Robert Cavalier de LaSelle was born in France in 1643. He emigrated to New France and after exploring the region settled in Montreal in 1666. Three years later he sent out on a expedition that led to him discovering the Ohio River.
In 1682 LaSelle sailed down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and claimed the entire territory for France. He named the territory Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV. He then moved to Texas where he established a French colony. Robert Cavalier de LaSelle was murdered by his own men in 1687.
René-Robert Cavelier de La SalleHis one claim to fame is his descent of the Mississippi, upon which French claims to Louisiana were to be based (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-1843).
Returning to France he fell in with a scheme of Bernou's to establish a base at the mouth of the Rio Grande for the conquest of Mexico. To make it seem more feasible to the king he falsified geography, situating the Mississippi over 600 miles west of its true course. Given command of the expedition, he displayed incompetence and paranoia. That, and his earlier duplicity, caused him to land in February 1685 at Matagorda Bay [Texas] which he claimed to be an outlet of the Mississippi. Most of the expedition's supplies having been lost and the Indians alienated, starvation loomed. In April 1686 La Salle set off with 20 men to seek help at Fort St-Louis-des-Illinois. Dissension in his party and at the base resulted in desertion and murder, and finally in the assassination of La Salle. The wonder is that his men had not killed him long before.
A romantic hero to 19th-century historians, La Salle was in fact a victim of his own incapacities. His one claim to fame is his descent of the Mississippi, upon which French claims to Louisiana were to be based.
Robert Cavalier de LaSelle - History
CAVELIER DE LA SALLE, RENÉ-ROBERT, explorer, founder of Lachine, seigneur of Cataracoui, discoverer of the mouths of the Mississippi b. 21 Nov. 1643 at Rouen (Normandy), son of Jean Cavelier, a wholesale haberdasher, and of Catherine Geest assassinated 19 March 1687 in Texas.
René-Robert was baptized in the parish of Saint-Herbland, and brought up in the same district as Pierre Corneille, scarcely five minutes’ walk from the great playwright’s dwelling. He belonged to a rich family of the upper bourgeoisie of provincial France, and the name La Salle, which he was later to make famous, was that of an estate owned by his parents in the vicinity of Rouen.
He studied at the Jesuit college in his native town until 1658, the year when he entered upon his noviciate in the Society of Jesus in Paris. He was to spend nine years in that order. He made his vows in 1660, and for two years took up logic and physics at La Flèche, studies which he later completed with one year of mathematics after he had been a teacher in the second form of secondary school at Alençon. Then he taught once more, at Tours and Blois, from 1664 to 1666.
Apparently this young scholastic felt a perpetual need to change his occupation and environment. “Inquietus” was the word used to describe his lack of steadiness. He would grow bored and lose interest in his work, yet despite everything he displayed real gifts, particularly in mathematics. On the other hand, his superiors held his judgement in rather low esteem, and had a scarcely higher opinion of his discretion. They found him, moreover, by temperament emotional and imaginative, and at the same time unsociable, autocratic, and fiery, ill suited for conformity to rigid rule. The robust and impulsive Brother Cavelier, despite his efforts and his scrupulous conscience, was an elemental force that defied all attempts to master it. He himself, at the age of 22, tried to sublimate his indomitable energy, mobility of character, and spirit of independence, by asking on two occasions to be sent to a mission. But the authorities did not consider him sufficiently ready: his theological training was not completed, his religious preparation was still inadequate. So in October 1666 he resumed his studies at La Flèche, only to request soon afterwards permission to continue them in Portugal, with a view to preparing himself for his eventual missionary apostolate. He met with another refusal. Unable any longer to stand the strain, he had himself released from his vows, because of what he called his “moral frailties.” On 28 March 1667, the convent doors closed behind him for ever.
Cavelier had at his disposal only meagre financial resources with which to make his way in the world. Legally he was excluded by his vow of poverty from sharing in any paternal legacy (his father had died shortly before the young man left the Jesuit order), and he possessed only a modest income. Furthermore, he had no profession. His restless urge to see ever new horizons had not left him, however. He had an uncle in the Compagnie des Cent-Associés and a brother who was a Sulpician at Montreal he had, in addition, grown up in a city oriented towards Canada and situated in an archdiocese to which the Church in New France belonged as a dependency. Such a background could not fail to prompt him to go to America. He lost no time, and arrived in the colony between June and the beginning of November 1667. There the Sulpicians granted him a seigneury on Montreal Island.
On 9 Jan. 1669, after giving it relatively little attention, La Salle sold the major portion of the fief on the Côte Saint-Sulpice to its first owners, who had given it to him for nothing. The money realized from this transaction would later help him to gratify the demon of adventure lodged within him, the yearning for glory that consumed him. He dreamed of discovering the Ohio River, “in order not to leave to another the honour of finding the way to the Southern Sea, and thereby the route to China.” Since La Salle’s plans might fit in with the missionary programme of the Sulpician Dollier* de Casson, the governor requested that the two men join forces. However, the superior of the Sulpicians feared that La Salle’s disposition, “known to be somewhat changeable,” might cause him to abandon the expedition “at the first whim.” Therefore he allowed the deacon Bréhant de Galinée, who had “some smattering of mathematics, and enough to put a map together after a fashion,” to join the enterprise.
La Salle disposed of his Montreal properties, keeping only his house as a fur-trading factory. He left Ville-Marie (Montreal) at the beginning of July 1669 with a flotilla of nine canoes. From the start the voyage proved difficult, for La Salle was ill prepared, and his companions were not much better off. They were all more or less novices in the art of surviving in the woods, they had no guide, and if Galinée, by his own admission, was a mediocre cartographer, La Salle himself was no more competent as an astronomer. Finally, they would not be able to communicate with the Iroquois, among whom they were going, except by using as an interpreter a Dutchman who had little mastery of French. “M. de La Salle,” wrote Galinée, “who said that he understood the Iroquois perfectly, and had learned all these things from them as a result of the perfect knowledge that he had of their language, did not know it at all, and was undertaking this voyage almost blindly, without knowing where he was going.”
With much trial and tribulation, they reached Lake Ontario on 2 August and the approaches to the Seneca country six days later. About 10 August, some Indians came in a delegation to meet the French at a river called Karongouat. La Salle, Galinée, and a few men agreed to follow them to their village (on the site of what is today Boughton Hill, N.Y.), in the hope of obtaining a guide for the Ohio River country. The Senecas held a great council – in which La Salle admitted his ignorance of their language — and, while not openly refusing to lend their aid to the French, the natives advanced pretexts for deferring it. It seemed that they did not look favourably upon the idea of these Frenchmen going among their enemies. They even endeavoured secretly to discourage the Dutch interpreter. In the end their intrigues were so successful that the explorers were held up there for a month, disturbed at finding themselves in the neighbourhood of the relatives of a Seneca chieftain murdered in June by soldiers from the Montreal garrison. But the arrival of a traveller on his way to the north shore of Lake Ontario got them out of their difficulty. It was an Iroquois who was returning to Ganastogué, his village, and he offered to lead the white men to it. He assured them that they would easily find a guide there to take them to the Ohio via Lake Erie, a more convenient route, according to him, than the one through the Seneca country. At the far end of Burlington Bay, La Salle was struck down by fever: “Some said,” remarked Galinée naïvely, or slyly, “that it was at the sight of three large rattlesnakes which he found in his path as he climbed up a rock.” Then, on 24 September, he and his companions proceeded to Tinaouataoua (a few miles north of Hamilton), where they were to make a decisive encounter. Adrien, the brother of Louis Jolliet , had been there since the previous day, having returned from a mission to the Great Lakes. He described to the two Sulpicians the route he had just traversed from the country of the Ottawas, where he had left his men searching for a large tribe not yet evangelized, the Potawotomis. The missionaries at once saw in this tribe a field for their apostolate that would enable them to reach the Belle Rivière (Ohio) region via the Great Lakes, a route that seemed to them all the easier because Dollier and Galinée spoke the Ottawa tongue.
However, La Salle had by this time lost his enthusiasm. He made his poor state of health a pretext for leaving Dollier and Galinée on 1 October, and for returning, so he said, to Montreal.
The true motive for this decision still gives rise to queries. Officially, the explorer was ill, and by reason of his inexperience and that of his party, was afraid to spend the winter in the woods. However, although several of his men did return to Ville-Marie, La Salle himself continued to travel.
