Calhoun County

1934 History of Calhoun County

Chapter 2 ~ Early Explorers


The first white men to visit the soil now incorporated in the boundary of Calhoun County were Father Marquette, Louis Joliet, and their companions. Their expedition crossed what is now the state of Wisconsin early in the summer of 1673. On June 17, they reached the mouth of the Wisconsin River and started down the Mississippi. The main purpose of the trip was to determine whether the river emptied into the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean. They continued down the river and may have stopped on the western side of what is now Calhoun County, but if they did, they made no note of it in their journals. On the 17th day of July, they reached the mouth of the Arkansas River, and here they learned from the Indians that the Mississippi flowed into the Gulf of Mexico. They then started back but found traveling difficult because of the current of the river.


Both Marquette and Joliet kept a diary on the trip, but most of writings of Joliet were lost when one of the canoes was overturned. The diary of Marquette, part of which is written in French and part in Latin, has been preserved and from it we get much valuable information concerning the landings of the party. The town of Grafton, in Jersey County, has erected a statue, just above the town, to mark the place where Marquette and Joliet are supposed to have landed. They base their claims upon the fact that Marquette mentions that they entered the mouth of the Illinois River early in the morning, which would mean that the party had camped somewhere below the mouth during the previous evening. The territory about Grafton is high and a desirable place to camp, while the land opposite, on the Missouri side is low and swampy and would have made an undesirable camping place.


The next place marked by local historians as a stopping point of the expedition is a place now called "Perrin's Ledge", located several miles above Kampsville. Their claims seem to be much better supported by facts than those claims relating to the previous stop in the Grafton region. From Marquette's diary we get several facts of importance. He says: "We entered the mouth of the Illinois River very early in the morning", and further on he says: "We spent the night with some friendly Indians." From other parts of the diary we find that the party was traveling about twenty-five miles a day up the Mississippi River, but it is likely that they made better time on the Illinois River because there would be less current. If they were traveling at a rate of slightly better than twenty-five miles a day and entered the river early in the morning (this was the last week in August) they would have been in the Kampsville neighborhood by evening.

At the place now called "Perrin's Ledge" several large Indian mounds are to be found and the first settlers in this part of the county found evidences to show that a small Indian village had been located here. Again the place marked by the monument is much better as a camping place than the opposite side of the river. Here at the ledge, the bluff is very near to the water and the rocks project themselves in such a manner that they can be seen for miles down the river. From a distance they have the appearance of the walls of a castle. There can be little doubt that it was at this place that the Marquette-Joliet party stopped for the night.


The visit of LaSalle and his party of explorers to the southern part of the county in the fall of 1680 has already been mentioned. Thus Calhoun can claim the distinction of being visited by three of the most famous of French Explorers in America.


About 1800 a Federal Government Expedition passed through the county, exploring and surveying. Some of the men were so impressed with the land lying between the two rivers, that they later returned to make it their permanent home.

Major Stephen H. Long, on a trip down the Mississippi River in August, 1817, said he "took an excursion across the peninsula" and reported to the government the number of settlements that he found.

Extracted 20 May 2017 by Norma Hass from History of Calhoun County, pages 9-10.

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