FRENCH DOMINATION IN THE MISSISSIPPI VALLEY.
DURING the whole of the period that the French held the control of the valley, Missouri, as such, had no separate legal existence and not a single settlement that has proved to be permanent, except, perhaps, Ste. Genevieve. Exactly when the "old" village of this name was founded is a matter that cannot be positively determined; and it is not important that it should be, except in so far as it may serve to throw light upon the time when the French began to familiarize themselves with the resources of the region west of the Mississippi. Upon this point the testimony of Pénicaut is of interest. He arrived in lower Louisiana in 1699, and in 1700 he made one of the party that ascended the river with Le Sueur for the purpose of opening a copper mine which was supposed to be on one of the tributaries of the Minnesota. In the journal which he kept of that expedition, he refers to the salt licks near Ste. Genevieve, and says that they were resorted to by the French and Indians, and that "presently" there was a settlement of the French at that place. He also speaks of a mine situated fifty leagues west of the Mississippi, from which the Indians got their supply of lead, and to which they went by way of the Maramec. These statements are explicit; they are borne out by the facts as they now exist, and if they do not fix the precise date when Ste.Genevieve was first settled, they at least justify the inference that it was shortly after the arrival of the French at the village of Kaskaskia, on the other side of the river, and hence, that it must have been early in the eighteenth century, and not about the middle, as sometimes supposed. They also indicate, with reasonable certainty, the date when the French began to make use of the mineral and other natural resources in which the region lying between the Mississippi and the Maramec abounded.
From this time forward, the career of the French in "the Illinois," as this portion of the colony was called, can be easily traced. At first, and for a quarter of a century or more, it would seem as if they must have been given over almost altogether to the search after silver and copper. At all events, this is the not unnatural inference from the prominence accorded to this pursuit, in all the official documents. As a matter of fact, however, there are two sides to the shield, though there can be no question that, so far as it was possible for the home authorities to make it so, the search for silver was, for a number of years, the controlling interest in the little colony. As early as 1703, a party of twenty set out to go from Kaskaskia to New Mexico, by way of the Missouri River, for the purpose of . . . "visiting certain mines which were said, by the Indians, to yield a kind of lead that was white and of no account because it did not melt in the fire," as did the true lead found nearer home. Of the fate of this expedition nothing is known, but the feasibility of the journey is placed beyond doubt by the fact that, in 1714, specimens of silver were forwarded to La Mothe Cadillac, at Mobile, and the report that they had been taken from mines nearKaskaskia brought that official up the river only to find that he had been deceived, and that the specimens had really come from Mexico. In spite of disappointments like these, and of the fact that thus far not a particle of silver had been found in this region, the colonial authorities were satisfied that it would ultimately be discovered, and they ascribed the failure to find it to the want of skill on the part of their agents.
Impressed with this belief, the directors of the Mississippi Company, who had come into the possession of the charter of the colony after its relinquishment by Crozat, in 1717, sent out several parties composed of men who were supposed to be accustomed to this kind of work, though Charlevoix, for reasons that appear to be good and sufficient, doubts their capacity. Among the first to arrive was the Sieur de Lochon, who came out in 1719. He "dug in a place that was showed him, took up a pretty large quantity of the mineral, a pound of which, that took up four days to melt, produced, as they say, two drachms of silver; but some persons suspect that he put in the silver." A few months later he tried for lead, "and from two or three thousand weight of the mineral he extracted fourteen pounds of very bad lead, which cost him 1,400 livres." Disheartened by this failure, he gave up the work and returned to France. Other parties followed in quick succession, but met with no better success. They found no silver, or, if they did, they put it into the melting pots themselves; and though lead was abundant, yet they got but little, for the reason that "they did not know how to construct their furnaces." Finally, in 1720, there came the Sieur Renaud, one of the directors of the company, who is said to have surveyed these Maramec mines verythoroughly. He fared no better in the search for silver than did his predecessors, and his errand here would not call for further comment but for the fact that, in 1723, the earliest grants of lands in what is now known as the State of Missouri were made to him, and because, either directly or indirectly, he was the means of introducing negro slavery into this portion of the colony. According to the chronicles of the day, there came with him "many families who had received concessions of lands in the neighborhood of Kaskaskia, and who brought with them a number of negroes, granted to them by Bienville, for the purpose of cultivating these lands." After this we hear but little of silver, though as late as 1744 Vaudreuil forwarded to France certain specimens of copper, which were said to have been found in the district of the Illinois. The lead mines of this region, however, were steadily worked, and among the articles sent down the river, lead was not the least important.
