In the middle of the 18th century the three major European powers were all trying to control the new world of the Americas. France, England, and Spain all had a major stake in the land and wanted nothing more than to be able to have it to themselves at the exclusion of the other two. Spain had a firm hold on the lands of Central America and South America. England was firmly entrenched on the land bordering the Atlantic Ocean and south of the St. Lawrence River. France made gains in the inland part of the land. The Great Lakes and the lands south and west of the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers were primarily controlled by France but the land was primarily only inhabited by the native tribes. The inland waterways of the Ohio River, Mississippi River, and Missouri River were under French control all the way to New Orleans. France was well accepted by the tribal nations to the North but not well accepted by the tribes to the south. The French and Indian Wars were fought with the French intent on driving the English from the Americas. France had sent an army to Quebec to move south and remove the English. It did no good. The English sent a better trained army and had better officers and the French lost all of the land in the New World. They only were able to keep two small islands in the Atlantic. The French made an arrangement with Spain to give Spain control of all the French claimed land to the West of the Mississippi River in payment of some debts. Since they didn’t own the land it was rather a hollow gesture.
Reynaud Chambeaux was a part of the French Army. Reynaud was conscripted into the army at the age of 17 and did not want to leave France and go to the New World to fight but he had no choice. When he arrived in Quebec he found that he did like the New World and the wide open spaces.
The French commander was concerned that his men would cause problems with the tribes that were allied with the French. His concern was that the men would try and take the women of the tribes. He ordered one hundred French women be sent to Quebec for the comfort and welfare of his men. Men were sent on the streets of Paris to gather up women of questionable repute to ship to Quebec. The men gathered ninety-six women but could find no more women of the night. They grabbed four women from the street to fill the order. Three of the women were older women but one was sixteen year old Madeline Claudine. Madeline was walking home from the boulangerie with the bread for the family dinner. Her family never knew what happened to her. The older and wiser women knew that Madeline did not belong with the group and did what they could to shelter her during the long trip to Quebec. When the ship arrived in Quebec the women hid her from the soldiers and helped her to escape. Madeline was not worldly and did not know where to go. Because of her young age she was able to dress as a boy and pass as a boy so the soldiers would not bother her.
As sometimes happens, chance resolved the problem. Reynaud had a day off and was wandering the streets of Quebec. Madeline was looking for a place to stay and they passed on the street. Reynaud immediately was aware that there was something familiar about the boy. Madeline knew at a glance that the soldier was Reynaud. They had grown up in the same neighborhood and had been friends for years. Reynaud turned and went after the boy. When he caught up to Madeline and looked more closely, he knew it was Madeline. Madeline was frightened that Reynaud would turn her in. She explained to Reynaud the circumstances of how she happened to be in Quebec. Reynaud was angry that the army would pull an innocent young girl from the street and send her to do that awful job. He knew he had to help. Reynaud found some clothes hanging on a clothesline and discarded his uniform. He was no longer a soldier.
The two left immediately for the next French colony of Trois Riviere to try and find a solution. Trois Riviere was no solution as there were too many French soldiers in the town so they went further west to Montreal. In Montreal they found a solution. The found a kindly padre that listened to their story and vowed to help them. He was shocked that the army would abuse their power and force a young woman into that kind of service. He would only agree to help them if he married them and they quickly agreed as they were already fond of each other. After they were married the Padre talked with a large farmer he trusted and made arrangements for the couple to move to the farm and help the farmer. It was an ideal solution. The farmer and his wife and his children were wonderful people and Reynaud and Madeline felt safe.
Reynaud learned about farming. He had grown up in the city so was unfamiliar with the farming life. He and Madeline took to the life. They loved planting seeds and watching the plants grow. They loved taking care of the animals and chickens. It was a wonderful life for them. They soon had three children. The kindly farmer had helped them to start their own farm close to his. They built a small house and went to work. As time went by the farm prospered. Being close to Montreal was a boon to selling the farm products.
