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THE ILLINOIS AND THE PRAIRIES.
BY JAMES K. PAULDING, AUTHOR OF THE
" DUTCHMAN'S FIRESIDE," ETC.
THAT gallant officer and enterprising traveler, come a universal blessing, is made a burthen to one Major Long, did the Illinois great injustice when he country, while useless 10 all the rest of the world. described it as "an extended pool of stagnant water," This noble state, as is well known, derives its for it was, when I saw it, one of the prettiest streams name from a tribe of Indians, originally called the to be found in this country of fine rivers. The width Ileni, which the French missionaries and explorers, is such as to give a full view of objects on both sides who were the first white men that visited this region, in passing; the basin was full without overflowing; changed into Illinois. They were neither warlike and though the current was gentle, its waters were nor brave, and were held in great contempt by the neither muddy nor stagnant. It should, however, be invincible Iroquois and Outagamis, as appears from observed, that my journey was in the season when the following relation of an old traveler. “An the rivers of the great Mississippi valley, though Outagami,” says Father Charleroix, “who was beginning to subside, were still high, and that those burnt by the Illinois, perceiving a Frenchman among who wish to see them to advantage should visit the the spectators, begged of him that he would help his South and West before the heats of summer. Else enemies to torment him; and on being asked why he will they be assuredly disappointed, and accuse me made ihis request, replied, 'because I should have of indulging in a favorite amusement of travelers. the comfort of dying by the hands of men. My
The Illinois, until you approach the Rapids, seems greatest grief is, that I never killed a man.' But,' made on purpose for steam navigation, which is said an Illinois, have you not killed such and such seldom, if ever, molested either by winds or waves. persons ?' *True; as for the Illinois, I have killed With the exception of points where the prairies ap- enough of them, but they are not men.'” proach the borders, the river is every where skirted The character of the Indians, and the view of the by those magnificent forests which constitute one of savage state as found in North America, given by the most striking and beautiful features of this new this writer, is so philosophical and just, that I am world; and completely sheltered from the storm, tempted to transcribe it for the instruction and seems to glide along unconscious of the uproar of the amusement of the reader. It appears at least 10 be elements around. It flows through a region which, impartial, which is more than can be said of more even in this land of milk and honey, is renowned far recent writers, one class of whom can find nothing and near for its almost unequaled fertility, and the to praise, the other nothing to blame in our Indians. ease with which it may be brought to produce the “ With a savage appearance, and manners, and rich rewards of labor. There is, perhaps, no part of customs, which are entirely barbarous, there is obthe world where the husbandman labors less, and servable among them a social kindness, free from reaps more, than throughout a great portion of this almost all the imperfections which so often disturb fine state, on which nature has bestowed her most the peace of society among us. They appear to be exuberant bounties.
without passion; but they do that in cold blood, and But, strange to say, I found the good-hearted people, sometimes through principle, which the most violent almost without exception, complaining of “hard and unbridled passion produces in those who give times,” not arising, however, from the usual sources
They seem to lead the most of war, famine, or pestilence, but from actual abun- wretched life in the world; and they were, perdance. They had more than they knew what to do haps, the only happy people on earth, before the with, and it was an apt, though melancholy com- knowledge of the objects which so much work upon mentary on the wisdom of man, as well as the pro- and seduce us, had excited in them desires which vidence of human legislation, that while the citizens ignorance kept in supineness, and which have nol, of Illinois, and, indeed, the entire great western as yet, made any great ravages among them. We valley, were overburthened with all the necessaries discover in them a mixture of the fiercest and the of life, a large portion of the laboring poor of England most gentle manners; the imperfections of wild were starving for want of them, simply because their beasts, united with virtues and qualities of the mind rulers had virtually prohibited one country from re- and heart which do the greatest honor to human lieving the necessities of the other. But for the nature. One would think at first they had no form high duties on four, grain and provisions, the wants of government; that they acknowledge neither laws of the poor of England might and would be greatly nor subordination; and that living in an entire inderelieved by the superabundance of the United States, pendence, they suffer themselves to be solely guided and thus the blessings of Providence bestowed on by chance, and the wildest caprice. Nevertheless, one country be disseminated among others. But legis- they enjoy almost all the advantages that a well lators, renowned for their far-reaching sagacity, have regulated authority can secure to the best governed decreed otherwise; and the plenty which might be- 'pations. Born free and independent, they look with
no ear to reason.
