Thursday, May 28, 2009

LaSalle's Walk on the Wild Side

In 1999 I wrote an article for "Michigan History Magazine" entitled "LaSalle's Walk on the Wild Side". That was not my choice of title. The title of my work of which the article was a condensation was "The Search for the Route of LaSalle's 1680 Walk Across Michigan", a perfectly respectable and understandable title, I thought. "Not jazzy enough"; said Roger Rosentreter, the magazine's Editor. When I objected, he said that I have to understand that in order for "Michigan History" to avoid the fate of "Michigan Conservation" magazine, once published by the Department of Conservation (now DNR), it has to attract a large and loyal audience and be self supporting. I guess he has a point. "The Michigan Historical Review" put out by the Historical Society of Michigan is a real sleeper. It's "Chronicle" is a little livelier but not up to "Michigan History". At least I got him to add LaSalle's name. His original title was just "A Walk on the Wild Side". He did a lot of other editing that I objected to and for the first time since college I pulled an "all nighter" trying to unfix some of his fixes in time to make the printing deadline. I can see why such Michigan history authors as Kit Lane, Larry Massie and Tim Kent self-publish so they don't have to deal with editors.

I am going to serialize that article and add comments and notes pertinent to the LaSalle Relay idea. The article was published in the March/April 1999 issue and is illustrated by a beautiful two-page spread showing the Portage Lake Swamp in the leafless season as it would have looked to LaSalle and his party in 1680. The photo was taken by Rosentreter at my suggestion from the bridge over the upper Portage River on Waterloo-Munith Road.

Here we go:

On March 24, 1680, after an exhausting three-week journey from a wilderness fort near present-day Peoria, Illinois, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle, arrived at Fort Miami. He had built the small fort the previous fall on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the St. Joseph River, then known as the River of the Miamis. An explorer and entrepreneur whose life's mission was to establish a French commercial empire in the interior of North America, LaSalle learned at Ft. Miami that the Griffon,
the sailing vessel he had constructed the previous year on the Niagara River, had disappeared. Desperate to know what had happened to his ship and its cargo of furs, the thirty-seven year old Frenchman decided to return to the Niagara country. LaSalle believed the shortest and quickest way to get there was on foot. Four weeks after leaving Fort Miami, LaSalle and his men reached Niagara. He never found the Griffon---it disappeared without a trace---but he became the first European to cross Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

NEXT: The route


Rob Olson said...
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Rob Olson said...

This is very interesting. Thanks. I had known of LaSalle's trek across the Lower Peninsula, and a Google search led me to this post. I've lived in Michigan for 30 years -- in Marquette, Houghton, and now Hillsdale.

I suppose my connection to the big lakes, in the midst of corn fields here that seem more like Indiana than the Great Lake State, is through the St. Joseph and its headwaters here in our county.

Last summer my son led his Eagle Scout service project that made the river canoe accessible from Jonesville down three bridges toward Litchfield. It was a ton of work that involved making passages through large trees with chain saws, but alas, it seems now that this must be an on-going battle, as since last summer more trees have fallen. It is nice to learn of LaSalle's fort at the other end of the St. Joe.

I grew up not even a mile from where he built the Griffin in the section of Niagara Falls that today bears his name. When I was in Scouts in the 1970's, we would canoe in a race from the old Lewiston sand docks five miles or so down river to the Coast Guard station at Fort Niagara.