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The Men Who Found America by  Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson

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THE FRIENDS OF THE INDIANS

[141] MANY, many years ago, two Frenchmen, traveling through a new, wild forest country, came upon a cross that was all covered with flowers. There were no white men in all this country, and so the Frenchmen wondered who had put the cross there, and who had placed the flowers on it; but later they learned that the Indians in this part of the country had laid the flowers on the cross. Then the Frenchmen knew that these Indians were friends, because everywhere the French went they carried the cross, and taught the Indians, who loved them, to place flowers on it.

Now, these two Frenchmen were very good men. They treated the Indians kindly, and the Indians, who liked to be treated kindly, were also good to the Frenchmen. There is a very good lesson in all this. If you want people to be good to you, then you must always be kind to them.

Now, all the Frenchmen who came to America knew this, and from the first they were kind to the Indians. The Spaniards had been very harsh. They had killed the red men or made slaves of [142] them, and sometimes the Indians had been cruelly beaten until they died. They had been tortured, too; hung up by their fingers and toes; roasted over a hot fire; starved, and even chased with great, fierce blood-hounds. So I am not surprised that the Indians did not love the Spaniards.

Now, the English and Dutch who came to America were not quite so cruel as the Spaniards, but sometimes they, too, treated the Indians harshly. For a very little wrong they would shoot an Indian or burn down a whole Indian village. Besides, they were very proud, and thought that the red men were only savages, and they did not want to have anything to do with them; and this, I may tell you, is a very bad way to act and think, if you want people to like you and help you.

The Frenchmen who came to America acted much more wisely. They really loved the Indians, and often lived with them in their poor little villages. Some of the Frenchmen had been great lords in their own country. They had had beautiful castles, with fine, big rooms, and gold and silver and wonderful carpets. They had had many servants to wait on them, and everything in the world that they wanted. Yet these very [143] men were not too proud to sleep on the ground in the hut of an Indian, or share with him a meal of corn and dried meat. They hunted with the Indians; they fished with them, they smoked their pipes with them, and Indians and Frenchmen sat around the roaring camp-fire and talked together, or looked up in silence at the bright little stars. Wherever the Frenchmen went, they put up little chapels, and here Frenchmen and Indians kneeled down side by side and prayed to the good God. The French priest would baptize the little red children, and when they grew old enough to understand, he would teach them about God and the Bible.

Some of the Indians became Christians, and hung flowers on the little crosses which the Frenchmen built all over the country. And so it was that when our two Frenchmen saw the flowers on the cross, they rejoiced and were glad, because they knew that even in this wild country, far away from all white men, they were with friends.

Now, these men were not only very good, but they were also very brave. One of them was named Louis Joliet. He had been sent by the King of France to find out some good way to [144] the Pacific Ocean. The other was Father Marquette, a French priest, as brave a man as any soldier. This Father Marquette had lived with the Indians many, many years. He knew their languages and all their customs, and the Indians loved him and called him their friend.

Well, it was not an easy thing that these brave Frenchmen were trying to do. No white man had ever been in all this country before. It was much pleasanter staying in Quebec, the city which good Champlain, the Father of New France, had founded; but Joliet and good Father Marquette were not afraid of danger. They sailed down the St. Lawrence River into the Great Lakes, and then on and on and on, day after day, and day after day, until at last they reached Lake Michigan. I think this part of their journey must have been the most pleasant. The weather was warm, the Indians they met were friendly, and now and then they would come across some Frenchman who was living out in the wild country, trapping animals for their furs or trading with the Indians; and sometimes they would meet a good French priest, who had come this great way to teach the Indians about God.

[145] Well, at last they left the last Frenchman and the last wooden cross, and started down a narrow but beautiful river that they believed flowed into the Mississippi. The little river was so choked with rice that grew wild along its banks that the boats found it hard to move. Here their guides left them, and then for a week they drifted slowly, slowly down the river, till at last, with cries of joy, they came to the Mississippi.