In what regions? That particular question has caused much ink to flow, and is one of the more confused issues in Canadian history. It has been claimed that in 1669–70 La Salle explored the Ohio. More than that, certain admirers, thinking that they were bestowing upon the city of Rouen the honour of being the birthplace of a conquistador after the fashion of Cortez – Margry, Chesnel, Gravier, and other historians of the same school – have gone so far as to maintain that La Salle discovered the Mississippi before Jolliet and Father Marquette , that is before 15 June 1673. The archivist Pierre Margry’s lack of care in editing the documents concerning his hero may have contributed to the growth and persistence of this double myth.
Very little is known for certain about La Salle’s movements during the period under review. Nicolas Perrot* says that he met him early in the summer of 1670, hunting on the Outaouais (Ottawa River) below the Rapide des Chats, that is to say more than 700 miles, as the crow flies, from the Louisville Rapids, the point La Salle is supposed by some to have reached in exploring the Ohio. However, this testimony proves little, for Perrot is usually at variance with accepted chronology.
In any case, it is beyond doubt that La Salle came to Quebec, having discovered neither the Ohio nor the Mississippi, between 18 Aug. 1670, the date of Talon’s return to the colony, and the following 10 November, the date of a letter in which Talon stated that he had sent La Salle southward, to find “the passage to Mexico.” Furthermore, on 6 Aug. 1671 and 18 Dec. 1672, he was at Montreal again, in search of money, as is attested by documents deposited in the registry at Ville-Marie.
Then, at the beginning of 1673, we find him among the Iroquois, busy preparing for the expedition that Frontenac [see Buade ] was planning to Lake Ontario: the Relations des Jésuites and a letter from the governor are our sources of information here.
Consequently only two intervals remain during which La Salle could possibly have made the discovery of the Ohio or the Mississippi. Those periods fall respectively within the 10 months or so from the autumn of 1670 to 6 Aug. 1671, the date on which the explorer was at Montreal, and the 16 months separating the latter date from 18 Dec. 1672, the day on which he was again at Ville-Marie. No document belonging to these periods, at least in the present state of our knowledge, gives the slightest indication that La Salle could have discovered at that time either of the waterways in question.
Certainly nobody in the colony appears to have known anything about a discovery, not even Dollier de Casson, who, in the summer or autumn of 1671, when recounting Governor Rémy de Courcelle’s expedition to Lake Ontario, refers to the discovery of the Ohio as a goal still to be attained. More than that, Talon and Frontenac gave Louis Jolliet, who set out in the autumn of 1672, the task of looking for the Mississippi.
La Salle seems to have kept completely silent about his explorations at this time it was even without Talon’s knowledge that he turned up in August 1671 at Montreal, since on 2 November of that year the intendant declared that the explorer had not returned from his trip. Yet, if La Salle had had some important discovery to his credit, it was in his own interest to publish it widely it was even his duty to report it to Talon, since the latter had entrusted him with an official mission. The only plausible explanation of La Salle’s attitude is that he had found neither the Ohio nor the Mississippi.
The supporters of Cavelier de La Salle as the discoverer of the two great waterways rest their case on two later documents: the “Récit d’un ami de l’abbé de Gallinée” and the “Mémoire sur le projet du sieur de la Salle pour la descouverte de la partie occidentale de l’Amérique septentrionale entre la Nouvelle-France, la Floride et le Mexique.” These texts were composed by the two éminences grises of La Salle who, in Europe, were busy behind the scenes of French colonial policy. The “Récit” is attributed to Abbé Eusèbe Renaudot, a grandson of the founder of the Gazette de France, of which he in his turn became the editor. An outstanding orientalist, a polyglot, and a member of the French Academy, this personage, famed for his erudition, was very valuable to Louis XIV in that monarch’s relations with Rome, England, and Spain. His passion for the sciences, among them geography, his religious zeal, tinged with Jansenism and hostile to the Jesuits, made him just the person to become the protector of La Salle, an explorer in perpetual conflict with the sons of Loyola.
The “Récit,” which is not, it should be noted, an original document, but a copy (the author and date of which are unknown), is an account of conversations alleged to have taken place in 1678, in Paris, between La Salle and Renaudot in the presence of friends. Despite the guarantees of veracity with which the learned ecclesiastic tries to shore it up, his text is none the less suspect. First, its objectivity is very doubtful, for it comes from a collection of anti-Jesuit manuscripts and is itself, in large part, a pamphlet directed against the Jesuits in Canada. Then, too, it is difficult to take seriously a text based on the most unlikely geographical descriptions.
Abbé Claude Bernou, to whom we owe the “Mémoire” (presented at the court in 1677), does not produce any more solid testimony, since his is based on a lax chronology and inaccurate geographical details. Besides, he merely states vaguely: “In 1667 and the following years, he [La Salle] made various voyages involving much expense, in the course of which he was the first to discover many countries to the south of the Great Lakes, and also the great River Ohio.”
The abbé had good reasons for wishing to attribute such a discovery to La Salle. In addition to being a member of Renaudot’s circle, which brought together many influential persons who expressed the most lively curiosity concerning explorations in the New World and who supported the Recollets in their opposition to the Society of Jesus, Bernou (who himself carried out, on occasion, diplomatic missions) had definite personal ambitions that La Salle’s success might advance. The priest, indeed, on his own admission, wished to become the explorer’s paid agent, and even dreamed of an episcopate in the territories with which La Salle might be expected to enrich the kingdom of France.
However, Bernou was obliged to retract in 1685. During a controversy with Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix*], who was claiming for the diocese of Quebec the region around the Gulf of Mexico, where La Salle had gone to found a post, Bernou wrote quite explicitly: “It is true that Father Marquette discovered the Mississippi River, but he merely skirted it.”
Among the other arguments used by La Salle’s supporters in this controversy, one of the weightiest would seem to be the cartographic evidence. Two maps attributed to Louis Jolliet indicate the course of the Ohio, and, under the outline of the river, include respectively the following inscriptions: “Route of the sieur de La Salle for going into Mexico” and “River down which the sieur de La Salle went on leaving Lake Erie, to go into Mexico.” These references have been construed as a tacit admission by Jolliet himself of the discovery of the Ohio by La Salle. But according to careful scientific research, particularly that of Father Jean Delanglez, both these inscriptions are interpolations having nothing to do with Jolliet, the first being of unknown origin, the second in the hand of Bernou himself.
Finally, a letter written by La Salle, dated 29 Sept. 1680, should suffice to settle the argument. The letter shows fairly clearly that the explorer was at that time still almost entirely ignorant of the Colbert River (Mississippi), in view of the elementary questions he admits having asked the Illinois about it.
In the autumn of 1673, La Salle returned to Montreal. The colony was then the scene of a tragi-comedy in which the rival protagonists were Perrot, the governor of Montreal, Abbé Fénelon [see Salignac ], and Frontenac. There, siding with the governor of New France, whose vehement supporter he became, La Salle played a part akin to that of the valet in comedy. The two individuals had seemingly every reason to get on well together: their personalities were equally strong, but complementary, their respective interests could be of mutual advantage, and they shared an antipathy towards the Jesuits.
It was not long before La Salle benefited from his alliance with Frontenac. Thanks to his powerful protector, the discoverer managed, during a voyage to France in 1674–75, to secure for himself the grant of Fort Cataracoui (now Kingston), which he renamed Frontenac, and he even acquired letters of nobility for himself and his descendants. La Salle, who had ambitions of empire, knew well how he could profit from a post on Lake Ontario, which, according to Talon, might be “the first opening towards an overland route to Florida.”
Yet Fort Frontenac was not enough for him. In 1677, he returned to the court to seek authorization to construct, at his own expense, “two establishments . . . one at the entrance to Lake Erie, the other at the exit from the Lac des Illinois [Michigan] [to become] seigneur of the lands that he might discover and populate . . . to receive ownership of all the cleared lands that the Indians might abandon of their own accord, as they do sometimes, and the office of governor in the said territories.” Despite his detractors, in whose eyes his inordinate ambitions put him on the level of a fool “fit and ready for the madhouse,” the explorer, thanks to his powers of persuasion and to the good offices of Bernou and Renaudot, obtained permission from the king, 12 May 1678, to reconnoitre the western part of North America between New France, Florida, and Mexico.
On the following 15 September, La Salle arrived at Quebec with some 30 craftsmen, seamen, and gentlemen, among them Dominique La Motte de Lucière and the Chevalier Henri Tonty*, who was to be the explorer’s confidential agent and his tireless lieutenant in his undertakings. Anxious to get started, La Salle, together with Tonty and a few men, joined La Motte at the Niagara River, around Christmas La Motte had been sent on ahead as a scout, with Father Hennepin* and a small band of Frenchmen, to prepare for the building of a bark above the falls.
