Volume III, chapter 7 (pp102-119)

The Origin of the Peoples of North America continued: Voyage of Moncacht-apé in the lands to the West and North-West of Louisiana.

The failure of the steps taken by Moncacht-Apé during several years, far from extinguishing the desire that he had to learn, only excited him the more. Determined to attempt anything to dispel the ignorance in which he perceived that he was immersed, he persisted in the design of discovering the origin of his people; a design which demanded as much spirit as courage, and which would never have entered the brain of an ordinary man. He determined then to go from nation to nation until he should find himself in the country from which his ancestors emigrated, being persuaded that he could there learn many things which they had forgotten in their travels. He undertook the journey to the West, from which he did not return for five years. He gave me the following details the next day after he had repeated to me that of the East.

"It had been many years since our elders had told me of how the ancient word taught that all the Red Men of the cold lands (the North), had come from much higher and much farther away than the source of the Missiouri. For a long time I had been hungry to see with my own eyes this land from which came our first fathers. My preparations were made, and when the grain was ripe I prepared some provisions for the journey, and I departed, following the high land in which we live [on the east back of the Mississippi south of the Wabash or Ohio]. I followed the stream up for a quarter of a day above the place where it loses itself in the Great River [Mississippi], in order to be able to cross it without being carried into the other. When I saw that it was high enough, I made a raft of canes and a little bunch of canes which served me for a paddle. I thus crossed the Wabash [Ohio], and began my journey on the prairies, where the grass was but just beginning to spring up. The next day, towards the middle of the day, I found a small troop of buffaloes, [104] which permitted me to approach so near to them that I killed a cow sufficiently fat. I took the tenderloin, the hump and the tongue, and left the rest for the wolves. I was heavily loaded, but I did not have far to go to reach the Tamaroas, one of the villages of the Illinois nation. When I was in this nation I rested a few days, preparing to continue my journey. After this little rest I pursued my way, mounting to the North, even to the Missouri. As soon as I was opposite this river, I prepared to cross the Great River [Mississippi] so as to arrive on the north of the Missouri. To effect this, I ascended sufficiently high and made a raft as I had done to cross the Wabash [Ohio]. I crossed the Great River [Mississippi] from East to West. When I was near the bank I permitted myself to drift with the current until I was at the sandy point where the two rivers meet.

"In descending upon this point I found there some bustards, which had no fear of man. I killed [105] one. As I went to pick it up I saw my raft, which I had abandoned because I had no further use for it. It had been drawn quietly down by the current along the shore, but when it reached the point where the two waters meet, they tossed it about and seemed to quarrel as to which should have it. I watched it as long as I could, for I had never seen waters fight like that, as if each of them wished to have a part of it. Finally I lost sight of it. What seemed extraordinary to me and gave me great pleasure was to see the two waters mingle themselves together. Their difference is great, for the Great River which I had just crossed, is very clear above the Missouri, although below it is muddy even to the Great Water. This comes from the Missouri, whose waters are always muddy in all its course, which is very long. I saw also that these two waters flowed for a long distance, side by side, that on the West being muddy, and on the East the water is clear.

"I ascended the Missouri on the North [106] bank, and I travelled several days before arriving at the Missouri nation, whom I had some difficulty to find. I remained there long enough not only to rest myself, but also to learn the language spoken a little further on. I was surfeited on my trip with the humps and tenderloins of buffaloes which I had killed. I never saw so many of these animals as in this country, where you can see prairies, of the length of a day's journey and more, covered with them. The Missouris live almost exclusively on meat, and they only use maize as a relief from buffalo and other game, of which they have great quantity. I passed the winter with them, during which so much snow fell that it covered the earth as deep as a man's waist.

"When the winter was over I resumed my journey and ascended the Missouri till I arrived at the nation of the West. [footnote: They are also called the Canzés]. There I gathered information of what I wanted to know so as to arrange for the future. They told me that to go to the [107] country from whence we as well as they came would be very difllcult, because the nations were far away from the Missouri. That also when I should have travelled about a month, it would be necessary for me to bear to my right, taking directly North, where I should find at several day's journeys another river which runs from the East to the Wes, consequently directly opposite to the Missouri. That I should follow this rlver until I should find the nation of the Otters, where I could rest myself and could learn more fully what was necessary, and perhaps find some persons who would accompany me. For the rest I could descend this river in a dug-out and travel a great distance without fatigue.

