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The journey of Moncacht-Apé : an Indian of the Yazoo tribe, across the continent, about the year 1700 online

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IN the autumn of 1718 M. LePage du Pratz landed in America. In
company with about eight hundred others forwarded by the " Company
of the West " he had come to this country to settle. He first located
near New Orleans, where Bienville was then just starting a new settle-
ment, but the situation of his grant proving unhealthy, he shortly after-
wards moved up to Natchez. There he secured a farm, on which he
spent eight of the sixteen years he was in this country. He had served
in the army in Germany and had received a fair education. He was of
a speculative turn of mind, fond of theorizing and always on the alert
for information. While at Natchez he collected and transmitted to
Paris no less than three hundred plants used by the Indians as remedies.
He cultivated the friendship of his Indian neighbors and studied their
habits and their language. In 1758 he published at Paris his " Histoire
de la Louisiane," in which in addition to the personal experiences and
observations there recorded he has treasured up much that he garnered
from conversations with the old men of the tribes concerning the tradi-
tions of their origin, their religion and their forms of government.

The importance attached to one of these conversations by M. de
Quatrefages, in an article in the Revue d' Anthropologie, l is the occa-
sion of this paper. The story of Moncacht-Ape's journey across the
continent and of his encounter with the bearded white men on the
North Pacific Coast of this country, has, to all intents and purposes,
slumbered in the pages of LePage du Pratz until it was revived by de
Quatrefages, who takes pride in the thought that he is, as he believes,
the first to call attention to its importance.

To understand the merit of the arguments upon which he bases his
faith in the story, it is essential that the whole of the story should be
read, otherwise one can neither appreciate the importance attached to
the verisimilitude of its style, nor measure the value of the coincidences
between the statements of the Indian concerning this unknown region
and the facts as revealed by Lewis and Clark and other subsequent

We turn therefore to the pages of LePage du Pratz 2 and allow him to
introduce the story in his own words :

" When the Natchez came to the part of America in which I found
them there were several tribes living on both sides of the Mississippi

1 Eevue d'Anthropologie. Tome 4me. 1881.

* Histoire de la Louisiane, par M. LePage du Pratz, Paris, 1758, v. III.,
p. 87 et seq.

They called each other Red Men, and their origin is extremely difficult
to discover, for they have not, like the Natchez, preserved their tradi-
tions nor have they arts and sciences like the Mexicans, from which one
can draw inductions. The only thing to be learned from them is, what
they invai'iably say, that they came from the North- West, and the spot
that they point out with their fingers, no matter where they may be at the
time, should be about fifty-five degrees of latitude. This meagre infor-
mation not being satisfactory to me, I made inquiry, if among the neigh-
boring tribes there was not some wise old man who could enlighten me fur-
ther on this point. I was extremely rejoiced to learn that in the nation
of the Yazoos, at a distance of forty leagues from Natchez, such an one
could be found. His name was Moncacht-Ape. He was a man of cour-
age and spirit. I can do no better than compare him to the early
Greeks, who travelled among the Eastern people to examine the man-
ners and customs of the different countries and then returned to com-
municate what they had learned to their countrymen. Not that Mon-
cacht-Ape actually carried out such a project as this, but he conceived
the idea and did what he could to carry it out. I took advantage of a
visit that was paid me by this native of the Yazoo Nation, called by the
French ' the interpreter' because he speaks so many Indian languages,
but knoAvn among his own people, as I have already said, as Moncacht-
Ap6, which means ' one who kills difficulties or fatigue.' In fact, the
travels of many years did not affect his physique. I begged him to re-
peat to me an account of his travels, omitting nothing. My proposition
seemed to please him. I shall make our traveller speak in the first per-
son, but I shall abridge his voyage to the Eastern Coast, because he
speaks there largely of Canada which is very well known. I shall only
report what there was in it of importance. He began as follows :

