In the year 1700 or thereabouts a man of the Yazoo traveled the entire breadth of the North American continent seeking answers to satisfy his curiosity. Here is the story of Moncacht-Ape, Native American explorer.
The Story of Moncacht-Ape
Moncacht-Ape was alone and unhappy. His wife and their small children had died. He was left with nothing. But he was not done living. No, Moncacht-Ape was too vigorous, too energetic, too curious to remain dejected forever, even in the face of the tragedies he had faced. But with no more ties to home he was now free to satisfy his energy and curiosity.
Where, he wondered, did my people come from? What is our history?
No one could tell him. He asked the Chickasaws, but they did not know any more than the wise men of the Yazoo. But, they said, perhaps the people who live in the land where the sun rises know where our ancestors came from.
Moncacht-Ape travels to the east
So, having been advised of the route he should take, Moncacht-Ape traveled to the land of the Shawnee and from there up the Wabash river (Ohio river). He came to an Abenaki village in the north. Winter was not far away and Moncacht-Ape wished to learn the language of the region so he could travel more easily and so he stayed the winter in this village. While there he struck up a friendship with an older man, a wanderlust like himself. The man offered to guide Moncacht-Ape to his goal, the sea and the tribes who lived near it.
In the spring they set out, avoiding all other human settlements along the way. They went slowly and, for Moncacht-Ape, painfully. The country was rocky and rugged. The stones bruised and cut his feet. But the sight of the ocean made him forget all that.
The wonders of the ocean
The sea was so big, so alive, so restless. His eyes felt too small to take it all in. That night they camped nearby, but the roaring of the restless water and the wooshing of the heavy wind kept Moncacht-Ape awake half the night.
Restless, Moncacht-Ape was up before dawn and staring out at the waves once again. He was surprised to see the water much further away than it had been the night before. That made no sense. His companion joined him, but Moncacht-Ape could not speak for the wonder he felt at the vastness of this water. As the sin rose, the wind died down, but the waves did not cease.
As he watched, Moncacht-Ape realized that the water was moving inland, toward the very spot he was standing. If it kept this course, they would be swept away in the powerful waves. Moncacht-Ape turned and began to run. His companion called out and stopped him. “The water moves out and back every day,” he explained. “We don’t know why, but it never leaves its bounds. There is nothing to fear.”
Moncacht-Ape and his companion traveled on to the older man’s home village. While there Moncacht-Ape quizzed everyone he could on the ocean, the French, and the floating villages. He wanted to know all about the world. How big was it? How far did these waters reach? What was beyond them? And where, where, did his people come from? Some of these questions were answered, but the most important, the origin of his people, no one knew.
He stayed there in the village all through the winter. And though he had seen snow, he had never seen it so deep or the cold so biting. To hunt and walk about the people had to strap rackets to their feet to stay on top of the drifts. The winter was very long, but at length the snows melted and Moncacht-Ape and his companion set out again, bundles strapped to their backs.
One of the villagers told Moncacht-Ape of a wonder just a little to the east. The ocean, he said, is magnificent, but there is a place where the water falls over the cliffs in such power and with such a roar that you will not believe it.
A visit to Niagara Falls
They found the falls. Anywhere within a few miles and you could not miss it. It was so loud that it filled Moncacht-Ape’s head and he could hardly think for the noise. This water does not fall, he thought, it is cast out, thrown with force from the top of the cliff. It was far more impressive than the description of the villager had led him to believe. Impressive and a bit frightening.
Gathering his courage he determined that like others he had heard of, he would pass under the falls, cross beneath that raging torrent. He did, making it to the far side of the river and then returning.
After leaving the river he and his companion made it to the upper courses of the Wabash. There his companion helped him build a dug-out canoe with a hatchet brought by the older man for the purpose. Moncacht-Ape shaped a paddle and fashioned a rope out of bark. He climbed into his dugout and set off down the river, leaving his friend behind.
At length he reached the Meact-chact-sipi (Mississippi). Then finally turned into the little water course of his home village. His friends and relations were overjoyed to see him again after two years. They hadn’t been sure he would return.
Moncacht-Ape sets out to the west
Somewhere, he reasoned, must be the place, the tribe, from which they had all originated. I will go from tribe to tribe, asking my questions, until I find someone who can tell me where my people came from.
He rested and prepared his supplies so that by the time the corn was ripe he was ready again to set out. He hoisted his pack on his shoulders and strapped his weapons to his person and set out north, up the Meact-chact-sipi, traveling parallel with that great river along the eastern bank.
When he came to the Wabash he moved a little further up stream and built a raft. He paddled his raft across the Wabash, allowing it to drift downstream as it went until he came to the opposite bank. Then he hunted and walked across the prairies until he came to Tamaroas, a village of the Illinois people.
