Volume III, chapter 8 (pp120-140)

Continuation of the Voyage of Moncacht-apé in the lands to the Northwest of Louisiana: Proof of the Origin of the Nations found in the North of America: On the famous Western Sea.

During the second night that Moncacht-apé stayed with me, I recalled what this Natural had told me of the Great Water into which the Beautiful River discharges. I thought this sea of which he spoke might be the " Sea of the West," which they have sought for so long. So I proposed to submit certain questions to him before he took up again his relation of his journey to the West.

The next day, as he prepared to continue, I asked him what route he had followed with respect to the sun. When one travels in Europe one does not notice whether one goes North, South, East or West, because one follows roads which lead where one is going, without worrying [121] about the bearing of the stars. But in regions which are only sparsely inhabited it is necessary that the sun should serve as a guide, there being no other way; and the natives, through habit and necessity, observe closely the bearing of the sun in their travels, or so Moncacht-apé assured me in his reply.

He answered, then, that in ascending the Missouri as far as the nation of that name he had travelled, according to his idea, between the Cold and the Sunsetting ["Froid et Couchant" or North and West]; that from this nation to the Canzés [Kansas] he had travelled to the Cold, and that after leaving the Canzés, in following the Missouri, he had alwavs travelled between Cold and Sunsetting, and that the Missouri went thus. When he quitted the Missouri to go to the Beautiful River he had travelled directly to the Cold; that in descending the Beautiful River he had always travelled between Cold and Sunsetting, even to the Great Water; that the Big Roebuck had told him that the Missouri and the Beautiful River had their courses always equally distant the one from the other. Afer having answered my questions, he continued the narrative of his travels in these terms:

[122]"When the time was come, I left with the warriors, and we travelled five long days' journey. When we arrived we waited a long time for the bearded men, who came this year a little later than usual. While waiting I was shown the place where they put their large pirogue. It was between two cliffs, which are quite high and long, and are connected with the mainland. Between them flows a little river bordered with the trees that furnish the yellow wood, but this river being too shallow to permit the entry of the strangers' large pirogues, they had a smaller one in which they sailed up it. They told me that the bearded men were not afraid of anything, because the people all withdrew two days'journey inland as soon as they perceived them coming on the Great Water, and did not appear again until they had left. Nevertheless they always watched the strangers, without revealing themselves.

After having instructed me in all these things, they held a council. The consensus was that they ought to conceal themselves behind these two cliffs, and when the bearded men arrived, everybody should cry out and fire [123] at them to prevent them from landing. I had at first not wanted to speak, but finally, seeing how things were going, I told them that although I had never made war against the whites, I knew that they were brave and skillful, that although I did not know if these resembled the others, I nevertheless thought that they (the Indians) would not do much damage with the plan that they wanted to use. They would be lucky to take three or four scalps; which would not bring much honor to so many warriors, who would be badly received in their Nations upon their return, for it would be believed that they had been afraid.

"I advised them to place two men upon the two cliffs to watch the bearded men without their knowledge, and to warn us of their arrival. They should be allowed to come ashore to cut wood, and that when they were thus occupied a party of warriors should mount upon the cliffs, another should conceal itself in last year's underbrush, and the rest openly attack at the break of day. Doubtless [124], I added, many bearded men will save themselves, but when they wish to regain their small pirogue, those concea led in the underbrush will kill many, and when they approach the the pirogue, those on the cliffs will do the same. All the warriors supported my opinion, and were very glad that I had been willing to go with them.

"We waited for the bearded men for seventeen days, at the end of which we saw them appear in two large pirogues. They came in between the two cliffs, where they busied themselves in filling with fresh water some vessels of wood similar to those in which the French place their fire water, or rum. It was not until the fourth day that they went ashore to cut wood. The attack was carried out as I had advised. Nevertheless they were only able to kill eleven. I do not know why it is that the red men who shoot so surely at game, aim so poorly at their enemies. The rest of the enemy gained their pirogues and fled upon the Great Water, where we followed them a long time with our eyes and [125] finally lost sight of them. They were as much afraid of our numbers as we were of their firearms.