The first child was a girl and she was the apple of Reynaud’s eye. The second child was a boy, Pierre, and he was a wild child. The third child was a wonderful boy. As they grew, Pierre became more and more untamable. He did not like farming and digging in the dirt. From the time he could walk he would spend his time in the woods. By the time he was twelve he was an accomplished hunter and the family never wanted for meat for the table. He also hunted meat for other families. Pierre would disappear into the woods for weeks at a time and then one day he would be back only to disappear again. This activity distressed Reynaud and Madeline as they worried for Pierre’s safety and were frightened that something would happen to him and they would never know what happened.
When Pierre was sixteen he came to his parents and told them he was leaving and probably would not return. He explained that he loved to explore and hunt and be in the wilds and that would have to be his life or he may as well be dead. He told them not to worry about him that he knew how to stay safe. Reynaud had known this day was coming as he had seen the look in the boy’s eye. Madeline could not be consoled. She could not believe that she would not see her child again. Reynaud tried to explain the mind of the boy to Madeline and she finally accepted that Pierre had to live his own life so she was able to accept losing him.
Pierre made a very sturdy canoe and set out down the St. Lawrence River and onto the Great Lakes and continued to travel west. He had heard of great mountains to the west and longed to explore those mountains. He departed the Great Lakes at Grand Portage. This was a post where the French trappers sold their furs. Pierre had been trapping during his travels and had a number of beaver and mink skins to sell. He sold his canoe and had enough money to buy a riding horse and two pack horses. He was also able to resupply his food needs and he headed west. Pierre continued to trap but never stayed in one place more than five or six days.
After a number of weeks, Pierre left the area where he could trap. This was all grass land and there would be no animals to trap. He found a trading post on a river called the Red River and traded his traps for more supplies. Now he needed powder and ball for his musket so he could hunt.
As Pierre crossed the grassy plains he saw many native hunting parties but he tried to avoid them. He had been told by the natives in Quebec that the natives in the west were wild and savage and would eat white people. Pierre never believed this but avoided them anyway. He did not want to have an unnecessary confrontation. One day the confrontation could not be avoided. Pierre was coming up a low rise and just as he arrived at the top a group of eight natives came from the other direction. The natives stopped and looked at Pierre and decided he posed no threat so continued past him and down the hill. It was there that Pierre understood that if he did not threaten the natives they would probably leave him alone. From that point he stopped trying to avoid the natives and even visited several of the native villages to trade for supplies. Pierre got on well with the natives. Most had never seen a white man before and were curious about him and where he came from. They were able to have some rudimentary communication using sign language and facial expression. Pierre vowed to learn the language but became discouraged when he learned that each tribe had their own language.
Finally Pierre was coming to the mountains that he had heard of and was anxious to get into the mountains and start exploring. But winter would be starting soon. The days were getting shorter. The nights were getting cold and the days were cooler. Pierre decided he needed to find a place for a winter camp so he could get settled before the snows started. He chanced on a magnificent valley with an abundance of game and beautiful river. The river had high cliffs and magnificent waterfall at one end of the valley. The cliffs along the river were unusual in that the rock was yellow. The valley had many unusual characteristics. The valley had pools with water too hot to put your hand in without burning. It had great streams of hot water that would suddenly shoot out of the ground and then just as suddenly stop.
The valley enthralled Pierre. He longed to explore it and decided to stay for the winter. Pierre decided that he could use the pools for warmth during the cold winter months. He built a rough cabin near one of the larger hot water pools. It was built far enough from the pool to be on dry land but close enough to get the heat from the water. He built a rough tunnel of animal skins from the edge of the pool to the cabin so the air would be warm. He built the cabin on the south side of the pool so the north wind would blow the warm air into his cabin. When the weather turned cold he would find out how well his plan worked.