horror on the very shadow of despotic power; but they pleased. While contemplating the scene, the they seldom depart from certain principles and cus- setting sun gradually retired behind the wooded toms founded on good sense, which are to them terrace, and the glowing, golden lustre gave place to instead of laws, and which in some measure supply those transitions of the summer twilight which are the place of a lawful authority. They will not bear so exquisitely touching and beautiful. There was a the least restraint; but reason alone keeps them in silence, a repose and loveliness all around, in the a kind of subordination, which, from being voluntary, earth, in the heavens above, and on the waters, is not less effectual to obtain the end intended."'* whose effect, if I could only communicate it to my
The Illinois has the same peculiarity I observed readers, they would thank me for; and never did in all the rivers of the Mississippi valley. With the the sun set on a more holy Sabbath, or one better exception of here and there a solitary plantation, or calculated to call forth grateful homage to the Creator a little embryo town, few traces of man appear on its of such an enchanting world. borders until you arrive at the great prairie, above This little paradise was until recently possessed the head of steam navigation, which extends all the by the Peoria Indjans, a small tribe, which has since way to the lakes. At long distances we came upon receded; and tradition says there was once a conone of those evidences of the busy dy, man, in the siderable settlement of the French on the spot. I shape of a little village, a clearing, or an establish- was informed there is an extensive old burial-place, ment for putting up pork for exportation, where I not of Indian origin, somewhere on or near the was told, notwithstanding the “hard times," they terrace, and noticed that not a few of the names and throw the ears, feet, and often heads of the swine physiognomies in this quarter were evidently French. into the river, to feed the eels and catfish. Indeed, There seems a chasm in the forest history of this from what I observed throughout the whole extent region, between the relation of Charleroix, which of my journey, in this suffering region, there is refers to no later period than 1720, and the final almost as much wasted there as would serve to feed cession of the French North American possessions to the starving manufacturers of England.
the English. A series of obscure and unrecorded Most of the towns on the river, below the Rapids, incidents which have escaped the bistorian, led to have litile worthy of attention, and all their glori results which for this reason appear unaccountable; are prospective; but there is one it would be unpar- and there is, I think, every reason to believe all donable to pass by without a tribute to its surpassing those discoveries of iron and copper implements, and beaulies. I refer to Peoria, whose aspect is as soft other evidences of mechanical skill, from which and gentle as its name. Father Charleroix, I think, some ingenious writers have inferred that the Incalls it Pimitavery, and it lies on the left bank of the dians once possessed aris they have now lost, may Illinois, where it expands into a lake from one to be traced to this period, and to adventurous white three miles wide, and ten in length. Ascending the men, long since forgotten. bank, you come upon a fine prairie, forming a Some eight or ten miles above Peoria, just at the crescent, of some iwelve or fifteen miles, judging point where this charming lake again becomes metaby the eye, whose arch is bounded by a blutl', as it is morphosed into its parent river, and in the midsí of here usually called, but which represents a natural a solitude which requires only the presence and terrace of wonderful regularity, clothed with luxu- labors of man to make it one of the gayest as well as riant grass, and crowned with open woods, affording most fruitful districts in the world, are the ruins, or as beautiful sites for country residences as can be rather remains of the modern city of Rome, founded, imagined in dreams. It was Sunday, and in the not built, in the palmy days of speculation wild. afternoon, when the sun was low, I took a walk from These remains consist of the skeleton of a single the town 10 the terrace, about a mile distant, which house, which puts the passing traveler in mind of the is reached by a private road, leading among wheat voice of one crying in the wilderness of rich, waving and corn fields of the greatest luxuriance.
prairie, blooming with Aowers of every hue and odor. Nothing could be more soft, calm, and alluring than if there is not a city here now, there certainly will the weather and the scene. The smooth glassy lake be in time; and the long-sighted speculator, whoever lay directly before me, bordered on the farther side he was, only anticipated a generation or two in the by a vast green meadow receding far away, and march of population. This beautiful region only fringed in the vague distance by a dark barrier of wants inhabitants, which, whatever people may say, forest, beyond which was nothing but the skies. are necessary to the prosperity of cities, and I think Between the lake and the terrace on which I stood, it by no means improbable that some hundreds, or lay the thrifty, gay.looking town; 10 the left, the perhaps thousands of years hence—which, after all, crescent gracefully curved till it met the lake, while is nothing compared to eternity-when all the past, to the right it made a noble sweep, enclosing a level present and future glories of the ancient mistress of prairie, whose extent I did not pretend to determine; the world are buried in the bottomless pit of oblivion, and which, though it had never been sowed or reaped, the founder of this legitimate successor, though not looked as smooth as a shaven lawn, as green as the suckled by a wolf, may take rank with Romulus and most luxuriant meadow. Neither feng nor inclosure Remus, and be immortalized as the parent of a new of any kind was seen in that quarter, and the cattle and more illustrious Rome. dispersed about in all directions, strayed wherever Sailing up the river, among the green meadows, * Charleroix, vol. ii. p. 102, 103.
