French-Canadian brothers Pierre (1704–1751?) and Paul Mallet (1706?–1753?) participated in three expeditions into North America’s interior that were designed to establish trade between French Louisiana and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The brothers traveled the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains, and their return journeys to New Orleans led them through Arkansas, stimulating interest in the possibility of Spanish trade through the continent’s interior via Arkansas Post (Arkansas County).
Originally from Montreal, the Mallets lived as traders in the Illinois country after 1734 before beginning their first expedition (1739–1741). Spurred on by contemporary belief that Santa Fe lay eight days from the headwaters of the Missouri River, the brothers ventured west. Accompanied by seven men, they traveled up the Missouri before beginning a circuitous overland route that ended in Santa Fe. Spending nine months there, the men returned to French Louisiana by way of the Canadian River (most likely named for the Canadian brothers) and continuing via the Arkansas River. They arrived at Arkansas Post in the summer of 1740. Remaining there for the rest of the year, members of the expedition likely inspired the exploits of other Arkansas Post hunters with stories of natives, trade, and routes. They reported to French colonial officials in New Orleans the following spring and immediately made plans for a second expedition.
The Mallets’ other two expeditions proved less satisfactory. The first (1741–1742), led by Andre Fabry, a French official from New Orleans, never reached its destination. Inclement weather and sickness contributed to this expedition’s delay and ultimate failure. Leadership for the last expedition (1750–1751) was entrusted to Pierre Mallet, this time without Paul, who now resided at Arkansas Post. On this occasion, Pierre carried an official passport and letters from New Orleans merchants offering credit. However, dozens of French trappers apparently found their way to Santa Fe prior to Mallet. This influx of Frenchmen alarmed Spanish bureaucrats. The cordial reception of the previous decade vanished as Pierre was arrested and sent to Mexico City for questioning. His fate remains uncertain. He may have perished in Mexico City or endured prison in Spain.
Responding to Spanish complaints, the French colonial government prevented the return of other trappers. After the final expedition, there is no evidence that any other French traders entered New Mexico while France claimed Louisiana. Nevertheless, the Mallet expeditions testify to the tenacity of traders in colonial Arkansas and throughout French Louisiana.
For additional information:
Blakeslee, Donald J. Along Ancient Trails: The Mallet Expedition of 1739. Niwot: University of Colorado Press, 1995.
Blaine, Martha R. “French Efforts to Reach Santa Fe: Andre Fabry de la Bruyere’s Voyage Up the Canadian River in 1741–1742.” Louisiana History 20 (1979): 133–157.
Gary T. Edwards
Arkansas State University
Last Updated: 04/08/2020