Before Lewis & Clark

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Published on: Aug. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

Joliet are credited as the first Europeans to discover and explore the Mississippi River.

Marquette and Joliet followed the river south, traveling as far as the mouth of the Arkansas River. Marquette's journals describe a wild and beautiful country teeming with wildlife, including extensive flocks of waterfowl and turkey, large herds of buf falo and huge fish.

"From time to time we came upon monstrous fish, one of which struck our canoe with such violence that I thought it was a great tree, about to break the boat to pieces."

After seven days on the river, in the vicinity of today's Iowa-Missouri state line, they "perceived on the water's edge some tracks of men, and a narrow and somewhat beaten path leading to a fine prairie...We silently followed the narrow path, and, after walking about two leagues, (a league is about 3 miles), we discovered a village on the bank of a river, and two others on a hill distant about a half a league from the first."

They stood and shouted from a hill, and soon the inhabitants swarmed out of their huts to see the white strangers. Four old men walked out to greet them. The natives informed the Frenchmen that "they were Illinois; and as a token of peace, they offered us their pipes to smoke."

As with the other tribes encountered by Marquette and Joliet, the natives had heard of the French and appare ntly treated them with respect and admiration. They were frequently celebrated with feasts that included wild game, corn and watermelon. Some tribes even had hatchets, hoes, knives and glass flasks, which they had apparently obtained from tribes that had contact with the Spanish colonies to the southwest.

Near present day Alton, Illinois, they were unnerved by a painting of two hideous monsters high on a bluff.

"They are as big as a calf, they have horns on their heads like those of a deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard like a tiger, a face somewhat like a man's, a body covered with scales and so long a tail that it winds around the body, passing above the head and going back between the legs, ending in a fish's tail."

Shortly downstream from this sight, they encountered another frightening experience.

"We were rowing peacefully in clear, calm water when we heard the noise of a rapids into which we were about to fall. I have seen nothing more dreadful. An

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