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Document Number: AJ-109
Author: La Vérendrye, François de, 1715-1794
Title: Journal of the Expedition of the Chevalier de La Vérendrye and One of His Brothers to Reach the Western Sea, Addressed to M. the Marquis de Beauharnois, 1742-43
Source: Burpee, Lawrence J. (editor). Journals and Letters of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de la La Vérendrye and His Sons, with Correspondence between the Governors of Canada and the French Court, Touching the Search for the Western Sea. (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1927). Pages 406-432.
Pages/Illustrations: 28 / 0
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-109/

Author Note

La Vérendrye was the surname of a family of French fur traders who traveled far into the West during the eighteenth century (see AJ-108). The two youngest sons of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes de La Vérendrye (1685-1749)—François (1715-1794), and Louis-Joseph (1717-1761)—are believed to have been the first Europeans to view the Rocky Mountains.

Expedition of 1742-1743

When the two Frenchmen left behind at the Mandan village in 1739 returned (see AJ-108), they told of meeting an elderly man of a visiting Indian nation who wore a cross, had lived among white people far to the south, and described water unfit to drink that rose and fell. Motivated by this clear account of the Spanish settlements, the younger La Vérendryes decided to follow western tribes home from the the Mandans if possible. They arrived among the Mandans in May 1742, and moved ever further west from nation to nation for the next eight months, until they came within sight of massive mountains on January 1, 1743.

Unfortunately it is impossible to now identify the Indian tribes that they encountered or the route that they took. The Smithsonian Institution’s Handbook of North American Indians (volume 13, part 2) suggests the following as the most likely attributions:

“Beaux Hommes” were the Crow; “Petits Renards” were most likely the Tuhkiwaku; “Pioya” were possibly the Kiowa; “Gens des Chevaux” are unidentifiable; “Gens de la Belle Riviere” were likely the Arikara; “Gens de l’Arc” were most likely a band of Arikara or Pawnee; “Gens de la Fleche Collee” were either the western Sioux or Cheyenne; “Gens de la Petite Cerise” were an Arikara band.

Their route and its western terminus are equally uncertain. Francis Parkman, who had not only examined their documents but also traveled extensively among the Plains tribes in the 1840s, believed they had reached the Wind River Range in Wyoming. Some later scholars feel they may have gone no further west than the Black Hills of South Dakota, but many others think they were looking at the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. They reached the Missouri River at present Fort Pierre, South Dakota, and returned to Fort La Reine near Winnipeg on July 2, 1743.

Document Note

This document, like AJ-108, is in the form of a letter to Charles de la Boische Beauharnois, the governor of New France. The original manuscript is in the French national archives in Paris. It was first published by Pierre Margry in volume 6 of his Découvertes et établissements des Français dans l'ouest et dans le sud de l'Amérique Septentrionale, 1614-1698. Mémoires et documents inédits (Paris: D. Jouaust, 1876-1886). It was first translated into English in 1914, in volume 7 of South Dakota Historical Collections.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

The best discussion of the 1742-1743 expedition, including a new English translation and a thorough examination of its route, is in G. Hubert Smith's Explorations of the La Verendryes in the Northern Plains, 1738-43 (Lincoln: Univeristy of Nebraska Press, 1980).

The Virtual Museum of New France contains background data, images, and maps at http://www.civilization.ca/vmnf/explor/laver_e2.html.

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