La Salle


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La SalleTHE first European emigrants to Texas were led by Robert Cavalier, the Sieur de la Salle, who landed on the west side, and near the entrance, of Matagorda bay, on the 18th of February, 1685.

American State Papers, vol. xii., p. 87 : Wait, Boston, 1819. Life of La Salle, American Biography, vol. xi., p. 129.

La Salle was a brave and gallant knight of Louis XIV. He was a native of Rouen, in Normandy. Born of a good family, and destined for the church, he received, under the guidance of the Jesuits, an excellent scientific education. He was a man of great abilities, of an enterprising spirit, and possessed of a firmness of mind which peril and adversity seemed only to strengthen. He kept his own counsel, relied upon his own genius, and bore without a murmur whatever ills befell him. But, with all these good qualities, such was his ambition, that it rendered him morose and sullen — haughty, not only to his dependants, but his associates.

La Salle Discovers the Mouth of the Mississippi

It is remarkable that the mouth of the Mississippi was not discovered until one hundred and ninety years after the discovery of America; and still more so, that this discovery should have been made through Canada. Ferdinand De Soto, coming from Florida, had seen it, and been buried in its waters about the year 1542. And in 1678, Marquette, a Recollect missionary, with six others, under the direction of M. Talon, the intendant-general of Canada, starting out from Mackinac, crossed over to the great river, and floated down as far as the mouth of the Arkansas. But it was reserved to La Salle to discover its mouth, which he did on the 7th day of April, 1682, and, on the 9th, celebrated the discovery with great ceremony, taking possession, in the name of Louis XIV., by proclamation and proces verbal, of all the territory watered by the Mississippi from its mouth to its source, and by the streams flowing into it on both sides.*

* See a translation of the proces verbal in Appendix iv. to Sparks's Life of La Salle. There has been much controversy as to the discovery of the mouth of the Mississippi. If discovered by Moscoso as early as 1545, it is exceedingly strange that for one hundred and thirty years afterward the important fact was unknown in he learned court of France, and that the savans of that capital still supposed that river emptied into the gulf of California. The curious can find much said on the subject in Dr. Monette's Valley of the Mississippi, vol. i., p. 620 ; Professor Shea's Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi ; Bossu, vol. i., p. 70; Pickett's History of Alabama, vol. i., pp. 51, 52; and Am. Biog., vol. x., p. 268 et seq. Also the character of Garcilasso de la Vega, the writer, on whom the advocates of an earlier discovery rely, can be found in the Biographic Universelle, in loc.

The report of this splendid discovery, which was made known in Europe, by La Salle and his followers, on their return to France, created great excitement, not only at court, but among the learned. The idea of a nearer route to Asia had occupied the minds of commercial and learned men since the time of Columbus. When the trappers and fur-traders of Canada first learned, from the Indians, the existence of this great river, the impression prevailed that it emptied into the Vermilion sea, the name then given to the gulf of California.

La Salle had many enemies; some caused by his harsh and overbearing temper; others, through envy of his fame; and yet others, on account of the monopoly in trade granted him by the king. Yet he had two friends at court—Frontenac, the former governor of Canada, and Seignelay, son of the great Colbert—who aided him greatly in presenting the importance of his discovery, in removing the unfavorable impressions made by his enemies, and, above all, in opening the way and providing the means for further adventures, and the permanent occupancy of the newly-discovered territory. La Salle proposed to proceed to the mouth of the Mississippi by sea; and, being provided with provisions, implements of husbandry, mechanics' tools, and colonists, to found a colony there. All this was granted, and in a manner suitable to the importance of the enterprise, and the dignity and munificence of the great Louis. A commission was issued to him, giving him authority to establish colonies in Louisiana, and to take command of the expedition.*

* The historians of this expedition are, Joutel, whose journal was published in Paris in 1713; and Father Anastase, whose account is published by Chretien Le Clerk, in his history of the labors of the Franciscan missionaries in Canada, entitled "Etablissement de la Foy:" Paris, 1691. Dr. Sparks, in his life of La Salle, has collated and weighed the facts, as given by these authors, in a manner so excellent and accurate, that he has left but little to be added. Besides, he has thrown new light upon the subject by the publication of original documents in the archives of the marine department at Paris. — Sparks's Am Biog., vol. xi. The accounts, as given by Charlevoix, in the Histoire Generale de la Nouvelle France, and by Captain Bossu, in his travels through Louisiana, are taken from Joutel. The facts stated in this chapter are mostly taken from Dr. Sparks, Le Clerk's Etablissement de in Foy, and the narrative of Father Anastase Douay. The latter has lately been presented in an English dress by Professor Shea. The journal of Joutel is published in the first volume of the Historical Collections of Louisiana.