and willows kissing the surface of the waters, amid,
a silence broken only by the puffing of the steam-pipe, , intimately associated with the early discoveries in the next object which attracted my attention was a this region, was a kindred spirit. According to Charpretty little village pleasantly situated on the right leroix, who belonged to the same order of missionary bank, whose name commemorates the residence of knights errant," he was a native of Laon, in Picardy, old Father Hennepin, who, tradition says, once where his family still holds a distinguished rank. He established a mission here. These early pioneers was one of the most illustrious missionaries of new of the wilderness deserved and attained a great in- France; he traveled over almost all parts of it, and fluence over the jealous, independent, impracticable made many discoveries, the last of which was the red-man of the new world, and justly claim the re- Mississippi, which he entered with the Sieur Joliet, I spect of those who might never be incited to follow in 1673. Two years after this discovery, of which their example. They were unquestionably actuated he published an account, as he was going from by the purest, most elevated piety, in thus encounter Chicagou, which is at the bottom of Lake Michigan, ing and overcoming the dangers and privations of the to Michilimackinac, he entered the river I am now untracked wilderness, and deserve to be respectfully speaking of, the mouth of which was at the extremity remembered, if not for the success of their endeavors of the low land which, as I have said, we leave to at least for the courage, zeal and perseverance with the right in entering. He set up an altar here and which they were prosecuted.
said mass. After this he went a little distance to Among the earliest and most distinguished of these return thanks, and prayed the two men who managed were Father Louis Hennepin and Joseph Marquette, his canoe, to leave him alone for half an hour. This the former of whom visited Canada somewhere about time being expired, they went to seek him, and were the year 1676. He remained some time at fort Fron greatly surprised to find him dead; but they recoltenac, where he constructed a portable chapel, and lected he said he should finish his journey there. As whence he accompanied the celebrated Louis de La it was too far from thence to Michilimackinac to Salle, in a voyage of discovery on the Upper Mis- carry his body thither, they buried him pretty near sissippi, which had been discovered by Father Mar- the side of the river, which from that time has retired, quette, six years before. They visited the Falls of as if out of respect, to the cape, at the foot of which it Niagara, of which he gives the earliest description now runs, and where it has made a new passage. on record. It is extremely accurate, as I ascertained The year following, one of the men who had perby comparison on the spot, and shows what little formed the last duties to this servant of God, returned change the incessant action of these mighty waters has to the place where he had buried him, 100k up his produced in the lapse of almost two centuries. After remains, and carried them to Michilimackinac. I establishing a post at Niagara, La Salle built the first could not learn, or else I have forgot, what name schooner that ever sailed on the great lakes, and this river had before, but at present the savages passing through Erie, St. Clair and Huron, entered always call it the river of the Black Gown. The Michigan, where he erected a fort at the mouth of French have given it the name of Father Marquette, the river St. Joseph. From thence they proceeded and never fail to invoke him when they find themto explore the Mississippi, and it was probably on his selves in any danger on Lake Michigan."* The return, that Father Hennepin erected his chapel on little river still bears the name, and the spot where the spot where now stands the town bearing his he was buried is designated on the maps as Mar. name. According to his own account he first de. quette's grave. scended the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, and About the head of steam-navigation on the Illinois, returning, ascended that river as high as the Falls of and especially near the junction of the canal which St. Anthony, which are indebted to him for their will connect the lakes with the Mississippi, cities name. He returned to France, published a relation multiply prodigiously, and are called by the most of bis discoveries, came back to this country, and I prodigious names. Most assuredly my countrymen have not chanced to meet with any further account are great at christening places; but still I wish they of him. Whether he ever visited France again, or would consult Tristram Shandy, where they will find whether he ended his days on the banks of the Illinois, a most edifying discussion on the subject. The I cannot say. I went on shore and visited the town, race of antiquaries who grope their way backward which stands on a high gravel bank-a great rarity through the obscure labyrinth of time by the clue of in this region—and endeavored to ascertain the spot names, will assuredly be not a little puzzled, as of the good father's residence. But there are no children are wont to be, to find out who was the aged persons, no depositories of traditionary lore to father of Zebedee's children. If they should follow be found here; and our people are too much taken the etymology of names, they will probably come to up with anticipations of the future, to pay much the conclusion that we derived our parentage from attention to the past. I found no one who could give all the nations of the earth, ancient and modern, and any precise information, though all were familiar had more fathers than children. with his name. Hennepin is the county-seat of Nevertheless I have nothing to say against any Putnam; and as it does not, I believe, aspire to the of the thriving brood of young cities that multiplied dignity of a great city, like most of its neighbors, so wonderfully in those happy when swallows will probably flourish long and happily, a memorial built in young men's whiskers, and the little hatchet of the good father whose name it bears.
became a great hammer before the iron grew cold. Father Joseph Marquette, whose name is also
* Charleroix, vol. ii. p. 73.
