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Porter, Peter A / Niagara An Aboriginal Center of Trade
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An Aboriginal Center of Trade



Niagara Falls

Peter A. Porter,


The printed story of Niagara dates back only three centuries; and
during the first three decades of even that period the references to
this wonderful handiwork of Nature--which was located in a then
unexplored region of a New World, a Continent then inhabited only by
warring tribes of superstitious Savages--are few and far between.

Three facts relating to this locality--and three only--seem to be
proven as ante-dating the commencement of that printed story.

That its "Portage" had long been in use.

That it was then, and long had been, a spot for the annual assemblage
of the Indians "for trade."

That here, and here only, was found a certain substance which the
Aborigines had long regarded as a cure for many human ills.

Before 1600, everything else that we think we know, and like to quote
about Niagara, is only Indian Myth or Tradition; possibly handed down
for Ages, orally, from generation to generation, amongst the
Aborigines; or, quite as probable, it is the invention of some Indian
or White man Mythologist of recent times; the presumption in favor of
the latter being strengthened, when no mention of the legend, not even
the slightest reference thereto, is to be found in any of the writings
of any of the authors, who (either through personal visits to the
Tribes living comparatively near to the Cataract, or from narrations
told to them by Indians living elsewhere on this Continent) had learnt
their facts at first hand, and had then duly recorded them,--until long
after the beginning of the eighteenth Century.

It is probably to the latter class--modern traditions--even with all
their plausibilities, based upon the superstitious and stoical nature
of the Aborigines--that several of the best-known Legends concerning
Niagara belong.

Three of those legends, especially, appeal to the imagination. One
relates to Worship, one to Healing, one to Burial,--embracing the
Deity, Disease, and Death.

The Legend of Worship is the inhuman yet fascinating one that the
Onguiaahras (one of the earliest-known orthographies of the word
Niagara), who were a branch of the Neutrals, and dwelt in the immediate
vicinity of the Great Fall--and, according to Indian custom, took their
name from the chief physical feature of their territory--long followed
the custom of annually sacrificing to the Great Spirit "the fairest
maiden of the Tribe"; sending her, alive, over the Falls in a white
canoe (which was decked with fruits and flowers, and steered by her own
hand) as a special offering to the Deity for tribal favor, and for
protection against its more numerous and more powerful foes.

And that, at the time of this annual Sacrifice, the tribes from far
and near assembled at Niagara, there to worship the Great Spirit. If
this Legend is based on fact, it would certainly have made the
locality a famous place of annual rendezvous; and at such a
rendezvous the opportunities for the exchange of many and varied
commodities--"trade"--would surely not have been neglected.

The Legend of Healing is, that anyone, Brave or Squaw, if ill, would
quickly be restored to perfect health could they but reach the base of
the Falls, go in behind the sheet of falling waters,--entering, as it
were, the abode of the Great Spirit,--and, on emerging therefrom, be
able to behold a complete circular Rainbow--which should symbolize the
Deity's absolute promise of restoration to perfect health.


Of course, it was the difficulty and danger of descending
into the Gorge, and of scaling the face of the cliff in
returning--accomplishable in those days only by means of vines which
clung to the rocks, or by crude ladders (formed of long trunks of
trees, from which all branches had been lopped off about a foot from
the trunk, and set upright, close to the face of the cliff)--that lends
any plausibility to the legend.

The Legend of Burial was, that Goat Island was specially reserved as a
burying-ground for famous chiefs and noted warriors.

If this Legend was founded on fact, it certainly would have made
Niagara at that time one of the best known and most frequented spots on
the Continent; and at each visit for such burial, trade would doubtless
have been carried on.


It is possible to-day, as it most certainly was in those traditional
days, to behold a complete circular Rainbow at Niagara; generally, only
when one is out in front of the falling waters, close to the spray,
near the level of the river in the Gorge; always with the Sun at one's
back--and the Sun must shine brightly, and the Mist must be plentiful.

It is possible to see a complete circular Rainbow anywhere, on land or
water, whenever one stands between the Sun and a sufficiently abundant
mist (standing close to the latter), and the Sun is near the horizon.

