The Discovery of the Rocky Mountains

RENÉ GAULTIER DE VARENNES, lieutenant in the regiment of Carignan, married at Three Rivers, in 1667, the daughter of Pierre Boucher, governor of that place ; the age of the bride, Demoiselle Marie Boucher, being twelve years, six months, and eighteen days. Varennes succeeded his father-in-law as governor of Three Rivers, with a salary of twelve hundred francs, to which he added the profits of a farm of forty acres ; and on these modest resources, reinforced by an illicit trade in furs, he made shift to sustain the dignity of his office. His wife became the mother of numerous offspring, among whom was Pierre, an active and hardy youth, who, like the rest of the poor but vigorous Canadian noblesse, seemed born for the forest and the fur trade. When, however, the War of the Spanish Succession broke out, the young man crossed the sea, obtained the commission of lieutenant, and was nearly killed at the battle of Malplaquet, where he was shot through the body, received six sabre cuts, and was left for dead on the field. He recovered, and returned to Canada, when, finding his services slighted, he again took to the woods. He had assumed the surname of La Vérendrye, and thenceforth his full designation was Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de la Vérendrye.

In 1728, he was in command of a small post on Lake Nipegon, north of Lake Superior. Here an Indian chief from the River Kaministiguia told him of a certain great lake which discharged itself by a river flowing westward. The Indian farther declared that he had descended this river till he reached water that ebbed and flowed, and terrified by the strange phenomenon, had turned back, though not till he had heard of a great salt lake, bordered with many villages. Other Indians confirmed and improved the story. “ These people,” said La Vérendrye to the Jesuit Degonnor, “ are great liars, but now and then they tell the truth.” It seemed to him likely that their stories of a western river flowing to a western sea were not totally groundless, and that the true way to the Pacific was not, as had been supposed. through the country of the Sioux, but farther northward, through that of the Cristineaux and Assinniboins, or, in other words, through the region now called Manitoba. In this view he was sustained by his friend Degonnor, who had just returned from the ill-starred Sioux mission.

La Vérendrye, fired with the zeal of discovery, offered to search for the western sea if he were allowed one hundred men, and if the king would supply canoes, arms, and provisions. But, as was usual in such cases, the king would give nothing; and though the governor, Beauharnois, did all in his power to promote the enterprise, the burden and the risk were left to the adventurer himself. La Vérendrye was authorized to find a way to the Pacific at his own expense, in consideration of a monopoly of the fur trade in the regions north and west of Lake Superior. This vast and remote country was held by tribes who were doubtful friends of the French, and perpetual enemies of each other. The risks of the trade were as great as its possible profits, and to reap these, vast outlays must first be made ; forts must be built, manned, provisioned, and stocked with goods brought through two thousand miles of difficult and perilous wilderness. There were other dangers, more insidious, and perhaps greater. The exclusive privileges granted to La Vérendrye would infallibly rouse the intensest jealousy of the Canadian merchants, and they would spare no effort to ruin him. Intrigue and calumny would be busy in his absence. If, as was likely, his patron Beauharnois should be recalled, the new governor might be turned against him, his privileges might be suddenly revoked, the forts he had built passed over to his rivals, and all his outlays turned to their profit, as had happened to La Salle on the recall of his patron Frontenac. On the other hand, the country was full of the choicest furs, which the Indians had hitherto carried to the English at Hudson Bay, but which the proposed trading-posts would secure to the French. La Vérendrye’s enemies pretended that he thought of nothing but beaver-skins, and slighted the discovery which he had bound himself to undertake ; but his conduct proves that he was true to his engagements, and that ambition to gain honorable distinction in the service of the king had a large place among the motives that impelled him.