Resting a few days, he then traveled along the eastern bank of the Meact-chact-sipi until across the water he could see where the Missouri entered. He went a little further up stream so he could cross and land on the west of the Meact-chact-sipi and north of the Missouri. There he built another raft and fashioned another paddle. He landed on the sand bar where the two rivers meet.
Heading into the unknown
He stopped to watch his little raft drift down river until it came to the spot where the two rivers mixed. There the raft was tossed and spun and thrown about by the troubled waters until it disappeared. Moncacht-Ape turned away and began to walk along the north bank of the Missouri until he reached the Missouri tribe. He stayed with them the winter to rest and to learn their language which was also the language of the tribes ahead on his path.
In the spring he set out traveling ever westward. He met the Kansas people. They told him that the trail ahead would be very difficult. There wasn’t another village for hundreds of miles and he would have to leave the Missouri river course to find it. The next people to the west were called the Otters and you found them by traveling along the Missouri for another month then turn due north until reaching another river. This river would run from east to west and the Otter villages could be found along its banks.
Undaunted, Moncacht-Ape set out along the Missouri. One night after he had traveled for about a month he was lying down to rest when he saw smoke on the horizon. This must be a hunting party, he thought. He set off at once to find them. The hunters were very surprised to see him, a lone man wandering in the wilderness. But they welcomed him to their fire. The Otters spoke a language unlike any Moncacht-Ape had heard so far and had to communicate through signs.
A few days after meeting the hunting party a man and his wife were returning to their village as the woman was about to give birth to a child. They took Moncacht-Ape with them so he could continue his journey. Two weeks later they arrived at the first of the Otter villages. It was along a cool clear river called the Beautiful.
The people of the village welcomed the traveler in and fed him and taught hum their language all through the winter. Salt-tears, an elder of the tribe, assured him that the languages of all the tribes to the sea would be intelligible to him if he learned theirs. This he did and in the spring they gave him a little canoe and he set off again.
Down the River Beautiful
In a few weeks he came upon another village and there the people were not so welcoming. You see, they wore their hair long and thought that any with short hair, like Moncacht-Ape, must be slaves. Moncacht-Ape soon convinced them that he was neither a slave nor a dishonorable man, but only a wanderer. He had come from Salt-Tears, who had taught him the language. Well, they knew Salt-Tears and took in this vagabond for his sake. Moncacht-Ape stayed only two days in this village as he was anxious to get on with his quest. He still had not found the origin of his people. He traveled on down the river in his canoe, stopping only briefly to greet the people he met and to hunt for food.
At length he came to a large village near the Pacific, but not yet in sight of it. The people were at war with their coastal neighbors and so the way was barred.
Moncacht-Ape joined the war party. He was able to speak to a woman whom he captured in battle. She told him a strange tale of a great ship that came to their coast. It was full of men with pale skins and dark hair. They took on water and supplies for five days and then left.
After spending the winter with this tribe and still not getting any answers to his questions he was discouraged. The land to the north, they said, goes on and on with more tribes along the coast. Eventually the land runs into the sea and ends. No one knew where the people had come from. Moncacht-Ape had to admit defeat. The next spring he returned home by the same route he had come. The whole trip to the Pacific and back occupied five years of his life.
The Greatest Explorer of North America
Moncacht-Ape was the first historically recorded transcontinental traveler of North America. The French called him “The Interpreter” because he knew so many languages. But his own people called him “one who kills difficulties”. It’s easy to see where he would have gotten that name.
You can color Moncacht-Ape’s Map. Click on the picture below to get the printable.
These are books about Moncacht-Ape, the natives before Columbus, and the tribes of the lower Mississippi, where Moncacht-Ape was from. We couldn’t find any children’s books on these topics, though Moncacht-Ape’s story would make an excellent one. Clicking on the covers below will take you to Amazon where you can review and purchase these books. These area affiliate links so we get a small commission if you decide to purchase.
- There were two independent sources, two different Frenchmen, who met Moncacht-Ape and heard his story. They each tell the ending, the part on the coasts of the Pacific, differently. So while Moncacht-Ape was certainly real and his story is mostly true, there is no way to know for sure how much the Frenchmen changed or embellished the tale. Think about how this can happen to stories.
- Lewis and Clark took a copy of Moncacht-Ape’s story with them on their journey across North America. This story was the main reason they thought the passage west would be relatively easy. Moncacht-Ape mentions mountains briefly, but Lewis and Clark were completely unprepared for the Rockies.
- Where did Moncacht-Ape’s ancestors come from? It is certain that some people crossed the Bering Strait from Asia. But that’s probably not the whole story. Learn more.
- Moncacht-Ape had a burning desire to know his history. Do you think knowing the stories of your ancestors is important? Why?
More From Layers of Learning
We write fun and in-depth curriculum for homeschools and teachers. Here are our units on Native America.
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