It is possible to see it, at some point at Niagara, often,--that is on
every bright day,--because that abundant curtain of mist is ever
present; and the Gorge, by reason of its great width and depth, affords
specially favorable opportunities.

This curious phenomenon is obtainable easily and regularly only in the
Gorge at the Goat Island end of the American Fall, from the rocks in
front of the Cave of the Winds (for the prevailing winds of the
locality are from the southwest, which bring the spray cloud into the
best relative position at this point), or from the deck of the
steamboat, at certain parts of the trip,--and from both only in the

It can sometimes be seen from Prospect Point, and from the Terrapin
Rocks--in the early morning, when the spray-cloud rises towards the

It can also, sometimes (at the season when the Sun sets farthest to the
northward), be seen from the rocks out in front of the American Fall,
below Prospect Point.

This was the spot where the Aborigines would most easily have tested
the efficacy of the Legend; for their descent into the Gorge was made
at a point on the American shore, not so very far north from the end of
that Fall.

When white men first settled near the Cataract, in the first decade of
the 19th Century, the location of the "Indian Ladder" was amongst the
present overflows from the mills of the Lower Milling district. That,
by reason of the "debris slope" of the Gorge being highest at that
point, had doubtless been its location for ages.

The fact that, even at the most accessible (and that by no means easily
reached) end of the Fall in the Gorge, the entire conditions of the
Legend could so rarely be fully complied with, would have been to the
unscientific minds of the Savages only an additional incentive to a
firmer belief in it.

It is also observable from the rocks beyond and below Terrapin Point,
on the Goat Island side of the Horse-Shoe Fall; but the climb out to
that point is both arduous and dangerous, and is very rarely attempted.

No such phenomenon can be seen from the Canadian shore, because there
are no rocks out in front of that end of the Horse-Shoe Fall on which
one can stand.

Were one to stand upon the apex of the Rock of Ages, or on the apex of
any other high rock at the base of the Fall, at noon, when the sky was
clear above, and the currents of air happened to surround the base of
that rock on all sides with spray, as one turned completely around one
would be in the center of a complete circular Rainbow--which would be
below the level of the feet--and of which one would see but the half at
any portion of the turn.

At Niagara, when one gazes on a complete circular bow, as seen against
the perpendicular curtain of spray, the center of the circle will
always be lower than the point where one is standing. This is
necessarily so, from the very nature of things,--because the Sun, one's
head, and the center of that circle must be in a line.

When the point of observation is high enough, and the spray-cloud
spreads out extensively enough, it is possible to see two concentric,
complete Rainbows at one time. In fact, one does often see a portion of
the arc of such a second bow; but three complete concentric bows, or
three arcs of bows, are never seen at Niagara, nor anywhere else.

George William Curtis, in "Lotus Eating," records,--

"There [at the Cave of the Winds], at sunset, and there only, you
may see three circular rainbows, one within another,"--

He does not say, "complete circles"; he doubtless meant "arcs." He does
not say he saw them; so in the absence of a more definite statement, it
was certainly merely hearsay to which he referred.

John R. Barlow, who has been a guide at the Cave of the Winds for over
thirty years, says that on numerous occasions during that period he has
seen two complete circular Rainbows at one time, at that point. He
observed it twice, and only twice, in 1905.

In 1872, Professor Tyndall, with Barlow as his guide, made an
exhaustive study of the Goat Island ends of the American and Horse-Shoe
Falls. As he was gazing at a complete Rainbow circle, Barlow told him
that he had sometimes seen two complete concentric bows at one time.
"That is possible," replied Tyndall.

"And I have heard people say they have seen three such bows; though I
myself have never seen the third," said Barlow.

"Because it is an impossibility," answered Tyndall. "The second bow is
merely the reflexion of the first. A third bow would be a shadow of a
shadow; and no one can see that."

Had this Legend of Healing been found recorded in any of the early
chronicles, it would have been the earliest known reference to Niagara
in its relation to Medicine; and would have associated the Cataract
therewith long, long before the advent of the white man.