But whilst the authorities at New Orleans and Paris were dreaming of silver mines and squandering large sums of money in a vain search for them, the colonists in this district, consisting almost entirely of emigrants from Canada, were quietly pursuing the even tenor of their way, and devoting more or less of their attention to the trade in furs, and to the more prosaic but not less useful business of farming. Besides the expedition up the Missouri, to which reference has already been made, they explored the Des Moines and the Osage, and penetrated into Kansas among the Panis, where Dutigné, in 1719, planted the arms of France. This steady progress westward excited the jealousy of the Spaniards, and, in 1720, they fitted out an expedition for the purpose of taking a position on the Missouri which would enable them to check the advance of the French in this direction, and divert the trade of the Indians from Kaskaskia to Santa Fé. In this they were unsuccessful, as the expedition fell among hostile tribes and was destroyed.
Alarmed by the boldness of this expedition, and with the view of guarding against future danger from this quarter, as well as in the expectation of extending their trade, the French sent a force up the Missouri, and built a fort near a village of the tribe of that name, which they called Fort Orleans. 1 At the date of their arrival here, a general war was raging between the Padoucas on one side, and the Missouris, Osages, Iowas, Pawnees, Ottos, Mahas, etc., on the other. As these last were all friends of the French, and the war interfered very seriously with the trade in "buffalo's wool," it became a matter of the first importance to bring about a peace between these tribes. Accordingly, M. de Bourgmont, the commandant of Fort Orleans, summoned them to meet him at a council which was held in 1724, at a point situated on one of the western tributaries of the Kansas, when and where the pipe was smoked, and a general peace was concluded. Soon after this, Fort Orleans was destroyed and the garrison massacred, probably by the Missouris, though upon this point there is room for doubt. Bossu, however, ascribes it to them, and intimates that the outbreak was due to the frauds practiced upon them in the way of trade, and to the fact that the French debauched their women.These were the only occasions, during the rule of the French, upon which the settlers in this portion of the colony were exposed to serious danger, though they bore their share of the loss entailed by Bienville's unsuccessful war with the Chickasaws, and took a prominent part in the fighting which began about the middle of the century, on the head waters of the Ohio, and ended in the treaty of Paris, February, 1763, and the expulsion of the French from the North American continent.
During all these years the little settlement on the Illinois, left in a great measure to itself, and separated by a thousand miles and more from the intrigues and exactions that prevailed at Quebec and New Orleans, continued to grow slowly but steadily in population and prosperity. Besides the fur-trade which now extended some three or four hundred leagues up the Missouri, and the lead mines of the Maramec from which the yield was, practically, unlimited, the agricultural products of the district began to assume important proportions. From the first arrival of the French in this quarter, they had given more or less of their attention to the cultivation of the soil, and it was owing to this fact that they were exempt from the oft recurring seasons of scarcity to which the inhabitants of New Orleans and the settlers on the Gulf coast were subject. As early as 1721, Charlevoix, writing from Kaskaskia, says that the French in that neighborhood were living "pretty much at their ease." They cultivated wheat and corn, and had domestic cattle and fowls. The Indians, too, whose villages adjoined the settlements of the French, were "very laborious, and cultivated their fields in their own fashion." A few years later, the farm products of this "district" had increased to such an extentthat they constituted a regular article of shipment. Le Page du Pratz and Bossu both speak of the amount of flour which was sent to New Orleans, and Vaudreuil who, in 1743, succeeded Bienville as governor, and who was not a partial witness, in a letter to the minister, says that every year, in the latter part of December, there came from "the Illinois" boats loaded with "flour, corn, bacon hams, both of bear and hog, corned pork and wild beef, myrtle and beeswax, cotton, tallow, leather, tobacco, lead, copper, buffalo-wool, venison, poultry, bear's grease, oil, skins, fowls, and hides." Varied as is this list, it is not complete, for Captain Pittman, who traveled up the river soon after the eastern portion of the valley fell into the hands of the English, adds "beer and wines." This is certainly a very creditable showing, and furnishes good grounds for doubting Vaudreuil's sincerity, when he seeks to justify his grant to Deruisseau of the monopoly of the fur-trade of the Missouri, by saying that the only way in which he could make the people in this part of the colony abandon their wandering mode of life and settle down to farm work, was by preventing them from trading with the Indians, and by prohibiting them from acquiring any more negro slaves. The two statements, to say the least, do not harmonize. A wandering life is never compatible with the successful employment of slave labor, and the fact that, in 1745, the negroes in this district were half as many as the whites, is not only conclusive as to the profitable use of this form of labor, but it is equally decisive as to the manner of life of the owners of these slaves, even without the confirmatory evidence of the products which they annually sent down the river.