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

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