Monday, January 2, 2012

Rick's East-West Trails Story

I love it when when our readers contribute a story of their own and Richard Bierman has been kind enough to submit one of his. If you have a story that you would like to share feel free to email me.

In her book The Commerce of Louisiana During the French Regime, 1699-1763, Nancy Surrey writes, "Some Spanish coins also came into Louisiana by way of the Illinois country. These the French obtained in trade with the western Indians who secured them, directly or indirectly, from New Mexico."

When I read those two sentences, I had an instant Indiana Jones moment. I live in eastern Iowa and during the French colonial period Iowa was part of the Illinois country. I could just imagine all sorts of Spanish gold and silver moving through my county heading east to Montreal or Quebec. As it turns out, that idea might not be too far-fetched.

As I studied my county's history, I found mention of an old Indian trail that started at the Mississippi River and continued west across central Iowa. A section of this trail was marked with three boulders between the Mississippi and Cedar Rivers. After further research, I found that this trail was a westward extension of the Great Sauk Trail that runs east from the Mississippi to the Detroit, Michigan area. From there, it's a boat trip to Montreal and Quebec.

From the west bank of the Mississippi, the trail travels toward Des Moines where it meets a north-south trail called the Dragoon Trace. This trace moved southwest from Fort Des Moines to Fort Leavenworth where it was close to the network of trails that went west to the New Mexico territory. It would have been possible for precious metals from the southwest to pass through eastern Iowa.

There were many trails heading west that were used by the French during the colonial period. The French moved west from Canada at a rapid pace to expand their fur trade, search for a route to the Pacific and establish trade with the Spanish in the southwest. The Sauk Trail was an important trail during that expansion.

If you are interested in searching for these trails, I would suggest you study the French fur trade and the missionaries of New France.

As these trails moved west, they encountered the steep bluffs of the Mississippi River. Look for clefts in the terrain that would allow a traveler to move from the river to the prairie without having to negotiate a steep bluff. These clefts are formed by tributaries of the Mississippi.

When trying to determine how the older trails passed through your county, go to your county engineer and ask to see your county's original survey notes. These notes will give you information about the Indian trails and early frontier roads that moved through your county.

If you use the Internet for your research, try googling, your counties name, your state and Indian trail. Also try, your counties name, your state and Indian trails. Sometimes I get information from trail that I miss with trails. I'm sure you all know that a lot of the trails the early explorers used were Indian trails.

Finally, in the archives of this blog there is an article written by Rockman titled How to Begin a Treasure Search. It's the best treasure hunting advice I've ever read. You don't have to drive hundreds of miles to hunt for treasure. Here's the link.

Good luck as you search.

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