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The Life of Radisson
 
Chapter Twenty-one

Reaching the Gateway to Lake Superior

Having followed the St. Lawrence River-Ottawa River-Mattawa River-Lake Nippissing-French River-Georgian Bay route to reach Lake Huron, Radisson became one of the first European fur traders to travel what was to become the les voyageurs route to the Great Lakes. There had been Champlain and roughly a dozen Jesuit blackrobes to take the route, but since the Iroquois invasions that began in earnest in the 1640's it had become too dangerous for Europeans to travel.

Radisson's smaller company went west from the mouth of the French River for several days and then south along the east cost of Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world. Using the shores of the island as a windbreak, Radisson enjoyed the thick forests and open spaces on the limestone island. He was captivated with the striking beauty of the area and with the island in particular from his description in his journals. "The coast of this lake is most delightful to the mind. The land is smooth and it has woods of all sorts. In many places there are many large open fields where in, I believe, wildmen formerly lived before the destruction of the many nations that did inhabit..."[1] Radisson might have learned this from the Hurons because it was accurate. Manitoulin Island, which the natives regarded as the home of the Great Spirit (Manitou), was not populated all year. Natives used to visit the island in the summer to make offerings to Manitou, but did not inhabit the island out of respect for the Great Spirit. Many open fields dotted the island, as the geology was limestone that inhibits the robust growth of trees in some spots. Radisson also saw the abandoned Jesuit mission on the east coast of Manitoulin Island. Paul Rageneau jad been the head of the mission there and had run it from 1648 to 1650, the same blackrobe Radisson had been with the previous year in Iroquois territory.

Once Radisson's company went around the southeast corner of Manitoulin Island through Fitzwilliam Strait, he was paddling west along the northern part of Lake Huron where there were long stretches of sand dunes and beaches, namely in Carter Bay and Providence Bay. He notes the massive "banks of sand" and abundance of fish in the clear waters of Huron: "an infinite deal of fish that scarcely we are able to draw out our net. There are fishes as big as children of 2 years old."[2]

Being situated in the middle of the Great Lakes, namely beside Lake Huron, Georgian Bay and Lake Superior (via the North Channel), Manitoulin Island was very windy. Radisson's group was forced to stop their journey for several days at a time when they were moving westwards along the south shore of the island. Contrasting the countless islands of northern Georgian Bay at the mouth of the French River, there were not many islands along the south coast of the island, which Radisson made a note of, except for a few hidden in the numerous bays and streams that feed into Lake Huron. Radisson ends his explicit description of Manitoulin Island with: "The South part is without isles, only in some bays where there are some. It is delightful to go along the side of the water in summer where you may pluck the ducks."[3] The duck population was robust along the southwest shore of Manitoulin Island, where they past Outer Duck Island, Great Duck Island, Middle Duck Island, Western Duck Island and Inner Duck Island.

After several days more of travel they passed through the strait between Sugar Island and the shore of Michigan to Munuscong Lake. The Huron with them were living with the Octonac tribe on Lake Huron, displaced from the south shores of Lake Huron due to the Iroquois. Their arrival here caused a variety of reactions, both sad and joyful. There were some tears for the men they lost to the Iroquois on the way back from Quebec, but since French merchandise had not reached this far west, there were Indians interested in many of the things Radisson and Groseilliers had brought with them from New France.

The returning party learned that there were recent reports that some of the enemy were close by in some fields. There was a council held and it was decided that they should go out and stop these Iroquois from reaching the village. Radisson volunteered to join the war party so they left. After two days looking for them they found the Iroquois invaders, and on the third day attacked when they least expected it. They fought brilliantly so none escaped. The following day the war party returned with eight dead and three prisoners. The dead were eaten and the captured Iroquois were burned with fire and utter cruelty, which comforted the bereaved to see the enemy revenged for the death of their relations.

