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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 264 pages of information about Pathfinders of the West.
had he left, when he fell terribly ill; but for the pathfinder of the wilderness there is neither halt nor retreat.  M. de la Verendrye’s ragged army tramped wearily on, half blinded by snow glare and buffeted by prairie blizzards, huddling in snowdrifts from the wind at night and uncertain of their compass over the white wastes by day.  There is nothing so deadly silent and utterly destitute of life as the prairie in midwinter.  Moose and buffalo had sought the shelter of wooded ravines.  Here a fox track ran over the snow.  There a coyote skulked from cover, to lope away the next instant for brushwood or hollow, and snow-buntings or whiskey-jacks might have followed the marchers for pickings of waste; but east, west, north, and south was nothing but the wide, white wastes of drifted snow.  On Christmas Eve of 1738 low curling smoke above the prairie told the wanderers that they were nearing the Indian camps of the Assiniboines; and by nightfall of February 10, 1739, they were under the shelter of Fort de la Reine.  “I have never been so wretched from illness and fatigue in all my life as on that journey,” reported De la Verendrye.  As usual, provisions were scarce at the fort.  Fifty people had to be fed.  Buffalo and deer meat saved the French from starvation till spring.

[Illustration:  A Monarch of the Plains.]

All that De la Verendrye had accomplished on this trip was to learn that salt water existed west-southwest.  Anxious to know more of the Northwest, he sent his sons to the banks of a great northern river.  This was the Saskatchewan.  In their search of the Northwest, they constructed two more trading posts, Fort Dauphin near Lake Manitoba, and Bourbon on the Saskatchewan.  Winter quarters were built at the forks of the river, which afterwards became the site of Fort Poskoyac.  This spring not a canoe load of food came up from Montreal.  Papers had been served for the seizure of all De la Verendrye’s forts, goods, property, and chattels to meet the claims of his creditors.  Desperate, but not deterred from his quest, De la Verendrye set out to contest the lawsuits in Montreal.

V

1740-1750

Which way to turn now for the Western Sea that eluded their quest like a will-o’-the-wisp was the question confronting Pierre, Francois, and Louis de la Verendrye during the explorer’s absence in Montreal.  They had followed the great Saskatchewan westward to its forks.  No river was found in this region flowing in the direction of the Western Sea.  They had been in the country of the Missouri; but neither did any river there flow to a Western Sea.  Yet the Mandans told of salt water far to the west.  Thither they would turn the baffling search.

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