Pathfinders of the West Being the Thrilling Story of the Adventures of the Men Who Discovered the Great Northwest: Radis
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Pathfinders of the
West Being the
Thrilling Story of the
Adventures of the Men
Who Discovered the
Agnes C. Laut
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Title: Pathfinders of the West
Being the Thrilling Story of the Adventures of the Men Who
Discovered the Great Northwest: Radisson, La Vérendrye,
Lewis and Clark
Author: A. C. Laut
Release Date: April 20, 2006 [EBook #18216]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
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[Frontispiece: Stealing from the Fort by Night.]
Pathfinders of the West
THE THRILLING STORY OF THE ADVENTURES
OF THE MEN WHO DISCOVERED
THE GREAT NORTHWEST
RADISSON, LA VÉRENDRYE, LEWIS AND CLARK
A. C. LAUT
AUTHOR OF "LORDS OF THE NORTH," "HERALDS
OF EMPIRE," "STORY OF THE TRAPPER"
REMINGTON, GOODWIN, MARCHAND
GROSSET & DUNLAP
By THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped.
Published November, 1904.
Reprinted February, 1906.
WILDWOOD PLACE, WASSAIC, N.Y.
August 15, 1904.
DEAR MR. SULTE:
A few years ago, when I was a resident of the Far West and tried to trace the
paths of early explorers, I found that all authorities—first, second, and third rate—
alike referred to one source of information for their facts.
The name in the tell-tale
footnote was invariably your own.
While I assume
responsibility for upsetting the apple cart of established
opinions by this book, will you permit me to dedicate it to you as a slight token of
esteem to the greatest living French-Canadian historian, from whom we have all
borrowed and to whom few of us have rendered the tribute due?
AGNES C. LAUT.
MR. BENJAMIN SULTE,
PRESIDENT ROYAL SOCIETY,
THE GREAT NORTHWEST
I love thee, O thou great, wild, rugged land
Of fenceless field and snowy mountain height,
Uprearing crests all starry-diademed
Above the silver clouds!
A sea of light
Swims o'er thy prairies, shimmering to the sight
A rolling world of glossy yellow wheat
That runs before the wind in billows bright
As waves beneath the beat of unseen feet,
And ripples far as eye can see--as far and fleet!
Here's chances for every man!
The hands that work
Become the hands that rule!
Thy harvests yield
Only to him who toils; and hands that shirk
Must empty go!
And here the hands that wield
The sceptre work!
O glorious golden field!
O bounteous, plenteous land of poet's dream!
O'er thy broad plain the cloudless sun ne'er wheeled
But some dull heart was brightened by its gleam
To seize on hope and realize life's highest dream!
Thy roaring tempests sweep from out the north--
Ten thousand cohorts on the wind's wild mane--
No hand can check thy frost-steeds bursting forth
To gambol madly on the storm-swept plain!
Thy hissing snow-drifts wreathe their serpent train,
With stormy laughter shrieks the joy of might--
Or lifts, or falls, or wails upon the wane--
Thy tempests sweep their stormy trail of white
Across the deepening drifts--and man must die, or fight!
Yes, man must sink or fight, be strong or die!
That is thy law, O great, free, strenuous West!
The weak thou wilt make strong till he defy
Thy bufferings; but spacious prairie breast
Will never nourish weakling as its guest!
He must grow strong or die!
Thou givest all
An equal chance--to work, to do their best--
Free land, free hand--thy son must work or fall
Grow strong or die!
That message shrieks the storm-wind's call!
And so I love thee, great, free, rugged land
Of cloudless summer days, with west-wind croon,
And prairie flowers all dewy-diademed,
And twilights long, with blood-red, low-hung moon
And mountain peaks that glisten white each noon
Through purple haze that veils the western sky--
And well I know the meadow-lark's far rune
As up and down he lilts and circles high
And sings sheer joy--be strong, be free; be strong or die!
The question will at once occur why no mention is made of Marquette and
Jolliet and La Salle in a work on the pathfinders of the West.
The simple answer
Contrary to the notions imbibed at school, and
repeated in all histories of the West, Marquette, Jolliet, and La Salle did not
discover the vast region beyond the Great Lakes.
