That’s what they were told, but they were on a mission. A mission that had been ongoing for well over a thousand years. Whatever lay ahead was not in their hands and they willingly accepted their fate.
Several well-worn birch canoes were slipped into the water. The canoes had been faithful and had carried the crew into territories they could have hardly imagined, but now it was time to leave. On-lookers wished them well in their native languages as they pushed off into what to them was the unknown.
Thick paddles maneuvered the canoe into river channel.
Jean-Francois Buisson de Saint-Cosme was one of the individuals on board. The crew never addressed him by his full name though, they preferred to call him Father St. Cosme.
Cool air stung their faces, but the weather was agreeable even though the calendar read December 8. The current was strong. Just a few miles upstream, the Missouri River merged with the river they were now on. The native people called this river “The Father of Waters”, but the French referred to it as the Micissipi, or as we know it today, the Mississippi River.
They were not the first to explore these waters.
The native people had been living along the river for centuries. Previously, the crew had camped near an ancient mounded city, that unbeknownst to them had been abandoned for over 500 years and was once home to over 100,000 people. Today that place is referred to as Cahokia Mounds.
The first Europeans, Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet, had navigated these waters just a mere 25 years before Father St. Cosme, which provided invaluable details and descriptions of what was to come.
Four days passed without incident. Occasionally, they would encounter native people, but most of the original inhabitants of the Upper Mississippi were hospitable enough to a people who would soon completely rock the foundations of their way of life.
On December 12, 1698, the crew stopped at a large bend in the river. Visions filled their heads as the warnings not to go resurfaced.
Just around the bend was where horrific tales lurked about a manitou whose presence manifested itself around a rock in the water.
According to Father Marquette, the native people considered the manitou, a demon, or evil-spirit that would engulf travelers as they passed by.
Two days passed as they camped near a creek. Talk of the rock reached a fever pitch as they loaded their supplies and pushed off once again into the mighty waters.
Father St. Cosme took notice of a large bluff (Fountain Bluff) on the left side of the river and how the bend held pine trees, the first he had seen since leaving a small village further north called Chikagou. These pines brought back memories of his French-Canadian homeland, but they were short-lived as what they had feared slowly came into view.
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