The heroic age of French exploration in the Northwest would be incomplete without an account of the adventures of Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Duluth, the peer of Perrot and La Salle. Duluth was a native of St. Germain-en-Laye, a suburb of Paris. His family was allied to that of Tonty, who spoke of him as his cousin. This family alliance gave Duluth access to the court, and advanced him in his chosen career of arms to a place in the King's Guard — an honor reserved for youth of noble families alone. Just what his military services were we do not know, save that he participated as squire to a great noble in the bloody battle of Seneff in 1674, and escaped unharmed while his patron was sorely wounded.
Duluth had before this battle made a visit to New France, where several of his relatives had preceded him and held offices in the colony. After his feat of arms he returned to the new country, whose great rivers and vast silences seemed ever to call him to solve their mysteries, and to whose exploration he devoted twenty years of his mature life. It was in 1678 that the resolution to explore the Sioux country came to him in his quiet home among the river-side gardens of old Montreal. Perchance a hint dropped by the great Count de Frontenac determined the future career of the young soldier; perchance, the lure of the wilderness life directed his vagrant fancy. At all events, he determined to see for himself the great fresh-water seas of the northern country, and to push beyond toward the setting sun, and the possible hope of a route to the Vermillion Sea.
After having circled the lofty and picturesque shores of Lake Superior he found his way through the tangle of lakes,
326streams, and marshes that constitute the headwaters of the Mississippi, and planted the arms and emblems of the French monarch in the heart of the country of the great Sioux tribe. The alliance with this tribe was to bring unlimited wealth in furs to the young colony along the St. Lawrence, for the Sioux were a great people, of many branches, whose territory abounded in beaver and other valuable peltry.
Duluth next visited the country of the Assiniboin, far northwest of Lake Superior, and having made peace between them and their neighbors diverted the stream of the rich northern fur trade from the channels leading to the English posts on Hudson Bay to those leading to the Great Lakes and the Ottawa.
On one of his expeditions into the Siouan territory, he was astonished and annoyed to learn that the tribe was holding as prisoners three Frenchmen, one of whom was a Recollect friar, chaplain of La Salle's expedition. Without a moment's hesitation Duluth changed his plans for farther westward exploration, and set out to rescue the captives from the hands of his quondam friends. Spurning the calumets with which they met him, he sternly demanded why they had violated their treaty with the French, and from the cowed and repentant chief he carried off Father Hennepin and his two voyageurs.
Like Nicolas Perrot, Duluth was a master of the art of Indian domination. Mingling sternness with kindness, and always meting out a rude justice, he secured an ascendancy over the savage mind that proved of vital importance to the colony of New France. He composed the difficulties between warring tribes, imposed a Pax Gallica upon the northern country, and made its ways safe for every French wanderer through the forests of the great Northwest.
Halted in this daring and beneficent labor by the petty criticism and condemnation of small-minded officials, Duluth
327was obliged to return to the colony to justify his actions, and to clear himself of the charge of being a coureur des bois. His patron Frontenac had him arrested, in reality for the purpose of keeping him safe from machinations of his enemies. Soon Duluth was permitted to return again to the great territory he had explored, whose reservoirs of wealth he had tapped for the sake of New France, and whose inhabitants he swayed by the force of truth and justice. In 1686 he was sent by the governor of that time to build a post on the straits between Lakes Erie and Huron in order to intercept the Dutch and English traders that were trying to break the monopoly of the French with the Northwestern tribes. At this Fort St. Joseph, somewhere on the St. Clair River, the wild tribes of the West gathered for Denonville's expedition against the Iroquois in 1687. Thither came Perrot with the tribes of the Mississippi and Wisconsin, and thither Tonty led his gathered forces from the Illinois. Great must have been the satisfaction of these explorers and governors of the great Western hinterland to meet and relate tales of adventure and plan for future growth and progress.
After Denonville's disastrous failure, and the return of Frontenac in 1689 as governor of the distracted colony, it was to Tonty, Perrot, and Duluth that the great governor turned to maintain the French empire in the West and keep the ascendancy over its numerous tribesmen. It was Duluth's part to spend more years among the Sioux, to explore the west and northwest shores of Superior, and to build a fort upon Lake Nipigon. In 1696 he was called to command at Fort Frontenac on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, after having been promoted to a captaincy in the colonial troops.
After the death of Frontenac, Duluth returned to Montreal, where his latter years were quietly spent. His death in 1710 was a release for his brave spirit.
Thus passed away a nobleman of old and new France.