Twelve years before these
explorers had thought of visiting the land which the French hunter designated as
Pays d'en Haut
, the West had already been discovered by the most intrepid
that France produced,—men whose wide-ranging explorations
exceeded the achievements of Cartier and Champlain and La Salle put together.
It naturally rouses resentment to find that names revered for more than two
centuries as the first explorers of the Great Northwest must give place to a name
It seems impossible that at this late date history should have to
Such is the fact
if we would have our history true
Jolliet, and La Salle discovered the West, but two poor adventurers, who
sacrificed all earthly possessions to the enthusiasm for discovery, and incurred
such bitter hostility from the governments of France and England that their
names have been hounded to infamy.
These were Sieur Pierre Esprit Radisson
and Sieur Médard Chouart Groseillers, fur traders of Three Rivers, Quebec. 
The explanation of the long oblivion obscuring the fame of these two men is
Radisson and Groseillers defied, first New France, then Old France,
and lastly England.
While on friendly terms with the church, they did not make
their explorations subservient to the propagation of the faith.
they were ignored by both Church and State.
refer to two young Frenchmen who went beyond Lake Michigan to a "Forked
River" (the Mississippi), among the Sioux and other Indian tribes that used coal
for fire because wood did not grow large enough on the prairie.
Contemporaneous documents mention the exploits of the young Frenchmen.
The State Papers of the Marine Department, Paris, contain numerous references
to Radisson and Groseillers.
But, then, the
were not accessible
to scholars, let alone the general public, until the middle of the last century, when
a limited edition was reprinted of the Cramoisy copies published at the time the
priests sent their letters home to France.
The contemporaneous writings of Marie
de l'Incarnation, the Abbé Belmont, and Dollier de Casson were not known
outside the circle of French savants until still later; and it is only within recent
years that the Archives of Paris have been searched for historical data.
Meantime, the historians of France and England, animated by the hostility of
their respective governments, either slurred over the discoveries of Radisson and
Groseillers entirely, or blackened their memories without the slightest regard to
It would, in fact, take a large volume to contradict and disprove half the lies
written of these two men.
Instead of consulting contemporaneous documents,—
which would have entailed both cost and labor,—modern writers have,
unfortunately, been satisfied to serve up a rehash of the detractions written by
the old historians.
In 1885 came a discovery that punished such slovenly
methods by practically wiping out the work of the pseudo-historians.
found in the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, and Hudson's Bay House,
London, unmistakably authentic record of Radisson's voyages, written by
The Prince Society of Boston printed two hundred and fifty copies of the
The Canadian Archives published the journals of the two last
Francis Parkman was too conscientious to ignore the importance of the
find; but his history of the West was already written.
He made what reparation he
could to Radisson's memory by appending a footnote to subsequent editions of
two of his books, stating that Radisson and Groseillers' travels took them to the
"Forked River" before 1660.
Some ten other lines are all that Mr. Parkman relates
of Radisson; and the data for these brief references have evidently been drawn
from Radisson's enemies, for the explorer is called "a renegade."
It is necessary
to state this, because some writers, whose zeal for criticism was much greater
than their qualifications, wanted to know why any one should attempt to write
Radisson's life when Parkman had already done so.
Radisson's life reads more like a second Robinson Crusoe than sober history.
For that reason I have put the corroborative evidence in footnotes, rather than
cumber the movement of the main theme.
I am sorry to have loaded the opening
parts with so many notes; but Radisson's voyages change the relative positions
of the other explorers so radically that proofs must be given.
The footnotes are
for the student and may be omitted by the general reader.
The study of Radisson
arose from, using his later exploits on Hudson Bay as the subject of the novel,
Heralds of Empire
On the publication of that book, several letters came from the
Western states asking how far I thought Radisson had gone beyond Lake
Superior before he went to Hudson Bay.
Having in mind—I am sorry to say—
mainly the early records of Radisson's enemies, I at first answered that I thought
it very difficult to identify the discoverer's itinerary beyond the Great Lakes.
many letters continued to come on the subject that I began to investigate
The path followed by the explorer west of the
Great Lakes—as given by Radisson himself—is here written.
of all that Radisson relates is to be found—as already stated—in chronicles
written at the period of his life and in the State Papers.
