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Title: Pathfinders of the Great Plains - A Chronicle of La Vérendrye and his Sons
Author: Burpee, Lawrence J. (Lawrence Johnstone), 1873-1946
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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PATHFINDERS OF

THE GREAT PLAINS


A Chronicle of La Vérendrye and his Sons

BY

LAWRENCE J. BURPEE



TORONTO

GLASGOW, BROOK & COMPANY

1914



  Copyright in all Countries subscribing to
  the Berne Convention



{ix}

CONTENTS

                                                                 Page

   I.  EARLY SERVICE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    1
  II.  FIRST ATTEMPT AT EXPLORATION  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   20
 III.  ACROSS THE PLAINS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   44
  IV.  THE MANDAN INDIANS  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   55
   V.  THE DISCOVERY OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS  . . . . . . . . . .   72
  VI.  LA VÉRENDRYES' LATTER DAYS  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   92
       BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  113
       INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  115



ILLUSTRATIONS

LA VÉRENDRYE EXPLORATIONS, 1731-43 . . . . . . . . .  _Facing page_ 1
  Map by Bartholomew.

AN INDIAN ENCAMPMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     "     "   48
  Painting by Paul Kane.

AN ASSINIBOINE INDIAN  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     "     "   52
  From a pastel by Edmund Morris.

MANDAN GIRLS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     "     "   68
  From Pritchard's 'Natural History of Man.'

TABLET DEPOSITED BY LA VÉRENDRYE, 1743 . . . . . . .     "     "   90
  From photographs lent by Charles N. Bell,
  F.R.G.S., President of the Manitoba
  Historical and Scientific Society.

THE MARQUIS DE LA GALISSONIÈRE . . . . . . . . . . .     "     "   96
  From an engraving in the Château de Ramezay.



[Illustration: La Vérendrye Explorations, 1731-43]



{1}

CHAPTER I

EARLY SERVICE

Canada has had many brave sons, but none braver than Pierre Gaultier de
La Vérendrye, who gave all that he had, including his life, for the
glory and welfare of his country.  La Vérendrye was born in the quaint
little town of Three Rivers, on the St Lawrence, on November 17, 1685.
His father was governor of the district of which Three Rivers was the
capital; his mother was a daughter of Pierre Boucher, a former governor
of the same district.  In those days, when Canada was still a French
colony, both Three Rivers and Montreal had their own governors, while
the whole colony was under the authority of the governor-general, who
lived at Quebec.

At that time Three Rivers was a more important place than it is to-day.
Next to Quebec and Montreal, it was the largest town in Canada.  If we
could see it as it was in the days of La Vérendrye, we should find it
very {2} different from the towns we know.  It was surrounded by a
strong wall and protected with cannon.  The town had always a garrison
of regular soldiers, and this garrison was supported in times of
necessity by every man and boy in Three Rivers.  Those who lived in the
neighbourhood were also liable to be called upon for the service of
defence.  In those days, when the dreaded Iroquois might at any moment
swoop down upon the little settlement, every man kept his gun within
reach, and every man knew how to use it.  When the alarm was given,
men, women, and children swarmed into Three Rivers, and the town became
a secure fortress; for the Indians, ready enough to ambush small
parties of white men in the forest or in the fields, rarely dared to
attack walled towns.

In this little walled town Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye was born,
and spent his boyhood.  He was one of ten children, so that he must
have had no lack of companions.  We have no exact description of the
home of the governor of Three Rivers, but it was probably much like
that of other seigneurs or landed gentry of New France--a low,
rambling, stone building, with walls solid enough to resist a siege,
perhaps a wing or two, many {3} gables, and a lofty roof.  It would be
flanked, too, with many outhouses.  It must not be supposed, however,
that the governor of Three Rivers and his family lived in luxury.
People then were obliged to live more simply than they live to-day.
The governor had a salary of 1200 francs a year, or about 240 dollars
of the money of the present day.  At that time, it is true, food and
clothing were cheaper than they are now, so that this sum would buy a
great deal more than it would at the present time; and the governor had
other slight resources, for he was able to add to his official income
the profits of a small farm and of a trading post on the St Maurice
river.  Still, it was a small income on which to support a family of
ten lusty children, and at the same time keep up the dignity of the
position as governor of an important town.  Pierre, therefore, like
most of the other boys of New France, had to shift for himself at an
age when the boys of to-day are still at school.

In those days there was practically only one career for a gentleman's
son--that of a soldier.  Accordingly we find Pierre entering the army
as a cadet at the age of twelve.  Nothing is known of his military
service up to the year 1704.  In that year, however, he took part in
{4} an expedition against Deerfield, on the north-western frontier of
the colony of Massachusetts.  The expedition was commanded by a
well-known guerilla leader, Hertel de Rouville, and consisted of about
fifty Canadians and two hundred Abnakis and Caughnawagas.  These
adventurers and redskins were accustomed to all kinds of hardship.  In
the depth of winter they set out from Montreal to make a journey of
nearly three hundred miles.  They travelled on snow-shoes through the
forest, carrying supplies and provisions on their backs.  At the end of
a long day's tramp, some comparatively sheltered spot would be found
for the camp; the snow would be cleared away with their snowshoes, and
a big camp-fire built in the midst of the clearing.  Round this the
weary men, white and red, would gather to eat their simple meal and
smoke a pipe; then each man would wrap himself in his cloak or blanket
and fall asleep, with his feet towards the fire.  From time to time
some one, warned by the increasing cold, would spring up to throw on
the fire another log or two.  With the first appearance of dawn, the
party would be once more astir; a hasty breakfast would be swallowed,
and they would be off again on their long tramp to the south.

{5}

So day after day they journeyed until at last, just when they had come
to the very end of their provisions, they arrived within sight of the
doomed little English frontier village of Deerfield.  In the dead of
the night Rouville called a halt in a pine forest two miles from the
village, and made preparations to surprise the inhabitants.  The people
of Deerfield were wholly unconscious of the danger from the approach of
the French raiders.  Although the place had a rude garrison this force
was ineffective, since it had little or no discipline.  On this
particular night even the sentries seem to have found their patrol duty
within the palisades of the village so uncomfortable, in the bitter
night air, that they had betaken themselves to bed.

Parkman has described the next step:


Rouville and his men, savage with hunger, lay shivering under the pines
till about two hours before dawn; then, leaving their packs and their
snow-shoes behind, they moved cautiously towards their prey.  There was
a crust on the snow strong enough to bear their weight, though not to
prevent a rustling noise, as it crunched under the weight of so many
men.  It is said that from time to time Rouville commanded a halt, in
order {6} that the sentinels, if such there were, might mistake the
distant sound for rising and falling gusts of wind.  In any case, no
alarm was given till they had mounted the palisade and dropped silently
into the unconscious village.  Then with one accord they screeched the
war-whoop, and assailed the doors of the houses with axes and hatchets.


The surprised villagers, awakened out of their sleep to find a howling
force of French and Indians in their midst, hastily barricaded their
doors, and fought desperately with any weapons they could snatch up.
In some cases the defenders succeeded in keeping the enemy at bay; but
others were not so successful.  The French and the Indians, hacked
openings in the doors and the windows of some of the houses, and
through these shot down the inmates.  Finally, when day broke, the
French had gained possession of most of the village.  Then they
collected their prisoners and drove them out to their camp in the
forest.  A few burned houses, a score or so of dead bodies, not only of
men but of helpless women and children, and a crowd of shivering
prisoners, some of whom were butchered by the way, were the evidences
of this inglorious victory.

{7}

From the plunder of the houses the victors obtained some provisions
which helped to feed their party on the long homeward journey.  Before
noon of the following day they had started northward again, driving
their captives before them through the deep snow.  The mid-winter tramp
through the wilderness proved extremely trying to both the French and
their prisoners, but particularly to the prisoners, among whom were
many women and children.  Many of them were unaccustomed to snowshoes.
Yet now they had to make long forced marches in this way over the deep
snow.  Food, too, was scarce.  Some of the prisoners died of
starvation; others of exhaustion.  Finally the remnant reached the
French settlements on the St Lawrence, where they were kindly treated
by the inhabitants.  Some were afterwards exchanged for French captives
in New England, but many never again saw their former homes.

The year after his return from the expedition to Deerfield, Pierre de
La Vérendrye took part in another raid against the English settlements.
On this occasion, however, the attack was not upon a New England
village, but against the town of St John's, in Newfoundland.  The
expedition was commanded {8} by an officer named Subercase, who
afterwards became governor of Acadia.  St John's was defended by two
forts, with small English garrisons.  The French, who had about four
hundred and fifty soldiers, found themselves unable to capture the
forts.  They therefore abandoned the attack on St John's and returned
to the French settlement of Placentia, burning, as they went, a number
of English fishing villages along the shore.

This kind of warfare could not bring much honour to a young soldier,
and it was probably joyful news to Pierre to learn that he had been
appointed an ensign in the Bretagne regiment of the Grenadiers serving
in Flanders.  He sailed from Canada in 1706, and for three years fought
with his regiment in what was known as the War of the Spanish
Succession, in which the English armies were commanded by the famous
Duke of Marlborough.  Finally, at the terrible battle of Malplaquet, in
which thousands of both English and French were killed, Pierre so
distinguished himself that he won the rank of lieutenant.  He received
no less than nine wounds, and was left for dead upon the field.
Fortunately he managed to escape, to render to his country in the years
to come much greater service.

{9}

Finding that there was little hope of further promotion in the French
army, since he had no influence in high quarters, Pierre returned to
Canada.  After several years' service in the colonial forces, he
abandoned the army, and engaged in the fur trade.  As a boy at Three
Rivers, he had enjoyed many chances of meeting the fur-traders who came
down to the little town on the St Lawrence with their packs of valuable
peltry, and had shown an especial and fascinated interest in their
stories of the boundless country that lay north and west of the string
of settlements on the St Lawrence.  This country was so vast in extent
that even the most remote tribes yet visited by the white traders could
state nothing definite as to its outer boundaries, though, in answer to
the eager questions of the white men, they invented many untrue tales
about it.

The fur-traders themselves were divided into two classes.  The more
staid and respectable class built trading forts in the interior on the
borders of territories occupied by the Indians.  Here they kept a
supply of the things required by the natives: guns, powder and balls,
tobacco, blankets, bright-coloured cotton, axes and small tools, flints
and steels, vermilion for war-paint, and beads of every colour and {10}
description.  The Indians brought their furs into the forts and
bartered them for the goods that they needed.  Sometimes, with no sense
of real values, they traded beaver skins and other pelts of high worth
for a piece of gaudy cotton, a little vermilion, or a handful of beads.
The white men, of course, brought things which rapidly became
indispensable to the Indians, whose native bows and arrows and hatchets
of stone seemed almost useless compared with the muskets and the steel
axes brought from Europe.  To acquire these things became vital to the
Indians, and the traders who now supplied them acquired each year
thousands of beautiful furs.  These were tied up securely into packs
and carried in canoes down to Montreal or Three Rivers, where they were
bought by the great merchants and sent by ship to France.  The furs
that had been bought from the Indian for a mere trifle fetched hundreds
of francs when they finally reached Paris.

The second class of traders, known as coureurs de bois, or
wood-runners, were very different from the first.  Speaking generally,
they were young men, sometimes of good family, who found life in the
older towns and settlements prosaic and uninteresting, and when {11}
they went to the interior did not care to be tied down to the humdrum
existence of the trading forts.  Instead of requiring the Indians to
bring their furs down to some fort, these enterprising rovers of the
forest went into the Indian country.  Sometimes they took light trading
goods with them to barter with the redskins for furs, but oftener they
themselves hunted and trapped the beaver, the otter, and the fox.  The
coureurs de bois were generally men of reckless courage, ready to face
danger and hardship.  From long living among the savages they
themselves became in time half savage.  Some of them took Indian wives
and were adopted into the tribes.

When one of these wood-runners had obtained a quantity of furs, he made
them up into packs, loaded them carefully in his canoe, and set out for
the distant settlements, Montreal, Three Rivers, or Quebec.  He knew
the wild northern streams as well as any Indian; he could run his canoe
safely down a rapid where an inch one way or the other would dash it
against the rocks; and he could paddle all day with only an occasional
stop for a meal or a smoke.  When he came to an impassable rapid or
waterfall, he beached his canoe and carried everything--canoe, packs,
gun, and {12} provisions--overland to the navigable water ahead.  At
night he pulled his canoe ashore, built a campfire, and cooked over the
flames a partridge, a wild duck, or a venison steak.  If he had not
been fortunate enough to meet with such game, he made a simple meal of
pemmican--dried venison mixed with fat--a supply of which he always
carried in a bag in case of need.  Then he smoked his pipe, rolled
himself in his blanket, placed his gun within reach, and slept soundly
until the sun awakened him on the following morning.  When he reached
the far-off towns on the St Lawrence, he traded part of his furs for
any goods which he needed, and was only too likely to get rid of the
rest in dissipation.  As soon as his money was spent, he would turn his
back on civilization and live once more the wild life of the Indian
country.

From such men as these, who were constantly to be seen in the little
town of Three Rivers, Pierre de La Vérendrye heard many stories of the
wonderful country that lay far towards the setting sun.  They told him
of mighty rivers and great lakes.  Some of these they had seen; others
they had heard of from the Indians.  Always the young man heard rumours
of a great _Mer de l'Ouest_, or Western {13} Sea, which French
explorers had been seeking ardently ever since the days of Jacques
Cartier and Samuel Champlain.  In the earlier days, when the French
first came to Canada, this Western Sea was supposed to be somewhere
above Montreal.  Probably the Indians who first spoke of it to Jacques
Cartier meant nothing more than Lake Ontario.  Then, in the days of
Champlain, the sea was sought farther westward.  Champlain heard
rumours of a great water beyond the Ottawa river.  He paddled up the
Ottawa, reached Lake Nipissing, and, descending what is now known as
French River, found the immense body of water of which the Indians had
told him.  He had discovered Lake Huron, but this, again, was not the
Western Sea.  Other explorers, following in his footsteps, discovered
Lake Michigan and Lake Superior; but still neither of these was the
Western Sea.  So, in La Vérendrye's day, men were dreaming of a Western
Sea somewhere beyond Lake Superior.  How far was it westward of Lake
Superior?  Who could tell?  The Indians were always ready with a
plausible tale, and many believed that the Western Sea would still be
found at no great distance beyond the uppermost of the Great Lakes.

