Nebraska remained an unknown land to white men for many years after Coronado marched back to the valley of the Rio Grande. The earliest Frenchmen who explored the Mississippi Valley did not reach this country. They heard of it from afar by report of the Indians living near the mouth of the Missouri. Far to the north and west stretched the land and the rivers and tribes, they said. No one knew how far.
This unknown land where Nebraska now is became a fine field for romantic writers. Two of them, Baron La Hontan and Mathieu Sagean, deserve mention for their books were for many years taken as true narratives of travels in this region.
Baron La Hontan was a soldier who came from France to Canada. In his book, printed at The Hague in 1704, he tells of a long journey made with companions in a canoe west of the Mississippi. He tells of a tribe which he calls Essanapes, who worshiped the sun, the moon, and the stars. Beyond the Essanapes lived the Gnascitares, who lived on the shore of a great lake. Upon this lake were canoes rowed by 200 oarsmen. They had buildings three stories high and fought battles with the Spaniards in New Mexico. The great king of this country lived in a royal palace waited upon by hundreds of servants. To make this romantic story seem true La Hontan's book has a map of the region where are now Nebraska and South Dakota. He gives pictures of the Indians who lived there and many words from their languages. None of these had any existence except in his imagination.
La Hontan's Map of the Nebraska Region
Mathieu Sagean's story was written by another man. It tells that Sagean was born in the Isle of Montreal in Canada, that his father and mother were faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church, that he could read a little but not write, and that twenty years before he told his story he left Montreal in a bark canoe for the lakes and rivers of the great West. With a party of eleven Frenchmen and several Indians he journeyed west of the Mississippi until he came to the country of the Acaanibas, a great nation occupying a region six hundred miles long. There he found cities with forts and a king who claimed to be a descendant of Montezuma who went clothed every day in a beautiful robe of ermine. In front of the king's palace were great idols many feet high. Every morning the king and his people worshiped before these idols, chanting songs from daybreak to the rising of the sun. The king's palace was three stories high and built of blocks of solid gold. He had 100,000 soldiers, three-fourths of them horsemen, who camped around the city. The women were as white and beautiful as those of Europe. The people carried on commerce with another people so far to the west that a journey there required six months of travel. Sagean saw a caravan of three thousand cattle loaded with gold and rich furs start on its journey.
These stories of La Hontan and Sagean are not history. They are wonder stories of imaginary countries supposed to have been located in the Nebraska region. They show how little was really known of our country at the time these stories were printed and believed.