John Thomas Evans

Lewis and Clark used the map compiled by James Mackay and John Evans of the upper Missouri River as a resource in their preparations for the expedition.

John Thomas Evans was born in 1770 in Waunfawr, Carmarthenshire, Wales. He was the son of a Methodist minister. It is said that Evans became interested in the "legend of Madoc" around 1792 and was encouraged to go to America and search for the Welsh Indians of the legend. He sailed to Baltimore that year, stayed in Philadelphia, and then walked to St. Louis (with $1.75 to his name). During the latter part of the journey, he had a recurring malarial fever. Malaria eventually took his life in 1799. He was briefly imprisoned by the Spanish as a suspected British spy. Influential people in St. Louis stood up for him and he was released. He waited two years (in Kaskaskia) before an expedition was formed to find the source of the Missouri River and the Pacific coast. He applied to Mackay for the Spanish-sponsored journey. This position also allowed him to continue his search for the descendants of Madoc.

Statue of John Evans
by Meic Watts,
representing his soul
returning to Waunfawr.

Mackay and Evans traveled together as far as Fort Charles, in modern-day Nebraska. Then Mackay gave Evans detailed instructions to explore the river to the Mandan Villages and beyond to the Pacific. Evans left on June 8 and arrived at the Mandan villages on September 23. There are no journal records attributed to Evans, but he gave information for the drawing of the maps of the journey up the Missouri River and its tributaries across 1,000 miles. They helped Lewis and Clark’s journey.

Evans failed to find any link to the Welsh or their language in the Mandan tribe, with whom he spent a whole winter. In 1797 he wrote a letter to the London Cymmrodorion Society about the lack of evidence for a connection between the Welsh and the American Indians. (However, good legends never die. Even today, there is a Madoc 1170 Research Association. This group still explores this legend — by gathering DNA evidence, among other methods.)

After the trip was completed, Mackay and Evans traveled to New Orleans to procure a position for Evans with the Spanish government. Governor Gayaso de Lemos was arranging a position for him, when, later that month — May 1799, Evans had a fatal attack of malaria.

Evans is almost unknown in the United States, but is a hero in Wales. In 2000, in Waunfawr, his birthplace, a statue was commissioned and dedicated to him.
The Legend of Madoc