Radisson and Groseillier's ambition was to be known with the remotest people, so with this victory Radisson had gained the confidence and trust of the Huron and the Octanac peoples. By showing them that he was willing to die in their defense, they gave them consent to go with an escort to the Nation of the Stairing Hairs. So the two Frenchmen left with an escort and met these natives with the turned up hair. They were welcomed with much fanfare, with these peoples saying the Frenchmen were the Gods and devils on earth. The Stairing Hairs had holes in their nose and five holes in their ears. A piece of straw about a foot long was through their nose that barred their face, and the holes in their ears were big enough that they could put their fingers through. Radisson was told that in the winter these Indians don't where a hat because of their turned-up hair; instead they filled the holes in their ears with swan's down that covered their ears from the cold.

When they learned that Radisson had fought with the Hurons and the Octanac peoples against the Iroquois, they asked that he fight against their enemy too. Radisson suggested that there should be peace between them so that the Iroquois could be vanquished. When the Hurons and Radisson had shared some of the atrocities of the Iroquois nation, the elders of the Stairing Hairs consented to try. They first sent ambassadors to the enemy with gifts from Radisson, but had planned to war with them if they did not consent. The enemy was called the Pontonatemick (Potawatomi) who, without much ado, turned up to meet them and peace was concluded. Feasts were had and gifts exchanged with a great deal of mirth.

Chapter Twenty-two

Exploring Lake Superior

Over the span of the summer Radisson and Groseilliers made it their business to meet neighboring nations. They met a strong nation called the "Nadoneceronon," with whom the Hurons and Octanacs were at war with. They also met the "Christinos" (Cree), a wandering nation that lived on what they could hunt. Their land was beyond the great inland sea to the north and lived on the "side of the salt water in the north" during the summer where the hunting and trapping of beavers was unsurpassed. Radisson was told that the side of the salt water where the Cree lived in the summers was 1800 miles away due to the route they must take to get there, but the inland sea intrigued him because it was freshwater and a new frontier for trading.

So they seized the opportunity to go north into Lake Superior when they told the Hurons and Octanacs that their enemies to the north would stand in fear because of Radisson and Groseilliers' firepower. The Octanacs that were present were so impressed by their bluster that they decided to join them on their journey north, as well as the Hurons. However both the Hurons and the Octanacs turned back to their country halfway there so the Frenchmen were left alone to go north through what Radisson described as immensely beautiful land.

They paddled along the northeast shores of Wisconsin past the Sault Indian village to reach the mouth of the biggest freshwater lake in the world. Navigating along the north shore of the lake they saw cottages in small Cree settlements in a setting that made him grieve for Europeans and how they fight to the death for small pieces of rock in the seas or some swampy land when there was never more of a more enticing country to live. The climate was temperate during the summer that brought forth fruit and berries and all that was plentiful in life. The wildlife around Superior teemed with deer and buffalo and moose and fish. There were so many turkeys around that they used to throw stones at them for recreation.

The fur traders met with several tribes, which were, according to Radisson, sedentary and civil and amazed to see them. They conducted a lot of trading, and everywhere they went they were made much of, never lacking in food as each village furnished them with necessities for their journey. The people were strong and healthy, lived long and were wise in their ways. He noted there were very few infirmed people due to the physical lives they lived. The entrenched image of the Red Man being so fierce, savage and uncivilized, this was a revealing experience of how well they, were received by the natives and treated with meals and hospitality. He mused how millions of Europeans complained about poverty and misery, and how much death came from wars over religion when there was this utopia that existed unknown and undiscovered by God-fearing souls.

At one Cree willage on the northwest shore of the lake Radisson and Groseilliers conversed with them and heard of the salt water in the north (Hudson Bay). The natives told them about seeing a "great white thing that was sometimes upon the water."

"It came towards the shore with men in the top of it and made a noise like a company of swans." Radisson, unaware of Henry Hudon's ill-fated journey to Hudson Bay, speculated that it could have been the Spaniards because the natives had found a broken barrel that the Spanish were known to use. But it irked him because he didn't think Spain had sailed that far north. It was the British and French and Scandinavians who were looking for the Northwest Passage to reach China and India to conduct trade.