{14}

La Vérendrye was a young man of ambition and imagination.  The spirit
of adventure called him to a great exploit in discovery, as it had
called earlier explorers French in blood--Jacques Cartier and Champlain
and Radisson, Nicolet and Etienne Brulé, Marquette and La Salle.  They
one and all had sought diligently for the Western Sea; they had made
many notable discoveries, but in this one thing they all had failed.
La Vérendrye determined to strive even more earnestly than any of his
great predecessors to discover a way to the Western Sea, not so much
for his own advantage as for the honour and glory of his native
country.  This great idea had been taking form in his mind from the
days of his early boyhood, when, seated before the great log fire in
his father's home in Three Rivers, he had first listened to the
stirring tales of the woodrunners.

Years went by, however, before he could attempt to put his plans into
execution.  Soon after his return from the French wars, he married the
daughter of a gentleman of New France named Dandonneau and made his
home on the island of Dupas in the St Lawrence, near Three Rivers.
Here four sons were born to him, all of whom were {15} later to
accompany their father on his western explorations.  His principal
occupation at this time was to look after the trading-post of La
Gabelle on the St Maurice river, not far from the point where it
discharges its waters into the St Lawrence.

La Vérendrye's experience and capacity as a fur-trader, gained at this
post of La Gabelle, led the governor of the colony to offer him, in the
year 1726, the command of an important trading fort on Lake Nipigon,
north of Lake Superior.  With his great project of western exploration
always in mind, he eagerly accepted the offer.  For three or four years
he remained in command of the Nipigon post, faithfully discharging his
duties as a fur-trader, but with his mind always alert for any
information that might help him later to discover a way to the Western
Sea.

One day there came to him from the Kaministikwia river--on which the
city of Fort William now stands--an Indian named Ochagach.  According
to his own story, Ochagach had travelled far towards the setting sun,
until he came to a great lake, out of which a river flowed westward.
He said that he had paddled down this river until he reached a point
where the water ebbed and flowed.  {16} Through fear of the savage
tribes that inhabited the shores of the river, he had not gone to its
mouth, but he had been told that the river emptied into a great salt
lake or sea, upon the coasts of which dwelt men of terrifying mien, who
lived in fortified towns; he had been told that these men wore armour
and rode on horseback, and that great ships visited the towns which
they had built on the coasts.

Ochagach's story made a deep impression on La Vérendrye.  Not that he
accepted the whole account as true.  He knew too well the wild
imagination of the Indian, and his delight in telling marvellous tales
to the white men.  But the river that flowed westward and fell into a
great sea answered so closely to his own dream, and seemed on the whole
so probable, that he was persuaded of the truth of the story.  He
determined, therefore, to surrender his command of the Nipigon post and
to equip an expedition for the discovery of the Western Sea, which now
seemed to be within comparatively easy reach.  To do this, he must
obtain the permission and support of the governor-general of Canada,
the Marquis de Beauharnois.  He therefore set out for Quebec, taking
with him a rough map which Ochagach had drawn for him.  This map {17}
professed to make clear the position of the countries which Ochagach
declared that he had visited.

The governor at Quebec was keenly interested in these plans for western
discovery, and wrote immediately to the French king, urging that La
Vérendrye should be provided with one hundred men and the necessary
supplies and equipment.  But King Louis at this time was deeply engaged
in European wars and intrigues and could not spare any money for the
work of exploration.  All that he would grant was a monopoly of the
western fur trade.  That is to say, La Vérendrye was to be allowed to
build trading forts in the country which he was about to explore, and,
out of the profits of his traffic with the Indians, he might pay the
cost of his expedition to the Western Sea.  No other French traders
would be permitted to trade in this part of the country.

This was sorry encouragement to a man whose only desire was to bring
glory and honour to his native country; but it was all that could be
hoped for from the government or the king.  La Vérendrye was too true a
leader to abandon plans merely because the road was not made easy for
him.  As the king would not pay the cost of his expedition, he {18}
made up his mind to find help from some other source.  He must have
men; he must have canoes, provisions, and goods to trade with the
natives.  All this demanded a great deal of money.  He devoted at once
to the cause his own little fortune, but this was far from sufficient.
Off he went to Montreal, to plead with its merchants to help him.  The
merchants, however, were not much interested in his plans for western
discovery.  They were business men without patriotism; they looked for
something that would bring profit, not for what might advance the
interests of their country.

It thus happened that if La Vérendrye had had nothing to offer them but
the opportunity of sharing in the distinction of his great discovery,
they would have turned deaf ears to his appeal, no matter how eloquent
he might have been.  But he was too shrewd a man to urge plans to which
he knew the merchants would not listen.  He could turn the king's
monopoly to good account.  'Give me money to pay my men,' he said, 'and
goods to trade with the western tribes, and I will bring you rich
returns in beaver skins.  No other traders are permitted to go into the
country west of Lake Superior.  I will build trading forts {19} there.
From these as a base I will continue my search for the Western Sea.
All the profits of the enterprise, the rich furs that are brought into
my posts, shall be yours.'  Here was something that the self-seeking
merchants could understand.  They saw in the fur-trading monopoly a
chance of a golden harvest, a return of hundreds for every franc that
they advanced towards the expenses of the undertaking.  With cheerful
haste, therefore, they agreed to pay the cost of the expedition.  La
Vérendrye was delighted and lost no time in employing such persons as
he needed--soldiers, canoe-men, and hunters.  Birch-bark canoes were
procured and laden with provisions, equipment, and packages of goods to
trade with the Indians; and in the early summer of 1731 all was ready
for the great western journey.  With La Vérendrye were to go three of
his sons, Jean-Baptiste, Pierre, and François, and his nephew La
Jemeraye.  A Jesuit missionary, Father Messager, would join the party
at Fort Michilimackinac, and the Indian Ochagach was to act as guide.

{20}

CHAPTER II

FIRST ATTEMPT AT EXPLORATION

As La Vérendrye led his men from the gates of Montreal to the river
where waited his little fleet of birch-bark canoes, his departure was
watched with varied and conflicting emotions.  In the crowd that
surrounded him were friends and enemies; some who openly applauded his
design, others who less openly scoffed at it; priests exhorting him to
devote all his energies to furthering the missionary aims of their
Church among the wild tribes of the West; jealous traders commenting
among themselves upon the injustice involved in granting a monopoly of
the western fur trade to this scheming adventurer; partners in the
enterprise anxiously watching the loading of the precious merchandise
they had advanced to him, and wondering whether their cast of the dice
would bring fortune or failure; busybodies bombarding him with advice;
and a crowd of idle onlookers, divided in their minds {21} as to
whether La Vérendrye would return triumphantly from the Western Sea
laden with the spoils of Cathay and Cipango, or would fall a victim to
the half-human monsters that were reputed to inhabit the wilderness of
the West.

But now everything was ready.  La Vérendrye gave the word of command,
and the canoes leaped forward on their long voyage.  A new search for
the Western Sea had begun.  No man knew how it would end.  The perils
and hardships encountered by the discoverers of America in crossing the
Atlantic were much less terrible than those with which La Vérendrye and
his men must battle in exploring the boundless plains of the unknown
West.  The voyage across the sea would occupy but a few weeks; this
journey by inland waterways and across the illimitable spaces of the
western prairies would take many months and even years.  There was a
daily menace from savage foes lurking on the path of the adventurers.
Hardy and dauntless must they be who should return safely from such a
quest.  Little those knew who stood enviously watching the departure of
the expedition what bitter tribute its leader must pay to the
relentless gods of the Great Plains for his hardihood in invading their
savage domain.

{22}

The way lay up the broad and picturesque Ottawa, rich even then with
the romantic history of a century of heroic exploits.  This was the
great highway between the St Lawrence and the Upper Lakes for
explorers, missionaries, war parties, and traders.  Up this stream, one
hundred and eighteen years before, Champlain had pushed his way,
persuaded by the ingenious impostor Nicolas Vignau that here was the
direct road to Cathay.  At St Anne's the expedition made a brief halt
to ask a blessing on the enterprise.  Here the men, according to
custom, each received a dram of liquor.  When they had again taken
their places, paddles dipped at the word of command, and, like a covey
of birds, the canoes skimmed over the dark waters of the Ottawa,
springing under the sinewy strokes of a double row of paddlers against
the swift current of the river.  Following the shore closely, they made
rapid progress up-stream.  At noon they landed on a convenient island,
where they quickly kindled a fire.  A pot of tea was swung above it
from a tripod.  With jest and story the meal went on, and as soon as it
was finished they were again afloat, paddling vigorously and making
quick time.  Sunset approached--the brief but indescribably beautiful
sunset {23} of a Canadian summer.  The sun sank behind the maples and
cedars, and a riot of colour flooded the western horizon.  Rainbow hues
swept up half-way to the zenith, waving, mingling, changing from tint
to tint, as through the clouds flamed up the last brightness of the
sinking sun.  A rollicking chorus sank away on the still air, and the
men gazed for a moment upon a scene which, however familiar, could
never lose its charm.  The song of the birds was hushed.  All nature
seemed to pause.  Then as the outermost rim of the sun dropped from
sight, and the brilliant colouring of a moment ago toned to rose and
saffron, pink and mauve, the world moved on again, but with a seemingly
subdued motion.  The voyageurs resumed their song, but the gay chorus
that had wakened echoes from the overhanging cliffs,

  En roulant ma boule,
  Rouli, roulant, ma boule roulant,
  En roulant ma boule roulant,
  En roulant ma boule,

was changed to the pathetic refrain of a song then as now dear to the
heart of French Canadians--_A la claire fontaine_.

In the cool twilight the men paddled on, placing mile after mile
between them and {24} Montreal.  Presently the river widened into a
lakelike expanse.  The moon rose and shot its soft gleam across the
water.  No ripple stirred the smooth surface, save where the paddles
dipped and the prow of each canoe cut like a knife through the stream.
Belated birds flew overhead, making for home.  A stag broke through the
bushes on the farther shore, caught sight of the canoes, gazed at them
for a moment, and then disappeared.  It was growing late when La
Vérendrye, from the foremost canoe, gave the word to camp.  The canoes
turned shoreward, lightly touching the shelving bank, and the men
sprang nimbly to the land.  Fires were lighted, the tents were pitched,
and everything was made snug for the night.  The hunters had not been
idle during the day, and a dozen brace of birds were soon twirling
merrily on the spit, while venison steaks added appetizing odours.

Their hunger satisfied, the men lounged about on the grass, smoking and
listening to the yarns of some famous story-teller.  He would tell
them, perhaps, the pathetic story of Cadieux, who, on this very stream,
had held the dreaded Iroquois at bay while his comrades escaped.
Cadieux himself escaped the Iroquois, only to fall a victim to the
_folie des bois_, or {25} madness of the woods, wandering aimlessly in
circles, until, famished and exhausted, he lay down to die.  When his
comrades returned in search of him, they found beside him a birch bark
on which he had written his death chant:

  Thou little rock of the high hill, attend!
  Hither I come this last campaign to end!
  Ye echoes soft, give ear unto my sigh;
  In languishing I speedily shall die.

  Dear little birds, your dulcet harmony
  What time you sing makes this life dear to me.
  Ah! had I wings that I might fly like you;
  Ere two days sped I should be happy too.

Then, as the camp-fires sank into heaps of glowing embers, each man
would wrap his blanket about him and with kind mother earth for his
pillow and only the dome of heaven above him, would sleep as only those
may whose resting-place is in the free air of the wilderness.

At sunrise they were once more away, on a long day's paddle up-stream.
They passed the Long Sault, where long before the heroic Dollard and
his little band of Frenchmen held at bay a large war party of
Iroquois--sacrificing their lives to save the little struggling colony
at Montreal.  Again, their way lay beneath those towering cliffs
overlooking the Ottawa, on which now stand the Canadian Houses of {26}
Parliament.  They had just passed the curtain-like falls of the Rideau
on one side, and the mouth of the turbulent Gatineau on the other, and
before them lay the majestic Chaudière.  Here they disembarked.  The
voyageurs, following the Indian example, threw a votive offering of
tobacco into the boiling cauldron, for the benefit of the dreaded
Windigo.  Then, shouldering canoes and cargo, they made their way along
the portage to the upper stream, and, launching and reloading the
canoes, proceeded on their journey.  So the days passed, each one
carrying them farther from the settlements and on, ever on, towards the
unknown West, and perhaps to the Western Sea.

From the upper waters of the Ottawa they carried their canoes over into
a series of small lakes and creeks that led to Lake Nipissing, and
thence they ran down the French river to Lake Huron.  Launching out
fearlessly on this great lake, they paddled swiftly along the north
shore to Fort Michilimackinac, where they rested for a day or two.
Fort Michilimackinac was on the south side of the strait which connects
Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, and lay so near the water that the waves
frequently broke against the stockade.  Passing through the gates,
above which floated {27} the fleurs-de-lis of France, they found
themselves in an enclosure, some two acres in extent, containing thirty
houses and a small church.  On the bastions stood in a conspicuous
position two small brass cannon, captured from the English at Fort
Albany on Hudson Bay, in 1686, by De Troyes and Iberville.[1]

It was now the end of July, and La Vérendrye had still a long way to
go.  After a brief rest, he gathered his party together, embarked once
more, and steered his way on that great inland sea, Lake Superior.  All
that had gone before was child's play to what must now be encountered.
In contrast to the blue and placid waters of Lake Huron, the explorers
now found themselves in the midst of a dark and sombre sea, whose
waves, seldom if ever still, could on occasion rival the Atlantic in
their fierce tumult.  Even in this hottest month of the year the water
was icy cold, and the keen wind that blew across the lake forced those
who were not paddling to put on extra clothing.  They must needs be
hardy and experienced voyageurs who could safely navigate these mad
waters in frail bark canoes.  Slowly they made their way along the
north shore, buffeted by storms and in constant peril of their lives,
until at last, on {28} August 26, they reached the Grand Portage, near
the mouth of the Pigeon river, or about fifteen leagues south-west of
Fort Kaministikwia, where the city of Fort William now stands.

