitted for the arduous and wasting duties of the missionary.

To this cla.s.s belonged the large majority of the _voyageur_ priests: men who might be inconvenient and obtrusive monitors, or formidable adversaries in controversy, if they remained at home; but who could only be useful--who of all men could be _most_ useful--in gathering the heathen into the fold of the church. There were, doubtless, a few of another cla.s.s; the restless, intriguing, and disobedient, who, though not formidable, were troublesome. But even when these joined the missionary expeditions, they did but little to forward the work, and are ent.i.tled to none of the honor so abundantly due to their more sincere brethren. To this cla.s.s, for example, belonged the false and egotistical Hennepin, who only signalized himself by endeavoring to appropriate the reputation so hardly won by the brave and unfortunate La Salle.[59]

It does not appear upon the record that any of these men--of either the restless and ambitious, or of the better cla.s.s--were literally _sent away_. But such has been the politic practice of this church for many ages; and we may safely believe, that when she was engaged in an unscrupulous and desperate contest for the recovery, by fair means or foul, of her immense losses, there might be many in the ranks of her pious priesthood whom it would be inconvenient to retain at home. And during that conflict especially, with the most formidable enemies she ever had, she could not afford to be enc.u.mbered.

But whatever may have been the motives of their spiritual superiors, the missionaries themselves were moved only by the considerations of which we have spoken--the truest piety and the most burning zeal. Of these influences they were conscious; but we shall perhaps not do the character injustice if we add another spur to action, of which they were _not_ conscious. There is a vein of romance in the French composition; a love of adventure for the sake of the adventure itself, which, when not tamed or directed, makes a Frenchman fitful, erratic, and unreliable.

When it is toned by personal ambition, it becomes a sort of Paladin contempt for danger; sometimes a crazy furor. When accompanied by powerful intellect, and strengthened by concentration on a purpose, it makes a great commander--great for the quickness of his comprehension, the suddenness of his resolutions, the rapidity of their execution. When humanized by love, and quickened by religious zeal, it is purified of every selfish thought, and produces the chivalrous missionary, whom neither fire nor flood, neither desert nor pathless wilderness, shall deter from obeying the command of Him who sent his gospel "unto every creature." And thus are even those traits, which so often curse the world with insane ambition and sanguinary war, turned by the power of a true benevolence to be blessings of incalculable value.

Such were the purposes, such the motives, of this band of n.o.ble men; and whatever may have been their errors, we must at least accord them the virtues of _sincerity_, _courage_, _and self-denial_. But let us look a little more closely at the means by which they accomplished undertakings which, to any other race of men, would have been not only impracticable, but utterly desperate. Take again, as the representative of his cla.s.s, the case of Father Marquette, than whom, obscure as his name is in the wastes of history, no man ever lived a more instructive and exemplary life.

From the year 1668 to 1671,[60] Marquette had been preaching at the Sault de Sainte Marie, a little below the foot of Lake Superior. He was a.s.sociated with others in that mission; but the largest type, though it thrust itself no higher than the smallest, will make the broadest impress on the page of history; and even in the meager record of that time, we may trace the influence of his gentle but firm spirit--those by whom he was accompanied evidently took their tone from him. But he was one of the Church's pioneers; that cla.s.s whose eager, single-hearted zeal is always pushing forward to new conquests of the faith; and when he had put aside the weapons that opposed their way, to let his followers in, his thoughts at once went on to more remote and suffering regions. During his residence at the Sault, rumors and legends were continually floating in of the unknown country lying to the west--"the Land of the Great River," the Indians called it--until the mind of the good father became fully possessed with the idea of going to convert the nations who dwelt upon its sh.o.r.es. In the year 1671, he took the first step in that direction, moving on to Point St. Ignatius, on the main land, north of the island of Mackinac. Here, surrounded by his little flock of wondering listeners, he preached until the spring of 1673; but all the time his wish to carry the gospel where its sound had never been heard was growing stronger. He felt in his heart the impulse of his calling, to lead the way and open a path for the advance of light. At the period mentioned, he received an order from the wise intendant in New France, M. Talon, to explore the pathless wilderness to the westward.

Then was seen the true spirit of the man, and of his order. He gathered together no armament; asked the protection of no soldiers; no part of the cargo of his little boat consisted of gunpowder, or of swords or guns; his only arms were the spirit of love and peace; his trust was in G.o.d for protection. Five boatmen, and one companion, the Sieur Joliet, composed his party. Two light bark canoes were his only means of travelling; and in these he carried a small quant.i.ty of Indian corn and some jerked meat, his only means of subsistence.

