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Document Number: AJ-092
Author: Mallet, Pierre; Mallet, Paul
Title: Extract of the Journal of the Expedition of the Mallet Brothers to Santa Fe, 1739-1740
Source: Blakeslee, Donald J. (editor). Along Ancient Trails: The Mallet Expedition of 1739. (Niwot, Colorado: University Press of Colorado, 1995). Pages 45-52; 221-225; 247-250.
Pages/Illustrations: 18 / 2 (tables)
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-092/

Author Note

The brothers Paul and Pierre-Antone Mallet were the first French traders to cross from Canada to Mexico. Born in Montreal about the year 1700, as children they moved to Detroit (1706) and then as adults located in the Illinois country (1734). In 1739 they attempted with seven companions to cross the Great Plains and reach the Spanish outposts of New Mexico in order to open a trade route.

Expedition of 1739-1741

The brothers started in the spring of 1739 from Fort de Chartres, near present Kaskaskia, Illinois, and headed onto the plains via the Missouri River. On May 29, 1739,  they took the advice of a Pawnee or Arikara guide and turned south across most of Nebraska and Kansas to the Platte River which they followed to the Rockies. They had with them an Indian slave who had previously been captured by the Spanish, and he led them along Indian trails to Picuris Pueblo near modern Taos, New Mexico. They reached Santa Fe on July 22, 1739. Because they had lost their goods en route when crossing a river they had nothing to sell, but this also meant they had not broken any Spanish laws prohibiting unregulated trading.

The astonished Spanish officials sent to the viceroy in Mexico City, 1,500 miles away, for instructions on how to handle the interlopers. Roads and communications being primitive, nine months passed before an answer was received. The Spanish viceroy instructed his subordinates in Santa Fe to throw them out, and not to allow any French traders into Spanish territory without government permission.

By then, however, the Mallet brothers had learned a great deal about conditions in New Mexico and the market potential of French goods from the East. They had dined with the mayor and befriended a priest. Two of their group married Mexican women and settled down in Santa Fe as Spanish subjects. It was clear to the Mallet brothers that the Spanish would be happy to trade with the French if the legalities could be arranged.

On May 1,1740, they commenced their return to Louisiana. The party split up at the Pecos River in New Mexico, two heading northeast by the way they had come and the Mallets and three others following a stream that is today named the Canadian River, as a result of their exploration. They then took the Arkansas River toward the Mississippi, wintering at Arkansas Post near Little Rock before descending to New Orleans, which they reached in March 1741.

The French governor was enthused about opening up a Santa Fe trade route, and sent them quickly back on a second expedition. Low water on the Canadian River and Indians hostile to their crossing stopped them, however, and the French governor lost his investment in it. The Spanish mood soon changed, too. When in November 1750 Pierre Mallet reached New Mexico on a third trip (again losing the merchandise he had hoped to sell, this time to Comanche warriors), the Spanish arrested him. Sent first to Mexico City and then to Spain for interrogation, Pierre Mallet was never heard from again. His brother Paul, meanwhile, settled down as a farmer on the Arkansas frontier; nothing is known about his later life and he is believed to have died about 1753.

Document Note

Although the Mallets kept a journal of the 1739-1740 trip and turned it over to officials in New Orleans, it was lost. The French Governor made an abstract of it now in the French national archives, and this is given here in English. A photocopy of the original French abstract of the journal is at the Library of Congress; its text is also given here along with supporting documents (“Appendix A”) and such documents as exist from the ill-fated 1750 expedition (“Appendix C”).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

Many of the locations along the supposed route of the Mallet Brothers have produced websites, but no comprehensive Web resource is currently devoted to them; a Google search of “Mallet brothers” will retrieve the local references.

The best treatment of their explorations is the volume from which these excerpts are given: Blakeslee, Donald J. Along Ancient Trails: the Mallet Expedition of 1739. (Niwot, Colo. : University Press of Colorado, 1995) which includes an excellent bibliography.

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