Those especially that have either houses or inhabi- , other in anticipation. It is really a delightful spot,
which tells that a large party of Illinois having sought The first of these, whose name I don't choose to refuge from the pursuit of a superior force of hostile remember, is very advantageously situated on a Indians, were blockaded, and all, save one, perished barren rock, at the head of the navigation of a stream by famine. This place was visited by Charleroix, in which can neither be spelt nor pronounced, and which 1720, who ascended the rock, where he found the had no water in it when I passed orer. But not to remains of old palisades, originally created for dewrong the river, or the long-headed, long-sighted fence, and the bodies of two Indians, half consumed founder of the city, I acknowledge I was informed by fire. He says notbing, however, of ihe incident that sometimes during the melting of the shows on from which the place derives its present name. It is the Rocky Mountains, or after a heavy shower of one of the most beautiful rocks I ever saw, exhibiting rain, there was an ample sufficiency of water to float a succession of ledges, displayed horizontally with a chip-not a ship, gentle reader-of considerable wonderful regularity, but of an infinite variety of burthen, into the Illinois. It was therefore the shades and colors, such as is generally observed in opinion of the unknown and illustrious founder, that cliff's of limestone. At a little distance, beheld nothing could prevent this place from becoming in through the soft hazy atmosphere of the prairie, it good time a great commercial emporium; and I was resembles the ruins of a great castle, towering to the told, but will not vouch for the fact, that he had ac- height of perhaps two hundred feel, garnished with tually organized a whaling company, and seriously trees, shrubs, tlowers and clambering vines. The talked of opening a direct trade with China. In short, whole of this vast fruiiful region, from the delta of he looked forward with all the faith of a speculator, the Mississippi to the Niagara Ridge, terminating at which exceeds that of a martyr ten times over, to Lewistown, is, so far as I observed, based on a limeseeing his city, in a few years, smothered by a cor- stone formation, and the waters every where imporation, blessed with half a dozen broken banks, pregnated with lime. They are said to be wholeand loaded with debts and taxes, in humble emulation some when one is accustomed to their use; but, unof its betters.
fortunately, I never could get used to them, and In the books of English tenures, there are some finally came to the conclusion, that—10 vary the whimsical conditions of ownership and occupancy; old proverb a little to suit the occasion—though but I recollect none similar to the city I am com- Heaven had created the land, the D-I had furnished memorating, which denounces a forfeiture of pro- the water. perty on all those convicted of either drinking or The last city I shall commemorate is called after a bringing spirituous liquors therein. No one will famous stronghold in Europe, being seated on a ledge question the morality of this regulation, though its of rocks extending from the Illinois into the prairie, prudence may not be so obvious, as many people and apparently inaccessible on all sides. It is cermight suppose that any future purchasers of lots, some tainly a capital position in a military point of view, of which I was told had been originally sold for two or and would be invaluable on a frontier. People might three hundred dollars each, would require some power- live there in great security if they could find any ful stimulant in addition to the excitement of specu- thing to eat. At present the only enemy they would lation. It is doubtful whether any sober man would have to fear is famine. Luckily, however, there give such a price at this time. I had almost forgot are no inhabitants, and one need be under no appreto mention that this city has neither houses nor hensions on that score. It is a most picturesque spot, inhabitants.
the mossy rocks every where interspersed with The next brevet city we passed, is just at the foot flowers and verdure, and the summit crowned with of the lower rapids of the Illinois, and directly on the an open wood of lofty trees, under which the grass margin of the river. It promises rather better than is as green and luxuriant as a lowland meadow. the other, having one house actually built, and an. | There are several other cities, lying dormant, be
tween this and the town of Ottawa, and no one can foundation of a series of bilious complaints, that depredict their future destinies. When the canal con- scend to his posterity to the second or third generanecting the Mississippi and the lakes comes to be tion. Hence the number of towns is out of all profinished, as I hope it soon will be, for it is a great portion to the number of inhabitants. With very national undertaking, and will form the last link to many of them, their generation is a mere spasmodic the most extensive inland navigation in the world, effort of speculation. They consequently exhibit an there can be little doubt, I think, that this will be appearance of prosperity for a few years; are then come a very busy and populous region. Towns suddenly arrested, and either never grow any more, will rise up as a matter of course; and, provided or dwindle away to nothing. A despotic monarch they do not ruin each other by their numbers and like Peter the Great may create a city where he will, their rivalry, will flourish to a considerable extent. but with all his power he cannot perpetuate its exThose, therefore, who have the wealth of Cræsus, istence beyond his own, unless it possesses natural and the patience of Job, may, if they please, specu- advantages to attract voluntary settlers. Private late in town-lots in these embryo cities, for the bene- persons should beware how they undertake to found fit of their posterity.