Pierre was fortunate that the animals that inhabited the valley would be available for food throughout the winter. The bison and elk continued to feed all winter. Pierre killed a bison and an elk to make jerky for the days when he couldn’t get out. The problem was going to be his animals. They would probably not survive the brutal winter so Pierre made a covered shelter for them and harvested a great deal of grass for them. When he was able he would let them out to forage on their own. Pierre was ready for the winter. He did some more exploring and then settled in for the long five months of winter.
Winter arrived with bitterly cold temperatures and heavy snow. Amazingly, the ground around the cabin stayed snow free as the heat from the pool of water kept the snow melted. It also turned what was dry ground into very muddy ground. The ground inside the cabin remained dry except around the edges. Pierre was pleased that his tunnel to bring in the warm air was working well but the smell was not pleasant. He still had to have a fire but did not need a big fire; just enough for cooking would keep the cabin warm. He even made another tunnel from the cabin to the animal’s shelter to help the animals withstand the cold. Winter would not be an uncomfortable time.
At last the long winter was coming to an end. The days were getting longer and the nights had lost their bitter cold. Pierre decided to stay for the summer and another winter to do more exploring. When the days were long he would improve his camp. He found a number of wild, edible roots and leaves in the forests and would harvest many of them before the weather turned cold again. Some would be for him and some for his animals. He wanted to explore every part of this magical place. He went south and found a magnificent range of mountains with sharp spires instead of rounded tops. He went west and found more wild land. To the north the mountains continued. To the east were rolling plains. Pierre was able to see a great migration of antelopes moving from the south into the valley. It was a marvelous summer of discovery. A number of times he was threatened by packs of wolves. Twice he was chased by large, brown bears. He had seen smaller, black bears in Quebec but never a bear of this size. The entire valley was a wonderland of animal and plant life.
Winter started again and Pierre hunkered down in his improved shelter to survive the bitter onslaught. He could hardly wait for winter to end so that he could begin exploring more of the area. After another summer and winter, Pierre decided that he had done enough exploring and decided to start heading back to Montreal. He left the beautiful valley in the spring and worked his way east, trapping and hunting as he travelled. The following summer he rode onto his family’s farm.
Madeline could hardly believe her eyes as she saw him ride up. She immediately knew that it was Pierre and started screaming for Reynaud to come and welcome Pierre home. Pierre had aged since he had left home at sixteen. He had been gone for seven years. He came home with a long beard and age lines around his eyes. He was whippet thin and muscular and handsome. He learned that his sister had married and was living in Trois Riviere. His younger brother was working on the farm and had proven to be an excellent farmer.
Pierre was glad to be home with his family. He described to people the wondrous things that he had seen in the valley of the river with the yellow stones. No one believed that the place existed. They all thought that Pierre had made it all up. Pierre didn’t care if they believed him. He knew what he had seen and that he would never see another place like that place. Pierre had spent a lot of time alone and thought that he would try some female companionship. He met girls but none were interested in Pierre. They knew that when the urge struck him he would be gone and may never be seen again.
Pierre knew that it would only be a matter of time before the wanderlust would happen and he would leave again. Pierre went to work and helped Reynaud harvest the crops and get them stored for the winter or sold. He stayed through the winter and in the spring he helped his Father and Brother do the spring plowing and planting and thought that the boredom would destroy him. Madeline knew that it would only be a matter of time before Pierre would be leaving. In early May Pierre said his goodbyes and left again. There were so many places that he wanted to see.
