THE DISCOVERY OF IOWA
Louis Joliet, the son of the wagon maker, was born in Quebec. He
was educated by the Jesuits for the priesthood but became a wanderer
and sailed to France. Later he returned home and traveled into the
wilderness. He learned to speak several Indians languages. Like
other Frenchmen, Joliet had heard of a great river and a beautiful
land. This land was farther west than any Frenchman had ever
traveled. He decided that he wanted to find it.
Early in the year 1673 the French governor of Canada decided to
send someone to explorer this great river and this wonderful land.
He picked Joliet as the best man he could get for the task.
Usually a priest also went along on such trips. The priests were
sent as missionaries to the Indians. They were educated men and
could make maps and keep good records of their trips.
Several priests wanted to go with Joliet. Father Marquette was
chosen. He had heard that the Illinois tribe of indians were very
smart. Since he had learned to speak their language he was anxious
to visit them.
Father Marquette was twelve years older than Joliet. He was born
in France and had gone to school there. Soon after he came to
Quebec in September,1666, he was sent to a mission church on the
Great Lakes. He was especially interested in Indians and learned to
speak six of the Red Man's languages. The Indians liked him because
he was brave an friendly.
Marquette and Joliet took five French Canadian woodsman along to
paddle the canoes and to help them with their work. Only two canoes
of the Canadian type were taken. They were birch-bark canoes, built
with cedar splints, ribs of spruce roots and covered with
yellow-pine pitch. They were light but very strong. For food they
took only Indian corn and some smoked meat. They expected to get
most of their food along the way. They took guns, ammunition, gifts
for the Indian tribes, and paper on which to keep records of the
We learn of the trip through Marquette's written account of it
and from what Joliet could remember about it. Joliet on his way
back to the French governor had the misfortune to upset his canoe
and to lose all his records.
On May 17, 1673, mass was held in the little rude church at point
St. Ignance, at the outlet of Lake Michigan. After this the brave
Frenchmen boldly set out on their trip. The first part of it, over
the waters of Lake Michigan, was easy.
Soon they met the first Indian tribe. It was a tribe of wild
rice eaters. They were friendly. The white men got food and guides
from them. Father Marquette tells us in his journal that he liked
the wild rice very much. These Indians gave Marquette and Joliet
warnings about the terrible tribes that they would meet farther
west. They said, too, that it was hard to travel on the rivers.
Father Marquette writes of many things that were new and of
interest to the Frenchmen. There were fish such as they had never
seen before. Marquette tells in his journal of a large one that
nearly upset his canoes. Occasionally the Frenchmen would would go
on land to hunt. They killed "Wild Cattle," as they called the
buffalo, and other strange animals. The explorers usually slept in
their canoes, which were anchored near shore. They did not camp on
land for fear of an attack by unfriendly Indians.
The Frenchmen floated down the Wisconsin River for several days.
Suddenly, on June17, 1673, they came upon the great river. There
they gazed for the first time upon Iowa land. It was across from
where Prairie du Chien is now. Marquette wrote, "We entered the
Mississippi with a joy I cannot express." It was the first time, in
so far as we know for sure, that any white man had seen Iowa land or
the upper Mississippi River.
Eight days went by on the Mississippi without seeing any signs of
human beings. Then, on June 25, one of the men saw footprints on
the sand. Quickly the canoes were brought to shore. The footprints
led to a path. The Frenchmen did not know what to do. They did not
know how the Indians would treat them. Finally, it was decided that
Marquette and Joliet would go alone and unarmed. If the Indians saw
but two men and those without guns, they would know that the white
men could do them no harm. The five boatmen were left with the
canoes and were told that if anything happened to their leaders they
were to return home at once with the records.
Marquette and Joliet followed the path for several miles until
they came to an Indian village. We do not know just where the
village was located, but it was in Southern Iowa, near the
Mississippi. As they came near the village. Soon four chiefs
carrying peace pipes came to meet the White men. Marquette was glad
when he found that the Indians were of the Illinois tribe.
The two Frenchmen smoked the pipe of peace with the Indians. A
great feast was held and presents were exchanged. The next day,
after learning all they could about the great river and the lands
near it, the Frenchmen left. They visited two more villages and
soon left Iowa land, never to see it again. They returned to Canada
by way of the Illinois River.
Marquette and Joliet paid Iowa but a short visit. Their trip
however, became famous and important. It caused other to follow
them and France later claimed the great Mississippi Valley region,
largely because of this trip.