La Vérendrye would have pushed on at once for Lac la Pluie, or Rainy
Lake, where he purposed to build the first of his western posts, but
when he ordered his men to make the portage there was first deep
muttering, and then open mutiny.  Two or three of the boatmen, bribed
by La Vérendrye's enemies at Montreal, had drawn such terrible pictures
of the horrors before them, and had so played upon the fears of their
superstitious comrades, that these now refused flatly to follow their
leader into the unhallowed and fiend-infested regions which lay beyond.
The hardships they had already endured, and the further hardships of
the long and difficult series of portages which lay between them and
Rainy Lake, also served to dishearten the men.  Some of them, however,
had been with La Jemeraye at Lake Pepin, on the Mississippi, and were
not to be dismayed.  These La Vérendrye persuaded to continue the
exploration.  The others gradually weakened in their opposition, and at
last it was agreed that La Jemeraye, with half the men, should go on to
Rainy Lake and build a {29} fort there, while La Vérendrye, with the
other half, should spend the winter at Kaministikwia, and keep the
expedition supplied with provisions.

In this way the winter passed.  The leader was, we may be sure,
restless at the delay and impatient to advance farther.  The spring
brought good news.  Late in May La Jemeraye returned from Rainy Lake,
bringing canoes laden with valuable furs, the result of the winter's
traffic.  These were immediately sent on to Michilimackinac, for
shipment to the partners at Montreal.  La Jemeraye reported that he had
built a fort at the foot of a series of rapids, where Rainy Lake
discharges into the river of the same name.  He had built the fort in a
meadow, among groves of oak.  The lake teemed with fish, and the woods
which lined its shores were alive with game, large and small.  The
picture was one to make La Vérendrye even more eager to advance.  On
June 8 he set out with his entire party for Fort St Pierre, as the new
establishment had been named, to commemorate his own name of Pierre.
It took a month to traverse the intricate chain of small lakes and
streams, with their many portages, connecting Lake Superior and Rainy
Lake.

{30}

After a short rest at Fort St Pierre, La Vérendrye pushed on rapidly,
escorted in state by fifty canoes of Indians, to the Lake of the Woods.
Here he built a second post, Fort St Charles, on a peninsula running
out far into the lake on the south-west side--an admirable situation,
both for trading purposes and for defence.  This fort he describes as
consisting of 'an enclosure made with four rows of posts, from twelve
to fifteen feet in height, in the form of an oblong square, within
which are a few rough cabins constructed of logs and clay, and covered
with bark.'

In the spring of 1735 Father Messager returned to Montreal, and with
him went La Jemeraye, to report the progress already made.  He
described to the governor the difficulties they had encountered, and
urged that the king should be persuaded to assume the expense of
further exploration towards the Western Sea.  The governor could,
however, do nothing.

Meanwhile Jean, La Vérendrye's eldest son, had advanced still farther
and had made his way to Lake Winnipeg.  He took with him a handful of
toughened veterans, and tramped on snow-shoes through the frozen
forest--four hundred and fifty miles in the stern midwinter {31} of a
region bitterly cold.  Near the mouth of the Winnipeg river, where it
empties into Lake Winnipeg, they found an ideal site for the fort which
they intended to build.  Immediately they set to work, felled trees,
drove stout stakes into the frozen ground for a stockade, put up a
rough shelter inside, and had everything ready for La Vérendrye's
arrival in the spring.  They named the post Fort Maurepas, in honour of
a prominent minister of the king in France at the time.

La Vérendrye had now carried out, and more than carried out, the
agreement made with the governor Beauharnois.  He had established a
chain of posts--strung like beads on a string--from Lake Superior to
Lake Winnipeg, from the river Kaministikwia to the open prairie.  But
the distance he had traversed, the difficulties he had encountered,
and, above all, the expense incurred, had been far in excess of
anything he had anticipated.  These were discouraging experiences.  He
seemed at last to have reached the limit of his resources and
endurance.  To advance farther with the slender means now at his
command seemed almost impossible.  Should he turn back?  His men were
more than willing.  Every step eastward would bring them nearer their
{32} homes, their families, and the pleasures and dissipations of the
Canadian towns on the far-off St Lawrence.  To turn back was the
easiest thing for them.  But it was not easy for a man like La
Vérendrye.  To return meant failure; and for him there was no such
thing as failure while health and strength endured.  At whatever cost,
he must push on towards the Western Sea.

The situation was nevertheless most critical.  His own means had long
since been exhausted.  True, he possessed a monopoly of the fur trade,
but what did it profit him?  He had not touched, and never would be
able to touch, a franc of the proceeds: the shrewd merchants of
Montreal had made sure of this.  To La Vérendrye the monopoly was
simply a millstone added to the burdens he was already forced to bear.
It did not increase his resources; it delayed his great enterprise; and
it put an effective weapon in the hands of his enemies.  Little cause
had he to be grateful for the royal monopoly.  He would have infinitely
preferred the direct grant of even a score of capable, well-equipped
men.  These, maintained at the king's expense, he might lead by the
quickest route to the Western Sea.

As it was, the merchants in Montreal refused {33} to send up further
supplies; his men remained unpaid; he even lacked a sufficient supply
of food.  There was nothing for it but to turn back, make the long
journey to Montreal and Quebec, and there do his utmost to arrange
matters.  He had already sunk from 40,000 to 50,000 livres in the
enterprise.  In all justice, the king should assume the expense of
further explorations in quest of the Great Sea.  The governor, the
Marquis de Beauharnois, shared this view, and had already pressed the
court to grant La Vérendrye the assistance he so urgently needed.  'The
outlay,' he wrote to the king's minister, Maurepas, 'will not be great;
the cost of the _engagés_ [hired men] for three years, taking into
account what can be furnished from the king's stores, would not exceed
30,000 livres at most.'  The king, however, refused to undertake the
expense of the expedition.  Those who had assumed the task should, he
thought, be in a position to continue it by means of the profits
derived from their monopoly of the fur trade.  The facts did not
justify the royal view of the matter.  La Vérendrye had enjoyed the
monopoly for two or three years--with the result that he was now very
heavily, indeed alarmingly, in debt.

{34}

His was not a nature, however, to be crushed by either indifference or
opposition.  He had reached the parting of the ways.  Nothing was to be
hoped for from the court.  He must either abandon his enterprise or
continue it at his own risk and expense.  He went to Montreal and saw
his partners.  With infinite patience he suffered their unjust
reproaches.  He was neglecting their interests, they grumbled.  The
profits were not what they had a right to expect.  He thought too much
of the Western Sea and not enough of the beavers.  He was a dreamer,
and they were practical men of business.

What could La Vérendrye say that would have weight with men of this
stamp?  Should he tell them of the glory that would accrue to his and
their country by the discovery of the Western Sea?  At this they would
only shrug their shoulders.  Should he tell them of the unseen forces
that drew him to that wonderful land of the West--where the crisp clear
air held an intoxicating quality unknown in the East; where the eye
foamed on and on over limitless expanses of waving green, till the mind
was staggered at the vastness of the prospect; where the very largeness
of nature seemed to enter into a man and to {35} crush out things petty
and selfish?  In doing this he would be beating the air.  They were
incapable of understanding him.  They would deem him mad.

Crushing down, therefore, both his enthusiasm for the western land and
his anger at their dulness, he met the merchants of Montreal on their
own commercial level.  He told them that the posts he had established
were in the very heart of the fur country; that the Assiniboines and
Crees had engaged to bring large quantities of beaver skins to the
forts; that the northern tribes were already turning from the English
posts of the Hudson's Bay Company in the Far North to the more
accessible posts of the French; that the richly watered and wooded
country between Kaministikwia and Lake Winnipeg abounded in every
description of fur-bearing animal; that over the western prairies
roamed the buffalo in vast herds which seemed to blacken the green
earth as far as eye could reach.  His eloquence over the outlook for
trade proved convincing.  As he painted the riches of the West in terms
that appealed with peculiar force to these traders in furs, their
hostility melted away.  The prospect of profit at the rate of a hundred
per cent once more filled {36} them with enthusiasm.  They agreed to
equip the expedition anew.  It thus happened that when the intrepid
explorer again turned his face towards the West, fortune seemed to
smile once more.  His canoes were loaded with a second equipment for
the posts of the Western Sea.  Perhaps at that moment it seemed to him
hardly to matter that he was in debt deeper than ever.

While in the East completing these arrangements, La Vérendrye took
steps to ensure that his youngest son, Louis, now eighteen years of
age, should join the other members of the family engaged in the work.
The boy was to be taught how to prepare maps and plans, so that, when
he came west in the following year, he might be of material assistance
to the expedition.  The explorer would then have his four sons and his
nephew in the enterprise.

The hopeful outlook did not long endure.  It was soon clear that La
Vérendrye had again to meet trials which should try his mettle still
more severely.  Shortly after his return to Fort St Charles on the Lake
of the Woods, his son Jean arrived from Fort Maurepas, with evil news
indeed.  La Jemeraye, his nephew and chief lieutenant, whose knowledge
of the western tribes was invaluable, whose {37} enthusiasm for the
great project was only second to his own, whose patience and
resourcefulness had helped the expedition out of many a tight
corner--La Jemeraye was dead.  He had remained in harness to the last,
and had laboured day and night, in season and out of season, pushing
explorations in every direction, meeting and conciliating the Indian
tribes, building up the fur trade at the western posts.  Though sorely
needing rest, he had toiled on uncomplainingly, with no thought that he
was showing heroism, till at last his overtaxed body collapsed and he
died almost on his feet--the first victim of the search for the Western
Sea.

Meanwhile the little garrison at Fort St Charles was almost at the
point of starvation.  La Vérendrye had travelled ahead at such rapid
speed that his supplies were still a long way in the rear when he
reached the fort.  In face of the pressing need, it was decided to send
a party down to meet the boats at Kaministikwia and to fetch back at
once the supplies which were most urgently required.  Jean, now
twenty-three years of age, was placed in charge of the expedition, and
with him went the Jesuit missionary, Father Aulneau, on his way down to
Fort Michilimackinac.  The day for departure was named, {38} and
everything was made ready the night before so that there might be no
delay in starting early in the morning.  The sun had hardly risen above
the horizon and was yet filtering through the dense foliage of pine and
cedar, when Jean de La Vérendrye and his men embarked and pushed off
from the shore.  The paddles dipped almost noiselessly, and the three
light canoes skimmed lightly over the surface of the Lake of the Woods,
followed by shouts of farewell from the fort.

For a time the party skirted the shore.  Then they struck out boldly
across the lake.  The melodies of the forest followed them for a time,
and then died away in the distance.  Nothing was now to be heard but
the dip of paddles and the soft swirl of eddies flying backward from
either side of the canoes.  The morning sun swept across the lake; a
faint breeze stirred a ripple on the surface of the water.  From far
away came faintly the laugh of a solitary loon.  The men paddled
strenuously, with minds intent upon nothing more serious than the halt
for breakfast.  The priest was lost in meditation.  Jean de La
Vérendrye sat in the foremost canoe, with eyes alert, scanning the
horizon as the little flotilla drew rapidly across the lake.

{39}

At the same time, approaching from the opposite direction, was a fleet
of canoes manned by a hundred savages, the fierce and implacable Sioux
of the prairie.  They had reached the Lake of the Woods by way of a
stream that bore the significant name _The Road of War_.  This was the
war-path of the Sioux from their own country, south of what is now the
province of Manitoba, to the country of the Chippewas and the Crees
farther east.  Whenever the Sioux followed this route, they were upon
no peaceful errand.  As the Sioux entered the lake, a mist was rising
slowly from the water; but before it completely hid their canoes a
keen-sighted savage saw the three canoes of the French, who were about
to land on the far side of an island out in the lake.  Cautiously the
Sioux felt their way across to the near side of the island, and landed
unperceived.  They glided noiselessly through the thick underbrush,
and, as they approached the other shore, crept from tree to tree,
finally wriggling snake-wise to the very edge of the thicket.  Beneath
them lay a narrow beach, on which some of the voyageurs had built a
fire to prepare the morning meal.  Others lay about, smoking and
chatting idly.  Jean de La Vérendrye sat a little apart, perhaps {40}
recording the scanty particulars of the journey.  The Jesuit priest
walked up and down, deep in his breviary.

The circumstances could hardly have been more favourable for the sudden
attack which the savages were eager to make.  The French had laid aside
their weapons, or had left them behind in the canoes.  They had no
reason to expect an attack.  They were at peace with the western
tribes--even with those Ishmaelites of the prairie, the Sioux.
Presently a twig snapped under the foot of a savage.  Young La
Vérendrye turned quickly, caught sight of a waving plume, and shouted
to his men.  Immediately from a hundred fierce throats the war-whoop
rang out.  The Sioux leaped to their feet.  Arrows showered down upon
the French.  Jean, Father Aulneau, and a dozen voyageurs fell.  The
rest snatched up their guns and fired.  Several of the Sioux, who had
incautiously left cover, fell.  The odds were, however, overwhelmingly
against the French.  They must fight in the open, while the Indians
remained comparatively secure among the trees.  The French made an
attempt to reach the canoes, but had to abandon it, for the Sioux now
completely commanded the approach and no man could reach the water
alive.

{41}

The surviving French, now reduced to half a dozen, retreated down the
shore.  With yells of triumph the Sioux followed, keeping within
shelter of the trees.  In desperation the voyageurs dropped their guns
and took to the water, hoping to be able to swim to a neighbouring
island.  This was a counsel of despair, for wounded and exhausted as
they were, the feat was impossible.  When the Sioux rushed down to the
shore, they realized the plight of the French, and did not even waste
an arrow on them.  One by one the swimmers sank beneath the waves.
After watching their tragic fate, the savages returned to scalp those
who had fallen at the camp.  With characteristic ferocity they hacked
and mutilated the bodies.  Then, gathering up their own dead, they
hastily retreated by the way they had come.

For some time it was not known why the Sioux had made an attack,
seemingly unprovoked, upon the French.  Gradually, however, it leaked
out that earlier in the year a party of Sioux on their way to Fort St
Charles on a friendly visit had been fired upon by a party of
Chippewas.  The Sioux had shouted indignantly, 'Who fire on us?' and
the Chippewas, in ambush, had yelled back with grim humour, 'The
French.'  The Sioux {42} retreated, vowing a terrible vengeance against
the treacherous white men.  Their opportunity came even sooner than
they had expected.  A trader named Bourassa, who had left Fort St
Charles for Michilimackinac shortly before the setting out of Jean de
La Vérendrye and his party, had camped for the night on the banks of
the Rainy river.  The following morning, as he was about to push off
from the shore, he was surrounded by thirty canoes manned by a hundred
Sioux.  They bound him hand and foot, tied him to a stake, and were
about to burn him alive when a squaw who was with him sprang forward to
defend him.  Fortunately for him his companion had been a Sioux maiden;
she had been captured by a war party of Monsones some years before and
rescued from them by Bourassa.  She knew of the projected journey of
Jean de La Vérendrye.  'My kinsmen,' she now cried, 'what are you about
to do?  I owe my life to this Frenchman.  He has done nothing but good
to me.  Why should you destroy him?  If you wish to be revenged for the
attack made upon you, go forward and you will meet twenty-four
Frenchman, with whom is the son of the chief who killed your people.'