By January the boat was on the stocks, and construction began on the fort, which was to be called Conti. Because of unfortunate mishaps, La Salle found himself forced to go back immediately, on foot and under the worst conditions, to Fort Frontenac, and he did not return until the end of July.
During his absence, in spite of the most unfavourable circumstances, it proved possible to finish a boat of about 45 tons, armed with 7 cannon. The Griffon – so called in honour of Frontenac’s coat of arms – was launched on 7 Aug. 1679. La Salle had on board, in addition to a pilot and some 30 men, Fathers Hennepin, Membré , and La Ribourde . After 20 days of extremely dangerous sailing, he reached the strait between lakes Huron and Michigan and went ashore at the Saint-Ignace de Michilimackinac mission. On 12 September he headed for the Baie des Puants (Green Bay). From there, notwithstanding the king’s express order to him not to engage in “any trade with the Indians called Outaouacs and others who bring their beavers and other pelts to Montreal,” he sent the Griffon back to Niagara loaded with a substantial cargo of furs, as well as merchandise intended to be stored at Michilimackinac until his return. With the coming of winter, he had to continue his journey by canoe.
On 19 Sept. 1679 La Salle set out with 14 men and 4 canoes. Amid wind and storm he went towards the south of Lake Michigan, stopping on 1 November at the mouth of the Rivière des Miamis (Saint-Joseph), where he had a rendezvous with Tonty. As the site had advantages, he caused a fort 40 feet by 30 to be built there, and decided to bring the Griffon from Michilimackinac. Nobody there, however, had seen the bark, according to Tonty, who turned up at the Rivière Saint-Joseph on the twentieth. Consequently La Salle set out again anxiously on 3 December, having doubled his forces and leaving instructions for the Griffon in case it should appear. He first went up the river, then crossed to the Téatiki (Kankakee), which led him to the Illinois.
On 5 Jan. 1680, the expedition reached the Illinois village of Pimitoui, in the vicinity of the present city of Peoria. La Salle outlined to the Indians his plan for building a fort and a bark in the neighbourhood, assuring them at the same time of his good intentions. His listeners willingly agreed. But the visit of a Mascouten chief soon caused them to change their attitude. They allowed themselves to be convinced of the insincerity of the explorer, who, they thought, was a dangerous ally of their mortal enemies, the Iroquois. They therefore did their utmost to dissuade him from his plan of exploring the Mississippi, trying to frighten the French with the description of imaginary dangers awaiting them on the river. Six valuable workmen, impressed by this talk, abandoned the party and slipped away. But despite everything, on 15 January, at a prudent distance from the Indian village, La Salle set about the building of the fort that was to be called Crèvecœur, an allusion to the manifold disappointments of the explorer. He was, however, only at the beginning of his troubles.
On 29 February La Salle sent Father Hennepin and two companions as an advance guard towards the upper Mississippi. He himself, lacking the tackle necessary to equip a new bark because of the disappearance of his first one, decided to set out in search of the Griffon. The unsettled spring weather, with its alternating periods of freezing and thawing, increased tenfold the difficulties of such an adventure. After 18 March, La Salle and the five men travelling with him had to abandon their canoe in order to continue their journey on foot. Six days later, weighed down under the burden of their equipment, they reached the end of a journey of 275 miles in all: the fort at the Rivière Saint-Joseph. Obtaining no information there about the fate of the Griffon, La Salle went on towards Lake Erie, “through woods so thickly intertwined with briars and thorns that in two and a half days he and his men had their clothes torn to shreds, and their faces so covered with blood and slashed that they were not recognizable.” During the journey, some of his companions fell sick. To transport them, makeshift boats were assembled, and, sometimes on snow-shoes, sometimes river-borne, the party reached Niagara on 21 April 1680. As a reward for his superhuman efforts, La Salle found the fort there burned down, and learned of the loss, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, of a vessel bringing him more than 20,000 francs worth of goods. But, nothing daunted, the explorer mustered enough courage to go to Fort Frontenac, where on 6 May he completed “a voyage of nearly 500 leagues, and the most arduous that any Frenchman has ever undertaken in America.”
He then hastened on to Montreal to settle some money matters, and quickly returned to Cataracoui, more in debt than ever. On 22 July two messengers sent by the Chevalier de Tonty, who had remained at Crèvecœur with Fathers Membré and La Ribourde, brought the news that the fort had been sacked and abandoned by the party that had been left there. This veritable catastrophe was a serious threat to the success of La Salle’s explorations in the Illinois country. But he did not waste his time in useless lamentation. When he heard that several of the men were on their way to kill their master, after pillaging all the posts they came across where his goods were to be found, La Salle embarked on Lake Ontario, to hunt down the deserters. He lay in ambush in the Baie de Cataracoui, and captured them at the beginning of August.
Then, on the tenth of the same month, with 25 men, he undertook a second expedition to the territory of the Illinois. On the way he was to lose the last shred of hope of seeing the Griffon again: according to certain Potawatomis, a storm had beyond all doubt sunk the bark, sending to the bottom of Lake Michigan the equivalent of 10,000 écus.
The flotilla crossed Lake Ontario, and, by making use of the Humber River, Lake Simcoe, the Severn River, and Georgian Bay, reached the Sault Ste. Marie on 16 September. The next day La Salle left the mission, bound for Michilimackinac, where he believed he would be able to find out what had happened to Tonty, left helpless in a territory that the Iroquois had set out to attack. But his trip was fruitless: there was no news of his lieutenant. La Salle, consumed with apprehension, then hastened to Fort Saint-Joseph, and afterwards to Pimitoui.
On 1 December he arrived at an Illinois village that had been destroyed by the Iroquois, who had also massacred its inhabitants. La Salle searched in vain for traces of the worthy Tonty among the debris and the horribly mutilated corpses. Some 30 leagues farther on, the sight of the ruins of Fort Crèvecœur and of the unfinished bark was scarcely more heartening. More and more uneasy, La Salle went on down the Illinois River to the Mississippi, coming across other signs of slaughter on the way, but still finding no trace of Tonty.
He then retraced his steps as far as Fort Saint-Joseph, which he reached at the end of January 1681. From information he gleaned there, he concluded that a canoe which had been seen passing Michilimackinac was Tonty’s. He immediately sent two men there, bearing a letter for his friend.
Meanwhile he himself endeavoured, by various negotiations, to encourage the Miamis and Illinois to unite against the Iroquois, in order to ensure the safety of the French establishment that he still planned to set up in the area.
At the beginning of March, some Outagamis (Foxes) revealed that Tonty had wintered among the Potawatomis. La Salle sent messengers to him, to arrange a rendezvous at Michilimackinac in May. Until that time, with unflagging energy, he was to go back and forth between the tribes he wanted to conciliate. Then, at the end of May, he finally met up with his confidential agent again, and heard the story of his distressing adventures, including the murder of Father La Ribourde by the Indians.
La Salle now made all speed to Montreal, whither Frontenac had summoned him. He took advantage of the occasion to draw up, on 11 Aug. 1681, a will in favour of his principal creditor – a whole pack of these were on his tracks – his cousin François Plet. And once more he set out, firmly resolved, this time, to get as far as the mouths of the Mississippi.
In the meantime, at Quebec, Intendant Jacques Duchesneau , who a year before to the day had denounced to the minister La Salle’s illegal trading with the Outaouais (Ottawas), now made an accusation against the explorer: in a letter dated 13 Nov. 1681, he stated that La Salle’s provocative attitude towards the Iroquois had incited them to war against the Illinois.
On 19 December, La Salle was back at the Rivière Saint-Joseph, where Tonty was waiting for him. About a month later, the expedition, comprising 23 Frenchmen and 18 Indians, was at Fort Crèvecœur. On 6 Feb. 1682 it reached the Mississippi itself, and a week later the breaking up of the ice made it finally possible to launch the canoes upon its waters. Six leagues farther on, they camped in shelters on the right bank, near the mouth of the Missouri. Then they set off again, paddling, hunting, and marvelling at the luxuriant country. About the fifth day, as evening drew on, they discovered on their left the turbulent waters of the mouth of the Ohio, that celebrated “Belle Rivière” which had so occupied La Salle’s thoughts. Another stop was made in the neighbourhood of the present city of Memphis. There they had to wait some ten days for a member of the expedition who had become lost when hunting. While they were looking for him, La Salle had a fort built and this he called Prud’homme, from the surname of the luckless gunsmith (son of Louis Prud’homme ) who was found starving and drifting downstream on a piece of wood.
