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Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 24 Notes:

He came from France with a calling, and endured the bitter cold of winter, leaving behind a legacy of families and places throughout the Midwest that have withstood the test of time. This endless adventure, filled with near death experiences, war, and adventure was inspired by my friends at Bayfield Winery and Blue Ox Cider. 

Transcript of Podcast:

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

Jacques and his companions anchored their canoes on the south side of Lake Superior and crawled up the shore, their bodies wind whipped and numb from the freezing winter temps and brutal winds. It was times like these, when it was so cold his face was frozen and he couldn’t speak, that he wondered why he’d left France in the first place.

He would have been set there. He had been set there. Jacques was the third of six kids, born to Rose and Nicolas. A son born into the empire of wealthy merchants. It was almost enough to make him regret his decision to leave. But, the call of adventure was too loud. 

He was 29 when he made the long journey across the ocean from France to Canada. Settling in North America was all the rage at that time. It was a land of possibility, and this possibility made Jacques travel south out of Quebec until he reached the upper peninsula of Michigan. He smiled as he remembered that time in that part of Michigan fondly. He’d become a father there. A pang of sadness went through him, as he thought of the family he’d left behind to start on this new journey. That time in Michigan had been good to him.  

He’d raised a family. Built a settlement. Planted crops. Built barns. Even helped build a chapel. He had made something worth making.  

Until the pull of adventure tugged at him once more. It was with mixed feelings, part sadness and part excitement, that he put his canoe in Lake Superior and set a course further south a few months ago in August. He was 31 now and his time with the indigenous people of the area had been fruitful. They taught him many things. Including how to survive the harsh winter conditions of the upper midwest. 

But, even this might be more than he could handle. The ice flows even close to the shoreline threatened to destroy his canoe, especially when the freezing waves washed across his canoe or bucked him wildly about.

The cold and the wind destroyed his spirit and Jacques felt like half the man he was when he left only a few months prior. It was January now. Winter was apexing and greeting him with a cold, numbing slap to the face. 

There was no turning back. But, forward didn’t seem all that promising either. He could always stop where he was, but the land between was barren and dangerous. Jacques knew he wouldn’t last long there. 

So, when he pulled his boat on to the southern shore of Lake Superior, bundled up under hard, frozen, ice laden furs, his heart sank a little further down into his body when he found himself unable to light a fire. He prayed to God for help. But, his prayers were met with silence.

It was too wet. Too snowy. The wind was too fierce. There was nothing to do. So, he found a spot along the shore where the wind came through a little less fierce. Amongst a pile of boulders, next to a forest. The trees and the boulders help cut the wind a little. But, negative ten degrees is still negative ten degrees without the wind. 

His body shook from the cold and he pulled the furs a little closer around him, tucking his head deeper into them and trying to conserve ever ounce of body heat possible. 

The night’s sleep was fitful, and he woke often with shivering spasms. Finally, the sky lightened once more and he began the slow, painful process of moving his body, which ached from the canoeing and sleeping on hard ground. 

When he could move again, Jacques found his way to the canoes and met the others who were wordlessly loading their packs once more into the boats and getting read to travel across the water once more. 

Over night the water had frozen to the hulls of their canoes and he kicked at it to break to free. Then, with a hard heave, he shoved his frozen canoe back into the water and hopped in. 

They were off once more, traveling through the grueling conditions that threatened to kill them all. The snow was thicker today than the day before. Heavy, wet flakes that worked there way through his furs and into his skin. The worst part, though, was his hands. They were numb from gripping the oar of his canoe and never seemed to warm.

The day after that the weather was the same. The day after that, the weather was the same. It went on and on like that for months. 

Until, one day, he woke and found the sun shining. 

The spring sun once again graced the tundra of the midwest with its presence. After months of gray skies and skin piercing wind, the sun was a welcome sight. He smiled and turned his face toward the sun, letting the heat warm him.

Five months later he reached the indigenous people 500 miles south from where he’d started.

His family was now a distant memory, because when the year is 1669, you answer the greater calling when it shouts. And the shout was for Jacques to explore. He was born for it. He was also born to procreate. So, he started another family and did what he’d done prior. He planted crops. Built barns and farms. Made a life for himself once more, and, the whole time, his prior life remained with him. His prior family. Yet, he’d gone too far to go back to them. He was also happy where he was. That all changed when he woke up one morning to the smell of smoke. 

Day by day the smoke got closer. Next came the Ottawas on horseback in full dress with their war paint, drums sounding as they made their way through town. The Hurons were with them too. Also dressed in war paint, carrying spears and bows and war axes. They were going to fight the Lakota. And Jacques knew this was no longer a safe place for his new family. On one side of him was the Ottawa and Huron people and on the other was the Lakota. Caught in the middle was Jacques and his family. 

