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Extrarordinary example of American Indian Cartography on a Printed Map and the Synthesis of Two of the Earliest Surviving French Manuscript maps of the Upper Midwest & Plains.

A finely executed pair of maps by Philippe Buache, which accompanied his Considerations Geographiques et Physiques Sur Les Nouvelles Decouvertes au Nord de la Grande Mer . . . . published in Paris in 1753-55. While Buache intended his work as proof of a continuous watercourse between Lake Superior and the Sea of the West, his efforts in depicting the region between the Upper Missouri River in the Dakotas, Lake Winnepeg and Lake Superior and Lake Michigan are of the utmost importance, representing the first attempt to synthesize the various French field reports and manuscript maps from the 1720s and 1730s into a single printed map.

The top map is a copy by Buache of a manuscript map drawn by a French officer, which in turn was drawn from 3 maps drawn by Cree Indians and given to the French officer in 1728. The lower map is a synthesis by Buache of two previously unpublished manuscript maps drawn by French Fur traders working in the region west of Lake Superior during the 1730s, during which time the French extended the reach of their explorations as far as the Black Hills and the Upper Missouri River region.

Ochagach's Manuscript Map of the Water Route from Lake Superior to the River of the West.

The first of Buache's maps is described as a sketch map, made by the "Savauge Ochagache" and others, and depicts a continuous water route from Lake Superior in the east, to Lac Ouimpigon (Winnepeg) and the "Fl. de l'O" (River of the West). As noted by Don McGuirk in his work on the Sea of the West, this map is

. . . . important for being one of the few printed examples of manuscript Native American cartography. This second, smaller map is found above the first and is titled, "Réduction de la CARTE tracée par le Sauvage Ochagach et autres,/ laquelle a donné lieu aux Découvertes des Officiers François representées dans la Carte cy jointe."

Buache's map derives from a manuscript map and report made by French Canadian Fur Trader and Explorer, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye. In 1727, La Verendyre was the commanding officer of Fort Kaministiquia at Thunder Bay, Lake Superior, a French fur trading outpost at the western limits of the explored parts of French North America. At this time, the French were actively seeking a portage or other water course which would take them to the Sea of the West or River of the West, both of which had been described and hypothesized by French Explorers of the late 17th and early 18th Centuries. La Verendrye's duties included managing the fur trade in the region and seeking a water course to the Western Sea. In the winter of 1728, La Verendrye received reports from the Cree Indians of the regions to the west. One informant, a Cree Chief named Tacchigis, described a great river of the west, as well as the Missouri River Valley, persuading La Verendrye of the necessity of mounting an expedition.

In preparation for the journey, La Verendrye arranged for a Cree guide (Ochagach) to lead the expedion. Ochagach (also spelled Ochagach Ochakah or Ochagac by various writers) drew a map of a canoe route from Law Superior to Lake Winnepeg, with a note referencing the River of the West at its western extremity. In the same winter, La Verendrye reported a second group of Cree Indians visiting the fort, whose leader, La Marteblanche, produced a nearly identical map.

La Verendrye created a composite map from these three sources, which was transmitted with his report of his discoveries first to the Governor of Canada and then on to France in 1730. Nicholas Bellin published in 1755 that the map was the earliest drawing of the region west of Lake Superior in the Depot De La Marine.

Buache's Synthesis of the Jemeraye and La Verendrye Manuscript Maps

The second map is entitled Carte Physique des Terreins les plus eleves de la Partie Orientale du Canada: Ou l'on voit les Nouvelles Decouvertes des Officiers Francois a l'Ouest du Lac Superieur, Avec les Riveieres et ls Lacs dont M. Jeremie a parle dans Relation de la Baye de Hudson. . . . As described by Buache in his Remarques, the map represents Buache's attempt to reconcile several maps received from French Officers working to the west of the Missisissippi River and in Wisconsin and Minnesota, along with the anecdotal reports of the Indians encountered by these officers. Buache describes the confluence of the 3 major watersheds in this region, allowing him to hypothesize that the western most watershed would flow toward the River of the West and on to the Pacific Ocean.

The Jeremie Map. The first of the manuscript maps was apparently drawn in 1733 by "M. Jeremie." This is a reference to Christopher Dufrost de La Jemeraye, a lieutenant and nephew of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye in the exploratory party which headed west from Fort Kaministiquia in 1731. He and Jean Baptiste de La Vérendrye established Fort St. Charles on Lake of the Woods in 1732. In the spring of 1733, he and Jean Baptiste headed down the Winnipeg River to set up a post in the Lake Winnipeg area. They were stopped by ice and La Jemeraye returned to Fort St. Charles while his cousin established a small temporary fort named La Barrière. Jemeraye is known to have been a skilled mapmaker, who produced the first French map of the west in 1733. It was of high quality and the final copy was produced, at a later date, by the engineer, Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry.

The La Vérendrye Map. La Jemeraye continued as an important participant in La Vérendrye's exploration and fur trading activities. He and Jean Baptiste de La Vérendrye built Fort Maurepas about six miles north of present day Selkirk, Manitoba, in 1735. Traveling from there to Fort St. Charles via the Red River - Savanne Portage route, La Jemeraye, who was very ill, died at the junction of the Red and Roseau rivers. The date of his death gives us proof that, in 1736, La Jemeraye and one of La Vérendrye's sons passed The Forks. The Forks is the site of present day Winnipeg.

