To place LaSalle into his Michigan historical context, here is a chronology of events in and around Michigan involving him. Remember, during his time what would become Michigan and the other Great Lake states was a complete wilderness, sparsely peopled by Indian tribes and frequently visited by war parties, by far the most dangerous being the Iroquois.
LASALLE'S FIRST SIGHT OF MICHIGAN -1679
In his book LaSalle: The Life aand Times of an Explorer, author John Upton Terrel describes LaSalle's first sight of Michigan:
"On August 10 the Griffon stood into the Strait of Detroit. All marveled at the beauty and richness of the country which reached away on each side of the passage. Groves of black walnut and wild plum trees and oaks festooned with grape vines stood like islands in the fine prairies." (Cadillac did not land at Detroit until 1701).
LASALLE AT THE STRAITS OF MACKINAC-1679
After surviving a storm on Lake Huron the Griffon arrives at the Straits. The eminent historian Francis Parkman in his 1879 book, LaSalle and the Discovery of the Great West, describes the arrival of the Griffon:
"...and now her port was won, and she found her rest behind the point of St. Ignace of the Michilimackinac, floating in that tranquil cove where crystal waters cover but cannot hide the pebbly depths".
BUILDING FT. MIAMI-1679
LaSalle in the Griffon sailed on to Green Bay where the ship was loaded with furs and sent off to Niagara. Then LaSalle headed south. According to Parkman:
"He pushed on...circling around the southern shore of Lake Michigan, till he reached the mouth of the St. Joseph, called by him the Miamis...It was the first of November. Winter was at hand, and the streams would soon be frozen."
Here he waited for his second in command, Tonty, who was coming down the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Parkman goes on:
"The men clamored to go forward, urging that they should starve if they could not reach the villages of the Illinois before the tribe scattered for the winter hunt. LaSalle was inexorable...The men grumbled but obeyed; and to divert their thoughts, he set them to building a fort of timber on a rising ground at the mouth of the river...They had spent twenty days at the task, and their work was well advanced, when at length Tonty appeared."
UP THE ST. JOSEPH RIVER TO THE SOUTH BEND PORTAGE - DECEMBER 1679
Parkman describes the ascension of the St. Joseph River and the portage to the headwaters of the Kankakee River as follows:
"On the third of December, the party re-embarked, thirty-three in all, in eight canoes, and ascended the chill current of the St. Joseph, bordered with dreary meadows and bare grey forests. When they approached the site of the present day village of South Bend, they looked anxiously along the shore to their right, to find the portage or path leading to the headwaters of the Illinois. The Mohegan was absent, hunting; and, unaided by his practiced eye, they passed the path without seeing it."
LaSalle went looking for the portage path, got lost and had to spend the snowy night in the woods alone. It wasn't until four the next afternoon that he found his way back by following the river. Parkman goes on:
"The Mohegan had rejoined the party before LaSalle's return and with his aid the portage was soon found."
The expedition then crossed the portage and launched their canoes in the marshes which were the headwaters of the Kankakee River, then went down the Kankakee to the des Plaines River. The joining of these two rivers forms the Illinois River which they followed south to about present-day Peoria where they built another fort. They spent the rest of the winter working on a ship to be used to explore the Mississippi.
LaSalle decided to return to Fort Miami so with a party of four Frenchmen and the Mohegan they headed back north on the Illinois.
From my "The Search for the Route of LaSalle's 1680 Walk Across Michigan":
"Their journey began on March 1, 1680. Attempts to canoe up the Illinois were mostly frustrated by ice. Sometimes they had to haul the canoes across the snow like sleds. Finally they hid the canoes on an island somewhere near present-day Joliet, Illinois, and slogged cross-country through drowned prairie until they reached Lake Michigan. They then walked the beach along the Lake Michigan shore, arriving at Fort Miami on March 24."
WALKING ACROSS LOWER MICHIGAN - SPRING 1680
I have already covered that trip from the St. Joseph River to the Detroit River to Niagara in detail.
DOWN MICHIGAN'S SUNSET COAST - FALL 1680
Returning from Niagara to the Illinois country in the fall of 1680; LaSalle, with 12 men in three canoes, traveled from Michilimackinac down the east shore of Lake Michigan. On their way to the St. Joseph River they passed the mouths of the Betsie, Manistee, Pere Marquette, White, Muskegon, Grand, Kalamazoo, and Black Rivers.
On this trip they would have passed the temporary grave of Father Marquette, who died on this shore five years previously, probably at the mouth of the river which bears his name.
Their route to the Illinois country was again up the St. Joseph to the portage to the Kankakee headwaters at South Bend.