Jacques felt certain that at some point the fighting would spill over to them and the Lakota would tear through his home, murdering people and burning everything to the ground. He pleaded with the men, who, being men, wanted to stay and fight and defend their homes. But they wouldn’t listen. 

Finally, knowing he had to do something, Jacques collected up all the men, women, children and dogs that would go, and started a canoe trip across Lake Huron to a safer area. They left in the Spring and said goodbye to the area that still bears his name today, a name that gave us many other things too, including fruit. 

Jacques had learned his lesson the last time around and, unlike the last time, they couldn’t cling to the shores of Lake Huron like they had to the shores of Lake Superior. This trip was across the lake. 

They would need optimal conditions. They would die if a late season snow storm caught them off guard or if the freezing wind that the upper midwest of the United States is known for showed up.

After months of travel they saw people waiting for them on the shore. Ottawas. They’d arrived on the small island, a protected island. Isolated and much safer than the open land along the Northern side of Lake Huron where they’d come from prior. 

While there there few people living here now, the island, hundreds of years later, would explode as a popular tourist destination. People would come from all over the Midwest to visit. The city now here banned pretty much all motor vehicles. Sailing clubs would pop up. An annual art festival. Snowmobile riding in the winter time. The island would make television and movie appearances. And even ice cream. 

But, this was long before any of those things and this island… Mackinac Island was nothing more than a few indigenous inhabitants and a priest looking to spread the word of God. So, when Jacques arrived with his family there was no way the island was prepared to feed an entire family the size of which Jacques had brought. Jacques knew they would starve if they stayed. 

So, tired and exhausted, with winter imminent, they returned to their canoes and traveled West through open water once more. Through the tidal waves and ocean like conditions until they reached the western shore of Lake Huron. And it was here that Jacques finally kept his family. They were safe here. They flourished. And Jacques had that familiar itch of adventure return. 

At this time, two years later, Father Jacques had contributed much to the spread of religion and establishment of French colonies throughout Southern Canada and the Northern UP, Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His request for leave was granted and he set out with another French explorer chasing another adventure.

He’d heard of a route that would take them further South, deep south, and he wanted to see where it led. The expedition with Father Jacques and Louis Jolliet left in May of 1673. They’d found a route into a river system called the Mississippi River that the indigenous people had been using for thousands of years. 

And they ventured out, traveling across over 600,000 square miles of the United States, making their way through Wisconsin, on to Arkansas, and Mississippi before stopping 435 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. 

Late summer was upon them and the risk of encountering Spaniards or hostile indigenous people was too great. Jacques didn’t like it.

So they turned the canoes around and came all the way back those same river ways until they reached the southern part of Lake Michigan. They spent some time in the small village there, but ultimately Jacques wants to continue North, which they did. And they reached Green Bay, Wisconsin in early fall. 

Jacques, having achieved what no other frenchman at the time had achieved provided vital information to those that had financed and supported his exploration. The years that followed brought an influx of frenchman traveling down that same route, traveling to such places as Lacrosse, Wisconsin, the southern part of Lake Michigan, what grew into Chicago today, and even down to New Orleans.

Being a pioneer in locating and settling these areas might have been enough. But, that wasn’t even the greatest contribution Father Jacques made. It might have been his trips to Mackinac Island, a popular tourist destination today and home to some very famous fudge and ice cream.

Or, it may have been the schools that bear his name in Wisconsin still today. It could have been the border crossing city he founded in the UP of Michigan that is actually split in half, with part of it being in Canada and part on the United States. 

Or, the city named after him. The journals of his explorations he provided that sat unread and forgotten for 200 years.

Or, the name of his mom and the wealthy merchant family he came from. A legacy just as long and bright as his legacy. A legacy under the name of De La Salle, which formed several high schools through out the U.S. and a private college in Chicago. 

But, there was one more thing Fr. Jacques gave us. That was a grape. Also named after his last name. Like the schools. And the cities. 

A very cold hardy grape that thrives in the Midwest and produces some delicious new world wines, including one blended Rose at Bayfield Winery called Row 25.

So, let’s raise a glass of that Rose to a human who embodied all the spirit and possibility that exists within humans.

To Fr. Jacques Marquette.

and the grape called simply

Marquette

A catholic, French priest who immigrated to Canada and found his way to the tundra of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois to start colonies, families, throughout the upper Midwest before embarking on a journey across the entire North to South central part of the United States. 

Anyway… I’ll drink to that.