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Verendrye’s Lead Plate


Meriwether Lewis and William Clark get most of the credit for being early white explorers of the Missouri River and the American West, but their adventure wasn’t the first. The Verendrye family was in the North and South Dakota region for more than sixty years before the Corps of Discovery. They too sought an all-water route to the Pacific Ocean. Louis-Joseph and Francois de la Verendrye camped with the Mandans on the Upper Missouri before leaving on their journey in the summer of 1742.

They and four companions only carried what they wore and ate on their journey, which took them through North Dakota’s badlands and probably the Black Hills as far as the Bighorn Mountains in present-day Wyoming. Unlike Lewis and Clark, the Verendryes kept poor journals, but the greatest record of their journey wasn’t on paper, it was on a lead tablet!

The message on the tablet included today’s date in 1743. The brothers buried the tablet near today’s Fort Pierre, South Dakota. It reads, “In the twenty-sixth year of the reign of Louis the fifteenth, the most illustrious Lord, the Lord Marquis of Beauharnois, 1741, Pierre Gaultier de la Verendrye placed this.” Pierre was the brothers’ father, and he didn’t place the plate, but another inscription on the back clarifies that it was placed by “the Chevalier Verendrye, Louis La Londette and A. Miotte, 30 March 1743.”

The brothers’ journal does mention the plate, which was intended to be a claim for French sovereignty of the region. Schoolchildren found it poking out of the ground in 1913. They were about to sell it for scrap to the local print shop, but they ran into two legislators and the plate was eventually rescued. Some controversy arose over its origin and relation to the Verendryes’ route, which isn’t clearly known. It might be that they were first white men in present-day Montana. Their lead tablet is now a part of the collection at the South Dakota State Historical Society.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


"http://history.sd.gov/archives/exhibits/verendrye/" http://history.sd.gov/archives/exhibits/verendrye/

"http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/verendrye-plate" http://www.southdakotamagazine.com/verendrye-plate

"https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/pierre_fortpierre/verendrye_site_pierre.html" https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/pierre_fortpierre/verendrye_site_pierre.html