John Evans (explorer)
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John Evans was born in Waunfawr, near Caernarfon. In the early 1790s there was an upsurge of interest in Wales in the story of Madog having discovered America, and there were persistent rumours in North America of the existence of a tribe of Welsh Indians, identified with the Mandan. Iolo Morganwg had originally intended to explore the Missouri to discover these Welsh Indians and John Evans was to have gone with him. However, Iolo withdrew from the expedition and John Evans embarked for the United States alone, arriving in Baltimore in October 1792. In the spring of 1793 he made his way to St. Louis in Spanish Louisiana, where he was imprisoned for a while on suspicion of being a British spy.
In April 1795 he set off on an expedition with Spanish backing to explore the Missouri and to try to discover a route to the Pacific Ocean from its headwaters. He found the Mandan in 1796, and spent the winter with them before returning to St. Louis in 1797, however, he found no trace of Welsh speakers among them. He had travelled 1,800 miles up the Missouri from its confluence with the Mississippi, and he produced a map showing the course of the river. This map, passed on by Thomas Jefferson was later used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Evans remained in the service of the Spanish authorities, but died in New Orleans in May 1799.
In popular culture
In 2014, the history of John Evans gained renewed popular interest as the topic of a book, film, album and mobile application, all entitled American Interior, created and produced by Welsh musician Gruff Rhys, vocalist with Super Furry Animals.
- Gwyn A. Williams (1979) Madog: the making of a myth (Eyre Methuen) ISBN 0-413-39450-6
- Floyd C. and William B. McGroarty Shoemaker, A. Nasatir (1931) John Evans, Explorer and Surveyor (Missouri Historical Review, Volume 25, Number 2-4)
- Gruff Rhys (2014) The Quixotic Journey of John Evans, His Search for a Lost Tribe and How, Fuelled by Fantasy and (Possibly) Booze, He Accidentally Annexed a Third of North America (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books Ltd.) ISBN 9780241146019