Following the death of La Jemeraye in 1736, in October1737, La Verendrye sent back another manuscript map to the Governor of Canada, which in turn was transmitted back to Paris, copies of which have survived to modern times. Among its most salient features is a clear depiction of a water course from Lake Winnepeg to the River of the West and on the Mer Inconnue (Unknown Sea). The following description of the manuscript map appears in Edward D. Neill's The History of Minnesota . . . (p 800-801).

This unpublished chart shows Red Lake, of Northern Minnesota, and the point of the Big Woods in the Red River valley. The source of the Mississippi is a lake southwest of Red Lake. It also marks Fort St. Pierre, on the west shore of Rainy Lake, established by Jemeraye . . . in the fall of 1731; Fort St. Charles, on the west shore of the Lake of the Woods, established in the next year, and Fort Maurepas, established in 1734, near the entrance of Lake Winnepeg. West of the Missisissippi appears a great river of the nation of the Couhatchalle, intended for the Missouri, and beyond this is the country of the Hiattcheriting.

Buache's efforts to reconcile and synthesize these two manuscript maps, while clearly based upon a tremendous amount of supposition and his desire to prove the existence of the Sea of the West, illustrated at the left side of the lower map, is evident in the annotations and text of the his Consideration Geographique. While Buache's primary premise was wrong, his efforts in depicting the region between the Upper Missouri River in the Dakotas, Lake Winnepeg and Lake Superior and Lake Michigan are of the utmost importance, representing the first attempt to synthesize the various French frontier reports from the 1720s and 1730s into a single printed map.

Buache's Considerations Geographiques

This rare map appeared in Buache's Considerations Geographiques et Physiques sur les Nouvelles Decouvertes au Nord de la Grande Mer . . ., one of the most important works on the Northwest Coast of America published in the 18th Century. Buache studied under the Guillaume De L'Isle in Paris. Ladd-Mocarski notes:

This work is of the greatest rarity and importance for the history of the discovery and cartography of Alaska and the Northwest coast in general . . . This is the magnum opus of the Delisle-Buache theory of the layout of lands in the North Pacific space.

As noted by Everett Graff:

The author, being one of the principal French geographers of his time, was in the unfortunate position of trying to defend the French view of the Cartography of the north Pacific after the earlier conjectures had been pretty thoroughly proven erroneous. His arguments are ingenious in many instances, and his method of ignoring or preverting evidence which does not fit the French theory is fascinating. As soon as the work was issued, it was attacked bitterly from all sides.

Buache's Considerations Geographiques. . . was published in serial (three parts), starting in 1753. The maps are contained in part three. The third and last part was completed in 1755. It is separately titled and sometimes separately found as Exposé des Découvertes au Nord de la Grande Mer. Sometimes this second title calls for only 6 maps. This third part of Considérations Géographiques can also be found under the title Troisieme et derniere partie des Considérations Géographiques et phisyques sur les nouvelles découvertes au Nord de la Grand Mer, vulgairement appellée la Mer du Sud (ex. University of Alaska, Fairbanks). This title appears to be pgs. 63 - 156 of the Considérations Géographiques and usually includes eleven maps and views. All the maps from the Considérations Géographiques were later reissued by Jean Claude Dezauche, "without text" on November 15, 1781, and can usually be identified, as they often include additional data, upper right, that the first state Buache maps do not.

There are 2 states of the map

  • State 1: Upper left, "Publiée sous le Privilege de l'Academie des/Sciences, du 4 Septembre 1754". Upper right, "VIIIe. Carte pour la 3.e et derniere Partie/ des Considérations, &c.". Lower left, "Delahaye l'Ainé Sculpsit". Below the cartouche, on the left side of the map, is a section of "remarques". (Not noted in Kershaw)
  • State 2`: (Kershaw, entry #1111). Added, upper right, "Page 146".

The "1755" copy of this map at the Library of Congress does include this page number. The states of the maps in any given copy of the Considérations Géographiques may be mixed.

One copy of the Considérations Géographique, at the British library, has only the first 6 maps, but also includes a folded copy of Buache's World map of 1755. Finally, there is a copy of this work in the British Library which places the various maps scattered throughout the work. This could be a later, unattributed edition of this work by Dezauche. Alternatively, Buache may have changed the plates slightly and then reissued the work, in total. In this copy, this map is placed facing page 146. In the December 1753 issue of the Journal des Sçavans (pgs 861 - 871) there is an introduction and summary of two new works; J. N De l'Isle's Nouvelles Cartes (prix, 2 liv. 8 S) and Philippe Buache's Considérations Géographiques (prix, trois Liv. 12 Sols en blanc).

The present map is of the utmost rarity and is the first example of the map we have seen on the market.

Our thanks to Don McGuirk for the details in this description.
Philippe Buache Biography

Philippe Buache (1700-1773) was one of the most famous French geographers of the eighteenth century. Buache was married to the daughter of the eminent Guillaume Delisle and worked with his father-in-law, carrying on the business after Guillaume died. Buache gained the title geographe du roi in 1729 and was elected to the Academie des Sciences in the same year. Buache was a pioneering theoretical geographer, especially as regards contour lines and watersheds. He is best known for his works such as Considérations géographiques et physiques sur les découvertes nouvelles dans la grande mer (Paris, 1754).