They had landed.
Father St. Cosme gazed up at the rock. He had a plan. What looked impossible from the river, soon become clear as they approached.
Over the years, the mighty waters of the Mississippi had eroded and shaped the tower. They took note on three sides of the rock the angle was almost vertical , but the northern upstream side had eroded in a way, while still vertical, appeared as though it could be climbed.
The limestone was thin in some places, but as St. Cosme told the crew his plan. They obliged with vigor. Wedging their feet into small ledges, they slowly made their way up. The Father would later write, “We ascended this island or rock with some difficulty ...”
As they topped the rock, they were amazed how overgrown and large it was. They bushwacked through thorns and briars.
They neared the southern edge and gazed down upon the terror called, the Demon of Tower Rock.
What they saw, is best summarized in Father St. Cosme own words:
The rock makes the river turn very short and narrows the channel, causing a whirlpool in which it is said canoes are lost during high water.
This was the manitou or demon the original inhabitants feared and warned others about. They told the story of how the river devoured 14 people as they become trapped in the whirlpool. The people who lived along the river would come and offer sacrifices to the manitou, so that others would be spared.
Their fear of these waters was not unfounded. Many years later a President named Grant would save the rock from destruction, because of others who wanted to make the channel safer for passage.
After looking over the edge, they made their way to the east side, which looked out over the main river channel.
The crew fabricated a “fine cross” and placed it where all who passed could view it.
They rose their groveled voices to the mighty waters and chanted the haunting 1,000 year old Latin hymn Vexilla Regis. Their pitch was by no means perfect, but the opening stanza rung true if only to their own ears at the time.
Vexilla regis prodeunt,
fulget crucis mysterium,
quo carne carnis conditor
suspensus est patibulo.
The banners of the king issue forth,
the mystery of the cross does gleam,
where the creator of flesh, in the flesh,
by the cross-bar is hung
Emotions run high as they chanted several stanzas. The crew drew their guns and discharged three rounds.
The number 3 was full of meaning in their faith, which represented divine perfection.
They slowly descended the tower and re-entered their canoes. The crew pushed off from the rock and once again dug deep with their paddles to merge with the channel.
Father St. Cosme looked over his shoulder towards the rock and the newly fashioned cross gleaming from its high perch. The demon had been conquered and what lay ahead was anyone’s guess.
For years to come, fellow explorers would refer to this place in French as La Roche de La Croix, or translated into English –
The Rock of The Cross
About the Story >>>
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