When the French Europeans from Canada came to Portage Checagou (Chicago), they were enchanted with the oak, maple and other hardwood timberlands populated with deer. Lush savannas, coniferous forests and flourishing wetlands filled with raccoon, beaver, otter, mink, opossum, muskrats, red and grey foxes and wolves helped them consider the economic possibilities of the fur trade. Swampland bird populations added to the value of the region. Sparkling, crystal rivers and streams not only provided excellent transportation, but they contained 180 species of fish. To these voyageurs, it was a primitive paradise, waiting to be developed.
In 1673, Louis Jolliet, a fur trader, and Pere Marquette, a Jesuit missionary, traveled through the Chicago area and recorded their findings in journals, leading to further exploration. In 1678, Canadian Governor Frontenac granted Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle, the right to settle the Illinois country. After La Salle claimed Louisiana for King Louis XIV, he returned to the Illinois country to start a fur-trading company.
Known and admired by Illinois, Kaskaskia, Peoria and other Native Americans, he constructed Fort St. Louis on Starved Rock, overlooking the Illinois River. His Native American friends supplied animal hides and furs. Other Algonquian-speaking tribes— Miami, Piankashaw, Wea and Shawnee—joined the venture under the protection of the fort, and they moved across the river into old Kaskaskia Village, which had been destroyed by the Iroquois in 1680. The colony of 20,000 flourished until La Salle’s death in 1687. At that time, the Iroquois, pursuing control over the beaver trade, began attacking the French and Native American tribes. With La Salle gone, the Native Americans moved away and Fort St. Louis was evacuated.
Three hundred twenty-six years ago, the fur-trade began in the Chicago area.
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