Native American Exploration
September 26, 2005 6:41 PM   Subscribe

A Native American Scoops Lewis and Clark. Moncacht-apé, a Yazoo Indian, traveled up the Missouri and to the Pacific 100 years before Lewis and Clark. He told his story to the Frenchman Le Page du Pratz, who recorded it as part of his 1758 Histoire de la Lousiane (new translations here). Thomas Jefferson owned the book, as did Meriwether Lewis. But a walk to the Pacific Ocean was no big deal for the Mississippi native--after all he had walked to Niagara Falls a few years earlier.
posted by LarryC (21 comments total)
Alexander Mackenzie also beat Lewis and Clark to the Pacific:

"Although Lewis and Clark quickly established themselves as twin icons in the AMerican exploration hall of fame, at least one contemporary observer, David McKeecham, wrote to remind them of Mackenzie's greater, if less heralded, achievement: ' Mr. M'Kenzie with a party consisting of about one fourth part of the number under your command, with means which will not bear a comparison with those furnished you, and without the authority, the flags, ormedals of his government, crossed the Rocky Mountains several degrees north of your route and for the first time penetrated to the Pacific Ocean. You had the advantage of the information contained in his journal, and could in some degree estimate and guard against the dangers and difficulties you were to meet..." p. 325
posted by duck at 7:03 PM on September 26, 2005

Fabulous. A great set of links. I can't wait for some more time so I can read through more deeply. Thanks.
(Why am I not surprised to read this, though?)
posted by OmieWise at 7:15 PM on September 26, 2005

Great post, LarryC. Thanks!
posted by homunculus at 7:30 PM on September 26, 2005

Excellent post. I had never heard of any of this. Good reads.
posted by DeepFriedTwinkies at 8:02 PM on September 26, 2005

Native Americans are much better than Whitey.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:37 PM on September 26, 2005

Years ago, I stayed at Rancho La Puerta, which is in Northern Mexico, south of San Diego CA. This resort lies at the foot of Mt. Cuchama, which I climbed and thereafter became fascinated by. I read a book about it written by Evans-Wenz (the Buddhist scholar) who had once owned a large part of that mountain.

In the book, IIR, he described how archeologists and anthropologists discovered that many Native American shamans would trek to this mountain on their vision quest. Some came from as far as Lake Superior. These quests had gone on for centuries prior to the arrival of Europeans on the continent.
posted by RMALCOLM at 8:42 PM on September 26, 2005

Excellent post, I thought I was pretty up on Lewis & Clark, I guess I'm not.
posted by marxchivist at 8:44 PM on September 26, 2005

The Moncacht-ape story seems most likely to be Le Page's invention, but interesting anyway.
posted by fleacircus at 8:51 PM on September 26, 2005

Well I want to believe.

It reminds me of Pynchon's Mason-Dixon, and some really good fantasy roleplaying. Except that we would have totally captured the Spaniards' ship and sailed it back to destroy their empire, then built our own in alliance with the Mayans who weren't actually exterminated but had gone into hiding to fight a guerrilla war.
posted by freebird at 9:20 PM on September 26, 2005

Great post.
posted by spock at 10:30 PM on September 26, 2005

Has anyone found anything addressing the veracity of the story? Granted, it's cool either way, but I both want it to be true and doubt that it is.
posted by freebird at 10:43 PM on September 26, 2005

Zee French. Zay fall for that one every time !
posted by spock at 11:01 PM on September 26, 2005

The most amazing Native American trek I ever read about was the story of a Punkapog man named Samuel Burr (sorry - it isn't on line. Comes from "A History of Canton, Massachusetts" published around 1875.) The Punkapogs are a remnant group of Algonqian "Praying Indians" who continued living on their land in surburban Boston until today.

