Ohio History Journal







[In the July Quarterly, 1905, page 356, Volume XIV, publications

Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, appeared an article

by the late E. L. Taylor, Sr., on "Water Highways and Carrying Places."

Some time after the publication of that article Mr. Taylor had cor-

respondence with a critic concerning the identity of the much disputed

route of La Salle down the Ohio in his western journey of 1669, the

alleged date of his discovery of the Ohio River. This has ever been

a most interesting question among historians and Mr. Taylor's letter

to his critic, which letter is herewith published, is a valuable contribution

to the controversy. This letter from Mr. Taylor came to our notice

some time ago and it was at our request that Mr. Taylor secured us a

copy and gave permission for its publication, which was delayed until

the present time. -EDITOR.]

Insofar as the first expedition of La Salle (1669) is con-

cerned, I do not think the Genesee is in any way involved. In

the map of old Cadwallader Colden there is no portage noted

between the waters of the Genesee and those of the Allegheny.

He was the most familiar of any man of his time (about 1720-

1740) with the topography of the entire country of the Iroquois.

He was the Surveyor General of that entire territory under the

English government, and was the best informed man in the coun-

try in regard to the topography and geography, not only of the

State of New York but of the regions as far west as the Mis-

sissippi and as far north as the lake country. He spent his

entire life in contact with the Indians. He was a learned, in-

dustrious and able man and devoted his entire time to official

duties, always in connection with Indian affairs. In the map

which he left, he noted all the carrying places of which he had

knowledge from the Hudson River as far west as Lake Michigan.

He makes no note of any portage between the waters of the

Genesee and the waters of the Allegheny. He notes a portage

between the Hudson River and Lake George; also between the

waters of the Mohawk River and Oneida Lake, the overflow


La Salle's Route Down the Ohio

La Salle's Route Down the Ohio.          383


waters of which lake go north into Lake Ontario at the present

city of Oswego; also the carrying places around Niagara Falls;

also between the waters of the Ottawa River and Lake Nipissing;

also between Chautauqua Lake and the waters of the Allegheny

River, which flows into the Ohio River; also between the waters

of the Maumee and the Wabash; also the carrying place be-

tween the head waters of the "St. Joseph of Lake Erie" and the

head waters of the Kankakee; also between the Kankakee at a

point much further west between the Kankakee and the "St.

Joseph of Lake Michigan," which was near the present city of

North Bend, Indiana. But no portage is noted between the

waters of the Genesee and the waters of the Allegheny, as before

stated. That the aborigines passed from one of these waters to

the other by many different trails, there is no doubt, but they

were trails rather than portages. The topography of that coun-

try would indicate that it would be a long distance from one of

these waters to the other at places where they had volume of

water sufficient to float a canoe. Colden was much in that

region, and if there had been a well known portage suitable for

La Salle's purpose, he would have known it and have noted it.

No man in his time had as thorough and accurate knowledge of

Indian routes of travel or of the geography and topography of

that region as himself.

In so far as the Genesee being connected with La Salle's

expedition, it may be dismissed from consideration, not only on

the grounds above stated, but for the insurmountable difficulties,

to which I will hereafter refer.

I had occasion some years ago to consider what route La

Salle did take at that time. Much of the confusion, and I might

say, all of the confusion that has arisen concerning the route

which he took has been caused by a narrative published by a

Frenchman whose name is unknown, entitled "Historie de

La Salle," which was evidently prepared and published after

the death of La Salle. That portion of the narrative which re-

lates to the route which La Salle took after parting with the

Sulpitian priests upon the upper waters of Grand River, which

took place at a point a short distance west from where the city

of Hamilton, Canada, now stands, was copied by Pierre Margry

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384      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


in the first volume of his "Discoveries" and has been given as

a foot note in Parkman's "La Salle," pages 22 and 23, of the

edition which I now have, (Little, Brown & Co, 1901). This

passage needs but slight examination to show that it was writ-

ten in entire ignorance of the geography of the country and long

after the "conversations," and it is worse than worthless as a

historical statement. But, bad as it is, it has been made still

worse by the use which has been made of it by subsequent

writers. It has had the effect of greatly confusing both readers

and writers, and has even lead Parkman into confusion, and his

confusion has extended to the reading world.

