On February 27, 1699, Iberville and Bienville reached the Mississippi. When they approached its mouth they were struck with the gloomy magnificence of the sight. As far as the eye could reach, nothing was to be seen but reeds which rose five or six feet above the waters in which they bathed their roots. They waved mournfully under the blast of the sharp wind of the north, shivering in its icy grasp, as it tumbled, rolled, and gambolled on the pliant surface. Multitudes of birds of strange appearance, with their elongated shapes so lean that they looked like metamorphosed ghosts, clothed in plumage, screamed in the air, as if they were scared of one another. There was something agonizing in their shrieks that was in harmony with the desolation of the place. On every side of the vessel, monsters of the deep and huge alligators heaved themselves up heavily from their native or favorite element, and, floating lazily on the turbid waters, seemed to gaze at the intruders. . . .
It was a relief for the adventurers when, after having toiled up the river for ten days, they at last arrived at the village of the Bayagoulas. There they found a letter of Tonty to La Salle, dated in 1685. The letter, or rather that "speaking bark" as the Indians called it, had been preserved with great reverence. Tonty, having been informed that La Salle was coming with a fleet from France to settle a colony on the banks of the Mississippi, had not hesitated to set off from the northern lakes, with twenty Canadians and thirty Indians, and to come down to the Balize to meet his friend, who had failed to make out the mouth of the Mississippi, and had been landed by Beaujeu on the shores of Texas. After having waited for some time, and ignorant of what had happened, Tonty, with the same indifference to fatigues and dangers of an appalling nature, retraced his way back, leaving a letter to La Salle to inform him of his disappointment. Is there not something extremely romantic in the characters of the men of that epoch? Here is Tonty undertaking, with the most heroic unconcern, a journey of nearly three thousand miles, through such difficulties as it is easy for us to imagine, and leaving a letter to La Salle, as a proof of his visit, in the same way that one would, in these degenerate days of effeminacy, leave a card at a neighbor's house.
The French extended their explorations up to the mouth of the Red River. On their return the two brothers separated when they arrived at Bayou Manchac. Bienville was ordered to go down the river to the French fleet, to give information of what they had seen and heard. Iberville went through Bayou Manchac to those lakes which are known under the names of Pontchartrain and Maurepas. Louisiana had been named from a king: was it not in keeping that those lakes should be called after ministers?
From the Bay of St. Louis, Iberville returned to his fleet, where, after consultation, he determined to make a settlement at the Bay of Biloxi. On the east side, at the mouth of the bay, as it were, there is a slight swelling of the shore, about four acres square, sloping gently to the woods in the background, and on the bay. Thus this position was fortified by nature, and the French skilfully availed themselves of these advantages. The weakest point, which was on the side of the forest, they strengthened with more care than the rest, by connecting with a strong intrenchment the two ravines, which ran to the bay in a parallel line to each other. The fort was constructed with four bastions, and was armed with twelve pieces of artillery. . . .
A few huts having been erected round the fort, the settlers began to clear the land in order to bring it into cultivation. Iberville having furnished them with all the necessary provisions, utensils, and other supplies, prepared to sail for France. . . . As The country had been ordered to be explored, Sauvolle availed himself of that circumstance, to refresh the minds of his men by the excitement of an expedition into the interior of the continent. He therefore hastened to dispatch most of them with Bienville, who, with a chief of the Bayagoulas for his guide, went to visit the Colapissas. They inhabited the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, and their domains embraced the sites now occupied by Lewisburg, Mandeville, and Fontainebleau. . .
Iberville had been gone for several months, and the year was drawing to a close without any tidings of him. A deeper gloom had settled over the little colony at Biloxi, when, on December 7th, some signal-guns were heard at sea, and the grateful sound came booming over the waters, spreading joy in every breast. . . . It was Iberville returning with the news that, on his representations, Sauvolle had been appointed by the King governor of Louisiana; Bienville, lieutenant-governor; and Boisbriant, commander of the fort at Biloxi, with the grade of major. Iberville, having been informed by Bienville of the attempt of the English to make a settlement on the banks of the Mississippi, and of the manner in which it had been foiled, resolved to take precautionary measures against the repetition of any similar attempt. Without loss of time he departed with Bienville, on January 16, 1700, and running up the river, he constructed a small fort, on the first solid ground which he met, and which is said to have been at a distance of fifty-four miles from its mouth.
When so engaged the two brothers one day saw a canoe rapidly sweeping down the river and approaching the spot where they stood. It was occupied by eight men, six of whom were rowers, the seventh was the steersman, and the eighth, from his appearance, was evidently of a superior order to that of his companions, and the commander of the party. Well may it be imagined what greeting the stranger received, when leaping on shore he made himself known as the Chevalier de Tonty, who had again heard of the establishment of a colony in Louisiana, and who, for the second time, had come to see if there was any truth in the report. With what emotion did Iberville and Bienville fold in their arms the faithful companion and friend of La Salle, of whom they had heard so many wonderful tales from the Indians, to whom he was so well known under the name of "Iron Hand!" With what admiration they looked at his person, and with what increasing interest they listened to his long recitals of what he had done and had seen on that broad continent, the threshold of which they had hardly passed!
