|Véniard, Etienne de, sieur de Bourgmont, born 1679
|Etienne Véniard de Bourgmont's "Exact Description of Louisiana"
|The Bulletin (Missouri Historical Society), volume 15 (October 1958). Pages 3-19.
|18 / 0
Born in Normandy, France, in 1679, Etienne Veniard de Bourgmont
(born 1679) was arrested as
a teenager for poaching on the grounds of the local monastery.
Rather than pay the fine, he fled to New France about 1695, and
in 1702 was listed among soldiers fighting in the Ohio Valley.
In 1706 he took command of Fort Ponchartrain at Detroit;
censored for his conduct there, he deserted when his superiors
came to inspect the situation.
For the next several years Bourgmont was on the run from
French authorities. He lived in the wilderness as a coureur
de bois (an illegal trader) around Lake Erie, where he met
visiting Missouri Indians and married the young daughter of a
Missouri chief. Traveling in Illinois with another coureur de
bois and their Indian women, the group was denounced by church
and government officials for its debauched and dissolute
behavior. In 1712, perhaps to escape the mounting
unpleasantness, Bourgmont fled south to the remote French
outpost at Mobile, Alabama.
In 1719, with the French at war with the Spanish, Bourgmont
helped capture Pensacola, Florida. In 1720 he returned to France
and married a rich widow, but military affairs soon took him
back to the American west. Under instruction from government
officials, he left France in 1722 to establish Fort Orleans a
few miles east of modern Kansas City, Missouri. In 1724 he
arranged a fragile peace among the Comanche, Osage, Oto, Iowa,
Kansas, and Omaha nations that allied them to France rather than
Spain. In 1725 he led a delegation of their chiefs to France to
cement the agreement (including his Indian wife disguised as the
spouse of a servant), when he was elevated to noble status by
the King in reward for his services. Sick and exhausted from his
travels, however, Bourgmont soon retired, and details of his
later life and death are unrecorded.
Missouri Expeditions of 1714
The French commander in Mobile hoped that with the aid of the
Indians his country might eventually drive the Spanish from
Texas and New Mexico and extend French control from Montreal to
California. Bourgmont offered to use his tribal connections to
bring the Plains nations under French influence.
In the spring of 1714, therefore, Bourgmont accompanied the
Missouris back to their homeland, making him the first European
known to have explored the Missouri valley. He traveled as far
as present-day Pierre, South Dakota, describing the tribes who
controlled the Plains and mapping the route carefully. From the
notes made on this trip he drafted the report reproduced here.
Bourgmont drafted two documents about the 1714 trip, “Route
to be followed for ascending the Missouri River” (“Routte
faut tenir pour remonter la riviere de Missoury”), which was a
source for Delisle’s 1717 “Carte de la Louisiane et du Cours du
Missisippi”; and “Exacte Description de la Louisianne” which is
given here in English translation. Both manuscripts are in the
French national archives.
Other Internet and Reference Sources
Bourgmont’s very detailed account of his later 1724 trip is
provides some of the earliest facts about Indian nations in the
central and southern Plains.
A timeline of Bourgmont’s career is available from the
National Park Service at
The standard biography is Bourgmont: Explorer of the
Missouri, 1698-1725, by Frank Norall (Lincoln, Neb.:
University of Nebraska Press, 1988).
Other early documents are printed in English in Abraham
Nasatir’s Before Lewis and Clark (St. Louis: Historical
Documents Foundation, 1952)
For another early account of the Missouri and Plains, see