La Salle and his party broke camp on 5 March. On the twelfth, the alarm was given: war whoops resounded on the right bank of the Mississippi, accompanied by a menacing roll of drums. They came from Arkansas Indians startled at the sight of the French canoes. The French quickly reassured them, and smoked the pipe of peace with them. The natives welcomed the whites joyously, and supplied them sumptuously. La Salle, with all the customary ceremonies, took possession of the territory in the name of the king of France.
Tearing themselves away from the effusive and affectionate natives, who kept stroking their bodies by way of caressing them, the Frenchmen re-embarked, taking with them two guides. About 15 leagues farther on, they reached the mouth of the Arkansas River, where the voyage of Jolliet and Marquette had ended in 1673. The otter country was giving way to the crocodile country. On 22 March they camped among the Taensas, in whom could be recognized, wrote Tonty, “some of the qualities possessed by civilized people.” These natives, of remarkable beauty, received their visitors with spectacular protocol, and in addition loaded them with presents.
Next they came to the Koroas, neighbours of the Natchez, who received them in their village and revealed to them that they were now only 10 days from the ocean. The expedition left at Easter, to come finally within sight of the sea on 6 April.
The next day La Salle, Tonty, and Jacques Bourdon d’Autray began the exploration of the Mississippi delta. And on 9 April 1682, probably near the place now called Venice, the French took solemn possession of Louisiana. La Salle, clad in scarlet trimmed with gold – where did the splendour of the Great Century not manage to intrude itself! – to the sound of triumphant hymns and salvoes of musketry, erected a cross and a column bearing the arms of His Most Christian Majesty, and buried a copper plate engraved with inscriptions. In ringing tones he delivered the record of the territories that thus passed under the rule of the French crown. Finally, the document was countersigned by twelve of the persons present.
But a man does not live by glory and fanfares alone, even if he is a Cavelier de La Salle. The French suffered from a shortage of food, having nothing to make a meal out of except potatoes and crocodile. Despite the inhospitable disposition of the Acolapissas, whose arrows they had had a taste of as they approached the mouths of the Mississippi, they had to resign themselves to seeking supplies from these natives. The journey upriver, on the way back to Canada, began on 10 April. Five days later, La Salle obtained a small quantity of maize, but at the price of a skirmish with the unco-operative Acolapissas. Suspecting the presence of some of them among the Koroas, whose country the French reached on the twenty-ninth, La Salle was prompted to hasten on to the territory of the Taensas. There his party again refreshed themselves copiously, acquired ample supplies, and re-embarked with much ceremony on 3 May.
In a greater hurry all the time, La Salle went ahead into the territory of the Arkansas, leaving Tonty behind him with part of the group. At the end of May, the faithful lieutenant joined his chief, who had fallen seriously ill, at Fort Prud’homme, among the Chickasaws. The explorer sent him to Fort Saint-Joseph, with instructions to write to the governor to recount the discovery to him La Salle recovered just enough strength to start out again around 15 June. A month later he was at Crèvecœur, and from there, still convalescent, he went to Lake Michigan by land. Then he sailed towards Fort Saint-Joseph, and from there undertook a 120-league trek as far as Michilimackinac, where Tonty welcomed him in September 1682. Not being sufficiently recovered to travel to France and give an account of his discovery, La Salle went no farther, and confined himself to drawing up dispatches for which Father Membré was to be responsible. He wrote, in particular, to the governor of New France to ask him for help, at the very moment when Frontenac’s successor, Joseph-Antoine Le Febvre de La Barre, landed in the colony.
On 30 December, he went back to the Illinois River, upstream from the present town of La Salle. This place had been chosen by the discoverer for the building of a fort, on an almost inaccessible rock. Fort Saint-Louis, which was to group under its protection the Miamis, Illinois, and Shawnees, was finished in May 1683.
As it happened, it was on the tenth of that month that the king sent to Intendant de Meulles* instructions in which he expressed his opposition to the undertaking of further explorations, agreeing only to allow La Salle’s to be completed.
For his part, the latter, faced with an imminent Iroquois attack, appealed once more to La Barre for help. He was unaware of the hostility of this governor, whom he had not yet even met. From the beginning of his career, the discoverer, with a persistence bordering on paranoiac obsession, had never ceased to believe himself the victim of dark plots contrived against his undertakings and even against his life, by enemies – whether business men or Jesuits – who were inconvenienced by his explorations and establishments now, when a plot against him was developing in Canada, he did not suspect it. La Barre, for mercenary reasons, had rallied the merchants, who saw La Salle as a dangerous rival in the fur trade. Consequently, using as a pretext the so-called abandonment of Fort Frontenac by La Salle the previous autumn, he relieved François Dauphin* de La Forest of the command which the explorer had entrusted to him, and made of the fort a business centre under the control of Jacques Le Ber* and Charles Aubert* de La Chesnaye. And when La Salle, in August 1683, left Fort Saint-Louis with the intention of going to the court to give an account of his discovery, he had not covered 15 leagues before he found himself face to face with the Chevalier Henri de Baugy*. This officer, on La Barre’s orders, was on his way to take over the fort and send La Salle back to the authorities of the colony. La Barre justified himself this time by reviving a former complaint by Duchesneau: La Salle, by his imprudent relations with the enemies of the Five Nations, was compromising the peace negotiations between the French and the Iroquois. Furthermore, La Barre was not afraid to write to the minister about the Sieur de La Salle “that his arrogance has turned his head that he has been brazen enough to advise [him] of a false discovery.” But the explorer, who was never behindhand when accusations were involved, was to assert, before he went back to the mother country, that La Barre, at the time of his meeting with the Iroquois at Montreal on 14 Aug. 1683, and in answer to their recriminations against La Salle, had given them permission to “kill him and the people who were assembled near his fort, without any consequence attaching to the matter.” Obviously La Barre would defend himself vigorously!
It was with a perceptible decline in favour that La Salle, of his own accord but also on the governor’s orders, boarded the Saint-Honoré, which carried him to La Rochelle shortly before Christmas.
The discoverer had barely set foot on French soil when he attempted to form a company of merchants, with a view to founding a colony among the Taensas. In the face of efforts that were patently useless, he decided to change his tactics.
He well knew that he could scarcely count on help from the king, who on the preceding 5 August had written to La Barre “that the Sieur de La Salle’s discovery is completely useless [and that] such undertakings must in future be prevented.” The explorer therefore let himself be persuaded to adapt to his own ends a plan presented to the court on 18 Jan. 1682 by Bernou. Because of his personal ambitions, the scheming priest had always had his heart set on his country’s colonial expansion. He had therefore proposed to the minister an establishment on the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande), which would have the advantage of allowing the conquest of New Spain and its mines by Comte Diego de Peñalossa the count, a former governor of New Mexico, had fled from the Inquisition and placed his sword at the service of France. Apparently Bernou, even before La Salle’s arrival in the mother country, was thinking of using him for the implementation of his plan. Indeed, the account of the 1682 expedition, prepared by Father Membré, and the Relation officielle of the discovery of the Mississippi delta forwarded to the court in 1683 (which some ascribe to the same author), had been reworked, as Delanglez has shown, by Bernou or some other member of his circle, so as to make the description of the Mississippi valley coincide more or less with that of the Rio Bravo, the manifold advantages of which the priest had boasted to the king.
It was consequently La Salle’s job to make his plan for an establishment in Louisiana attractive in the king’s eyes, by presenting the settlement that he wanted to found as the ideal base for the invasion of New Biscay. To do this he agreed to falsify the geography of the Mississippi. He had maps made on which the River Colbert, as he called the Mississippi, deviated 250 leagues westward from its real course, and emptied into the gulf in the vicinity of New Mexico. One cannot, in defence of the explorer, plead involuntary error: even if he had lost his compass among the Illinois, he was too good an observer – he had already proved it – to deceive himself to that extent about the general course of the Mississippi. Pierre Le Moyne* d’Iberville was to note later: “M. de La Salle, although a man who passed for being clever, has marked the lower part of the Mississippi, on the map he has made, with 273 degrees . . . I believe that this comes from the strong desire he had to see himself near the mines of New Mexico, and thereby to induce the court to set up in that country establishments which could not but be very profitable thereafter” (Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry)).