As his own resources were of the smallest, he took a number of associates on conditions most unfavorable to himself. Among them they raised money enough to begin the enterprise, and on the 8th of June, 1731, La Vérendrye, and three of his sons, together with his nephew La Jemeraye, the Jesuit Messager, and a party of Canadians, set out from Montreal. It was late in August before they reached the great portage of Lake Superior, which led across the height of land separating the waters of that lake from those flowing to Lake Winnipeg. The way was long and difficult. The men, who had possibly been tampered with, mutinied, and refused to go farther. Some of them, with much ado, consented at last to proceed, and, under the lead of La Jemeraye, made their way by an intricate and broken chain of lakes and streams to Rainy Lake, where they built a fort, and called it Fort St. Pierre. La Vérendrye was forced to winter with the rest of the party at the River Kaministiguia, not far from the great portage. Here months were lost, during which a crew of useless mutineers had to be fed and paid ; and it was not till the next June that he could get them again into motion towards Lake Winnipeg.

This ominous beginning was followed by a train of disasters. His associates abandoned him ; the merchants on whom he depended for supplies would not send them, and he found himself, in his own words, “ destitute of everything.” His nephew, La Jemeraye, died. The Jesuit Auneau, bent on returning to Michillimackinac, set out with La Vérendrye’s eldest son and a party of twenty Canadians. A few days later, they were all found on an island in the Lake of the Woods, murdered and mangled by the Sioux. Beauharnois twice appealed to the court to give La Vérendrye some little aid, urging that he was at the end of his resources, and that a grant of thirty thousand francs, or six thousand dollars, would enable him to find an overland route to the Pacific. All help was refused ; but La Vérendrye was told that he might let out his forts to other traders, and thus raise means to pursue the discovery.

In 1740, he went for the third time to Montreal, where, instead of aid, he found a lawsuit. “ In spite,” he says, “ of the derangement of my affairs, the envy and jealousy of various persons impelled them to write letters to the court, insinuating that I thought of nothing but making a fortune. If more than forty thousand livres of debt which I have on my shoulders are an advantage, then I can flatter myself that I am very rich. In all my misfortunes, I have the consolation of seeing that M. de Beauharnois enters into my views, recognizes the uprightness of my intentions, and does me justice in spite of opposition.”

Meanwhile, under all his difficulties, he had explored a vast region hitherto unknown, diverted a great and lucrative fur trade from the English at Hudson Bay. and secured possession of it by six fortified posts : Fort St. Pierre, on Rainy Lake ; Fort St. Charles, on the Lake of the Woods ; Fort Maurepas, at the mouth of the River Winnipeg; Fort Bourbon, on the eastern side of Lake Winnipeg; Fort La Reine, on the Assinniboin; Fort Dauphin, on Lake Manitoba. Besides these he built another post, called Fort Rouge, on the site of the present city of Winnipeg ; and, some time after, another, at the mouth of the River Poskoiac, or Saskatchawan, neither of which, however, was long occupied. These various forts were only stockade works flanked with block-houses, but the difficulty of building and maintaining them in this remote wilderness was incalculable.

In 1738, he had so far secured his position as to enable him to begin his search for the Pacific. His Indian neighbors, the Assinniboins and Cristineaux, could not help him ; but they told him that the Mandans, a distant tribe on the Upper Missouri, knew the way, and would give him guides. Lured by this falsehood, he set out from Fort La Reine in October, with twenty men and a band of Assinniboins. After extreme hardships he reached the villages of the Mandans, where the indispensable presents he had brought for them were all stolen by an Assinniboin, and his only interpreter ran off. It was useless to stay, and, leaving two Frenchmen to winter with the Mandans and learn their language, he began his return to the fort. “ I was very ill,” he writes, “ but hoped to get better on the way. The contrary took place, for it was the depth of winter. It is impossible to suffer more than I did. It seemed that nothing but death could release us from such miseries.” He reached Fort La Reine on the 11th of February, 1739.

His eldest surviving son, Pierre, with a younger brother, known afterwards as the Chevalier de la Vérendrye, took up the adventure, and, with two Canadian followers, set out for the Mandans on the 29th of April, 1742. Following the River Assinniboin to the mouth of Mouse River, they ascended that stream, crossed to the Missouri, and reached the principal Mandan village, after a journey of about three weeks from Fort La Reine. Here they found themselves the guests of one of the most interesting tribes on the continent. Nearly half a century ago, the Mandans were almost exterminated by the small-pox, but the pencil of the excellent artist who accompanied Prince Maximilian of Wied to their village in 1832, and the faithful brush of the painter Catlin, who visited them a few years later, have preserved them to posterity essentially unchanged since the journey of the brothers La Vérendrye.