But, alas! it is not so found; and no trace of it can be met with,
until a very recent date. It has so much the appearance of a
made-to-order story, such a specially-prepared-to-fit-the-locality
aspect, it savors so strongly of an attempt to make the early Indian
Mythology conform to the Christian story of the "Bow of Promise," that
its Aboriginal authenticity may well be doubted.


We do not know, and we never shall know, the name of the first white
man who gazed upon the Cataract of Niagara; that marvelous spot, the
scenic wonder of the World, that glory of Nature, which has been
referred to as "The Emblem of God's Majesty on Earth,"--where, in the
words of Father Hennepin, in 1697,--

"Betwixt the lakes Erie and Ontario, is a great and prodigious
cadence of water, which falls down after a surprising and
astonishing manner; insomuch that the Universe itself does not
afford its parallel."

Which description, even to-day, two Centuries later, stands out as the
most impressive, as well as the quaintest, brief mention of Niagara
that was ever penned. And Father Hennepin also gave to the World, in
the same volume, the first known picture of Niagara.

It was unquestionably a Frenchman who first, through pale-face eyes,
saw the great Cataract; and it was later than 1608, the year when the
ancient City of Quebec was founded, and white men first settled in the
northern part of this Continent.

Possibly, though improbably, he may have been one of those holy men,
Priests of the Catholic Church, who devoted their learning, their
strength, and their years to the cause of their Maker; who daily risked
their lives, as alone they braved the hardships and the sufferings of
long journeys through pathless forests, and who encountered the fury of
unknown savages, as they carried the Gospel to Tribes who dwelt along
the shores of mighty waters, in a vast and an unexplored wilderness;
and tried, though in vain, to lead those strange peoples to the Ways of


It is more likely to have been one of those fearless and hardy men, one
of the earliest members of what later became a distinct class--the
Coureurs de Bois, or Woodsmen--a class founded by Champlain; on a
correct principle for commercial intercourse and the extension of
sovereignty, under conditions as they then and there existed (but
probably without any full appreciation of the important and prominent
part it was destined, later, to play in the development of New France);
when, in 1610, he gave a young Frenchman, Etienne Brule, to the
Algonquin chief Iroquet; who, in appreciation of Champlain's
confidence, gave him a young savage named Savignon, as a pledge of
future friendship.

Brule was the first Frenchman known to have joined the savages, to
become one of them, and adopt their manner of life. He spent years
amongst them, was a woodsman or trader, learnt their languages, was
Champlain's personal interpreter among the various tribes, and was
often sent as Ambassador from the French at Quebec to savage Nations.

Beloved and trusted by the Indians for years, traveling all over the
Northwest, claiming to have discovered Lake Superior, and a copper mine
on its shores (in proof of which he brought back samples of that metal
to Quebec), he was finally tortured, put to death, and eaten by the

By reason of his acquaintance with many tribes, of his occupation, and
of his travels, there is no one who is more likely to be entitled to
the distinction of having been the first of the white man's race to
behold Niagara than this same Etienne Brule.

From his intimacy with Champlain, he must have known--what Champlain
knew and had recorded--of the existence of such a waterfall; indeed, it
is by no means improbable that many of the details of Champlain's maps
(especially those relating to regions which Champlain never saw, but
which Brule did visit) were drawn from the latter's descriptions.

From his intimacy with Iroquet--Brule spent the better part of eight
years in his Country and in that of his allies; being the territory
lying to the north of Lake Ontario--he must have known what Iroquet
knew of the location of such a waterfall (which was only about 150
miles from the center of his territory, and a journey of that distance
was of small moment to the Indians of those days); and when Iroquet
went to it as a "trading place," Brule doubtless accompanied him.

It must also be remembered that it was this same chief, Iroquet, who
later confirmed to Father Daillon the renown of "the great River of the
Neutrals"--that is the Niagara--as a Center of Trade; whose location he
knew well, but refused to divulge to the Priest.

Knowing of such a wonderful waterfall's existence, and its general
location; being a "trader," and Niagara being even then a well-known
Center of Trade, the probabilities are that Brule visited it at a very
early date.


