Explorers Meet Iowa Natives

French explorers Marquette and Joliet reached the area that became Iowa as they navigated the Mississippi River in 1673. During their travels they met the native people of Iowa.


(singing and the sound of paddles in the water)

Louis Jolliet leader of this exposition into the uncharted wilderness of the Mississippi River Valley. He was seeking the fabled river, which lead to the South Seas and China. Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest and missionary. Their first site of Iowa came when the entered the Mississippi River from the Wisconsin River. Days later, as they neared the mouth of the Iowa River…

(Father Marquette speaks in French and the singing stops)

Footprints in the sand, fresh footprints. Jolliet sought knowledge of what lay ahead, perhaps the owner of these prints could provide it. Father Marquette wished to bring knowledge to these people, knowledge of God. Against the wishes of their fellow voyagers, the two men left in search of the natives of what would later be called Iowa. Jolliet had left orders, that if in 24 hours they had not returned, those remaining were to take to the safety of the River and return home to Canada. Their joy at being reunited was even greater when the learned of the calumet, or peace pipe, Father Marquette held in his hands. It would be a passport through the dangerous country ahead. A symbol to all that their mission was a peaceful one. As the resumed their down river course, Marquette and Jolliet related their voyagers the tale of meeting with the tribe of Illini Indians. They had feasted and held counsel with their hosts and of the gift of the calumet.


Bravery had been rewarded. They continued their journey as far as the mouth of the Arkansas River where hostile Indians and fear of meeting the Spanish forced them to return home. Their expedition, it is believed, brought the first white man to Iowa soil.


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