There is no obscurity and never has been about the route

taken from La Chine to the west end of Lake Ontario; that the

joint expedition of La Salle and the priests and the Seneca In-

dians was up the St. Lawrence and along the south shore of

Lake Ontario to a point between the Genesee and the Niagara,

probably not far from the mouth of the Genesee. A stop was

made opposite a Seneca village, which was a lay's journey from

the shores of Lake Ontario. As this was an important Seneca

village it is necessarily west of the Genesee and east of the

Niagara, for these were the limits of the Seneca country. The

expedition rested here while La Salle and Father Gallinee went

inland to the village with a view of procuring guides to the val-

ley of the Ohio. They were detained at the village for nearly

a month with the usual Indian diplomacy of delay, and at last

they not only failed of their purpose but found themselves in

considerable danger of personal violence. It would seem that

they were glad to escape from the Seneca country. La Salle,

however, procured an Indian of the Neutral nation, who

promised to guide him to his country, which was west of the

Niagara River and Lake Ontario. They proceeded west past

the mouth of the Niagara to the extreme upper end of Lake On-

tario and to a village of the Neutral tribe some few miles in-

land from where the city of Hamilton, Canada, now stands.

Here they met Joliet and his companion returning from the

northern lakes. The information which Joliet imparted to them

caused the separation of the Sulpitians from La Salle. The

history of the expedition thus far is all settled history; also the

La Salle's Route Down the Ohio

La Salle's Route Down the Ohio.          385


further expeditions of the priests until they returned to the St.

Lawrence is equally well settled.

But as to La Salle, here the confusion begins. This anony-

mous writer states that he went to Onondaga, and Parkman

leaves him there with the simple suggestion that he might have

been "More fortunate in procuring guides" at that place than

he had been at the Seneca village. The position in which he is

here left was an impossible one from which to reach the waters

of the Ohio by any waterway or succession of waterways. The

village of Onondaga was the most important one in the entire

Iroquois nation. Champlain's expedition against that important

stronghold in 1615 had made the name of that village known

throughout France, and there can be no uncertainty as to its

general location, although the exact location has not been, and

probably cannot be now certainly established. The consensus of

opinion is that it was somewhere not far distant from the loca-

tion of the present city of Syracuse. If this unfortunate passage

of this anonymous Frenchman was correct, then La Salle would

necessarily have to re-trace his way along the entire south shore

of Lake Ontario on the route over which he had just gone. The

distance would have been at least two hundred and fifty or more

miles. He could not have started on his return before the first

of October, because the separation with the priests occurred Sep-

tember 30th. The stormy season on the lakes would soon begin,

and this long journey would be next to impossible at that season

of the year with the light birch canoes with which La Salle was

equipped, besides the village of Onondaga was three or four, or

more, days journey inland. Their canoes could not be used.

But having arrived at Onondaga there was no possible passage

by water in the direction of the waters of the Allegheny. All

the waters between these two points flow either north into Lake

Ontario or south into the Susquehanna or Delaware. No rivers

or streams of any kind suitable for canoe navigation run east

and west between these two points, and the entire distance is

over the highlands of New York which divide the waters of the

north from the waters of the south. The position of Onondaga

was simply impossible at any season of the year for the portage

Vol. XIX. -25.

386 Ohio Arch

386      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


of canoes, and necessarily unfit for an expedition. At that

son of the year the highlands of New York are all deeply cov

with snow, and the journey they could not have made excel

snow shoes. A further difficulty would have been that

would have had to pass entirely through the countries bot

the Cayugas and the Senecas, and it would have been impos

to pass through either of these nations without discovery.

impossible to suppose that La Salle would undertake to pa

any way through the country of the Senecas who had so I

refused to allow him to pass, and from which he was gla

escape with his life. Further, it is impossible to suppose

La Salle, ardently seeking to reach the country of the (

would travel three hundred miles directly away from it. Fur

it is still more impossible to suppose that the "Shawnee gu

which he had procured at the Neutral village to pilot hi

the Ohio, would take him three or four hundred miles dir

opposite the course which he desired to travel and from

country which he desired to reach. For these and other rea

when I came to examine this question, I dismissed the w

matter as being entirely erroneous and worse than worthless

historical statement.

