List Of Contents | Contents of The Jesuit Missions, by Thomas Guthrie Marquis
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few miles above the present city of Alton they paused to
gaze on some high rocks on which fabulous creatures were
pictured. 'They are,' wrote Marquette in his narrative,
'as large as a calf, with head and horns like a goat;
their eyes red; beard like a tiger's, and a face like a
man's. Their tails are so long that they pass over their
heads and between their forelegs, under the belly, and
ending like a fish's tail. They are painted red, green,
and black.' The Indians of the Mississippi were certainly
not without imagination and possessed some artistic skill.
No doubt it was these pictured rocks that had originated
among the Menominees and Illinois the stories of the
demons with which they had regaled Marquette and Jolliet.

While the voyagers were still discussing the pictured
rocks, their canoes began to toss and heave on rushing
waters, and they found themselves in the midst of plunging
logs and tumbling trees. They were at the mouth of the
Missouri. As they threaded their way past this dangerous
point, Marquette resolved that he would one day ascend
this river that he might 'preach the Gospel to all the
peoples of this New World who have so long grovelled in
the darkness of infidelity.'

Onward still into the unknown!  At the mouth of the
Ohio--then called by the Indians the Ouabouskigon [Footnote:
This word, as well as the word Ohio, or O-he-ho, means
'The Beautiful.']--they drew up their canoes to rest
and then advanced a little farther south to an Illinois
village. The inhabitants of this village wore European
clothing and had beads, knives, and hatchets, obtained
no doubt from the Spaniards. The Indians told the explorers
that the mouth of the river was distant only a ten-days'
journey, whereas it was in reality a thousand miles away.
But with increased hope the Frenchmen once more launched
their canoes and went on until they came to the mouth of
the Arkansas. Here they met with the first hostile
demonstration. Indians, with bows bent and war-clubs
raised, threatened destruction to these unknown whites;
but Marquette, calm, courageous, and confident, stood up
in the bow of his canoe and held aloft the calumet the
Illinois had given him. The passport was respected and
the elders of the village, which was close at hand,
invited the voyagers ashore and feasted them with sagamite
and fish. Leaving this village, they pressed southward
twenty odd miles to another Arkansas village. The attitude
of the Indians here alarmed them, and this, with the
apprehension that the mouth of the Mississippi was much
farther away than they had been led to believe, decided
them to return.

Jolliet and Marquette were now satisfied with what they
had achieved. The southward trend of the river proved
conclusively that it could not fall into the Gulf of
California, and, as they were in latitude 33 degrees 41
minutes, the river could not empty into the Atlantic in
Virginia. It must therefore join the sea either on the
coast of Florida or in the Gulf of Mexico. Moreover, to
proceed farther would but add weary miles to the difficult
return journey. But the chief reason for turning back is
best given in Marquette's own words:

   We considered that the advantage of our travels would
   be altogether lost to our nation if we fell into the
   hands of the Spaniards, from whom we could expect no
   other treatment but death or slavery; besides, we saw
   that we were not prepared to resist the Indians, the
   allies of the Europeans, who continually infested the
   lower part of the river.

On the 17th of July, just one month after they first
sighted the waters of the Mississippi, the explorers
turned their canoes northward. A little south of the
Illinois river some friendly Indians told them of a
shorter way to Lake Michigan than by the Wisconsin and
Fox river route. These Indians were anxious to have
Marquette remain with them and establish a mission. He
was unable to comply with their request, for in the
miasmal region of the lower Mississippi he had contracted
a severe malarial fever; but he promised to return to
them as soon as his health permitted. The explorers were
now joined by a chief and a band of Indians as guides to
Lake Michigan, and with these they ascended the Illinois
and then the river Des Plaines. From the river Des Plaines
they portaged their canoes to the Chicago river and
descended it to Lake Michigan. They arrived at Green Bay
at the end of September, having travelled in all, since
leaving this spot, over twenty-five hundred miles.
Marquette was too ill to go farther; and he remained at
Green Bay to recruit his strength, while Jolliet hastened
to Quebec to report to Frontenac the results of his
expedition. Unfortunately, the canoe in which Jolliet
travelled was upset in the Lachine rapids and the papers
containing his charts and the account of his journey were
lost; however, he was able to piece out from memory the
story of his Ulysses-like wanderings.