But, while white men were no doubt at Niagara early in the 17th
Century--possibly as early as 1611--and while we know that Traders and
Priests were in its immediate vicinity at various times prior to 1669;
and while we have good reason to believe, that in that latter year
LaSalle himself explored the whole of the Niagara Frontier; yet it is
not until 1678 that we have any positive record of any visit, nor any
description of the Cataract by a man who claimed to have actually seen

Father Hennepin's first work, "Louisiana," published in 1681, tells of
that first recorded visit, and gives the first description of Niagara
by an eye-witness.

At the time when that first unnamed white man saw the Cataract the
Indians had, and firmly believed in, at least one positive tradition
regarding it; one which had long been believed in by the tribes far and
near, and which had long been turned to good account in trade by former
generations of Indians who dwelt at Niagara; and which was believed in
and maintained for many a year afterwards. It was a tradition which had
long caused the vicinity of the Cataract to be known far and wide as,
and to be, a great Center of Trade; because it related to a
highly-prized commodity which was found and primarily procurable only
at this spot.

The first printed direct mention of Niagara referred to its famous
Portage. The two next references to it were indirect and poetic, and,
in so far as geographical location, certainly exemplified a poet's

The second printed allusion to it,--an indirect one, as noted
later,--was in regard to trade.

Champlain was on the lower St. Lawrence River when, in 1603, he first
heard of the Niagara Portage; Father Daillon was within a hundred miles
of the Cataract when, in 1626, he first heard of Niagara as a "trading

When white men first became really acquainted with the Indians, 300
years ago, the various tribes had, and no doubt had long had, certain
"trading places" where they annually met for barter.

At that time, the Hurons and Algonquins had such a meeting place on the
upper Ottawa River.

It was at such a trade gathering at Lake Saint Peter, that Iroquet, in
1610, received Brule as a gift.

Father Sagard, who in 1625 was a Missionary among them at Lake
Nipissing, has stated that the Hurons used each summer to travel for
five or six weeks southerly, in order to meet the tribes which had
goods they wanted; and that they brought back those articles both for
their own use and for sale to other tribes. From the direction stated,
and from other deductions, it is probable that that annual summer
journey of the Hurons "for trade" had Niagara as its objective point.

That the Indians traded among themselves is unquestioned. When Cartier,
in 1534, ascended the St. Lawrence River, the Indians of Hochelaga were
smoking tobacco which had been grown in the sunny south lands. The
Muskegons, around James Bay, traded their furs with their southern
neighbors for birch bark, out of which to make their canoes. Axes and
arrow heads of obsidian--a stone found on the lower Mississippi--were
in use among the tribes to the north of Quebec. The Indian "trade" was
not all done haphazard. The most of it was done at gatherings held at
regularly agreed upon times and places. And in the selection of
localities, Niagara must have been a favored meeting place.

That there, and there only, were found those "Erie Stones," a
much-sought-for article, was an important reason for its selection as
such; its central location and its accessibility from all points were
other reasons.

No tribe which feared the fierce Iroquois--and that embraced almost
every known tribe--would have dared to go to a "trading place," when in
order to reach it they had to cross the country of the Iroquois. But
they could get to Niagara from all sides without touching that Iroquois
territory. There they could meet and barter with tribes otherwise
almost impossible for them to reach.

The tribes of the southeast, and those of the northeast, could there
meet in safety.

Again, it was in the Country of the Neutrals, whose territory lay
between that of the Iroquois and the Hurons. And Indian law
decreed--and it was observed--that in the cabins of the Neutrals even
those bitter foes, Iroquois and Hurons, met in peace.

Champlain was certainly the first white man to mention the Falls of
Niagara in Literature; Brule was probably Niagara's first white
visitor; and equally probable, he was the first white man ever to
"trade" there. One would like well to know the particulars of that
"trade"--what he got and what he gave.


Champlain and Brule are two names of surpassing interest in their
relation to Niagara. The first unquestionably heads the long list of
Authors who have ever written about our Waterfall; the other probably
heads the infinitely longer list--comprising many millions--of those
pale-faces who have ever visited our Cataract.

[Illustration: PETER KALM'S VIEW OF NIAGARA--1751.]

