IN the seventeenth century the term Northwest was used to designate the region of the upper Great Lakes and the northeastern part of the Mississippi Valley. It was ordinarily spoken of by the colonists of the St. Lawrence as le pays d'en haut--the Upper Country. The discovery and exploration of the Upper Country was accomplished by the French, who had appropriated the St. Lawrence Valley as their sphere of influence, and by the seventeenth century had begun to people it. In the first half of the century the Great Lakes were discovered; the exploration of the Mississippi Valley was the work of the second half-century.
The fitness of the French for this especial task has often been recounted. Gifted with imperial imaginations, with visions of future greatness, undaunted by obstacles, undismayed by hardships, the founders of New France planned to add to that colony an empire in the vast hinterland beyond the sources of their own great river, a region that is now fitly designated as the heart of America. The numerous tribes of aborigines dwelling in this wilderness they speedily learned to conciliate and exploit. The laborers for the expeditions were recruited from the Canadian colonists, who readily developed a woodcraft that rivalled that of the natives, paddling canoes and portaging burdens with a good humor and adaptation to emergencies that made them useful members of exploring parties. Trained to habits of obedience to superiors, they responded with alacrity and pleasure to the demands of wilderness faring.
The leaders of these expeditions were from two walks of life, military officers of the colonial troops and missionaries