There are thousands of books on the history of the American West, many of them including references to the French.  For instance, the Santa Fe Trail Bibliography by Jack D. Rittenhouse (Albuquerque, 1986) has 718 entries. Below is a short list of books which can give a fair overview to the novice historian. This list does not cover the colossal bibliography about the French in Canada and Louisiana.

Books on the French in America

Pioneers of France in the New World. By Francis Parkman. Numerous editions since 1865.  This is a classic upon which all historians are drawing. If you read only one book, this is it (over 3,000 pages).  Parkman spent over 40 years gathering materials and traveled extensively to Europe and across America to collect documents, consult archives and visit sites described in his history.

In Search of Empire – The French in the Americas, 1670-1730.  By James Pritchard, Cambridge University Press, 2004. A synthetic history of the fifteen colonies comprising France’s first overseas empire in the most critical decades of their formation.

Histoire de l’Amérique Française. In French. By Gilles Havard and Cecile Vidal. Edition Flammarion, 2003.  Presents a good historical overview.

A shortcut to reading these books is to peruse the France in America /France en Amérique bi-lingual website conceived in partnership with the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Library of Congress.It explores the history of the French presence in North America from the first decades of the 16th century to the end of the 19th century.

Books on exploration and on the Oregon and Santa Fe trails

Historical Atlas of the American West.  By Derek Hayes, University of California Press, 2009.  This masterpiece is spectacular in scope and visually brillant.  It presents a sweeping history of the American West through more than 600 original full-color maps and extensive explanatory text. It includes one of the most famous maps of the Spanish Southwest in French (then the language of science) by Alexander von Humboldt in 1811, and a chapter about France in the West.

Pedro Vial and the Roads to Santa Fe.  By Noel Loomis and Abraham P. Nasatir, University of Oklahoma Pres – Norman, 1967.  A major scholarly work, this book is the first complete and documented account of Pedro (Pierre) Vial, a Frenchman from Lyons, who for 26 years traveled the Southwest. If you read only one book, this might be the one.

Pathfinder: John Charles Frémont and the Course of American Empire. By Tom Chaffin, Hill & Wang, New York 2002.  During seven scientific expeditions, covering over 30,000 miles of western exploration and mapping surveys, Frémont was nicknamed “The Pathfinder” by the popular press.  He compelled the people of his time to re-imagine the geographic breadth and diversity of their nation. 

The Oregon Trail, Sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life. By Francis Parkman, Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1892. A must read classic of Parkman’s travels with his French companions. Parkman was the 23 years old son of a Boston family and decided to write the history of the struggle of French and English for domination of North America. He undertook his trip in 1846 to learn firsthand. From that trip emerged one of the seminal books of American literature.

Commerce of the Prairies: Or the Journal of a Santa Fe Trader. By Josiah Gregg, New York, 1844 and many re-editions.  This is a classic, although not a major source about the French on the Santa Fe Trail. It contains references on the French people that Gregg encountered, and uses numerous French expressions revealing how widely the French language was used in the West in the 19th century.

Wah-to-yah and the Taos Trail.  By Lewis H. Garrard, University of Oklahoma Press Norman.  Originally published in 1850.  This is an account of his travel to the West by Garrard, then only 17 years old. A classic at par with Parkman’s “Oregon Trail”. Includes references to the French and to French expressions used on the trail, too numerous to mention.

The Prairie Traveler. By Randolph B. Marcy, Captain U.S. Army.   Applewood Books, Bedford, Massachusetts.  Originally published in 1859 as “the best-selling handbook for American pioneers”. This is a practical manual for safe travel across the prairies to the West. This book is not about the French (although it describes French surveying techniques to measure stream crossings and recommends canned vegetables from Chollet and Co. in Paris), but it is a mine of information and most enjoyable reading.