That first reference to Niagara in all Literature is found in that of
France, in 1603, when Samuel de Champlain, the subsequent founder of
Quebec, the first Governor-General of New France,--and still the most
picturesque figure in all Canadian history,--narrated, in his now
excessively rare pamphlet, "Des Sauvages" (of which only about
half-a-dozen copies are known to exist), what the Indians on the St.
Lawrence River told him about this waterfall (for he himself never saw
Niagara), in these words:

"Then they come to a lake [Ontario] some eighty leagues long, with
a great many Islands [the Thousand Islands], the water at its
extremity being fresh and the winter mild. At the end of this lake
they pass a fall [Niagara] somewhat high, where there is quite a
little water which falls down. There they carry their canoes
overland for about a quarter of a league, in order to pass the
fall; afterwards entering another lake [Erie] some sixty leagues
long and containing very good water."

In the same volume Champlain records that another savage told him,--

"That the water at the western end of the lake [Ontario] was
perfectly salt; that there was a fall about a league wide, where a
very large mass of water falls into said lake."

It was not the wonders nor the beauty of the Cataract that impressed
itself upon the minds of those savages, and that led them to furnish to
Champlain--and so to the white man's world--the very first knowledge of
the existence of Niagara. No! What most impressed the Cataract upon the
minds of those Aborigines was the fact that at this point, the Falls
themselves, together with the Rapids for a short distance above them,
and for a long distance below them, were an insuperable obstacle to
water--that is, canoe--navigation; that here they were obliged to make
a long "portage." It was the only break in an otherwise uninterrupted
water travel of hundreds of miles; which, going westward, extended from
a point on the St. Lawrence, many miles east of the outlet of Lake
Ontario, clear to the farthest end of Lake Superior; and which, coming
eastward, extended nearly 1,500 miles, from where the City of Duluth
now stands even until it reached the bitter waters of the Atlantic
Ocean in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence.

In the same volume, "Des Sauvages," appeared a poem by one "La
Franchise," addressed to Champlain, in which mention is made of the
"Saults Mocosans" or Mocosan Falls, "which shock the eyes of those who
dare to look upon that unparalleled downpour."

Mocosa was the name of that territory vaguely called Virginia, and
which seems to have embraced everything from New York to Florida,
extending indefinitely to the west and northwest. The allusion is
generally considered to refer to Niagara; thus making Niagara's
appearance in Poetry cotemporaneous with its appearance in prose.

In 1609, Lescarbot published his "Histoire de la Nouvelle France,"
wherein he quotes extensively (including the references to Niagara)
from Champlain; the work being reissued in several editions in
subsequent years. And in 1610, Lescarbot, who was a great admirer of
Champlain (he may himself have been "La Franchise"), produced a poem,
wherein he speaks of the "great falls" which the Indians encounter in
going up the St. Lawrence, from below the present site of Montreal,
"jusqu'au voisinage de la Virginia"; which, under the above-noted
boundaries of Virginia, has been stretched in imagination to include
Niagara, but more likely meant the Rapids of the St. Lawrence.

Champlain, in the map which he made in 1612, notes a "waterfall," but
places it at the Lake Ontario end of the river; still it is clearly
meant for Niagara.

Early references to this Niagara Region--which up to about the middle
of the 17th Century was owned and occupied by the Neuters, and after
that time by their conquerors and annihilators, the Senecas--are to be
found in that wonderful series of Reports made by the Catholic
Missionaries in Canada to their Superiors in France, during a large
part of the 17th Century, and known as the "Jesuit Relations."

From them we learn that Father Daillon was among the Neutrals, and "on
the Iroquois Frontier" (which was east of the Niagara River, somewhere
about midway between that and the Genesee River), in 1626.