After having rested three days at the fort, the indefatigable Tonty reascended the Mississippi, with Iberville and Bienville, and finally parted with them at Natchez. Iberville was so much pleased with that part of the bank of the river where now exists the city of Natchez that he marked it down as a most eligible spot for a town, of which he drew the plan, and which he called Rosalie, after the maiden name of the Countess Pontchartrain, the wife of the chancellor. He then returned to the new fort he was erecting on the Mississippi, and Bienville went to explore the country of the Yatasses, of the Natchitoches, and of the Ouachitas. What romance can be more agreeable to the imagination than to accompany Iberville and Bienville in their wild explorations, and to compare the state of the country in their time with what it is in our days?
After these explorations Iberville departed again for France, to solicit additional assistance from the government, and left Bienville in command of the new fort on the Mississippi. It was very hard for the two brothers, Sauvolle and Bienville, to be thus separated, when they stood so much in need of each other's countenance, to breast the difficulties that sprung up around them with a luxuriance which they seemed to borrow from the vegetation of the country. The distance between the Mississippi and Biloxi was not so easily overcome in those days as in ours, and the means which the two brothers had of communing together were very scanty and uncertain.
Sauvolle died August 22, 1701, and Louisiana remained under the sole charge of Bienville, who, tho very young, was fully equal to meet that emergency, by the maturity of his mind and by his other qualifications. He had hardly consigned his brother to the tomb when Iberville returned with two ships of the line and a brig laden with troops and provisions.
According to Iberville's orders, and in conformity with the King's instructions, Bienville left Boisbriant, his cousin, with twenty men, at the old fort of Biloxi, and transported the principal seat of the colony to the western side of the river Mobile, not far from the spot where now stands the city of Mobile. Near the mouth of that river there is an island, which the French had called Massacre Island from the great quantity of human bones which they found bleaching on its shores. It was evident that there some awful tragedy had been acted; but Tradition, when interrogated, laid her choppy fingers upon her skinny lips, and answered not. . . .
The year 1703 slowly rolled by and gave way to 1704. Still, nothing was heard from the parent country. There seemed to be an impassable barrier between the old and the new continent. The milk which flowed from the motherly breast of France could no longer reach the parched lips of her new-born infant; and famine began to pinch the colonists, who scattered themselves all along the coast, to live by fishing. They were reduced to the veriest extremity of misery, and despair had settled in every bosom, in spite of the encouragements of Bienville, who displayed the most manly fortitude amid all the trials to which he was subjected. . . .
Iberville had not been able to redeem his pledge to the poor colonists, but he sent his brother Chateaugué in his place, at the imminent risk of being captured by the English, who occupied, at that time, most of the avenues of the Gulf of Mexico. He was not the man to spare either himself or his family in cases of emergency, and his heroic soul was inured to such sacrifices. Grateful the colonists were for this act of devotedness, and they resumed the occupation of their tenements which they had abandoned in search of food. The aspect of things was suddenly changed; abundance and hope reappeared in the land, whose population was increased by the arrival of seventeen persons, who came, under the guidance of Chateaugué, with the intention of making a permanent settlement, and who had provided themselves with all the implements of husbandry.
This excitement had hardly subsided when it was revived by the appearance of another ship, and it became intense when the inhabitants saw a procession of twenty females, with veiled faces, proceeding arm in arm, and two by two, to the house of the Governor, who received them in state and provided them with suitable lodgings. What did it mean? The next morning, which was Sunday, the mystery was cleared by the officiating priest reading from the pulpit, after mass, and for the general information, the following communication from the minister to Bienville:
"His majesty sends twenty girls to be married to the Canadians and to the other inhabitants of Mobile, in order to consolidate the colony. All these girls are industrious and have received a pious and virtuous education. You will take care to settle them in life as well as may be in your power, and to marry them to such men as are capable of providing them with a commodious home."
Many were the gibes and high was the glee on that occasion; pointed were the jokes aimed at young Bienville on his being thus transformed into a matrimonial agent and pater familiæ. The intentions of the King, however, were faithfully executed, and more than one rough but honest Canadian boatman of the St. Lawrence and of the Mississippi closed his adventurous and erratic career and became a domestic and useful member of that little commonwealth, under the watchful influence of the dark-eyed maid of the Loire or of the Seine.
1From Gayarré's "History of Louisiana" (1847). La Salle's expedition to the mouth of the Mississippi, when he took possession of the country in the name of the King of France, had taken place in 1682. Louis XIV in 1689 sent out an expedition to colonize the lower Mississippi. It comprized about two hundred men and was commanded by Sieur d'Iberville. Among his companions were two brothers, one of whom, Sieur de Bienville, was the real founder of New Orleans, and long served as Governor of Louisiana. Gayarré describes the arrival and experiences of these brothers.
Gayarré lived in New Orleans. He began to practise law there in 1830, and afterward served as reporter of the State Supreme Court. He died in 1895.
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