What the young travelers saw was a cluster of lodges, each forty or fifty feet wide, shaped like a flattened dome, strongly framed of trunks of trees and sapling poles, and covered with a thick matting of willow branches, over which was laid a bed of earth and clay, two or three feet deep. These capacious dwellings were grouped compactly round a central area, which served for games, dances, and the strange religious ceremonies practiced by the tribe. The sacred “ medicine ” lodge was distinguished from the rest by three or four tall poles planted before it, each with an effigy at the top, looking much like a scarecrow, and intended as a sacrifice to the spirits. The village was protected by a rude palisade and ditch, for the Mandans were surrounded by enemies.

The brothers, in their too brief official report, say nothing of their reception, which was evidently a cordial one. The earth-covered domes that encircled the central area no doubt swarmed with squaws and children, as was always the case on occasions of public interest; and the strangers were feasted without stint in the lodges of the chiefs. Here, seated by the sunken hearth in the centre, under the large hole in the roof that served both for window and chimney, the guests might study at their ease the domestic economy of their entertainers. Every lodge held a gens, or entire family connection, whose beds of raw buffalo hide stretched on frames were ranged round the circumference of the building, while near the head of each stood a post, on which hung shields, lances, bows, quivers, medicine-bags, pipes, and masks made of the skin of a buffalo’s head, for use in the magic buffalo dance.

Daily sports relieved the monotony of savage existence, — the game of the stick and the rolling ring, the archery practice of boys, horse-racing on the neighboring prairie, and perpetual games of chance ; while in contrast with these gayeties, the long dismal wail of mourners rose every evening from the cemetery, where the dead of the village lay on scaffolds, sewed fast in buffalo hides,

The Mandans did not know the way to the Pacific, but they told the brothers that they expected a speedy visit from a certain tribe, or band, called Horse Indians, who could guide them thither. It is impossible to identify these people with any known tribe ; all the tribes of that, country might at this time have claimed the name. The brothers waited for them in vain till past midsummer. The season was too far advanced for longer delay, and they hired two Mandans to guide them to the customary haunts of the Horse Indians.

They set out on horseback, their scanty baggage and their stock of presents being carried, no doubt, by pack-animals. Their general course was west-southwest. The Black Hills lay at a distance on their left, and the Upper Missouri on their right. The country they traversed was a rolling prairie, well covered for the most part with grass, and watered with small alkaline streams, creeping towards the Missouri, with an opaque, whitish current, over beds of sandy clay. There was little or no wood except along these watercourses. “ I noticed,” says the Chevalier La Vérendrye, “ earths of different colors, — blue, green, red, or black, white as chalk or yellowish like ochre.” This was probably in the “bad lands ” of the Little Missouri, where these party-colored earths form a conspicuous feature in the bare and barren bluffs, cut into fantastic shapes by storms and floods.

For twenty days they saw no human being. The plains, says their journal, were alive with game. Deer sprang from the rank, reedy grass of the river bottoms; buffalo tramped by in ponderous columns, or dotted the pale swells of the distant prairie with their grazing multitudes; antelope approached, with the curiosity of their species, to gaze at the passing horsemen, then fled like the wind ; and as the party neared the hilly uplands of the Yellowstone, they saw herds of elk and flocks of mountain sheep. Wolves, white and gray, howled about their camp all night; and in the dusk of evening, the coyote, seated on the grass, with nose turned to the sky, saluted them with a confusion of yelpings, as if half a score of petulant voices were pouring together from the throat of one small beast. The ground was often honeycombed for a mile or more with the holes of the curious little marmot called the prairie-dog, which uttered its squeakingbark as they came near, and then dived into its burrow.

On the 11th of August, they reached a hill, or group of hills, apparently not far west of the Little Missouri. It was here that they hoped to find the Horse Indians, but the place was a solitude. They built a hut, made fires that the smoke might attract any Indians roaming near, and reconnoitred the country every day from the tops of the hills. At length, on the 14th of September, they saw a spire of smoke on the distant prairie.