"We then went to examine the dead which remained with us. They were much smaller than we were, and very white. They had large heads, and bodies sufficiently large for their height. Their hair was only long in the middle of the head. They did not wear hats like you, but their heads were twisted around with cloth; their clothes were neither of wool nor bark (he meant to say silk) but something similar to your old shirts (no doubt cotton) very soft and of different colors. That which covered their limbs and their feet was of a single piece. I wished to try on one of these shoes, but my feet would not fit. [footnote: The shoes or leggings were bottines which have the seam behind. The naturals cannot wear such leggings because their toes are spread so far apart, like fingers and thumb.] All the tribes assembled in this place [126] divided up the garments, beads, and scalps.

"Of the eleven they had killed, two only had firearms with powder and balls. Although I did not know as much then about firearms as I do now, I had seen some in Canada, and when I tried them, I found that they did not kill from as far away as yours. They were much heavier. The powder was mixed; coarse, medium and fine, but the coarse was in greater quantity. This is what I observed concerning the bearded men, and in what manner the natives repelled them. After this I thought only of continuing my journey.

"With this aim, I left the red men to return to their homes, and I joined with those who lived further toward the Sunsetting, on the coast. We travelled together, following closely the coast of the Great Water, which tended in between the Cold and the Sunsetting. When I reached the homes of this people I rested several days, during which I studied the path that remained for me to travel. I observed that the days were much longer [127] than with us, and the nights very short. I wanted to know from them the reason; but they could not tell me.

"The elders advised me that it would be useless to undertake to go further. They said the coast still extended much farther, between the Cold and the Sunsetting; that then it turned straight toward the Sunsetting, and finally it was cut through by the Great Water, directly from Cold to Hot. One of them added that when young he had known a very old man who had seen this land (before the ocean had eaten its way through) which went a long distance, and that at a time when the Great Waters were lower (at low tide) there appear in the water rocks which show where this land was. Everyone advised me against undertaking this journey, because, they assured me, the country was sterile and cold and consequently without inhabitants, and they told me to return to my own country."

Moncacht-apé returned home along the same route that he had taken in going, as he recounted to me in a few words. [128] After this I asked him if he could say how many days' journey, by foot, he had travelled. He told me that the Beautiful River being very wide and rapid, he had descended it very quickly, and that to estimate this distance by land travel he counted it at thirty-six moons, that is to say three years. It is true, as he admitted, that travelling through countries which were absolutely unknown to him, he had followed the sinuosities of the Missouri, and that if he had to return to he same places he could shorten his path and would not travel more than thirty-two or thirty-three moons. It is also true as he said that he travelled faster than red men ordinarily do. They make only around six leagues per day when carrying two hundred pounds or more, but as Moncacht-apé carried only one hundred pounds, or sometimes not more than sixty, he must have made often nine or even ten leagues. I know myself from experience in returning from my expedition to the interior, that not losing time in making investigations, my people, although loaded, made nearly ten leagues a day. [129] Thus, in estimating is day's journey at seven leagues, he must have made, with some certainty, at least eighteen hundred leagues. This is how I arrived at that figure.

He travelled for about thirty-six moons, as many going as coming. It is necessary to deduct half this time for his return. At seven leagues a day that makes three thousand, seven hundred and forty leagues. I deduct again half for the detours that he was obliged to make, which were in great number, and I find still eighteen hundred ninety leagues, from the Yazoo to the coast where he was, at the mouth of the Beautiful River. He was five years making his journey to the West. [Footnote: The Yazoo inhabit the banks of a little river that bears their name, some forty leagues above Natchez.]

Moncacht-apé was going to stay four or five days with the Natchez and in the vicinity, before returning to his own Nation. He had promised to come see me before departing, and so during his absence I prepared some goods for him as a present. This merchandise, although not costly, suited him better than things more expensive. I knew his taste and I knew that he [130] was curious. I put in the presents that I designed for him a little mirror that had cost me three sous; it was round, two and a half inches in diameter, and the glass was convex and made one's face appear fat and wide like a bedwarmer, with all the features in proportion.