A squadron of four vessels was provided and furnished by the king: that is, the Joli, a frigate of thirty-six guns ; the Belle, of six guns, a present from the king to La Salle ; the Aimable, a ship of some three hundred tons' burden; and a small vessel, the St. Francis, carrying munitions. Beaujeu, who commanded the Joli, was also commander of the squadron, but was to be under the direction of La Salle, except in the business of navigating the ships at sea, till they arrived in America : Beaujeu was also to assist him in making preparations for the voyage. The whole number of persons who embarked in the expedition was more than three hundred, of whom one hundred were soldiers, thirty volunteers, and the rest workmen, girls, and seamen. The missionary force consisted of seven persons; four Recollect fathers, Zenobe Membre, Anastase Douay, Maxime Leclercq, and Denis Marquet; three priests of St. Sulpitius, Cavalier, brother of La Salle, Chedeville his relation, and Majulte. Among the volunteers were several gentlemen of distinction, among whom may be mentioned Joutel, the historian of the expedition ; Moragnet and young Cavalier, nephews of La Salle ; Planterose, Thibault, and Ory, from Rouen, the native town of La Salle ; also M. Talon, a gentleman of Canada, with his family.

La Salle Map

Map of La Salle's Expedition to Texas

On the 24th of July, 1684, the squadron set sail from Rochelle. La Salle was on board Beaujeu's ship, the Joli. An utter want of confidence existed between those two persons. This was caused to some extent by the anomalous position they occupied, the authority of each not having been defined by the marine department; but still more by the pride of Beaujeu and the obstinacy of La Salle. The former had been a captain for thirteen years in the French navy, and took to himself great credit for consenting to obey the orders of the Sieur de la Salle, who had never served in war, except against savages, and who had no military rank. And when Beaujeu would propose to him anything, he would haughtily reply, "This is not the king's intention." Previous to the departure of the squadron, Beaujeu wrote again to the minister, reminding him how disagreeable it was for him to be under the orders of a man who had no military rank, and asking positive orders on the point; stating that he wished the orders to be of such a character, that no blame should attach to him should La Salle fail in his project. He wished also to know what was to be done with the soldiers, as La Salle had already set up a claim to their command so soon as they should land in America. The minister did not enlighten him with any further instructions—nor did La Salle with any intimation of his intentions. It was in this awkward relation that the two chiefs left Rochelle. They had not gone more than fifty leagues to sea when the bowsprit of the Joli was broken, and they returned for repairs. They put out again on the 1st of August. Descrying the island of Madeira, Beaujeu proposed to anchor, and take in water and refreshments; but La Salle refused, alleging that they had on board plentiful supplies, that it would produce unnecessary delay, and expose the design of their expedition to the risk of being discovered by the Spaniards.

Loss of the St. Francis

Near the coast of St. Domingo, the vessels were separated by a storm; but, between the 28th of September and the 2d of October, they all came into port at Petit Gouave, except the St. Francis, which was taken by the Spaniards.*

* Life of La Salle, Am. Biog., xi., p. 120. On the 15th of August, 1684, the truce of Ratisbon, concluded by France with Spain and the German empire, terminated the war of the previous year.—Elliot's American Diplomatic Code, vol. i., p. 5. This was perhaps not known in the West Indies before the end of the year.

This was a severe loss, as the stores on this bark were important to the success of the enterprise.

