Discovery of the Mississippi

The gathering of the nations at the Sault Ste. Marie by St. Lusson, was followed by an event of the utmost importance to French interest in the west. This was the discovery, if such it can be called, of the Upper Mississippi. Now, for the first time, the upper half of that river was, to a certain extent, explored. For the first time white men beheld its vast tribute in this upper country, rolling onward toward the Mexican gulf. The discoverer was Louis Joliet. He had visited the upper lakes in previous years, knew well of the existence of the great river through Indian reports, was a man of close and intelligent observation, possessing considerable mathematical acquirement's. He was born at Quebec in 1645, and was educated by the Jesuits, resolving at first to be a priest but afterward turned fur trader. In 1673 he was a merchant, courageous, hardy, enterprising.

He was just the man for the French authorities to entrust with the proposed discovery and exploration of the Upper Mississippi. This was in 1672. Said the governor of Canada, on the 2d of November of that year: "It has been judged expedient to send Sieur Joliet to the Mascoutins (then located in what is now Green Lake county, Wisconsin), to discover the South Sea, and the great river they call the Mississippi, which is supposed to discharge itself into the Sea of California." He is a man," continued Frontenac, "of great experience in these sorts of discoveries, and has already been almost at the great river, the mouth of which he promises to see.

Upper Mississippi
Upper Mississippi River Basin

Joliet reached the mission of St. Ignatius, a point north of the Island of Mackinaw, in the spring of 1673, finding there Father James Marquette, missionary, whom he invited to join the expedition. The invitation was gladly accepted. On the 17th of May, Joliet, having with him Marquette and five other Frenchmen, left the mission on his voyage of exploration. He had two bark canoes. Every possible precaution was taken that, should the undertaking prove hazardous, it should not be foolhardy. So, whatever of information could not be gathered from the Indians who had frequented those parts,- was laid under contribution, as he paddled merrily up the waters of Green Bay. The first Indian nation met by him was the Menominee. He was dissuaded by these savages from venturing so far to the westward, assured that he would meet tribes which never spared strangers, but tomahawked them without provocation; that a war which had broken out among various nations on his route, exposed him and his men to another evident danger - that of being killed by war parties constantly in his path. He was told that the great river was very dangerous unless the different parts were known; that it was full of frightful monsters who swallowed men and canoes together; that there was even a demon there who could be heard from afar, who stopped the passage and engulfed all who dared approach; and lastly, that the heat was so excessive in those countries that it would infallibly cause their death. Nevertheless, Joliet determined to go forward.


Information gathered and adapted from History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Past and Present
Carl Zillier, Editor
Pubished by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912, Chicago, IL

Back to Sheboygan County History

Quote 06