Equipping four canoes, Lieutenant de la Jemmeraie and young Jean Ba’tiste de la Verendrye set out with thirty men from Kaministiquia, portaged through dense forests over moss and dank rock past the high cataract of the falls, and launched westward to prepare a fort for the reception of their leader in spring. Before winter had closed navigation, Fort St. Pierre—named in honor of the explorer—had been erected on the left bank or Minnesota side of Rainy Lake, and the two young men not only succeeded in holding their mutinous followers, but drove a thriving trade in furs with the Crees. Perhaps the furs were obtained at too great cost, for ammunition and firearms were the price paid, but the same mistake has been made at a later day for a lesser object than the discovery of the Western Sea. The spring of 1732 saw the young men back at Lake Superior, going post-haste to Michilimackinac to exchange furs for the goods from Montreal.
On the 8th of June, exactly a year from the day that he had left Montreal, M. de la Verendrye pushed forward with all his people for Fort St. Pierre. Five weeks later he was welcomed inside the stockades. Uniformed soldiers were a wonder to the awe-struck Crees, who hung round the gateway with hands over their hushed lips. Gifts of ammunition won the loyalty of the chiefs. Not to be lacking in generosity, the Indians collected fifty of their gaudiest canoes and offered to escort the explorer west to the Lake of the Woods. De la Verendrye could not miss such an offer. Though his voyageurs were fatigued, he set out at once. He had reached Fort St. Pierre on July 14. In August his entire fleet glided over the Lake of the Woods. The threescore canoes manned by the Cree boatmen threaded the shadowy defiles and labyrinthine channels of the Lake of the Woods—or Lake of the Isles—coasting island after island along the south or Minnesota shore westward to the opening of the river at the northwest angle. This was the border of the Sioux territory. Before the boatmen opened the channel of an unknown river. Around them were sheltered harbors, good hunting, and good fishing. The Crees favored this region for winter camping ground because they could hide their families from the Sioux on the sheltered islands of the wooded lake. Night frosts had painted the forests red. The flacker of wild-fowl overhead, the skim of ice forming on the lake, the poignant sting of the north wind—all fore-warned winter’s approach. Jean de la Verendrye had not come up with the supplies from Michilimackinac. The explorer did not tempt mutiny by going farther. He ordered a halt and began building a fort that was to be the centre of operations between Montreal and the unfound Western Sea. The fort was named St. Charles in honor of Beauharnois. It was defended by four rows of thick palisades fifteen feet high. In the middle of the enclosure stood the living quarters, log cabins with thatched roofs.