Bourassa was too much frightened to oppose {43} the statement.  In his
own account of what happened he is, indeed, careful to omit any mention
of this particular incident.  The Sioux released Bourassa, after taking
possession of his arms and supplies.  Then they paddled down to the
lake, where they were only too successful in finding the French and in
making them the victims of the cruel joke of the Chippewas.

This murder of his son was the most bitter blow that had yet fallen
upon La Vérendrye.  But he betrayed no sign of weakness.  Not even the
loss of his son was sufficient to turn him back from his search for the
Western Sea.  'I have lost,' he writes simply to Maurepas, 'my son, the
reverend Father, and my Frenchmen, misfortunes which I shall lament all
my life.'  Some comfort remained.  The great explorer still had three
sons, ready and willing like himself to sacrifice their lives for the
glory of New France.



[1] See _The 'Adventurers of England' on Hudson Bay_, pages 73-88.



{44}

CHAPTER III

ACROSS THE PLAINS

For several years La Vérendrye had been hearing wonderful accounts of a
tribe of Indians in the West who were known as the Mandans.  Wherever
he went, among the Chippewas, the Crees, or the Assiniboines, some one
was sure to speak of the Mandans, and the stories grew more and more
marvellous.  La Vérendrye knew that Indians were very much inclined to
exaggerate.  They would never spoil a good story by limiting it to what
they knew to be true.  They liked a joke as well as other people; and,
when they found that the white men who visited them were eager to know
all about the country and the tribes of the far interior, they invented
all sorts of impossible stories, in which truth and fiction were so
mingled that at length the explorers did not know what to believe.

Much that was told him by the Indians concerning the Mandans La
Vérendrye knew {45} could not possibly be true; he thought that some of
their stories were probably correct.  The Indians said that the Mandans
were white like himself, that they dressed like Europeans, wore armour,
had horses and cattle, cultivated the ground, and lived in fortified
towns.  Their home was described as being far towards the setting sun,
on a great river that flowed into the ocean.  La Vérendrye knew that
the Spaniards had made settlements on the western coast of America, and
he thought that the mysterious strangers might perhaps be Spaniards.
At any rate, they seemed to be white men, and, if the Indian stories
were even partially true, they would be able to show him that way to
the great water which it was the ambition of his life to find.  His
resolve, therefore, was inevitable.  He would visit these white
strangers, whoever they might be; and he had great hopes that they
would be able to guide him to the object of his quest.

For some time, however, he was not able to carry out this intended
visit to the Mandans.  The death of his nephew La Jemeraye, followed
soon after by the murder of his son Jean, upset all his plans for a
time.  Further, he had great difficulty in keeping peace among the
Indian {46} tribes.  The Chippewas and the Crees, who had always been
friendly to the French, were indignant at the treacherous massacre of
the white men by the Sioux, and urged La Vérendrye to lead a war party
against this enemy.  La Vérendrye not only refused to do this himself,
but he told them that they must on no account go to war with the Sioux.
He warned them that their Great Father, the king of France, would be
very angry with them if they disobeyed his commands.  Had they not
known him so well, the Indians would have despised La Vérendrye as a
coward for refusing to revenge himself upon the Sioux for the death of
his son; but they knew that, whatever his reason might be, it was not
due to any fear of the Sioux.  As time went on, they thought that he
would perhaps change his mind, and again and again they came to him
begging for leave to take the war-path.  'The blood of your son,' they
said, 'cries for revenge.  We have not ceased to weep for him and for
the other Frenchmen who were slain.  Give us permission and we will
avenge their death upon the Sioux.'

La Vérendrye, however, disregarding his personal feelings, knew that it
would be fatal to all his plans to let the friendly Indians have {47}
their way.  An attack on the Sioux would be the signal for a general
war among all the neighbouring tribes.  In that case his forts would be
destroyed and the fur trade would be broken up.  In the end, he and his
men would probably be driven out of the western country, and all his
schemes for the discovery of the Western Sea would come to nothing.  It
was therefore of the utmost importance that he should remain where he
was, in the country about the Lake of the Woods, until the excitement
among the Indians had quieted down and there was no longer any
immediate danger of war.

At length, in the summer of 1738, La Vérendrye felt that he could carry
out his plan of visiting the Mandans.  He left one of his sons, Pierre,
in charge of Fort St Charles, and with the other two, François and
Louis, set forth on his journey to the West.  Travelling down the
Winnipeg river in canoes, they stopped for a few hours at Fort
Maurepas, then crossed Lake Winnipeg and paddled up the muddy waters of
Red River to the mouth of the Assiniboine, the site of the present city
of Winnipeg, then seen by white men for the first time.  La Vérendrye
found it occupied by a band of Crees under two war chiefs.  He landed,
{48} pitched his tent on the banks of the Assiniboine, and sent for the
two chiefs and reproached them with what he had heard--that they had
abandoned the French posts and had taken their furs to the English on
Hudson Bay.  They replied that the accusation was false; that they had
gone to the English during only one season, the season in which the
French had abandoned Fort Maurepas after the death of La Jemeraye, and
had thus left the Crees with no other means of getting the goods they
required.  'As long as the French remain on our lands,' they said, 'we
promise you not to go elsewhere with our furs.'  One of the chiefs then
asked him where he was now going.  La Vérendrye replied that it was his
purpose to ascend the Assiniboine river in order to see the country.
'You will find yourself among the Assiniboines,' said the chief; 'and
they are a useless people, without intelligence, who do not hunt the
beaver, and clothe themselves only in the skins of buffalo.  They are a
good-for-nothing lot of rascals and might do you harm.'  But La
Vérendrye had heard such tales before and was not to be frightened from
his purpose.  He took leave of the Crees, turned his canoes up the
shallow waters of the Assiniboine river, and ascended {49} it to where
now stands the city of Portage la Prairie.  Here he built a fort, which
he named Fort La Reine, in honour of the queen of France.

[Illustration: An Indian encampment.  From a painting by Paul Kane.]

While this was being done, a party of Assiniboines arrived.  La
Vérendrye soon found, as he had expected, that the Crees through
jealousy had given the Assiniboines a character which they did not
deserve.  With all friendliness they welcomed the strangers and were
overjoyed at the presents which the French gave them.  The most valued
presents consisted of knives, chisels, awls, and other small tools.  Up
to this time these people had been dependent upon implements made of
stone and of bone roughly fashioned to serve their purposes, and these
implements were very crude and inferior compared with the sharp steel
tools of the white men.

While La Vérendrye had been occupied in building Fort La Reine, one of
his men, Louvière, had been sent to the mouth of the Assiniboine to put
up a small post for the Crees.  He found a suitable place on the south
bank of the Assiniboine, near the point where it enters the Red, and
here he built his trading post and named it Fort Rouge.  This fort was
abandoned in a year or two, as it was {50} soon found more convenient
to trade with the Indians either at Fort Maurepas near the mouth of the
Winnipeg, or at Fort La Reine on the Assiniboine.  The memory of the
fort is, however, preserved to this day.  The quarter of Winnipeg in
the vicinity of the old fort is still known as Fort Rouge.  The memory
of La Vérendrye is also preserved, for a large school built near the
site of the old fort bears the name of the great explorer.

The completion of Fort La Reine freed La Vérendrye to make preparations
for his journey to the Mandans.  He left some of his men at the fort
and selected twenty to accompany him on his expedition.  To each of
these followers he gave a supply of powder and bullets, an ax, a
kettle, and other things needful by the way.  In later years horses
were abundant on the western prairie, but at that time neither the
French nor the Indians had horses, and everything needed for the
journey was carried on men's backs.

Three days after leaving Fort La Reine, La Vérendrye met a party of
Assiniboines travelling over the prairie.  He gave them some small
presents, and told them that he had built in their country a fort where
they could get all kinds of useful articles in {51} exchange for their
furs and provisions.  They seemed delighted at having white men so
near, and promised to keep the fort supplied with everything that the
traders required.

A day or two afterwards several other Indians appeared, from an
Assiniboine village.  They bore hospitable messages from the chiefs,
who begged the white travellers to come to visit them.  This it was
difficult to do.  The village was some miles distant from the road on
which they were travelling and already they had lost much time because
their guide was either too lazy or too stupid to take them by the most
direct way to the Mandan villages on the banks of the Missouri.  Still,
La Vérendrye did not think it wise to disappoint the Assiniboines, or
to offend them, since he might have to depend upon their support in
making his plans for further discoveries.  Accordingly, although it was
now nearly the middle of November, the very best time of the year for
travelling across the plains, he made up his mind to go to the
Assiniboine village.

As the party drew near the village, a number of young warriors came to
meet them, and to tell them that the Assiniboines were greatly pleased
to have them as guests.  It is {52} possible that the Assiniboines had
heard of the presents which the French had given to some of their
countrymen, and that they too hoped to receive knives, powder and
bullets, things which they prized very highly.  At any rate, the
explorer and his men received vociferous welcome when they entered the
village.  'Our arrival,' says La Vérendrye, 'was hailed with great joy,
and we were taken into the dwelling of a young chief, where everything
had been made ready for our reception.  They gave us and all our men
very good cheer, and none of us lacked appetite.'

[Illustration: An Assiniboine Indian.  From a pastel by Edmund Morris.]

The following day La Vérendrye sent for the principal chiefs of the
tribe, and gave to each of them a present of powder and ball, or knives
and tobacco.  He told them that if the Assiniboines would hunt beaver
diligently and would bring the skins to Fort La Reine, they should
receive in return everything that they needed.  One of the chiefs made
a speech in reply.  'We thank you,' he said, 'for the trouble you have
taken to come to visit us.  We are going to accompany you to the
Mandans, and then to see you safely back to your fort.  We have already
sent word to the Mandans that you are on your way to visit them, and
the Mandans are delighted.  We shall travel {53} by easy marches, so
that we may hunt by the way and have plenty of provisions.'  The
explorer was not wholly pleased to find that the entire village was to
accompany him, for this involved still further delays on the journey.
It was necessary, however, to give no cause of offence; so he thanked
them for their good-will, and merely urged that they should be ready to
leave as soon as possible and travel with all speed by the shortest
road, as the season was growing late.

On the next morning they all set out together, a motley company, the
French with their Indian guides and hunters accompanied by the entire
village of Assiniboines.  La Vérendrye was astonished at the orderly
way in which these savages, about six hundred in number, travelled
across the prairies.  Everything was done in perfect order, as if they
were a regiment of trained soldiers.  The warriors divided themselves
into parties; they sent out scouts in advance to both the right and the
left, in order to keep watch for enemies and also to look out for
buffalo and other game; the old men marched in the centre with the
women and the children; and in the rear was a strong guard of warriors.
If the scouts saw buffalo ahead, they signalled to the rear-guard, {54}
who crept round the herd on both sides until it was surrounded.  They
killed as many buffaloes as were needed to provision the camp, and this
completed the men's part of the work.  It was the women who cut up the
meat and carried it to the place where the company encamped for the
night.  The women, indeed, were the burden-bearers and had to carry
most of the baggage.  There were, of course, dogs in great numbers on
such excursions, and these bore a part of the load.  The men burdened
themselves with nothing but their arms.



{55}

CHAPTER IV

THE MANDAN INDIANS

It was towards the end of November when La Vérendrye and his party
reached the point where the Mandans had promised to meet them.  When he
arrived no one was on the spot; but presently, after he had encamped, a
Mandan chief appeared with thirty followers.  This chief advanced to La
Vérendrye and presented him with Indian corn in the ear and with a roll
of Indian tobacco.  These were tokens of friendship.  He told La
Vérendrye how glad he and his countrymen were to welcome him to their
villages, and begged him to consider the Mandans as his children.

La Vérendrye was surprised to find the appearance of the Mandans very
much like that of the other tribes he had met.  Stories told by the
Crees and the Assiniboines had prepared him to find them of a different
type, a type like that of the white men.  In reality they looked like
the Assiniboines and dressed {56} in the same fashion.  Their clothing
was scanty enough, for it consisted of only a buffalo robe worn from
the shoulders.  It was clear now that the Indians had been telling him
not what was true but what they thought he would like to hear.  'I knew
then,' he says shrewdly, 'that a heavy discount must be taken off
everything that an Indian tells you.'

The Mandan chief invited La Vérendrye to be his guest in the nearest
village, and the whole party made ready to continue their journey to
that point.  Then the chief made a speech to the Assiniboines, very
friendly in tone, but artfully intended to make them uneasy and send
them back home.  He was really anxious to have the white men as his
guests, but he was not at all anxious to have as guests and to be
obliged to feed an entire village of Assiniboines; and so, thinking to
get rid of them, he played on their well-known fear of the fiery Sioux.
'We thank you,' he said to them, 'for having brought the French to see
us.  They could not have arrived at a better time.  The Sioux are on
the war-path, and may be here at any moment.  We know the valour and
courage of the French, and also of the Assiniboines, and we hope that
you will both help us to defend ourselves from the Sioux.'

{57}

La Vérendrye was at first as much imposed upon by this story as were
the Assiniboines, but with a very different effect.  They were
dismayed, while he rejoiced at the opportunity of having at last a fair
chance to avenge the cruel death of his son.  After the speech, the
Mandan chief took him aside, and explained that the alarm was merely a
trick to get rid of the Assiniboines.  They had not food enough at the
village, he said, to satisfy such a hungry horde.  But, to the surprise
and disgust of the chief, the Assiniboines swallowed their fears and
decided to go forward.  At first, in their terror, the majority of the
tribe had thought it better to turn back; but one of their old chiefs
shamed them into a different course.  'Do not think,' he said, in
scornful accents, 'that our Father [La Vérendrye] is a coward,' and he
looked about him at the young Assiniboine warriors until each felt that
he himself was branded as a coward.  'I know him,' he continued,
'better than you do, and I tell you that the Sioux cannot frighten him
or any of his men.  What will he think of us?  At our request, he went
out of his way to visit our village.  We promised to conduct him to the
Mandans, and to bring him safely back to his fort.  And now you talk of
{58} abandoning him, because you fear the Sioux.  This must never be.
Let those of you who are faint-hearted remain here in camp with the
women; but let those who are without fear follow our father.'  After
this scornful eloquence there was no further talk of turning back.

