Sunday, May 31, 2009

LaSalle's Walk on the Wild Side V

The long discussion of prairies in LWWS IV may have been a sleeper but very important to tying down where LaSalle and his men actually traveled. The following is from my "The Search for Route of LaSalle's 1680 Walk Across Michigan", the narrative/monograph of which LWWS is a condensation. (The parenthetical remarks are mine as of today. I would be delighted to debate them with anyone).

Many authors and historians have speculated on LaSalle's cross-Michigan route in books and magazines and newspaper articles. Many others have written about the journey without speculating on the route. Despite all that has been written over the years, there is but one primary source, LaSalle's single letter written to one of his investors in September of 1680.......

Strangely, the most recent authors' routes are farthest off the mark. By far the easiest to disprove are those in two 1992 publications. The most accurate interpretation in my opinion was one of the earliest, that of University of Michigan Professor Clifford H. Prator in the Spring 1941 issue of Michigan History Magazine, then a scholarly quarterly publication of The Michigan Historical Commission.

Volume III of Charles A. Weissert's Historic Michigan, published in 1928, contains an account of LaSalle's journey across Michigan. He states that "The explorer's route, as far as can be ascertained by notes taken during the journey, lay along the highlands between the Kalamazoo and St. Joseph River valleys" (Wrong). He contends that "there can be no doubt but that he crossed Prairie Ronde and Climax Prairie..." (Wrong again). He identifies the marshy wilderness through which the party waded as "...probably the long, flat tract in the lakes east of Prairie Ronde" (Still wrong).

In referring to LaSalle and his men J.S.Morton, author of Reminiscence of the Lower St. Joseph Valley,written in the 1930's says, "They were the first white men to follow the trail that became later the famous Territorial Road (Wrong).

The 1948 book Michigan--From Primitive Wilderness to Industrial Commonwealth, by Milo M. Quaife and Sidney Glazer, includes a map showing a route through southern Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Jackson and Washtenaw Counties. (Right counties but LaSalle traveled through the northern parts). Their route crosses the Huron River rather than following it and ends well upstream of the mouth of the Detroit River opposite Grosse Isle.(Does not allow for the 5 days down the Huron in a canoe).

In a 1949 article in the Lansing State Journal, history writer Birt Darling used Prator's 1941 Michigan History article in an attempt to show that LaSalle may have traversed southern Ingham County. (A real stretch. Birt liked to "localize" and "romanticize " and "popularize" historical happenings in or near mid-Michigan. I am forever grateful to him though, one of his articles led to my discovery of Hugh Heward and his journal).

In Michigan in Four Centuries, Dr.F.Clever Bald, then Professor of History at the University of Michigan, states that LaSalle's route is not known, "...but he probably passed through the second tier of counties above the the Ohio and Indiana boundaries." The book's map illustrating the route of various French explorers has LaSalle passing through the headwaters of the Kalamazoo, Grand and Raisin Rivers which are in the hills of Southern Jackson and northern Hillsdale Counties. (Way off).

Alberta Powell wrote a book for young Americans, LaSalle, River Explorer, published in 1954. She has LaSalle using a canoe to go up the Kalamazoo River.....(No wonder young Americans are lousy at history).

In his 1955 book, Michigan through the Centuries, Dr. Willis F. Dunbar, then Professor of History at Western Michigan University, states that LaSalle "...probably followed the Indian trail, slightly south of present US 12 as far as Paw Paw and thence to about present Ann Arbor by approximately the route followed by that road." (Wrong. Dr. Dunbar couldn't have read LaSalle's letter and come to such a conclusion.)

Then in his 1959 book, Kalamazoo and How it Grew, Dr. Dunbar says "His exact route is not recorded, but supposedly he followed Indian trails which led him through the prairie lands of southern Kalamazoo County" (Farther off than in his first book. LaSalle deliberately avoided Indian trails).

Certain recent history scholars have grievously misidentified LaSalle's route. In their 1992 book The Atlas of North American Exploration, Professors William A. Goetzman of the University of Texas and Glyndwn Williams of the University of London depict a route that avoids Michigan entirely! They show LaSalle's 1680 journey as following the Kankakee River in Illinois and Indiana and then along the Maume River from present Ft. Wayne, Indiana, to Toledo, Ohio, on Lake Erie. Furthermore, they show the route continuing across the open waters of Lake Erie to reach the Ontario shore. This route neither starts where LaSalle said he started, his fort at the mouth of the present-day St. Joseph River, nor reached where most other scholars and authors agree he reached, the Huron River. (This is an unimaginably bad piece of historical and geographical manure......).

In Anka Muhlstein's 1995 LaSalle, the explorer starts his cross-Michigan journey at Ft. St. Joseph, which did not even exist in 1680. Ft. St. Joseph was established upstream on the St. Joseph River near present-day Niles in 1691. This author also names Detroit, which was not established until 1701, as LaSalle's destination, rather than Lake Erie. However, the map in the book purporting to show LaSalle's route has him going to Lake Erie just north of Toledo. The map so distorts the locations and relationships of rivers that the headwater of the St. Joseph River is shown near Ft. Wayne, Indiana, instead of Michigan's Hillsdale County, an error of at least 60 miles. (Pitiful).

(Are you surprised that Dr. Rosentreter didn't include this part of my monograph in the "Michigan History" article? Most of these authors had PhDs in history).

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