The Advance Toward New Mexico
The western fur trade.—For a decade and a half after the Bourgmont expedition the French made no noteworthy western exploration. Meanwhile, however, the traders quietly carried on their trade among the western tribes. Important items in this trade were Indian captives, and mules stolen from the Spaniards. French traders sometimes found a ready market for goods smuggled into Spanish settlements on the northern frontier of New Spain. From New Orleans, Opelousas, Natchitoches, Yatasi, Petit Caddo, and Cadadocho posts they worked among the tribes of eastern and northern Texas. By 1730 they had reached the lower Trinity to trade among the Orcoquiza and Bidai tribes. Further north they traded with the Asinai and Cadadochos, in the very face of the Spanish posts. By the middle of the century they were well established among the Wichita tribes of the Red River Valley, and northeastern Texas was virtually under French control. The way to western Texas and the upper Red River was barred by the hostile Apaches, but in 1753 Governor Kerlérec proposed breaking through this strong barrier.
From the Arkansas post traders worked among the Quapaws and Jumanos, and other tribes adjacent to the Arkansas River. From the Illinois, and from lesser posts among the Osages, Missouris, and Kansas, traders worked among these tribes, the Iowas, Otos, Pawnees of the Platte, and other more northern bands of Indians.
Interest in New Mexico.—French voyageurs, chasseurs, and traders of Louisiana and Canada continued to look with covetous eyes toward New Mexico. To the adventurer it was a land promising gold and silver and a path to the South Sea; to the merchant it offered rich profits in trade. The natural avenues of approach to this Promised Land were the Red, Arkansas, and Missouri Rivers. But there were obstacles to expeditions bound for New Mexico. One was the jealous and exclusive policy of Spain, which made the reception of such Frenchmen as might reach Santa Fé a matter of uncertainty; another was the Indian barrier which stood in the way. The Red River highway was effectually blocked by the Apaches, mortal enemies of all the tribes along the lower valley; the Arkansas and Missouri avenues were impeded by the Comanches for analogous reasons. The Apaches and Comanches opposed the passage of the trader to their foes with supplies of weapons. As the fur traders and official explorers pushed rapidly west, one of their constant aims was to open the way to New Mexico by effecting peace between the Comanche and the tribes further east, an attempt at which had been made by Du Tisné and Bourgmont at an earlier day.
The Mallet brothers.—After the cessation of the Fox wars, which had closed the lower Missouri, traders again frequented the Pawnees and Aricaras, and in 1734 one is known to have ascended the Missouri to the Mandans, from whose villages a trade route was soon opened to western Canada. In 1739 a party led by the Mallet brothers made their way, by the Missouri and Platte Rivers, across Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado to Santa Fé. After a nine months' stay they returned, part going northeastward to the Illinois and part down the Canadian and Arkansas to New Orleans.
Fabry's attempt: Fort Cavagnolle.—The Mallet party had succeeded in getting through the Comanche country to New Mexico and had returned safely and with good prospects for trade. Immediately there was renewed interest in the Spanish border on the part of both government officials and private adventurers. At once, in 1741 Governor Bienville sent Fabry de la Bruyère with members of the Mallet party to open a trade route to New Mexico up the Canadian River, and to explore the Far West. He failed to reach New Mexico. Fort Cavagnolle was established among the Kansas, and the Arkansas route was made safe by effecting a much-desired treaty (1746 or 1747) between the Comanches and their eastern enemies.
New expeditions to New Mexico.—The effect of this treaty was immediate, and at once there were new expeditions to New Mexico by deserters, traders, and official agents. In 1748 thirty-three Frenchmen were reported among the Xicarillas. Early in 1749 a party led by Pierre Satren reached Santa Fé by way of the Arkansas River, conducted by Jumano and Comanche Indians. They were kept in New Mexico to work at their trades. Early in 1750 another party arrived by way of the Arkansas. They were ordered sent to Sonora to prevent their return to Illinois. In the meantime peace had been made between the Comanches and Pawnees, and in 1751 traders reached New Mexico by way of the Missouri. In the same year Jean Chapuis led a party of nine from Illinois with a commission from St. Clair, the commander of Fort Chartres. Arriving at Santa Fé in 1752, via Platte River, he proposed a regular caravan trade with military escort. The intruders were arrested and sent to Mexico, where they languished in prison for many months, and were finally sent to Spain.
The French advance through the Comanche country gives significance to the proposal of Governor Kerlérec in 1753 to break through the Apache barrier and open up a trade with Nuevo León, Coahuila, and New Mexico. As a means of doing so he proposed securing an alliance between the Apaches and their eastern enemies. These intrusions of Frenchmen into New Mexico were closely bound up in their effect on Spanish policy, with similar infringements upon the Texas border.
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