Early on the following morning the camp broke up, and the whole party,
French and Assiniboines and Mandans, marched across the plains towards
the Mandan village.  One can imagine the striking picture made up by
the little party of white men in their picturesque costumes, surrounded
by hundreds of half-naked savages.  Had the Indians cared to exercise
their power, they might have overwhelmed the French at any moment, but
apparently they had no thought of doing so.  Indeed it is quite true
that the Indians of North America, when first they met white men,
treated them in nearly every case with the utmost friendship.  Only
after the Indians had been deceived or betrayed by some rascals among
the white men did they learn to look upon them as enemies and become
cruel and treacherous in dealing with them.

When La Vérendrye had travelled some distance from the camp, he found
that the bag {59} containing his papers and many other things that
would be required at the Mandan villages had been stolen by one of the
Assiniboines.  The thief, he also learned, had made off with his spoil.
Instantly he sent two young warriors to secure him.  The culprit was
overtaken on the following day and the bag was recovered.  The
pursuers, however, instead of bringing it back to La Vérendrye, carried
it on to their village to keep for him until his return.  This singular
conduct was due to their fear of the Sioux.  The white man's bag would
be safe at the Assiniboine village, but if they ventured to carry it
back to La Vérendrye they were not so sure that either it or their own
scalps would be safe at the Mandan village, with the ferocious Sioux
hovering about.  They did not know, of course, that the story of the
Sioux was nothing but a hoax.

When La Vérendrye arrived within a few miles of the Mandan village, he
found awaiting him another party of Mandans under two of their chiefs.
They had lighted a camp-fire and had brought food for their guests.
The chiefs welcomed him, led him to the place of honour beside the
fire, and presented him with some of their native dishes--corn pounded
into a paste and baked in the coals and something {60} that looked like
a pumpkin pie without the pastry.  The party smoked the pipe of peace
and carried on a rather clumsy conversation by means of an interpreter.
Then they resumed the journey and presently the Mandan village appeared
in sight.  If the explorer had been disappointed in finding the Mandans
very similar in appearance to other western tribes, now at least he was
gratified to find their buildings more elaborate and interesting than
any he had before met with.  The village was in fact a fort, apparently
strong enough to protect the inhabitants from anything less powerful
than artillery, of which of course they had no knowledge.

La Vérendrye, knowing that the Indians were always impressed by an
imposing ceremony, now drew up his men in military order.  He told his
son François to march in front, bearing the flag of France.  The
Mandans, who looked upon the explorer as a great white chief, would not
permit him to walk, but carried him upon their shoulders to the gate of
the fort.  Naturally he did not like this mode of travel, but he
submitted to it for fear of displeasing his hosts.  As they drew near
the fort, he ordered his men to fire a volley as a salute to the
Mandans.  The {61} principal chiefs and warriors flocked out to meet
him, and escorted him within their walls.  When he marched in with his
force, he saw the ramparts crowded with men, women, and children, who
looked with astonishment upon the first white men they had ever seen.
The principal chief of the tribe led La Vérendrye into his own lodge,
and told him to consider it his home so long as he cared to remain in
the village.  When the two entered the lodge a crowd of Mandans
followed and the place became suffocating.  La Vérendrye told the crowd
that they should have many opportunities later to see him, and after
some difficulty he managed to have the place cleared.

This, however, was not effected before the unfortunate explorer had
suffered another loss.  He found that, in the confusion, an
enterprising Indian had snatched the bag of presents from one of his
men, and had made off with it.  This was serious.  The bag contained
nearly all the gifts which he had brought for the chiefs of the
Mandans, and he feared that these chiefs might now look coldly upon a
white man who was unable to offer the customary presents.  He explained
what had happened to the principal chief.  The chief seemed very much
put out and told La Vérendrye for his {62} consolation that there were
a good many rascals among the Mandans.  Later, when the Assiniboines
told the chief that he was himself the thief, he made the weak retort
that one of his accusers might be the culprit.  He promised to do his
best to recover the bag, but La Vérendrye never saw it again.

In a day or two the Assiniboines took leave of La Vérendrye, and, much
to the relief of the Mandans, prepared to return to their own village.
Before their departure, the chief of the Assiniboines made a speech to
the Mandans.  'We are leaving you our father,' he said.  'Take great
care of him, and of all the French.  Learn to know them, for they are
wise; they know how to do everything.  We love our father, and we also
fear him.  Do as we do.'  The Mandans promised to take every care of
the visitors.  Everything the village contained, they said, was at
their service for the asking.  They begged that the white chief would
count them among the members of his family.  In compliance with their
wish, La Vérendrye went through the usual ceremony of placing his hands
on the heads of each of the chiefs.  By this ceremony they became his
'children.'  The Assiniboines, though they had taken leave of La
Vérendrye, {63} still delayed their departure.  The Mandans, alarmed at
the quantities of provisions their unwelcome guests required, again
spread the report that the Sioux were approaching.  Indeed, they said,
several Mandan hunters had caught sight of them.  This time the ruse
succeeded.  The Assiniboines, in a panic of alarm, marched off in great
haste, lest the Sioux should intercept them before they could reach
their own country.

Further troubles awaited La Vérendrye.  The day following the departure
of the Assiniboines he found that his Cree interpreter had gone off
with them, although he had promised faithfully to remain.  Even with
this interpreter communications with the Mandans had been difficult.
Before La Vérendrye's thoughts expressed in French could reach the
Mandans, they had to pass through the medium of three other languages.
One of La Vérendrye's sons, who understood Cree, was able to translate
the explorer's questions into that language; then the Cree interpreter
put the questions into Assiniboine; and several of the Mandans were
sufficiently familiar with the language of the Assiniboines to complete
the chain and express the ideas in their own tongue.  With the Cree
interpreter gone, the problem of {64} communication became much more
difficult.  Indeed, the only method that remained of carrying on
conversation with the Mandans was by means of signs and gestures.

One of La, Vérendrye's principal reasons for visiting the Mandans had
been to find out from them as much as possible of the country which lay
westward.  He had hoped that they would be able to tell him something
definite about the Western Sea, something of the best way of reaching
it, and of the tribes he should meet on the way.  He had had very
little time to put questions before his interpreter deserted, and now
he feared that he should have to turn back, because he had no means of
getting information from the Mandans.  With a great deal of difficulty
he managed to learn that there were six Mandan villages or forts, some
on one side of the Missouri, some on the other, and that farther down
this river lived two other tribes, the Panana and the Pananis, who were
at war with the Mandans, although they had formerly been their fast
friends.  The Mandans told him by signs that as one went down the
Missouri it became very wide, and that there a race dwelt who were
white like himself.  These people, they said, rode on horseback both
when they hunted {65} and when they went to war; they wore armour and
fought with lances and sabres, which they handled with great skill.
Their forts and houses were of stone and they cultivated their fields.
A whole summer was necessary to reach their country from the Mandan
villages.

La Vérendrye did not know how much of this to believe, and he was not
even sure that he correctly understood what the Mandans tried to convey
to him by signs.  He was not at all certain that the quarter in which
these people, so different from the Mandans, were said to live was the
direction it was necessary to take in order to reach the Western Sea.
He did not know the truth, that the river by which he stood, the
Missouri, emptied into the Mississippi, and that the settlements spoken
of by the Mandans were probably the Spanish settlements on the lower
waters of the Mississippi.  In order to extend his information, he used
every agency to learn as much as possible about the Mandans themselves.
He sent his son François to another village near by, to examine it and
to make further inquiries.

La Vérendrye himself made close observations.  He walked about the
village in which he was quartered, and examined the {66} fortifications
with a great deal of interest.  There were about one hundred and thirty
cabins within the walls; the streets and squares were laid out
regularly and were kept remarkably neat and clean.  The smooth, wide
ramparts were built of timber strengthened with cross-pieces.  At each
corner was a bastion, and the fort was surrounded by a ditch fifteen
feet deep and from fifteen to eighteen feet wide.  He was astonished to
find such elaborate fortifications among a savage tribe.  Nowhere else
in the New World had he seen anything of the kind.

The dwellings of the Mandans were large and comfortable; they were
divided into several rooms and round the walls were beds in the form of
bunks.  They had earthen vessels in which they cooked their food.  The
women made very neat baskets of wicker-work.  The most remarkable thing
about these people was their prudence for the future.  They had
storerooms underground in which they stored the dressed skins which
they preserved to trade with neighbouring tribes for guns and
ammunition; they had products of Europe in use, though they had not yet
come into direct contact with Europeans.  In these storerooms they
preserved also dried meat and grain for food in the winter.  This
foresight {67} impressed La Vérendrye.  Most of the Indian tribes lived
only in the present; when they had food they feasted upon it from
morning to night, and when their provisions were gone they starved.
The Mandans, however, kept on hand an ample supply of food, both for
their own use and for that of strangers who might visit them.  They
amused themselves with rude sports.  Among these La Vérendrye mentions
a game of ball, but he does not describe it.  Probably it was the game
of lacrosse, which was played by many of the Indian tribes long before
white men came to copy it from them.

After an absence of a few days, François de La Vérendrye returned from
the village which he had visited.  He had been warmly welcomed.  He
reported that the village was much larger than the one his father was
living in, and that it was fortified in the same way.  He had tried to
question the Mandans of this village, but could make nothing out of
their answers.  They were so impatient to speak that they would
constantly interrupt one another; when asked about one thing they would
answer about another, because they did not really understand the
question.  The Mandans tried to make up in hospitality for {68} their
inability to answer the Frenchman's questions.  'As we found that it
was a waste of time to question them, we had to fall back on feasting
the whole time we were with them, and even then we could not attend
nearly all the feasts to which we were invited.'

[Illustration: Mandan girls.  From Pritchard's 'Natural History of
Man.']

Early in December La Vérendrye decided to leave the Mandans and to make
the long return journey to Fort La Reine.  He now saw that, even if he
could gain useful information from the Mandans about the nearest way to
the Western Sea, it would be impossible to attempt the journey without
a supply of presents for the tribes he should meet.  To get these
presents he must return to the fort, but he would leave two of his men
with the Mandans for the winter, in order to learn the language.  Then,
when he returned, he would have interpreters upon whom he could rely.
When he told the Mandans by signs that he must leave them, they seemed
sorry to lose him, and loaded him with provisions for his journey.
They also promised to take care of his two men during his absence.  He
distributed among them all the small articles which he had in his
stores, particularly the needles, which they highly prized.  To the
principal chief he gave a flag, and a lead tablet {69} bearing an
inscription to the effect that he had taken possession of the Missouri
country in the name of the king of France.  This inscription the chief
promised to preserve as his greatest treasure.

Misfortune, however, still dogged the path of La Vérendrye.  The day
before that on which he had arranged to leave for the north, he was
taken violently ill and for three days could not move from his bed.  As
ill luck would have it, his stock of medicines was in the bag which the
Assiniboines had carried off to their village, so that he could do
nothing for himself until he reached that place.  About the middle of
December he was a little better, and made up his mind to attempt the
journey.  When he and his men set out on their long march across the
plains, it was bitterly cold.  They had no means of making a fire, and
were compelled to sleep at night on the open prairie in a half-frozen
condition.  We can imagine what La Vérendrye must have suffered before
at last he reached the Assiniboine village, more dead than alive.
After a few days' rest, he managed to make his way slowly to Fort La
Reine.  'Never in my life,' he says, 'did I endure so much misery,
pain, and fatigue as on that journey.'

{70}

While at the Assiniboine village La Vérendrye reproached the Indians
with having lied to him about the Mandans, so as to lead him to believe
that they were white men.  They replied that he had misunderstood them;
that they had not referred to the Mandans, but to another nation who
lived farther down the river.  One of the Assiniboines sprang up before
him and exclaimed: 'I am the man best able to talk to you about this
matter.  Last summer I killed one of this nation of white men.  He was
covered with iron armour.  If I had not killed his horse first, I
should myself have been destroyed.'  La Vérendrye asked him what he had
brought back to prove his story.  'I had no chance to bring anything,'
he said.  'When I was about to cut off his head, I saw some men on
horseback, who were trying to prevent my retreat, and I had much
difficulty in making my escape.  I had to throw away everything I had,
even to my blanket, and ran away naked.'

La Vérendrye thought that this man was probably telling the truth.
What he said agreed fairly well with what he had himself heard from the
Mandans, and was applicable probably to the Spaniards.  But he was
still as far away as ever from any direct information {71} about the
road he should follow to reach the Western Sea, and this was first and
always the thought that occupied his mind.  He hoped that the men whom
he had left behind to winter with the Mandans would be able to obtain
from them the facts for which he was so anxiously waiting, and he
looked forward eagerly to the spring, when they were to return to Fort
La Reine with such news as they had been able to gather.



{72}

CHAPTER V

THE DISCOVERY OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS

La Vérendrye had expected the return in the spring of 1739 of the two
men whom he had left in the Mandan villages, but it was well into the
autumn before they reached Fort La Reine.  They brought good news,
however.  During the winter they had lost no opportunity of picking up
Mandan words and phrases, until at last they were able to make
themselves fairly well understood in that tongue.  In the early summer
a number of strange Indians had arrived from the West at the Mandan
villages.  They were on horseback, and brought with them many
additional horses to carry their provisions and supplies.  They came in
order to trade embroidered buffalo hides and other skins with the
Mandans for corn and beans, which they did not grow in their own
country.

The young Frenchmen learned from the Mandans that a band of these
Indians had their home in the extreme West, towards the {73} setting
sun.  The Mandans also reported that in this country there were white
men, who lived in brick and stone houses.  In order to make further
inquiries the two Frenchmen visited these Indians, and were fortunate
enough to find among them a chief who spoke the language of the
Mandans.  He professed to speak also the language of the white men who
dwelt in the West, but when the French heard this language they could
make nothing of it.  The chief declared that the strangers in his
country wore beards and that in many other respects they resembled the
white men.  He declared that they prayed to the Master of Life in great
buildings, where the Indians had seen them holding in their hands what,
from their description, must have been books, the leaves like 'husks of
Indian corn.'  Their houses were described as standing near the shores
of the great lake, whose waters rise and fall, and are unfit to drink.
This would mean tides and salt water.  If this Indian story was true,
and there did not seem to be any reason for doubting it, La Vérendrye
at last had something definite to guide him in his search for the
Western Sea.  He had but to find his way to the homes of these
mysterious white strangers on its shores; and he hoped that the Indian
{74} band who had visited the Mandans, and from whom his men had
obtained these particulars, would be able and willing to provide him
with competent guides.

