Were French fur traders and trappers part of a plot to steal America in the 17th and early 18th Century? That was the question explored in last night′s episode of America Unearthed aired on the History Channel H2. Our favorite concrete-whispering, forensic geologist, Scott Wolter, has a hypothesis. That fur trappers and explorers from France, like Daniel Duluth and Pierre La Verendrye, were spies, agents working for the French monarchy to grab as much of North America as they could. The process involved placing land claim markers, such as the Du Luth, or Duluth Stone at locations which were continental divides or part of a major river system. It also meant destroying or hiding markers left by earlier explorers, such as the Kensington Runestone, which may have been left by Vikings or Danes centuries before. Did France swindle us when they sold the United States the Louisiana Purchase, selling us land that they really didn′t own?
One can argue that all of the European nations stole America from the Native Indians. Just how ′native′ were the Indians? Tribes like the Mandans might have been Europeans, descendents of Welsh immigrants. Or that it really does not matter as it has nothing to do with the price of milk today. But it is a fine point of historical interest if we really want to know how we came to be. Scott Wolter begins his new quest near Duluth, Minnesota as he examines a recently discovered artifact known as the Du Luth Stone.
Daniel Greysolon Sieur Du Luth was a French aristocrat who came to North America to organize the fur trade. There was much money to be made, so Du Luth′s mission was to pave the way for fur trappers and traders by negotiating deals with the Indians. The discovery of a large rock bearing his name and the year, 1679 has Scott Wolter wondering if the stone is a land claim marker? Such markers were left by explorers to declare ownership of lands for their country. If left at a continental divide, or a major river system, a single marker could claim a huge tract of land, possibly thousands, or even tens of thousands of square miles worth.
Wolter thinks that the Du Luth Stone may be such a marker, much like the Kensington Runestone, which might have been left by Scandinavians centuries before in 1362. If so, then there could be a conflict, rendering the French claim by way of the Du Luth Stone meaningless. Scott looks for more evidence of land claim markers as he hunts for an artifact known as the Le Verendrye Stone.
Pierre Le Verendrye was born in French Quebec and started off his adult life as a soldier. At the age of 40, he and his two sons set off to explore lands to the west. Wolter thinks that Le Verendrye was an agent who worked for the Count de Maurepas, Jean-Frederic Phelypeaux. The count was well connected to the royal court in France, basically running the country′s overseas operations in the early 18th Century. A friend of Le Verendrye who was a botanist recorded in his diary a conversation where Pierre confessed to finding a marker stone in Alberta. The stone was said to have carvings on it which appeared to be Tatarian, a Rune-like script originating from Eastern Europe from the 8th Century. Le Verendrye told his friend that he removed the stone and shipped it to the Count de Maurepas in France. It has never been seen since then.
Le Verendrye, himself, also left markers as land claims. One was located near Ft. Pierre in South Dakota and dated 1743. Made of lead, the plaque was not discovered until 1913 by some children playing in a field. The significance of this marker is that it was placed near the Missouri River and essentially claims all the lands along it and the Mississippi River all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Not bad for a day′s work!
Scott flies to France to search for the missing stone. The Minnesota Historical Society tried to look for it in France back in 1911, but came up empty handed. Wolter, after doing some research, checks out a location which the historical society missed, the Church of St, Sulpice in Paris. Why there, you ask? Because that church had as its main benefactor none other than the Count de Maurepas. Maybe he used it to store his secrets? As it turns out, the church was used to store many historic items. But, during the French Revolution, the church had been sacked by rebels. Many items and documents had been stolen or destroyed.
For his next stop, Wolter flies to Alberta, Canada to the ′Writing On Stone Park′ to see if there might be any other markers around. A Blackfoot Indian guide, Juanita Tallman, gives Scott a tour. The park has the largest collection of Native rock art on the continent. But all of the petroglyphs are clearly Blackfoot in origin. There is nothing to suggest any European explorers had been there before the time of Columbus. Wolter next flies to South Dakota to eyeball the Le Verendrye lead marker plaque. While a monument now marks the spot where it was found, the actual plaque is kept nearby at the South Dakota State Historical Society Museum.
Scott Wolter returns to his lab in Minneapolis to complete his analysis of the Du Luth Stone. By using the technique of weathering comparison, he compares the rock′s weathering to that of other stone markers, such as tombstones 100 years or older. The analysis shows that the Du Luth stone is much older, at least 300 years old. That would verify the 1679 date, authenticating the rock and its carvings as genuine. However, as far as proving Scott′s hypothesis about the French trying to steal America by destroying and replacing earlier land claim markers, the jury is still out.