Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest and explorer, was the first non-indigenous person to build a structure along the Chicago River. A book I read earlier this year, based on oral history, claims Father Marquette performed hands-on healing during his stay in the area that later became Chicago. Official records of the Jesuits do not support these claims. The thought of there being hidden hallowed ground somewhere in Chicago is exciting. In this post, I recite the circumstances of Marquette’s fall to winter stay.
“Marquette studied and taught in the Jesuit colleges of France for about 12 years before his superiors assigned him in 1666 to be a missionary to the indigenous people of the Americas. He traveled to Quebec, Canada, where he demonstrated his penchant for learning indigenous languages: Marquette learned to converse fluently in six different Native American dialects and became an expert in the Huron language….On May 17, 1673, Marquette and his friend Louis Joliet (also spelled “Jolliet”), a French-Canadian fur trader and explorer, were chosen to lead an expedition that included five men and two canoes to find the direction and mouth of the Mississippi River, which natives had called Messipi, the Great Water.”1
Father Claude Dablon, Superior of the Missions of the Society of Jesus, recounts Marquette’s stay near the mouth of the Chicago River in a narrative. The relevant section of the narrative follows:
Ja[c]ques Marquette, having promised the Ilinois[sic] on his first voyage to them, in 1673, that he would return to them the following year, to teach them the mysteries of our religion, had much difficulty in keeping his word. The great hardships of his first voyage had brought upon him a bloody flux, and had so weakened him that he was giving up the hope of undertaking a second. However, his sickness decreased; and, as it had almost entirely abated by the close of the summer in the following year, He obtained the permission of his superiors to return, to the Ilinois and there begin that fair mission.
He set out for that purpose, in the month of november of the year 1674, from the bay des puants, with two men, one of whom had made the former voyage with him. During a month of navigation on the lake of the Ilinois, he was tolerably well; but, as soon as the snow began to fall, he was again shed with his bloody flux, which compelled him to halt in the river which leads to the Ilinois. It was there that they constructed a Cabin in which to pass the winter, amid such inconveniences that, his malady increasing more and more, he saw clearly that God was granting to him the favor which he had so many times besought from him; and he even told his two companions very plainly that he would certainly die of that malady, and during that voyage. Duly to prepare his soul, despite the severe indisposition of his Body, he began this so severe winter sojourn by the retreat of st. ignatius, which he performed with every feeling of devotion, and many Celestial Consolations; and then he passed the whole of the remaining time in holding communion with all Heaven, — having, in these deserts, no intercourse with the earth except with his two companions. He confessed them and administered Communion to them twice in the week, and exhorted them as much as his strength permitted him. A short time after Christmas, that he might obtain the favor of not dying without having taken possession of his dear mission, he invited his companions to make a novena in honor of the immaculate conception of the blessed virgin. His prayer was answered, against all human probability; and, his health improving, he prepared himself to go to the village of the Ilinois as soon as navigation should open, — which he did with much setting out for that place on the 29th of march.2
Details about the stay by the Chicago River were provided two centuries later by Nehemiah Matson, a local historian who interviewed descendants of French Pioneers and Indians from various groups. His account follows:
Late in November  Marquette left Green Bay, accompanied by two of his countrymen, Pierre and Jacques, together with two Winnegabo Indians. The weather was cold, the winds high, and it was with great difficulty they coasted along the western shore of Lake Michigan. Frequently the travelers would be compelled to land from the turbulent water, draw their canoe on the beach, and wait for the winds and waves to subside. After a long perilous voyage on Lake Michigan, the travelers reached the mouth of Chicago river, and ascended it about three leagues [approx. 9 miles] to a grove of timber above the present site of Bridgeport. Here Marquette was taken very sick, so the party could go no further on their way until he recovered. Winter now set in, the river froze up, and the prairie and groves were covered with snow and ice. Near the river bank the companions of Marquette built a hut, covering and siding it with buffalo skins, and here they lived about 3 months
For many days Marquette was prostrated by disease so he could not rise from his couch, and his friends believed that his time of departure was nigh. Having a great desire to establish a mission among the Indians before he died, he begged his two companions – Pierre and Jacques – to join him in nine days’ devotion to the Virgin, and through her interposition his disease relented, and he gained strength daily
Indians from a village two leagues distant, frequently visited their hut, and Marquette, feeble as he was, preached to them, and by the power of his eloquence many became Christians. Near their hut they built of cottonwood poles a temporary altar, and over which was raised a large wooden cross. The converted Indians were taught to look upon this cross while praying, and thereby all their sins were remitted. Many miracles are said to have been wrought among the Indians by looking upon this sacred talisman- the blind were made to see and the sick restored to health. For many days the Indians continued to worship at the altar, Father Marquette preaching and laying his hands on their heads, would bestow his blessing on them. A beloved chief, who for years had been afflicted with a demon in his back, so he could not raise from his couch, was carried to Marquette, and when the holy father laid his hands upon him, to the name of the Virgin, the demon departed and the chief was restored to health
In March the country was flooded with water, and Marquette’s health being partially restored, they put their canoe on the river and continued their journey westward. Although Marquette was gone, his magic power over the Indians remained. They hallowed the spot where the altar stood, and when the rude structure rotted down, they created an earthen mound on its site, so the spot should not be forgotten by coming generations. Although two centuries have passed away, this mound is still to be seen, and among the French and Indians there are many remarkable traditions in relation to it.3
In his narrative, Father Dablon specifically says Marquette only talked with his two companions during the entire 5 month stay. I am not inclined to believe this. I think it would have been close to impossible for Marquette’s companions to have constructed a cabin without assistance. I think it extremely unlikely that they were unnoticed by Native Americans for such a long period of time as well. I suspect Father Marquette’s activities during his stay were either omitted from the account to Father Dablon by his two companions or Father Dablon was aware of what happened and decided not to make a historical record of the occurrences.
Father Jacques Marquette was born in Laon France on June 1, 1637 at 10:45 PM. Perhaps Astrology can lend some credence to oral history. In the next post, I will examine his natal chart to determine if a proclivity to hands-on healing is present.
1. Jacques Marquette Biography.
2. Travels And Explorations Of The Jesuit Missionaries In New France, 1610-1791.Pages 42-45.
3. Matson, N. (1874)French and Indians of Illinois River. Republican Job Printing Establishment. Republished 2001 by Southern Illinois University Press.
4. 1909 Photograph of Potawatomi Chief. American Indian History Online – http://www.fofweb.com.covers.chipublib.org/NuHistory/LowerFrame.asp?iPin=NANEIi70&TopicSelect=&EraSelect=&iHighlightedEntry=&Topic=&Era=&dTitle=Potawatomi+Chief&DataType=&DataID=4&SID=1&TribeName=&TribeCodeSearch=&dCultureArea=&InputText=potawatomi&SearchStyle=Keyword&AllCountPass=225&SubBioCountPass=187&BioCountPass=69&SubCountPass=118&DocCountPass=15&ImgCountPass=7&MapCountPass=15&RecPosition=3&iRecordType=Image&TabRecordType=Image