The Crooked Lake Review

Summer 2000

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La Salle - De Nonville

250th Anniversary Celebration

July 10th, 1937
Historical Narrative and Pageant Delineation


Rev. Alexander M. Stewart


The "Place Where Water Burns" (Burning Spring) in Bristol Valley on the farm owned by Walter B. Case and managed by Clarence Randall, in its natural setting, with the fields sweeping back against the rugged beauty of the Bristol Hills; still preserving virtually the same environment observed by the party of Robert Cavelier de La Salle, during their journey among the Seneca Indians in the summer of 1669.


We present this pageant in order that all may fully understand and preserve in memory the meaning and purpose of this commemoration. We are commemorating an event which occurred more than two and a half centuries ago, and one which has been outstanding in American history. It was an event which in a large measure contributed to the racial, religious and political history of our country. It was an event which sounded a major note in the adventuresome and tragic career of the great French explorer, Robert Cavelier de La Salle.

Here on this very spot, in the late summer of 1669 stood La Salle. It was here that he first became convinced that he had been chosen to discover the "short route to India" which had been for centuries a fabulous goal. It was from this delightful valley amidst the Bristol Hills of Western New York that he actually launched upon that long journey of exploration to the banks of the Trinity River in Texas.

The story of La Salle's visit to our "Burning Spring" is simply told. It began during his career as a prospering fur trader with the Indians in the regions bordering the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. It was there, with fame and fortune already in his grasp, that he heard a tale that was to reduce him to poverty and send him through hardship and failure to his death by the hand of one of his own company.

Picture, if you will, this fateful moment in the life of one of the greatest dreamers and adventurers the world has ever known! You will see him at his trading post at La Chine, talking with a chance party of Seneca Indians who have ventured into the North Country. You will see his eyes gleam with the light of a great inspiration as the words of the Senecas fall upon his ears.

The members of this Seneca party were of a proud and courageous race. It was also characteristic of the Indian to boast not only of himself, but of his people and his own country. This was true of the Senecas who visited La Salle, for as they talked of their own land far to the south they told of a great river that ran from it. They said that those who had followed it had come after eight or nine months' journey by canoe to a point where it emptied into the south seas.

This was the statement that fired the imagination of La Salle. From his post at La Chine he looked out over the wilderness and visioned the great distance that could be traveled in nine months. His imagination leaped to those "south seas" of which the Senecas had spoken, and immediately he visioned those seas burdened with ships under sail—his ships—discovering at last the short route to India.

But if La Salle was a great dreamer, he was also a man of action. In July of that same year—sixteen hundred and sixty-nine—he journeyed by canoe from La Chine to Irondequoit Bay. From there, accompanied by Father Galinee, who was one of the hardiest of the wilderness priests, belonging to the Order of St. Sulpice, and led by two Indian guides, he came to this place of the Senecas "where the water burns."

Early in August, 1669, this expedition, after contending with the rapids of the St. Lawrence River and the winds of Lake Ontario, camped at Sodus Bay, from which point a runner was sent out to inform the Senecas of the approach of La Salle. They were entertained here by a Seneca Indian who had a fishing camp on an island. August 10, 1669, the flotilla of canoes came to rest at Indian Landing, in modern Ellison Park, at the head of Irondequoit Bay in the outskirts of modern Rochester, New York. Since the Seneca villages were 15 to 20 miles back in the country, the night of August 10 - 11 was spent in camp, surrounded by a large crowd of curious Indians at Indian Landing.

On August 11, Dollier de Casson and his section of the party remained to guard the canoes and baggage, and La Salle, Galinee and about a dozen other white men, went south on the trail to the capitol of the Senecas, at Totiakton, in the Great Bend of Honeoye Creek. This is in the town of Mendon on the modern Desman farm, 1/2 mile south of Rochester Junction station. Galinee's description of the village being on the edge of a small hill and a large plain being on top of the hill, excludes the error of many able writers on this subject, who designate Boughton Hill, Victor. The largest cabin in Totiakton was given to the La Salle party.

While La Conception Chapel, another cabin in the village, had been dedicated just after the arrival of Fr. James Fremin, Jesuit, on November 1, 166[8]-nine months before—there were no Jesuits in the Seneca country, however, during the fortnight of the visit of La Salle's party, for this reason. Fr. Fremin had gone to a council of all the Jesuit missionaries to the Iroquois, which he, as Superior, had called to meet at Onondaga, the capital of the Iroquois league; the site was on the Keough farm beside Butternut Creek, one mile south of Jamesville, New York.

