MALLET (Maillet, Mailhet, Malet), PIERRE ANTOINE, trader, explorer; b. 20 June 1700 in Montreal, son of Pierre Mallet and Madeleine Thunay, dit Dufresne; m. Louisa Deupet at a date and place unknown; d. after June 1751, possibly in Spain.
Pierre-Antoine Mallet belonged to a family that had been interested in the western trade as early as 1694. At some time between 1700 and 1706 his parents moved to Detroit. Paul, his brother and future travelling companion, was baptized there in 1711. Like many Canadian traders the two young men eventually drifted to the Illinois country, probably arriving in 1734.
The French had long wished to reach Spanish territory through the unknown west. At least twice during the second decade of the 18th century Louis Juchereau de Saint-Denis had crossed the present state of Texas to the presidio of San Juan Bautista (near Piedras Negras, Mex.), but his attempts at establishing trade had been blocked by the Spanish viceroy. During the 1730s, however, the Spanish outposts in East Texas were through necessity largely supplied by the French. The possibility of the Missouri as an alternative route to the more distant Spanish settlements had been imagined, for the river, with whose lower reaches French traders were familiar, was thought to originate in the southwest.
In 1739 the Mallets and a small party of whom at least five others were Canadians set out from Fort de Chartres (near Prairie du Rocher, Ill.). At some point on the upper Missouri the local Indians persuaded the traders that they were taking the wrong direction to reach the Spaniards. So they retraced some of their way and then crossed by land to the Platte River, which they ascended. Leaving the south fork of this river, they continued southward overland, guided by an Indian slave. They arrived at the Spanish mission of Picuries (south of Taos, N.Mex.) and on 22 July entered Santa Fe. The success of the journey was a credit to their diplomatic skills in dealing with the various Indian nations, for although a tribe might welcome European traders bringing guns and ammunition, it would often be reluctant to let them proceed lest they arm the tribes beyond.
At Santa Fe the travellers were detained by the chief civilian official, but they could not be accused of attempting illegal trade since they had lost their goods in fording a river. While they awaited the decision of the viceroy in Mexico City as to their fate they were treated with more gentleness than was prescribed for such intruders. After nine months the decision arrived: they were ordered to quit Spanish territory and not to return without official permission. On 1 May 1740 seven of the original party (one or two, who had married Spanish women, decided to remain) left Santa Fe and travelled eastward via Pecos (N.Mex.). On 13 May three members of the group struck out northeastward and returned to the Illinois by the present Pawnee and Osage rivers. The other four, including the Mallets, continued east to the Arkansas post (near the junction of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers) and south to New Orleans.
The Mallets reported their experiences to Governor Bienville [Le Moyne] and to the financial commissary, who praised them for their findings. The route to the western sea might yet be found, and despite the Spanish ban on commerce with foreigners a profitable exchange of French products for gold and silver might yet be established with Santa Fe. French hopes for trade must have been further encouraged by a letter carried by the Mallets. In it the chaplain of Santa Fe asked the Jesuit superior in New Orleans to send certain specified merchandise, for which payment in silver would be made.
The Mallets’ achievement prompted André Fabry de La Bruyère, king’s writer in the Marine and a former secretary of Bienville, to offer to lead another expedition to Santa Fe if the Mallets would serve as guides. The new party, which was to go by way of the Arkansas River, was outfitted by Bienville at considerable cost. It turned out to be an expensive failure. Fabry, the Mallets, Philippe Robitaille, and Michel Belleau, dit La Rose, left New Orleans at the end of August 1741. Difficulties arose between the Mallets and Fabry. The water in a fork of the Canadian River proved too shallow for travel, and the Mallets were unsuccessful in obtaining horses from the Mentos. While Fabry went back to buy horses at the Arkansas post the Mallets set out on foot for Santa Fe, but they appear not to have reached it.
The brothers asserted in 1743 that they were going to make another attempt to get to the Spanish town, but not until 1750 did one of them, Pierre, take part in a third expedition. In the meantime they settled near the Arkansas post. The 1749 census reveals that Paul farmed and traded; he had a wife, three daughters, one slave, an ox, and a cow. Pierre, who may have been a widower (his wife had died by 1751 at least), traded upriver.
Talk of the Mallets’ travels certainly had some effect. During the 1740s a number of French soldiers deserted and reached Santa Fe. The commandant of the Arkansas post, Louis-Xavier Martin de Lino de Chalmette, formed a project of commerce between that place and Santa Fe. He took Pierre Mallet to New Orleans with him in 1750, and Mallet received permission from Governor Pierre de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil to make the journey. No official funds were available, but Vaudreuil and Lino may have invested privately in the expedition.
With letters from Vaudreuil and the merchants of New Orleans, Mallet and three companions set out. They travelled slowly, taking about two months to reach Natchitoches (La.) where they stayed some time. They proceeded as far as the Caddodacho post (probably somewhere near Texarkana, Tex.-Ark.) by canoe, and then went overland to Pecos. The journey from Natchitoches took about three months, and during the course of it the Comanches seized most of their merchandise. When they arrived at Pecos in November 1750 they were arrested and taken first to Santa Fe and subsequently to El Paso (Tex.), where Governor Tómas Vélez Cachupín was at the time. The governor sold their remaining goods at auction and used the money obtained to send the former owners under guard to Chihuahua (Mex.) and, in February 1751, to Mexico City. The viceroy had them interrogated again and ordered them sent to Spain to the jurisdiction of the Casa de Contratación, which was in charge of the economic administration of the colonies. He also reaffirmed the ban on illicit commerce. Further information on Pierre Mallet is lacking, most likely buried in Spanish archives, for this Canadian pioneer in the western trade was probably imprisoned in Spain.
ANDM, Registres des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 20 juin 1700. Before Lewis and Clark: documents illustrating the history of the Missouri, 1785–1804, ed. A. P. Nasatir (2v., St Louis, 1952), I, 27–43. Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), VI. J. A. Pichardo, Pichardo’s treatise on the limits of Louisiana and Texas . . . , ed. and trans. C. W. Hackett (4v., Austin, Tex., 1931–46), III, 299–370. The Plains Indians and New Mexico, 1751–1778 . . . , ed. A. B. Thomas (Albuquerque, N.Mex., 1940). J. E. Bannon, The Spanish borderlands frontier, 1513–1821 (New York, 1970). H. E. Bolton, “French intrusions into New Mexico, 1749–1752,” in The Pacific Ocean in history, ed. H. E. Bolton and H. M. Stephens (New York, 1917), 389–407; repr. in Bolton and the Spanish borderlands, ed. J. E. Bannon (Norman, Okla., 1964), 150–71. Henry Folmer, Franco-Spanish rivalry in North America 1524–1763 (Glendale, Calif., 1953), 297–303. N. M. Loomis and A. P. Nasatir, Pedro Vial and the roads to Santa Fe (Norman, Okla., 1967). Stanley Faye, “The Arkansas post of Louisiana: French domination,” Louisiana Historical Quarterly (New Orleans), XXVI (1943), 633–721. Henry Folmer, “The Mallet expedition of 1739 through Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado to Santa Fe,” Colorado Magazine (Denver), XVI (1939), 163–73.