Father Marquette's Last Christmas
Nature Bulletin No. 585 December 19, 1959
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Daniel Ryan, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist
FATHER MARQUETTE'S LAST CHRISTMAS
In 1671, Father Marquette established a Jesuit mission at St. Ignace on
the Michigan peninsula near Mackinac Island. In December of 1672,
Louis Jolliet, an experienced explorer, arrived with permission for the
father to accompany him on a search for the Mississippi river. In May,
1673, they set forth with five voyageurs and two canoes. Traveling up
the Fox river and down the Wisconsin they entered the Mississippi at
Prairie du Chien and continued downstream about as far as the mouth of
On the return trip, using a route recommended by Indians, they canoed
up the Illinois river and stopped at a large village of the Illinois nation
near Starved Rock. In his report to Father Dablon, superior of the Jesuit
missions, Marquette said: "They received us very well, and obliged me
to promise that I would return to instruct them. One of the chiefs of this
nation, with his young men, accompanied us to the Lake of the Illinois
(Lake Michigan). " Thus they discovered and used the Chicago Portage,
gateway to the Middle West.
On October 25, 1674, Father Marquette left Green Bay in a canoe with
Claude Porteret and "Jacque". They traveled along the west shore of the
lake to the mouth of the Chicago river. Following are excerpts from his
Dec. 4 -- We started with a favoring wind and reached the river of the
portage, which was frozen to the depth of half a foot . . .
Dec. 12 -- We were unable to celebrate holy mass on the day of the
Conception, owing to the bad weather and cold. During our stay at the
mouth of the river, Pierre and Jacques killed 3 cattle (buffalo) and 4
deer, one of which ran some distance with its heart split in 2. We
contented ourselves with killing 3 or 4 turkeys, out of many that came
around our cabin (hut) because they were almost dying of hunger.
Jacques brought in a partridge (evidently a prairie chicken, from his
description) . . .
Dec. 14 -- Having encamped near the portage, 2 leagues up the river (at
about Damen Ave. ), we resolved to go no further, since we were too
much hindered and my ailment did not permit me to give myself much
Dec. 15 -- Chachagwessiou and the other Illinois left us, to go and join
their people. . . I instructed them before their departure, deferring the
holding of a council until spring, when I should be in their village. They
traded us 3 fine robes of ox-skins (buffalo) for a cubit of tobacco; these
were very useful to us during the winter . . After the 14th, my disease
turned into a bloody flux.
The next entry is dated December 30. Suffering torture from a fatal
disease but doggedly insisting that they would fulfill their mission, that
brave man spent the Christmas of 1674 in a lonely crude hut at the east
end of the Chicago Portage.
March 30 -- (When they departed toward the Illinois village) . . . The
blessed Virgin Immaculate has taken such care of us during our
wintering that we have not lacked provisions, and have still remaining a
large sack of corn (from the Indians), with some meat and fat We also
lived very pleasantly for my illness did not prevent me from saying
mass every day. We were unable to keep Lent, except on Fridays and
The last entry is dated April 6. About then, leaving most of their goods
with the Illinois, they started back to St. Ignace, canoeing around the
end of Lake Michigan and northward along its east shore. On a lonely
dune just south of Ludington, there is a pylon, surmounted by a huge
cross, with a plaque stating that Pere Jacques Marquette died at this site
on May 18. 1675.
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Update: June 2012