My own view and solution of it is that when the pr

parted with La Salle and descended the Grand River to

Erie and turned west, La Salle followed on the same r

as soon as he had reason to believe that the river was

of the priests, who intended to turn west along the north s

of Lake Erie, and that he coasted around the east end of

Erie past the head of Niagara River and on until he rea

a point opposite Chautauqua Lake. There was no other r

which he could have taken from the point where he wa

reach the waters of the Allegheny at that season of the

It was the shortest and most direct route to the country w

he wished to explore. The correct and literal translatio

this French narrative is as follows:

"La Salle continued his way (from the point wher

started with the priests) by a river which went from ea

west and past Ononatague then to six or seven leagues be

Lake Erie." As before seen, there was no river running

La Salle's Route Down the Ohio

La Salle's Route Down the Ohio.         387


east to west from Onondaga, and if there had been, the dis-

tance from there to "beyond Lake Erie" instead of being six

or seven leagues would have been more than one hundred

leagues. The "six or seven" leagues would nearly enough

describe the distance between Lake Erie and Lake Chautauqua,

but still more nearly the distance from the outlet of Lake Chau-

tauqua, to the Allegheny.

Another controlling fact in my mind is that La Salle re-

ceived a gift or present before parting with the priests of a

Shawnee who was held captive by the Onondagas at that point;

which, it seems, La Salle was greatly gratified to receive, and

well he might be as no better guide could have been found any-

where than a Shawnee whose home was in the Ohio country,

and of which he necessarily had knowledge and would be the

best guide which could possibly have been procured. It is

absurd to suppose that a Shawnee Indian acting as a guide

to the Ohio country would go directly away from the country

which he had wished to reach. This Shawnee liberated from

captivity and presented to La Salle for a guide would surely

be glad to act as such and to pilot La Salle in the direction

which he wished to go.

It may be further assured without a shadow of doubt,

that he knew the best route and that he took the best route.

The Indians always knew the best route in any country over

which they roamed, and the Chautauqua route was certainly

the best from the point where his office as guide began to the

Ohio country. To my mind it is not only entirely probable,

but certain, that La Salle in the "conversations" gave the anony-

mous writer some other name than Onondaga and that the nar-

rator's memory was at fault as to the name or location men-

tioned by La Salle, and this forgetfulness has lead to the con-

fusion. The narrator says (literal translation) that La Salle

"continued his way by a river which went from east to west."

A recent writer has undertaken to make this passage read "up

a river," and to apply it to the Maumee, which is entirely with-

out warrant or authority. La Salle was on the upper waters

of the Grand River a short distance west from the head of

Lake Ontario when the priests parted from him and proceeded

388 Ohio Arch

388      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

to Lake Erie by way of that river. I do not deem it of the

slightest importance that the narrator may have said that the

river by which he proceeded ran east and west or from north

to south, or in any other direction, for there is nothing more

easily forgotten or to be mistaken about than statements ver-

bally made in respect to directions and -distances, but the fact

is that at the point where La Salle was on Grand River the

course is from east to west for a considerable distance before

turning to the south in its course to Lake Erie. If we reject

Onondaga as being a. mistake in the recollection of the nar-

rator and accept the language "continued his way by a river"

(that is by way of a river), and that the six or seven leagues

beyond Lake Erie described a country between Lake Chau-

tauqua and the Allegheny, we have not only a rational, natural,

but, as I think, the correct route over which La Salle passed

in the autumn of 1669.