One of their Mandan guides had left them, and gone back to his village. The other, with one of the Frenchmen, went towards the smoke, and found a camp of Indians, whom the journal calls Les Beaux Hommes, and who were probably Crows, a tribe remarkable for stature and symmetry, who long claimed that region as their own. They treated the visitors well, and sent for the other Frenchmen to come to their lodges, where they were received with great rejoicing. The remaining Mandan, however, became frightened, for the Crows were enemies of his tribe; and he soon followed his companion on his solitary march homeward.

The brothers remained twenty-one days in the Crow camp, much perplexed for want of an interpreter. The tribes of the plains have in common a system of signs by which they communicate with each other, and it is likely that the brothers had learned it from the Sioux or Assinniboins, with whom they had been in familiar intercourse. By this or some other means they made their hosts understand that they wished to find the Horse Indians; and the Crows, being soothed by presents, offered some of their young men as guides. They set out on the 9 th of October,1 following a south-southwest course.

In two days they met a band of Indians, called by them the Little Foxes, and on the 15th and 17th two villages of another unrecognizable horde, named Pioya. From La Vérendrye’s time to our own, this name " villages ” has always been given to the encampments of the wandering people of the plains. All these nomadic communities joined them, and they moved together southward, till they reached at last the lodges of the long-sought Horse Indians. They found them in the extremity of distress and terror. Their camp resounded with howls and wailings, and not without cause; for the Snakes, or Shoshones, a formidable people living farther westward, had lately destroyed nearly all their tribe. The Snakes were the terror of that country. The brothers were told that the year before they had destroyed seventeen villages, killing the warriors and old women, and carrying off the young women and children as slaves.

None of the Horse Indians had ever seen the Pacific, but they knew a people called Gens de l’Arc, or Bow Indians, who, as they said, had traded in that quarter. To the Bow Indians, therefore, the brothers resolved to go, and by dint of gifts and promises they persuaded their hosts to show them the way. After marching southwestward for several days, they saw the distant prairie covered with the pointed buffalo-skin lodges of a great Indian camp. It was that of the Bow Indians, who appear to have been one of the bands of the western Sioux, the predominant race in this region. Not one in five hundred of them could ever have seen a white man, and we may imagine their amazement at the arrival of the strangers, who, followed by staring crowds, were conducted to the lodge of the chief. “Thus far,” says La Vérendrye, “we had been well received in all the villages we had passed, but this was nothing compared with the courteous manners of the great chief of the Bow Indians, who, unlike the others, was not self-interested in the least, and who took excellent care of everything belonging to us.”

The first inquiry of the travelers was for the Pacific, but neither the chief nor his tribesmen knew anything of it, except what they had heard from Snake prisoners taken in war. The Frenchmen were surprised at the extent of the camp, which consisted of many separate bands. The chief explained that they had been summoned from far and near for a grand war-party against that common foe of all, the Snakes. In fact, the camp resounded with war-songs and wardances. “ Come with us,” said their host; “we are going towards the mountains, where you can see the great water that you are looking for.”

At length the camp broke up. The squaws took down the lodges, and the march began over prairies dreary and brown with the withering touch of autumn. The spectacle was such as men still young have seen in these western lands, but which no man will see again. The vast plain swarmed with the moving multitude. The tribes of the Missouri and the Yellowstone had by this time abundance of horses, the best of which were used for war and hunting, and the others as beasts of burden. These last were equipped in a peculiar manner. Several of the long poles used to frame the lodges were secured by one end to each side of a rude saddle, while the other end trailed on the ground. Crossbars lashed to the poles just behind the horse kept them three or four feet apart, and formed a firm support, on which was laid, compactly folded, the buffalo-skin covering of the lodge. On this, again, sat a mother with her young family, sometimes stowed for safety in a large open willow basket, with the occasional addition of some domestic pet, such as a tame raven, a puppy, or even a small bear cub. Other horses were laden in the same manner with wooden bowls, stone hammers, and other utensils, along with stores of dried buffalo meat packed in cases of rawhide. Many of the innumerable dogs, whose manners and appearance strongly suggested their relatives the wolves, to whom, however, they bore a mortal grudge, were equipped in a similar way, with shorter poles and lighter loads. Bands of naked boys, noisy and restless, roamed the prairie, practicing their bows and arrows on any small animal they might find. Gay young squaws, adorned on each cheek with a spot of ochre or red clay, and arrayed in tunics of fringed buckskin embroidered with porcupine quills, were mounted on ponies, astride like men ; while lean and tattered hags, the drudges of the tribe, unkempt and hideous, scolded the lagging horses or screeched at the disorderly dogs with voices not unlike the yell of the great horned owl. Most of the warriors were on horseback, armed with round white shields of bull hide, feathered lances, war-clubs, bows, and quivers filled with stone-headed arrows ; while a few of the elders, wrapped in robes of buffalo hide, stalked along in groups with a stately air, chatting, laughing, and exchanging unseemly jokes.2