BACK TO FORT MIAMI - JANUARY 1681
On his return trip up the Illinois River LaSalle and his men found the Kankakee frozen so they slogged cross country to Lake Michigan and up the shore to Fort Miami where they spent the rest of the winter.
BY SNOWSHOE AND SLED ACROSS BERRIEN COUNTY - MARCH 1681
LaSalle, his aid LaForest, and 15 men left Fort Miami to go rendezvous with several Indian tribes, hoping to forge an alliance against the Iroquois. Since the rivers were still frozen and snow covered, they walked on snowshoes from the mouth of the St. Joseph River into present-day Indiana, pulling their canoes on runners like sleds.
My Note: How about a " LaSalle Snowshoe Challenge" next winter? On the beach on snow from St. Joe to Michigan City.........(Kruger Sea Winds wouldn't need runners).
TO MICHILIMACKINAC - SPRING 1681
After meeting with his Indian allies in present-day Indiana, LaSalle returned to Fort Miami and then canoed up to Michilimackinac along the east shore of Lake Michigan, the reverse of his trip in the fall of 1680. From there he went all the way back to Montreal.
BACK TO FORT MIAMI - LATE FALL 1681
LaSalle led a large convoy of cargo canoes through Lake Ontario to the site of present-day Toronto. From there, instead of going on west in Lake Ontario, portaging around Niagara Falls and returning to the upper lakes via Lake Erie, he took two weeks to portage from Lake Ontario to Lake Huron, then proceeded to Michilimackinac.
My Note: This has always seemed to me to be the hard way to get from Lake Ontario to Lake Huron, especially with heavily-laden cargo canoes. Maybe he was avoiding Iroquois war parties. Verlen Kruger never made that portage. He was considering doing it during his Paddle-to-the-Sea trip that never panned out.
From Michilimackinac the convoy of canoes went down the east shore of Lake Michigan, arriving at the River of the Miamis (St. Joseph River) and Fort Miami during the first week of December, 1681.
DOWN THE MISSISSIPPI TO THE GULF OF MEXICO AND BACK TO FORT MIAMI AND MICHILIMACKINAC - 1681 & 1682
On this trip of discovery, LaSalle did not go up the St. Joseph River and use the portage to the Kankakee, but rather canoed along the south shore of Lake Michigan in bitter December weather to the Chicago Portage to get to the des Plaines River and the Illinois River.
After exploring the Mississippi all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, and having survived a serious illness on the return trip, he was back in Fort Miami by August of 1682. When he arrived, there were several hundred Indian lodges along the banks of the St. Joseph. In the early fall he went on to Michilimackinac, even though he had not yet fully regained his health. In late fall he returned to the Illinois country.
LASALLE HEADS BACK TO FRANCE - 1683
Taking only six men in three small canoes, LaSalle set out for Quebec. He went by way of Lake Michigan, the Straits, Lake Huron, the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River to Lake Erie.
LASALLE'S LAST SIGHT OF MICHIGAN
When the three canoes entered Lake Erie and turned eastward towards Niagara, Michigan faded from view to the west. The Michigan shore of Lake Erie at the mouth of the Detroit River is where LaSalle in the sailing ship Griffon first saw Michigan in 1679. It is also the place where he ended his cross-peninsula trek in 1680.
Author Russel McKee, in his 1966 book Great Lakes Country tells about the remainder of LaSalle's career and life after he left Michigan:
"...he soon set sail for France to gain the King's ear. This time Louis XIV paid heed when LaSalle spoke. The explorer captured the court with his New World tales, and captured the King's interest with information about the vast colonial empire awaiting French development. Louis supplied a small army of soldiers and settlers, telling LaSalle to move his colony into the Gulf of Mexico. With four ships, the company sailed in the fall of 1684. In the Gulf, LaSalle knew he was in danger both from the Spanish, who claimed the adjacent land, and from hostile Indians. Without meeting either, he established a colony in December 1685 near the present site of Galveston, Texas,after failing to find the Mississippi on the coastal journey west.
The settlement was a disaster. LaSalle landed with 180 soldiers and settlers, and in a little more than a year, the total had dwindled to 40. Those who remained were mutinous. Heat, barren land, poisonous snakes, and the failure of expected supplies, all cut into the colony. Realizing his only hope was in French Canada, LaSalle decided to push east to find the Mississippi. He would go up that river, he decided, to obtain help for the colony. With a small force he headed east."
He never made it. Somewhere in South Texas in March of 1687, he was murdered by one of his own men. He was 43 years old.