In Volume 12, of the Ohio State Archaeological and His-

torical publications, Mr. Charles E. Slocum has a paper on

"La Salle." In this paper he quotes the passage contained

in Margry correctly enough but then he proceeds to give it

what he terms a "very liberal" translation, and then states that

"this is necessary to make it intelligible." He then gives his

"very liberal translation" found on page 108 of the above

named volume.   I think this translation is entirely misleading

and an actual perversion of the original text, and, I think, the

worst attempt at translation that I have ever seen. For in-

stance, where the original text reads thus, "continued his way

by a river which went from east to west and passed to Onona-

tague," the translator has converted that into "continued his

way with Onondaga (aborigine, as guide) up a river (the Mau-

mee river) sixty leagues beyond Lake Erie."  Thus the plain

words of the text "by a river and past to Onondaga six or

seven leagues beyond Lake Erie," he converted into "con-

tinued on his way with the Onondaga" (whom he gratuitously

assumes to be the Shawnee guide), "and up the river" which

he also assumes to be the Maumee river "sixty leagues beyond

Lake Erie," when the plain text is that it was six or seven

leagues. This is an entire perversion of anything that may

La Salle's Route Down the Ohio

La Salle's Route Down the Ohio.        389


legitimately be claimed from the text whether the text be faulty

or not. It is interesting to observe that he converts the word

"Onondaga" into the name of the Shawnee guide, and thus gets

rid of the embarrassment which the word caused in the original

text. The idea of applying the word "Onondaga" to a Shawnee

guide is certainly original, and certainly without support even

by suggestion in-so-far as I have ever seen or heard. The idea is

entirely original with Mr. Slocum and seems to have been made

arbitrarily and wholly without foundation or support. "Onon-

daga" is an Iroquois name and the Shawnees were at enmity

to the Iroquois as far back as we have any traditions. But this

is not the worst. The original text of the anonymous writer

is "passed to Onondaga." That is the correct rendering of the

original text, but Mr. Slocum has given it this rendering, "con-

tinued his way with Onondaga, the Shawnee guide." We need

nothing but want of accurate information in the original writer

to explain the text. He was probably doing the best he could

to narrate what La Salle said to him in the "conversation," and

to my mind it is easily explained, as before suggested, that the

writer did not correctly remember the name indicated by La

Salle. At that time the Niagara River was known among the

inhabitants as "Ohnghiara" and this might easily be converted

into "Onondaga" or any other name or place by want of under-

standing on the part of the narrator.

But this is not the greatest violence which Mr. Slocum has

done in the translation of the original text. He has voluntarily

ventured to substitute names and places which are not indicated

in the original text. He substitutes the Maumee as the river

"up which La Salle passed," forgetting that it would seem that

at that time and for a considerable time afterward, the Ohio

was called "Quabache," which was long subsequently applied

only to the river Wabash. Another spelling of the name of

the Ohio, as has been left us by the original explorers, was

"Aaboukingon" so that the original text, even if correctly trans-

lated, would not mean the present Wabash, but would mean

the Ohio, and the effort of Mr. Slocum to transfer the route of

La Salle to the Maumee and the Wabash in reaching the Ohio

390 Ohio Arch

390      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


river must necessarily fail, - notwithstanding the arbitrary

manner in which Mr. Slocum has seen fit to declare it.

Another infirmity which appears right on the face of the

text is in regard to the statement that La Salle's people deserted

him, "twenty-three or four in number" - while the fact is that

La Salle had four canoes on this expedition and seven men,

making, with La Salle and the priest, twenty-four men. Now,

the text says that his men all deserted him "twenty-three or four

in number," while it is entirely certain that the two priests and

seven men parted with La Salle on the head waters of La Grand

river, leaving him with but fifteen men, leaving this as the num-

ber which could have possibly have deserted. It is probable that

a few of his men did desert him at that point, and there is some

authority for that, but that there was any general desertion

cannot be true, otherwise his expedition would have ended at

that place. Mr. Slocum has added to this romance of desertion

by adding to the twenty-three or four men, "including the Shaw-

nee guide." There is no suggestion anywhere that we are aware

of to sustain this statement outside of Mr. Slocum's assertion.

Mr. Slocum further leaves the point at which the desertion took

place "all in one night, somewhere beyond the Maumee in the

wilds of northern Indiana." He further says that some of the

men deserted to the Hollanders and others to New England.

