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-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
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
"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
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.