He came back as he had said to take his leave of me. He reminded me to explain to him why the days were longer in the cold lands than in the warm lands, and I told him as best I could the reasons behind this. It is difficult, however, to make them understand certain things regarding the sciences, because their language does not have terms to express what one would like to make them understand, and they cannot comprehend the French expressions, above all in the abstract sciences. These terms are even unknown to those who have studied their language, but who have not studied the sciences. To help him better conceive my ideas, I set up my sundial, which was a sphere capable of showing the hour of the day in any place in the world. Using that I demonstrated to him more clearly [131] the reason why the days were longer in some lands than in others.

I then showed him the present that I wanted to give him. It pleased him greatly. The mirror was for him a marvel that seemed so extraordinary, and delighted him so much that he would not have exchanged it for the most beautiful one that he had seen among the french. He assured me that he was sad to leave me. I told him that I felt the same way, because I admired this man, and held a real friendship for him. He left for his village and I have not seen him since.

The constant and uniform tradition of all the nations through which this Natural had passed, although more recent, is in perfect agreement with that of the Naturals of Louisiana and even with those of Canada. And what the elder of the last nation told him about the lands of their origin, and his surroundings, leave no doubt that the peoples of North America, whom we call Red Men, have come from the extremities of Asia; and that these two parts of the world were anciently linked together by an isthmus, over which the [132] sea has risen and finally broken through. If we believe the writings of antiquity, a similar event separated Sicily from Italy, and Asia Minor from Europe. My belief is confirmed by a fact that several recently witnessed at Paris. In a time of war, a detachment of French Canadians travelling to safety in Louisiana found in a swamp along the Ohio River the skeletons of two large and two smaller elephants. Certainly no one has ever seen elephants anywhere in America; these must therefore have come from Asia in the time when the two continents were united. [Footnote: It appears very likely that the Chat-kas of Louisiana are none other than the people who lived at the extremity of Asia close to the isthmus I've mentioned, which is called Kam-chat-kas, which means Kingdom of the Chat-kas.]

This story having been widely told in France, a party was sent to verify the fact. I was assured that those who were charged with the commission had found the pieces of these skeletons in good condition to be transported, [133] and that they had sent back several molar teeth, a rib, and other well-preserved parts, to obtain a judgement as to whether they had lain for a long time in the swamp. I was told that these bones were to be sent to the Royal Academy of Sciences, and that they had been received there, but that no determination had yet been made about them.

After having proved by this uniform tradition of all the nations of North America and by the voyage of Moncacht-apé, that these peoples could only have come from Asia, I have reason to believe that their land of origin is that of the Scythians, whom we call today Tartars. What led me to this conclusion, is the conformity of manners and customs between one and the other.

In effect if we consider their religion, we find that those of the South have preserved some vestiges of it. One can easily remark upon the belief that they have in a Supreme Being, the omnipotent Creator of all things, whom they fear to displease, and whom they celebrate in their [134] temples, with their eternal fire, and with the festivals that they observe at designated times. All this indicateds, along with what I have said above, that they take their origin from some well-known people of the Orient.

Those of the North on the other hand, like the majority of the Tartars have no real knowledge of the divinity; no religion, nor any cult that might lead one to believe that they had one. It's true that they have a temple in each village, but they show no respect for it. These temples, as best we can tell, are nothing but charnel houses in which they deposit the bones of their dead. The bones are put into baskets made from wicker canes, and they carry them with them when they go to make a village elsewhere.

The Naturals of the South have preserved, the same as the Orientals, the most profound respect for their sovereigns. But authority among the peoples of the North is an empy title. The choose an elder whom they believe to be the most wise, they call him Mingo, which simply means chief. They have also a Tachca-Mingo, that is the warchief, who is generally the greatest braggart. If it happens that the warchief [135] is not of the same opinion as the chief elder, the latter's word becomes worthless; the sentiments of the warchief prevail over his own. Thus is appears that this sort of government is more democratic than monarchical. It is true that the large nations of the North do things a little better, that they have more of an aristocratic government. These are people who govern themselves more or less as the Tartars, which is to say they live together without any rule other than that which comes to their fancy.

