Texas saga of Rene Robert, Seiur de la Salle began near Matagorda
Bay and ended much closer to East Texas. LaSalle led the first French
exploration through the interior of the continent all the way to the
mouth of the Mississippi River in 1682, then won approval to plant
a permanent colony there. A colony would tie down both ends of the
continent's eastern waterways for France.
When LaSalle returned in 1684 with his colonists, he landed about
400 miles west of the Mississippi. Whether this reflected poor navigation
or simple ignorance of New World topography is debated yet. From his
previous exploration of the Mississippi River, he knew that the river
divided into many streams near the Gulf of Mexico. Extant records
indicate that at first he regarded Matagorda Bay as the western mouth
of the "Colbert" River, the original French name for the Mississippi.
Explorations convinced LaSalle that his assumption was false and that
his plantation, known as Fort St. Louis, lay far to the west of his
intended destination. LaSalle also made mistakes in recruiting for
the adventure. Too many "gentlemen," or those unaccustomed to work,
composed the colony. Faced with failure, LaSalle left most of his
colonists ensconced in the palisaded Fort St. Louis and traveled eastward
with just a few men to try to reach other French outposts. Along the
way, LaSalle was ambushed and killed by Pierre Duhaut, one of his
countrymen, near a Hasinai village on March 19, 1687. So the mystery
is not "who dun it" but "where did he do it?"
thirty years ago, historian Ert J. Gum, professor of French history
at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, reported at a meeting of the
East Texas Historical Association that a search of French records
had convinced him that the foul deed had been done in eastern Oklahoma.
Dr. Gum was a native of eastern Oklahoma.
At the next meeting we heard a rebuttal from former Rusk County Judge
Charlie Langford that Spanish records argued for a crime scene in
East Texas. Descriptions
of the site sounded much like Rusk
|On a boulevard
there is a fine statue of LaSalle to support that community's claim
as the area where Texas' famed French explorer breathed his last.
I am content that this offers sufficient evidence to give the nod
to the Navasotans. After all, no one in Rusk
County or eastern Oklahoma was convinced sufficiently to raise
the money for a fine statue.
All Things Historical
(Archie P. McDonald is Director of the East Texas Historical Association
and author or editor of over 20 books on Texas)