He followed the same route to the prairie and was hurrying so he could get to “his” valley. Pierre had built another canoe over the winter. He did stop to trap and hunt but did not stop for extended periods of time. He found that the winter of doing nothing had left him out of shape for travel and it would be some time before he could move with any speed. He found that he would have to stop for several days about every week or he became debilitated. By pacing himself he could make progress without wearing himself out. He trapped enough beaver and mink to enable him to buy some horses when he got to the prairie. This time he did not sell his canoe but left it tied up in a tree so it would be available for a trip back to Montreal. After obtaining the horses Pierre decided to spend the winter at this spot. This was an unusual river in that the water flowed to the north and Pierre did not know of any rivers that did that. He thought that someday it would be good to explore that river and find out where it went. Several large herds of bison were in the area and Pierre had no trouble laying in a supply of meat for the winter. Grass was also plentiful for the horses
It was a particularly cold winter and a large quantity of snow. Pierre got an unusually late start. It was almost June before he could leave due to flooding in the area. He arrived at the valley just as the snow was starting to fly. He was grateful that his cabin was still intact and he didn’t have to start over. He immediately started laying in food for the animals. He killed a large bull bison for the fur and the meat. He did not have to make jerky as the air was cold enough to freeze the meat. He hung the cache of meat from several tall limbs several hundred meters from his camp to keep the wolves and bears from helping themselves and keep them from being a nuisance This winter was much milder than the previous winter he had spent in the valley and Pierre could get out and explore and allow the horses to forage for food. Pierre spent the winter in comfort.
As the weather improved and the days lengthened Pierre decided to move on and follow the setting sun. He wanted to go where no white man had gone and he knew that way was west. He went south out of the valley past the mountain range with the spires for peaks. He found a pass through the mountains and turned west. The going was difficult and the horses were struggling with both the altitude and the steep incline. Pierre slowed way down and made many stops to rest the animals. He was walking with the horses and was getting pretty exhausted himself. He made a rough camp on the side of the mountain and had a restless night. During the night he heard a commotion from the horses and went to investigate. A large brown cat had one of the horses down and by the throat. Pierre could tell the horse was in its death throes. The other two horses were going crazy with fear. Pierre rushed back to get his musket and load it. When he returned the cat was threatening the other two horses. Pierre shot the cat and wounded it and the cat ran off into the night. Pierre sat up the rest of the night to be certain the cat did not return. With the morning light Pierre followed the blood trail and found the cat dead about a mile from the camp. Pierre tried to lift the cat and guessed it weighed over two hundred pounds. It was the largest wild cat he had ever seen.
Fortunately the dead horse was one of the pack horses and not the saddle horse. The next morning Pierre started up to the top of the pass. The going was still rough and slow going. They reached the top of the pass in mid-afternoon. Pierre knew that he would not make it to the bottom before dark. He also knew that he did not want to spend another night on the side of the mountain. Pierre was still tired from all the commotion of the cat and decided to spend the night at the top of the pass. This time he kept the horses close to his bed and kept his musket loaded in case of an emergency. Losing one of the pack horses was going to cause a problem and he had to discard some of his supplies to be certain he did not overload the horses.
The trip down from the top of the pass was not as strenuous but much more dangerous. There was a lot of loose shale and it could get very slick. When Pierre got to the bottom he continued on west. About twenty days of travel over fairly flat ground brought him to a large body of water. He approached the lake and noticed an unusual odor from the water. He tried tasting a small amount and found it to be very salty but with other mineral tastes as well. At any rate, it was not drinkable and Pierre wanted to be away from the lake as quickly as possible. If he continued west he would be travelling beside the lake for many days so Pierre turned south.
The further south he went the more interesting the world became. He continued to see signs of humans but did not see any humans. He found entire villages of rough houses built from flat stones stacked upon each other. There would be enough dwellings to support one hundred to one hundred and fifty people. He could see that fields had been cleared for planting but nothing was growing. The puzzling part was there was no water anywhere close. How could the village survive without water? The village was built around a shallow canyon and there was evidence that water had once flowed in the canyon but Pierre could not tell if the evidence was from heavy rain or if a spring once existed. The guess that he made was that there used to be a spring and that it dried up. That is why the village was situated here and why the people left. Pierre found several of these villages with no inhabitants. Pierre found markings on cliff walls close to the village. The markings had been scratched into the face of a cliff. Pierre had no idea what the marks meant or who put them on the cliff. They were of interest but not decipherable. Pierre stayed at one village for over a month to see if anyone returned or if he could find out what happened to the people. He could find no answer for this puzzle so he moved on.
