It was almost two hundred years after Coronado and his thirty Spanish horsemen rode away from the valley of the Rio Grande to the kingdom of Quivira, and then rode back again, before we have a sure record of any other white men in this region.
This time Frenchmen came. They crossed the entire state of Nebraska, from northeast to southwest, and wrote the story of their travels in French. This story, which has only recently been translated into English, is the first certain account we have of the land that is now Nebraska.
The men who made this journey were Pierre Mallet and Paul Mallet, brothers, and with them were six other Frenchmen. All of these except one were from Canada. They started from the French settlements in Illinois, not far from where St. Louis now is. In their story they say that they found it was 100 leagues up the Missouri River to the villages of the Missouri Indians. From there it was 80 leagues to the Kanzes Indians who lived not far from where Kansas City now is. From the Kanzes Indians to the Octotatoes or Otoes, who lived at the mouth of the Platte, was 100 leagues. From the Otoe village to the river of the Panimahas, where they found the Indian tribe of that name, it was 60 leagues farther up the Missouri. The earliest explorers called the Skidi Pawnees, Panimahas. This fact together with the distance given from the mouth of the Platte to the Panimaha River makes it probable that these first explorers of Nebraska found the Panimaha Indians in what is now Dakota County.
The Platte River.
From photograph by A. E. Sheldon.)
From this place the Mallet brothers and their company set out on May 29, 1739, for the city of Santa Fe. They had with them a band of horses laden with goods to trade with the Spaniards and Indians of the Rio Grande region. In the two hundred years since Coronado had crossed the plains the Spanish had settled in New Mexico and built cities, chief among them Santa Fe. So little was then known about the great plains country that all the other Frenchmen who had tried to reach Santa Fe had gone up the Missouri River into the Dakotas. The Mallet brothers, upon the advice of some Indians, took a different direction and set out southwest from the Panimaha Indian villages.
June 2d they reached a river which they named the Platte, and, seeing that it took a direction not much different from the one they had in mind, they followed it, going up its left bank seventy leagues. Here they found that it made a fork with the river of the Padoucas. On June 13th they crossed to the right bank of the river they were following, and, traveling over a tongue of land, they camped on the 14th on the south bank of the river of the hills which here falls into the Platte. From this point they traveled south three days across high plains, during which time they found no wood, not even for fire. These high plains they said extended as far as the mountains near Santa Fe. After crossing several smaller streams they reached the Arkansas River on June 20th and lost seven horses loaded with goods in getting over the river. On July 22d they arrived at Santa Fe, having traveled 962 leagues from the Panimaha villages.
We have only a very short story of their travels, but it is full of first things. They named the Platte River. They were no doubt the first white men to see the forks of the Platte. They were the first white men to travel over the entire length of Nebraska and the first traders to bring the Missouri valley and the mountains together.