March 19, 1687, as spring's first blossoms began to bring color
to the gray winter landscape, a French explorer approached a rustic
hunting camp somewhere in an area now known as Texas.
Making his way through the brush, he paused to listen for voices
from the camp. From a hiding place in the tall grass, a fellow countryman
rose from his cover and fired a musket at the Frenchman. The ball
struck him in the head and knocked him to the ground.
Even before Rene'
Robert Cavelier, Seiur de La Salle, died, his murderer and several
accomplices stripped him naked, divided his clothing and other possessions
and threw his body to the wolves.
It may have been the first known murder of a Caucasian male in East
Texas and, ever since Texas became a civilized land, the site
Salle's murder has been a source of unbridled speculation. At
least eight communities have made claims as "the place where La
Salle was killed."
E.J. Gum, a professor of French history at the University of Nebraska,
once told the East Texas Historical Association a search of French
records had convinced him La
Salle was murdered in eastern Oklahoma. Dr. Gum was a native
of eastern Oklahoma.
At a succeeding meeting of the Association, Charlie Langford, a
former Rusk County
judge from Henderson,
argued that Spanish records pointed to a crime scene in East
Texas. He said the descriptions matched Rusk
Dr. Lee W. Woodard, in an internet article titled, "Secret La Salle
Monument and Historical Marker," claimed that Oklahoma's Heavener
Runestone is a "secret La Salle monument and historical marker (that)
sooner or later will be recognized" as where the French explorer
died and was buried near the Poteau Valley of Oklahoma.
Another claim on La
Salle's murder site is made by the Weiss family of Beaumont,
Texas. The family asserts that La Salle was buried where the
Beaumont Country Club now stands, about fifty miles up the Neches
River from the Texas Gulf Coast.
In Hardin County,
Stanley Coe studied many of the available La
Salle documents and concluded that the explorer was killed and
buried beside Village Creek.
Coe said that La
Salle, wanting to avoid man-eating Indians on the Gulf Coast,
led his party across what are today's Brazos and Trinity rivers
and reached Village Creek, knowing it would empty into a river.
Somewhere on Village Creek, La
Salle was shot, his body stripped, and dragged into the brush.
The late F.W. Cole, a Cherokee
County historian, spent years tracing La
Salle's movements in East
Texas and concluded he was shot to death on the east bank of
Bowles Creek in the Martin Lacy Survey two and a half miles southeast
In 1913, Jasper
native Jesse J. Lee wrote to a friend at the University of Texas
in Austin that a camp
of German stave makers cut down a large white oak tree near Burkeville,
in Newton County,
and found carved in its trunk the words, La Salle, leading to local
speculation that La Salle may have been killed near the nearby Sabine
The most convincing claim of La
Salle's murder scene is made by Navasota historians, who years
ago raised funds to erect a statue of La Salle on the town's main
boulevard. The Navasota
claim is strongly supported by a book, "The La Salle Expedition
to Texas: The Journal of Henry Joutel, 1684-1687." Edited by William
C. Foster, the book includes a map indicating that the explorer
was assassinated somewhere in western Grimes
County about twelve miles west of Navasota.
La Salle's expedition crossed the Brazos River on March 14, 1687,
and he was supposedly killed five days later north of the crossing.
Things Historical July 31, 2007 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers
Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association.