But the explorer, who had done so much to extend French domain in the West, was a ruined man. To the accusations of his creditors were added the jealous calumnies of fur traders eager to exploit the new country. The eldest son, with tireless energy, had gone up the Saskatchewan to Fort Poskoyac when he was recalled to take a position in the army at Montreal. In 1746 De la Verendrye himself was summoned to Quebec and his command given to M. de Noyelles. The game being played by jealous rivals was plain. De la Verendrye was to be kept out of the West while tools of the Quebec traders spied out the fur trade of the Assiniboine and the Missouri. Immediately on receiving freedom from military duty, young Chevalier de la Verendrye set out for Manitoba. On the way he met his father’s successor, M. de Noyelles, coming home crestfallen. The supplanter had failed to control the Indians. In one year half the forts of the chain leading to the Western Sea had been destroyed. These Chevalier de la Verendrye restored as he passed westward.
Governor Beauharnois had always refused to believe the charges of private peculation against M. de la Verendrye. Governor de la Galissonniere was equally favorable to the explorer; and De la Verendrye was decorated with the Order of the Cross of St. Louis, and given permission to continue his explorations. The winter of 1749 was passed preparing supplies for the posts of the West; but a life of hardship and disappointment had undermined the constitution of the dauntless pathfinder. On the 6th of December, while busy with plans for his hazardous and thankless quest, he died suddenly at Montreal.
Rival fur traders scrambled for the spoils of the Manitoba and Missouri territory like dogs for a bone. De la Jonquiere had become governor. Allied with him was the infamous Bigot, the intendant, and those two saw in the Western fur trade an opportunity to enrich themselves. The rights of De la Verendrye’s sons to succeed their father were entirely disregarded. Legardeur de Saint-Pierre was appointed commander of the Western Sea. The very goods forwarded by De la Verendrye were confiscated.
[Illustration: “Tepees dotted the valley.”]
But Saint-Pierre had enough trouble from his appointment. His lieutenant, M. de Niverville, almost lost his life among hostiles on the way down the Saskatchewan after building Fort Lajonquiere at the foothills of the Rockies, where Calgary now stands. Saint-Pierre had headquarters in Manitoba on the Assiniboine, and one afternoon in midwinter, when his men were out hunting, he saw his fort suddenly fill with armed Assiniboines bent on massacre. They jostled him aside, broke into the armory, and helped themselves to weapons. Saint-Pierre had only one recourse. Seizing a firebrand, he tore the cover off a keg of powder and threatened to blow the Indians to perdition. The marauders dashed from the fort, and Saint-Pierre shot the bolts of gate and sally-port. When the white hunters returned, they quickly gathered their possessions together and abandoned Fort de la Reine. Four days later the fort lay in ashes. So ended the dream of enthusiasts to find a way overland to the Western Sea.