HIGGS: Moving ahead to Falls 'tourists' in 1679

Norma Higgs

Our next "tourist" is Henri DeTonty, who was LaSalle's lieutenant and visited the Falls on Feb. 1, 1679, though his description was not written until five years later. His words are below:

"Curiosity led me to visit the Fall of Niagara which separates Lake Erie from Lake Frontenac (Ontario). I can only say that it is the most beautiful fall in the world. By our estimate it falls perpendicular 500 feet and is some 200 toises wide. It throws of vapors which may be seen at a distance of sixteen leagues, and it may be heard at the same distance when it is calm. When once the swans and bustards are caught in its current it is impossible for them to take flight again, and they are dead before they get to the bottom of the fall."

Moving ahead to 1688 we meet Louis Armand de LomD'Arce, with the title of "baron". He managed to capture new voyages to North America and his account of the several nations of that vast continent. The several attempts of the English and French to disposses one another ... and the various adventures between the French and the Iroquois confederates of England, from 1683-1694.

A geographical description of Canada written in French by Baron Lahontan..and done in English - a great part of which was never printed in the original is shown below.

"New voyages to North-America by the Baron de Lahontan; reprinted from the English edition of 1703, with facsimiles of original title pages, maps and illustrations and the addition of introduction, notes and index, by Reuben Gold Thwaites with excerpts as follows:

"As for the Waterfall of Niagara, 'tis seven or eight hundred foot high and a half a League broad. Towards the middle of it we descry an Island that leans toward the Precipice, as if it were ready to fall. All the Beasts that cross the Water within half a quarter of the League above this unfortunate island, are suc'd in by force of the Stream: And the Beasts and Fish that are thus kill'd by the prodigious fall, serve for food to fifty Iroques settled about two Leagues off, and take 'em out of the water with their Canows. Between the surface of the water that shelves of prodigiously, and the foot of the Precipe, three Men may cross in a breast without any other damage, than a sprinkling of some few drops of water."

Lahontan's book had "an immense vogue" and the various editions of it soon rivalled those of Hennepin's works in number. Of these editions those of 1703-04 are reckoned the best. The Niagara description occurs in a letter dated at Missilimakinac, May 26, 1688. "It was very popular and with all its exaggerations soon found its way into geographies and other books."

1710 brings us the Four Kings of Canada, being a succinct account of four Indian princes lately arriv'd from North America, with a particular description of their country...with several other extraordinary things worthy of observation, as to the natural or curious productions, beauty or fertility of that part of the world. London. 1710."

"The River of St. Lawrence or Canada, receives in these Parts an Infinite Quantity of fresh Water from the four great Lakes, the Lake Huron, the upper Lake, the Lake of of the Illinois, and the Lake Erie or of the Cat, which may properly be call'd little fresh Water Seas. This great Deluge of Water tumbling furiously over the greatest and most dreadful Heap in the World, an infiinite Number of Fish take a great Delight to spawn here, and as it were suffocate here, because they cannot get over this hugh Cataract: So that the Quantity taken here is incredible."

"A Gentleman who was Travelling in this Part, went to see this Heap, which comes from a River in the North and falls into a great Basin of Lake Ontario, big enough to hold a Hundred Men of War, being there he taught the Natives to catch Fish with their Hands, by causing Trees to be cut down in the Spring, and to be roll'd to the Bank of the River, so that he might be upon them without wetting himself; by the Assistance of which he thrust his Arm into the Water up to the Elbow, where he found a prodigious Quantity of Fish of different Species, which he laid hold on by the Gills, gently stroking 'em and when he had taken Fifty or Sixty of 'em at a Time, he use to warm and refresh himself; after this Manner in a short Time, he would catch enough to feed Fifty or Sixty families. "

Let's take a break now — until next week.

Contact Norma Higgs at niahigg@aol.com.

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