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Marquette and Jolliet will get the Oregon Trail treatment


People have embarked on epic journeys across North America for thousands of years, but only the stories of some have survived long enough to enter the radar of modern residents.

We will probably never know the individual achievements of the continent’s earliest explorers, the true pioneers who crossed the Bering Strait in the time of the woolly mammoths and established the first human presence in what millennia later would be called the “New World.”

Shortly after the United States became a country, the Corps of Discovery Expeditions followed Meriweather Lewis and William Clark, who embarked on a journey from Illinois to the West Coast in 1804, rediscovering the landscapes, flora, and fauna for a new audience. He turned them into national superstars. Animals that are already well known to people who have lived in these regions for a long time.

They paved the way for a steady stream of settlers from the East; Their arduous journey westward in covered wagons was relived by countless children at the dawn of the video game era through the popular “Oregon Trail” software, where losing often meant dying. virtual dysentery.

Thousands of years after the first explorers fanned out across the continent, and more than a century before Lewis, Clark and their dyspeptic prairie sailboat pilots began voyages from Illinois, a pair of French Canadian rangers carried out a mission that literally put their names on the map. Finally.

First, Jacques Marquette’s account of his travels with Louis Jolliet up the Mississippi River and up the Illinois River to Lake Michigan had to be rediscovered in a Quebec archive hundreds of years after the voyage.

The journey of fur trapper Jolliet and Catholic missionary Marquette had a much greater impact than Will County and the cities of the same name in Michigan. According to Wisconsin Historical SocietyThe expedition “helped launch the first non-Native American settlements in the interior of North America, bringing Christianity to 600,000 square miles of wilderness, giving French names to cities from La Crosse to New Orleans, transforming traditional Indian cultures, and nearly reaching the Upper It wiped out the fur-bearing mammals of the Midwest.”

Beyond this, the explorers allegedly hiked on their return journey via glacial moraines between the Des Plaines River to another river leading to Lake Michigan. The first chapter of Chicago’s origin storystill this one matter of perspective.

Travelers reportedly suggested a channel closing the continental divide This would finally connect the Mississippi River system and its huge network of water in the West to that of the Great Lakes and its reach to the East. Hundreds of years later, this idea became a reality with the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the cornerstone of Chicago’s early fame.

Controversies regarding Marquette and Jolliet’s voyage is loaded with heavy undertonesespecially in relation to the country’s heritage as it relates to its indigenous people. But these special explorers, mostly friendly relations With the people they met along the way.

Jenna Krukowski, interpretive naturalist at the Isle a la Cache Museum in Romeoville, said it’s a trip more people should know about, especially as it celebrates its 350th anniversary this year. And the best way to do that is to have some fun with it.

Part of Will County’s Forest Preserve District, headquartered in Jolliet’s eponymous city, he and his museum colleague, Sara Russell, thought the fun should include more than searching for Jolliet’s missing “L.” in the county seat.

Instead, they turned to the Oregon Trail video game concept for a “put yourself in their shoes-style program” that would recreate the expedition in a survival game based on a translation of Marquette’s once-lost diary.

“People know Joliet and Marquette; they’ve heard of them,” he said. “But they don’t actually know what they’re doing.”

So today’s curious explorers can learn secondhand what it feels like to be in their canoes. Mission: A Joliet and Marquette Adventure for FamiliesA holiday break scheduled for December 28th at 11am.

Krukowski said the canoes are actually tables, but “we take out all our belongings, including blankets, axes, chests and staging.” People can come with their own canoe buddies, family and friends, or they can participate alone.

“Every explorer, every recruit, didn’t know each other before they went on this adventure,” he said.

Modern explorers will have maps and can choose how to equip their expeditions. They will encounter some of the same people and encounter similar situations. There will also be a Mississippi River monster or three along the way.

At one point Marquette explains: translation of your diary “One of the monster fish hit our canoe so hard I thought it was a big tree, about to tear the canoe apart.”

“On another occasion we saw a beast in the water with the head of a tiger, a sharp nose like a wildcat, a mustache and erect ears,” the diary continues.

Also included are the first recorded sightings, as well as the first descriptions of the American bison and several other creatures. legendary Piasa monster Painted on cliffs near modern Alton.

A chart of Piasa, meaning: "Bird of Evil Spirit" It occupies a bluff along the Mississippi River in Alton, near the site where ancient petroglyphs depicting a similar creature were quarried in the 1840s, according to author John W. Allen.  first mentioned "river monster" It appeared in a diary written by explorer Jacques Marquette in 1673.

How people navigate these encounters will determine “whether you’re a successful explorer or not,” Krukowski said. And like the video game that gave them the idea, there are virtual consequences involved.

“If you don’t carry the canoe, you will surely die,” he said, noting that the program was based on a starter program that fifth-graders would bring on field trips. “There are a lot of adult topics we talk about, but it’s very family friendly and fun for adults too.

“It’s a way for people to come together and build community. You will all laugh at the choices you make on this show.”

To add flavor, they will also provide some of the edibles that passengers will carry with them, such as dried bison for modern attendees to snack on.

“Not only will our canoe adventurers make the same choices that Jolliet and Marquette had to make, they will also eat some of the same foods,” Krukowski said.

While delving into the trip, Krukowski said one of his favorite things he learned was that although Marquette and Jolliet were credited with coming up with the idea that eventually became the I&M Canal, people were actually giving advice on transportation. A person who has lived and used this area for years.

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Their “discovery” was new to them, but it was an easier journey back to Lake Michigan than continuing up the Mississippi and back to Wisconsin.

After completing their journey together, Marquette and Jolliet went their separate ways. Jolliet’s account and most of the other material they collected were lost when his canoe overturned on the return voyage, leaving Marquette’s journal as the main source of information on this trip in 1673.

Marquette’s descriptions are such that there’s a lot of interpretation as we try to figure out exactly where the expedition was going, but there’s “a really good chance they passed us by” in the Isle a La Cache Museum area on the Des Plaines River. Krukowski said.

Even if it wasn’t, “it’s part of the fun,” he said. “We want to be as right as we can be, but at the end of the day we may not know.”

After the famous expedition, Jolliet returned to Canada, while Marquette returned to explore the southern half of Lake Michigan and soon died of dysentery, unrelated to the Oregon Trail, according to contemporary reports.

The two explorers were reunited centuries later, at least in name, in 2020 when Marquette University formed a formal affiliation with Joliet Junior College.

Landmarks is a weekly column in which Paul Eisenberg explores the people, places and things that have left an indelible mark on the Southland. He can be reached at: peisenberg@tribpub.com.


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