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A Half Century of Conflict - Volume I by Parkman

And Marest labored in turn for their conversion


the most important of the western posts, struggled through a critical infancy in the charge of its founder, La Mothe-Cadillac, till, by a choice not very judicious, he was made governor of Louisiana. During his rule the population had slowly increased to about two hundred souls; but after he left the place it diminished to a point that seemed to threaten the feeble post with extinction. About 1722 it revived again; _voyageurs_ and discharged soldiers settled about the fort, and the parish register shows six or eight births in the course of the year.[320]

Meanwhile, on the banks of the Mississippi another settlement was growing up which did not owe its birth to official patronage, and yet was destined to become the most noteworthy offspring of Canada in the West. It was known to the French as "the Illinois," from the name of the group of tribes belonging to that region. La Salle had occupied the banks of the river Illinois in 1682; but the curious Indian colony which he gathered about his fort on the rock of St. Louis[321] dispersed after his death, till few or none were left except the Kaskaskias, a sub-tribe of the Illinois. These still lived in the meadow below Fort St. Louis, where the Jesuits Marquette, Allouez, Rale, Gravier, and Marest labored in turn for their conversion, till, in 1700, they or some of them followed Marest to the Mississippi and set up their wigwams where the town of Kaskaskia now stands, near the mouth of the little river

which bears the same name. Charlevoix, who was here in 1721, calls this the oldest settlement of the Illinois,[322]--though there is some reason to believe that the village of Cahokia, established as a mission by the Jesuit Pinet, sixty miles or more above Kaskaskia, and nearly opposite the present city of St. Louis, is, by a few weeks, the elder of the two. The _voyageurs_, _coureurs de bois_, and other roving Canadians made these young settlements their resort, took to wife converted squaws,[323] and ended with making the Illinois their home. The missions turned to parishes, the missionaries to cures, and the wigwams to those compact little Canadian houses that cause one to marvel at the ingenuity which can store so multitudinous a progeny within such narrow limits.

White women from Canada or Louisiana began to find their way to these wilderness settlements, which with every generation grew more French and less Indian. The river Mississippi was at once their friend and their enemy. It carried their produce to New Orleans, but undermined their rich alluvial shores, cut away fields and meadows, and swept them in its turbid eddies thirteen hundred miles southward, as a contribution to the mud-banks of the delta.

When the Mississippi Company came into power, the Illinois, hitherto a dependency of Canada, was annexed to Louisiana. Pierre Dugue de Boisbriant was sent to take command of it, and under his direction a fort was built on the bank of the Mississippi sixteen miles above Kaskaskia. It was named Fort Chartres, in honor of the Duc de Chartres, son of the Regent, who had himself once borne the same title. This work, built at first of wood and earth, was afterwards rebuilt of stone, and became one of the chief links in the chain of military communication between Canada and Louisiana.

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