The Exploration of Western America, 1800-1850: An Historical Geography

By E. W. Gilbert | Go to book overview

Chapter XI
THE DISCOVERY OF SOUTHERN TRANS-
CONTINENTAL ROUTES

(a) The Exploration of the Western Tributaries of the Mississippi, South of St Louis, 1803-1806

After the annexation of Louisiana by the United States, several expeditions were sent out to explore the right bank tributaries of the Mississippi, south of St Louis. The American Government was eager to survey the newly acquired territory, and shortly after the purchase, Congress commissioned Dr John Sibley to ascend the Red River, while William Dunbar, with George Hunter, were sent up the principal tributary of the Red River, namely the Washita. The exploration of the Red River was of special interest to the Government, as they wished to determine the exact boundary between Louisiana and the Spanish dominions. Four expeditions under Sibley ( 1803), Sparks ( 1806), Pike ( 1806), and Long ( 1820) endeavoured to determine the course and sources of this river, which was supposed to be the southern boundary of Louisiana.

Sibley set out in March, 1803, and sent in his report in April, 1805. He pushed his way up the Red River as far as the modern site of Shreveport. He described the country, with its fertile alluvial soil, as one of the richest he had ever seen. Sibley only travelled 80 miles above Natchitoches, but he obtained information about the upper river from two Frenchmen, Francis Grappe and M. Brevel. He learnt that the Red River, like many of the tributaries of the Mississippi, was not navigable. Sibley also reported that the Indians had no boats, partly because there was no timber available and partly because the stream, rising to a torrent with spring and autumn floods, made canoes an un-

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1
The routes of explorers described in this chapter are shown on end Map A, Fig. 32.

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