In addition, this time unbeknown to Bernou, four memoirs penned by La Salle, or by Renaudot, or by one of their followers, were addressed to the court at the beginning of 1684. They showed how the La Salle project and the Bernou-Peñalossa plan could be harmonized, for the greatest advantage of France. This thesis was supported by downright lies and wild exaggerations. Amongst them, to titillate the minister, the memoirs did not hesitate to say – although the explorer, better than anyone, was familiar with the petrified tree trunks that blocked the Colbert delta – that “the river he has discovered is an excellent port, which large vessels can ascend to a distance of more than 100 leagues inland, and small boats more than 500.” They further declared that, to attack the Spaniards, La Salle could easily recruit an army of 15,000 Indians, having already 4,000 at his disposal around Fort Saint-Louis-des-Illinois. Finally they pinpointed the spot where the discoverer claimed to be able to found an establishment: the confluence of the Rivière Rouge and the Mississippi, that is to say in an area covered with marshes.
Not very alert, it seems, to the chimerical nature of the plan submitted to him, Seignelay allowed himself to be won over. And on 10 April 1684, while M. Tronson, speaking of La Salle, was writing to Dollier de Casson, “The king has listened to him, received him well and given him satisfaction,” Louis XIV ordered La Barre to restore Fort Frontenac to La Salle through the intermediary La Forest. Four days later, the king granted La Salle a commission to command in all the territory lying between Fort Saint-Louis-des-Illinois and New Biscay. Louis XIV also gave him, among other things, 100 soldiers maintained at royal expense and commanded by 8 officers and non-commissioned officers, a warship carrying 36 cannon and a crew of approximately 70, called the Joly, in addition to the Belle, a bark of 60 tons armed with 4 small cannon. The convoy was to be completed by the Aimable, a flute of 180 tons fitted out by a La Rochelle merchant, and the Saint-François, a small ketch partly equipped by the intendant of Rochefort.
From the time of the first preparations for this expedition, which was doomed to be the most lamentable failure, difficulties arose. Not the least was the misunderstanding between La Salle and Taneguy Le Gallois de Beaujeu, selected by the king to command the Joly. The two men were certain to offend each other: a gentleman of the old stock and a commoner recently ennobled were scarcely likely to fraternize. More than that, friction was inevitable between a military man accustomed to command – a hard-headed sailor trained in navigation on the high seas – and an inexperienced, domineering, and quixotic civilian. Finally, to add to La Salle’s distrust of his colleague, Mme de Beaujeu had a Jesuit confessor!
La Salle and Beaujeu therefore came into conflict over each point in the organization of the undertaking: the estimated duration of the voyage, the choice and quantity of provisions, the stowage, the number of passengers, and above all the respective authority and prerogatives of the two leaders of the expedition. La Salle, as may well be imagined, had secured supreme control over the whole affair. But when the explorer claimed to be entitled to the obedience of the king’s soldiers not only on land, but also at sea, the captain protested. The latter saw his role reduced to no more than directing the handling of the ship. La Salle’s demands, according to Beaujeu, created “a great commotion at Rochefort among the officers, each one saying that a passenger had never been known to lay claim to being in command on a ship.” Furthermore, he did not scruple to add, “There are very few who do not believe he is crazy. I have spoken of it to people who have known him for 20 years. Everyone says that he has always been something of a visionary.”
La Salle’s stubborn refusal to reveal to Beaujeu the destination of the voyage could also serve only to aggravate the situation. As well as being wounded in his pride, the captain was furious because he did not know what pilots to choose. Meanwhile, those responsible for recruiting the soldiers and the indentured workers were enrolling any kind of tatterdemalion or young blade who was ready to embark. Preparations dragged on, and La Salle became hesitant, irresolute, and irritable. Anxiety was probably taking hold of him, as he saw more and more clearly the enormous scale of the utopia that Versailles, at his own request, was sending him to create. On 2 Aug. 1684, Beaujeu summed up the situation thus: “I am going into an unknown country to seek something almost as difficult to find as the philosopher’s stone, late in the season, laden above the water-line, and with an irritable man.”
At the time when the captain was expressing himself in such a disillusioned manner, the expedition was already nine days out to sea. The convoy was transporting at least 320 persons, amongst whom, besides the 100 soldiers commanded by 5 officers and the 40 or so indentured workers and servants, were 6 missionaries, including the Sulpicians d’Esmanville and Jean Cavelier*, La Salle’s brother, and the Recollets Membré and Anastase Douay. Also on the voyage were the engineer Minet, 9 volunteers (including Henri Joutel, a bourgeois from Rouen, the author of the principal account of the expedition, and La Salle’s right-hand man), about 8 merchants, and even some women and children. By La Salle’s error, the Joly, which was planned for a crew of 125, had 240 persons on board, not to mention the goods between-decks, which “occupied the quarters of the soldiers and sailors,” forcing them “to spend the whole voyage on the upper deck, in the sun by day and the rain by night.”
As the ship’s bowsprit had snapped on the second day out, they had had to head back to the Île d’Aix, putting out to sea again only on 1 August. A week later, the flotilla rounded Cape Finisterre (in northwestern Spain). Then, on the twentieth, it arrived off Madeira, where Beaujeu proposed to stop and take on water. La Salle refused, which brought about a further deterioration in his relations with the commander. On 6 September they crossed the Tropic of Cancer. La Salle, who by all accounts took himself very seriously, was opposed to the traditional burlesque ceremony of ducking on crossing the line. “Assuredly,” admitted Joutel, “the sailors would gladly have killed us all. . . .”
Meanwhile, the unusual congestion on board the Joly, the heat, the slow speed, and the lack of drinking water were not long in having their effect. Some 50 persons, including La Salle, fell ill. It was therefore decided, on the eighteenth, to make for Santo Domingo as quickly as possible. However, instead of stopping at Port-de-Paix, as agreed, Beaujeu, perhaps thinking he could take advantage of a favourable wind, headed for the Petit-Goave (now in Haiti) which he reached, alas, only ten days later. Shortly after landing, the discoverer was stricken with a violent attack of fever, and was delirious for seven days. “M. de La Salle,” noted Minet in his diary, “believed that all those he saw were coming to call him to account, saying that he had deceived M. de Seignelay.” As soon as he had recovered, he went in quest of money – his pockets were always empty – and of supplies, and conferred with the government officials of the West Indies who came to meet him. On 2 October the Aimable and the Belle, which continually lagged behind, finally arrived. The Saint-François, however, a still slower ship, failed to appear. On 20 October fears were confirmed: the ketch, which carried the major part of the expedition’s provisions and supplies, had been captured by the Spaniards. This was a heavy loss, responsibility for which La Salle imputed to Beaujeu. However, the governor of the Île de la Tortue having offered help to the explorer, the latter was able to speed up his preparations for departure. He was eager to weigh anchor, for desertions were increasing among his men. Determined to protect at least his own possessions, La Salle this time went on board the flute Aimable.
They got under way in the night of 25 November. By hugging the south coast of Cuba, the flotilla reached the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico around the middle of December. On the 27 and 28 of that month, they noticed the white colour of the sea, and the soundings revealed a sea bed of “fine, greyish and muddy sand”: these are characteristics of the Mississippi delta, still visible today up to about 12 miles out from the coast of the gulf, which nowhere else has these particular features. For once it seemed that a good star had indeed guided La Salle straight to the objective. But it was not so. The explorer did not realize where he was: it was fairly easy, at that period, to calculate latitude correctly, but not to calculate longitude. Furthermore, the sea-charts of the region were all more or less inaccurate, and La Salle had made a mistake of two degrees when taking the latitude of the mouth of the Mississippi in 1682. The explorer therefore once more made a mistake in his reckonings, and, thinking he had got into the currents of the Gulf Stream the force of which “several learned persons of Paris” had given him an exaggerated idea, he concluded that he had drifted 300 miles eastward, as far as Apalachee Bay. Nevertheless, La Salle, on 1 January, when he was less than 15 leagues from the Mississippi, wondered momentarily if he had not arrived in the vicinity of Cap Escondito, by which the mouths of the Mississippi were marked on 17th-century maps. Unfortunately, rather than following his intuition, he preferred to trust some log-books of Spanish navigators which confirmed him in his error about a drift to the east.
So they turned their prows westward, in search of the hypothetical Baie du Saint-Esprit, to the west of which the discoverer hoped to find his river again. In the night of 3–4 Jan. 1685, despite the fog, La Salle gave the signal for departure. Beaujeu, who was anchored further out to sea, apparently did not understand, or did not want to understand, and the other ships lost sight of the Joly. La Salle apparently did not give Beaujeu too much of an opportunity to catch up with him. In fact he sailed for 19 consecutive hours in the fog, and then cast anchor in places where the Joly could not venture. On 6 January the Aimable and the Belle reached “a kind of bay” (probably that of Atchafalaya), which because of its reefs and sandbanks could not, according to La Salle, be the Baie du Saint-Esprit. They sailed on, going along the coasts of Texas. But about the eighteenth, the bend of the coast towards the south led La Salle to believe that they had in truth gone well beyond the Mississippi delta. They turned, and the next morning the Joly finally caught up with the other two ships, which were at anchor at the southwest tip of the island of Matagorda. Beaujeu and La Salle did not lose such an admirable opportunity for a quarrel, with mutual accusations of desertion. Then they spent several days hunting and exploring the seaboard, without managing to acquire any certainty as to the exact place where they had landed. La Salle was nonplussed, but nevertheless tried to convince himself that he had got to the mouth of one of the “outlets” of the Mississippi.
