Quick! What was the first settlement in what is now the United States of America? Did you say Plymouth? We’ll always remember the Pilgrims as long as we still call it Thanksgiving and not Black Friday’s Eve, but wrong. Did you think of Jamestown? You’re headed the right direction both historically and geographically. What about Roanoke? Well congratulations on catching the fact that I didn’t say permanent settlement, you are truly a student of history…but you’re still wrong. You see the Spanish settled St. Augustine in what is now Florida back in 1565.
Don’t be too hard on yourself though. Like me, you were probably taught American history from a very Anglicized point of view—starting with 13 British colonies that revolted from their king and not really worrying about any place west until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. But Spain and France were also heavily involved in exploring and settling this land: Spain in Florida and the Southwest and France along the waterways in the middle of the country. This brings us to this week’s rescued book….
The Explorations of Père Marquette. Kjelgaard, Jim, and Stephen J. Voorhies (Illus). New York: Random House, 1951.
This is another of the famous Landmark Books with Random House publishers commissioning well known authors to write engaging history for kids. Mr. Kjelgaard is probably best known for his animal stories. His book Big Red was made into a movie by Walt Disney.
Père is the French word for “father” and Marquette was a priest who brought the gospel to areas of The Great Lakes and the Mississippi River valley as he explored. In all likelihood he was the first European to see the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers (he didn’t discover the Mississippi as De Soto reached it in 1541).
Having arrived in the New World (Quebec) in the 1660’s, Marquette spent several years living among the Indians around the Great Lakes and learning their languages and hearing tales of a great river to the west. Finally in 1673, with explorer Louis Joliet, left St. Ignace (now in Michigan), followed the coast of Green Bay, paddled the Fox and Wisconsin rivers and entered the currents of the mighty Mississippi.
If you travel to Alton, IL you can see a replica of the Piasa bird that Marquette saw painted on the cliffs.
“Père Marquette followed the voyageur’s gaze, and he stifled his astonishment. High on the face of a smooth rock were two terrible painted creatures.
They were as large as calves, but the bore deer horns on their heads. There was something horribly evil in their painted expressions. The faces were those of men, but the beards were those of tigers. The bodies were covered with scales. Winding around the bodies , passing over the heads, and going back between the legs, long tails ended in fish’s fins.”
This passage from the book was taken nearly word for word from the translation of the priest’s journals.
Marquette and Joiliet turned around when they reached the Arkansas River. They had received inaccurate information that the Spanish were only two days further downstream and they didn’t want to rick becoming captured. Their journey was a success in that they determined the Mississippi River must continue down to the Gulf of Mexico. Marquette was never able to return to see if the turbulent river (the Missouri) they saw emptying into the Mississippi would be the one that led to the Pacific – that adventure would have to wait more than a century for Lewis & Clark.
Even if I hadn’t included the date above, it would be evident that this book was published in a time when the Christian worldview was respected. The book never shirks away from reminding us that Marquette was a priest first. “The Jesuit ideal, to serve God and man, could never even bend. To anyone who appreciated that, hardships of the flesh meant nothing. The crudest and most distant Jesuit mission, Père Marquette thought, was the finest one, as long as it offered an opportunity to serve…”
The forward of the book shares that two events, the wounded Indian and finding game on the South Lakes, were not taken from Marquette’s journals but are based on writings of other Jesuits of the era. There are several wounded Indians so I don’t know to which this is referencing, but it’s a shame the hunting game story didn’t happen to Marquette as it’s similar to the story of Elisha and the Prophets of Baal. We can still enjoy the story and know that something similar did occur to someone.
My library still owns a copy of The Explorations of Père Marquette – I assume because of our proximity to the events of the story. I’ve also seen it several times at used book sales – but you aren’t getting my copy. You can find all my Rescued Books on this page.
For a little treat, I’ll give you a clue about next week’s rescued book. It also deals with a French explorer of the Mississippi. Any guesses?