328He had annexed an empire to the colony, had secured it by forts on Lake Superior, Lake Nipigon, and the River St. Clair; he had threaded the portages from Lake Superior to the Mississippi, had discovered the headwaters of that stream and the sources of Lake Winnipeg; he had turned back the threatening English invasion of the Northwest, and by firmness, decision, good judgment, and sacrifice had saved to New France a seventy years' tenure of the Upper Country. Singularly modest in the midst of boasters, always a nobleman in his treatment of both friends and rivals, this "gentleman of the King's Guard" was equally at home in the haunts of pleasure or the savage wilderness, in the palace at Versailles, or the council-house of the Sioux. His memory is perpetuated by the noble city that bears his name at the head of the mighty lake he delighted to traverse.
The brief account which we here publish of Duluth's early experiences in the Northwest was a memoir addressed by him to the French minister of marine in 1685. The manuscript is in the archives of the Ministry of the Marine at Paris; it has been printed by Henry Harrisse, Notes pour Servir Å l'Histoire de la Nouvelle France (Paris, 1872), pp. 177-181; also in Margry, Découvertes et Établissements des Français dans l'Amérique Septentrionale (Paris, 1886), VI. 20-25. It appeared first in English form in John G. Shea, A Description of Louisiana by Father Louis Hennepin (New York, 1880), pp. 374-377, from which we here reprint.
Memoir of Duluth on the Sioux Country, 1678-1682.
To my Lord the Marquis de Seignelay:
After having made two voyages from here to New France, where everyone believed that it was impossible to explore the country of the Nadouecioux,
330proof of it given three slaves whom I had asked of them only in order that they might come with me, I set out from Montreal with them and seven Frenchmen on the first of September of the year 1678, to attempt the exploration of the Nadouecioux and the Assenipoualaks
I do not believe that such an expedition can give anyone ground to accuse me of having disobeyed the King's orders of the year 1676, since he merely forbade all his subjects to go into the depths of the woods to trade there with the savages.
On the second of July, 1679, I had the honor to set up the arms of his Majesty in the great village of the Nadouecioux called Izatys,
On the 15th of September, having made with the Assenipoulaks and all the other nations of the North a rendezvous at the extremity of Lake Superior to cause them to make peace with the Nadouecioux their common enemy, they all appeared there, where I had the good fortune to gain their esteem and their friendship, to bring them together, and in order that peace might last longer among them, I believed
331that I could not better cement it than by causing marriages to be made mutually between the different nations. This I could not carry out without much expenditure. During the following winter I caused them to hold meetings in the forest, at which I was present, in order to hunt together, feast, and thus draw closer the bonds of friendship.
A still greater expense arose from the presents which I had to make in order to cause the savages to come to Montreal, who had been diverted from this by the Openagos and Abenakis
In June, 1680, not having been satisfied with having made my exploration by land, I took two canoes, with a savage who was my interpreter, and with four Frenchmen, to seek a means of making it by water. For this purpose I entered into a river which has its mouth eight leagues from the extremity of Lake Superior on the south side,
332been seized and taken away as slaves for more than three hundred leagues by the Nadouecioux themselves.
This news surprised me so much that, without hesitating, I left two Frenchmen with these above mentioned eight lodges of savages, together with the goods which I had for making presents, and took one of the said savages, to whom I gave a present in order that he should conduct me with my interpreter and two Frenchmen to the place where the said Reverend Father Louis was, and as it was eighty good leagues I went in my canoe two days and two nights, and the next day at ten o'clock in the morning I met him with about 1000 or 1100 souls. The want of respect that was being shown to the said Reverend Father provoked me, and I let them know it, telling them that he was my brother, and I put him in my canoe to go with me into the villages of the said Nadouecioux, to which I took him. There, a week after having arrived, I caused a council to be held, setting forth the ill-treatment which they had bestowed both upon the said Reverend Father and upon the other two Frenchmen who were with him, seizing them and leading them away as slaves, and even taking the priestly robes of the said Reverend Father.
Each one sought to excuse himself in the council, but their excuse did not prevent me from saying to the Reverend Father Louis that he must come with me toward the Outagamys,
333striking a blow at the French nation in a new exploration, to suffer insult of this sort without showing resentment of it,
Accordingly, three months before the arrival of the amnesty which his Majesty has been pleased to accord to his subjects who had disobeyed his orders, I reached our settlements
334without Monsieur the Intendant's
As to the manner in which I lived during my journey, it would be superfluous to enlarge upon this subject, and to weary your Excellency by a long discourse, being persuaded that thirteen original letters from the Reverend [Father] Nouvel, superior of the missions to the Outaouas,