Louis Joseph Gaultier de la Verendrye

November 9, 1717 - November 15, 1761

Verendrye, Louis Joseph Gaultier de la, explorer (Nov. 9, 1717-Nov. 15, 1761). Born at Lac St. Pierre, Quebec, he learned something of map making and left Montreal in 1735 with his father, Pierre, the party reaching Fort Charles on the Lake of the Woods where they wintered. In the fall of 1736 he was sent to re-establish Fort Maurepas on the Red River of the North where his father joined him for a March council with Cree and Assiniboin Indians. He made a short exploration trip toward Lake Winnipeg, then withdrew to Fort Charles. In 1738 he accompanied his father to the Mandan villages of the present North Dakota, reached the Missouri River and returned with the expedition to Fort La Reine, at the Present Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. The next year he continued exploration around Winnipeg. On April 29, 1742 he left with his brother, Francois Gaultier Du Tremblay and others for the Mandan country and eventually, he hoped the "western sea." He reached the Mandans May 19, remaining among them until July 23, awaiting the Gens des Chevaux, or Horse Indians, probably Cheyennes. These Indians did not appear, and Verendrye obtained two guides and marched 20 days west southwest, arriving August 11 at the mountain of the Gens des Chevaux, where his guides quit. September 14 he saw smoke to the southwest and sent his one remaining Mandan and a Frenchman to investigate. They found a village of Beax Hommes, perhaps Crows, who welcomed them and told them by signs there were three Frenchmen established nearby, but contact with these strangers could not be made. Verendrye's remaining Mandan now left and with Crow guides the expedition left November 9 and on the second day came to a village of the Petits Renards, or Little Foxes, who may have been a band of Cheyennes; they conducted the party to "a populous village of the same tribe," whose members proved friendly and guided the expedition to a village of the Pioya (perhaps Kiowa) which was reached on the 15th. They also being friendly, the party was conducted past another village until the 19th when the Frenchmen finally reached a camp of the Gens des Chevaux which they found in disarray, "all their village having been destroyed by the Gens du Serpent, or Snake Indians" (Shoshone), a people who were considered "very brave," very warlike and very numerous, being "friendly to no tribe" in 1741 having destroyed 17 villages and taken many slaves. The Gens des Chevaux told Verendrye that no member of their tribe had ever been to the sea, since the way was blocked by the Snakes, but by a long detour he might meet tribes "who traded with white men at the sea." He found guides to take him to the Gens de l'Arc, who might have been another band of Cheyennes or of their linguistic stock, who did not fear the Snakes and who were friendly with tribes that traded with the coast people. They found this people hospitable, being received by the "great chief," noting that this tribe and others of the Plains possessed "a large number of horses, asses and mules," and had become true horse Indians. The French were persuaded to join the band which was headed toward "the great mountains which are near the sea," and learned of whites along the coast whom they judged to be Spaniards, since the Indians spoke a few words of that tongue. The band moved southwest or sometimes northwest until on January 1, 1743, "we were in sight of the mountains." The search continued until on January 8 they had reached the range, thickly wooded and very high. On the return there was a slight skirmish with unknown Indians who were frightened off by gunfire. The return continued until February 9 when the village of the Bows was regained. On March 15 they reached the "Little Cherry" tribe near the Missouri, arriving at the river on the 19th. Here Verendrye found an Indian who had been raised by Spaniards, spoke their language perfectly and said that the Spanish country was "very far and there were many dangers to be met" enroute, and "it took at least twenty days to make the trip on horseback." The Spanish, he added, made articles of iron and carried on a large trade in buffalo skins and slaves, giving horses and merchandise, but no guns or ammunition, in exchange. Again Verendrye heard of a Frenchman who had settled several years before not far distant, but although he wrote him a note, received no reply and they did not meet. Then he buried on a hill near the place (at the present Fort Pierre, South Dakota) a lead plate (which was discovered February 16, 1913, and is now held by the South Dakota Historical Society). Verendrye left the camp April 2, on the 9th encountered a village of Prairie Sioux and reached the Mandans once more May 18. On the 26th his expedition joined a party of Assiniboins and reached Fort La Reine July 2nd. The explorers had "added considerably to the geographical knowledge of the period, (and) ensured for the Canadians and French the friendship and loyalty of . . .Indian tribes until then unknown . . .(and it demonstrated) that the route to the western sea was not to be sought to the southwest, but to the northwest . . ." In 1747 Louis Joseph returned to Quebec. In early 1748 he took part in an expedition against the Mohawks. For political reasons the Verendryes were removed from positions of responsibility in the far west and in 1752 Louis Joseph reentered the fur trade. In 1758 he was trading on Lake Superior; in 1759 he took Indians from Michilimackinac to Montreal to fight against the English and their allies on Lake Champlain. Following peace, Louis Joseph announced his intention to remain in Canada, but determined first to visit France to conclude some personal business. He sailed from Quebec October 15, 1761, but a month later the vessel was broken up on Cape Breton island during a gale and Verendrye was lost along with most of the passengers and crew. His widow died in great poverty in 1825 at Montreal. He was an energetic, practical and very honest man, and had won the esteem and respect of virtually everyone with whom he had dealt.

Anne H. Blegen, trans., "Journal of the Voyage Made by Chevalier de la Verendrye with One of His Brothers in Search of the Western Sea, Addressed to the Marquis de Beauharnois," The Verendrye Overland Quest of the Pacific. Quar. of Ore. Hist. Soc., Vol. XXVI, No. 2 (June 1925), 51-64; Jan M. Dykshorn, "The Verendrye Plate." Dakota Highlights, Pierre, S.D., State Hist. Soc., Leaflet 1, 1973; DCB, III; G. Hubert Smith, The Explorations of La Verendryes in the Northern Plains, 1738-43, ed. by W. Raymond Wood. Lincoln, Univ. of Nebr. Press, 1980.