« FöregåendeFortsätt »
Jesuit Degonnor, "are great liars, but now and then they tell the truth.”It seemed to him likely that their stories of a western river flowing to a western sea were not totally groundless, and that the true way to the Pacific was not, as had been supposed, through the country of the Sioux, but farther northward, through that of the Cristineaux and Assiniboins, or, in other words, through the region now called Manitoba. In this view he was sustained by his friend Degonnor, who had just returned from the ill-starred Sioux mission.
La Vérendrye, fired with the zeal of discovery, offered to search for the Western Sea if the King would give him one hundred men and supply canoes, arms, and provisions. But, as was usual in such cases, the King would give nothing; and though the governor, Beauharnois, did all in his power to promote the enterprise, the burden and the risk were left to the adventurer himself. La Vérendrye was authorized to find a way to the Pacific at his own expense, in consideration of a monopoly of the furtrade in the regions north and west of Lake Superior. This vast and remote country was held by tribes who were doubtful friends of the French, and perpetual enemies of each other. The risks of the trade were as great as its possible profits, and, to reap these, vast outlays must first be made: forts must be built,
1 Relation du Père Degonnor, Jésuite, Missionnaire des Siour, adressée à M. le Marquis de Beauharnois.
• Relation de Degonnor ; Beauharnois au Ministre, 1 Octobre, 1731
manned, provisioned, and stocked with goods brought through two thousand miles of difficult and perilous wilderness. There were other dangers, more insidious, and perhaps greater. The exclusive privileges granted to La Vérendrye would inevitably rouse the intensest jealousy of the Canadian merchants, and they would spare no effort to ruin him. Intrigue and calumny would be busy in his absence. If, as was likely, his patron, Beauharnois, should be recalled, the new governor might be turned against him, his privileges might be suddenly revoked, the forts he had built passed over to his rivals, and all his outlays turned to their profit, as had happened to La Salle on the recall of his patron, Frontenac. On the other hand, the country was full of the choicest furs, which the Indians had hitherto carried to the English at Hudson Bay, but which the proposed trading-posts would secure to the French. La Vérendrye’s enemies pretended that he thought of nothing but beaver-skins, and slighted the discovery which he had bound himself to undertake; but his conduct proves that he was true to his engagements, and that ambition to gain honorable distinction in the service of the King had a large place among the motives that impelled him.
As his own resources were of the smallest, he took a number of associates on conditions most unfavorable to himself. Among them they raised money enough to begin the enterprise, and on the eighth of June, 1731, La Vérendrye and three of his sons, together
with his nephew, La Jemeraye, the Jesuit Messager, and a party of Canadians, set out from Montreal. It was late in August before they reached the great portage of Lake Superior, which led across the height of land separating the waters of that lake from those flowing to Lake Winnipeg. The way was long and difficult. The men, who had perhaps been tampered with, mutinied, and refused to go farther.” Some of them, with much ado, consented at last to proceed, and, under the lead of La Jemeraye, made their way by an intricate and broken chain of lakes and streams to Rainy Lake, where they built a fort and called it Fort St. Pierre. La Vérendrye was forced to winter with the rest of the party at the river Kaministiguia, not far from the great portage. Here months were lost, during which a crew of useless mutineers had to be fed and paid; and it was not till the next June that he could get them again into motion towards Lake Winnipeg. This ominous beginning was followed by a train of disasters. His associates abandoned him; the merchants on whom he depended for supplies would not send them, and he found himself, in his own words, “destitute of everything.” His nephew, La Jemeraye, died. The Jesuit Auneau, bent on returning to Michilimackinac, set out with La Vérendrye's eldest son and a party of twenty Canadians. A few days later, they were all found on an island in the Lake of
1 Memoire du Sieur de la Vérendrye du Sujet des Etablissements pour parvenir à la Découverte de la Mer de l'Ouest, in Margry, vi. 585.
the Woods, murdered and mangled by the Sioux.' The Assiniboins and Cristineaux, mortal foes of that fierce people, offered to join the French and avenge the butchery; but a war with the Sioux would have ruined La Vérendrye’s plans of discovery, and exposed to torture and death the French traders in their country. Therefore he restrained himself and declined the proffered aid, at the risk of incurring the contempt of those who offered it.
Beauharnois twice appealed to the court to give La Vérendrye some little aid, urging that he was at the end of his resources, and that a grant of thirty thousand francs, or six thousand dollars, would enable him to find a way to the Pacific. All help was refused, but La Vérendrye was told that he might let out his forts to other traders, and so raise means to pursue the discovery.
In 1740 he went for the third time to Montreal, where, instead of aid, he found a lawsuit. “In spite,” he says, “of the derangement of my affairs, the envy and jealousy of various persons impelled them to write letters to the court insinuating that I thought of nothing but making my fortune. If more than forty thousand livres of debt which I have on my shoulders are an advantage, then I can flatter myself that I am very rich. In all my misfortunes, I have the consolation of seeing that M. de Beauharnois
1 Beauharnois au Ministre, 14 Octobre, 1736; Relation du Massacre au Lac des Bois, en Juin, 1736; Journal de la Vérendrye, joint à la lettre de M. de Beauharnois du — Octobre, 1737.
enters into my views, recognizes the uprightness of my intentions, and does me justice in spite of opposition.” 1
Meanwhile, under all his difficulties, he had explored a vast region hitherto unknown, diverted a great and lucrative fur-trade from the English at Hudson Bay, and secured possession of it by six fortified posts, — Fort St. Pierre, on Rainy Lake; Fort St. Charles, on the Lake of the Woods; Fort Maurepas, at the mouth of the river Winnipeg; Fort Bourbon, on the eastern side of Lake Winnipeg; Fort La Reine, on the Assiniboin; Fort Dauphin, on Lake Manitoba. Besides these he built another post, called Fort Rouge, on the site of the city of Winnipeg; and, some time after, another, at the mouth of the river Poskoiac, or Saskatchewan, neither of which, however, was long occupied. These various forts were only stockade works flanked with blockhouses; but the difficulty of building and maintaining them in this remote wilderness was incalculable.
1 Mémoire du Sieur de la Verendrye au Sujet des Etablissements pour parvenir à la Découverte de la Mer de l'Ouest.
Mémoire en abrégé de la Carte qui représente les Établissements faits par le Sieur de la Vérendrye et ses Enfants (Margry, vi. 616); Carte des Nouvelles Découvertes dans l'Ouest du Canada dressée sur les Mémoires du MỊ de la Vérandrie et donnée au Dépôt de la Marino par M. de la Galissonnière, 1750; Bellin, Remarques sur la Carte de l'Amérique, 1755; Bougainville, Mémoire sur l'Etat de la Nouvelle France, 1757
Most of La Vérendrye's forts were standing during the Seven Years' War, and were known collectively as Postes de la Mer de POuest.