" ' I had lost my wife, and the children that I had by her were dead
before her, when I undertook my trip to the country where the sun
rises. I left my village notwithstanding all my relations. I was ta
take counsel with the Chickasaws, our friends and neighbors. I re-
mained some days to find out if they knew whence we all came, or at
least, if they knew whence they themselves came : they who are our
ancestors, since it is from them that the language of the people comes ;
but they could teach me nothing new. For this reason I resolved to go
to the nations on the coast w'here the sun rises, to learn about them,
and to know if their old language was the same. They taught me the
route that I must take, in order to avoid the large villages of the whites
for fear that they might be angry to see me me a stranger. I reached
the country of the Shawnees, the point where I was to take up the
river Wabash (Ohio), and I followed it up nearly to its source which is
in the country of the Iroquois. but I left them to the side of the cold
[north] and I went into a village of the Abenaquais which was in my
route. I remained there until the cold weather, which in this country
is very severe and very long, was over. During this winter I gained
the friendship of a man a little older than myself, who was equally fond
of travelling. He promised to come with me and to conduct me, be-
cause he knew the way, to the Great Water which I wished to see since
I had heard it talked about. As soon as the snows were melted and the
weather settled, I started with him and we avoided the Indian settle-
ments. We rested frequently on the way, because this country is full
of stones which made our feet sore, especially mine, being unaccustomed
to anything of the sort. After having travelled several days we saw
the Great Water. When I saw it I was so content that I could not
speak, and my eyes seemed to me to be too small to look at it at my
ease, but night overtook us and we encamped near at hand, upon an
elevation. The water was near but below us. The wind was high and

-without doubt vexed the Great Water, for it made so much noise that
J could not sleep. I feared that the blows that it gave would break
down the height where we were, although it was of stone.

" ' The sun had not appeared when I rose to see the Great Water. I
was much surprised to see that it was far. away. I was a long time
without speaking to my comrade, who thought from seeing me all the
time looking about and not speaking that I had lost my wits. I could
not understand how this could be. Finally, the wind having ceased, the
sun arose. The Great Water was not so much disturbed as it Avas on
the preceding night, and I saw with surprise that it returned towards
us. I sprang up quickly and fled with all my strength. My comrade
called out to me not to be afraid. I shouted to him, on my part, that
-the Great Water was coming towards us and that we should be drowned.
He then reassured me, saying that the red men who had seen the Great
Water had observed that it always advanced as much as it receded, but
that it never came farther up on the earth at one time than another.
When he had thus satisfied me we returned to the shore of the Great
Water, and remained there until the middle of the day when I saw it,
receding, go afar off. We left to go to sleep far oft" from the noise,
which followed me even' where, and even till evening I spoke of nothing
else to my comrade. We arrived at the banks of a little river, where we
lay down to rest, but I thought of it all the night. We retook the route
that we had followed in going and arrived at his home, where they
were glad to see us.

" ' This village is in the country at some distance from the Great
Water whence we had come, and they had not seen it except between the
lands where the great river of the country loses itself. In this region
where they had seen it, it advances and recedes, but much less than in
the place where we had seen it. These people believe that the Great
Water over which the French come with their floating villages, which
the winds move by puffing out the great sails which they bear, they
believe, I say, that this Great Water was like several Great Waters that
they have in their country which are surrounded with land and of which
the water is good to drink, in place of which that where we were is salt
and bitter. I know it because I put some of it in my mouth. More-
over the French say it takes more than two moons to come to our
country, whereas the Great Waters of their country can be crossed in
two or three, or at most in four days for the largest, and all that I have
seen agrees with what the French have told me, that this water touches
all lands and is as large as the earth.

" ' They listened to me with pleasure for a long time, and an old man
who was there told me that he had been in a place where the great river
of their country [St. Lawrence] precipitated itself from so high and
with so much noise that it could be heard a half day's journey distant ;
that as I was curious, I should do well to see this place when the cold
weather should be over. I resolved to go there. I told my comrade who
had accompanied me to the Great Water, and he promised to go with
me. I had in truth a great desire to see this place which seemed worthy to
be seen. I passed the winter in this place and was very impatient because
it was long. It is impossible to hunt except with rackets on the feet, to
get accustomed to which caused me much trouble. This is unfortunate,
for the country is good. Finally, the winter being over, the snow
melted, the weather good, and our provisions prepared, we packed our
bundles, and my comrade took a hatchet, with the use of which he was
familiar. It was for the purpose of making me a dug-out, upon which,
following the counsel that was given me, I should embark upon the river
Ohio, as it is called in this country, the Wabash as we call it, and by
this means I could return to my village more easily and in less time than

if I should return on foot. We departed then and travelled for several
days before finding the great river of that country. We did not lack
for meat on our route. There is an abundance of buffaloes and also of
other game, but as these animals have a great deal of trouble to live
while snow is on the ground they were not yet fat. When we had arrived
upon the banks of this great river, we rested. The next day we
travelled with the current of the water, for we were too high up for
the place that we came to see. Following what had been told us, we
could not be deceived in finding this water-fall, for one hears the noise
from afar, as we discovered on our approach. We passed the night
where the noise was already strong, but not enough to hinder us from
sleeping. As soon as day broke we departed for this place of which all
men speak with wonder. Fortunately an old man had induced us to take,
before leaving the village, some buffalo's wool to put in our ears ; with-
out that we should truly have become deaf through the great noise made
by this water in falling from so high. I had never been able to believe
what the old man had told me, but when my eyes and my senses beheld,
I thought he had not said enough for that which my eyes saw.

