It is difficult looking back through the mist of years to arrive at an incontrovertible conclusion as to just when and by whom the middle portion of the United States was first visited by white men. There is a wealth of interesting historical documents and writings recounting the invasion of this part of the continent by whites and tracing the march of civilization, most of which base their beginning with the French explorers, but it is now regarded as an established fact by many historical writers that the southwestern and middle portions of the United States were included in Spanish explorations early in the fifteenth century. One of the expeditions which is referred to by many historians is the Coronado expedition. It is related that in about the year 1540, Coronado, who was then governor of New Gallia, organized an expedition and executed a march from Mexico to the region which is now the heart of Nebraska and Kansas. That was as marvelous an undertaking as the history of this continent affords. Not only was the region to be covered an unknown land, but the obstacles to be overcome, the mountains between and subsequent stretches of sand plains and desert made the undertaking a gigantic one. And yet under these conditions it is said that an army of about one thousand men was pushed across the arid plains, the rugged mountains and barren deserts, which lie between what is now Nebraska and Mexico. This, it must be remembered, was eighty years before the Pilgrims landed on the shores of New England; sixty-eight years before Hudson discovered the river which bears his name; sixty-six years before John Smith commenced the settlement of what was afterward to be Virginia; and nearly a century before Jean Nicolet established commercial relations with the Indians of Wisconsin. This expedition was organized to search for fabulous wealth which was supposed to exist in these regions, of which marvelous tales had been carried to Mexico. The end of the long march is graphically told by Judge J. W. Savage, a careful student and an eloquent writer on Nebraska’s early history, in the following words: “Northward from the Arkansas river for many weary and anxious hours, the little band which accompanied the adventurous general pursued its way over the Kansas plains. July had come, the days were long and hot and the sultry nights crept over the primeval prairie, seeming to rise like a shadowy and threatening specter out of the grass. But stout hearts and good horses brought them at last to what I am satisfied is the southern boundary of Nebraska. And here, along the Platte River, they found the long sought Kingdom of Quivera; here was Tartarrax, the hoary headed old ruler of the land. But alas for the vanity of human expectations! The only precious metal they saw was a copper plate hanging to the old chief’s breast, by which he set great store; there were no musical bells, no gilded eagle, no silver dishes, no rosary, no image of the Virgin, no cross, no crown, that they had been led to believe existed. In the midst of his disappointment the general took a melancholy pleasure in hanging his guides who had so egregiously misguided him. It is said that the guides here boldly avowed that they knew of no gold; that they had brought the invaders into the wilderness to perish with hunger and hardship, to rid the peaceful dwellers in the Rio Grande and Pecos valleys of their hated presence, and met their fate with stoicism which the Spaniards called despair and remorse. Here then, upon the southern boundary of this state at a point not yet easily ascertainable, but doubtless between Gage county on the east and Furnas county on the west, Coronado set foot on the soil of Nebraska and remained for twenty-five days. I have heretofore adverted to the fact that this location of the northern terminus has not met with universal acceptation. The arguments, however, in support of the theory seem to me to be unanswerable.”
While it is true that the location of the northern terminus is not definitely settled, most writers concede that Coronado’s march following the itinerary given in the Spanish documents and papers must have carried this band of explorers up somewhere into the Kansas Nebraska prairies. The land of Quivera, and the Seven Cities of the Buffalo, referred to is surrounded by much glamour of romantic mystery. Although a number of contemporaneous narratives are preserved referring to this kingdom and to remarkable searches made for it, it is singular that hardly any two writers agree as to the location or the ultimate terminus of the searching expeditions.
At about the same time another event was transpiring, also under the folds of the Spanish flag, which for years stood undisputed in point of priority, and an epoch is marked in American history by the discovery of the Mississippi by Ferdinand DeSoto in 1542.
It is related that in 1542 Ferdinand De Soto, with a band of Spanish adventurers, acting under a commission from the sovereign of his native land, discovered the Mississippi river about the mouth of the Ouachita. After the sudden death of their leader, in May of that year, his followers, after burying his body in the river, built a small vessel, and in July, 1543, descended the great river to the Gulf of Mexico. Thus the mouth of the Mississippi was discovered one hundred and thirty years prior to the discovery of its upper valley by the French missionary priests.
By virtue of this and the conquest of Florida, Spain claimed the country bordering on the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, but made no attempt to colonize it permanently. At that time it was tacitly understood by the various maritime states of Europe that the discovery and occupation of any part of the New World made a legitimate title to the country. Although the valley of the Mississippi was thus taken possession of by Spain, the failure of that power to consummate its discovery by planting colonies or settlements, made their title void, and the country was left open to be rediscovered and taken possession of by other powers.
In 1534 and 1535 an intelligent and capable French naval officer, Jacques Cartier, discovered and named the St. Lawrence River. He took possession of that country in the name of his king and built a rude fort, in 1541, near the present site of Quebec. This was sixty-six years before the English made a settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. From that time on the country became known and settlements sprang up along the great river and it became the province of New France. In 1608 Champlain selected the site of the old fort of Cartier’s as the future capital of the province. Champlain made many explorations in and around the country, and in 1609, ascending a tributary of the St. Lawrence, found that beautiful sheet of water in New York that bears his name. After visiting France, he returned and in 1615, accompanying a tribe of Indians to their far off hunting grounds discovered Lake Huron.