Now, this Mississippi River is the greatest river in America, and one of the greatest rivers in all the world. It was the same river that De Soto had found so many, many years before, when the Indians had told him that its name was the Father of Waters. Now, you see, whatever country owned the Mississippi River, the great river that flowed from little streams all the way down to where it emptied into the great, great sea, that country would own all the land along its banks, and so would be the greatest country in America. This was why Joliet and Father Marquette wanted to sail all the way down the river, so that all the land on its banks might belong to France. Besides, they thought that perhaps it flowed into the Pacific Ocean. You see, Joliet and Father Marquette had no good [146] maps, and they did not know, as you and I know, that the Mississippi River flowed not west into the Pacific Ocean, but south into the Gulf of Mexico.

When the two brave Frenchmen reached the Mississippi River, they were a little afraid of the Indians who lived along its banks. Perhaps these Indians would be their enemies and would kill them; so they no longer left their canoes at night and slept on the banks about a roaring camp-fire. They feared that the sharp eyes of unfriendly Indians might see the smoke, and that they might come and cut off their scalps while they slept; so they tied their canoes to the shore and they rolled themselves up in blankets, so as to be ready to wake in a minute and paddle away. They also made one of their men stay awake all night to watch for the red men; but for eight days there was not an Indian in sight.

On the ninth day they saw a path leading up from the river, and they knew that this path must go to an Indian village. Joliet and Father Marquette did not know whether these Indians were friendly or not; but they were both brave men. Maybe their hearts beat a little faster, as they thought that, perhaps, the Indians would kill [147] them; but, anyway, they did not show any fear as they walked up the path to the village. Well, after all, the Indians were friendly. The chief came forward with hands raised above his head, which was always a sign of friendship with the Indians. Then other red men waved the long pipe of peace, which was the same as though they had said, "Let us be friends, oh, white men!" The two Frenchmen were invited to take dinner, and the chief told them stories about the Great River and about the other Indians that lived along its banks. And at last, when Joliet and Father Marquette said good-by, all the Indians went with them as far as the river, and the Indian chief gave them a present, which was better than gold, or silver, or diamonds, or rubies.

Now, I suppose you will want to know what was this present that was better than gold, or silver, or diamonds, or rubies. Well, I will tell you; it was a pipe. Not a stale old pipe, such as a man carries in his pocket, but the calumet, the pipe of peace. Wherever Joliet and Father Marquette went, all they had to do was to show this calumet, or pipe of peace, and every Indian knew that the great chief was the good friend [148] of these white men; and many times this pipe saved the lives of the two brave Frenchmen.

Well, wherever they went, Joliet and Father Marquette showed the calumet of the great Indian chief, and then the other Indians were friendly too. And these two Frenchmen were so good and brave that the Indians liked them for their own sakes; so down the river they sailed, past big forests and beautiful, rolling prairies, until one day they saw a wide, yellow river that flowed into the Mississippi. This was the Missouri, a great, yellow, roaring river, and if they had time, I think the two Frenchmen would have sailed up it; but they could not stop. So day after day they sailed on down, down, down the Mississippi. I think that they must have had a good time of it, seeing a new country all the while; but they did not go the whole way. When they had gone many hundreds of miles, they were told stories of some very cruel Indians who lived in the south. The friendly Indians said to them, "If you fall into the hands of these bad Indians, they will surely tie you to a pole and burn you alive; and if you escape, perhaps the Spaniards will catch you, and they are as wicked as the others."

[149] So Joliet and Father Marquette talked it over for a long time, and at last they thought it would be wiser to go back. Slowly they sailed up the Mississippi River, and then across the country to the Great Lakes, and back the same way they had come. On the way home they saw graceful, white swans, with long, beautiful necks, swimming on the little silver lakes, and in the dark, green forests were cattle, and goats, and beautiful brown deer, with wonderful spreading horns. At last they reached Quebec, and all the people in the town wanted to hear of the great adventures and lucky escapes of Joliet and Father Marquette.

Now, there was a brave man named La Salle, who heard these stories from the mouth of Joliet. This La Salle was a very great man in France. His family were nobles and were very rich, and young La Salle, whose first name was Robert, had been well brought up, and had been taught many things. He was so good that he even became a priest, and everybody said that Robert La Salle was a very good and a very wise man.

But Robert La Salle wanted to go to America, not only to find new lands, but also to find what so many others had tried to find, a new way to [150] the Pacific Ocean. So he gave up being a priest and went to the great, new country of America.

