FORT ST LOUISby
Archie P. McDonald, PhD
The Life and Death of La Salle
remarkable Frenchman whose name I love to rattle off when lecturing about early
Texas history, Rene Robert, Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle, made an impact
on East Texas with his life and with
once there, La Salle stayed. After pushing up a small stream, he selected the
site for Fort St. Louis and ordered the others, who had remained on the
coast, to hasten thither and to build a fort. Eventually, after much grumbling
and arguing, which is what La Salle's colonists did best, they completed six buildings
and the one nearest a creek served as a fort.
First, "the life." La Salle led an expedition
down the Mississippi River to its mouth in the lower delta in 1682. There La Salle
stuck up the Bourbon fleur de lis and claimed and named all the land drained by
the river in the name of his sovereign, Louis. Then he returned home to request
permission to plant a colony near that site to anchor French claims throughout
the Mississippi Valley.
In 1685, La Salle returned to plant his colony,
but either through bad luck, poor navigation, or deceptive policy, he overshot
his target about 400 miles and landed instead in Matagorda Bay, primarily to expand
Spanish claims westward. I like the latter explanation push French claims as far
westward as possible at Spanish expense. Certainly the Spanish took that attitude,
as we shall see.
And they could argue. The
problem stemmed from La Salle's recruiting method, which was to bring too many
"gentlemen" who refused to work, and from La Salle's own abrasive personality.
After their three boats either returned to France or sank in the bay, La Salle
agreed to lead part of the men to seek relief from French settlements on the Mississippi.
Unfortunately, on the way, La Salle's men murdered him. Meanwhile, the
Spanish searched for the fort to destroy it, but when they found it they learned
that Indians had beaten them to the task.
Second, "the death." Late in the 1960s, Ert J. Gum, a historian of France,
though born in Oklahoma, presented a paper to the East
Texas Historical Association. Based on reading French records, Gum said the
La Salle murder occurred somewhere in Oklahoma. Next meeting, former Rusk County
Judge Charles Langford presented a counter argument that said the deed had been
done in, well, in Rusk County.
I have always thought it best to
leave the dubious honor of hosting our region's first recorded homicide to the
good citizens of Navasota.
After all, they went to the trouble and expense of erecting a statue that says
that the murder happened there. And I always believe what historians tell me.
Things Historical >
May 2-8 , 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical
Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more
than 20 books on Texas.