From the point where he necessarily leaves the desertion it was

at least eight hundred miles to the Hollanders on the Hudson,

and twelve hundred or more miles to the New England settle-

ment. The whole story of the desertion en masse, as given in

the original text, and very much enlarged upon by Mr. Slocum,

is necessarily an error, and the whole story of wholesale deser-

tion must be taken with every allowance as to correctness. The

whole life and character of La Salle is a most positive contra-

diction that any such desertion could have taken place at any

time in his whole strenuous career. He was by nature and habit

a leader of men and one whom inferior men instinctively obeyed.

I think the whole confusion arises from the fact that ten years

later, when he first reached the Illinois country and established

the Fort Recuvier, on the Illinois River, from which he re-

turned to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence, leaving his lieu-

La Salle's Route Down the Ohio

La Salle's Route Down the Ohio.         391


tenant, Tonti, in command, there was a desertion from that

fort, but in La Salle's absence. The whole matter has been

jumbled up together in a very singular manner, as would natur-

ally be the case in a man trying to remember conversations

which occurred many years before, and about locations and places

of which he had no knowledge.

To have reached the Maumee, as Mr. Slocum insists, La

Salle would have to pass by: first, the Lake Chautauqua route;

second, the Cuyahoga and Muskingum route; the Sandusky and

Scioto River routes, all before reaching the Maumee. It can-

not be supposed that he could have passed all these ways to the

country which he wished to reach and have gone on to the

Maumee and Wabash route to reach the Ohio River. Either

of the three routes first mentioned were as easy and more direct

to the country which he desired to visit than the Maumee and

Wabash route, which would have carried him to the very south-

west corner of the State of Indiana and far beyond what was

known to him to be the Ohio country. The interpolation of the

Maumee and Wabash, and of "Little River," which was a

branch of the Wabash, are all not only gratuitous and entirely

voluntary, but also misleading.

My own conclusion is, after giving the matter the most careful

consideration that I could, that La Salle, after parting with the

priests on Grand River, followed the course of that stream to

Lake Erie that passed the head of Niagara (Ohnghiara) thence

along the south side of Lake Erie to Chautauqua Lake, thence

to the waters of the Allegheny and the Ohio. This was surely

the best and by far the most direct route to the country of the

Ohio, or its headwaters, and precisely where he desired to go.

If you will examine Mr. Slocum's paper in Volume 12,

above cited, you will see that he attempts to support his

theory by a further letter without date.  An analysis of

that letter will show that it furnishes no support whatever to

Mr. Slocum's theory. All that letter means is that the Maumee

and the Wabash furnished a way to the Ohio; a matter which

was never in dispute. But as for confirming the theory that La

Salle sought to reach the Ohio by this route, the letter, quoted

by Dr. Slocum on page III, furnishes no support whatever to

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392      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


the theory that La Salle sought the Ohio or passed to that river

over the Maumee and Wabash rivers. An examination of this

last letter shows the facility with which Slocum could twist

things to suit his own theory. The letter which he quotes shows

that the river which he was following-if it shows anything-

"and five or six others quite as large and flowing with great

rapidity along the declivity of a mountain, (higher ground) and

discharges into the Illinois (Ohio)." It is diverting to see with

what easy facility Mr. Slocum reduces the "declivity of a moun-

tain" to "higher ground" and transposed the "lake," which was

undoubtedly Chautauqua in New York State, into a swamp in

northern Indiana. It was this article of Mr. Slocum's which

lead me two or three years ago to examine into the route which

La Salle actually took.

Mr. Slocum also mentions a "swamp" somewhere west or

north of Fort Wayne, which he says at that time discharged

quite a column of water. Now, the fact is that the carrying

place from the Maumee to Little River is a dry and excellent

carrying place, and there are no mountains in Northern Indiana,

and never has been, while the country between the outlet of

Lake Chautauqua and the Allegheny was suitable for the de-

scription of the country which is described in the original text.

It was a rough and even mountainous country and the waters and

streams flowed with great rapidity which accords fully with the

description given in the text. You will see by looking at the

end of my article in Volume 14, page 394, publications of this

Society, there is a description of that carrying place, written by

General Hamilton, of the English army, which entirely negatives

the impression which Mr. Slocum's article gives.

There are many other reasons why La Salle did not at-

tempt to reach the Ohio by that route, and many more reasons

which I could give why he should adopt the Chautauqua and

Allegheny route to the Ohio.