Pierre came to a small river that was running with a fair amount of water. It was time to rest. Another winter was coming so Pierre decided to build a winter camp at this place. He would have water for the animals and himself. He had seen deer and antelope but none of the large animals like bison or elk. He thought about moving into one of the abandoned villages and then remembered there was no water. After his camp was built for the winter Pierre dried enough meat into jerky to last for the winter. Pierre found that the river had an abundance of very tasty fish. He fashioned a net and found that he could catch enough with one throw of the net for a good meal. He didn’t think that there would be a lot of snow in this area so the animals could forage for their food. Just in case, he harvested grass to be certain the horses would not starve.
The winter proved to be mild. A few very cold spells and some snow but quite mild compared to his valley. He was able to do some exploring in the winter during the mild days. He followed the small river down to where it emptied into a much larger river. He determined that after the winter was over he would follow the larger river to see where it went.
Pierre estimated that winter was over. The days were getting longer and the nights had lost the sharp cold feel, Pierre broke camp and started following the small river to the larger river. This time he experienced more trouble following the river as the river was running much higher with the run-off from the snow melt from the higher elevations. When he arrived at the confluence of the rivers the large river was a torrent of water. The water filled the river bed from bank to bank and the banks were sheer cliffs so there was no way to follow the river by staying next to it. Pierre had no choice but to go above the cliffs and follow the river from higher up. It would be a strenuous trip but he was determined to learn where such a large volume of water would end up.
It would have been easier if the river had run a straight course but that didn’t happen. In a few places the river almost turned back on itself. Another problem with following the river from above was that other small streams and rivers were flowing into the larger river. Where they ran they made deep canyons. These canyons were impossible for the horses to cross and Pierre had to move upstream to find locations to cross the smaller rivers. In one case he estimated that it took him twenty days to find a place to cross and another twenty days to get back to the large river. The further he went the more this happened. Pierre estimated that it took him five months to travel one hundred miles downriver. During the travel time he could see that the river was not such a torrent and there was space alongside where a man or horse could walk but there was no way to get down to the river. Even if he could get himself and the horses down to the river he would not be able to get back out in the event the water rose again. Pierre chose not to put himself in that kind of danger.
The days were getting shorter but the weather was not particularly cold. Pierre decided that he should make a winter camp but needed to be where there was access to water. He found another river that flowed into the large river and moved upstream to a location where the water would be accessible to the horses and to Pierre. He had to move nine days up river to find the spot for a winter camp. He was fortunate that he would also be able to cross the river so he could continue to follow the large river in the spring. There was ample forage for the animals. They were in a box canyon with a waterfall at the end of the canyon. This was a good place to spend the winter. The walls of the canyon would keep out the strong north wind. There was ample game for winter food and, again, the river had tasty fish that were eager to be caught. There were even large birds in the canyon that looked a lot like chicken and tasted good. Pierre found that they were easy to trap. It would prove to be a pleasant winter.
With the arrival of spring Pierre went back to the large river. The further he followed the river the wider and deeper the canyon became. It became difficult to even see the river on the bottom of the canyon. This was an amazing place. What Pierre could see of the river it appeared to be a raging torrent with the water running swiftly as the land elevation dropped. The distance across the canyon was very wide and on a rare rainy day you couldn’t see across it.
Pierre finally came to the end of the canyon. He had been going downhill for five weeks and finally came face to face with the river. The river that appeared to be blue from above was a brown sludge. It was more like flowing mud due to all of the sediment the river had picked up as it continued to wash away the canyon bottom. Pierre followed the river for eight weeks and finally discovered where it flowed into the sea.