Thus equipped, he set out through Green Bay and up Fox river, in search of a country never yet visited by any European. The Indians endeavored to dissuade him, wondering at his hardihood, and still more at the motives which could induce him thus to brave so many dangers. They told him of the savage Indians, to whom it would be only pastime to torture and murder him; of the terrible monsters which would swallow him and his companions, "canoes and all;" of the great bird called the _Piasau_,[61]

which devoured men, after carrying them in its horrible talons to inaccessible cliffs and mountains; and of the scorching heat, which would wither him like a dry leaf. "I thanked them kindly," says the resolute but gentle father, "for their good counsel; but I told them that I could not profit by it, since the salvation of souls was at stake, for which object I would be overjoyed to give my life." Shaking them by the hand, one by one, as they approached to bid him farewell, as they thought, for the last time, he turned his back upon safety and peace, and departed upon his self-denying pilgrimage.

Let him who sits at ease in his cushioned pew at home--let him who lounges on his velvet-covered sofa in the pulpit, while his well-taught choir are singing; who rises as the strains are dying, and kneels upon a cushioned stool to pray; who treads upon soft carpets while he preaches, in a white cravat, to congregations clad in broadcloth, silk, and satin--let him pause and ponder on the difference between his works, his trials, his zeal--ay, and his glory, both of earth and heaven!--and those of Father James Marquette!

The little party went upon their way; the persuasions of their simple-hearted friends could not prevail, for the path of duty was before them, and the eye of G.o.d above. Having pa.s.sed through Green Bay, and painfully dragged their canoes over the rapids of Fox river, they reached a considerable village, inhabited by the united tribes of Kickapoos, Miamis, and Mascoutimes. Here they halted for a time, as the mariner, about to prove the dangers of a long voyage, lingers for a day in the last port he is likely to enter for many months. Beyond this point no white man had ever gone; and here, if anywhere, the impulses of a natural fear should have made themselves felt. But we hear of no hesitation, no shrinking from the perilous task; and we know from the unpretending "Journal" of the good father, that a retreat, nay, even a halt--longer than was necessary to recruit exhausted strength, and renew the memory of former lessons among the natives--was never thought of.

"My companion," said Marquette, referring to Joliet, "is an envoy from the king of France, and I am an humble minister of G.o.d. I have no fear, _because I shall consider it the highest happiness to die in the service of my master!_" There was no bravado in this, for, unlike many from whom you may, any day, hear the same declaration, he set forth immediately to encounter the perils of his emba.s.sy.

The Indians, unable to prevail with him to abandon the enterprise, made all their simple provision for his comfort; and, furnishing him with guides and carriers across the portage to the Wisconsin river, parted with him as one bound for eternity. Having brought them safely to the river, the guides left them "alone in that unknown country, in the hand of G.o.d;" and, trusting to the protection of that hand, they set out upon their journey down the stream.[62] Seven days after, "with inexpressible joy," they emerged upon the bosom of the great river. During all this time they had seen no human being, though, probably, many a wandering savage had watched them from the covert of the bank, as they floated silently between the forests. It was an unbroken solitude, where the ripple of their paddles sounded loudly on the ear, and their voices, subdued by the stillness, were sent back in lonely echoes from the sh.o.r.e.

They were the first white men who ever floated on the bosom of that mighty river[63]--"the envoy from the king of France, and the emba.s.sador of the King of kings." What were their thoughts we know not, but from Marquette's simple "Journal;" for, in returning to Quebec, Joliet's boat was wrecked in sight of the city, and all his papers lost.[64] Of the Sieur himself, we know nothing, save as the companion of Marquette on this voyage; but from this alone his fame is imperishable.

They sailed slowly down the river, keeping a constant outlook upon the banks for signs of those for whose spiritual welfare the good father had undertaken his perilous journey. But for more than sixty leagues not a human form or habitation could be seen. They had leisure, more than they desired, to admire the grand and beautiful scenery of that picturesque region. In some places the cliffs rose perpendicularly for hundreds of feet from the water's edge; and nodding over their brows, and towering against the sky, were stately pines and cedars of the growth of centuries. Here, there lay between the river and the cliffs, a level prairie, waving in all the luxuriance of "the leafy month of June;"

while beyond, the bluffs, enclosing the natural garden, softened by the distance, and clothed in evergreen, seemed but an extension of the primitive savanna. Here, a dense, primeval forest grew quite down to the margin of the water; and, hanging from the topmost branches of the giant oaks, festoons of gray and graceful moss lay floating on the rippled surface, or dipped within the tide. Here, the large, smooth roots of trees half undermined, presented seats and footholds, where the pleasant shade invited them to rest, and shelter from the sultry summer sun.

Anon, an open prairie, with no cliff or bluff beyond, extended undulating from the river, until the eye, in straining to measure its extent, was wearied by the effort, and the plain became a waving sea of rainbow colors; of green and yellow, gold and purple. Again, they pa.s.sed a gravelly beach, on which the yellow sand was studded with a thousand sets of brilliant sh.e.l.ls, and little rivulets flowed in from level prairies, or stealthily crept out from under roots of trees or tangled vines, and hastened to be hidden in the bosom of the great father of waters.

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