For some reason La Vérendrye was unable himself to return to the
country of the Mandans or to go still farther west.  But in the spring
of 1740 he sent his eldest son Pierre into that country in order to
make further inquiries, and to obtain guides if possible for the
projected journey to the Western Sea.  Pierre spent the following
winter with the Mandans, but he could not find the men he needed as
guides, and so he returned to Fort La Reine in the summer of 1741.

In the spring of 1742, not discouraged by the failure of the previous
year, Pierre set out again for the Mandans, accompanied this time by
his brother François, who was known as the Chevalier, and by two men
from the fort.  The journey was to prove momentous, but at first the
outlook was dark.  When they arrived in the Mandan country they could
find no sign of the Horse Indians, as the mounted Indians from the West
were called.  Pierre and his brother waited long at the Mandan village
with what patience they could summon.  The month of May went by, then
June, then {75} most of July, with still no sign of the missing band.
Finally the brothers decided that, if they were to go farther west,
they could wait no longer, for the season was advancing and it would
soon be too late to do anything.  At last they found among the Mandans
two young men who agreed to lead them to the country of the Horse
People.  This would bring them to their hoped-for guides.  Without a
moment's delay they set out towards the south-west in search of the
missing Indians.

They travelled for twenty days in a south-westerly direction, through
what were afterwards known as the Bad Lands of the Little Missouri, a
country unlike anything they had ever seen before.  On every side they
could see mounds and pillars of brilliantly-coloured earth, blue and
crimson and green and yellow.  So much were they struck with the
singular spectacle that they would have liked to carry some of the
coloured earth with them to show to their father on their return.  But
a long journey lay before them.  They had to carry everything they
needed on their backs, and it would have been folly to add to the load
something that was useless for their immediate needs, something that
they could neither eat nor wear.

{76}

About the beginning of August the party reached a mountain where the
Mandans expected to find the Horse Indians so eagerly sought.  But the
Horse Indians had gone on a hunting expedition and had not yet
returned; so Pierre and his brother decided to wait for them.  On the
summit of the mountain they made a signal fire, and every day one of
the explorers climbed up to the lookout to see if there were any signs
of the Indians.  At the foot of the mountain they built a small house
in which they lived.  Some of their time they spent in hunting to
provision the camp, while waiting as patiently as they could for the
Horse Indians to return from their hunting.

At last, on September 14, a smoke was seen rising in the south-western
sky.  One of the men was sent to investigate, and he found not the
Horse Indians but a band known to the Mandans as the Good-looking
Indians.  Difficulties multiplied.  One of the Mandan guides had
already deserted them to go back to the Missouri, and the other now
told the brothers that he must leave them.  He was prompted by fear.
The Good-looking Indians were not on friendly terms with the Mandans,
and, although they had not offered to do him any harm, he was afraid to
remain near these enemies.

{77}

After the Mandan had gone back, the brothers La Vérendrye managed to
explain to the Good-looking Indians by signs that they were seeking the
Horse Indians and asked for guides to one of the camps of these
Indians.  One of the Good-looking Indians said he knew the way, and
they set out under his guidance; but they became anxious on finding
that they were still travelling in the same direction as before, for
this did not seem to be a very direct road to the Western Sea.  Still,
they had fixed their hopes on the Horse Indians as the people able to
lead them there, and the most urgent thing to do was to find some
members of that tribe, even though they had to go a long way out of
their course to do so.

On the second day after they left the camp of the Good-looking Indians,
they met a party of another tribe known as the Little Foxes, who were
very friendly.  The explorers gave them some small presents, and made
them understand that they were seeking the Horse Indians, who had
promised to show them the way to the sea.  'We will take you to the
Horse Indians,' they said, and their whole party turned about and
joined the French.  But these new guides also, to the disgust of
François La Vérendrye, {78} still marched towards the south-west.  'I
felt sure,' he said, 'that in this direction we should never find the
Western Sea.'  However, there was nothing to do but to go forward, and
to trust to better luck after they reached the Horse Indians.

After tramping on for many days they came at last to an encampment of
the Horse Indians.  These people, just then, were in great trouble.
They had been attacked not long before by a war party of the Snake
Indians; many of their bravest warriors had been killed, and many of
their women had been carried into captivity.  When asked the way to the
sea these Indians now declared that none of them had ever been there,
for the very good reason that the country of the fierce Snake Indians
must be crossed to reach it.  They said that a neighbouring tribe, the
Bow Indians, might be able to give some information, as they either
themselves traded with the white men of the sea-coast, or were on
friendly terms with other tribes who had been down to the sea.  These
Bow Indians, they added, were the only tribe who dared to fight against
the Snake Indians, for they were under the leadership of a wise and
skilful chief, who had more than once led his tribe to victory against
these dangerous enemies.  A guide {79} was found to lead the explorers
to the Bow Indians, and they went off once more, still travelling
south-westerly, until at length, on November 21, they came in sight of
the camp of the Bows.  It was a huge camp, much larger than any the
explorers had yet visited.  Everywhere they could see numbers of
horses, asses, and mules--animals unknown among the northern tribes.

When they reached the camp the chief of the Bows met them and at once
took them to his own lodge.  Nothing could be more friendly or polite
than his treatment of the white travellers.  In fact, as François said,
he did not seem to have the manners of a savage.  'Up to that time we
had always been very well received in the villages we had visited, but
what we had before experienced in that way was nothing in comparison
with the gracious manners of the head chief of the Bows.  He took as
much care of all our belongings as if they had been his own.'  With him
François and his brother remained for some time; and, very soon,
through the kindness of the chief, they learnt enough of the language
to make themselves understood.

The explorers had many interesting talks with this friendly chief.
They asked him if he {80} knew anything about the white people who
lived on the sea-coast.  'We know them,' he replied, 'through what has
been told us by prisoners of the Snake tribe.  We have never been to
the sea ourselves.'  'Do not be surprised,' he continued, 'to see so
many Indians camped round us.  Word has been sent in all directions to
our people to join us here.  In a few days we shall march against the
Snakes; and if you will come with us, we will take you to the high
mountains that are near the sea.  From their summits you will be able
to look upon it.'  The brothers La Vérendrye were overjoyed to hear
such encouraging news, and agreed that one of them should accompany the
Bow Indians on their expedition against the Snakes.  It seemed almost
too good to be true that they might be actually within reach of the
sea, the goal towards which they and their father had been struggling
for so many years.  In fact, it proved too good to be true.  Whether
they had misunderstood the chief, or whether he was merely speaking
from hearsay, certainly the view was far from correct that the
mountains which they were approaching lay near the sea.  These
mountains, not far off, were the Rocky Mountains.  Even if the
explorers should succeed in reaching and in crossing them at {81} this
point, there would still be hundreds of miles of mountain forest and
plain to traverse before their eyes could rest on the waters of the
Pacific ocean.  Pierre and his brother never knew this, however, for
they were not destined to see the western side of the mountains.

The great war party of the Bows, consisting of more than two thousand
fighting men, with their families, started out towards the Snake
country in December, the comparatively mild December of the
south-western plains.  The scene must have been singularly animated as
this horde of Indians, with their wives and children, their horses and
dogs, and the innumerable odds and ends that made up their camp
equipage, moved slowly across the plains.  François was too full of his
own affairs to describe the odd appearance of this native army in the
journal which he wrote of the expedition, but fortunately the historian
Francis Parkman lived for some time among these tribes of the western
plains, and he has given us a good idea of what such an Indian army
must have looked like on the march.  'The spectacle,' he says, 'was
such as men still young have seen in these western lands, but which no
man will see again.  The vast plain {82} 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
teepees, or 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
raw hide whitened and painted.  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 {83} naked boys,
noisy and restless, roamed the prairie, practising 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.'

On the first day of January 1743, the Indians, accompanied by the
brothers La Vérendrye and their Frenchmen, came within sight of the
mountains.  Rising mysteriously in the distance were those massive
crags, those silent, snow-capped peaks, upon which, as far as we know,
Europeans had never looked before.  The party of Frenchmen and Indians
pressed {84} on, for eight days, towards the foot of the mountains.
Then, when they had come within a few days' journey of the place where
they expected to find the Snakes, they altered their mode of advance.
It was now decided to leave the women and children in camp under a
small guard, while the warriors pushed on in the hope of surprising the
Snakes in their winter camp near the mountains.  Pierre remained in
camp to look after the baggage of the party, which the Indians would
probably pillage if left unguarded.  François and his two Frenchmen
went forward with the war party, and four days later they arrived at
the foot of the mountains, the first Europeans who had ever put foot on
those majestic slopes.  François gazed with the keenest interest at the
lofty summits, and longed to climb them to see what lay beyond.

Meanwhile he was obliged to share in a vivid human drama.  The chief of
the Bows had sent scouts forward to search for the camp of the Snakes,
and these scouts now reappeared.  They had found the camp, but the
enemy had fled; and had, indeed, gone off in such a hurry that they had
abandoned their lodges and most of their belongings.  The effect
produced by this news was singular.  Instead of {85} rejoicing because
the dreaded Snakes had fled before them, which was evidently the case,
the Bow warriors at once fell into a panic.  The Snakes, they cried,
had discovered the approach of their enemies, and must have gone back
to attack the Bow camp and capture the women and children.  The great
chief tried to reason with his warriors; he pointed out that the Snakes
could not know anything about the camp, that quite evidently they had
been afraid to meet the Bows and had fled before them.  But it was all
to no purpose.  The Bows would not listen to reason; they were sure
that the Snakes had played them a cunning trick and that they should
hasten back as speedily as possible to save their families.  The result
was characteristic of savage warfare.  The Indian army that had marched
a few days earlier in good order to attack the enemy now fled back
along the trail in a panic, each man for himself.

It was in these ignominious circumstances that François La Vérendrye,
having reached the foot of the Rocky Mountains, was obliged to turn
back without going farther, leaving the mystery of the Great Sea still
unsolved.  François rode by the side of the disgusted chief and the two
Frenchmen followed behind.  Presently François noticed that his men had
{86} disappeared.  He galloped back for some miles, and found them
resting their horses on the banks of a river.  While he talked with
them, his quick eye detected the approach of a party of Snake Indians
from a neighbouring wood.  They were covering themselves with their
shields, and were evidently bent on an attack.  François and his men
loaded their guns and waited until the Indians were well within range.
Then they took aim and fired.  The Snakes knew little or nothing about
firearms, and when one or two of their number fell before this volley,
they fled in disorder.

There was still danger of an attack by a larger band of the enemy, and
the Frenchmen remained on guard where they were until nightfall.  Then,
under cover of darkness, they attempted to follow the trail of the
Bows.  But the ground was so dry and hard at that season of the year
that they found it impossible to pick up the trail of their friends.
For two days they wandered about.  Skill or good fortune, however,
aided them, and at last they arrived at the camp of the Bows, tired and
half starved.  The chief had been anxious at the disappearance of his
white guests, and was overjoyed at their safe return.  It is almost
needless to say that the panic-stricken warriors {87} had found their
camp just as they had left it; no one had heard or seen anything of the
Snakes; and the warriors were forced to submit to the jeers of the
squaws for their failure to come even within sight of the enemy.

Pierre, François, and their two men accompanied the Bows for some days
on their homeward journey.  They found, however, that the Bows were
travelling away from the course which they wished to follow, and so
decided to leave them and to turn towards the Missouri river.  The
chief of the Bows seemed to feel genuine regret at bidding farewell to
his French guests, and he made them promise to return and pay him
another visit in the following spring, after they had seen their father
at Fort La Reine.  On the long journey to this point the three
Frenchmen now set out across the limitless frozen prairie.

About the middle of March they came upon a party of strange Indians
known as the People of the Little Cherry.  They were returning from
their winter's hunting, and were then only two days' journey from their
village on the banks of the Missouri.  Like all the other tribes, the
People of the Little Cherry received the Frenchmen with perfect
friendliness.  The party lingered with these Indians in their {88}
village until the beginning of April, and François spent most of his
time learning their language.  This he found quite easy, perhaps
because he had already picked up a fair knowledge of the language of
some of the neighbouring tribes, and it proved not unlike that of the
Little Cherry Indians.  François found in the village an Indian who had
been brought up among the Spaniards of the Pacific Coast, and who still
spoke their language as readily as he spoke his mother tongue.  He
questioned him eagerly about the distance to the Spanish settlements
and the difficulties of the way.  The man replied that the journey was
long.  It was also, he said, very dangerous, because it must be through
the country of the Snake Indians.  This Indian assured François that
another Frenchman lived in the country where they were, in a village
distant about three days' journey.  Naturally this surprised François
and his brother.  They thought of going to visit him; but their horses
were badly in need of a rest after the long trip from the mountains,
and must be kept fresh for the journey to the Mandan villages.  They
therefore sent instead a letter to the Frenchman, asking him to visit
them at the village of the Little Cherries, or, if that was not
possible, {89} at least to send them an answer.  No answer came, and we
may well doubt whether such a Frenchman existed.  Before leaving the
country, La Vérendrye buried on the summit of a hill a tablet of lead,
with the arms and inscription of the French king.  This was to take
possession of the country for France.  He also built a pyramid of
stones in honour of the governor of Canada.[1]

About the beginning of April, when the horses were in good condition
and all preparations had been made for the journey, the explorers said
good-bye to the People of the Little Cherry and set out for the Mandan
villages.  Like the Bow Indians, the Little Cherries seemed sorry to
lose them and begged them to come back.  In return for the kindness and
hospitality he had received, La Vérendrye distributed some presents and
promised to visit them again when he could.

On May 18 the travellers reached the {90} Mandan villages and were
welcomed as if they had returned from the dead.  Their long absence had
led the Mandans to conclude that they had been killed by some
unfriendly Indians, or that some fatal accident had happened on the
way.  They had intended to rest for some time at the Mandan villages,
but they found that a party of Assiniboines was going to Fort La Reine,
and they determined to travel with them.  The Assiniboines had in fact
already left on their journey, but the Frenchmen overtook them at their
first camp.

[Illustration: Tablet deposited by La Vérendrye, 1743.  Obverse and
reverse sides.  From photographs lent by Charles N. Bell, F.R.G.S.,
President of the Manitoba Historical and Scientific Society.]