Pierre had seen enough for this trip and was getting tired and he was ready to go back to Montreal so he started the homeward journey. He didn’t want to return through the mountains so decided to try and stay to the south for the return trip. Pierre did not count on having to cross two deserts to get home. The search for water became a daily chore. He finally made it to the Great Plains and found water running in many rivers and streams. He was amazed to see great herds of bison on two occasions. He also saw hunting parties of natives but he was able to avoid them.
Pierre came to a great river and there was no way to cross the river. It was deep, wide, and fast flowing so he followed the river north on the west side. After ten days of following the river he found a ferry that took people across. He paid the fare and crossed. Four weeks later he came to another great river but was fortunate to find another ferry to take across. Pierre had to make two winter camps on the way home. He finally arrived at the family farm in late September. This time Pierre had been gone for nine years. He was sorry to learn that his father, Reynaud, had died from an accident on the farm. His younger brother was running the farm.
Madeline was delighted that her oldest son had returned. She knew he wouldn’t stay forever but she would have him for a while. Pierre had never learned to read or write and he wanted to tell the story of the marvelous things that he had seen on his two trips. He was certain no white men had seen the places before he saw them. There was a local school teacher that was fascinated with the stories that Pierre told and offered to write them down. The teacher was fluent in both English and French and wrote the stories in French as Pierre recited his tales. The teacher was able to have the stories published in several magazines. One of the magazines was an English language magazine in Canada. Another was a French magazine that was published in Paris. The last magazine that published the stories was in London, England. The stories were well received and increased the circulation of the magazines when they were published. People were fascinated with Pierre’s imagination. Everyone knew that such places as water shooting in the air and water to hot to put the hand in, of a lake so salty that nothing would sink in it, and of a canyon so wide and deep that you couldn’t see across it or to the bottom. No one believed the stories but Pierre knew they were true and he was happy about what he had seen.
Pierre had been exploring for sixteen of the last eighteen years and was now thirty-four years old. After his return from his latest trip to the large canyon and having his tales recorded and published, he noted a change in his younger brother. He appeared to be resentful of Pierre and the time Pierre had taken. The brother did not understand that Pierre would never be a farmer. That life was not possible for Pierre.
About a year after Pierre returned from the west Madeline became ill. Pierre stayed with her night and day. The doctors could do nothing to help and she died with Pierre and his siblings by her side. She was buried next to Reynaud on the family farm.
After the death of Madeline the relationship between Pierre and his brother became more strained and Pierre decided that now was the time to leave. He knew that he would never come back. He kept thinking of the river that flowed north and wanted to go into that territory and find out where it ended. Pierre told his brother he was leaving and probably would not be back. The brother appeared to be relieved and became more civil to Pierre. Pierre went to Trois Riviere to have a last meeting with his sister and her family and then he left.
To the great surprise of Pierre he had made some money from the stories that the teacher had transcribed and sold. It wasn’t a lot but it would allow Pierre to buy all of the traps and other supplies that he would need for the journey and to get him settled in a new place. Again he started the long journey up the St. Lawrence River to the Great Lakes. He knew the route by heart as he taken it twice before. He followed several rivers and paddled across lakes. He was always going west and knew that he would eventually wind up at the river he wanted.
The going was rough and required numerous portages. For one man, this was a gargantuan task. He would have to move his canoe and all of the supplies which required multiple trips over the portage. On one of the portages his canoe got tangled with some branches and a hole was punched in the canoe. Pierre was able to make some cursory repairs but knew that at some point he would be required to build a new canoe. Pierre had barely left Lake Superior when snow started falling and Pierre had to stop and make a winter camp. The camp was in a heavily forested area which was good and bad. There was abundant deer and moose available for meat. There was plenty of wood for fires for cooking and warmth. The forest broke the bitter north wind so it was not as intense. The bad part was that wolves and bears could be in his camp before he would see them. The natives would also be able to be close before being seen. Pierre was more concerned with the wolves and bears. He felt the natives would attempt contact before they would be dangerous. He was careful not to attract the wolves and bears and kept his cache of food a good distance from the camp. Water would not be a problem as a spring came from the ground not far from the camp. It should not freeze in the winter but if it did he could always melt snow. He felt he was as prepared as he could get. He did not have to worry about horses as he had no horses on this trip. Pierre did trap during the winter and he had a fair supply of beaver pelts by the time winter was over.
