The Military Empire

Discovery Of The "Western Sea"

La Verendrye's Sons Continue the Search

Statue of explorer Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye (1685-1749)

Caption: Statue of explorer Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye (1685-1749)

Thus Louis-Joseph and François La Vérendrye proceeded separately, one to the present Cedar Lake, Manitoba, via the Saskatchewan River, and the other in the opposite direction to what is now Nebraska, probably not far from the Spanish missions in northern New Mexico. However, they joined forces for the most important of all these expeditions. Leaving Fort La Reine on April 29, 1742 in the company of two other Frenchmen and Amerindian guides, they reached eastern Montana or southwestern North Dakota in August, and by December were in northeastern Wyoming. The white men searching for the great western sea were a real curiosity for the nomadic Amerindians of the plains, who eventually joined them. Soon a procession of about 2,000 Amerindians was advancing slowly over the plains with the young explorers. On January 8, 1743, they finally saw in the distance huge, snow-capped mountains: the Rockies! Upon approaching, they realized that the mountains presented an insurmountable barrier and that they could go no farther. They therefore decided to return to Fort La Reine, where they arrived safe and sound on July 2, 1743 after an absence of 14 months. These two cadets of the Compagnies franches de la Marine du Canada had just accomplished one of the most extraordinary expeditions in the history of North America.

However, their advance to the Rocky Mountains furthered only geographic knowledge of the Great Plains, while what was wanted in high places was the great western sea. Therefore, the magnitude of these explorations was not fully appreciated, and the La Vérendryes were recalled. The sons remained simple cadets for a few more years, before becoming officers. They were never decorated for their exploits. La Vérendrye senior, however, was promoted to the rank of captain and awarded the Cross of Saint Louis shortly before his death in 1749.

After the departure of the La Vérendryes, others continued their explorations. Fort La Jonquière was constructed on the banks of the Saskatchewan River, in the middle of the modern province of the same name, probably in the Nipawin region. It was clearly the most westerly of all posts with small French garrisons. These activities left a network of forts dotted across the prairies after the 1730s, which despite being trading posts were under military command.

Additional Images

La Vérendrye brothers 1743