Fine Map Illustrating Baron Lahontan's Long River
Engrossing map prepared to illustrate Lahontan's imaginary west-to-east Long River (Rivière Longue), rising in distant western mountains and emptying into the upper Mississippi.
Studded with narrative notes and illustrations about his travels and geographic “discoveries” (or myths), the map also shows the central region of Canada and what is now the American Midwest, which he explored while serving in the French army. The map extends east to the Great Lakes to show Lac Superieur, Lac de Illinois (Lake Michigan), and a number of the early French forts and fur trading outposts.
Lahontan's map was one of the most influential of all chimerical cartographic works, affecting the cartographic landscape of the upper Mississippi, Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions for nearly fifty years. This map of the Long River was issued in Noueaux Voyages de M. le Baron de Lahontan dans l'Amerique Septentrionale, one of the most influential yet fanciful works of its time.
The map depicts the Long River flowing from the mountains in the west, likely the Rocky Mountains, and connecting to the Mississippi River. On the western side of the mountains is another river, presumably flowing into the Pacific.
The map refers to several Indian tribes, including the Tanuglauk, the Gnacsitares, and the Mozeemleks. All of these appear to have been conjured by Lahanton's imagination, although he claims to have met members of all of these tribes in his texts and describes these encounters in detail. He claims that the western half of this map is a reproduction of a map the Gnacsitares made for him on a deerskin, and that it is accurate to "thirty minutes" of latitude and longitude. This is obviously false.
In addition, he claims that the Mozemleks told him about Tanuglauk boats which could hold two hundred passengers and buildings eighty feet long, both of these which were drawn for him on tree bark and reproduced here. The amount of detail that Lahanton goes into to describe the provenance of his information is remarkable, particularly as none of it can be corroborated by any other sources.
The eastern half of the map fairs little better in accuracy, despite supposedly being drawn from Lahontan's own observations. He claims to have traveled up the Long River to nearly the base of the Rocky Mountains, with a fleur-de-lis marking his highest ascent along the river. To Lahontan’s credit, there are some roughly correct observations. The Wisconsin [Ovisconsink] River is named, perhaps one of the earliest examples of this river being named. Melchisedech Thevenot's 1683 map shows the river but neglects to name it. The Illinois, Missouri, Wabash, and other branches are all named as well, but these lower branches were already relatively well known.
Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce, the third Baron Lahontan, was a member of the aristocracy. Born in 1666, he was forced into a career in the military by the family’s hardship after his father’s death. He served across the Atlantic, in New France.
Lahontan was dispatched as part of a force who were to defeat the Iroquois tribes near the Great Lakes. In addition to, or perhaps instead of, his military duties he explored much of the upper Mississippi River Valley. While serving at Boucherville, Lahontan learned Algonquin. Later, he commanded Fort St. Joseph, on the site of what is now Detroit.
While Lahontan certainly saw a great deal of the Great Lakes region, in 1688 he set out on his most fantastic journey. So fantastic, in fact, that it is unclear whether or not it really happened. These travels included what he called the Rivière Longue, which some scholars believe was actually the Missouri River. He also reported a giant salt lake, around which the Tuhuglauk nation lived. However, Lahontan kept this strategically important detail secret while he served as Lieutenant-Governor in Placentia, Newfoundland and as he fled that position when faced with possible imprisonment.
In exile, Lahontan settled in the Netherlands in the mid-1690s, where he began to work on accounts of his travels. The first of these was Nouveaux Voyages dans l'Amerique Septentrionale (1703), which became a bestseller. It was printed in thirteen editions in fourteen years. This book included a description and map of the “Long River,” which was accepted and incorporated into the popular cartographic conception of the region by most of the leading mapmakers of the time, including Guillaume de L'Isle, Herman Moll, Henry Popple, and John Senex. The Tuhuglauk’s salt lake, in turn, would be combined with the geographic hypothesis of a Sea of the West.
Lahontan followed his 1703 memoir with two more, Memoires de l’Amerique Septentrionale, and Supplement aux Voyages ou Dialogues avec le sauvage Adario. Nouveaux Voyages dans l’Amerique Septentrionale. By the time he died, sometime before 1716, he was one of the most popular travel writers in Europe, despite the fact that many of his details were exaggerated or fictitious.