On August 13, a council with upward of 60 Senecas, smoking tobacco all day, was assembled, as Galinee puts it, "dans nostre cabane" (in our cabin). Again we say, this council was not on Boughton Hill, but at Totiakton. The first gift which La Salle made was a double barrel pistol. La Salle's request for a guide to the Ohio and Illinois regions was put off until some Senecas trading at Orange (Albany) should return with a captive slave who was a native of those western countries, who might be given to La Salle. Galinee records a visit to the eastern most of the larger villages (Boughton Hill, Victor) via the tall grasslands of the flat Irondequoit valley.

At this point a direct quotation from Galinee brings the "spring of water that burns" into the climax of this story. The quotation is taken from the translation of his Journal, in Vol. IV, part I, Ontario (Canada) Historical Society, Toronto:

"Nous passasmes ainsi le temps." "We passed the time," wrote Galinee, "in this way for seven or eight days, waiting until some slave should return from the trading to be given to us. During the interval, to while away the time, I went with M. de la Salle, under the guidance of two Indians, about four leagues south of the village we were in, to see an extraordinary spring. It formed a small brook as it issues from a rather high rock. The water is very clear, but has a bad odor like that of Paris mud when the mud at the bottom of the water is stirred with the foot. He (or I) put a torch to it and immediately the water took fire as brandy does, and it does not go out until rain comes. The flame is, amongst the Indians, a sign of abundance or of scarcity, as it has opposite qualities. There is no appearance of sulphur or saltpetre, or other combustible matter. The water has not taste even; and I cannot say or think anything better than that the water passes through some aluminous earth, from which it acquires this combustible quality." (End of quotation from Galinee.)

Retreat From Totiakton

At their residence in Totiakton, La Salle and Galinee found that the generous hospitality of the villagers had been upset by liquor which had been brought in. Some drunkards wanted to kill them in revenge for a relative of theirs who recently had been murdered in Montreal. The burning of a young captive made excitement run high in the village. No guide was forthcoming for La Salle, so he and his party left Totiakton and went to their boats at Indian Landing. Dollier de Casson also returned from an exploring trip of his own and the party proceeded along the south shore of Lake Ontario to a Seneca bear hunting camp west of the lake, beyond Hamilton, Canada.

La Salle became sick and expressed his intention of going back to Montreal. Dollier and Galinee portaged to the Grand River near modern Brantford, Canada, and paddled down Lake Erie. They spent the winter in a camp near Lake Erie, but having lost some of their equipment, they abandoned their missionary enterprise and returned to Montreal in 1670 via the Detroit River, Lake Huron, Mackinac and the French and Ottawa River canoe route.

The Earl Of Bellomont And Colonel Romer

In "Documents Relating to the Colonial History of New York," occur instructions from the Earl of Bellomont, English Governor of the Province of New York, to Colonel Romer, his "matys" (chief engineer in America), for his proposed visit to the Iroquois cantons to be undertaken in the year 1701. "I hear," writes the Earl, "there is a spring or fountain which burns up when a firebrand or live coals is put into it. It lies 8 miles from the Sinekas furthest village. Go to it, taste it, test it with fire, and bring me some of it." Colonel Romer, however, was prevented from coming any further than Onondaga, but the widespread reputation of the spring is indicated by the fact that the Governor of the English province of New York should give the matter his official attention.

The Burning Spring and Some Old Maps

Galinee's Map, made in 1670.The inscription is: "Il ya de Solium ou pied de cette Montagne fontaine Bitumne." "There—from the mud at the foot of this mountain is a bituminous spring." On the map is drawn a valley with mountains on either side. The description fits Bristol Valley.

1684, Franquelin's carte de la Louisiane.The inscription is: "Fontaine de 'eau qui brule." "Spring of which the water burns."

20th September, 1728.Map made by Chaussegros de Lery at Quebec. Original in Laval University at Quebec also at Pub. Arch. of Canada in Ottawa, photostat copy at hand: Inscription: "Irrigatica ou fontaine brulante." "Burning ditch or fountain." On this map Mud Creek appears with what evidently is Canandaigua Lake to the east, and the name is placed on the map, about 1/3 of the length of the creek from the north. which corresponds nicely to the location of our burning spring.

Paris, 1744. Map of M. Bellin. Inscription: "Fontaine brulante," "Burning fountain." This map is found in the original Paris edition of P. F. W. Charlevoix's Histoire, De Lan, France. One set of these precious books is treasured in the Rundel Memorial Library, Rochester, New York. The map occurs in Vol. 5, at p. 409.

La Salle was shot by one of his own men on March 19, 1687, near the Red River in Texas.
Research and writing by Rev. Alexander M. Stewart,
30 Audubon Street, Rochester, N. Y.
No part of this writing is to be used publicly without giving credit to the author,
Rev. Alexander M. Stewart. June 17, 1937.
From a copy of the 1937 program supplied by Joan K. Hayward.
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