Pierre shut down his winter camp and started moving again, always going south by southwest. He finally reached the river that flowed north. To the surprise of Pierre he found the canoe that he had tied in a tree ten years ago. The canoe was in good shape. Pierre decided to fix his canoe now that he had the means to do the repairs. He would use two canoes. With all of the beaver pelts that he had trapped during the winter the one canoe was getting overloaded and sometimes the water would lap over the side. He would paddle one canoe while towing the other. This would make the going difficult but it could be done. Pierre started going north. He was grateful that he was going downstream as that made the work tolerable. Fifteen days of paddling brought him to small fort on the river that was operated by the North West Company. The North West Company bought furs. They had their own trappers but would buy furs from other trappers. The North West Company was a French company and they were in direct competition with the Hudson Bay Company which was English owned and managed. The two companies did not co-exist peacefully. There were murders and thefts and accusations of murder and theft.
Pierre continued going north for another forty-five days. He continued to trap and hunt on the trip. He wasn’t going fast but was taking his time and spending days in one place when he found good trapping. He finally got to a small fort and trading post operated by the Hudson Bay Company and was able to sell his furs. The fort was in the same area as an Assiniboine Native village. Both the Hudson Bay Company and the North West Company had excellent relationships with the natives. It was the ideal symbiotic relationship. Neither the companies nor the natives could survive as well without the other. Pierre was able to make friends with many of the Assiniboine as they spoke some rudimentary French so they could understand one another quite well. Pierre decided to spend the winter in the Assiniboine village. They offered him one of the dwellings to use for the winter. He had many discussions with the natives and wanted to find out what was to the north. They could tell him about a large lake further north but nothing beyond that. This information only served to whet Pierre’s appetite to explore.
During the long winter Pierre had an opportunity to meet most of the Assiniboine in the village. The winters in that part of the world were very long. Snow could be expected as early as September and as late as May. During that time a young Assiniboine woman was spending a lot time teaching Pierre the way of the Natives of the far north. Pierre estimated that the young woman was about eighteen years old and Pierre was thirty-four. They grew very fond of each other so Pierre inquired of one of the elders what he needed to do to have the woman as his wife. The arrangements were made as both people were willing and Pierre had some goods that he could present to the woman’s family. The wedding took place in early April and Snowflower moved into Pierre’s lodge. Pierre gave her the name Snowflower as he loved that flower and he loved the woman.
When Pierre left in mid-May, Snowflower went with him. They took both canoes but rode and paddled together in one of the canoes while towing the other. The people of the north now called the river the Assiniboine instead of Red. As they went north they came to a large lake. They had expected this as the natives had told them it would be there. They continued up the lake (now called Lake Winnipeg) until they found a large river leaving the lake and flowing to the north and east so they decided to follow that river. They were moving fast as they did not want to spend the winter in this remote place. They finally came to a large body of water (Hudson’s Bay) with some strange wildlife. There were large animals with snow white hair and a ferocious demeanor. There were slick looking animals that lived on land and in the water. They had no legs but did have strange flippers at the front of the body to propel them on land. The white bears used the other creatures for food. The other creatures lived on fish. It was an interesting place but time was running out on leaving. They were able to spend only two weeks exploring this area.
They had seen all that Pierre cared to see and turned and headed for home. It was getting late in the year and Pierre wanted to get back to the Assiniboine village before the water froze. They left one canoe behind and moved quickly upriver. They had about six weeks of travelling before they would be at the village. They travelled late in the day and started early in the morning but they made it back. It was just in time as they week after they returned the weather turned bitterly cold and the snow was falling heavily. A week later the river and the lakes were a solid sheet of ice. The village had made arrangements for them to have meat for the winter and Pierre used some of his money from trapping to buy other supplies at the Hudson’s Bay store in the fort.