cities. They may build houses, but they cannot fill The gallant adventurer La Salle is worthily com- them with people. memorated in this quarter, by a town and a county The town of La Salle, unlike some of it neighbors, called after his name. Among all the hardy and was conceived and brought forth in the natural way, daring pioneers, of the Mississippi valley and the that is, the people preceded the houses. When the lakes, he stands foremost, and best merits the remem- honest Irish laborers came to work on the canal, they brance and gratitude of the millions who are now according to custom built themselves cabins, about enjoying the fruits of his enterprise and sufferings. the spot where they commenced their labors. As the He built the first vessel that ever floated on the lakes; land was neither cultivated nor enclosed, they emhe explored the Upper and Lower Mississippi, and ployed their leisure hours in digging ditches about a perished at last by the hands of his companions, who piece of prairie large enough for a potato-patch, and finally shrunk from the perils and privations which sometimes a small patch of wheat or corn. Here, he bore without linching. Mr. Adams, when Secre- with little labor, they raised as much as supplied tary of State, in a correspondence with Don Leviz them with bread, or a substitute ; and though the de Onis, the Spanish minister, on the subject of canal has for some years been discontinued for lack boundaries, pays a most eloquent, well deserved tri- of means, these people continue to cultivate their bute to the genius, hardihood, courage and enter- little fields, which are wonderfully productive, freprise of Louis La Salle, but with this exception he quently making new enclosures, and sometimes has not met with that attention he so justly merits erecting frame houses. If the land belonged to the from my countrymen.
United States they were protected by the right of The little town of La Salle lies close to the junc- preemption, and if to a private citizen, it was his intion of the canal with the Illinois, and was founded terest to let them alone, as there was no danger of by a colony of the sons of old Erin, who were em- the soil being exhausted, and he was thus saved the ployed in that undertaking. It is a genuine, unadul- labor of the first ploughing, which is the most exterated Irish town; the cabins many of them of turf, pensive of all the process of cultivation here. Thus and all thatched with straw. The number of pigs is these honest, laborious people live quite comfortably, only to be matched by that of children, and buih are waiting the period of recommencing the canal, and in a most flourishing condition, to judge from the some of them perhaps able to purchase the land on portly dimensions of one and the rosy cheeks of the which they reside, provided it is not laid out in other. There is no place in the universe where the cities, which is very probable, for you can hardly put jolly, hard-working, warm-hearted Irishman can so down your foot without crushing one of these mushgloriously luxuriate in the paradise of potatoes. The rooms. reader will please to understand that notwithstanding Ottawa, like La Salle, is a real bona fide town, the number of great cities hereabouts, the entire with houses and inhabitants. Its age is some twelve prairie from Peru to Chicago, with here and there or fifteen years, and the number of its people from an occasional exception, is in a state of nature, twelve to fifteen hundred. I found the situation so although one of the fairest and richest portions of peculiarly agreeable, and the hotel so comfortable, the earth. They began at the wrong end, or rather, that I determined to remain awhile, and amuse mythey put the cart before the horse, and laid out towns self with making little excursions about the neighinstead of cultivating land. This is one of the promi- borhood, than which nothing can be more beautiful. nent foibles of that sanguine, enterprising, antici- The town stands at the junction of the Fox River pating and gallant race which is daily adventuring with the Illinois. They are both clear, limpid streams, into the boundless region of the West. They are not and though coming from far distant lands, meet and content with land of inexhaustible fertility, but mingle together as quietly as if they had been friends almost every tenth man aspires to be the founder of from their birth. The scenery is as gentle as the a city. Instead, therefore, of laying out his farm rivers, and as mild and mellow as one of Claude's into fields, he lays it out into a town, which he calls pictures, that actually makes a real connoisseur yawn after his own name, with a ville at the end of it; or and stretch to look at it. In one direction the eye he dams up the river, builds a mill, and lays the passes over a long narrow prairie, all one rich ex