The stubborn explorer resumed his unflagging search. This time he changed his tactics: the soldiers were to move off by land, still towards the east, and the flotilla was to follow them offshore, at a reduced speed in order to help them if necessary. On 14 Feb. 1685, they all met off Matagorda Bay, to which La Salle was later to give the name Saint-Louis. An islet and reefs between the island and peninsula of Matagorda made access to the bay particularly difficult. However, the next day, reports Joutel, “M. de La Salle, who came ashore . . . examined the entrance to the said river or bay. He found it a very fine one, and after he had considered everything, he decided to bring the Belle and the Aimable in that way, hoping as he did that this might be an arm of his river.” A channel was therefore sounded and marked with buoys, and the Belle negotiated it successfully. But the Aimable, either because of La Salle’s rashness or because of a mistake on the pilot’s part, ran disastrously aground, spilling into the sea its cargo of foodstuffs, munitions, materials, and goods, only a small portion of which was recovered. Local Indians tried to take advantage of the shipwreck. In return, some of the French stole a number of their canoes. Fighting broke out: two people were killed and two wounded, among them La Salle’s nephew, Crevel de Moranget. The situation was deteriorating. But this was only the beginning.
In the middle of March, Beaujeu, whose task was completed, returned to France, taking with him some members of the expedition who were abandoning the cause. For protection against the Indians, those who remained began to construct a fort out of the wreckage of the Aimable. On the twenty-fourth, La Salle set off with some 50 persons to reconnoitre the surrounding district, but succeeded in finding no trace of his river. Since sickness and death were taking their toll at the first camp because of the unhealthy locality, La Salle set up another one slightly to the northwest of Matagorda Bay this site was just as badly chosen from the sanitary point of view. The building of Fort Saint-Louis, started in May 1685 on the right bank of the Rivière aux Bœufs (Lavaca), was to cost several men their lives. As Joutel says, “This excessive toil the scant food of the workers, which was very frequently docked because they had not discharged their duty M. de La Salle’s vexation at not managing to accomplish things as he had imagined, which led him to treat his people harshly, often at the wrong time: all this saddened many, whose spirits visibly declined.”
On the eve of All Saints, La Salle set off in a canoe to go down the river as far as Matagorda Bay, where he wanted to examine the coves with minute care, still with the wild hope of finding an arm of the Mississippi. In mid-January 1686, Joutel, who was in command at Fort Saint-Louis, saw a lone figure returning: it was one of the men whom the explorer had taken with him. Pierre Duhaut, forced to stop in order to repair his makeshift footwear, had lost his way and had almost perished because of Moranget, who, ordered that day to bring up the rear, had refused to wait for him. La Salle’s nephew was to pay dearly, later on, for his callousness.
As for the explorer himself, he came back to the fort at the end of March empty-handed, without his six best men, who had been killed by the Indians. The bark was missing. La Salle very much feared that the Belle had disappeared for good, somewhere in the bay, where it had been following from offshore his movements along the coast. This new misfortune seriously lessened La Salle’s freedom of action, and the chances of the little colony’s survival. The last resort was to try to discover the Mississippi by land, in order to go and seek help from Fort Saint-Louis-des-Illinois. La Salle started out at the end of April with some 20 companions, among them his brother and Father Douay. Three days later, Joutel took in at the fort of the Rivière aux Bœufs the five survivors from the shipwreck of the Belle, which its pilot had run aground when he was drunk. The rescued men brought with them La Salle’s clothes and papers which they had saved.
Meanwhile the explorer was heading towards the northeast, crossing numerous rivers that he named as he went: the Princesse, the Mignonne, the Sablonnière, the Maligne, and the Rivière des Malheurs. Dominique Duhaut, as well as three or four other comrades, soon had to give up, and were sent back to the fort. On the way they became lost. The elder of the two Duhaut brothers was never to forgive La Salle for his younger brother’s death.
The remainder of the party arrived among the Cenis Indians. There they obtained five horses. Then, judging the number in his troop – now eight people – too reduced to continue, La Salle retraced his steps. Back in Fort Saint-Louis once more, he was laid up in October by a painful hernia.
When he had recovered, La Salle began anew to prepare for departure. This time Joutel was to follow his chief. On 12 Jan. 1687 they set out on foot, 17 of them, to find their way towards the Illinois country with the 25 people – 7 of them of the female sex – left at the habitation, this was all that remained of the approximately 180 unfortunates who had been established in Texas two years earlier. It was certainly not a pleasure trip they were undertaking. Torrential rains flooded the countryside, rendering paths unusable and camping in shelters particularly arduous. The swollen watercourses were very difficult to ford, not to mention that the men, already overburdened, had to relieve the horses of the personal baggage of the Cavelier brothers, who had monopolized the animals. The priest alone made them carry, among other things, “several church ornaments, even a dozen habits . . . which could well have been dispensed with,” as Joutel remarks. But, he added in exasperation, La Salle and the Sulpician “did not have the inconvenience of this, and it meant nothing to them.” In addition, dense forests all around them proved to be uncommonly inhospitable. They advanced none the less, passing through numerous Indian villages which La Salle now approached tactfully, all too well aware how heavy had been the price, in dead men and futile wanderings, of his bad relations with the Texan tribes. The Indians, won over, showed themselves well disposed, and provided useful information about the country and its inhabitants. In the middle of March, the troop was in the neighbourhood of the Cenis Indians. On the fourteenth, they crossed the Trinity River, called by La Salle the Rivière aux Canots.
The next day, when they were camping two leagues from the left bank, La Salle sent his servant and his faithful Nika, a Shawnee hunter, together with Pierre Duhaut, the latter’s surgeon, and three or four others, to dig up provisions that the explorer had buried a little farther on, during his last voyage. On the seventeenth, Moranget and two companions went to meet them with horses, to bring back the meat of the bison slaughtered by Nika. As soon as he arrived, La Salle’s nephew flew into a rage against the men and claimed the flesh of the bison, which they had smoked and from which they had set aside the marrowbones for themselves. This really passed all bounds. Duhaut and his surgeon had long harboured a persistent resentment against Moranget, who had previously abandoned the former in the middle of the forest, and had requited the second with brutality for the careful attention he had lavished on his wounds at the time when the Indian canoes were stolen. A plot was therefore contrived, and during the night the surgeon, assisted by four accomplices, used an axe to kill Moranget, Nika, and La Salle’s servant, who were sleeping side by side.
On the morning of 19 March 1687, La Salle, warned by sombre forebodings, hastened to the scene of the crime with Father Douay. The murderers had just as strong a grudge against their chief. Duhaut in particular, who as well as being his creditor held against him the disappearance of his brother Dominique, had no desire to let La Salle denounce the triple assassination. While the explorer was approaching, the merchant lay in wait, crouching in the tall grass with his musket. La Salle inquired about the fate of his nephew. Duhaut’s servant replied impudently that the victim was adrift somewhere on a nearby stream. With a sudden angry gesture, La Salle turned towards the saucy fellow. A shot rang out. The discoverer slumped down, dead, with a bullet in his head. The “madmen” insulted the corpse, and, styling it a “grand bacha,” they stripped it and left it naked in a thicket, to be devoured by wild animals. Then they seized La Salle’s possessions, including his famous scarlet cloak, which had survived every shipwreck. Some time later, feeling the threat of impending justice, the conspirators, all but two, finished by killing one another off.
As for the rest of the troop, they reached Fort Saint-Louis-des-Illinois the following 14 September, and Montreal on 13 July 1688. During all that time, La Salle’s tragic end was kept a secret at the request of Abbé Cavelier, who, being anxious to collect the furs owing to his brother, revealed his death only some weeks after having returned to France, 9 Oct. 1688. The covetous Sulpician, still through self-interest, subsequently composed an account of his voyage to the Gulf of Mexico, stuffed with lies which were to mislead several generations of historians.
