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Bernard de la Harpe and the Unicorn on the Ouachita River

Location of the Nassonite post erected by Bernard de la Harpe in 1719. From Texas Archeology Society Bulletin, Vol. 44 (1973), at Portal to Texas History.

I'm reading the journals of Bernard de La Harpe, the French commander who set up a trading post on the Red River north of Natchitoches in 1719. He built the post out of logs within the Nassonites, a Caddo (Kadahadacho) village which was to the west of the Great Bend in today's Bowie County, Texas.

He left the Nassonite Post in 1720 to establish trade further west/northwest and came to the Ouachita River (Arkansas). This is the actual Ouachita River and not the Washita River (Oklahoma), which the French confused for the Ouachita River at one point in their explorations.

At least, that's what I'm thinking... the geography and mapping is very confusing. The map from 1720 (attached) makes it clear — the Ouachita River is shown emptying into the Red River, while the 1763 map (attached) shows the [correct] geography that the Ouachita empties into the Black River.

But the real mystery: while at the Ouachita River, Bernard de la Harpe claimed to have eaten a unicorn. No, I'm not kidding. Here's his entry:

"After a thousand obstructions, we found ourselves on the border of the west branch of the Quachita River, which separated, at twenty leagues lower, from the other branch, which ascends into the west-northwest; this river empties into the Red River, at fourteen leagues from its mouth. At two o'clock in the afternoon, we joined the Naouydiche [Tribe of the Caddo Confederacy] party; it was busy smoking unicorns. This is an animal as large as a middle-sized horse; it has red hair of the color and length of that of goats, the leg rather slender and in the middle of the forehead a horn, without branch, of a half foot long; the meat of it is very delicate. This discovery proves itself in conformity to what M. de Bienville had heard the savages tell, that there were unicorns in the headwaters of the Quachitas."

If a kind readers has any pictures of Ouachita Mountain unicorns, please share!!!!

1720 map of French Louisiana, with the numerous Indian villages and rivers well documented but not always in the right places. The Ouachita River (underlined) empties into the Red River (circle) according to the German map maker. From the David Rumsey Collection.

This 1763 map depicts a more accurate Ouachita River watershed. It merges with the Black River, when then empties into the Red River. From the David Rumsey Collection.


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