La Salle Reaches Matagorda Bay

La Salle was for three weeks confined at this port with fever. He, however, recovered; was visited by the governor and intendant of St. Domingo; and, after laying in the proper stores and suitable domestic animals, and consulting with pilots acquainted with the West India seas, he prepared to depart. La Salle transferred himself and some others from the Joli to the Aimable, and directed the latter, the heaviest sailer of the three, to go in front. This may have been the better to keep the squadron together, but more probably to get rid of Beaujeu. They sailed from Petit Gonave on the 25th of November, and, passing round the southern shore of Cuba, anchored and remained three days at the isle of Pines. At length, after being driven about by adverse winds, and spending some days at Cape St. Anthony, the squadron, on the 28th of December, 1684, discovered land. They had been sailing a northwest course, but, from the account they had received from the West India pilots of the strong gulf stream which passed around the cape of Florida, they supposed they had been carried east of the mouth of the Mississippi, and were on the coast of Florida. Besides, La Salle, when he discovered the mouth of the Mississippi, had attempted to take its latitude, but had placed it two degrees too far south. So that, with these two errors, instead of being on the bay of Appalachie, Dr. Sparks thinks they were a hundred miles west of the mouth of the Mississippi, near the bay of Achafalaya. Joutel says that, on the 2d of January, the squadron was, according to conjecture, pretty near the mouth of the Mississippi; and that, on the 10th, they passed by it, without perceiving it. It is at this time impossible and unimportant to know where they were when they first descried land. Conceiving themselves to be east of the mouth of the Mississippi, they coasted westward. La Salle landed on the 1st of January, 1685, perhaps east of the Sabine—but, making no discoveries, and being unable to learn anything from the Indians, proceeded westward till about the 17th of January, when, having passed Corpus Christi inlet, and finding the coast tending south, they discovered their error, and that they were upon the borders of Mexico. Here Joutel landed with a party in search of fresh water. They found the water salt, but secured an abundance of game. All being satisfied that they had passed the Mississippi, La Salle proposed to Beaujeu to return. This he refused, unless furnished with a new supply of provisions. La Salle offered him a supply for fifteen days, by which time he expected they would reach the mouth of the river. This the captain refused; and La Salle declined giving him more, fearing that he would abandon him, and sail to the West Indies. The difference between the chiefs of the expedition increased; but, in the meantime, the vessels fell back—but by whose order, or in what way, we are not informed— and sailed through Pass Cavallo into the bay of St. Bernard, since known as Matagorda bay. On the 18th of February, 1685, some of the company went ashore, while others were engaged in sailing up the bay and exploring the adjacent coast. On the 20th, La Salle sent orders to the commander of the Aimable to land the heaviest goods, and run her into the bay. It seems that La Salle intended to be present at the execution of this order; but the marquis of Sablonniere and others, who had gone out on the 18th, had been taken by the Indians as they were strolling along the shore, and he found it necessary to go and retake them. The channels on either side of Pelican island had been sounded, and it was found that the vessels could enter. The Belle had already entered, and the pilot of this vessel was sent to guide the Aimable through the channel; but the commander of the latter refused his aid, saying he could manage his own ship. He hoisted sail, ran upon a shoal, and was lost.*

* It is hardly credible that this was done on purpose. Some allowance must, be made for Joutel's situation and prejudices.

In the meantime a temporary camp had been formed on the west side, and near the entrance of the bay. Another camp, a considerable distance higher up, on the same side of the bay —perhaps at Indian point—was formed by Captain Hurler and part of the company, by the order of La Salle.

Map Showing La Salle's Colony

Map of La Salle's Colony, and the Indian Villages He Found

(Click on Map for a detailed View.  Note that La Salle's Colony is Labeled "St. Lois" on this map)

The colony was greatly refreshed by an abundance of game and fish; and, charmed with the country, and the herds of buffalo and deer that were seen grazing on the prairies, they began to think they would soon realize the paradise they had come so far to find. La Salle had not yet lost hope that he was on one of the mouths of the Mississippi; and, though the loss of the Aimable, containing the greater portion of the articles provided for the use of the colony, was a serious misfortune, his ardor was the same, his resolution unconquerable. Joutel and Moragnet were sent out at the head of an exploring party, to proceed up the west side of the bay. La Salle, having reclaimed the men taken by the Indians, had exchanged with them some hatchets for two canoes, with which he explored the eastern shore of the bay. The party of Joutel, after a three days' march, came to a river, probably the Aransas, which they were unable to cross without a boat. Being in full view of La Salle, then on the opposite shore, he went over to them. Having satisfied himself as to the extent of the bay, La Salle and the party returned.

The business of saving as much as possible of the wreck of the Aimable occupied some time. La Salle procured from Beaujeu the boats of the Joli, and, after taking off the crew, he brought away the powder and flour, then the wine and brandy, in all some sixty barrels. Joutel is so cruel as to charge St. Aigron, the captain of the Aimable, with sinking his boat on purpose; but this can not be believed. Some blankets from the wreck having been driven ashore, they were picked up and appropriated by the Indians. La Salle, wishing to obtain canoes in exchange for these goods, sent Lieutenant Du Hamel of the Joli, who had volunteered for that purpose, to negotiate the affair. But Du Hamel, unacquainted with the Indian character, or the mode of gaining their good will, rushed into their village with his armed men, which so frightened them, that they could not regard them as friends. Being unable to make himself understood, he seized two of their canoes and a parcel of skins, and returned. The Indians, in revenge for this act of hostility, pursued them, and overtook them where they had landed and gone to sleep, and poured into their camp a shower of arrows, which killed Ory and Desloges, two particular friends of La Salle, and wounded two others, one of whom was his nephew.