In a letter, dated at Tonachin, a Huron village, 18th July, 1627,
Father Daillon told of his visit to the Neuters the year before. In it
he wrote:

"I have always seen them constant in their resolution to go with at
least four canoes to the trade, if I would guide them, the whole
difficulty being that we did not know the way. Yroquet, an Indian
known in those countries, who had come there with twenty of his men
hunting for beaver, and who took fully five hundred, would never
give us any mark to know the mouth of the river. He and several
Hurons assured us well that it was only ten days journey [from the
Huron Country] to the trading place; but we were afraid of taking
one river for another and losing our way, or dying of hunger on the

The above quotation, which was given in Sagard, 1636, was omitted from
Daillon's letter by Le Clercq in his "Premier Établissement de la Foi,"
1691. In his translation of the latter work, John Gilmary Shea, in a
note concerning this very passage, says:

"This was evidently the Niagara River and the route through Lake
Ontario," and he adds: "The omission of the passage by Le Clercq
was evidently caused by the allusion to trade."

That omission was doubtless at the instance of the French Government,
whose permission was then a necessity before any book could be
published. That Government knew the importance and the advantages of
Niagara, both as a strategic point and as a Center of Trade. Only four
years before Le Clercq's book appeared a French army, under De
Denonville, had built a fort there; but the hostility of the Iroquois
(incited by British agents) had forced its abandonment a year later.
Anxious to again possess it, planning now to do so by diplomacy rather
than by arms, the French Government would naturally have objected to
any published allusion to the locality as a point of Trade,--which
could in no way have aided its designs, but by further calling
Britain's attention to Niagara's importance, would naturally cause her
agents to be still further vigilant toward frustrating any move of
France for the control thereof.

In the same letter Daillon says:

"But the Hurons having discovered that I talked of leading them
[the Neutrals] to the trade, he [Yroquet] spread in all the
villages when he passed, very bad reports about me * * * in a word,
the Hurons told them so much evil of us [the French] to prevent
their going to trade * * * adding a thousand other absurdities to
make us hated by them, and prevent their trading with us; so that
they might have the trade with these nations themselves
exclusively, which is very profitable to them."

Yroquet, who was Champlain's friend, as before mentioned, being a close
ally of the Hurons, evidently had no desire for a Frenchman to open
trade directly with the Iroquois--the sworn foes of the Hurons--and
thus to divert any of the trade which he carried on with the French in
the Huron Country.

So the first white man known to have been on the Niagara River (in
1626) wrote about it as a "trading place." It clearly was regarded in
that light, at that time, both by the Neutrals and by the Hurons; those
being the only two tribes which Father Daillon had visited. And if it
was so known to the tribes on the west and northwest, there was no
reason why it should not have been so known--and it no doubt was so
known--to the tribes to the south, to the east, and to the west.

On his map, in 1632, Champlain continues his location of the Cataract
at the point where the river enters Lake Ontario; and marks it, "Falls
at the extremity of Lake St. Louis [Ontario] very high, where many fish
come down and are stunned."

[Illustration: NIAGARA IN 1759, BY THOMAS DAVIES.]

In 1640, Fathers Brebeuf and Chaumonot, on their famous Mission to the
Neutrals, crossed the Niagara River at Onguiaahra, a village of that
Nation, which stood on the site of the present Lewiston. They probably
never saw the Falls; their visit being filled with danger, hunger, and
threats of their destruction by the very savages whose souls they were
trying to save. Father L'Allement, their Superior, in his account of
their Mission, in the Jesuit Relation of 1642, speaks merely of "the
village Onguiaahra, of the same name as the river."

Another passage in his letter says,--

"Many of our Frenchmen, who have been here in the Huron Country, in
the past made journeys in this Country of the Neutral Nation, for
the sake of reaping profit and advantage from furs, and other
little wares that one might look for."

And in all probability some of those Frenchmen had reached the Niagara
River, in their trade with the Neutrals, before Father Daillon crossed
its stream.

Niagara was then, as it is now, the geographical center of the eastern
one-third of North America; it was the center of population among the
many and widely distributed Indian Tribes; it was the most accessible,
the most easily reached place, from all directions, in America. Indian
trails led toward it from all points of the compass; it was easily
accessible by water from every quarter--and, by canoe, was the Indians
preferred means of transportation.