It was early in the seventeenth century when the revived religion of Prance quickened the fervor of her noble missionary priests. Led by their zeal to the New World, they penetrated the wilderness in all directions from Quebec, carrying the tidings of the Gospel to the heathen. Along the river St. Lawrence, through the chain of Great Lakes, westward, they pushed their way, establishing missions and endeavoring to turn the savages to their faith. This movement began in 1611, when Father La Caron, a Franciscan friar, the friend and companion of Champlain, made a journey to the rivers of Lake Huron on foot and by paddling a bark canoe. In 1632, on the establishment of a government of New Prance, under the commission of Louis XIII, and the patronage of his great prime minister, Armand Duplessis, Cardinal Richelieu, the work of converting the Indian passed from the order of St. Francis, to that of Loyola, the famed Jesuit. Burning with a pious zeal and animated by a spirit of self-sacrifice, rarely, if ever, paralleled in the history of missionary work, these latter, simple priests, penetrated the wilds of the Canadian frontier, and through toil and pain, often to martyrdom, carried the cross to the remote tribes of the Mississippi and its tributaries. Bancroft, the historian, says: “The history of their labors is connected with the origin of every celebrated town in the annals of French America; not a cape was turned or a river entered, but a Jesuit led the way.”
In 1634 the Jesuits, Brebeuf and Daniels, followed by Lallemand, made a journey into the far west. Joining a party of Huron Indians, who had been in Quebec, and who were returning to their homes, they pushed their way, enduring, without complaint, untold fatigue and suffering, by lake, river and forest. They penetrated to the heart of the Huron wilderness. Near the shores of Lake Iroquois was raised the first house of the Society of Jesus in all that region, and soon two villages, named St. Louis and St. Ignace, sprang up among the primeval forests that were then the homes of the savage red man. The mission of Brebeuf gave to the world its first knowledge of the water courses of the St. Lawrence valley. From a map published in France in 1660 it is seen that these pious priests had explored the country from the waters of the Niagara to the head of Lake Superior and had heard of or seen the shores of Lake Michigan.
As early as 1635 Jean Nicolet, who had been one of Champlain ‘s interpreters, and who had come from his native land, Prance, to Canada in 1618, reached the western shores of Lake Michigan. In the summer of 1634 he ascended the St. Lawrence River with a party of Hurons, and thence onward to Lake Michigan, and during the following winter traded with the Indians at what is now Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1635 he returned to Canada. He was married in Quebec, October 7, 1637, and lived at Three Rivers until 1642, when he died. Of him it is said, in a letter written in 1640, that he had penetrated the farthest into these distant countries and that if he had proceeded “three days more on a great river which flows from that lake (Green Bay), he would have found the sea,” for such was the common belief in those days, even among geographers and other scientists.
The hostilities of the Iroquois, or Five Nations, a confederacy of fierce and bloodthirsty savages, prevented the journey of Raymbault and Picard to the west in 1640, but the following year at the great feast of the dead, held by the Algonquins, at Lake Nipising, the Jesuits were invited to visit the land of the Ojibway or Chippewa Indians, at what is now Sault de Sainte Marie. Accordingly, September 17, 1641, Fathers Raymbault and Jogues left the Bay of Penetanguishene in a bark canoe for the rendezvous, where, after a passage of seventeen days, they found two thousand Indians, who had congregated to meet them.
At this assembly the fathers learned of many as yet unheard of tribes. Here was heard the first mention of the Dacotahs, called in the Ojibway tongue, Nadouechionec or Nadouessioux. The latter name, abbreviated by the French, forms the present name of those fierce nomads of the North, the Sioux. It has been truly said “that the French were looking toward the homes of the Sioux, in the great valleys of the Missis sippi and Missouri five years before the New England Eliot had addressed the tribes of Indians who dwelt within six miles of Boston harbor.” In the ardor of his enthusiasm for discovery Raymbault expected to reach the Pacific Ocean, then supposed to be but a few hundred miles west of where the Mississippi river is now found. However, he was laid low by the hand of death, dying in 1642 of sickness brought on by hardships and exposure.
In August, 1654, two fur traders joined a band of Ottawa Indians and made a long journey into the far west. In two years they returned with some fifty canoes and two hundred and fifty natives. They described the rivers and lakes of the west, and the tribes whose homes stretched away to the northern sea and mentioned the Sioux who dwelt beyond Lake Superior and who wanted to trade with the white man.