The failure to find the mouth of the Mississippi; the loss of the Aimable, and the greater part of the stores with which she was freighted; and the death of Ory and Desloges—the first European blood shed in Texas—all combined to dishearten the colonists. In addition to this, the few provisions saved were nearly consumed; which, notwithstanding the prairies abounded with buffalo and deer, and the waters with wild-fowls and fishes, alarmed the faint-hearted, and caused murmuring and discontent. And, to add to the loneliness of their situation, and cut them off from the civilized world, Beaujeu sailed on the 12th of March for France, taking with him the captain and crew of the Aimable. When he left, he carried away all the cannon-balls, thus leaving La Salle with eight cannons, and not a single ball,* yet it seems La Salle must have furnished him with provisions, or he could not have returned.

* These pieces of artillery were afterward transported to La Bahia (now Goliad), and used by the Spaniards till 1812, when they were taken by the Americans under Guttierez. By then they were used successfully against Salcedo. After the close of the Guachupin war, they fell again into the hands of the Mexicans. They were taken from the latter by Collinsworth; retaken by Urrea in 1836; and when Texas succeeded at the battle of San Jacinto, they were left at Goliad, where as late as 1838 they were seen, with the impression of Louis XIV, upon them.—Prairiedom, p. 140.

Discontent in La Salle's Colony

La Salle had among his colonists many enemies: some the partisans of Beaujeu; some from disgust, and want of fortitude to bear up under misfortune; others, again, who attributed to his obstinacy the bad state of their affairs. In fact, his colonists had been selected from the dregs of France; and, with the exception of a few who had volunteered to follow him, were persons generally destitute of character, honesty, or enterprise. Among them were Doinmaville and Mignet, two engineers, who became seditious, and were unceasingly denouncing his conduct, and charging his undertakings with folly and rashness. Yet La Salle was firm. His resolution seemed to rise with his misfortunes.

The colonists had constructed a shelter for themselves and their goods out of the wreck of the Aimable, and had surrounded it with entrenchments to protect them from the Indians; and had sown grain in the adjacent lands. The cattle, swine, and fowls, they had brought froth St. Domingo, multiplied and prospered.

When their buildings had commenced, La Salle gave orders to Joutel to complete them; and, taking with him about sixty of his men, he went on a tour of discovery. He still labored under the delusion that the bay might be one of the mouths of the Mississippi. While he coasted round the west end of the bay, the commander of the Belle was ordered to sound it, and sail up it so as to keep in communication with him. He passed the Aransas, and at length came to a river which he named Les Padres, on account of the number of buffaloes found there. This, of all the names given by La Salle to the streams, bays, etc., of Texas, is, perhaps, the only one retained by the Spaniards. Sailing up the Lavaca for some six miles, he found on the western bank of the river a beautiful spot for a settlement. It was an elevation, from which could be seen to the north and west extensive undulating prairies, covered with grass, and relieved by occasional clusters of timber; to the south and east were spread out the bay, and timber along the coast and banks of the river. Having selected this point, he began in good earnest to think of making a settlement, and fortifying it. Accordingly, he sent Villeperdry back in a canoe, with orders that all the colonists, except thirty men who were to remain in the fort with Joutel, should join him. This detachment was left to guard the crop which the colonists had planted.

Doubtless the new point selected was more suitable in many respects, especially for health and fertility. Yet the colonists were compelled to bring their timber three miles. But the example of La Salle was encouraging. He was always the first to put his hand to work. The master-carpenter having been lost, he took his place. He laid out the tenons and mortices, and compelled every one to work that was able. The forces under Joutel being continually annoyed by the savages, who had killed some of the men, La Salle sent him an order to join him, with his command, on the Lavaca. The order was received on the 14th of July, 1686, and immediately obeyed. Sickness, arising no doubt from great fatigue and incessant labor in a warm climate, soon carried off about forty of the colonists. But, notwithstanding this fearful inroad upon their numbers, and the consequent gloom cast over the survivors, the work went on. A new shelter and entrenchment were to be erected. The gun-carriages were at first used by the men to haul the timbers; but the Lavaca being found deep enough for the Belle, twenty men were sent to the old fort to bring up in her the materials used in its construction. This was effected by forming them into a raft, and towing it up at the stern of the vessel. With this addition, the fort was soon completed, and named St. Louis. We will here take leave of the colony for a short time, and inquire where they were, who were their neighbors, and who had claim to the soil on which they were established. [Next Section of Texas History: Early Indian Inhabitants in Texas]




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