Copies of these I have in
my possession. Samples of the papers bearing on Radisson's times, copied from
the Marine Archives, will be found in the Appendix.
One must either accept the
explorer's word as conclusive,—even when he relates his own trickery,—or in
rejecting his journal also reject as fictions the
Dollier de Casson
Marie de l'Incarnation
, and the
record the same events as Radisson.
In no case has reliance been placed on
Oldmixon and Charlevoix must both have written from
hearsay; therefore, though quoted in the footnotes, they are not given as
The only means of identifying Radisson's routes are (1) by his
descriptions of the countries, (2) his notes of the Indian tribes; so that personal
knowledge of the territory is absolutely essential in following Radisson's
All the regions traversed by Radisson—the Ottawa, the St. Lawrence,
the Great Lakes, Labrador, and the Great Northwest—I have visited, some of
them many times, except the shores of Hudson Bay, and of that region I have
some hundreds of photographs.
Material for the accounts of the other pathfinders of the West has been drawn
directly from the different explorers' journals.
For historical matter I wish to express my indebtedness to Dr. N. E. Dionne of
the Parliamentary Library, Quebec, whose splendid sketch of Radisson and
Groseillers, read before the Royal Society of Canada, does much to redeem the
memory of the discoverers from ignominy; to Dr. George Bryce of Winnipeg,
whose investigation of Hudson's Bay Archives adds a new chapter to Radisson's
life; to Mr. Benjamin Sulte of Ottawa, whose destructive criticism of inaccuracies
in old and modern records has done so much to stop people writing history out of
their heads and to put research on an honest basis; and to M. Edouard Richard
for scholarly advice relating to the Marine Archives, which he has exploited so
For transcripts and archives now out of print, thanks are due Mr. L.
P. Sylvain of the Parliamentary Library, Ottawa, the officials of the Archives
Department, Ottawa, Mr. F. C. Wurtele of Quebec, Professor Andrew Baird of
Winnipeg, Mr. Alfred Matthews of the Prince Society, Boston, the Hon. Jacob V.
Brower and Mr. Warren Upham of St. Paul.
Mr. Lawrence J. Burpee of Ottawa
was so good as to give me a reading of his exhaustive notes on La Vérendrye
and of data found on the Radisson family.
To Mrs. Fred Paget of Ottawa, the
daughter of a Hudson's Bay Company officer, and to Mr. and Mrs. C. C. Farr of
the Northern Ottawa, I am indebted for interesting facts on life in the fur posts.
Miss Talbot of Winnipeg obtained from retired officers of the Hudson's Bay
Company a most complete set of photographs relating to the fur trade.
and to those officers who loaned old heirlooms to be photographed, I beg to
express my cordial appreciation.
And the thanks of all who write on the North are
permanently due Mr. C. C. Chipman, Chief Commissioner of the Hudson's Bay
Company, for unfailing courtesy in extending information.
 I of course refer to the West as beyond the Great Lakes; for Nicotet, in 1634, and two nameless
Frenchmen—servants of Jean de Lauzon—in 1654, had been beyond the Sault.
Just as this volume was going to the printer, I received a copy of the very valuable Minnesota
, Vol. VI, compiled by the Hon. J. V. Brower of St. Paul, to whom my thanks are due for this
excellent contribution to Western annals.
It may be said that the authors of this volume have done
more than any other writers to vindicate Radisson and Groseillers as explorers of the West.
very differences of opinion over the regions visited establish the fact that Radisson
I have purposely avoided trying to say
parts of Minnesota he exploited, because,
it seems to me, the controversy is futile.
Radisson's memory has been the subject of controversy
from the time of his life.
The controversy—first between the governments of France and England,
subsequently between the French and English historians—has eclipsed the real achievements of
Radisson. To me it seems non-essential as to whether Radisson camped on an island in the
Mississippi, or only visited the region of that island.
