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Ancient Spanish Stirrup, Found in Franklin County
Under Four Feet of Soil in 1872. Property of
Hugh Lamaster, Tecumseh

great nations, living in this region--the Gnasticares, the Mozamleek and the Tamuglauk. Some of them wore beards a foot long. There were ships with 200 oarsmen, houses built of stone, forts and palaces. When an Indian was about to die friends gathered around to catch his spirit as it left the body,--from which La Hontan concluded they were Pythagoreans and believed in the transmigration of souls. The extraordinary industry and ingenuity of La Hontan is shown by a long vocabulary of Indian words with their French equivalents. Many of the customs, animals and plants are given by him correctly, but as a whole his work is a mass of fabrication rivalling (sic) Gulliver's Travels.

     The period of the real explorer of Nebraska was at hand when La Hontan printed his book. As early as 1700 the French archives begin to contain reports of Canadian voyageurs who had gone into the Missouri country. On Nov. 16, 1705, two canoes of voyageurs came to the Illinois settlements. In one of them was a Frenchman named Laurain who had been in the Missouri river valley and brought vague news of the Indians who dwelt there and of the Spanish provinces beyond. In 1708 Nicolas de La Salle, brother of the great discoverer, met French trappers who had been up the Missouri seven or eight hundred miles. They said it was the most beautiful country in the world, with herds of wild cattle beyond power of the imagination to conceive, with mines of copper and iron and other metals. Again in 1717 numerous trappers coming down the Missouri declared that the climate was the best in all the French colonies, that the country was rich and that trees of all kinds grew, wild cattle, deer and goats were abundant and there was great plenty of salt although it was so far from the sea. This hints strongly of central Kansas or eastern Nebraska. In 1719 an expedition under command of Du Tisne came up the Missouri, camped at the Osage village and from there went westward until he reached the Pawnees. The next year French voyageurs brought the news that an army of two hundred Spanish cavalry, accompanied by a large force of Comanches, invaded the Pawnee country but were surprised by a large war party of Otoes and Pawnees and entirely defeated. This story of war between Nebraska Indians and the Spanish is repeated so many times by the Frenchmen who came down the Missouri that it seems as though it must have adequate foundation. The same travelers, however, repeat over and over the story of valuable mines along the Missouri from which the Spaniards carry mule loads of different metals. Finally in 1724 M. Bourgmont establishes a French fort in what is now the state of Missouri about ninety miles below Kansas City. His reports are full of interest and show that he knew correctly the location of the Otoes, the Pawnees, the Omahas and the Aricaras; he describes the



Platte river under the name of the river of the Pawnees and even the Elkhorn river (or Horned Deer river) as flowing into the Platte and having eight villages of Pawnees on its banks. It does not appear that Bourgmont was ever in Nebraska, but certainly some Frenchmen about him were in order to obtain such accurate information. We get a glimpse even so long ago as this of Frenchmen living with Indian women in this region and half-breed children being born. And we get more than a glimpse of gold and silver mines. From the region of the Aricaras and Omahas come story after story of what the Indians named "white-iron"--the name that silver bears today among the Sioux,--and (what is not so impossible) the Aricaras tell the story of streams of their land flowing from mountains where there is yellow sand which can be hammered flat with a stone hammer. Can it be this is the first unheeded hint of the Black Hills? The next French explorers after Bourgmont are the Mallet Brothers, to whom I have already assigned the honor of the first unquestioned white travelers in Nebraska.

     From the time of the Mallet expedition the outlines and general character of Nebraska and its habitants grows clear, even though the yearly record is obscure. We know that the stream of hardy French frontiersmen continued to penetrate the tributaries of the Missouri and mingle its blood with that of the native tribes, in 1740-42 French explorers from the Minnesota lakes reached the upper Missouri near Bismark and discovered the Rocky mountains. In 1764 St. Louis was founded and soon becomes the center of the fur trade from up the Missouri. It is so much easier to float down the river with packs of furs than to carry them across the portages to the chain of great lakes and then down the St. Lawrence to Montreal. Swarms of young Frenchmen from the province of Quebec came to St. Louis and thence to the Missouri river trade. Trading posts were soon established to gather the furs and hold them for shipment to St. Louis. The oldest one we know in Nebraska was Fort Charles in Dakota county, founded in 1795. Another one was Cruzatte's Post, two miles above Fort Calhoun and dates from 1802.

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@ 2002 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, Ted & Carole Miller