The greater part of the peoples of the North, who live only on meat, are obliged to wander like the herds of buffalo, who flee from their hunters, and force these people to follow them. Such is also the life of the Tartars, and the same for their government. Of these Naturals of the North there are some who are more sedentary, those who live in the milder climates, where they plant maize, and thereby are not forced to run after game.

All that I have just said of these [136] Naturals of the North, which seems to render them less admirable than those who inhabit the southern part of Louisiana, and certainly those who have remained close to Mexico; all this, I say, does not mean that the peoples of the North are not intelligent, are not generous with what they have. And I dare say, without getting ahead of myself, that they have too much humanity to be regarded as savages. The voyage of Moncacht-apé confirms this. I will not report any of the received ideas current among Frenchmen who have gone these people. For there is a big difference between going among a people, or having been in the colony and having seen them only in passing, and knowing how to speak their language.

Lets return now to the topic of the Western Sea. The new map of de l'Isle shows the possibility of a continuous land mass between Asia and America. A canal, with islands in it, separates Asia from a land that can be none other than America. The crossings of the Russians from Asia to America, where they have landed, proves to us that these lands might extend in a manner consistent with the relation of [137] Moncacht-apé. And the place where they stopped over on their return might well be the land of the bearded men who go to cut the yellow wood. One might suppose that they came from an island farther south and closer to Japan, since these men have such a marked resemblance to the Japanese and Chinese.

Finally, I cannot hide the fact that the part of this map drawn from the extract of the Relation of the Spanish Admiral, de Fonté, does not at all agree with the relation that Moncacht-apé made to me of his voyage. The good sense for which I know him, who has no cause to mislead me, gives me faith in all that he told me, and I cannot persuade myself otherwise, than that he went along the coast of the South Sea, of which the more nothern part might be called, if you will, the Western Sea. The Beautiful River that he descended is a considerable river, that one should have no difficulty in finding, as soon as one should come to the sources of the Missouri. And I have no doubt that a similar [138] expedition, if it were undertaken, could fully establish our ideas about this part of North America and the famous Western Sea, of which everyone in Louisiana is talking about, and seems to desire so much to discover.

As for me, I am led to believe that it exists only in the imagination. For finally, where else could it be? Where is it found? How to get there? I see no ther place for it in the whole universe than in the reveries of the Admiral de Fonté, to the northwest of Santa Fé. But suppose that there were some extension of the sea along that coast that entered into the northern part of North America, then this Western Sea would have to be very much restricted in its boundaries, since we know that the Missouri takes it source eight hundred leagues from the Mississippi, and that there is another River, called the Beautiful River, which has a course opposite and parallel to the Missouri, but farther north, and that [139] this Beautiful River descends toward the west into a sea of which the coast continues toward the isthmus we have mentioned. [Footnote: The Baron de Lahontan reports in the second volume of his voyages, that some of the Naturals to the north of the Missouri gave him a map of this land, drawn on a deerskin. On this map is a river the the north of the Missouri which flows to the west, and which can be none other than the Beautiful River of which Moncacht-apé speaks in his voyage to the west, and which he descended to the Western Sea or Pacific Ocean.] By this description it can only be the Southern Sea or Pacific Ocean, and that is your Western Sea. It's true that if one were to act consistently in giving these names to the various oceans, one would call Western Sea that which is found to the west of America, and which instead has mistakenly been named the Southern Sea. The problem of the "Western Sea" would then never have arisen.

So what advantages can we derive from our knowledge of this ocean? Would it be to our interests to go off to look for imaginary riches in a land that has not yet been discovered, whose soils will always be less fertile than those we already possess, and which we are neglecting? Let us put to use that which [140] we have in hand. Will not a real value always be preferable to chimerical profits that must be sought at a great distance, and which may not even exist?