Around 1800 Burr was sent on an errand to Boston. While at the docks, he was shanghaied and taken by a slave merchant to be sold in southern Brazil. After a couple of years of slavery he took the opportunity to flee by "paddling his master about the head with a shovel" and fleeing up the Amazon. There Burr took several years to make his way through the South American jungle - depending on his Indian looks and wit to be accepted by numerous native groups - before popping out of the Orinoco Delta and taking a boat back to Boston eight years after his disappearance.
posted by zaelic at 1:33 AM on September 27, 2005

... and found that the Big Dig was still going on.
posted by rob511 at 4:09 AM on September 27, 2005

I'm confused... do people really think Lewis & Clark were the first HUMANS to make their trek, or simply the first post-Columbus European descendants to do so? I'd be more surprised to learn none of the people already living in what would become the US for thousands of years would have done their own exploring, considering how much of it they managed to inhabit.

Being Canadian, I'm not up on L&C too much... was there something incredible about their travels, something nobody else could have done before (owing to lack of technology, for instance)?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:29 AM on September 27, 2005

I don't even think that it's generally thought that they were the first post-Columbus Europeans, after all they went by the advice and knowledge of French traders and the native people that had supported them. I think L&C were important in that they were on a "voyage of discovery" and not out for direct profit. They were mapping and cataloguing America's new western frontier.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:54 AM on September 27, 2005

I believe. There was a strong tradition of trade and travel among American Indians. Moncacht-apé's journeys would have taken him along documented native trade routes. Archeologists have tended to look at the evidence of these trade routes--midwestern burial mounds with seashells from California and copper from the upper Great Lakes as one example--and say "these objects were traded from tribe to tribe." But that isn't necessarily the case. A single trader might have carried that object, from his usual sources on the coast to his usual buyers on the Ohio. Just like his father and grandfather had done. Some evidence from the accounts of the DeSoto expedition suggest that there was a native trade language that was understood at least throughout the southeast.

If Moncacht-apé did journey to the Pacific, he was probably not the first native to walk across the continent, he is just the one whom we know about because of his fortuitous meeting with du Pratz.

Zaelic: Amazing story, I'm going to look that up. Thanks.
posted by LarryC at 6:07 AM on September 27, 2005

The Punkapogs are a remnant group of Algonqian "Praying Indians" who continued living on their land in surburban Boston until today.

What happened today?
posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:11 AM on September 27, 2005

What happened today?

Well, in May 2005, the Massachussets legislature finally repealed a law that had been on the books since 1675, which prohibited American Indians from setting foot in the city of Boston. Maybe the Punkapoags decided it was finally safe to move out of the suburbs and back into the city...

Fascinating articles, BTW, especially the excerpts from Le Page's reports. If one Native American could pretty much traverse the continent on foot in a couple of years, the only surprising thing would be if there weren't more people doing it. As Moncacht-apé describes, there were even European loggers on the West Coast when he got there, so Lewis and Clark certainly weren't the first by a long shot, even by Euro-centric standards.
posted by purple_frogs at 11:44 AM on September 27, 2005

The remaining Punkapog mostly identify as Wampanog today, but they do not have any state or federal recognition or recognized land rights, although some are working on it.
posted by zaelic at 2:25 PM on September 27, 2005

The primary purpose of their journey was to discover a navigable water route to the Pacific Ocean, but Lewis & Clark were also tasked with creating detailed maps using surveyors' equipment; with establishing contact with native peoples on behalf of the U.S. government; with taking soil and mineral samples; and with documenting the flora and fauna all along their route. For his own purposes, Jefferson also asked for all the information they could collect regarding languages of the native peoples they encountered.

Lewis used to send him back animals they'd trapped that were unknown back east, and undocumented to science. Lewis documented huge numbers of such species. On top of all this I don't think L&C lost a single member of their expedition, and they fired their guns only once in anger.

Montacht-apé's journey -- which is a fascinating story -- takes nothing away from theirs, and theirs takes nothing from his.
posted by coelecanth at 4:08 AM on September 28, 2005

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