In this way the exploration of the western country was extended from the eastward into the wilds of the great west. The adventurous spirits from the St. Lawrence explored the great lakes and adjacent regions, planting the seeds of commerce and civilization, and we see the trend of exploration pushing still westward toward the land of which we write. Among those who should be mentioned as having helped to carry civilization west of the great lakes and who explored considerable territory in what is now Wisconsin and Illinois were Father Rene Menard, Father Claude Allouez and Father Jaquez Marquette. It seems that in the year 1660 the superior of the Jesuits at Quebec, learning of the many savage tribes to the west of the missions, and burning with zeal for the advancement of the cause of Christ and his church, and aiming at the conversion of the heathen, sent this Father Rene Menard and another priest as apostles among the red men. Father Menard’s “hair had been whitened by age, his mind ripened by long experience, and, being well acquainted with the peculiarities of the Indian character, he seemed the man for the mission.” The night previous to his departure sleep deserted the eyes of the venerable priest. He knew that he was going into the land of ruthless, savage barbarians, and he thought of his friends. Two hours past midnight he penned a letter to a friend, the pious simplicity of which is a monument to this estimable priest. Early on the morning of the 28th of August, 1660, in company with the party of fur traders, he departed from Three Rivers. October 15 he arrived at a bay on Lake Superior, to which he gave the name of Ste. Theresa, its discovery occurring on her fete day. The party remained at this point all winter, hard pressed for want of food, being driven to all sorts of shifts to avoid starvation. Having received an invitation to visit them from the Hurons and Ottawas, Father Menard started for their villages on the island of St. Michael. In some manner he wandered away from his guide, got lost, and, although the guide sought him faithfully, was never found; he perished in some unknown manner. Relics of him were found from time to time in Sac and Sioux villages many years after, but no tale ever came to his many waiting friends to tell how or where he died.
In the summer of 1663 the news of his death reached Montreal. His successor was soon found, for the impassive obedience of the members of the Order of Loyola brooked no opposition to the command of a superior. Father Claud Allouez was chosen to carry the cross to these heathens, and to follow in the footsteps of Father Menard. Impatiently waiting for the chance to proceed to his work, he was unable to find conveyance and convoy until the summer of 1665, when, in company with six of his own race and color and four hundred savages, he started. He built a mission at La Pointe, on Lake Superior, where he taught the simple natives his religion and took up his work among 1 them. Here he, too, heard about the Indians that had their homes on the banks of that mighty river, a stream which the natives knew by the name of Messipi.
Although he had done a great work exploring the country around the southern boundary of what is now Wisconsin and in the northern part of Illinois, and had preached to all the Indians met with in that region. Father Allouez grew discouraged, and passed on to other fields. September 13, 1669, he was succeeded by the famous Father Jacques Marquette. The design of discovering the Mississippi, a stream about which the Indians had told so much, seems to have originated with Father Marquette in the same year of his reaching the mission of the Holy Ghost at La Pointe. The year previous he and Father Claud Dablon had established the mission of St. Mary within what is now Michigan. Circumstances about this time were favorable for a voyage of discovery among Indians. The protection afforded to the Algonquins of the west by the commerce with New France had confirmed their attachment, and had created for them a political interest in France and in the minds of Louis XIV and his great financier, Colbert. The intendant of justice in New France, Talon, determined to extend the power of France to the utmost border of Canada, and for this purpose Nicholas Perrot was despatched to the west as an emissary. The latter proposed a congress or convention of the Indian nations at St. Mary’s mission, and the invitation to attend was extended far and wide. Perrot arrived, and in May, 1671, there assembled at the Sault de Ste. Marie a great gathering of Indians from all parts of the northwest. From the headwaters of the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi, from the great lakes and the prairies beyond, from the valley of the Red river of the north, and from the plains of Dakota they came, and it was announced that there should be peace, and that they were all under the protection of France. The same year Pere Marquette gathered together one of the broken branches of the Hurons at Point St. Ignace, which became quite a religious establishment.
These things having been done, the grand exploring expedition to the west to discover the great river so often heard about was the next to be attended to. May 13, 1673, Marquette and Joliet, accompanied by five other Frenchmen, set out. Louis Joliet was a native of Quebec, born in 1645. He was educated by the Jesuits for the priesthood. He, however, determined to become a fur trader, which he did. He was sent with an associate to explore the region of the copper mines of Lake Superior. He was a man of close and intelligent observation, and possessed considerable mathematical acquirements. In 1673 he was a merchant, courageous, hardy, enterprising. He was appointed by the French authorities at Quebec to discover the Mississippi. He passed up the lakes to Mackinaw and found at Point Ignace the reverend Father Marquette, who was ready to accompany him. Their outfit was simple two birch bark canoes and a supply of smoked meat and Indian corn. The friendly Indians tried to dissuade the father and Joliet from undertaking this voyage, saying that the Indians of that quarter were bad; that they were cruel and relentless, and that the river was the abode of all kinds of demons and evil spirits, but this did not intimidate these bold and hardy men. Passing the straits, they followed the north and west shore of Lake Michigan to Green Bay, where they entered the Fox River. This they ascended with great labor until they came to the village of the Kickapoos and Miamas, the extreme point to which the explorations of the French had as yet extended. Here Marquette was much pleased to see “a beautiful cross planted in the middle of the town, ornamented with white skins, red girdles and bows and arrows which those good people had offered to the Great Manitou, or God, to thank Him for the pity he had bestowed upon them during the winter in having given them an abundant chase.” On assembling the chiefs of the village and the medicine men, Marquette made them a speech, telling them that Joliet had been sent by the governor of New France to discover new countries and himself by God to spread the light of the gospel. He added that he feared not death or exposure to which he expected to be called upon to endure. From this place, under the guidance of two Miami Indians, the expedition started to cross the portage from the Fox to the Wisconsin River. On reaching the latter stream the guide left them and they pushed their way down the rapid waters of the Wisconsin until, upon the 17th of June, their frail barks floated upon the majestic waters of the Mississippi. Down the mighty “Father of Waters” they voyaged until they reached the mouth of the Illinois. Up the latter stream they paddled their way through a virgin land, encountering many difficulties and privations. At the forks of the river they entered the Desplaines, and by that and the Chicago River reached Lake Michigan and finally Green Bay. At the latter point Father Marquette remained to recuperate his exhausted strength, while Joliet and his companions hastened on to Quebec to report his success to his superiors.