“ We continued our march,” says La Vérendrye, “ sometimes south-southwest, and now and then northwest; our numbers constantly increasing by villages of different tribes which joined us.” The variations of their course were probably due to the difficulties of the country, which grew more rugged as they advanced, with broken hills, tracts of dingy green sage bushes, and bright, swift streams, edged with cottonwood and willow, hurrying northward to join the Yellowstone. At length, on the 1st of January, 1743, they saw the Rocky Mountains, — probably the Bighorn Range, a hundred and twenty miles east of the Yellowstone Park.

A council of all the allied bands was now called, and the Frenchmen were asked to take part in it. The questions discussed were how to dispose of the women and children, and how to attack the enemy. Having settled their plans, the chiefs begged their white friends not to abandon them; and the younger of the two, the chevalier, consented to join the warriors, and aid them with advice, though not with arms.

The tribes of the western plains rarely go on war-parties in winter, and this great expedition must have been the result of unusual exasperation. The object was to surprise the Snakes in the security of their winter camp, and strike a deadly blow, which would have been impossible in summer.

On the 8th of January, the whole body stopped to encamp, choosing, no doubt, after their invariable winter custom, a place sheltered from wind, and supplied with water and fuel. Here the squaws and children were to remain, while most of the warriors advanced against the enemy. By pegging the lower edge of the lodge-skin to the ground, and piling a ridge of stones and earth upon it to keep out the air, fastening with wooden skewers the flap of hide that covered the entrance, and keeping a constant fire, they could pass a winter endurable to Indians, though smoke, filth, vermin, bad air, the crowd, and the total absence of privacy would make it a purgatory to any civilized white man.

The chevalier left his brother to watch over the baggage of the party, which was stored in the lodge of the great chief, while he himself, with his two Canadians, joined the advancing warriors. They were on horseback, marching with a certain order, and sending watchmen to reconnoitre the country from the tops of the hills.3 Their movements were so slow that it was twelve days before they reached the foot of the mountains, which, says La Vérendrye, “are for the most part well wooded, and seem very high.” He longed to climb their great snow-encumbered peaks, fancying that he might then see the Pacific, and never dreaming that more than eight hundred miles of mountains and forests still lay between him and his goal.

Through the whole of the present century, the favorite haunts of the southern division of the Snakes were in the valleys of Wind and Green rivers. It is likely that they were so in 1743, in which case the war-party would not only have reached the Bighorn Mountains, but have pushed farther on to within full sight of the great Wind River Range. Be this as it may, their scouts reached the chief winter camp of the Snakes, and found it abandoned, with lodges still standing, and many household possessions left behind. The enemy had discovered their approach, and fled. Instead of encouraging the allies, this news filled them with terror, for they feared that the Snake warriors might make a circuit to the rear, and fall upon the camp where they had left their women and children. The great chief spent all his eloquence in vain. Nobody would listen to him, and with characteristic fickleness they gave over the enterprise, and retreated in a panic. “ Our advance was made in good order, but not so our retreat,” says the chevalier’s journal. “ Everybody fled his own way. Our horses, though good, were very tired, and got little to eat.” He was one day riding with his friend, the great chief, when, looking behind him, he missed his two French attendants. Hastening back in alarm, he found them far in the rear, quietly feeding their horses under the shelter of a clump of trees. He had scarcely joined them when he saw a party of fifteen hostile Indians stealthily creeping forward, covered by their bullhide shields. He and his men let them approach, and then gave them a few shots, on which they immediately ran off, firearms being to them an astounding novelty.

