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HOW THE MISSISSIPPI WAS DISCOVERED
 WHILE the shores of the Atlantic from Nova Scotia to Georgia were
being claimed and peopled by the British another and very different
nation laid claim also to the mighty continent. Before Jamestown
was founded the French had already set foot upon the St. Lawrence.
Long before the Pilgrim Fathers sailed from Plymouth the flag of
France was floating from the citadel of Quebec; and the French laid
claim to the whole of Canada.
But the French and the British claimed these new lands in very
different ways. The Englishmen came seeking freedom and a new home.
The Frenchmen came seeking adventure. The Englishman painfully
felled trees and cleared land, toiling by the sweat of his brow for
the comfort of a home. The Frenchman set up crosses on the edge of
pathless forests, claiming unknown lands for God and his King. He
came as missionary, trader and adventurer rather than as farmer.
And, led on by zeal for religion or desire for adventure, he pushed
his settlements far into the wilderness.
So, long years went by. All along the Atlantic coasts spread fertile
fields and fair homesteads. The British were content to live on the
lands which they had cleared and
 tilled, and no adventurer sought
to know what lay beyond the blue mountain range which shut him from
Far otherwise was it with the French. Priests and traders were
both full of a desire for conquest and adventure. Many of them
indeed were so driven by the roving spirit that they left the
towns altogether and lived alone among the forests, tracking the
wild animals, and only coming to towns to sell the skins and get
These trappers brought back with them many strange tales of the
forests and unknown wilds. They spoke of the Mississippi or "great
water" of which the Indians told marvellous tales. And at length
it seemed to their hearers that this great water could be no other
than the long sought passage to India and the East.
Many people, fired by these tales, went in search of this great
water. Two priests named Marquette and Joliet were the first
to discover it.
For many miles they floated down the Mississippi.
On either side stretched endless forests and plains of waving grass,
haunts of wild animals and of the Indians,—almost as wild. On
they went, past the mouth of the yellow Missouri, on still till
they came to the river Arkansas. At last, sure that the great river
went southward and not westward as they had supposed, they decided
It had been easy enough floating down, but now they had to battle
against the stream, and it was only after weeks of toil that they
at length reached Canada again with their news.
When he heard their story another adventurer named René Robert
Cavelier Sieur de la Salle became eager to
 make certain of their
discovery, and follow the river all the way to its mouth.
With great care and trouble he made his arrangements. He thought
it would be impossible to compass so great a journey by canoes,
so he built a little ship which he called the Griffin. It was the
first ship which had been seen by the Indians round Lake Erie, and
in amazement and fear they came to stare at it. In their ignorant
terror they would have destroyed it had not careful watch been
From the very beginning of his expedition La Salle found many
difficulties. But at length they all seemed to be overcome, and he
set out with his friend, Henri de Tonty, and about forty men.
Tonty was a man of courage, as bold and enterprising as La Salle
himself. He was, too, much feared by the Indians, who thought him
a great Medicine Man. For while fighting in Europe he had had one
hand shot off. But he had replaced it with an iron hand, which he
always wore covered with a glove. The Indians did not know this,
and once or twice when they had been troublesome he had brought
them to order by knocking them down with this hand. Not knowing the
secret of it they marvelled greatly at his strength, and, fearing
him accordingly, called him Iron Hand.
One of La Salle's great difficulties was lack of money. So before
leaving the great lakes he collected a quantity of furs. Then he
sent back the Griffin and half his men, with orders to sell these
furs, and return with supplies for the expedition as quickly as
possible. With the rest of his men La Salle journeyed on to the
head of Lake Michigan in canoes.
It was no easy journey, for storms swept the lake. The waves tossed
their frail canoes hither and thither so that they were often in
danger of drowning. They were
 harassed, too, by unfriendly Indians.
At length, worn out by fatigue, starving with cold and hunger, they
reached the appointed place to await the return of the Griffin.
But the Griffin never came. In vain La Salle scanned the grey
waters. Day after day passed, and no white sail flecked the dreary
expanse. The Griffin was never heard of more.
With a heavy heart La Salle at length gave up the weary watch, and
decided to go on with such men and supplies as he had. But with
every step fresh difficulties arose. La Salle had many enemies,
and they did their best to hinder and hamper him. His own men were
discontented and mutinous. They had no love for their leader, no
enthusiasm for the expedition, and the hardships and dangers of
the way made them sullen.
They were half starved and worn out with fatigue; all they wanted
was to get back to a comfortable life. They were sick of the
wilderness and its hardships. Added to this the Indians told them
bloodcurdling tales of the terrors of the "Father of Waters." It
was a raging torrent of whirlpools, they said, full of poisonous
serpents and loathly monsters. Those who ventured on it would never
This was more than the men could face. They chose rather the
possibility of death among the Indians and the wilderness to its
certainty among such horrors, and some of them ran away.