By the autumn of 1674 Marquette thought that he had
completely recovered his health, and, having received
permission from his superior, he set out for the Illinois
country on the 25th of October to establish the mission
of the Immaculate Conception. He was accompanied on this
journey by two assistants--two true heroes--known to
history only as Pierre and Jacques, and a band of
Potawatomis and Illinois. In ten canoes the party paddled
southward from Green Bay, for nearly a month buffeting
the tempestuous autumn seas of Lake Michigan. They ascended
the Chicago river for six miles and encamped. Marquette
could go no farther; he was once more prostrated with
illness, and a severe hemorrhage threatened to carry him
off. But his valiant spirit conquered, and during the
winter he was able to minister to some Illinois, who were
encamped a short distance away and who paid him occasional
visits. By the spring he had so far recovered that he
decided to undertake the journey to the Mississippi, his
heart set on founding a mission among the tribes there.
On the 13th of March he and his two helpers broke camp
and portaged their canoe to the Des Plaines. Near the
junction of this river with the Illinois was the Indian
town of Old Kaskaskia. The Indians of this town gave him
a welcome worthy of a conqueror, such as indeed he really
was. He went among them teaching and preaching; but brain
and body were burning with fever; he felt that he had
not long to live, and if he would die among his own people
he must hasten home. He summoned the Indians to a grand
council. And, in one of God's first temples--a meadow
decked with spring flowers and roofed by the blue vault
of heaven--he preached to a congregation of over three
thousand--chiefs, warriors, women, and children. His
sermon finished, he blessed his hearers, and, leaving
his words to sink into their hearts, bade them farewell.

Pierre and Jacques now made ready the canoe, and the
journey to Michilimackinac began. When they reached Lake
Michigan Marquette was only half conscious. While he lay
on the robes piled in the bottom of the canoe, his faithful
henchmen paddled furiously to reach their destination.
But their efforts were in vain; Marquette saw that his
end was approaching and bade them turn the canoe to land.
And on May 19, 1675, on the bleak shore of Lake Michigan,
this hero of the Cross, the greatest of the missionary
explorers, entered into his rest. He was only thirty-eight;
he had not finished his work; he had not realized his
ambitions; but his memory lives, a force for good, as
that of one who dared and endured and passionately followed
the path of the setting sun.



The priests laboured on in their mission-fields from Cape
Breton to the Mississippi and north towards Hudson Bay,
wherever there were Indians. In the Iroquois country
alone did they fail to establish themselves securely.
The nearest neighbours of the Iroquois, the English of
New York and New England, stirred by French and Indian
raids on their borders and regarding all Frenchmen as
enemies, did what they could to destroy the influence of
the French priests and keep them out of the country. Lord
Bellomont, governor of New York, even threatened to hang
any priest found in his colony. Yet the Jesuits made
another attempt in 1702; but it did not succeed, and a
few years later the Iroquois mission was abandoned.

Among the Algonquin tribes the old dread of the priests
had vanished and they were everywhere hailed as friends.
They were no longer in danger of assassination, and,
apart from the hardships inevitable to wilderness life,
their lot was not an unpleasant one. Perhaps their worst
enemy was the brandy traffic carried on by the coureurs
de bois, which brought in its wake drunkenness, disease,
licentiousness, and crime. The missionaries fought this
evil, with the wholehearted support of Laval, the great
bishop of Quebec, and of his successors. But for their
opposition it is probable that the Indians in contact
with the French would have been utterly swept away; as
it was, brandy thinned their numbers quite as much as
war. Some of the coureurs de bois, who displayed their
wares and traded for furs at the mission stations, were
almost as obnoxious to the priests as the brandy which
they offered. Among them were many worthy men, like the
great Du Lhut; but the majority were 'white savages,'
whose conduct went far to nullify the teaching and example
of the missionaries.