The three Frenchmen now tried to rejoin the great chief and his band, but the task was not easy. The prairie, bare of snow and hard as flint, showed no trace of foot or hoof, and it was by rare good fortune that they succeeded, on the second day, not in overtaking the chief, but in reaching the camp where the women and children had been left. They found them all in safety ; the Snakes had not attacked them, and the panic of the warriors was causeless. It was the 9th of February. They were scarcely housed when a blizzard set in, and on the night of the 10th the plains were buried in snow. The great chief had not appeared. With such of his warriors as he could persuade to follow him, he had made a wide circuit to find the trail of the lost Frenchmen, but, to his great distress, had completely failed. It was not till five days after the arrival of the chevalier and his men that the chief reached the camp, " more dead than alive,” in the words of the journal. All his hardships were forgotten when he found his white friends safe, for he had given them up for lost. “ His sorrow turned to joy, and he could not give us attention and caresses enough.”

The camp broke up, and the allied bands dispersed. The great chief and his followers moved slowly through the snowdrifts towards the east-southeast, accompanied by the Frenchmen. Thus they kept on till the 1st of March, when the two brothers, learning that they were approaching the winter village of a people called Gens de la Petite Cerise, or Choke Cherry Indians, sent one of their men, with a guide, to visit them. The man returned in ten days, bringing a message from the Choke Cherry Indians, inviting the Frenchmen to their lodges.

The great chief of the Bowmen, who seems to have regarded his young friends with mingled affection, respect, and wonder, was grieved at the thought of losing them, but took comfort when they promised to visit him again, provided that he would make his abode near a certain river which they pointed out. To this he readily agreed, and then with mutual regret they parted. The Frenchmen repaired to the village of the Choke Cherry Indians, who, like the Bowmen, were probably a band of Sioux. Hard by their lodges, which stood near the Missouri, the brothers buried a plate of lead graven with the royal arms, and raised a pile of stones in honor of the governor of Canada. They remained at this place till April ; then, mounting their horses again, followed the Missouri upward to the village of the Mandans, which they reached on the 18th of May. After spending a week here, they joined a party of Assinniboins, journeyed with them towards Fort La Reine, and reached it on the 2d of July, to the great relief of their father, who was waiting in suspense, having heard nothing of them for more than a year.

Sixty-two years later, when the vast western regions then called Louisiana had just been ceded to the United States, Captains Lewis and Clark left the Mandan villages with thirty-two men, traced the Missouri to the mountains, penetrated the wastes beyond, and made their way to the Pacific. The first stages of that remarkable exploration were anticipated by the brothers La Vérendrye. They did not find the Pacific, but they discovered the Rocky Mountains, or at least the part of them to which the name properly belongs; for the southern continuation of the great range had long been known to the Spaniards. Their bold adventure was achieved, not at the charge of a government, but at their own cost and that of their father ; not with a band of well-equipped men, but with only two followers.

The fur-trading privilege which was to have been their compensation had proved their ruin. They were still pursued without ceasing by the jealousy of rival traders and the ire of disappointed partners. “ Here in Canada more than anywhere else,” the chevalier wrote, some years after his return, “ envy is the passion à la mode, and there is no escaping it.” It was the story of La Salle repeated. Beauharnois, however, still stood by them, encouraged and defended them, and wrote in their favor to the colonial minister. It was, doubtless, through his efforts that the elder La Vérendrye was at last promoted to a captaincy in the colony troops. Beauharnois was succeeded in the government by the sagacious and able Galissonière, and he too befriended the explorers. “ It seems to me,” he wrote to the minister, “ that what you have been told touching the Sieur de la Vé rendrye, to the effect that he has been more busy with his own interests than in making discoveries, is totally false ; and, moreover, that any officers employed in such work will always be compelled to give some of their attention to trade, so long as the king allows them no other means of subsistence. These discoveries are very costly, and more fatiguing and dangerous than open war.” Two years later, the elder La Vérendrye received the cross of the Order of St. Louis, an honor much prized in Canada, but which he did not long enjoy ; for he died at Montreal in the following December, when on the point of again setting out for the west.