La Salle was not only a wise man, but one who thought a great deal, and now he thought of a new plan. This plan was to build little French forts, very little but very strong, all the way along the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River; and at the mouth of the Mississippi he planned a great, great fort. He wanted to put French soldiers in these forts, so that the whole river and all the country around would belong to France. When this was done, Frenchmen could go everywhere to get furs, and soon little cities could be built, and there would be a great, strong, New France in America. So the dream of Champlain would come true.

Now, the first thing La Salle had to do was to sail down the great Mississippi and find the best places for his little forts and trading posts; and this was not an easy thing to do. In those days it was a long and hard journey from Quebec to the mouth of the Great River, and La Salle tried many times before he succeeded. On the first trip his ship was wrecked in a great storm and nearly everything was lost. Then he had no food, and had to sail back miles and miles and [151] miles to get bread and meat. Later, his money gave out, and he had to wait until he had sold enough furs to buy a new ship. And then, when his men tried to sail on the lakes, the wind blew against them, and many times they had to sleep on the icy ground, with nothing but the sky over them. Often and often they had no food at all but a few handfuls of corn.

But the worst trouble that La Salle had was with his men. They did not want to do much work, and they were always complaining because the journey was so hard and because they had nothing to eat. Now, they knew very well before they started that it would not be easy, and so I, for one, think that they ought not to have complained; but so it is with people. Some, like La Salle's men, will grumble and grumble over every little thing, while others will bear all sorts of hardship and never say a word.

Now, there were with La Salle two men who never complained. One was his faithful French friend, Tonti, and another faithful friend was an Indian. These two men, one a Frenchman and one an Indian, loved La Salle and did whatever he asked. The Indian knew the forest. He could find his way through the great, thick trees [152] even in the dark; so La Salle took him as his guide. When everybody else was tired and cross, this good Indian was as brave and as patient as ever. This was because he loved La Salle, and because La Salle was always kind to all Indians.

Well, all the time the troubles of La Salle grew worse and worse. Sometimes the little streams were filled with ice, so that the canoes had to be moved on sledges, and sometimes these brave men had to wade for miles in water up to their waists. Of course, the brambles and thorns tore their clothing to rags, and when it grew cold, their clothes froze as hard as ice. Then they had to stop and build a fire before they could go any further.


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"THE INDIANS LOVED THE BRAVE FATHER MARQUETTE, AND CALLED HIM THEIR FRIEND."

I am sure these were times when even the brave heart of La Salle almost broke, but not once did he give up. Again and again he tried, day after day, till at last, after years of disappointment, La Salle reached the mouth of the Mississippi River. His patience and perseverance were finally rewarded. It was in February, over two hundred years ago, that the Father of Waters and all the country nearby was given by La Salle to the King of France.

[153] You can imagine the joy of La Salle when at last he reached the end of his long journey. He put up a cross on the banks of the river. Then he asked all his men to kneel down and pray. Then it was that he named the new country Louisiana, in honor of King Louis, and, in a loud voice, called out that from that time on all the land should belong to France.

And for many years the great country of the Mississippi did  belong to France. But later, much later, when the grandchildren of the men who had been with La Salle were all dead, a new country grew up in America—our country, the United States. And to us the French sold all this great country of the Mississippi. Yet the name of Louisiana is still the name of one of our States, and even to-day all Americans think of La Salle as a great and good man who did well for his country.

For all his good deeds La Salle was not rewarded as he should have been. Two years after he had found the mouth of the Mississippi River, he came back again with four ships and two hundred and eighty men. This time he wanted to build the city and fort that he had planned so many years before; but the captain [154] of these vessels was a very stupid and a very jealous man. He took La Salle to the wrong place instead of to the mouth of the Mississippi, and when La Salle wanted him to sail again and try once more to find the mouth of the river, this evil man would not do so; so La Salle started by land. Now he had no map, and it was much further than he thought. Then, too, there were many hardships, and his men grumbled and grumbled, and would not do as he said. And at last two of the men, who were very wicked, hid behind trees, and when La Salle was walking to the camp, they shot him dead.

And that was the end of Robert La Salle, the man who found the mouth of the Mississippi, and who was one of the true, good and great friends of the Indians.


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