Thus ended, paradoxically in blood, mud, and silence, a life given over to the frenzied pursuit of fame. However, history was again to invoke this man, René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle, to present him now as a hero worthy of inspiring a national holiday, now as a mere case for psychoanalysis. “Such is the fate of those men,” remarked Charlevoix* very rightly, “whom a mixture of great defects and great virtues lifts above the common sphere. Their passions cause them to make mistakes and although they do what others could not do, their undertakings are not to everybody’s liking their successes arouse the jealousy of those who remain in obscurity they do good to some, and ill to others the latter avenge themselves by discrediting them inordinately the former exaggerate their worth. Hence the very different portraits that are made of them, no one of which is a likeness.”
Few historical personages are more difficult to judge than La Salle. The merit of having discovered the last 700 miles of the lower course of the Mississippi certainly belongs to him, but it is sullied by the failure in Texas, for which he was to a large extent responsible. He had the lofty audacity to conceive vast plans for the extension of the kingdom of France, but his idealistic mind prevented him from seeing the exaggerated dimensions of his dreams, and led him to take his desires for realities.
Again, one must admit that during his explorations he displayed an almost superhuman strength, tenacity, and courage. Yet what energy he wasted, by his lack of organization, by his perpetual comings and goings in the Great Lakes and Illinois regions! One might easily assert, also, that he was afflicted with a persecution mania, but his frightful death shows that he was not after all completely misguided in his suspicions. Finally, if his austere and solitary nature made him choose the life of the woods, as he himself wrote, it did not prevent him, alas, and to his very great detriment, from dabbling in the intrigues of Versailles and in those created by the rivalry between Jesuits and Recollets.
It will be apparent that a definitive study of Cavelier de La Salle’s life and work has yet to be made.
Among the numerous mss and printed sources on La Salle the following are listed: AN, Col., B, 3–8, 10–13, C 11A , C 13C , 3 Marine, B 2 , 50–52, 55, 58, 66, 104, B 4 , 9, 10 Archives du Service hydrographique de la marine, carton 67 1 , nos. 15, 16 115–19, no. 12. BN, ms , Clairambault 1016 ms , NAF 7497 (Renaudot), 21330, 21331 (Arnoul), 9288–94, 9300, 9301 (Margry).
[René de Bréhant de Galinée], Voyage de MM. Dollier & Galinée (SHM Mémoires, VI, Montréal, 1875) this incomplete edition is not worth consulting, except for the notes by Abbé H. A. Verreau better is “Voyage de Cavelier de La Salle avec les Sulpiciens Dollier de Casson et Brehan de Gallinée” in Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), I, 101–66. See also the French-English edition of James H. Coyne, “. . . Exploration of the Great Lakes 1669–1670 . . .” in Ont. Hist. Soc. Papers and Records, IV (1903). Caron, “Inventaire de documents,” APQ Rapport, 1939–40, 221–25. [Jean Cavelier], The journal of Jean Cavelier: the account of a survivor of La Salle’s Texas expedition, 1684–1688, tr. and annotated by Jean Delanglez (Chicago, 1938) this work contains an extremely important critical analysis of the sources concerning La Salle, which clarify, in addition to La Salle’s account, those of Douay and the pseudo-Tonty (infra). “Correspondance de Frontenac (1672–82),” APQ Rapport, 1926–27. “Correspondance de Talon,” ibid., 1930–31. Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), I–III the largest collection of printed sources, in which, however, the transcription is not always very faithful to the originals. Louis Hennepin, Description de la Louisiane . . . (Paris, 1683) Nouvelle découverte d’un très grand pays dans l’Amérique entre le Nouveau Mexique, et la mer glaciale . . . (Utrecht, 1697) Nouveau voyage d’un païs plus grand que l’Europe, avec les réflections des entreprises du Sieur de La Salle . . . (Utrecht, 1698) sources which are often quite untrustworthy. JR (Thwaites). [Henri Joutel], Journal historique du dernier voyage que feu M. de la Sale fit dans le Golfe de Mexique . . . Où l’on voit l’histoire tragique de sa mort, & plusieurs choses curieuses du nouveau monde . . . , éd. De Michel (Paris, 1713). Jug. et délib. Le Clercq, First establishment of the faith (Shea) Premier établissement de la foy, chap. XXI–XXV chap. XII and XXIII contain the “Relation” of Membré and chap. XXV that of Douay. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), IX. Perrot, Mémoire (Tailhan). “Le procès de l’abbé de Fénelon devant le Conseil de la Nouvelle-France en 1674,” APQ Rapport, 1921–22, 124–88. Raymond Thomassy, Géologie pratique de la Louisiane (Nouvelle-Orléans et Paris, 1860), 9–16, App. A et B here is given, among other accounts, the official report (attributed to Membré) of La Salle’s 1682 explorations. [Henri de Tonti], Dernières découvertes dans l’Amérique Septentrionale de M. de la Sale . . . (Paris, 1697) apocryphal account.
Charlevoix, Histoire. P. Chesnel, Histoire de Cavelier de La Salle, exploration et conquête du bassin du Mississipi . . . (Paris, 1901). Delanglez, Jolliet Some La Salle journeys (Chicago, 1938) monographs of the greatest importance. Faillon, Histoire de la colonie française, III, 228f., 286–314, 353f., 472–77, 495–514. Désiré Girouard, Les anciens forts de Lachine et Cavelier de La Salle (Montréal, 1891) . Gabriel Gravier, Cavelier de La Salle de Rouen (Paris, 1871), which provides a very useful bibliography Découvertes et établissements de Cavelier de La Salle, de Rouen, dans l’Amérique du Nord . . . (Paris, 1870). Lionel Groulx, Notre grande aventure: l’empire français en Amérique du Nord ( 1535–1760 ) (Montréal et Paris (1958)), 111–37, 193–98. Marion Habig, The Franciscan Père Marquette: a critical biography of Father Zénobe Membré . . . Franciscan studies, XIII, New York, 1934). Gérard Malchelosse, “La Salle et le fort Saint-Joseph des Miamis,” Cahiers des Dix , XXII (1957), 83–103. Nute, Caesars of the wilderness , 157–59, 201, et passim . Parkman, La Salle and the discovery of the great west (12th ed.). Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la Nouvelle-France au XVII e siècle , III, 40–80, 162–64 best source for the years covering the religious life of La Salle. John G. Shea, The bursting of Pierre Margry’s La Salle bubble (New York, 1879). Sulte, Mélanges historiques (Malchelosse), X, 66–89 “La mort de Cavelier de La Salle,” RSCT , 2d ser., IV (1898), sect. i , 3–31. Roger Viau, Cavelier de La Salle (s.l., 1960). Marc de Villiers du Terrage, La découverte du Missouri et l’histoire du Fort d’Orléans, 1673–1738 (Paris, 1925) L’expédition de Cavelier de la Salle dans le golfe du Mexique, 1684–1687 (Paris, 1931): essential sources.
This biography was first published with terms that were regarded as appropriate at the time and are now considered offensive. These terms have been amended.
René-Robert Cavalier syntyi Rouenissa 21. marraskuuta 1643 tukkuvaatekauppias Jean Cavalier’n ja tämän vaimon Catherine Geestin toisena poikana. Perhe kuului Ranskan maakuntien rikkaaseen porvaristoon. Pojan myöhemmin ottama sukunimi La Salle tuli maatilasta, jonka hänen vanhempansa omistivat Rouenin läheisyydessä. Cavalier’t asuivat vain muutaman minuutin kävelymatkan päässä Pierre Corneillesta, josta tuli merkittävä ranskalainen näytelmäkirjailija. Nuori Robert oli mieltynyt tieteisiin ja luonnossa liikkumiseen ja kävi Pierre Corneillen tavoin jesuiittakouluja. Käytyään jesuiittaopistoa vuoteen 1658 Robert siirtyi Pariisiin, jossa hän aloitti kilvoituselämänsä noviisina eräässä jesuiittojen veljeskunnassa. Uskonlupauksensa Robert teki vuonna 1660. 
Mielen rauhattomuus vaikeutti Robertin opintoja, ja välillä hän tunsi voimakasta halua vaihtaa ympäristöä. Hänen oli vaikeaa sopeutua sääntöihin, eikä hänen mielipiteitään arvostettu. Vuonna 1665 22-vuotias Robert pyysi kahdesti, että hänet lähetettäisiin jonnekin lähetysasemalle. Häntä ei katsottu kuitenkaan riittävän valmiiksi. Robertin teologinen koulutus oli kesken ja uskonnollinen valmistautuminen riittämätön. Hän anoi 1666 siirtoa Portugaliin, jossa voisi valmistautua lähetysasema-apostoliksi. Tämäkin pyyntö evättiin. 