His intrepid sons survived, and they were not idle. One of them, the chevalier, had before discovered the River Saskatchawan, and ascended it as far as the forks. His intention was to follow it to the mountains, build a fort there, and thence push westward in another search for the Pacific ; but a disastrous event ruined all his hopes. La Galissonière returned to France, and the Marquis de la Jonquière succeeded him, with the notorious Francois Bigot as intendant. Both were greedy of money, the one to hoard and the other to dissipate it. Clearly there was money to be got from the fur trade of Manitoba, for La Vérendrye had made every preparation and incurred every expense. It seemed that nothing remained but to reap where he had sown. His commission to find the Pacific, with the privileges connected with it, was refused to his sons, and conferred on another. La Jonquière wrote to the minister, “ I have charged M. de Saint-Pierre with this business. He knows these countries better than any officer in all the colony.” On the contrary, he had never seen them. It is difficult not to believe that La Jonquière, Bigot, and Saint-Pierre were partners in a speculation of which all three were to share the profits.

The elder La Vérendrye, not long before his death, had sent a large quantity of goods to his trading-forts. The brothers begged leave to return thither and save their property from destruction. They declared themselves happy to serve under the orders of Saint-Pierre, and asked for the use of only a single fort of all those which their father had built at his own cost. The answer was a flat refusal. In short, they were shamefully robbed. The chevalier writes, “ M. le Marquis de la Jonquière, being pushed hard, and as I thought even touched, by my representations, told me at, last that M. de Saint-Pierre wanted nothing to do with me or my brothers.” “ I am a ruined man,” he continues. “ I am more than two thousand livres in debt, and am still only a second ensign. My elder brother’s grade is no better than mine. My younger brother is only a cadet. This is the fruit of all that my father, my brothers, and I have done. My other brother, whom the Sioux murdered some years ago, was not the most unfortunate among us. We must lose all that has cost us so much, unless M. de Saint-Pierre takes juster views, and prevails on the Marquis de la Jonquière to share them. To be thus shut out from the west is to be most cruelly robbed of a sort of inheritance, which we had all the pains of acquiring, and of which others will get all the profit.”

His elder brother writes in a similar strain: “We spent our youth and our property in building up establishments so advantageous to Canada ; and after all, we were doomed to see a stranger gather the fruit we had taken such pains to plant.” And he complains that their goods left in the trading-posts were wasted, their provisions consumed, and the men in their pay used to do the work of others.

They got no redress. Saint-Pierre, backed by the governor and the intendant, remained master of the position. The brothers sold a small piece of land, their last remaining property, to appease their most pressing creditors.

Saint-Pierre set out for Manitoba on the 5th of June, 1750. Though he had lived more or less in the woods for thirty-six years, and though La Jonquière had told the minister that he knew the countries to which he was bound better than anybody else, it is clear from his own journal that he was now visiting them for the first time. They did not please him. “ I was told,” he says, “ that the way would grow harder and more dangerous as we advanced, and I found, in fact, that one must risk life and property every moment.” Finding himself and his men likely to starve, he sent some of them, under an ensign named Niverville, to the Saskatchawan. They could not reach it, and nearly perished on the way. “ I myself was no more fortunate,” says Saint - Pierre. “Food was so scarce that I sent some of my people into the woods, among the Indians, which did not save me from a fast so rigorous that it deranged my health, and put it out of my power to do anything towards accomplishing my mission. Even if I had had strength enough, the war that broke out among the Indians would have made it impossible to proceed.”

Niverville, after a winter of misery, tried to fulfill an order which he had received from his commander. When the Indians guided the two brothers La Vérendrye to the Rocky Mountains, the course they took tended so far southward that the chevalier greatly feared it might lead to Spanish settlements ; and he gave it as his opinion that the next attempt to find the Pacific should be made farther towards the north. Saint-Pierre had accepted this view, and had directed Niverville to build a fort on the Saskatchawan, three hundred leagues above its mouth. Therefore, at the end of May, 1751, Niverville sent ten men in two canoes on this errand, and they ascended the Saskatchawan to what Saint-Pierre calls the “Rock Mountain.” Here they built a small stockade fort, and called it Fort La Jonquière. Niverville was to have followed them, but he fell ill, and lay helpless at the mouth of the river, in such a condition that he could not even write to his commander.

