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History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century/4/Jacques Marquette

JACQUES MARQUETTE is a name that should ever be honored in Iowa history and should be as familiar to all the people of the State as that of any of her eminent and honored citizens. Although he never made his home in Iowa, it was he who planned and led the expedition which first explored the upper Mississippi River and it was he who discovered Iowa and explored its eastern shores. Jacques Marquette was born at Laon, France, in 1637. His ancestors were Celtic nobles. He was educated in Catholic schools of France and when seventeen years of age entered the Jesuit Society to prepare to become a missionary among the Indians of America. He sailed for Quebec in 1666 and acquired a knowledge of the language of the Indian tribes of that province. In 1868 he founded the mission of Sault Ste. Marie at the Falls of St. Mary. The following year he established a second mission at Point St. Ignatius, where the old town of Michillimackinac was founded some years later. It was from the Indians of this vicinity that he first heard reports of a great river in the far west which drained a region of vast natural meadows. He at once conceived the idea of exploring that unknown country and carrying his missionary labors among the Indians who inhabited its valley. He applied to his superior, Claude Dablon, for permission to "seek the new nations toward the southern sea." The officers of the Government were anxious to have the country explored and gave him authority, with Louis Joliet, to fit out an expedition of discovery and furnished them five assistants and equipments for the voyage. The story of their journey and discoveries is told elsewhere. Upon their return from the expedition which had been successful beyond the most sanguine expectations of the French Government, Marquette established a mission among the Illinois Indians at Le Vantam. In 1674 he sailed to the mouth of the river where Chicago stands, erected a log house and during the winter preached to more than 2,000 Indians in that region. Constant traveling among the swamps and exposure to the miasma of that country had undermined his health and in May, 1675, he started with two companions for the Mission of St. Ignace. As his devoted followers paddled the canoe through the waters of Lake Michigan, Marquette became so weak that he was obliged to lie on a rude bed in the bottom of the boat. On the 19th of May he beckoned his companions to land. He was unable to proceed farther; a cabin was hastily erected and a bed of pine boughs made upon which he was tenderly placed. He began to sink rapidly and realized that the end of life was near. In the gloom and solitude of the great wilderness, remote from civilization and medical aid, he calmly awaited the summons. His comrades cared for him with the greatest devotion, doing all in human power for his relief. But his life work was ended and in the wilds of the west where he had accomplished so much, the great spirit of the heroic young missionary and explorer took its departure. Thus perished the discoverer of Iowa at the early age of thirty-eight. Beneath the dark shadows of the pines on the lonely shore of Lake Michigan his companions inclosed his body in a rude coffin of birch bark and buried him beneath the sand, carefully marking the grave. Two years later some of his Indian friends sought his grave, disinterred his body and tenderly conveyed it to St. Ignace Mission where it was buried beneath the church which he had founded. More than two hundred years passed away and the name of the discoverer of Iowa had become historic and honored wherever his achievements were known. In 1877 the old grave was found and a monument erected to his memory on the site of the old church of St. Ignace, by descendants of his French and Indian companions. History will hand down to the latest generations the brief record preserved of one of the noblest of America's pioneers. Breese in the “Early History of Illinois,” says:

“For years did this devoted man, silent and unobserved in the gloomy forest amid untamed savages, forsaking home and kindred, fired by a lofty zeal—exert his energies to exalt the condition of abject and degraded humanity. In the accomplishment of his mission, a domain more than imperial, destined to nourish multitudes as countless as those of the plains of India, was opened to the world.”

Michigan has given the name of Marquette to a river, a county, and a city, while Iowa has done nothing to connect his memory with the State whose eastern shores he first explored.