" ' This river does not fall. It is as if it were cast, the same as when
an arrow falls to the ground. This sight made my hair stand on end and
my flesh creep. Nevertheless, after having looked for a sufficiently long
time, my heart which had been agitated became quiet. As soon as I
perceived it was quiet I spoke to myself and said, ' What then ! Am I
not a man? What I see is natural, and other men have passed under this
river. Why should not I pass there? It is true that only Frenchmea
have passed there and that red men do not undertake the passage ; but I,
Moncacht-Ape, ought I to fear more than another man?' ' No,' said I,
in a low tone, ' I ought not to fear.' I descended at once and passed
under and came back. I passed extremely quick, for although I had
buffalo's wool in my ears, the noise was so strong that I was giddy. I
was not so much drenched as I had expected to be before I went in.
After having examined the height of this fall, I believe that the Red
men speak the truth when they assert that it is of the height of one-
hundred Red men who are rather taller than whites. We were detained
so long looking at what I have narrated that AVC were compelled to
camp for the night on the other side of a wood, which notwithstanding
its thickness did not stop the noise of the waters, for we still heard it.
It is true that our ears, although stopped up, were full of it, and for
more than ten clays after I still thought I heard it.

' ' ' The next day we took the shortest path for the Ohio River. When
we reached there we followed down this river to a point where there
was no more wood to prevent me from following its waters to the great
river of our country, which passes very near here. This was the way
that I wished to take, as I had been told it would take me to my village.
When we were at the place where I ought to take the water, we cut
down a tree of soft wood : we made in a short time my little dug-out.
In truth it was not well finished, but as it was to descend with the
current, it was better than a light one. My dug-out being made, I
shaped a paddle. I also made a bark rope. We placed the dug-out in
the water and fastened it with my bark rope ; then we went hunting.
We killed two buffaloes, the meat of which we smoked. My comrade
took his share, and I placed the rest in the dug-out. We parted with
hearts bound together like good friends who love one another. If he
had been without a wife and children he would have joined me in my
trip to the West of which I have spoken.

" ' I entered my dug-out and descended at my ease the Ohio River to-
our great river, which we call Meact-chact-sipi, without meeting any
man in the Ohio River. I had not proceeded far in the Great River before

I met two pirogues full of Arkansas, who bore a calumet to the Illinois,
who are their brothers. Thence I descended all the time even to our
little river, which I entered, but except for one of our neighbors, whom
I happily met, I never should have been able to ascend to our village. I
saw with joy my relations, who were glad to see me in good health.'

" Such was the narrative that Moncacht-Ap6 gave me of his jour-
ney to the East, where he learned nothing concerning the matters which
he was investigating. It is true he had seen the ocean. He had seen it
in a state of agitation. He had witnessed the ebb and flow of the tide.
He had examined the famous falls at Niagara, and he could talk intelli-
gently of them. All this could not fail to be satisfactory to a curious
man, who had nothing else to do than travel for information, to do
which he had but to make similar expeditions to that which he had
made to the East.

"The failure of the steps taken by Moncacht-Ape 1 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 flnd 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 :

" ' My preparations were made, and when the grain was ripe 1 1 prepared
some provisions for the journey, and I departed, following the high
land in which we live [to the east of the river to the Wabash (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, 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 Kiver [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 sand point where the two rivers meet. In descending
upon this point I found there some bustards, which had no fear of man.
I killed 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

'Probably when the corn was " in the roasting ear."

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 Eiver
[Mississippi] which I had just crossed, is very clear above the Missouri,
although below it is muddy even to the Great Water [ocean]. 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 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. [They are also called
the Canzes]. 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 country
from whence we as well as they came would be very difficult, 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 West, conse-
quently directly opposite to the Missouri. That I should follow this river
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
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 had already gone considerably down, 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 saw me with surprise. 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, with the
exception of their surprise, 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.

" ' We ascended the Missouri still 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 long 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 three entered 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 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 natives that I have seen. This nation was really 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, 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

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Online LibraryAndrew McFarland DavisThe journey of Moncacht-Apé : an Indian of the Yazoo tribe, across the continent, about the year 1700 → online text (page 1 of 4)