The French facts of Wyoming are on a very short timeline and, unfortunately, they cannot be tied to specific places with absolute certainty. The two youngest sons of Pierre Gaultier de La Vérendrye, François and Louis-Joseph, and two French-Canadian companions were the first white men to visit what is presently the State of Wyoming.
During the month of May, 1742, the French speaking explorers arrived on the territory inhabited by the Mandan Nation. Over the next eight months they kept moving westward, from tribe to tribe, until they arrived in sight of the Rocky Mountains on January 1, 1743. The exact route they took remains a secret of early American history.
According to the Smithsonian Institution’s Handbook of North American Indians, they would have encountered on route the following indigenous tribes: the Crow (Absaroka); the Small Fox (Tuhkiwaku); the Pioya (Kiowa); the Horse (Banats); the Belle Rivière people (Arikara); the Bow (Pawnee); the Flèche Collée people (Cheyenne); the Little Cherry (Arapaho) and the Blackfoot who the French called the “Beaux Hommes”. Based on tribes met, many historians believe that the La Vérendrye brothers were looking at the Big Horn Mountains in what is now Wyoming, probably around Sheridan.
The “Beaux Hommes” (Handsome Men)
While on the banks of the Wind River, François and Louis-Joseph La Vérendrye saw smoke on the horizon. Approaching it, they made contact with a group of amiable Native Americans they called “Beaux Hommes”, not because they were physically nice-looking, but because their clothes were colorful and beautifully designed. They stayed with them for 21 days learning their habits and customs, and inquiring about the “Western Sea”. According to historical records, it was in the fall of 1742 during the foliage color change when the red and gold is prominent.
All the clothes, bed sheets and tepees of the Blackfoot people were made of animal skins. The work was the labour of the women who possessed an innate aesthetic sense. The clothes were enriched with bright colors based on iron or minerals. Feathers, pearls and porcupine quills were often added. Their reputation was such that some of their clothing is today on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (at The Met) and the Royal Ontario Museum (at The ROM) in Toronto, among several other major museums of North America.