It was thus easily reached by the tribes on the east and northeast by
Lake Ontario; by the tribes on the north by Lake Simcoe and the portage
to Toronto; by the tribes in the great west and northwest (covering a
vast territory) by all the upper lakes; by the tribes in the southwest
by the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Alleghany rivers; by the tribes
in the southeast by the Susquehanna River. Even in aboriginal days--by
reason of its central location, its portage, its position as a Center
of Trade, and its "Erie Stones"--Niagara was the best and most widely
known spot on the Continent; even as--for other reasons--it is to-day.

Father Ragueneau, in a letter written from the Huron Country, in
Canada, in 1648, and published in the "Jesuit Relation" of 1649, makes
the second known direct printed reference to the Falls themselves, when
he writes,--

"Lake Erie, which is formed by the waters from the Mer Douce [Lake
Huron], discharges itself into Lake Ontario, over a Cataract of
fearful height,"

which description was, word for word, the same as is found in a letter,
written not later than 1645, from that same Huron Country, by Docteur
Gendron, but which was not published until 1660.

The third direct printed reference to our Cataract was in a letter,
written by Father Bressani, from that same Huron Country, in 1652, and
published the following year. He wrote,--

"Lake Erie discharges itself, by means of a very high Cataract,
into a third lake, which is still larger and finer, called Lake

Thus, up to 1660, the Jesuit Fathers, Ragueneau and Bressani, were the
only persons, except Champlain, who had made any direct printed
reference to Niagara's Waterfall; like him, neither of them ever saw
it;--the three known men, who first mentioned in print what is to-day
the best known Cataract on Earth, wrote from hearsay,--and none of them
gave it a name.

Sanson, who, in 1650, had issued a map of North America, largely
following those of Champlain, but improving on their accuracy (though
not indicating Niagara), in 1656, issued one of New France or Canada,
whereon he both correctly places our Waterfall, and, for the first time
in Literature or Cartography gave it a direct name, marking it "Ongiara
Sault." Much information about Canada had no doubt been made public in
France--by Missionaries and Explorers, with the Government's
approval--during those half-a-dozen years.

Hennepin, in 1683, was the first person to use the word "Niagara,"
which has been the accepted name ever since; though more than a hundred
different ways of spelling it have been found. And from Hennepin's
time,--by every known form of pictorial reproduction; during the last
forty years by photography more than all other forms put
together--Niagara has been the most pictured and therefore the best
known spot on earth.


In 1660, another, and a most interesting reference to our Cataract
appeared in print; written by one Docteur Gendron. It does not appear
that he ever saw it, but he seems to have learnt a good deal about it;
of course he learnt it from the Indians; moreover, he learnt it from
Hurons, who dwelt in more or less proximity to it; from men who, no
doubt, themselves had seen it. He learnt it from the same source, not
improbably from the same men, from whom Fathers Ragueneau and Bressani
had gotten their less comprehensive knowledge of it--for he had a
special reason, in the line of his profession, for learning about it.
He had written home to France concerning it, at least three years
before Ragueneau, at least seven years before Bressani, had done so.
And, curiously enough, at the very time when Docteur Gendron wrote his
letters, Fathers Ragueneau and Bressani were also in that Huron
Country. It is, therefore, more than reasonably certain, that all three
of them being Europeans, all three living among the Hurons,--whose
territory was not large, through which news of the presence of white
men in those days traveled fast,--that they must have known each other,
not only as acquaintances, but as intimates. The Priests had their
headquarters at the Home of the Huron Mission, and the Docteur would,
for every reason, take up his residence in that same Indian Village.
Those three men,--with the exception of Champlain, the earliest known
chroniclers of the existence of Niagara Falls,--were doubtless near
neighbors and close friends, in the Huron Country, in the wilds of
Canada, over two hundred and fifty years ago.


In 1636, there had been published at Paris a work in five volumes,
written by one Pierre Davity, who had died the year before, entitled
"The Whole World; With all its Parts, States, Empires, Kingdoms,
Republics and Governments." It had been reissued at least twice by
1649. In all three of those Editions, "America, The Third Part of the
World," had been treated of at some length--especially the Southern
Hemisphere;--and while Canada had not been overlooked, there had been
no mention of Niagara.

