Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Pierre and Paul Mallet were French Canadians who led the first successful European expedition across the Great Plains to Santa Fe. Born in Montreal to Pierre Mallet and Madelaine Tuvée DuFresne, the brothers were frontiersmen who moved to Illinois in about 1734. In 1739 they led a group of seven other men up the Missouri River in search of Santa Fe. Confused about the geography of the Great Plains, they traveled all the way to present-day South Dakota before friendly Arikaras and Skidi Pawnees put them on the right road. They returned downriver to an Omaha village in what is now northeastern Nebraska, where they purchased horses for their overland trip. Using existing trails, and with the help of a Native American guide for part of the journey, they traveled first to the Pawnee villages in central Nebraska, then south through Kansas and western Oklahoma to Santa Fe.

In spite of the fact that they lost most of their trade goods while crossing the Kansas River, the Mallets and their companions were welcomed in Santa Fe, where they spent the winter. In 1740 they returned to Louisiana rather than Illinois, carrying letters from the lieutenant governor of New Mexico and from a priest, both of whom encouraged trade between the French and Spanish colonies. Jean- Baptiste LeMoyne de Bienville, the governor of French Louisiana, prepared a summary of the Mallet journal, which is fortunate because the journal was later lost, and so the summary is the primary source of information about the route taken by the Mallets.

French colonial o.cials were very interested in trade with the Spanish and in the remote possibility of conquering the Spanish silver mines that lay somewhere south of Santa Fe. Within three months of the arrival of the Mallets in New Orleans, a new expedition led by Fabry de la Bruyere set out up the Arkansas and Canadian Rivers. Bruyere's expedition did not get past eastern Oklahoma, however, and the Mallet brothers appear to have fought continually with him over how best to proceed. Eventually, Fabry turned back while the Mallets pressed on, only to lose their trade goods this time in the Canadian River, whereupon they too turned back. French attempts to penetrate to New Mexico then languished for a decade. In 1750, however, the new governor of Louisiana, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, sent Pierre Mallet west for a third time. On the way Comanches robbed him of his trade goods and most of his official documents. On his arrival in Santa Fe, he was arrested as an illegal intruder and sent to jail in Mexico City, where he disappears from the documentary record. Paul Mallet remained behind in Louisiana, where the last documentary record of his life has him living with a wife and three daughters at the Arkansas Post.

Although none of the three expeditions led by the Mallet brothers was economically successful, their endeavors are recorded in several place-names, including the Canadian River and the Bayou Mallet and Bois Mallet, both in Louisiana.

Donald J. Blakeslee Wichita State University

Blakeslee, Donald J. Along Ancient Trails: The Mallet Expedition of 1739. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1995.

Folmer, Henri. "The Mallet Expedition of 1739 through Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado to Santa Fe." Colorado Magazine 16 (1939): 163–73.

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