This latter part of the journey had its own excitements and perils.  On
the last day of May, as they were travelling over the prairie, they
discovered a party of Sioux waiting in ambush.  The Sioux had expected
to meet a smaller party, and now decided not to fight.  At the same
time, they were too proud to run away before the despised Assiniboines,
even though they numbered only thirty and the Assiniboines numbered
more than a hundred.  They retreated with dignified slowness, facing
around on the Assiniboines from time to time, and driving them back
when they ventured too near.  But when they recognized the Frenchmen,
mounted on horses and armed with their deadly muskets, their attitude
changed; they {91} forgot their dignity and made off as fast as they
could go.  Even with heavy odds against them these virile savages
managed to wound several of the Assiniboines, while they lost only one
man, who mistook the enemy for his friends and was captured.  Pierre
and François La Vérendrye finally reached Fort La Reine on July 2, to
the great delight of their father, who had grown anxious on account of
their long absence.  They had been away from the fort for one year and
eighty-four days.



[1] This tablet remained buried where it was deposited for 170 years.
In March 1913 it was found by a young girl on the west bank of the
Missouri river opposite the city of Pierre, N. Dakota, thus bearing
testimony to the trustworthiness of François La Vérendrye's journal,
from which this chapter was written before the tablet was discovered.
Photographs of the tablet were made by W. O'Reilly of Pierre and
published in the _Manitoba Free Press_ and are reproduced in this book
by courtesy of Charles N. Bell, F.R.G.S., of Winnipeg.



{92}

CHAPTER VI

LA VÉRENDRYES' LATTER DAYS

During all this time the elder La Vérendrye had been working at other
plans for discovery and for trade in the Far West.  In the year 1739,
on his return from the first visit to the Mandans, he had sent his son
François to build a fort on the Lake of the Prairies, now known as Lake
Manitoba.  When young La Vérendrye had built this fort, he went farther
north to Cedar Lake, near the mouth of the Saskatchewan river, and
there built another fort.  The purpose was to intercept the trade of
the Indians with the English on Hudson Bay.  For over half a century
the Indians of this region had taken their furs down the rivers leading
from Lake Winnipeg to the trading-posts of the Hudson's Bay Company on
the shores of the Bay, but now the French intended to offer them a
market nearer home and divert to themselves this profitable trade.  The
first of their new forts was named Fort Dauphin, and the one on Cedar
Lake was called Fort Bourbon.

{93}

Having built Fort Bourbon, François La Vérendrye had ascended the
Saskatchewan river as far as the Forks, where the north and south
branches of that great river join.  Here he met a number of Crees, whom
he questioned as to the source of the Saskatchewan.  They told him that
it came from a great distance, rising among lofty mountains far to the
west, and that beyond those mountains they knew of a great lake, as
they called it, the water of which was not good to drink.  The
mountains were of course the Rocky Mountains, and the waters of the
great lake which the Crees spoke of were the salt waters of the Pacific
ocean.  François La Vérendrye had continued his work of building forts.
Shortly after building Fort Bourbon, he built Fort Paskoyac, on the
Saskatchewan, at a place now known as the Pas, between Cedar Lake and
the Forks.  It is interesting to know that a railway has just been
completed to this place, and that it is to be continued from there to
the shores of Hudson Bay.  How this modern change would have startled
the old fur-traders!  Even if they could have dreamed of anything so
wonderful as a railway, we can imagine their ridicule of the idea that
some day men should travel from the East to the far-off {94} shores of
the Saskatchewan in two or three days, a trip which cost them months of
wearisome paddling.

In carrying on his work in the West, La Vérendrye had to face
difficulties even greater than those caused by the hard life in the
wilderness.  His base of supplies was in danger.  He had many enemies
in Canada, who took advantage of his absence in the West to prejudice
the governor against him.  They even sent false reports to the king of
France, saying that he was spending his time, not in searching for a
way to the Western Sea, but in making money out of the fur trade.  This
was not true.  Not only was he making no money out of the fur trade,
but, as we have seen, he was heavily in debt because of the enormous
cost of carrying on his explorations.  For a time, however, the truth
did not help him.  The tales told by his enemies were believed, and he
was ordered to return to Montreal with his sons.  He and they withdrew
from their work in the West, left behind their promising beginnings,
and returned to the East.  Never again, as it happened, was the father
to resume his work.  Another officer, M. de Noyelle, was sent to the
West to continue the work of exploration.  Noyelle spent two years in
the West without {95} adding anything to the information La Vérendrye
had gained.  By that time a natural reaction had come in favour of La
Vérendrye, and the acting governor of Canada, the Marquis de La
Galissonière, decided to put the work of exploration again in charge of
La Vérendrye and his sons.  In recognition of his services he was given
the rank of captain and was decorated with the Cross of St Louis.

While these events were ripening, the years passed, and not until 1749
was La Vérendrye restored to his leadership in the West.  Though now
sixty-four years old, he was overjoyed at the prospect.  Not only was
he permitted to continue his search for the Western Sea; the quality of
his work was recognized, for the governor and the king had at last
understood that, instead of seeking his own profit in his explorations,
as his enemies had said, he had the one object of adding to the honour
and glory of his country.  He made preparations to start from Montreal
in the spring of 1750, and intended to push forward as rapidly as
possible to Fort Bourbon, or Fort Paskoyac, where he would spend the
winter.  In the spring of the following year he would ascend the
Saskatchewan river and make his way over the mountains to the shores of
the Western {96} Sea, the Pacific ocean as we know it to-day.  But the
greatest of all enemies now blocked his way.  La Vérendrye was taken
ill while making his preparations for the expedition, and before the
close of the year 1749 he had set out on the journey from which no man
returns.

[Illustration: The Marquis de la Galissonière.  From an engraving in
the Château de Ramezay.]

After the death of La Vérendrye, his sons made preparations to carry
out his plan for reaching the Western Sea by way of the Saskatchewan
river.  They had the same unselfish desire to bring honour to their
king and to add new territories to their native land.  Moreover, this
project, which their father had had so much at heart, had become now
for them a sacred duty.  To their dismay, however, they soon found that
the promise made to their father did not extend to themselves.  Another
officer, Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, was appointed by the governor of
Canada to carry on the search for the Western Sea.  They had spent
years of toil and discomfort in the wilderness and endured countless
hardships and dangers.  They had carefully studied the languages,
manners, and customs of the Indian tribes, and they had found out by
hard experience what would be the best means of completing their
discovery.  Yet now they were thrown aside in {97} favour of an officer
who had never been in the Far West and who knew nothing of the
conditions he would there be compelled to meet.

They could at least appeal for justice.  In a last attempt to obtain
this for himself and his brothers, François de La Vérendrye wrote this
letter to the king's minister:


The only resource left to me is to throw myself at the feet of your
Lordship and to trouble you with the story of my misfortunes.  My name
is La Vérendrye; my late father is known here [in Canada] and in France
by the exploration for the discovery of the Western Sea to which he
devoted the last fifteen years of his life.  He travelled and made
myself and my brothers travel with such vigour that we should have
reached our goal, if he had had only a little more help, and if he had
not been so much thwarted, especially by envy.  Envy is still here,
more than elsewhere, a prevailing passion against, which one has no
protection.  While my father, my brothers, and myself were exhausting
ourselves with toil, and while we were incurring a crushing burden of
expense, his steps and ours were represented as directed only towards
[our own gain by] the finding of {98} beaver; the outlay he was forced
to incur was described as dissipation; and his narratives were spoken
of as a pack of lies.  Envy as it exists in this country is no half
envy; its principle is to calumniate furiously in the hope that if even
half of what is said finds favour, it will be enough to injure.  In
point of fact, my father, thus opposed, had to his sorrow been obliged
more than once to return and to make us return because of the lack of
help and protection.  He has even been reproached by the court [for not
giving adequate reports upon his work]; he was, indeed, more intent on
making progress than on telling what he was doing until he could give
definite statements.  He was running into debt, he failed to receive
promotions.  Yet his zeal for his project never slackened, persuaded as
he was that sooner or later his labours would be crowned with success
and recompense.

At the time when he was most eager in the good work, envy won the day,
and he saw the posts he had established and his own work pass into
other hands.  While he was thus checked in his operations, the reward
of a plentiful harvest of beaver skins [which he had made possible]
went {99} to another rather than himself.  Yet [in spite of this
profitable trade the good work slackened]; the posts, instead of
multiplying, fell into decay, and no progress was made in exploration;
it was this, indeed, which grieved him the most.

Meanwhile the Marquis de la Galissonière arrived in the country [to act
as governor].  In the hubbub of contradictory opinions that prevailed,
he came to the conclusion that the man who had pursued such discoveries
at his own charge and expense, without any cost to the king, and who
had gone into debt to establish useful posts, merited better fortune.
Apart from advancing the project of discovery, practical services had
been rendered.  There was [the marquis reported] a large increase of
beaver in the colony, and four or five posts had been well-established,
and defended by forts as good as could be made in countries so distant;
a multitude of savages had been turned into subjects of the king; some
of them, in a party which I commanded, showed an example to our own
domiciled savages by striking at the Anniers Indians, who are devoted
to England.  Progress [the marquis concluded] could be hastened and
rendered {100} more efficacious only by allowing the work to remain in
the same hands.

Thus it was that the Marquis de la Galissonière was good enough to
explain his position.  No doubt he expressed himself to the court to a
similar effect, for in the following year, that is to say last year, my
father was honoured with the Cross of St Louis, and was invited to
continue with his sons the work which he had begun.  He made
arrangements with great earnestness for starting on his expedition; he
spared nothing that might make for success; he had already bought and
prepared all the goods to be used in trade; he inspired me and my
brothers with his own ardour.  Then in the month of December last death
carried him off.

Great as was my grief at the time, I could never have imagined or
foreseen all that I lost in losing him.  When I succeeded to his
engagements and his responsibilities, I ventured to hope that I should
succeed to the same advantages.  I had the honour to write on the
subject to the Marquis de la Jonquière [then governor], informing him
that I had recovered from an indisposition from which I had been
suffering, and which might {101} serve as a pretext to some one seeking
to supplant me.  His reply was that he had chosen Monsieur de
Saint-Pierre to go to the Western Sea.

I started at once for Quebec from Montreal, where I then was; I
represented the situation in which I was left by my father; I declared
that there was more than one post in the direction of the Western Sea
and that I and my brothers would be delighted to be under the orders of
Monsieur de Saint-Pierre, and that we could content ourselves, if
necessary, with a single post, and that the most distant one; I stated
that we even asked no more than leave to go on in advance [of the new
leader], so that while we were pushing the work of exploration, we
might be able to help ourselves by disposing of my father's latest
purchases and of what remained to us in the posts.  We should in this
have the consolation of making our utmost efforts to meet the wishes of
the court.

The Marquis de la Jonquière, though he felt the force of my
representations, and, as it seemed to me, was touched by them, told me
at last that Monsieur de Saint-Pierre did not wish for either me or my
brothers.  I asked what would become of the debts we {102} had
incurred.  Monsieur de Saint-Pierre, however, had spoken, and I could
not obtain anything.  I returned to Montreal with this not too
consoling information.  There I offered for sale a small piece of
property, all that I had inherited from my father.  The proceeds of
this sale served to satisfy my most urgent creditors.

Meanwhile the season was advancing.  There was now the question of my
going as usual to the rendezvous arranged with my hired men, so as to
save their lives [by bringing provisions], and to secure the stores
which, without this precaution, would probably be pillaged and
abandoned.  In spite of Monsieur de Saint-Pierre, I obtained permission
to make this trip, and I was subject to conditions and restrictions
such as might be imposed on the commonest voyageur.  Nevertheless,
scarcely had I left when Monsieur de Saint-Pierre complained of my
action and alleged that this start of mine before him injured him to
the amount of more than ten thousand francs.  He also accused me,
without the slightest reserve, of having loaded my canoe beyond the
permission accorded me.

The accusation was considered and my canoe was pursued; had I been
overtaken {103} at once, Monsieur de Saint-Pierre would have been
promptly reassured.  He overtook me at Michilimackinac, and if I can
believe what he said, he now saw that he had been in the wrong in
acting as he did, and was vexed with himself for not having taken me
and my brothers with him.  He expressed much regret to me and paid me
many compliments.  It may be that this is his usual mode of acting; but
it is difficult for me to recognize in it either good faith or humanity.

Monsieur de Saint-Pierre might have obtained all that he has obtained;
he might have made sure of his interests and have gained surprising
advantages; and have taken [as he desired] some relative with him while
not shutting us out entirely.  Monsieur de Saint-Pierre is an officer
of merit, and I am only the more to be pitied to find him thus turned
against me.  Yet in spite of the favourable impressions he has created
on different occasions, he will find it difficult to show that in this
matter he kept the main interest [that of discovery] in view, and that
he conformed to the intentions of the court and respected the kindly
disposition with which the Marquis de la Galissonière honours us.
Before {104} such a wrong could be done to us, he must have injured us
seriously in the opinion of Monsieur de la Jonquière, who himself is
always disposed to be kind.

None the less am I ruined.  My returns for this year were only half
collected, and a thousand subsequent difficulties make the disaster
complete; with credit gone in relation both to my father and to myself,
I am in debt for over twenty thousand francs; I remain without funds
and without patrimony.  Moreover, I am a simple ensign of the second
grade; my elder brother has only the same rank as myself, while my
younger brother is only a junior cadet.

Such is the net result of all that my father, my brothers, and I have
done.  The one who was murdered some years ago was not the most
unfortunate of us.  His blood does not count in our behalf.  Unless
Monsieur de Saint-Pierre becomes imbued with better sentiments and
communicates them to the Marquis de la Jonquière, all my father's toils
and ours fail to serve us, and we must abandon what has cost us so
much.  We certainly should not have been and should not be useless to
Monsieur de Saint-Pierre.  I explained to him fully how I believed I
could serve him; clever as he {105} may be, and inspired with the best
intentions, I venture to say that by keeping us away he is in danger of
making many mistakes and of getting often on the wrong track.  It is
something gained to have gone astray, but to have found out your error;
we think that now we should be sure of the right road to reach the
goal, whatever it may be.  It is our greatest cause of distress to find
ourselves thus snatched away from a sphere of action in which we were
proposing to use every effort to reach a definite result.

Deign therefore, Monseigneur, to judge the cause of three orphans.  Our
misfortune is great, but is it without remedy?  There are in the hands
of your Lordship resources of compensation and of consolation, and I
venture to hope for some benefit from them.  To find ourselves thus
excluded from the West would be to find ourselves robbed in the most
cruel manner of our heritage.  We should have had all that was bitter
and others all that was sweet.