"With these instructions I continued my route, following constantly for one moon the Missouri, and although I had travelled sufficiently fast, I did not yet dare to take to the right as they had told me, because for many days I had seen mountains which I hesitated to pass for fear of wounding my feet. Nevertheless, it was necessary for me to come to a [108] conclusion. Having taken this resolve for the next day, I determined to sleep where I was and made a fire. Shortly after, while watching the sun, which already had nearly set, I saw some smoke at some distance off. I did not doubt that this was a party of hunters who proposed to pass the night in this place, and it entered my mind that they might belong to the Otters. I immediately left in order that I might be guided to them by the smoke while it was yet daylight. I joined them and they were surprised to see me arrive alone. They were a party of thirty men and some women. Their language was unknown to me and we were only able to communicate by signs. Nevertheless, although surprised, they received me well enough, and I remained three days with them. At the end of this time one of the wives told her husband that she believed herself ready for lying in. Upon that the others sent this man and his wife to the village, and told them to take me with them in order that I might travel by an easier road than that which I was on the point of taking.

[109]"We ascended the Missouri once more for nine short days, then we turned directly North and travelled for five days, at the end of which time we found a river with clear and beautiful water. They called it " The Beautiful River." This man and his wife asked me by signs if I did not wish to bathe, as they did, because it was a long time since they had bathed. I told them in the same way that I also had great need of a bath, but that I was afraid of crocodiles. They made me understand that there were none here. Upon their assurance I bathed and did it with great pleasure in this beautiful water.

"We descended the Beautiful River during the rest of the day, till we arrived upon the banks of a stream which we recognized, where this troop of hunters had concealed their dug-outs. My guide having drawn out his own, we all three climbed aboard and descended to their village, where we did not arrive till night. I was as well received by this nation as if I had been one of them. During the journey I had picked up [110] a few words of their language and I very soon learned it, because I was always with the old men who love to instruct the young, as the young love to be instructed and converse freely with each other. I have noted this generally in all the nations that I have seen.

"This nation was in fact the Otters, whom I sought. As I was very well treated there I would willingly have made a longer stay, and it seemed to me that they also wished it. But my design occupied me always. I determined to leave with some of this people who were going to carry a calumet to a nation through which I must pass, and who, being brothers of those whom I was about to quit, spoke the same language with some slight differences. I parted then with the Otters, and we descended the Beautiful River in a pirogue for eighteen days, putting on shore from time to time to hunt, and we did not want for game. I should have liked to push on further, following always the Beautiful River, for I did not become fatigued in the pirogue, but it was necessary for me to yield to reasons opposing this plan. They told me that the heat was already great, that the grass was high and the serpents dangerous in this season, and that I might be bitten in going on the chase. Moreover it was necessary that I should learn the language of the nation where I wished to go, which would be much easier when I should know that of the country where I was. I followed the advice that the old men of this nation gave me with the less hesitation since I saw that their hearts and their mouths spoke together. They loved me and I did not have to go hunting except for amusement. During the winter that I passed with them. I set myself to work to learn the language of the people where I intended to go, because with it they assured me that I could make myself unclerstood by all the people that I should find from that point to the "Great Water," which is at the West, the difference between their languages not being great.

"The warm weather was not yet entirely over when I got in a pirogue, with plenty of breadstuffs [112] (viandes seches), because these nations do not cultivate maize, although the soil seems very good. They cultivate only a little as a curiosity. I had in my pirogue only my provisions, a pot, a bowl and what I needed for my bed, and if I had had some Indian corn nothing would have been wanting. Thus, not being embarrassed with anything, I floated at my ease, and in a short time I arrived at a very small nation, who were surprised to see me arrive alone. This tribe wear long hair and look upon those who wear it short as slaves whose hair has been cut in order that they may be recognized. The chief of this tribe, who was on the bank of the river, said brusquely to me: 'Who are you? Where do you come from? What do you want here with your short hair?' I said to him, 'I am Moncacht-apé; I come from the nation of the Otters. I am in search of knowledge, and I come to see you so that you might provide it. My hair is short so that it may not bother me, but my courage is good. I do not come to ask food from you. [113] I have enough to last me for some time, and when I shall have no more, my bow and my arrows will furnish me more than I need. During winter, like the bear, I seek a covert, and in summer I imitate the eagle, who moves about to satisfy his curiosity. Is it possible that a single man, who travels by daylight, makes you afraid?'

