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LE GRAND, ALEXANDER

LE GRAND, ALEXANDER (ca. 1794–1839). Alexander Le Grand, frontier surveyor, trader, trapper, explorer, and diplomat, by his own account a native of Maryland, was born around 1794. He made his first recorded entrance into western history in New Mexico in 1823. In the summer of the following year, as captain of the Becknell-Storrs-Marmaduke trading expedition, he led a group of eighty-three traders from Missouri to Santa Fe. During the following year he lived in Santa Fe and Taos and may have participated in a trapping expedition in the winter of 1824–25. He probably visited Sonora on his way to Mexico City, where, on or before November 21, 1826, for a reported sum of $10,000, he contracted with Stephen Julian Wilson to survey an empresario grant Wilson had received from the state of Coahuila and Texas on May 27, 1826. Thereafter Le Grand dealt with Richard Exter, an English merchant who purchased one-half interest in Wilson's contract on November 21, 1826.

Le Grand proceeded by way of Veracruz and arrived in New Orleans on December 26, 1826. After visiting the frontier settlements in Missouri, presumably to recruit surveyors and others, he returned to New Orleans and departed on his surveying expedition in April 1827. In June his thirty-man party left Miller County, Arkansas, and presumably followed the Red River en route to the High Plains, where it was to begin the survey of the Wilson-Exter grant. The grant began at the intersection of the thirty-second parallel and the 102nd meridian and encompassed an estimated 48,000,000 acres lying north and west of those lines in what is now New Mexico, Colorado, and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. Whether Le Grand actually made the survey he described in the journal he kept for his employers has been the subject of considerable speculation. In November 1827 he and the survivors of his party arrived in Santa Fe. Over the next several years he is reported to have divided his time between Santa Fe and visits with Indian tribes on the South Plains. In April 1836 he visited Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, where, upon request of a United States government agent, he prepared a lengthy report on the strength and activities of Indian tribes of the Southwest.

In midsummer 1836 Le Grand appeared in South Texas. There, on July 12, he was named a volunteer aide-de-camp to Gen. Thomas J. Rusk with the rank of captain of cavalry. President David G. Burnet, who had lived for many years with the Comanches, named Le Grand commissioner on September 9, 1836, to negotiate a peace treaty with the Comanches and Kiowas, and three days later promoted him to major of infantry. Le Grand traveled to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, by way of New Orleans and arrived in November 1836. During the next several weeks, he visited the Comanche chief She-co-ney somewhere in the vicinity of the Wichita Mountains of what is now Oklahoma, but, because he lacked authority to guarantee their hunting grounds, the Comanches refused to negotiate a treaty. In April 1837 Le Grand returned to Texas, and from Nacogdoches submitted a report on his mission to President Sam Houston, who had succeeded Burnet after Le Grand had left for Indian Territory.

Over the next two years Le Grand fought a frustrating battle with Houston, who twice thwarted his efforts to secure payment for his military service. Not until January 1839, after Mirabeau B. Lamar replaced Houston in the presidency, did legislation authorizing the payment of his military salary escape a presidential veto. This long-awaited vindication came too late to be of benefit to Le Grand, for he died in Houston on or about March 3, 1839. The draft in payment for his military service was not paid by the treasurer of Texas until May 2, 1839, two months after his death.

Though nothing definite is known about Le Grand's early life he was among the better educated of his contemporaries on the frontier. Among his friends and acquaintances were such leaders as Bartolomé Baca, governor of New Mexico; Joel R. Poinsett, United States Minister to Mexico; David G. Burnet; Albert Pike; and fur traders Auguste and Pierre Chouteau. Among his enemies, Sam Houston stood almost alone. Houston's opposition to paying Le Grand for his military service, spelled out in such bitter terms in his veto messages, hints at an antipathy of earlier origin, perhaps arising from a confrontation in Indian Territory during Houston's years with the Cherokees.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Raymond Estep, "The First Panhandle Land Grant," Chronicles of Oklahoma 36 (Winter 1958–59). Raymond Estep, "The Military and Diplomatic Services of Alexander Le Grand for the Republic of Texas, 1836–1837," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 54 (October 1950).

Raymond Estep

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Raymond Estep, "LE GRAND, ALEXANDER," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fle24), accessed April 24, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.