Saint-Pierre set out in person from Fort La Reine for Fort La Jonquière, over ice and snow, for it was late in November. Two Frenchmen from Niverville met him on the way, and reported that the Assinniboins had slaughtered an entire band of friendly Indians, on whom Saint-Pierre had relied to guide him. On hearing this he gave up the enterprise, and returned to Fort La Reine. Here the Indians told him idle stories about white men and a fort in some remote place towards the west, but, he observes, “ nobody could reach it without encountering an infinity of tribes, more savage than it is possible to imagine.”

He spent most of the winter at Port La Reine. Here, towards the end of February, 1752, he had with him only five men, having sent out the rest in search of food. Suddenly, as he sat in his chamber, he saw the fort full of armed Assinniboins, extremely noisy and insolent. He tried in vain to quiet them, and they presently broke into the guard-house and seized the arms. A massacre would have followed, had not Saint-Pierre, who was far from wanting courage, resorted to an expedient which has more than once proved effective on such occasions. He snatched a firebrand, knocked out the heads of two barrels of gunpowder, and told the yelping crowd that he would blow up them and himself together. At this they all rushed in fright for the gate, while Saint-Pierre flung away his fire-brand, ran after them, and bolted it fast. There was great anxiety for the hunting party, but they all came back in the evening, without having met the enemy. The men, however, were so terrified by the adventure that SaintPierre was compelled to abandon the fort, after recommending it to the care of another band of Assinniboins, who had professed great friendship. Four days after he was gone they burned it to the ground.

He soon came to the conclusion that farther discoveries were impossible, because the English of Hudson Bay had stirred up the western tribes to oppose them. Therefore he set out for the settlements, and, reaching Quebec in the autumn of 1753, placed the journal of his futile enterprise in the hands of Duquesne, the new governor.

Canada was approaching her last agony. In the death-struggle of the Seven Years’ War, there was no time for schemes of western discovery. The brothers La Vérendrye sank into poverty and neglect. A little before the war broke out, we find the eldest at the obscure Acadian post of Beauséjour, where he wrote to the colonial minister a statement of his services, which appears to have received no attention. After the fall of Canada, the Chevalier de la Vérendrye, he whose eyes first beheld the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains, perished in the wreck of the ship Auguste, on the coast of Cape Breton, in November, 1761.4

Francis Parkman.

  1. Or 9th of November, according to a duplicate of the journal.
  2. The above descriptive particulars are drawn from repeated observation of similar scenes.
  3. At least this was done by a band of Sioux with whom the writer, in his youth, traversed a part of the country ranged by Snake war-parties. The Snakes and the Sioux were still deadly enemies,
  4. The above narrative rests mainly on contemporary documents, official in character, of which the originals are preserved in the archives of the French government. These papers have recently been printed by M. Pierre Margry, late custodian of the Archives of the Marine and Colonies at Paris, in the forthcoming sixth volume of his Découvertes et Etablissements des Français dans l’Amérique Septentrionale, a documentary collection of great value, published at the expense of the American government. It was M. Margry who first drew attention to the achievements of the family of La Vérendrye, by an article in the Moniteur, in 1852. I owe to his kindness the opportunity of using the above-mentioned documents in advance of publication. I obtained copies from duplicate originals of some of the principal among them from the Dépôt des Cartes de la Marine, in 1872. These answer closely, with rare and trivial variations, to the same documents as printed from other sources by M. Margry. Some additional papers preserved in the Archives of the Marine and Colonies have also been used.
  5. I am indebted to my friends, Hon. William C. Endicott, Secretary of War, and Captain John G. Bourke, 3d Cavalry, U. S. A., for a valuable collection of government maps and surveys of the country between the Missouri and the Rocky Mountains, visited by the brothers La Vérendrye ; and I have received from Captain Bourke, and also from Mr. E. A. Snow, formerly of the 3d Cavalry, much information concerning the same region, repeatedly traversed by them in peace and war.