This eloquent appeal of François fell upon unheeding ears; the
appointment of his rival was confirmed.  The only grace he could obtain
was leave to take to the West a small portion of the supplies for which
he and his {106} brothers had already paid, and to return with the furs
his men had collected and brought down to Michilimackinac.  Thus ended,
sadly enough, the devoted efforts of this remarkable family of
explorers to complete the long search for a route overland to the
Pacific ocean.  The brothers La Vérendrye, ruined in purse and denied
opportunity, fell into obscurity and were forgotten.

It remains only to tell briefly of the attempts of Saint-Pierre and his
men to carry out the same great project.  In obedience to the
governor's instructions, Saint-Pierre left Montreal in the spring of
1750.  He paddled up the Ottawa, and then through Lake Nipissing, and
down the French river to Georgian Bay.  He crossed Lake Huron to
Michilimackinac, where he remained for a short time to give his men a
rest.  Then he pushed on to Grand Portage, where he spent some time in
talking to the Indians.  In spite of his ungenerous treatment of the
sons of La Vérendrye, Saint-Pierre was a brave and capable soldier; but
he knew very little of the hardships of western exploration, or of the
patience needed in dealing with Indians.  He grumbled bitterly about
the difficulties and hardships of the portages, which La Vérendrye
{107} had taken as a matter of course; and, instead of treating the
Indians with patience and forbearance, he lost no opportunity to
harangue and scold them.  We need not wonder, therefore, that the
natives, who had looked up to La Vérendrye as a superior being, soon
learned to dislike the overbearing Saint-Pierre, and would do nothing
to help him in his attempts at exploration.

Saint-Pierre visited Fort St Charles; he spent the winter at Fort
Maurepas; in the spring of 1751 he went on to Fort La Reine.  Meanwhile
he had sent Niverville, a young officer of his party, to the
Saskatchewan river, with instructions to push his discoveries westward
beyond the farthest point reached by La Vérendrye.  Winter had set in
before Niverville set out on his long journey, and he travelled over
the snow and ice with snowshoes, dragging his provisions on toboggans.
He knew nothing of the Indian method of harnessing dogs to their
toboggans, and he and his men dragged the toboggans themselves.  He
travelled slowly across Lake Winnipeg, over rough ice and through deep
snowdrifts, with no protection from the bitter winds.  So great were
the hardships that, in the end, he was compelled to abandon some of the
heavier {108} supplies and provisions.  Before he and his men reached
Fort Paskoyac they were at the point of starvation.  During the last
few days they had nothing to eat but a few small fish caught through
holes in the ice.

Niverville was taken seriously ill, and had to remain at Fort Paskoyac,
while some of his men in the spring of 1751 ascended the Saskatchewan
in canoes.  These men, we are told, paddled up the river to the foot of
the Rocky Mountains, where they built a fort, named Fort La Jonquière,
in honour of the governor.  Later in the year Niverville followed his
men up the river.  At Fort La Jonquière he met a party of Western
Indians, who told him that in the course of a war expedition they had
encountered a number of Indians of a strange tribe carrying loads of
beaver skins.  These strange Indians told the Frenchmen that they were
on their way over the Rocky Mountains to trade their furs with white
men on the sea-coast.  For some reason, either through lack of supplies
or because he did not possess the courage and enthusiasm which had
carried the La Vérendryes through so many difficulties, Niverville made
no effort to cross the mountains.  This attempt to reach the Western
Sea ended, so far as French {109} explorers were concerned, at Fort La
Jonquière.  All the toils and hardships of the French explorers ended
in failure to achieve the great end at which they aimed.  Members of
another race reaped the coveted reward.  Many years later a
Scottish-Canadian explorer, Alexander Mackenzie, realized La
Vérendrye's dream by successfully crossing the Rocky Mountains and
forcing his way through the difficult country that lay beyond, until at
last he stood upon the shores of the Pacific ocean.

Meanwhile Saint-Pierre had remained at Fort La Reine, leaving the work
of exploration to his young lieutenant, Niverville.  One incident of
his life there remains to be described before we close this story of
the search for the Western Sea.  It cannot be better told than in
Saint-Pierre's own narrative:


On February 22, 1752 [he says], about nine o'clock in the morning, I
was at this post with five Frenchmen.  I had sent the rest of my
people, consisting of fourteen persons, to look for provisions, of
which I had been in need for several days.  I was sitting quietly in my
room, when two hundred Assiniboines entered the fort, all of them
armed.  These Indians scattered immediately all through the place;
several {110} of them even entered my room, but unarmed; others
remained in adjacent parts of the fort.  My people came to warn me of
the behaviour of these Indians.  I ran to them and told them sharply
that they were very impudent to come in a crowd to my house, and armed.
One of them answered in the Cree language that they came to smoke.  I
told them that they were not behaving properly, and that they must
leave the fort at once.  I believe that the firmness with which I spoke
somewhat frightened them, especially as I put four of the most resolute
out of the door, without their saying a word.

I went at once to my room.  At that very moment, however, a soldier
came to tell me that the guard-house was full of Indians, who had taken
possession of the arms.  I ran to the guard-house and demanded, through
a Cree interpreter, what they meant by such behaviour.  During all this
time I was preparing to fight them with my weak force.  My interpreter,
who proved a traitor, said that these Indians had no bad intentions.
Yet, a moment before, an Assiniboine orator, who had been constantly
making fine speeches to me, had told the interpreter that, in spite of
him, the Indians would kill and rob me.

{111}

When I had barely made out their intentions I failed to realize that I
ought to have taken their arms from them.  [To frighten them] I seized
hold of a blazing brand, broke in the door of the powder magazine, and
knocked down a barrel of gunpowder.  Over this I held the brand, and I
told the Indians in an assured tone [through the interpreter] that I
expected nothing at their hands, and that even if I was killed I should
have the glory of subjecting them to the same fate.  No sooner had the
Indians seen the lighted brand, and the barrel of gunpowder with its
head staved in, and heard my interpreter, than they all fled out of the
gate of the fort.  They damaged the gate considerably in their hurried
flight.  I soon laid down my brand, and then I had nothing more
exciting to do than to close the gate of the fort.


Soon after this incident with the Assiniboines, Saint-Pierre gave up
his half-hearted attempt to find a route to the Western Sea, and
returned to Montreal.  He had proved himself a brave man enough.  He
did not, however, understand, and made no attempt to understand, the
character of the Indians, and, as an explorer, he was a complete
failure.  In {112} a couple of years he managed to undo all the work
which La Vérendrye had accomplished.  After he abandoned the West, the
forts which had been built there with such difficulty and at such great
expense soon fell into decay.  The only men who had the knowledge and
the enthusiasm to make real La Vérendrye's dream of exploration, his
own sons, were denied the privilege of doing so; and no one else seemed
anxious even to attempt such a difficult task.

The period of French rule in Canada was now rapidly drawing to a close.
Instead of adding to the territories of France in North America, her
sons were preparing to make their last stand in defence of what they
already possessed.  Half a dozen years later their dream of western
exploration, and of a great North American empire reaching from the
Atlantic to the Pacific, came to an end on the Plains of Abraham.  It
was left for those of another race who came after them to turn the
dream of their rivals into tangible achievements.  It must never be
forgotten, however, that, although Pierre de La Vérendrye failed to
complete the great object of his ambition, we owe to him and his
gallant sons the discovery of a large part of what is to-day Western
Canada.



{113}

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

An English translation of _The Journals of La Vérendrye_ edited by
Lawrence J. Burpee, with the French text, will be found among the
publications of the Champlain Society.  The reader should consult also
Parkman, _A Half Century of Conflict_, chapter xvi.; Burpee, _The
Search for the Western Sea_; Shortt and Doughty (editors), _Canada and
Its Provinces_, vol. i., 'The Pathfinders of the Great West.'



{115}

INDEX


Abnakis, 4.

Assiniboines, 49, 50-63, 90, 109.

Aulneau, Father, 37-40.


Beauharnois, Marquis de, 16, 31, 33

Bow Indians, 78-87.


Caughnawagas, 4.

Chippewas, 39, 41, 43, 46.

Coureurs de bois, 10-12.

Cree Indians, 39, 46, 47, 49, 93.


Fort Bourbon, 92.

Fort Dauphin, 92.

Fort La Jonquière, 108.

Fort La Reine, 49, 68, 91, 107.

Fort Maurepas, 31, 47, 107.

Fort Michilimackinac, 19, 29.

Fort Paskoyac, 93, 108.

Fort Rouge, 49.

Fort St Charles, 30, 37, 47, 107.

Fort St Pierre, 30.


Good-looking Indians, 76, 77.


Horse Indians, 78.


Kaministikwia river, 15, 31, 37.


La Galissonière, Marquis de, 95, 96, 99, 100.

La Jemeraye, 19, 28, 29, 30; dies, 37.

La Jonquière, Marquis de, 100, 101.

La Vérendrye, François, 19, 65, 67, 74, 81; reaches Rocky Mountains,
84; 87, 92, 96, 97-106.

La Vérendrye, Jean-Baptiste, 19, 30, 36, 37; is killed by the Sioux, 40.

La Vérendrye, Louis, 36, 47.

La Vérendrye, Pierre, son of the elder Pierre, 19, 47, 74, 87.

La Vérendrye, Pierre Gaultier de, birth and childhood, 1-3; enters
army, 3; expedition against Deerfield, 4-7; raid on St John's, 7;
serves in War of Spanish Succession, and is made lieutenant, 8; returns
to Canada and enters fur trade, 9; determines to find the Western Sea,
14; marries Mlle Dandonneau, 14; commands trading-post on Fort Nipigon,
15; granted monopoly of Western fur trade as a means of financing his
Western expedition, 17-19; his first journey of exploration, 20-32;
returns to Montreal, 33-5; starts again for the West, 36; refuses to
revenge himself on the Sioux for the murder of his son, 46; with the
Assiniboines, 49-54; with the Mandans, 55-68; falls ill, 69; returns to
Assiniboines, 70; at Fort La Reine, 71, 72, 74, 92; returns to
Montreal, 94; given the rank of captain and decorated, 95; dies, 96;
112.

Louvière, builds Fort Rouge, 49.


Mackenzie, Alexander, 109.

Mandans, tribe of Indians, 44-67, 72, 73, 89.

Messager, Father, 19, 30.


Niverville, 107-8.

Noyelle, M. de, 94.


Ochagach, his story of the Western Sea, 15-16, 19.


Parkman, Francis, his description of Bow Indians, 81-3.

People of the Little Cherry, 87-89.


Rainy Lake, fort built at, 29.

Rocky Mountains, explorers reach, 85, 93, 108, 109.

Rouville, Hertel de, guerilla leader, 4.


Saint-Pierre, Legardeur de, 96, 102-3, 104, 106-7, 109-11.

Sioux Indians, 39-43, 46, 90, 91.

Snake Indians, 80, 86, 88.

Subercase, leader of raid on St John's, 8.


Three Rivers, 1-2.


Western Sea, 12-19, 21, 73, 93, 95, 109.

Winnipeg, Lake, fort built at, 30-1.



  Printed by T. and A. Constable, Printers to His Majesty
  at the Edinburgh University Press



THE CHRONICLES OF CANADA

THIRTY-TWO VOLUMES ILLUSTRATED

Edited by GEORGE M. WRONG and H. H. LANGTON



THE CHRONICLES OF CANADA

PART I

THE FIRST EUROPEAN VISITORS

1.  THE DAWN OF CANADIAN HISTORY
    By Stephen Leacock.

2.  THE MARINER OF ST MALO
    By Stephen Leacock.


PART II

THE RISE OF NEW FRANCE

3.  THE FOUNDER OF NEW FRANCE
    By Charles W. Colby.

4.  THE JESUIT MISSIONS
    By Thomas Guthrie Marquis.

5.  THE SEIGNEURS OF OLD CANADA
    By William Bennett Munro.

6.  THE GREAT INTENDANT
    By Thomas Chapais.

7.  THE FIGHTING GOVERNOR
    By Charles W. Colby.


PART III

THE ENGLISH INVASION

8.  THE GREAT FORTRESS
    By William Wood.

9.  THE ACADIAN EXILES
    By Arthur G. Doughty.

10.  THE PASSING OF NEW FRANCE
     By William Wood.

11.  THE WINNING OF CANADA
     By William Wood.


PART IV

THE BEGINNINGS OF BRITISH CANADA

12.  THE FATHER OF BRITISH CANADA
     By William Wood.

13.  THE UNITED EMPIRE LOYALISTS
     By W. Stewart Wallace.

14.  THE WAR WITH THE UNITED STATES
     By William Wood.


PART V

THE RED MAN IN CANADA

15.  THE WAR CHIEF OF THE OTTAWAS
     By Thomas Guthrie Marquis.

16.  THE WAR CHIEF OF THE SIX NATIONS
     By Louis Aubrey Wood.

17.  TECUMSEH: THE LAST GREAT LEADER OF HIS PEOPLE
     By Ethel T. Raymond.


PART VI

PIONEERS OF THE NORTH AND WEST

18.  THE 'ADVENTURERS OF ENGLAND' ON HUDSON BAY
     By Agnes C. Laut.

19.  PATHFINDERS OF THE GREAT PLAINS
     By Lawrence J. Burpee.

20.  ADVENTURERS OF THE FAR NORTH
     By Stephen Leacock.

21.  THE RED RIVER COLONY
     By Louis Aubrey Wood.

22.  PIONEERS OF THE PACIFIC COAST
     By Agnes C. Laut.

23.  THE CARIBOO TRAIL
     By Agnes C. Laut.


PART VII

THE STRUGGLE FOR POLITICAL FREEDOM

24.  THE FAMILY COMPACT
     By W. Stewart Wallace.

25.  THE 'PATRIOTES' OF '37
     By Alfred D. DeCelles.

26.  THE TRIBUNE OF NOVA SCOTIA
     By William Lawson Grant.

27.  THE WINNING OF POPULAR GOVERNMENT
     By Archibald MacMechan.


PART VIII

THE GROWTH OF NATIONALITY

28.  THE FATHERS OF CONFEDERATION
     By A. H. U. Colquhoun.

29.  THE DAY OF SIR JOHN MACDONALD
     By Sir Joseph Pope.

30.  THE DAY OF SIR WILFRID LAURIER
     By Oscar D. Skelton.


PART IX

NATIONAL HIGHWAYS

31.  ALL AFLOAT
     By William Wood.

32.  THE RAILWAY BUILDERS
     By Oscar D. Skelton.



TORONTO: GLASGOW, BROOK & COMPANY





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