The rediscovery of the lower Mississippi remained for the gallant, daring and indefatigable La Salle, to whose labors, privations and enterprise the French settlements in the Mississippi valley are so largely indebted. La Salle was a poor man, for, having relinquished his patrimony on entering the Society of Jesus; on his honorable retirement from that order he had nothing. In 1667, having in the meantime crossed the seas to the new world in search of fortune, he appeared as a fur trader near what is now the city of Montreal. His business led him to explore both Lakes Ontario and Erie. Full of enthusiasm for discovery and for the colonization of the west, he returned to his native land for help and authority to act. He received the title of Chevalier and considerable grants of land in Canada, and returned in 1678. The same year he conveyed a party from Fort Frontenae (now Kingston, Canada) to the neighborhood of Niagara Falls in a vessel of ten tons. This was the first craft that ever sailed up the Niagara River. In 1679 he launched a vessel of some seventy tons burden. On the 7th of August of that year, amid the salvos of artillery, the chants of the Te Deum by the priests, and the plaudits of the people and Indians, he sailed from the little harbor. He passed through Lake Erie and through the Detroit and St. Clair rivers into Lake Huron. Onward through the straits of Mackinaw into Lake Michigan his little vessel ploughed its way, and was the first to navigate a sailing craft upon the blue waters of the latter body of water. Coasting down its western shore, La Salle, in his bark, which he had called the Griffin, came to Green Bay, where he came to anchor. He had named his little craft in honor of the coat of arms of his patron, Comte de Frontenae, then governor of New Prance. It was LaSalle’s intention to utilize his vessel in a regular commerce between the Indians and the settlements, but was doomed to disappointment. Having loaded the vessel with furs and peltries, he ordered the crew to return with it to the Niagara River. He journeyed down to the head of Lake Michigan, and, passing up the St. Joseph River, discovered a portage over the swamps and prairies to the Kankakee River. He followed the latter stream to the Illinois, and paddled down the latter river until he reached a point about where now stands the city of Peoria. Misfortunes then accumulated upon the head of La Salle. His vessel was wrecked on its voyage down the lakes and its cargo of furs and pelts totally lost, and the expected stores upon which he had depended to found and keep his colony did not come. The men that were with him grew discontented and threatened to desert. Like a man, and a brave and energetic one, he went to work to carry out the object that he had come so far to accomplish. He built a fort just below Lake Peoria, to which he gave the appropriate name of Creve Coeur (Broken Heart). He sent Accault, Father Hennepin and others who had accompanied him on a voyage up the Mississippi. This expedition, as related further on, was very successful, it being the first party of white men to tread the shores of the Mississippi river near its head and to gaze upon the falls of St. Anthony. After their departure, La Salle set his men to work to build a barge or boat in which to descend the river, but as sails and cordage were necessary, he determined to make the journey back to Canada. It was in the depth of winter, and he could have no food but what he could gain by the chase, and no drink but what the streams would afford. Leaving the bulk of his little force under his lieutenant, Tonti, he started with three companions on this almost unparalleled journey through the wilderness. He accomplished his mission, but on returning to the fort which he had built and where he had left his men, he found it deserted. The party, who had been ordered before his departure to erect a new fort on the bluff’, had been assaulted by a band of Pottawattamie Indians, and, becoming demoralized, had fled to the shores of Lake Michigan for safety. After wasting some time in a fruitless search for his men, LaSalle finally, with the party brought with him, started on his long voyage down the Illinois and Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. April 9, 1682, he took possession of the whole country watered by the great river from its source to its mouth in the name of the king of Prance, Louis XIV.
Thus was the Mississippi river in its lower course rediscovered and taken possession of as French territory, and thus to La Salle belongs the honor of first navigating its length from the mouth of the Illinois southward. He gave to this vast empire he had added to the French possessions in America the name of Louisiana in honor of the king, Louis XIV, and to the river which is now called the Mississippi the name of Colbert, after that able minister of finance of France, then one of the foremost men of Europe. He erected a column or cross near the mouth of the river, bearing the leaden plate with an inscription, which may be translated as:
“Louis the Great, King of Prance and Navarre, Reigning April 9, 1682.”
He found the three channels of the delta whereby the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico. In May, 1683, he returned to France to make a report of his valuable discoveries. In 1685 he returned from his native land with a fleet and with emigrants to colonize the country he had found. Owing to the flat, level country, where land mingled with the water in marsh and swamp spread for hundreds of miles along the north coast of the gulf, he was unable to find the mouth of the river. After beating about for some time in search, he was finally abandoned by Beaujeau, who commanded the fleet, who returned to Prance. With his store ship and two hundred and thirty emigrants. La Salle was driven ashore and wrecked in Matagorda Bay, in what is now the state of Texas. He hastily constructed a fort of the scattered timbers of the vessel and formed a colony, to which he gave the name of St. Louis. This settlement, as if by accident, made Texas a part of Louisiana.
