W. J. ECCLES
During the eighteenth century, the French thrust their exploration of North America far to the west of the Mississippi, up the Missouri beyond the Platte, and along the Saskatchewan to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. They also established themselves, briefly, on Hudson and James Bays. All the principal rivers north of the Great Lakes, as well as all the tributaries of the Mississippi, became known to them. For the four decades preceding the conquest of New France they strove, without success, to reach the Pacific Ocean overland by way of the mythical "Mer de l'Ouest." Another powerful incentive for French thrusts into the Far West was the lure of commercial profit: in the Northwest, from the trade for furs with the Indian nations; and in the Southwest, from the establishment of trade relations with the Spanish settlements in northern New Spain--to be more precise, between New Orleans and Santa Fe. Thus the map of the interior of North America gradually began to unfold and to be depicted by such eminent cartographers as Guillaume Delisle, Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, Zacharias Chatelain, and Nicolas de Fer.
Most of the information used by these cartographers to draw their maps, which today delight with their artistry and impress with their remarkable accuracy, was supplied by the royal officials at Quebec, who, in turn, obtained it from officers stationed at the western posts, from fur traders, and from missionaries. Nor was it only the land that was being explored. These men who voyaged in the Far West, some of them residing there for years on end, also explored the culture, the mores, the cosmology, and the religious beliefs of the Indians with whom they interacted. Of necessity, they had to adjust to, and indeed adopt, the Indians' way of life. The outlook, the way of life, of the Indians who encountered the French also underwent a profound change. For both parties, this was a form of exploration, a mental glimpse of strange new worlds. Although France claimed title to all these lands by right of "prior discovery," the French did