In 1660, Jean Baptiste de Rocoles, who was both a Counsellor to the
King and also his State Historian, reissued the work, enlarged and
"brought up to date." This issue was in three volumes, folio; rather
ponderous tomes; well printed, and elaborately bound. As in the
previous editions, it was issued by consent of the King, and with the
approval of the Clergy; and it now had the official editing of the
King's Historian.

At the end of the portion relating to America--that is, at the very end
of the last volume--its contents evidently coming to Rocoles' notice at
the last moment; probably after the work was entirely printed (for the
preceding page bears the imprint, "End of America"; and there is no
mention of its contents in the Index), is a short Chapter entitled

"Certain Special Information about the Country of the Hurons in New
France. Recorded by the Sieur Gendron, Doctor of Medicine, who has
lived for a long time in that Country."

This supplementary Chapter is six pages in length, and, while it is not
signed, we may justly assume that Rocoles himself, and none other,
wrote it. It begins,--

"One of my friends having lately placed in my hands a few letters
written in the years 1644 and 1645, which Sieur Gendron, native of
Voue in Beausse, had sent to him from that Country [of the Hurons],
where he was at that time; I have had the curiosity to transcribe
from them, word for word, what follows; for a better knowledge and
acquaintance of those lands, newly discovered. And I have done so
the more willingly because this person is worthy of credence, and
he wrote these letters to men of merit, who had travelled much."

In the letters thus transcribed, "word for word," Sieur Gendron gives
the location of the Huron Country, where he writes,--

"I now am," "as between the 44th and 45th degrees of Latitude; and
as to Longitude, it is half an hour more to the west than Quebec."

From his descriptions of the Lake Region, from his location of other
Indian tribes, and from the context, Sieur Gendron was very near the
southern end of Georgian Bay, when he wrote those letters. That he was
in the same Indian Village, as was the House, or Headquarters, of the
Mission to the Hurons (which was located at that point), is deducable
even more strongly, from the fact, that Father Ragueneau, in his report
to his Superior, in 1648, uses, word for word, over more than a score
of printed lines, in locating the adjoining Indian tribes, the language
of Sieur Gendron, written at least three, possibly four, years before,
and published by Rocoles in 1660.

That he did so, not plagiarizing, but with the knowledge and consent,
and not improbably (in those parts of his letter which dealt with
physical conditions) with the assistance, of Docteur Gendron, must be
admitted by those who know from history of the splendid abilities, the
exalted piety, and the noble character of Father Paul Ragueneau, S.J.,
who, after his labors amongst the Hurons were ended, became the
Superior of his Order at Quebec--that is, in Canada.

A little further on, Docteur Gendron writes,--

"Towards the south, and a little towards the west, is the Neuter
Nation, whose villages, which are now on the frontier, are only
about thirty leagues distant from the Hurons. It is forty or fifty
leagues in extent" [that is from west to east, for it extended from
the Detroit River to some distance east of the Niagara River].

Then he writes, what for the purpose of this article is the most
interesting portion of the letters, as follows:

"Almost south of the Neuter Nation is a large lake, almost 200
leagues in circumference, called Erie, which is formed from the
Fresh Water Sea, [Lake Huron] and falls, from a terrible height,
into a third lake called Ontario, which we call St. Louis.

"From the foam of the waters, roaring at the foot of certain large
rocks, which are found at this place, is formed a stone, or rather
pulverized salt, of a somewhat yellowish color, of great virtue for
healing wounds, fistulas, and malignant ulcers. In this place, full
of horrors, live also certain savages, who live only on elk, deer,
buffalos, and all other kinds of game that the rapids drag and
bring down to the entrance of these rocks; where the savages catch
them, without running for them, more than sufficient for their
needs, and the maintenance of strangers [Indians from other and
distant tribes], with whom they trade in these 'Erie Stones'
['Pierres Eriennes']--thus called because of this lake--who carry
and distribute them to other Nations."

In confirmation of the Doctor's statement that articles were brought to
Niagara, for the purposes of trade,--in 1903 there was opened an Indian
Mound, on top of and close to the edge of the Mountain Ridge, some
three and a half miles east of the Niagara River, on the Tuscarora
Reservation, in the town of Lewiston, Niagara County, N.Y.

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