Stories from Illinois History
LA SALLE AND TONTY
By PHYLLIS CONNOLLY
A tall, slender young man restlessly paced
the deck of the tiny sailing ship. His clear
blue eyes seemed to see beyond the gray mist
that hovered over the sea. This man was a
dreamer. As he strode back and forth, he was
slowly working out a plan—a plan as mighty
as the sea which surged beneath the ship.
Before him lay a vast continent. His native
France had already established settlements
along the St. Lawrence River in the northern
territory called New France. To the south
the enemy nations, Great Britain and Spain,
had founded colonies. To the west lay the in-
terior, unexplored and unclaimed. Awaiting
the nation that seized and held the West was
a fortune in fur, a chance to build a mighty
empire. But the King of France had little
interest in the New World; the riches of
Europe tempted him far more. Someone must
carve an empire from the forests and streams
of the North American wilderness and pre-
sent it to Louis XIV. "And I am the one who
shall do it," thought the young man, as the
wooden ship creaked in the wind. It was an
ambitious task, but the Sieur de La Salle was
confident of success.
Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was
born in Rouen, France, in 1643. When, at the
age of twenty-three, Robert found himself
penniless, he set out for Canada, there to seek
fortune for himself and glory for France.
During his first two years in the colony he
lived the hard life of a pioneer farmer. None-
theless he could not forget his dreams of
empire. In the winter of 1668-69, two Iroquois
warriors visited La Salle. They described the
rushing waters and rolling hills of the West,
the land not yet claimed for the lilies of
France or the lion of England. La Salle could
be still no longer. He sold his estate and, in
the company of two missionaries, left Mont-
real on July 6, 1669, to see the West for
himself. Where he went, or exactly how long
he was gone is not known.
Dreamer of empire: the Sieur de La Salle.
Henri de Tonty: the man with the iron hand.