VÉNIARD DE BOURGMOND, ÉTIENNE DE, officer, coureur de bois, explorer of the Missouri; b. c. 1675 in the province of Normandy, son of Charles de Véniard Du Vergier and Jacqueline Jean; ennobled in 1725; d. in France.
If others before him had ventured into the region, Bourgmond can nevertheless be considered to be the first explorer of the Missouri, for he went farther up it than his predecessors and wrote down his observations in two detailed reports which furnished the material for mapping the region accurately.
Bourgmond came to Canada in 1695, and everything leads us to believe that he had been deported. At first he doubtless served as a soldier, for it was not until 1705 that he was given the expectancy of an ensign’s commission. In 1702 he took part in Charles Juchereau de Saint-Denys’ expedition down the Ohio. He was attached to the garrison of Fort Pontchartrain at Detroit, and in 1706 he took command of it in the absence of Antoine Laumet, dit de Lamothe Cadillac, and Alphonse Tonty. With about 15 soldiers it was difficult to maintain order among the tribes living nearby, who were allies of the French but who distrusted one another. When the Ottawas [see Le Pesant] fell unexpectedly upon a group of Miamis, Bourgmond, who had not been able to prevent the incident, shut the gates of the fort and opened fire upon the assailants. A few Miamis, 30 Ottawas, one soldier, and the Recollet Constantin Delhalle lost their lives in the affray. Although Lamothe first praised the young officer’s bravery, the authorities rebuked him instead for his blunder. The account left by the commissary Clairambault d’Aigremont is damning for Bourgmond. But this account was written two years later when Bourgmond had become a mere deserter who merited no consideration whatsoever. It was probably towards the end of 1706 that Bourgmond and the soldier Jolicoeur deserted to go to live in the woods with Pichon, dit Larose, and a woman known as Mine La Chenette or Mme Techenet [Elizabeth? Couc*]. Desertions at Detroit were, indeed, a common matter; it was reported in 1703 that one-third of the garrison had disappeared. When Larose was brought back to the fort and tried by court martial in November 1707, he tried to cast all the blame on Bourgmond, in a vain attempt to save his own life. Bourgmond, he said, was caching beaver pelts on an island in Lake Erie and was “ready to go over to the English and to live with them for good.” Cashiered and treated as a ne’er-do-well, Bourgmond spent the next five years in the depths of the woods, probably living in the Lake Erie region, with an 18-month stay among the Mascoutens of the Lower Ohio to trade in pelts.
It was not until 1712 that Bourgmond met the Missouri Indians, probably while accompanying some of them on their way back after they had come to the help of Renaud Dubuisson, who had been menaced at Detroit by the Foxes [see Pemoussa]. But he did not stay long in their territory and went down to Mobile to spread the news of his new acquaintances and to offer his services, in return for payment, to bring about alliances with the various tribes of the Missouri region. His proposal was accepted, for the French were nourishing the dream of commanding an access route to New Mexico and perhaps to the Western Sea, as well as of appropriating mines that were said to be very rich. Bourgmond devoted the year 1713 to visiting Louisiana and stopped for a time with the Illinois Indians before undertaking the exploration of the Missouri in March 1714.
His appearances at the Jesuit missions in the period from 1712 to 1714 brought on an avalanche of denunciations. In unison Fathers Pierre-Gabriel Marest and Jean-Marie de Villes, the bishop, and M. de Ramezay wrote that he was leading a life that was not only scandalous but also criminal, in that he was causing disorders among the Illinois and was preparing to bring the English into the region. There can be no doubt about the very free morals of the coureur de bois, but there are no facts to bear out the accusation of treason. Bourgmond’s dissolute life was enough, however, to rouse the wrath of the missionaries, who were above all intent upon protecting the Illinois’ morals. The minister of Marine satisfied those who were complaining by giving Cadillac secret orders to have Bourgmond arrested, but the governor of Louisiana does not seem to have been in a hurry to carry them out.
Bourgmond has left two reports on the 1714 exploration trip, which took him to the junction of the Missouri and Cheyenne Rivers. The first report contains topographical data covering the region from the mouth of the Missouri as far as the Platte River. The second completes the first with geographical and ethnographical observations, covering the area as far as the territory of the Arikaras. After he had sent off his reports, Bourgmond remained for four more years in the region, then went back to Louisiana at the time of the war against the Spanish, in which he took part. Le Moyne* de Bienville requested that he be awarded the cross of the order of Saint-Louis, and the council wanted to send him back to the Missouri country to pacify the various tribes there. But Bourgmond, whom the company still owed 4,279 livres, preferred to sail for France with his son, who was born around 1714 in the Missouri country.
It became evident, however, that it was more and more urgent to consolidate the French positions to the west of the Mississippi, believed to be menaced by the Spanish after Pedro de Villazur’s ill-starred expedition. An end to the permanent warfare which raged between the Padoucas (Comanches), who controlled access to New Mexico, and the other tribes whom Bourgmond had won over to the side of France was especially desirable, for it was impossible to conclude an alliance with the former without alienating the others. After Dutisné’s failure, Bourgmond was considered to be the only person capable of carrying out this enterprise. Upon his arrival in France he was awarded a captain’s commission, with the title of commandant of the Missouri country, and the cross of the order of Saint-Louis. On 17 Jan. 1722 he was commissioned by the Compagnie des Indes to establish a fortified post on the Missouri, from which it would be possible to enter into relations with the Spanish, end the war against the Padoucas, and, when his mission was completed, bring some Indians back to France to make them aware of the king’s power and rekindle the public’s interest in the undertakings in Louisiana. If all these conditions were fulfilled within a period of two years, Bourgmond would be authorized to live in France, where he had just been married, and would receive the patent of nobility that he was seeking.