[1] Ibid., p. 67

[2] Ibid., p. 67

[3] Ibid., p. 67

 

 

Chapter Twenty-two

Exploring Lake Superior

Over the span of the summer Radisson and Groseilliers made it their business to meet neighboring nations. They met a strong nation called the "Nadoneceronon," with whom the Hurons and Octanacs were at war with. They also met the "Christinos" (Cree), a wandering nation that lived on what they could hunt. Their land was beyond the great inland sea to the north and lived on the "side of the salt water in the north" during the summer where the hunting and trapping of beavers was unsurpassed. Radisson was told that the side of the salt water where the Cree lived in the summers was 1800 miles away due to the route they must take to get there, but the inland sea intrigued him because it was freshwater and a new frontier for trading.

So they seized the opportunity to go north into Lake Superior when they told the Hurons and Octanacs that their enemies to the north would stand in fear because of Radisson and Groseilliers' firepower. The Octanacs that were present were so impressed by their bluster that they decided to join them on their journey north, as well as the Hurons. However both the Hurons and the Octanacs turned back to their country halfway there so the Frenchmen were left alone to go north through what Radisson described as immensely beautiful land.

They paddled along the northeast shores of Wisconsin past the Sault Indian village to reach the mouth of the biggest freshwater lake in the world. Navigating along the north shore of the lake they saw cottages in small Cree settlements in a setting that made him grieve for Europeans and how they fight to the death for small pieces of rock in the seas or some swampy land when there was never more of a more enticing country to live. The climate was temperate during the summer that brought forth fruit and berries and all that was plentiful in life. The wildlife around Superior teemed with deer and buffalo and moose and fish. There were so many turkeys around that they used to throw stones at them for recreation.

The fur traders met with several tribes, which were, according to Radisson, sedentary and civil and amazed to see them. They conducted a lot of trading, and everywhere they went they were made much of, never lacking in food as each village furnished them with necessities for their journey. The people were strong and healthy, lived long and were wise in their ways. He noted there were very few infirmed people due to the physical lives they lived. The entrenched image of the Red Man being so fierce, savage and uncivilized, this was a revealing experience of how well they, were received by the natives and treated with meals and hospitality. He mused how millions of Europeans complained about poverty and misery, and how much death came from wars over religion when there was this utopia that existed unknown and undiscovered by God-fearing souls.

At one Cree willage on the northwest shore of the lake Radisson and Groseilliers conversed with them and heard of the salt water in the north (Hudson Bay). The natives told them about seeing a "great white thing that was sometimes upon the water."

"It came towards the shore with men in the top of it and made a noise like a company of swans." Radisson, unaware of Henry Hudon's ill-fated journey to Hudson Bay, speculated that it could have been the Spaniards because the natives had found a broken barrel that the Spanish were known to use. But it irked him because he didn't think Spain had sailed that far north. It was the British and French and Scandinavians who were looking for the Northwest Passage to reach China and India to conduct trade.


[1] Ibid., p. 67

[2] Ibid., p. 67

[3] Ibid., p. 67

More chapters coming in due course...
 

 
 
Table of Contents

           PART ONE: FIRST VOYAGE

          1 - Radisson's Capture by the Iroquois

          2 - How Radisson Earned Respect

          3 - Adoption into a Mohawk Family

          4 - His Escape

          5 - Recapture and Torture

          6 - Endurance

          7 - Acceptance

          8 - Going On the Warpath

          9 - The War Continues

          10 - The Hollanders

          11 - Escape to Fort Orange

         PART TWO: SECOND VOYAGE

          12 - Becoming an Interpreter for the Jesuits

          13 - "Mistrust is the Mother of Safety"

          14 - Meeting Old Friends

          15 - Reaching Onondaga

          16 - Conspiracy to Kill the French

          17 - Fleeing the Fort

          PART THREE: THIRD VOYAGE

          18 - Becoming a Les Voyageurs

          19 - Huronia Jesuit Mission and Brebeuf

          20 - Radisson and Groseilliers Go West

          21 - Reaching the Gateway to Lake Superior

          22 - Exploring Lake Superior

 

 
 

 

 
 

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