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DE MÉZIÈRES Y CLUNY, ATHANASE (1719-1779)

Athanase de Mézières y Clugny was born in Paris in 1719. Before his twentieth birthday he moved to Louisiana. There he would spend his adult life in government service, first as a French soldier, and after 1763 as an agent of Spain. He rose to the rank of captain in the French infantry and was married twice. His first wife, Maria, was the daughter of Louis Juchereau St. Denis. She died in childbirth shortly after their marriage in 1747. He then married Pelagie Fazende. He had one child by his first wife and eight by his second.

In 1763 the transfer of Louisiana from France to Spain left Mézières unemployed. The second governor of Spanish Louisiana, Alejandro O'Reilly, selected him in 1769 to command the post at Natchitoches. Mézières was not only a talented soldier and explorer but also a diplomat and linguist. He was fluent in several of the Caddoan dialects of the various tribes that lived along or near the Red River. This, combined with his first-hand knowledge of the region, made him a highly effective agent for the colonial government.

In 1770 Mézières made the first of his expeditions up the Red River. He managed to conclude treaties and trading relationships with the Kichai, Tawakoni, Taovaya, and Tonkawa tribes. Moreover, he was able to begin talks with the Wichita that resulted in a 1771 treaty. The Wichita were especially important because of their recent hostilities against the Spanish in Texas and their ongoing relationship with the Comanche. Mézières followed up by easing relations with the tribes on the Brazos and Trinity rivers.

After these successes he obtained permission to visit Europe, where the king of Spain promoted him to lieutenant colonel. Mézières was absent from the frontier until 1778; by that time relations with the tribes of northern Texas and present southern Oklahoma had soured. Commandant General of Interior Provinces Teodoro de Croix ordered him to travel up the Red River to visit the Comanche, who were the source of many of Spain's problems in the area.

The mission left San Antonio in March 1778 and reached the Wichita villages on the Red River west of present Marietta, Oklahoma. He found the Wichita living on both banks of the river in two villages. Despite their alliance with the powerful Comanche, the Wichita were under constant pressure from the Apache to the south and the Osage from the north. The latter were extending their hunting grounds southward from their traditional range in present eastern Kansas and northern Oklahoma. More disturbing was the news that the Comanche had recently raided Spanish settlements along the Rio Grande. Mézières decided that traveling into the lands of the Comanche was unwise. In April 1778 he sent out messengers, asking them to come to the Wichita villages. By early May no Comanche had arrived, and he concluded that his mission was a failure.

He longed to return to Natchitoches, but the officials in Spanish Texas ordered him to San Antonio to head another expedition. He was promoted to colonel and named governor of Texas. However, exhausted from his travels and unwell, Mézières died on November 2, 1779, before he could assume office.

SEE ALSO: EUROPEAN EXPLORATION, FRENCH.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Herbert Eugene Bolton, ed. and trans., Athanase de Mézières and the Louisiana-Texas Frontier, 1768-1780, 2 vols. (Cleveland, Ohio: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1914). Odie B. Faulk, A Successful Failure (Austin, Tex.: Steck-Vaughn, 1965). Carl N. Tyson, The Red River in Southwestern History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981).

Carl N. Tyson

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