Italian-born explorer Henri de Tonti is important to Illinois history

Copies of Tonti’s journals are available in the Library of Congress and the Newberry Library. Tonti even had a Chicago Public School named after him, but it has since been renamed to reflect the Hispanic majority in the Southwest Side neighborhood.

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In this photo taken Jan. 11, 2012, the Illinois River flows past the east entrance to Starved Rock State Park near Ottawa, Ill. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is considering a controversial proposal for a sand mine adjacent to the park’s eastern boundary. (AP Photo/Tammy Webber)

In this photo taken from Jan. 11, 2012, the Illinois River flows past the east entrance to Starved Rock State Park. In 1682, Henri de Tonti and fellow explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle were the first Europeans to sail through what became Chicago.

AP

Chicago Buildings Commissioner Matthew W. Beaudet’s beautiful op-ed on Native American culture via Chicago history is spot-on. Bravo.

I do have one caveat, though: Henri de Tonti, while associated with French exploration, was actually Italian (Enrico), a native of Gaeta, located between Rome and Naples. As Italy wasn’t a fully reunified nation until 1870, many Italian explorers like Tonti farmed their talents out to other nations.

For example: John Cabot (real name: Giovanni Caboto) sailed for England in 1497. Amerigo Vespucci sailed for Spain (1497) and then for Portugal (1504). Alessandro Malaspina, who mapped out the West Coast from California to Alaska, sailed for Spain in 1789. And Giacomo Beltrami, a native of Bergamo, Italy, worked for many European cities before breaking out on his own to America, where he noted the source of the Mississippi River in 1832.

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But Tonti’s name should be a source of pride to both Chicagoans and Illinoisans, for a number of reasons.

In 1682, Tonti and fellow explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, were the first Europeans to sail through what became Chicago, a city which now rightfully pays homage to Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, its first settler. Tonti and LaSalle later set up trading posts in both Starved Rock and Peoria.

Tonti also established the first permanent European settlement in the Lower Mississippi Valley, hence his being credited as the “Father of Arkansas.” In fact, there is still a farming area there known as Tontitown. An early enclave of Italians, it was founded in 1898 by an Italian priest, Father Pietro Bandini.

Closer to the point: Copies of Tonti’s journals are available in both the Library of Congress and the Newberry Library, written in his adopted language of French. Tonti even had a Chicago Public School named after him on the Southwest Side.

Last June, however, in an earnest and commendable attempt to recognize the area’s Hispanic majority, Tonti Elementary was renamed Monarcas Academy (Spanish for “monarch,” in this case, the butterfly). The irony here is that, unlike many European explorers, Tonti treated Native Americans with respect. He documented their cultures and, in the case of Choctaw and Chickasaw rivalries in Louisiana, negotiated peace treaties.

That spirit of cooperation, nurtured largely by Native Americans and continued by Europeans like Tonti, are legacies from which we all can learn.

Bill Dal Cerro, Edison Park

Not picture perfect

The crib photo that initially accompanied last week’s editorial on the large numbers of premature babies in Illinois showed a dangerous sleeping arrangement.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that infants sleep on their backs on a firm surface with no soft bedding, stuffed toys or crib bumpers, to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which affects more Black and premature infants than white, full-term infants.

Cribs should not be full of items and have drop sides. The slats also must be narrowly spaced to prevent entrapment. It is unfortunate the original picture that gave helpful information about prevention of prematurity with its risks to the baby’s health and development was so inappropriate.

Miriam A. Kalichman, M.D., Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Streeterville

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