The historical feature that appeals to us so much is one that has been sadly neglected. We have all heard of the Chicago Portage, and the Calumet Portage, but about twenty years ago these were so mixed up that you could not tell what the writers meant. One day they would speak of the Calumet Portage, and the next day they would speak of the Chicago Portage.
But as the result of investigation, it seems to me that this may be stated. Marquette and the other missionaries and explorers who came down there found that coming from the north the current swept down on the west side, and then came up on the east side. That is the reason the Sand dunes were brought down. So that Marquette, on his voyage down, undoutedly used our regular Chicago Portage. But when he was there on his second trip, when he was dying, and his men had to take such good care of him, I think it is safe to say that he went up through the Sag and the Calumet Portage, so as to avoid the rough lake; and that Portage saved him over forty miles of rough Lake Michigan voyage.
LaSalle, Marquette and others of the missionaries did a great deal of work in the Sand Dune region. They established missions, and went all through the neighborhood preaching to the natives. LaSalle is known and is spoken of in history as a great explorer, a great statesman, a man with a vision. He certainly was. He was also one of the most unfortunate of men. But in his day, when he was in America, he was known as the great fur trader. He was the John Jacob Astor of his time.
The king of France gave him permission to establish that great line of forts, that his visions would dominate the Mississippi Valley. LaSalle had a right to build them, he was empowered to build them, but he was empowered to build them from his own money; and that is the reason that he was compelled to act as the great fur trader of that time in America. We all remember his unfortunate end in Texas, where he was killed by one of his own lieutenants.
During the French occupation, that region from St. Joe to Chicago was covered with the greatest of forests, wonderful forests, and filled with a wonderful variety of game. The great forts were Detroit and Mackinac. Another was built at St. Joe, and still another, known as the Little Fort, was built there at Tremont, about halfway between Waverly Beach and Tremont, on the old creek, which is known as Fort Creek. I looked for it a number of years before I could locate it. It was spoken of by travelers as French Creek, because there were so many French people settled there near the fort.
Lieutenant DeQuinde is mentioned in official despatches as having pursued these Americans, who had come from Cahokia and captured Fort St. Joe.--which was at Niles, Michigan. On their way back to Cahokia and Peoria he pursued them, he said, and overtook them at this Little Fort, about ten miles away.
Some authorities have taken that as final, but I dug a little deeper, and found a statement in the early British records, as found in our Historical Society, showing that Lieutenant Governor Seymour had received other information from people who had been there; and he makes the statement that instead of Lieutenant DeQuinde, it was Mr. Champion, the head trader, who had pursued them and had defeated them; and that happened, he says, at Trail Creek, which is Michigan City.
I looked still further, and found out that Lieutenant Governor had become very impatient at the charge that DeQuinde had done this work, because he wrote a letter to the General stating that it was not so; that DeQuinde was an imposter, and that this other man, Champion, had been the one who defeated the Americans. Then I dug still deeper and found a letter from the Secretary of the Governor of Canada, stating that they had received his despatch, and that he might help Mr. Champion as much as he wished, and give him all the privileges that were coming to him. So I think that finally settled the matter, that the Revolutionary Battle was fought there.
Then some of those people who got back to St. Louis and told the Governor of St. Louis who was a Spaniard--for the country was Spanish then--that it was easy to capture Fort St. Joe. A detachment of Spaniards, Americans, French and Indians was accordingly despatched to go across our region, and capture Fort St. Joe. They did that in 1781. As there were no more Spaniards than Americans and French put together the captain of the Spaniards was made commander of the expedition; and when he got up to Fort St. Joe, he pulled down the English flag, and, to the indignation of the Americans, he put up the Spanish flag, and took possession of all of this northwest region in the name of the King of Spain.
He took the English flag, burnt the fort, and went back to St. Louis, where he told the Governor what he had done, and then he presented this new province to Spain. The Governor thanked him, took the flag, wrote a nice letter to the King of Spain, and sent the flag with it; and the King of Spain sent back a very nice letter, thanking him, and accepting the whole northwest territory that had been taken in the name of the King of Spain. One or two little forts down in the southwest territory near the Floridas, had been captured in the same way, and handed over to the King of Spain; and he also annexed that territory. That is the reason that at the end of the Revolutionary War Spain and France tried to limit the United States to the territory east and north of the Alleghanies, and claimed that this country belonged to them. Spain was to take the southwest territory and France was to take the northwest territory. But that we would not have and we got the land that we now have.
I am simply giving this as an example of the wonderful history connected with our region, which this Spanish captain annexed to Spain in the year 1781. So because of the rich historical interest of this particular section of the country, if for none of the many other reasons that have been so ably urged, I think we should by all means preserve this section of the country in the best possible form, and that I believe to be in the shape of a National Park.
Posted 29th June; last updated 9th July, 2001.