Thus the missions went on until the British came. For
more than fifty years the conflict between the two nations
for mastery continued intermittently; and finally in 1760
the French struck their flag and departed. The victors
viewed the religious orders with distrust; they regarded
the priests as political agents; and they passed an edict
that such Jesuits and Recollets as were in Canada might
remain and 'die where they are, but they must not add to
their number.' Of the Jesuits only twelve remained, and
the last of these, Father Casot, died in 1800.

In looking back over the work of the missionaries in New
France, it would seem that their visible harvest was a
scant one, since the Indian races for whom they toiled
have disappeared from history and are apparently doomed
to extinction. This, of course, is due to natural causes
over which the priests had no control and which they
would thankfully have had otherwise. It cannot be questioned
that their work operated for the benefit of the natives.
But the priceless contribution of the missionaries lies
in the example which they gave to the world. During the
greater part of two centuries in the wilds they bore
themselves manfully and fought a good fight. In all that
time not one of all the men in that long procession of
missionaries is known to have disgraced himself or to
have played the coward in the face of danger or disaster.

The influence of the priests, however, was not confined
to the Indians. It permeated the whole colony and lives
to the present day. In no country in the world is there
a more peaceable and kindly or moral and devout people
than in the province of Quebec, largely because they have
kept in their primitive simplicity the lessons taught by
the clergy of New France. When the Revolution swept away
religion and morals in Old France, it left untouched the
French of Canada; and the descendants of the peasants of
Anjou, Picardy, and Poitou kept alive in the New World
the beliefs and customs, the simple faith and reverence
for authority, of their ancestors in the Old World.
Throughout the length and breadth of New France the
priests and nuns were the teachers of the people. And
the seminaries, schools, and colleges which they founded
continue to shape the morals and character of the French
Canadians of to-day.

It may be doubted whether the British government acted
wisely after winning Canada in suppressing the religious
orders. At any rate, after the unhappy rebellions of 1837
the government adopted a more generous policy; and the
Jesuits and the Oblates came to Canada in ever-increasing
numbers to take up missionary work anew. Like the priests
of old they went into the wilderness, no difficulty too
great to be overcome, no peril too hazardous to be risked.
In the Mackenzie valley, in the far Yukon, and among the
tumbled hills of British Columbia they planted the Cross,
establishing missions and schools.

But the great age of the Church in Canada was the heroic
age of Lalemant and Brebeuf, of Jogues and Bressani, of
Allouez and Marquette. Their memories are living lights
illuminating the paths of all workers among those who
sit in spiritual darkness. The resolution of these first
missionaries, not to be overcome by hardship, torture,
or threat of death itself, has served in time of trial
and danger to brace missionaries of all churches. Brebeuf
still lives and labours in the wilderness regions of
Canada; Marquette still toils on into the unknown.


'The Relations' of the Jesuits are, of course, the prime
sources of information. Consult the edition edited by R.
G. Thwaites, 'The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents',
seventy-three volumes (1896-1901). This gives the original
French text with an English translation. See also
Rochemonteix, 'Les Jesuites et la Nouvelle France';
Parkman, 'Pioneers of France', 'The Old Regime in Canada',
'The Jesuits in North America', 'La Salle and the Discovery
of the Great West', 'Frontenac and New France'; Harris,
'Pioneers of the Cross in Canada'; Jones, 'Old Huronia',
the fifth report of the Bureau of Archives for the Province
of Ontario; Marshall, 'Christian Missions'; Campbell,
'Pioneer Priests of North America'.

The following general histories contain many illuminating
pages on the missions: Faillon, 'Histoire de la Colonie
Francaise'; Charlevoix, 'Histoire de la Nouvelle-France';
Boucher, 'Canada in the Seventeenth Century'; Sagard,
'Histoire du Canada'; Kingsford, 'History of Canada';
Shortt and Doughty, 'Canada and its Provinces' (especially
the chapter in the second volume by the distinguished
priest, Rev. Lewis Drummond, S.J.); Winsor, 'Narrative
and Critical History of America.

Reference works with valuable articles on the missions
and the Indians are: 'The Catholic Encyclopaedia'; Hodge,
'Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico'; White,
'Handbook of Indians of Canada', adapted from Hodge.

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