Depressed by this desertion La Salle resolved to camp for the rest
of the winter. So on the banks of the river Illinois he built a
fort which he called Creve-Cœur, or Heart-break.
But La Salle's brave heart was not yet broken. And here he began
to build a new ship in which to sail down the Mississippi. There
was wood in plenty around, and the work was begun. But many things,
such as sails and rigging, which were necessary for the ship, the
 could not supply. And, seeing no other way, La Salle
resolved to go back to Fort Frontenac to get them, leaving Tonty
meanwhile to look after the building of the ship.
It was March when La Salle set out on his tremendous walk of a
thousand miles. With him he took a faithful Indian guide and four
Frenchmen. And seldom have men endured a journey more terrible.
The spring sun was just beginning to thaw the ice and snow
of winter, so that the prairies were turned to marshes into which
the travellers sank knee deep. The forests were pathless thickets
through which they had to force a way with axe and hatchet. As a
pathway the rivers were useless to them, for the ice was so thin
that it would not bear their weight. And later when it thawed and
broke up they still could not use their canoes lest they should be
shattered by the floating masses of ice.
All day long they toiled knee deep in mud and half-melted snow,
laden with baggage, guns and ammunition. At night they lay down
without shelter of any kind. They were often hungry, they suffered
constantly both from cold and heat. For at noon the sun beat down
upon them fiercely, and at night the frost was so bitter that the
blankets in which they lay wrapped were frozen stiff.
The hardships of the journey were so tremendous that the marvel
is that any one lived to tell of them. Indeed, one by one the men
fell ill, and when at length after three months of pain and peril
they arrived at their journey's end only La Salle had strength or
Here more bad news greeted La Salle, for he now heard that a ship
sent out from France laden with supplies for him had been wrecked.
But even this cruel stroke of fortune could not break his spirit.
Once more he set about gathering supplies, and made ready to return
to Fort Heart-break.
But worse was yet to come. La Salle was about to start
 when he received
a letter from Tonty. From this he learned that soon after he had
left nearly all his men had mutinied. They had rifled the stores
and demolished the fort; then, throwing into the river everything
they could not carry, had made off. Only three or four had remained
faithful. With these Tonty was now alone in the wilderness.
This staggering news only made La Salle more eager to set out, for
he could not leave his brave friend thus helpless. So once more
the toilsome journey was begun. But when Heart-break was reached,
La Salle found no friend to welcome him. All around there was
nothing but silence and desolation, and ghastly ash-strewn ruins.
The unfinished ship, like some vast skeleton, huge and gaunt, alone
bore witness that white men had once been there.
Still La Salle would not despair. He spent the winter making friends
with the Indians and searching earnestly for some trace of Tonty.
The winter was unusually severe, the whole land was covered with
snow and both La Salle and some of his men became snow-blind for
days. But at last with the melting of the snows light and joy came
to him. The blindness passed, Tonty was found.
Once again the friends met. Each had a tale to tell, a tale of
bitter disappointments and defeats. Yet in spite of all the blows
of fortune Le Salle would not give in. Once more he set about making
preparations for the expedition. But now he gave up the idea of
building a ship, and decided to trust to canoes alone.
It was mid-winter when all was ready. The rivers were frozen hard.
So, placing their canoes on sledges, the men dragged them over the
ice. As they went southward and spring came on, the ice melted and
would no longer bear them. The stream was soon filled with floating
masses of broken ice, so they were obliged to land and wait until
it had melted.
 Then once more they set out. Every day now they drifted farther
and farther into the heat of summer. The sun shone softly through
the overhanging trees, the river banks were gay with flowers,
and bright plumaged birds flashed through the sunlight. After the
tortures of the past winters this green and fertile land seemed a
very paradise. So on the adventurers passed where never white man
had passed before; and at length they reached the mouth of the
mighty river and stood upon the shore of the Gulf of Mexico.
And here, while wondering savages looked on, this
mere handful of white men claimed all the land through which they
had passed for their King. The long silence of the wilderness was
awakened for the first time by the sound of Latin chants. Guns were
fired, and to the shouts of "God save the King,"
a pillar was set
On it were graven
the arms of France and the words, "Louis the Great, King"
of France and Navarre, reigns; 9th April, 1682."
Then standing beside the pillar, drawn sword in hand,
in a loud voice La Salle claimed the land for his King.
"In the Name of the most high, mighty, invincible, and
victorious Prince, Louis the Great, by the Grace of God
King of France and of Navarre," he cried, "I do now take
possession of this country of Louisiana, the seas, harbours,
ports, bays, and neighbouring straits, and all the nations,
peoples, provinces, cities, towns, villages, mines, minerals,
fisheries, streams, and rivers within the said Louisiana,
from the mouth of the great river St. Louis along the river
Mississippi and the rivers which flow there into from its
source to its mouth."
