Verendrye Leaves the Mantannes
Pierre Gaultier de la Verendrye was the first-known white man to enter what is now North Dakota. He was a 53-year-old fur trader and explorer who set out in the fall of 1738 from Fort La Reine west of present Winnipeg to find “the Western Sea” and the “Mantanne” tribe who lived along “the River of the West” – the tribe that would become known as the Mandan.
Verendrye and more than 50 men zigzagged across the treeless, open prairie as winter approached. His Assiniboine guide took several detours on the journey, eventually leading them to an Assiniboine village, where hundreds of natives joined the journey.
Eventually, they met a party of Mandan dignitaries who guided the party to their village. It’s unclear where the village exactly was. From descriptions in Verendrye’s account, they might actually have been Hidatsas, not Mandans.
The tribe welcomed Verendrye’s men to their village, and the old explorer met with chiefs and intended to learn about the area. But his visit began to go awry. His bag of presents was stolen, meaning he could only offer gifts of gunpowder, shot and needles. His hosts, who had traded with and entertained the hundreds of Assiniboines for three days, began a rumor that the Sioux had been seen in the area. This alleged sighting agitated the Assiniboines, who left. Verendrye’s Cree interpreter, who was “enamored” with an Assiniboine woman, was among them.
Meanwhile, the winter season and dwindling supplies meant Verendrye’s men couldn’t continue further west. Verendrye was also “very sick” and confined to his bed. But on this date in 1738, his expedition left the village to return to Fort La Reine. Verendrye left behind two Frenchmen to learn the natives’ language.
It was a miserable, cold, exhausting trek. After two months, his party reached home. “Never in my life have I endured so much misery, sickness and fatigue as I did on this journey,” Verendrye wrote.
While many traders, trappers and explorers met the tribes of the Upper Missouri, it was more than 60 years later than Verendrye, that an expedition wintered near the Mandans and succeeded in a journey to the Pacific Ocean. This was Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
Crouse, N.M. (1956). La Verendrye: Fur trader and explorer. Vail-Ballou Press, Inc.: Binghamton, NY
Fenn, E.A. (2016). Encounters at the heart of the world: A history of the Mandan people. Hill and Wang: New York.
Smith. G.H. (1980). The explorations of the La Verendryes in the northern plains, 1738-43. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, N