Many delays and vexations were to characterize this second expedition. Bourgmond and his company did not arrive among the Missouris until November, just in time to prevent the Otos and Iowas from concluding an alliance with the Foxes. Despite illness and the insubordination of his lieutenants, Bourgmond succeeded in having the Fort d’Orléans built, some 450 kilometres from the mouth of the river, opposite the Missouris’ village. Despite the hesitations of the officers of the colony, who now considered the undertaking chimerical and costly, Bourgmond, who had finally received supplies, embarked upon the pacification trip. Acclaimed everywhere as a chief, he rallied the Missouris, Otos, Osages, Pawnees, Iowas, and Kansas, who came in his wake to offer to make peace with the Padoucas, giving up at the same time a profitable trade in slaves. The engineer La Renaudière took part in this triumphal expedition and is believed to be the author of the account which has been preserved of it. He noted that the child whom Bourgmond had taken to France shared in all the honours bestowed upon his father, and that it was thanks to his return for good among his own people that the council of the nations, meeting at Fort d’Orléans on 5 Oct. 1724, having received assurances about the risks of the voyage, agreed to send ten delegates beyond the seas.
These delegates arrived at New Orleans with Bourgmond, but there, as an economy measure, the delegation was reduced to four persons. These were the Missouri, Osage, and Oto chiefs Menspéré, Boganientim, and Aguiguida, and the daughter of a Missouri chief, Ignon Ouaconisen, who was accompanied by her slave Pilate. The Illinois Chicagou, chief of the village of the Michigameas, went to France at the same time, but being the only Christian in the group, he was under the care of Father Beaubois*, who kept him away from Bourgmond’s Indians as much as possible and obtained some private audiences for him.
They first sailed on the Bellone, which sank as it was leaving the roadstead, and despite the fright which this accident caused them the delegates sailed off again and arrived in Paris 20 Sept. 1725. There they were immediately received at the head office of the Compagnie des Indes, along with Bourgmond, who acted as their interpreter throughout their stay. A second and more formal audience took place on 8 November on the occasion of a directors’ meeting. The comptroller-general, Charles-Gaspard Dodun, replied to the speeches of the representatives of the Three Nations and of the Illinois chief and had tobacco, Indian and sumptuous French costumes distributed to them. On 22 November they were received at Fontainebleau by the Due de Bourbon, who presented them at court, and two days later ushered them into the king’s chambers. “Our territories are yours,” declared the spokesman for the Three Nations; “settle French people there, protect us, and give us White Collars [priests of the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères], or prayer leaders to give us instruction.” Thereupon each took off his chief’s insignia and placed it, feathers, bows, and quivers, at the monarch’s feet. The king questioned Bourgmond and the Jesuit at length on the customs and religion of the Indians and had a presentation made to each delegate of a gold medal, a watch, arms, and a picture painted for the occasion and representing the audience. Before returning to Port-Louis the Indians also had the honour of going hunting with the king.
During this stay, which lasted two months, they also visited all the interesting sights of the capital; the fountains of Versailles and Marly played for them; at the Théâtre des Italiens two of the chiefs gave a performance of dances which were found rather disconcerting. Never had the city and the court received Indians with so much display, but all this show had meagre results. A year after the delegates had returned to their country, Fort d’Orléans was evacuated and abandoned to some Canadian fur-traders.
Having renounced the New World and a life of adventure, and having been ennobled by letters patent in December 1725, Bourgmond still had to claim 3,000 livres in salary and for reimbursement of his out-of-pocket expenses incurred in providing the Indians during their stay at New Orleans and the crossing with the rations of bread and meat that the Conseil de la Colonie had refused to issue them. “He is staying in Paris,” he wrote, “only to wait for you to render him the justice that is due him.” It is not known whether the Compagnie des Indes did reimburse him, for from then on Bourgmond left no trace, whilst Fort d’Orléans and the precarious peace which were his work were likewise soon forgotten.
Véniard de Bourgmond, “Routte qu’il faut tenir pour monter la rivière du Missoury,” AN, Marine, 3JJ, 201 [published by Marc de Villiers Du Terrage in La découverte du Missouri et l’histoire du fort d’Orléans (1673–1728) (Paris, 1925), 46–59]; “L’Exacte Description de la Louisianne, de ses ports, terres et rivières, et noms des nations sauvages qui l’occupent, et des commerces et avantages que l’on en peut tirer dans l’établissement d’une colonie,” AN, Col., C13C, 1, ff.346–56 [published by Marcel Giraud in Revue historique, CCXVII (1957), 29–41]. Other-sources used include: AN, Col., B, 36, 37; C11A, 21, 29, 34, 35; C11E, 14, 15; C13A, 5, 9; C13C, 1, 4; D2C, 49, 51, 222; E, 48 (dossier de Bourgmond); F3, 2. BN, MS, Cabinet des titres, P.O. 2959 (Bourgmond’s letters of nobility); a copy of this document is published in BRH, XXIV (1918), 254–56. BN, MS, NAF, 2551, ff.81–82; 9304 (Margry). SHA, A1, 2592.
Charlevoix, Histoire (1744). Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), VI. [Le Mascrier], Mémoires historiques sur la Louisiane . . . composés sur les mémoires de M. Dumont par M.L.L.M. (2v., Paris, 1753). Mercure de France (Paris), décembre 1725. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire. Giraud, Histoire de la Louisiane française, I, II, III.