LA SALLE TAKES POSSESSION OF LOUISIANA
As La Salle ceased speaking once more the air was
rent with shouts of "God save the King," and the thunder
of guns. A cross was placed beside the pillar, a Latin
hymn was sung; once more "God save the King" rang out
upon the still air, and the ceremony was over.
 To France an enormous possession had been added.
For La Salle claimed for France the greatest part of
what is now the United States of America. Over all that
lay between the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes,
between the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghanies the sceptre
of Louis of France was stretched out.
But such a realm could not be held by the mere singing
of hymns and planting of crosses. La Salle himself had
no idea how vast a province he had claimed. But even he
realised that it could not be held by words and ceremonies.
He had, however, his dreams of how it might be done. In
imagination he built a great city at the mouth of the
Mississippi. Upon the broad bosom of the river he saw
vessels pass to and fro, carrying all the trade of Canada
from north to south. And all along its course forts were
built. These were to serve for trading stations and also
as fortresses against the ever-encroaching British. Thus
if his dream came true Northern and Southern New France
would be united, and wealth and glory be added to the
crown of Louis.
So with his great plan in his head La Salle turned homeward.
Many dangers and difficulties met him on the way.
But through famine, sickness, treachery and many perils
he struggled onward, and at length reached Quebec.
From there he set sail for France, impatient to tell
the King all that he had done, lay his great plan before
him, and beg his help.
Louis was quite ready to listen to La Salle. He gave
him all and more than he asked. And before long La
Salle once more sailed joyfully across the seas with a little
fleet of four ships laden with colonists, and with everything
necessary for the building of his city.
The plan was to sail direct to the mouth of the
Mississippi and make a settlement there as the first step in
La Salle's grand scheme. But from the beginning
every-  thing went wrong. On the way out La Salle quarrelled
with the other officers. One of the ships laden with
provisions and tools for the colony was captured by the
Spaniards; another, filled with nearly all the remaining stores,
was wrecked, and—worst of all—La Salle could not find
the mouth of the Mississippi. Approaching it from the
sea it was quite a different matter from sailing down from
source to mouth. And coming to it from the sea La Salle
could not recognise the place, and sailed some hundred
When at length they landed the colonists were already
dispirited, and they set to work to build their little town
in a hopeless, listless fashion. Many fell ill and died;
others wandered away into the forests, and were never
heard of more. Misery after misery fell upon the settlers.
Their numbers dwindled day by day, and at the end of two
years scarce forty of the two hundred colonists who had
set sail from France remained.
Despair seized them all and their one desire was to
return to France. But how? They were utterly alone,
forsaken and forgotten. In vain they scanned the blue
waters of the bay. No ship ever appeared.
Of all the company La Salle alone remained cheerful
and courageous. It was he alone who saved the others
from utter despair. And at length, seeing no other way,
he determined once more to take the long weary journey
back to Canada, and bring help from there to the starving
So one January morning the forlorn little company
gathered within the walls of the fort, and those who were
to set out on the desperate adventure said farewell to
those who were to stay behind and await their return. It
was not easy to say whose lot was the harder. Words
tender and sad were said, tears fell, and hand clung to
 hand, for a dread foreboding hung over the little company
that they would never meet again.
The last words were said, the last handshake given, and
the adventurers trudged away on their long, long journey.
They were a weather-worn, threadbare company,
fantastically dressed in garments they had fashioned for
themselves out of skins of animals, old sails and other oddments.
Their clothes, though quaint, were serviceable enough, but
their lack of boots was yet another misery added to the
many which they had to endure on their long march. But
in spite of every hardship La Salle remained undaunted
and confident of success.
Not so his men. Some of them, though not all, had
grown to hate him as the cause of all their misfortunes,
and now as day by day their sufferings grew greater, their
hatred strengthened. At length there was mutiny in the
camp, and one morning one of the mutineers, skulking
in the bushes, shot at La Salle from behind and killed him.
As their dead leader lay upon the ground the mutineers
gathered round rejoicing. But their rage was not yet
sated, and to show their hatred and contempt they
brutally stripped the body naked, and left it to lie unburied
among the bushes, a prey to wild beasts. Thus in misery
and failure the life of this great pioneer ended.
The mutineers now continued their journey, but they
began to quarrel among themselves, and the ringleader
was killed. What became of the others is not known. The
few who had not been concerned in the murder journeyed
on to Canada, which, after many adventures and
hardships, they reached at length. From there they crossed to
France to tell their woful tale, and beg King Louis to
send help to the starving colony. But Louis would send
no aid, and the colony of St. Louis was blotted out. Some
time after La Salle left it was attacked by Indians. Nearly
 all were slain, and the few who escaped were
scattered among the Indian tribes.
Thus ended La Salle's splendid dream in the blackness
of utter failure. But the failure was only for the
time being. La Salle had given his countrymen a
magnificent idea. He had pointed out the way to them,
and others walked in it.