The Trans-mississippi West
French advance into the Far West.—Meanwhile the French explorers had reached the Rocky Mountains. In or before 1703 twenty Canadians went from the Illinois country toward New Mexico to trade and learn about the mines. By 1705 Laurain had been on the Missouri and in 1708 Canadians are said to have explored that stream for three hundred or four hundred leagues. By 1712 salines were being worked in Missouri and settlers were living about them. Under the Company of the Indies exploration and trade were pushed for a time with vigor in the trans-Mississippi West, all along the border from the Gulf of Mexico to Nebraska. From Natchitoches French traders made their way among the tribes of eastern and northern Texas, and sometimes reached the Spanish settlements. In 1717 St. Denis the younger and several partners made a second trading expedition overland from Mobile via Natchitoches to San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande. His goods being seized, he went to Mexico, where he was imprisoned, though his goods were sold with profit. His associates, who reached the border somewhat after him, made their way to Presidio del Norte, disposed of their goods, and returned to Louisiana.
La Harpe on the Red River.—While St. Denis was in Mexico, Bénard de la Harpe was sent to establish a post on the Red River above Natchitoches. He was urged to inform himself concerning the source of the Red River and the tribes near New Mexico, and to open commerce with the Spanish provinces. In 1719 he established his post among the Cadodachos. Du Rivage was sent up the Red River, and La Harpe made an expedition to the Touacaras near the mouth of the Canadian River, where he proposed to found a post as a base for trade with New Mexico, the Padoucas, and the Aricaras.
Du Tisné on the Osage and the Arkansas.—At the same time (1719) Du Tisné was on the Missouri, Osage, and Arkansas rivers. He ascended the Missouri River to the Missouri Indian village, on his way to the Pawnees, but was unable to proceed. He returned to the Illinois, and went to the Osage tribe on the Osage River. From there he continued southwest to the Pawnees on the Arkansas. He made an alliance with the Pawnees, bought Spanish horses from them, and established a French flag in their villages. He was prevented by his hosts from going to the Padouca, but he inquired about New Mexico.
La Harpe on the Gulf Coast.—In 1718 the company was ordered to occupy the Bay of St. Bernard, discovered by La Salle. In 1719 and 1720 preliminary expeditions were made, and in 1721 La Harpe himself led an expedition to a bay on the Texas coast, but he was expelled by the Indians. The bay reached by him was the Bay of the Bidayes (Galveston Bay) and not the St. Bernard of La Salle. La Harpe urged a new attempt, to keep out the Spaniards, but the company abandoned the project.
La Harpe on the Arkansas.—After returning from the Gulf coast expedition, La Harpe was sent from Mobile in December, 1721, to explore the Arkansas River, with the idea of developing Indian trade, preventing Spanish encroachment, and opening commerce with New Mexico. He ascended the Arkansas about halfway to the mouth of the Canadian River, and on his return recommended establishing posts at Little Rock, the mouth of the Canadian, and the Touacara villages.
Bourgmont on the Missouri and Kansas Rivers.—In the years immediately following the Spanish expedition under Villazur (1720), the French made active efforts to communicate with New Mexico on the one hand, and to forestall any hostile movement of the Spaniards on the other. Having heard that Spaniards were preparing to return to avenge their defeat and to occupy the Kansas River country, Bienville in 1722 ordered Boisbriant, commander at the Illinois, to anticipate the Spaniards and build a fort. The person sent was Bourgmont, who had lived among the Missouris fifteen or more years, and had been made commander on the Missouri. Late in 1723 he established Fort Orleans above the mouth of the Grand River, in modern Carroll County, Missouri. From there in 1724 he went up the river among the Otos and Iowas, and then southwest to the Padoucas in Western Kansas, taking with him Missouris, Osages, Kansas, Otos, and Iowas. He made peace between these tribes and the Padoucas, and arranged to send traders to the last named. A primary object was to open a way to New Mexico. Shortly afterward Fort Orleans was destroyed by an Indian massacre, and wars of the Foxes for several years practically closed the lower Missouri.
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