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St. Denis, born near Quebec on September 17, 1674, may have been one of the earliest Frenchmen to travel in what is now Oklahoma. From 1701 until 1707 St. Denis explored the Red River area from his home base of Fort St. John in Louisiana on the Mississippi River. He later took charge of Fort Biloxi. In 1713, on the directive of the Louisiana governor, St. Denis traveled west and stayed for a short time at Natchitoches. From there he followed the Red River, making contact with other Caddoan groups and eventually encountering the Hasinai people. St. Denis traveled as far west as the Spanish settlements on the Rio Grande before the Spanish arrested him for illegal entry. While under house arrest by Commander Diego Ramón, St. Denis met his future wife, Manuela Sánchez, Ramón's daughter.

After impressing the Spanish at Mexico City, St. Denis became an officer for the Ramón expedition to establish Spanish missions in East Texas. The conclusion of the War of Spanish Succession ended the brief, amiable relations between Spain and France and broke the accord between St. Denis and New Spain. Louis Juchereau de St. Denis and his wife lived out their lives at the French outpost Natchitoches. He died on June 11, 1744. Although St. Denis may not have penetrated the Oklahoma borders, his relationships with American Indian nations, France, and Spain, as well as the trade he conducted, had an impact on the future of early eighteenth-century native Oklahoma populations.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ross Phares, Cavalier in the Wilderness: The Story of the Explorer and Trader Louis Juchereau de St. Denis (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1952). Robert S. Weddle, The French Thorn: Rival Explorers in the Spanish Sea, 1682-1762 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991).

Larry O'Dell

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