The fact remains that he discovered the Great
Northwest, meaning by that the region west of the Mississippi.
The same dispute has obscured his
explorations of Hudson Bay, French writers maintaining that he went overland to the North and put
his feet in the waters of the bay, the English writers insisting that he only crossed over the
watershed toward Hudson Bay.
Again, the fact remains that he did what others had failed to do—
discovered an overland route to the bay.
I am sorry that Radisson is accused in this
intentionally falsifying his relations in two respects, (1) in adding a fanciful year to the 1658-1660
voyage; (2) in saying that he had voyaged down the Mississippi to Mexico.
(1) Internal evidence
plainly shows that Radisson's first four voyages were written twenty years afterward, when he was
in London, and not while on the voyage across the Atlantic with Cartwright, the Boston
It is the most natural thing in the world that Radisson, who had so often been to the
wilds, should have mixed his dates.
Every slip as to dates is so easily checked by contemporaneous
records—which, themselves, need to be checked—that it seems too bad to accuse Radisson of
wilfully lying in the matter.
When Radisson lied it was to avoid bloodshed, and not to exalt himself.
he had had glorification of self in mind, he would not have set down his own faults so unblushingly;
for instance, where he deceives M. Colbert of Paris.
(2) Radisson does not try to give the
impression that he went to Mexico.
The sense of the context is that he met an Indian tribe—Illinois,
Mandans, Omahas, or some other—who lived next to another tribe who told
almost sure that the scholarly Mr. Benjamin Sulte is right in his letter to me when he suggests that
Radisson's manuscript has been mixed by transposition of pages or paragraphs, rather than that
Radisson himself was confused in his account.
At the same time every one of the contributors to the
deserves the thanks of all who love
Since the above foreword was written, the contents of this volume have appeared serially in four
New York magazines.
The context of the book was slightly abridged in these articles, so that a very
vital distinction—namely, the difference between what is given as in dispute, and what is given as
incontrovertible fact—was lost; but what was my amusement to receive letters from all parts of the
West all but challenging me to a duel.
One wants to know "how a reputable author dare" suggest
that Radisson's voyages be taken as authentic.
There is no "dare" about it.
It is a fact.
"reputable" historian to suggest—as two recently have—that Radisson's voyages are a fabrication,
is to stamp that historian as a pretender who has not investigated a single record contemporaneous
with Radisson's life.
One cannot consult documents contemporaneous with his life and not learn
instantly that he was a very live fact of the most troublesome kind the governments of France and
England ever had to accept.
That is why it impresses me as a presumption that is almost comical
for any modern writer to condescend to say that he "accepts" or "rejects" this or that part of
If he "rejects" Radisson, he also rejects the
Marine Archives of Paris
, and the
, which are the recognized sources of our early history.
Another correspondent furiously denounces Radisson as a liar because he mixes his dates of
the 1660 trip.
It would be just as reasonable to call La Salle a liar because there are discrepancies in
the dates of his exploits, as to call Radisson a liar for the slips in his dates. When the mistakes can
be checked from internal evidence, one is hardly justified in charging falsification.
A third correspondent is troubled by the reference to the Mascoutin Indians being
State documents establish this fact.
I am not responsible for it; and Radisson could not
circle west-northwest from the Mascoutins to the great encampments of the Sioux without going far
west of the Mississippi.
Even if the Jesuits make a slip in referring to the Sioux's use of some kind of
coal for fire because there was no wood on the prairie, and really mean turf or buffalo refuse,—
which I have seen the Sioux use for fire,—the fact is that only the tribes far west of the Mississippi
habitually used such substitutes for wood.
My Wisconsin correspondents I have offended by saying that Radisson went beyond the
Wisconsin; my Minnesota friends, by saying that he went beyond Minnesota; and my Manitoba co-
workers of past days, by suggesting that he ever went beyond Manitoba.
The fact remains that
when we try to identify Radisson's voyages, we must take his own account of his journeyings; and
that account establishes him as the Discoverer of the Northwest.
For those who know, I surely do not need to state that there is no picture of Radisson extant,
and that some of the studies of his life are just as genuine (?) as alleged old prints of his likeness.