"He replied that although I might come from the nation of the Otters, he easily saw that I was not of them; but that I could remain since I was so courageous, adding that he could not understand how I spoke his language, which none of the people east of there understood. I told him that I had learned it from an old man called Salt Tear, and at the same time I re-embarked in order to go, because I disliked his conversation, but at the name of Salt Tear, who was one of his friends, he retained me, assuring me that I should confer a pleasure on him by remaining in his village as long as I was willing. I came ashore rather to learn what I could than to rest myself, for I was not satisfied with his talk. 'What,' said I to myself, 'when two bears meet [114] they stop, rub nose against nose, mutter some sounds that they understand without doubt, and seem to caress each other, and here men speak rudely to each other.' Being then disembarked I told him that Salt Tear had charged me to see on his part an old man called 'Big Roebuck." It was the father of him with whom I was talking. He had him summoned. The old man came, being led by the hand, for he could not see very well, and learning from what parts I had come, he received me as if I were his son, took me into his cabin, and had all that was in my pirogue brought there.

"The next day he taught me those things that I wished to know, and assured me that all the nations on the shores of the Great Water would receive me well on telling them that I was the friend of Big Roebuck. I remained there only two days, during which he caused to be made some gruel from certain small grains, smaller than French peas, which are very good, which pleased me all the more that it was so long that I had [115] eaten only meat. Having re-embarked in my pirogue, I descended the Beautiful River without stopping more than one day with each nation that I met on my way.

"The last of these nations is at a day's journey from the Great Water, and distant from the river about a day's journey of a man (about a league). They remain in the woods to conceal themselves, they say, from the bearded men. I was received in this nation as if I had arrived in my family, and I had there good cheer of all sorts, for they have in this country an abundance of that grain of which Big Roebuck had made me a gruel, and although it springs up without being sowed, it is better than any grain that I have ever eaten. Some large blue birds come to eat this grain, but they kill them because they are very good. The water also furnishes this people with meat. There is an animal which comes ashore to eat grass, which has a head shaped like a young buffalo, but not of the same color. They eat also many fish from the Great Water, which are larger than our large brills and much better, as [116] well as a great variety of shellfish, amongst which some are very beautiful.

"But if they live well in this country it is necessary always to be on the watch against the bearded men, who do all that they can to carry away the young persons, for they never have taken any men, although they could have done so. They told me that these men were white, that they had long, black beards which fell upon their breasts, that thev appeared to be short and thick, with large heads, which they covered with cloth; that they always wore their clothes, even in the hottest weather; that their coats fell to the middle of the legs, which as well as the feet were covered with red or yellow cloth. For the rest they did not know of what their clothing was made, because they had never been able to kill one, their arms making a great noise and a great flame; that they nevertheless retire when they see more red men than their own numbers; that then they go aboard their pirogue (without doubt a bark) where there were sometimes thirty and even more. [117]They added that these strangers came from where the sun sets to seek upon this coast a yellow and bad-smelling wood which dyes a beautiful yellow. That as they had observed that the bearded men came to carry off this wood each year when the cold weather had ceased, they had destroyed all these trees, following the advice of an old man, so that they came no more, because they found no more of this wood. In truth, the banks of the river, which were formerly covered, were then naked, and none of this wood remained except well inland, and in small quantities, reserved for dyeing by their own people.

"Two nations, neighbors of each other and not far distant from the one where I was, could not imitate them in this step, because they had no other than this yellow wood, and the bearded men, having discovered this, went there every year, which inconvenienced these nations very much, as they did not dare go on the coast for fear of losing their young people. In order to drive them off once and for all, they had invited [118] all the neighboring tribes to gather in arms with them towards the beginning of the heat (of summer) next year, at a given moon, and this time was now near.

"As I told them that I had seen fire-arms and was not afraid of them, these people invited me to go with them, saying that these two nations were on the route that I must take to go to the country from which we came, and for the rest there would be so many red men that they would easilv destroy the bearded men, which would prevent others from coming back. I replied that my heart found it good that I should go with them, and in doing so I would be fulfilling a desire that I wished to satisfv. I was anxious to see these bearded men, who did not resemble the French, English or Spaniards whom I had seen, all of whom trim their beards and are differently clothed. My cheerful assent created much pleasure among these tribes, who thought with reason that a man who had seen whites and many natives, ought to have more intelligence than those who had [119] never left their homes and had only seen red men.'

I told Moncacht-Ape to take a rest until the next day. I gave him a glass of brandy and set to work as usual transcribing what he had told me.