After a four months’ search, which he conducted in canoes, for the lost mouth of the river, which proved fruitless, the restless La Salle, in April, 1686, turned his steps toward New Mexico with twenty companions. He hoped to find the rich gold mines of that country, the Eldorado of the Spanish. The colony did not prosper in his absence. Sickness and death soon took off many of the poor emigrants, so that on his return to that place he found it reduced to about forty or fifty persons. Moving them to a healthier locality, La Salle determined to travel across the country on foot to the settlements on the Illinois and to Canada, and bring back emigrants and supplies. January 12, 1687, he started with sixteen men, leaving the fort and settlement in charge of Sieur Barbier. His little party passed the basin of the Colorado and reached a branch of the Trinity River, where, March 20, 1687, the brave and gallant La Salle was assassinated by three of his own party. One of his biographers, who calls him truly the father of the French settlements in Louisiana, says: “Not a hint appears in any writer that has come under our notice that casts a shade upon his integrity and honor. Cool and intrepid at all times, never yielding for a moment to despair or even despondency, he bore the heavy burdens of his calamities to the end, and his hopes only expired with his breath.”
In the meantime, in 168081, Louis Hennepin, the Franciscan friar, started down the Illinois river to explore its mouth, and on reaching the Mississippi extended his explorations northward as far as the falls of St. Anthony, which he named. The war between the Iroquois and British colonies on the one side and the French of Canada on the other commenced in 1689, and any further attempt at colonization of the lower Mississippi was interrupted, and for a number of years exploration and colonization in the west was at a standstill.
It is now time to trace the growth of the great French province of Louisiana in another quarter. This was the parent stem from which grew so many of the great and growing states of the northwest, foremost among which is Nebraska.
At the close of the seventeenth century France, by right of discovery and occupation, claimed not only Canada and Nova Scotia, then known as New France and Acadia, Hudson’s Bay and New Foundland, but parts of Maine, Vermont and New York, together with the whole of the Mississippi valley and possessions on the Gulf of Mexico, including Texas as far south as the Rio del Norte. The English revolution of 1688, when William of Orange succeeded James II upon the throne of England, nor the peace of Ryswick in 1697, did not affect these possessions of Prance in the new world. At the period at the close of the great war which had just been brought to an end by the above treaty, in which so many powers were included, none of the possessions of France in the new world engaged the attention of the French government so much as Louisiana. In 1697 D ‘Iberville still further aroused the interest of the minister of the colonies and inspired the Comte de Pontchartrain with the idea of building a fort and making a settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi. Two vessels were fitted out, one under the command of the Marquis de Chateau Morand and the other under D ‘Iberville. Both left France in October, 1698, to find the mouth of the river and after touching at Pensacola entered the delta of the Mississippi March 2, 1699. De Chateau Morand soon went back to Hayti, but D ‘Iberville ascended the river as far as what is now known as Bayou Goula. At this point he met an Indian chief who handed him a letter, which was written by Tonti, the man who had left his post at Fort Creve Coeur, where he had been placed by LaSalle, and was addressed to the latter as governor of Louisiana. It read as follows:
“Sir, Having found the post upon which you had set up the king’s arms thrown down by the driftwood, I caused another to be fixed on this side, about seven leagues from the sea, where I have left a letter in a tree by the side of it. All the nations have smoked the calumet with me; they are people who fear us exceedingly since you have captured this village. I conclude by saying it is a great grief to me that we will return with the ill fortune of not having found you after we had coasted with two canoes thirty leagues on the Mexican side and twenty-five on that of Florida.”
The receipt of this letter was twelve years after the death of La Salle and nineteen after he and Tonti had parted at the Peoria fort. Neither knew what had become of the other. Both had sought the other unavailingly. The letter is interesting as shedding some light on Tonti’s conduct, but more so for the peculiarity of the Indian keeping it so long.
D’Iberville again descended the Mississippi, and went to the bay of Biloxi, between the Mississippi and Mobile rivers, where he erected a fort. Missions, trading posts and small settlements began to be founded from that time on in the province. As early as 1712 land titles were issued as far north as Kaskaskia in what is now Illinois. Other settlements arose along the Mississippi at various points from the mouth of the Illinois southward. The French determined to circumvent the English colonies on the Atlantic coast by building a line of forts from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, as was once suggested to the French government by La Salle. Part of this plan Mas carried into execution. Port Chartres was constructed on the east bank of the Mississippi in what is now Randolph County, Illinois, about sixty-five miles south of the mouth of the Missouri river. This was one of the strongest fortresses on the continent at the time, and its ruins were to be seen a hundred years later. It was the headquarters of the commandant of Louisiana. Shortly after that, the villages of Cahokia, Prairie du Rocher and others sprang into existence. Fort Vincennes, on the Wabash, was founded in 1702. A monastery and college was established in 1712 at Kaskaskia, a very important post at that time and afterward the capital of the state of Illinois. The French laid claim to all the great Mississippi valley at that time. “France,” says Bancroft, “had obtained, under Providence, the guardianship of this immense district of country, not, as it proved, for her own benefit, but rather as a trustee for the infant nation by which it was one day to be inherited.”