The couple spent the winter in total happiness. Pierre learned that he would become a father in the spring. This was exciting news in the village and for Pierre. The little boy was born in May. He was referred to as a Metis. Metis was the word for a person that was half French and half Assiniboine. There were a number of Metis in the village and in the fort. The French had been there for a while. Pierre was delighted with the life. He could hunt and fish and explore as much as he wanted. He could go places that white men had never seen. He made arrangements with the Hudson’s Bay Company to trap for them and they agreed to buy all of his pelts. The babies kept coming. Pierre and Snowflower were prolific in producing babies. The unfortunate thing is that three of the babies died soon after birth and the parents were devastated. They ended with four living children. The oldest boy, Benoit, was just like Pierre had been as a child. He was an explorer and a wild child.
A Scotsman, Lord Selkirk, had a major interest in the Hudson Bay Company and wanted to start a colony for disaffected Scots. He called the colony the Selkirk Settlement. It was south of the Assiniboine village and the company fort. Getting supplies to the settlement was difficult. The best way was up the Mississippi to St. Paul and then overland via ox cart. There were three trails, the west plains trail and the east plains trail and the woods trail. Over time the trails got more and more use. The growth of the Red River population was one of the factors.
Benoit was an excellent trapper. As he got older he became the best trapper in the Red River area. Pierre had taught him a lot but Benoit had instituted ideas of his own on trapping and the ideas worked. He moved further from the populated areas to find more animals to trap. This was not a good time. Since the two companies, Hudson Bay and North West controlled all of the buying they controlled what they had to pay for pelts. Benoit learned that they sold the pelts in St. Paul for considerably more than they paid for them. Benoit decided that if he could get his pelts to St. Paul then he could sell them himself. He talked with other independent trappers and told them what he had learned. He discussed the situation with Pierre and Pierre had a master stroke of an idea. They could run their own Ox Cart train and haul pelts to St. Paul and carry goods back to the Red River communities. They knew a number of Metis that would love to have a part in this. Most of the people were tired of the control the two large companies had.
They received threats from both of the companies and some of the threats were death threats but they started the Ox Cart trains and left full every time. Since Pierre had travelled most of the country he determined that the west plains trail would be the best for the ox carts. The land they would cross going east to St. Paul would have less lakes and rivers and they could travel in a straight line. That trail went down the west side of the Red River for some distance before turning east. The woods trail would be fine for a man on horseback but for ox carts there would be too many trees and obstructions. The east plains trail had a large number of lakes and rivers to either cross or go around. Pierre had made a wise choice as their Ox Cart trains habitually beat the others to St. Paul. It wasn’t long before the two large companies also had Ox Cart trains travelling to St. Paul.
The Red River Ox Cart trails got a great deal of use from about 1820 until the early 1870’s. The trails were easy to follow as the tracks were deep and you couldn’t miss them. The Red River Ox Cart Trails ceased being used with the coming of the railroads. It was the end of an era and sad to many people.
The family of Pierre and Snowflower did very well. Benoit married and had children and those children carried on the tradition of exploring and adventuring. There was less exploring to be done. President Jefferson had purchased a vast tract of land from the French. This land included all of the Mississippi and Missouri River valleys. The purchased land extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean. He sent two explorers, Lewis and Clark, to explore and map the land for eventual settlement. At this point it is interesting to note that one member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, John Colter, left the expedition with the permission of the explorers. He went south and discovered the same valley that Pierre had discovered. When John Colter told of the discovery, no one believed him and thought he had exaggerated what he saw. Pierre heard of the discovery of Colter and just smiled at the memory.
Pierre died in bed at the age of 66. His family was with him. He had children and grand children and a world of friends and people that respected him. Pierre’s last thought before closing his eyes for the last time was: