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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 the Arkansas.

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 unfinished report.

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 fatigue ....

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 Saturdays.

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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