By the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, France ceded to England her possessions in Hudson’s Bay, Nova Scotia and New Foundland, but the former power retained the sovereignty of Canada and Louisiana. In 1711 the affairs of the latter were placed in the hands of a governor general, but this only lasted one year. The colony, not meeting the expectations of the government of the mother country, in 1712 was farmed out to a company to be carried on by private capital.
In the year 1712 the entire province of Louisiana, including the vast country between the Rocky mountains on the west and the Alleghanies on the east, in fact the entire area drained by the Mississippi, was granted to Anthony Crozart, or Crozat, a wealthy French merchant of Paris. Within this grant was the whole of the territory which now forms the state of Nebraska. It was stipulated that every two years Crozart was to send two ships from France with goods and emigrants. In his grant the river “heretofore called the Mississippi” is named “St. Louis,” the “Missourys” is called “St. Phillip” and the “Quabache” (the Wabash and Ohio united) is named “St. Jerome.” Louisiana was made dependent upon the general government of New France (or Canada). The laws of Paris were to be observed. Crozart’s patent extended for a term of sixteen years, but was resigned in 1717, after five years. Every Spanish port on the gulf was closed to its commerce, and the occupation of Louisiana was at that time deemed an encroachment upon Spanish rights by that proud nation. Soon after the relinquishment of the Crozart charter the colony of Louisiana was granted to the Mississippi Company, projected by the dreamer John Law, of South Sea bubble fame, with a complete monopoly of its trade and commerce, to declare and prosecute wars and appoint officers. This company established Fort Chartres, about sixty-five miles below the mouth of the Missouri, on the east side of the Mississippi. Mechanics, miners and artisans were encouraged to emigrate, and in 1717 the city of New Orleans was founded. The Illinois country received a considerable accession, and settlements now began to extend along the banks of the Mississippi.
In 1718 the new company sent eight hundred emigrants to Louisiana. These people Governor Bienville settled at what is now New Orleans, but three years later the remainder of these people, some two hundred, were found still encamped on the site of the future city, they not having energy enough to build houses for themselves. The larger part had died on account of the climate and malarious condition of the land. In May, 1720, the bubble burst, the land company went into bankruptcy, impoverishing France both in its public funds and private fortunes. The effect on the infant settlement in the new world was more disastrous if possible. The principal occupation of the new settlers, like their Spanish neighbors, was the search for immense mines of gold and silver, for which they neglected the enormous natural agricultural resources of the country, now the granary of the world and the source of supply of the larger part of the cotton and cane sugar of commerce. The contrast was strong between the colonies of the Latin races and those of Anglo Saxon origin.
In 1719 there arrived in what is now Illinois one Phillipe Francois Renault, who had been appointed director general of the mines of Louisiana. With him he brought two hundred miners and artisans. The extent of the country explored at that time embraced among others the headwaters of the Minnesota and the Red River of the North, the tributaries of the Missouri, and even extended to the Rocky Mountains.
About this time hostilities with the Indians broke out, and a war with Spain threatened the lower part of the province. From 1712 to 1746 the settlers in Louisiana fought with the savages. In the latter year, at Butte des Morts and on the Wisconsin River, the Fox Indians were defeated and driven westward. During this time, in 1729, the Natchez, Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians rose and massacred all within their reach. Military operations against them were taken. The Choctaws were detached from the confederacy by the diplomacy of Le Sueur, the famous explorer, and the Natchez defeated. The latter’s chief. Great Sun, and four hundred of his people were taken prisoners and sold as slaves in Hispaniola, now the island of San Domingo Hayti. Thus perished this interesting tribe, who were at that time semi-civilized, or had a civilization of their own approaching in some degree that of the Aztec of Mexico.
In 1719 Dutisne, a French officer, was sent from New Orleans by the governor of Louisiana into the country west of the Mississippi, and revisited a village of Osage Indians, five miles from the Osage River, “at eighty leagues above its mouth.” Thence he crossed to the northwest one hundred and twenty miles over prairies abounding with buffaloes to some villages of the Pawnees. He traveled westward fifteen days more, which brought him to the Paloukahs, a warlike tribe of Indians. Here he erected a cross with the arms of the king September 27, 1719. It is thought that Dutisne set foot on Nebraska soil on this trip. If he did not, he could not have been far from the Nebraska line. From the writings of Charlevoix concerning these explorations, we quote the following:
“We arrived at the mouth of the Missouri on October 10, 1721. I believe this is the finest confluence in the world. The two rivers are much the same in breadth, each about half a league, but the Missouri is by far the most rapid, and seems to enter the Mississippi like a conqueror, through which it carries its white waters to the other shore without mixing them; afterwards it gives its color to the Mississippi, which it never loses again, but carries it quite down to the sea. The Osages, a pretty numerous nation, settled on the side of a river which bears their name, and which runs into the Missouri about forty leagues from its junction with the Mississippi, send once or twice a year to sing the calumet amongst the Kaskaskias, and are actually there at present. I have just seen a Missouri woman who told me that her nation is the first we meet with going up the Missouri. This nation (the Missouri) is situated eighty leagues from the confluence of the Missouri river with the Mississippi.”