Books on the Fur Trade

French Fur Traders & Voyageurs in the American West. Edited by LeRoy R. Hafen. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London.  Bison Books printing 1997. These are biographical sketches of twenty-two mountain men and traders: Beaubien, Bordeaux, Chalifoux, Charbonneau, Chouteau, Clamorgan,  Franchère, Gervais, Larpenteur, LeDuc, Lespérance, Lucier, Ménard, Moncravie, Papin, Pariseau, Pratte, Robidoux, St. Vrain, Sarpy and Baronet Vasquez.  These biographies are reprinted from Mountain Men by LeRoy R. Hafen, a 10-volume collection published by the A.H. Clark Company, including almost 300 mini-biographies, most 20-30 pages long. Janet Lecompte’s introduction is superb.

The Taos Trappers, The Fur Trade in the Far Southwest, 1540-1846. By David J. Weber, University of Oklahoma Press, 1968. A remarkable treatment of the subject, the first comprehensive history of the southwestern fur trade, which was the work of independent Mexican, French and American traders and trappers. Includes references and stories of numerous Frenchmen (about 90 are mentioned in the book), including Vial, Clamorgan, d’Eglise, Robidoux, Provost, Leclerc, Leroux, Guérin, Lacroix, Terrien,  etc.

Books on the Catholic Church

The classics among the many books written about the Catholic Church in New Mexico include, in order of original publication:

James H.  DeFouri, Historical Sketch of the Catholic Church in New Mexico, edited by Thomas J. Steel, S.J. Rock Hill, SC, Yucca Tree Press, 2003. This book was originally published in 1887 by Reverend James H. Defouri, priest and secretary to the first bishop of Santa Fe, Jean-Baptiste Lamy.  Bishop Lamy was retired at the time this book was written, and most certainly was consulted by Defouri.  This re-edition by Thomas Steel includes a most useful preface setting the scene, a commentary at the beginning of each chapter and brief comments in brackets, making the book a must-read.

Jean-Baptiste Salpointe, Soldiers of the Cross, 1898, reprinted in 1967 by Calvin Horn, Publisher Inc., Albuquerque.

Louis H. Warner, Archbishop Lamy, An Epoch Maker, Santa Fe New Mexican Publishing Corporation, 1936.

W.J. Howlett, Life of Bishop Machebeuf, 1908, reedited in Denver, Reis College, 198L

Liliana Owens, Jesuit Beginnings in New Mexico 1867-1882, El Paso, Texas, Revista Catolica Press, 1950.

Paul Horgan, Lamy of Santa Fe, Wesleyan University Press, 1975.

Fray Angelico Chavez, But Time and Chance: The Story of Padre Martínez of Taos, 1793 – 1867, Santa Fe,  Sunstone Press, 1981.

Lynn Bridgers, Death’s Deceiver, The Life of Joseph P. Machebeuf, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1997. Machebeuf was the friend and fellow priest of Bishop Lamy, and became bishop of Denver.

Thomas J.Steele, editor, Seeds of Struggle, Harvest of Faith, The Papers of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe Catholic Cuarto Centennial Conference on the History of the Catholic Church in New Mexico, LDP Press and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Albuquerque, 1998.

Thomas J. Steele, Archbishop Lamy: In His Own Words, LPD Press, Albuquerque, 2000 (a must read for its remarkable introduction). Includes an analysis of Lamy’s psychological profile following Myers-Briggs types.

Nancy Hanks, Lamy’s Legion, HRM Books, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2000. An must-have book as reference, unfortunately hard to find. Nancy Hanks wrote her dissertation on the French clergy in New Mexico. This book tells the story of each of the estimated 160 priests who served the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, 114 of whom were French.

Willa Cather’s famous novel, Death Comes from the Archbishop, makes for enjoyable reading but is inaccurate for its historical context and character analysis.

2 Responses to Books

  1. Excellent! N’oubliez-pas “French San Francisco”!

  2. Feliz Tixier says:

    One of my husband’s ancestors, Victor Tixier, wrote “Tixier’s Travels on the Osage Praires” (or something to that effect). Is Victor related to Jean Baptiste Tixier, who helped build St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe?

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