Charleviox also gives the first information we have of the tribes of Indians above the Missouri nation. Higher up we find the Cansez (Kansas); then the Octotatoes (Otoes), which some call the Mactotatas; then the Ajouez (Iowas) and Panis (Pawnees), a very populous nation divided into several cantons which have names very different from each other. All the people I have mentioned inhabit the west side of the Missouri, except the Ajouez (Iowas), which are on the east side, neighbors of the Sioux and their allies.” Another writer says: “It is evident that during the first half of the seventeenth century the country now forming the state of Nebraska was inhabited along its southern border by the Kansas Indians; that the Platte river, then called the Rivere des Panis, was the home of the Pawnees, who also had villages to the northward at a point a considerable distance up the Missouri river. But to the westward, on the headwaters of the Kansas river, of the Platte river and of the Niobrara, lived the Padouchas, a tribe long since extinct.
In about 1721-24 the French, under M. de Bourgmont, erected a fort on an island in the Missouri river above the mouth of the Osage river, which po.st was called “Fort Orleans.” But the stockade was attacked after its completion and occupation, and all the garrison slain. Bourgmont, the builder of this Fort Orleans, before its destruction, passed many leagues up to the northwest of this fort into the Nebraska and Kansas country, and made firm friends with the Padoucahs, who had previously been seen by Dutisne.
In 1732 the Mississippi Company surrendered their charter to the French government, and then came the bursting of the “Mississippi bubble.” This company had held possession of Louisiana for fourteen years, and left it with a population of five thousand whites and half as many blacks. On the 10th of April, 1732, the French king declared the province free to all his subjects, with equal privileges as to trade and commerce. Though the company had done little for the enduring welfare of the Mississippi valley regions, yet it did something. The cultivation of tobacco and rice was introduced, the lead mines of Missouri were opened, and in the Illinois country the cultivation of wheat began to assume some importance, but the immediate valley of the Missouri and the country to the west remained wholly in possession of the native tribes. For thirty years or more after this there was but little worthy of special mention that transpired in the upper portion of the Louisiana province. St. Genevieve, on the west side of the Mississippi, within what is now Missouri, was founded, and during 1762 the first village was established on the Missouri river, named “Village du Cote,” now St. Charles, Mo. In the same year the governor general of Louisiana granted to Laclede and others a charter under the name of the “Louisiana Fur Company,” which, among other things, conferred the exclusive privilege of trading with the Indians of the Missouri river. But just before this time, momentous events had transpired in Canada. This country was conquered by the English, and the province of Louisiana became the property of other powers.
A brief review of the events leading up to the transfer of Louisiana to Spain by the French will be appropriate in this connection. On the 10th of April, 1732, after the bursting of the “Mississippi bubble” and the surrender of the charter of the Mississippi Company, the control of the commerce of Louisiana reverted to the crown of France. Bienville remained as governor for the French king until 1735. In the meantime a jealousy and rivalry had sprung up between Louisiana and the English colonies on the Atlantic coast which became fierce and bitter. In 1753 the first actual conflict arose between the French and English colonists. The French exerted every effort to prevent the other colonists from attempting to extend their settlements toward the Mississippi. The avowal was made of the purpose of seizing and punishing any Englishman found in the Ohio or Mississippi valley. To carry out their purpose the French seized upon a piece of territory claimed by Virginia, and, alive to their interests, protests were made by the colonists of Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. In 1753 Governor Dinwiddle, of Virginia, sent George Washington, then a young man of twenty-one, to the French commandant to demand by what right he invaded British soil in the time of peace between France and England. Gardeur de St. Pierre, the French officer in command, was met near the headwaters of the Alleghany by the young colonist, after a difficult winter journey. Washington, on stating his demands, received the insolent answer that they would not discuss right, but as they had discovered the country they would hold it.
On the return of Washington in January, 1754, he made his report. Forces were raised, and, under Colonel Washington, marched upon the enemy. They had an action in western Pennsylvania with some of the French troops, in which ten of the latter, with their commander, Jumonville, were killed. Some twenty French were made prisoners. The French receiving reinforcements, Washington was forced to fall back before overwhelming numbers. At Green Meadows he erected a rude stockade which he called Fort Necessity. Here he was shortly after surrounded by a force consisting of some six hundred French and a hundred or two Indians. On the 3rd of July he was forced to capitulate, and July 4, 1754, the British troops (or rather the colonials) withdrew from the Ohio valley. War between England and France broke out in May, 1755. This conflict lasted in the colonies, with various fortunes, until February 10, 1763, when the treaty of Paris was signed by the warring powers of Europe. By this instrument France renounced all her title to New France, now Canada, and all the land lying east of the Mississippi river, except the island and town of New Orleans.
By the conquest of Canada by the British in 1760 the province of Louisiana alone remained to France, but even this she was not in a position to hold. On November 3, 1762, she ceded it to Spain, shorn, however, of its eastern half, which fell to the English as stated. The entire region of the Missouri River, including all that now forms Nebraska, was thereafter for thirty-seven years Spanish territory. But Spain did not at once take possession of this territory. On February 15, 1764, Laclede’s Company established itself on the present site of the city of St. Louis, where he founded that city. A few years later a company of Spanish troops took possession of St. Louis in the name of the king of Spain, and in 1770 French possession was at an end in so much of upper Louisiana as lay west of the Mississippi, for in that year a lieutenant governor arrived at St. Louis and extended his authority over the whole region.
In 1783 Great Britain, by a definite treaty of peace signed September 3, relinquished all claim and ceded to the United States all territory east of the Mississippi river to the Atlantic Ocean from a line along the great lakes on the north, southward to the thirty-first parallel and southern border of Georgia. This was the treaty of Aix la Chapelle which terminated the revolutionary war. At the same time the British government ceded to Spain all the Floridas which she had taken east of Louisiana and south of the southern limits of the united colonies just freed. It will therefore be seen that as yet the territory now constituting the state of Nebraska was no part of the United States, but remained a possession of Spain and the home of savage nations, visited only by the vagrant trader to traffic in furs with the different tribes. These traders were mostly Frenchmen. Sometimes they would have houses and remain stationary for one, two or even more years, but sooner or later they all departed from the country.
At an early period after the conclusion of peace, the people of the United States began to demand the free navigation of the Mississippi River. The Spanish power holding one bank entirely and both part of its course, assumed that they had exclusive use of it, and demanded heavy tolls on all imports south of the mouth of the Ohio. This was a vexed question at the time, and came at one period near disrupting the country, the intrigues of Miro and Carondelet, the Spanish governors, tending to the separation of the western colonies from the eastern. All these questions were quieted by the treaty of Madrid, October 20, 1795, by which the free navigation of the river was assured and the use of New Orleans as a port of entry or deposit granted. October 16, 1802, these rights were revoked by Morales, then intendant of Louisiana, but this action was not acquiesced in by the governor. Indignation ran high in the United States at that time over the matter. To effectually secure the rights of the United States in the navigation and commerce of the Mississippi, President Thomas Jefferson in January, 1803, sent a message to the senate of the United States, nominating Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe ministers to the court of France, with full authority to conclude a treaty to that end. Previous to this all the Louisianas had passed back into the possession of France. By a treaty made between the republic of France and Spain, the latter power had agreed to furnish a monthly war contribution to France, as she was unable to furnish soldiers for a common war. This debt not being paid accumulated until poverty stricken or favorite ridden Spain could not pay. At the same time the first consul, Bonaparte, had constructed out of some fragments of Italy remaining in his hands, the kingdom of Eturia. Now Spain proposed that she would, on the cancellation of the debt due by her and the gift of the kingdom of Eturia to the deposed prince of Parma, son-in-law of the king of Spain, make over to France her province of Louisiana. This was acceded to, and by the hands of the chief magistrate the new monarchs were crowned in Paris and sent to their new government, and by the treaty signed at Madrid, March 21, 1801, Prance received back the immense tract of territory then known as Louisiana. Thus Nebraska was again French territory.
The newly accredited ministers of the United States arrived in Paris at a critical time. The hollow peace which followed the treaty of Amiens between England and France was strained to its utmost. Napoleon, with the admirable foresight which governed all his military measures, saw that this vast colony across the seas would be lost to him if war should break out between Prance and England. He took measures accordingly. Summoning M. Marbois, the secretary of finance, he broached the idea of selling to the Americans the whole province of Louisiana. In this he was governed by several motives. He felt he was making a friend of the American people and casting a bone of contention between them and the English government, and he also procured money with which to carry on the war. M. Marbois sent for the ministers and proposed the matter. Messrs. Monroe and Livingston were neither of them dismayed at their want of powers to make any such treaty, entered into the stipulation, subject of course to the ratification of their government. By the terms of this paper France ceded to the United States the whole province of Louisiana, for which she was to receive the sum of fifteen million dollars, and the United States assumed also the payment of certain claims against the French government. These latter were by merchants and ship owners who had suffered loss by the seizure of their vessels and cargoes by the Directory, a former government in France. The original price, which was paid through banking houses in Amsterdam, and the “spoliation claims” above mentioned, brought the price of Louisiana up to $27,267,621.98, as officially stated. This treaty was signed April 30, 1803. Much opposition developed in the United States to the ratification of the treaty. New England being particularly bitter against it. The farseeing statesmen of that day alone appreciated the vast importance of the territory so cheaply purchased. The administration was bitterly attacked by the federalists, and it was claimed that all kinds of danger to the republic would grow out of the confirmation of the treaty. Sober common sense, however, prevailed, and the treaty was confirmed. In December of the same year the province was officially delivered to the commissioners appointed to receive it, Governor Claiborne of Mississippi and General James Wilkinson of the United States army. It is related that these latter were just in time, as a British fleet was approaching New Orleans to take possession when the stars and stripes were being hoisted over it.
By these means the United States became possessed of a territory extending from the Gulf of Mexico to the forty-ninth parallel of north latitude, and from the banks of the Mississippi to the crest of the Rocky Mountains. If the treaty, which was confirmed through the personal influence of President Jefferson had miscarried, our now grand republic would have been bounded on the west by the “Father of Waters,” and the vast empire lying west of it, now a valuable part of the United States, would have been in the possession of a foreign power. To that act of Livingston and Monroe in transcending their powers, the personal influence and wisdom of President Jefferson and the acquiescence of the senate and the people in an act only after it had been done, is due the fact that Nebraska is now a part of the federal union.
At that time the territory since known by the name of the Louisiana Purchase included what is now the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota (or the greater part of it). North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. It also included Indian Territory and Oklahoma.
Source: Compendium of History Reminiscence & Biography of Western Nebraska, Alden Publishing Company, Chicago, 1912