Uudelle mantereelle Muokkaa
Vuoden 1666 aikana Robert purjehti siirtolaisena Kanadaan, jonka hän katsoi tarjoavan itselleen otolliset puitteet rakentaa tulevaisuutta. Hänen vanhempi veljensä Jean, joka oli St. Sulpicen kirkon ympärille kasvaneen Pyhän Sulpiciuksen seuran pappi, oli saapunut Uuteen Ranskaan vuotta aiemmin. Vanhan jesuiittalupauksensa vuoksi ilman isänsä perintöä jäänyt Robert oli lähes rahaton saapuessaan uudelle mantereelle. Vuonna 1667 hän luopui jesuiittaveljeskunnan jäsenyydestä ”moraalisten heikkouksien” vuoksi, eikä hän ollut ehtinyt tehdä vielä lopullista luostarilupausta. 
Uuden Ranskan maanjakojärjestelmän mukaisesti Robert sai läänityksen (seigneurie) läheltä Montrealia. Samalla René Robert Cavelier’sta tuli La Salle. Hän oli innokas tutustumaan uuteen ympäristöön ja ystävystyi mohawkien kanssa, joilta hän oppi vähän irokeesien kieltä. Kuunnellessaan intiaanien tarinoita mantereen suuresta jokiverkostosta La Sallen kiinnostui Ohiojoesta, jolta voisi löytyä vesitie länsirannikolle ja meren yli Kiinaan.  Vuonna 1669 La Salle myi läänityksensä rahoittaakseen tutkimusmatkansa Ohiolaaksoon. Samana vuonna aloitettu matka ylettyi todennäköisesti nykyiseen Louisvilleen, jossa putoukset estivät taivalluksen jatkumisen. Retkeä käsittelevää aineistoa ei kuitenkaan ole löytynyt, joten matkasta ei ole luotettavaa tietoa. 
Vuosien 1674 ja 1678 välisenä aikana La Sallen tiedetään käyneen kahdesti kotimaassaan. Hän kertoi tulevaisuuden suunnitelmistaan kuningas Ludvig XIV:lle ja pyysi lupaa linnakkeiden perustamiseen Suurille järville ja Mississippijoen varrelle ja Ranskan talouteen perustuvan hallinnon luomiseen läpi mantereen. 
Vuonna 1679 La Salle apulaisineen rakensi Le Griffonin, josta tuli ensimmäinen eurooppalainen laiva Suurilla järvillä. Alus teki elokuussa 1679 neitsytmatkansa Eriejärvellä ja purjehti 16 miehen voimin Niagarajoelta nykyiseen Detroitiin. Alus oli tarkoitettu tutkimusmatkojen ohella tavarakuljetuksiin, sillä La Salle oli kiinnostunut myös turkiskaupasta. Laivan elinaika jäi lyhyeksi, sillä syyskuun lopulla 1679 se katosi jäljettömiin. Yleisin uskomus oli, että myrsky upotti aluksen, mutta myös intiaaneja epäiltiin osallisuudesta laivan tuhoon. La Sallelle Le Griffonin menetys oli suuri isku, sillä hän oli suunnitellut aluksen liikkuvaksi tukikohdakseen. 
Tutkimusmatka Meksikonlahdelle Muokkaa
Vuonna 1680 La Salle perusti kiinteäksi tukikohdakseen Fort Crevecoeurin, josta tuli samalla nykyisen Illinoisin ensimmäinen valkoinen sivilisaatio. Linnakkeen edustalla rakennettiin uusi laiva, jolla La Salle aikoi purjehtia Mississippijokea pitkin Meksikonlahdelle ja jopa Länsi-Intiaan. Laiva ei ehtinyt vesille, sillä linnakkeeseen hyökänneet irokeesit polttivat sen.  La Salle ei kuitenkaan luopunut unelmastaan tehdä tutkimusmatkan etelään. Syksyllä 1681 hän johti kanootein liikkuvaa retkikuntaa, johon kuului hänen lisäkseen luutnantti Henri Tonti ja 21 muuta ranskalaista sekä joitakin kymmeniä mahican- ja abenaki-intiaaneja. 
Retkikunta käytti alkeellista intiaanikarttaa ja liikkui kanootein Mississippijoelle. Maaliskuussa 1682 miehet saapuivat Arkansasjoelle, joka oli vuonna 1673 tehdyn tutkimusmatkan eteläinen raja. Tuolloin matkaa olivat johtaneet Jacques Marquette ja Louis Jolliet. La Salle seurueineen vieraili paikallisten intiaanien luona ja solmi hyvät suhteet kylien päälliköihin. Samalla hän otti Ludvig XIV:n nimissä maat Ranskan haltuun. 
Matkalla Arkansasjoelta Meksikonlahdelle ranskalaiset meloivat läpi noin 300 kilometrin pituisen alueen, jossa he eivät nähneet ainuttakaan intiaanikylää. Koko laaja alue oli autioitunut, sillä 140 vuotta aiemmin Hernando de Soto oli löytänyt samalta alueelta kymmenittäin kukoistavia kaupunkeja.  De Soton vierailun jälkeen sikäläisten intiaanien maailma oli romahtanut joko eurooppalaisten mukana tulleiden tautien tai jonkun muun katastrofin seurauksena. Intiaanien sijaan La Sallen retkikunta näki laumoittain biisoneita, jotka olivat tulleet laiduntamaan jokea reunustaville preerioille. 
Elokuun alussa 1682 retkikunta saapui Meksikonlahdelle ja teki lyhyen tutkimusretken Mississippijoen suistomaalle. Tämän jälkeen La Salle järjesti pienimuotoisen tilaisuuden, jossa suuri risti ja Ranskan lippu pystytettiin maaperään muskettien yhteislaukauksen juhlistaessa tapahtumaa. Toimitus liitti laajat alueet Meksikonlahdelta Missourijoen yläjuoksuille ja Alleghenyvuorilta Kalliovuorille Ranskan kruunun alaisiksi. 
Syksyllä 1682 retkikunta palasi takaisin Kanadaan. Vuotta myöhemmin La Salle matkusti Ranskaan, jossa kuninkaallinen komissio hyväksyi hänen suunnitelmansa lähettää siirtokunta Louisianan territorioon.  La Sallen tehtäviin kuului siirtokunnan johtamisen ohella kristinuskon levittäminen, intiaanien taivuttaminen myötämieliseksi Ranskan kruunulle, Uuden Espanjan valloittaminen ja luonnonrikkauksien kaivaminen. 
Siirtokunnan harhautuminen Muokkaa
La Salle ja noin 320 siirtolaista aloittivat heinäkuussa 1684 purjehduksensa kohti Meksikonlahtea. Miesmatkustajien joukossa oli 100 sotilasta, useita lähetyssaarnaajia, kauppiaita ja eri käsityöteollisuuden taitajia. Naisten joukosta löytyi perheenäitejä lapsineen sekä nuoria naisia, jotka halusivat kokeilla onneaan Amerikassa.  La Rochellesta lähteneeseen laivastoon kuului neljä alusta: 36-tykkinen sotalaiva Le Joly, La Sallen lippulaivana toiminut parkki La Belle ja kuljetusalukset Aimable ja St. François.  Erimielisyydet sekä huono onni seurasivat matkustajia koko retken ajan. La Salle ja merivoimien komentaja Beaujeu riitelivät päivittäin ja Santo Domingossa espanjalaiset merirosvoalukset sieppasivat St François’n. Siirtolaiset menettivät laivan mukana työkaluja ja muita tarvikkeita. 
Talvella 1684–1685 kolme jäljellä ollutta laivaa harhautuivat kovassa sumussa 600 kilometriä ohi Mississippin suistosta. Alukset ankkuroituivat Matagordanlahdelle Texasin rannikolle nykyisen Houstonin ja Corpus Christin puoliväliin.  Aimable haaksirikkoutui lahdella, ja suurin osa sen lastista tuhoutui myrskyn seurauksena. 
Texasin rannikolla Muokkaa
La Salle uskoi tulleensa Mississippijoen suulle ja lähetti ryhmän sotilaita käymään kauppaa rannikon intiaanien kanssa. Miesten tarkoitus oli hankkia kanootteja, joiden avulla laivoissa olleet tarvikkeet voitaisiin kuljettaa maihin. Sotilaat löysivät kylän, joka kuului karankawa-intiaaneille. Paljastettuja aseita pelästyneet karankawat pakenivat kylästä. Sotilaat käyttivät tilanteen hyödykseen ja varastivat joitakin kanootteja ja eläinten taljoja. Karankawat tulkitsivat vieraiden käytöksen sodanjulistukseksi ja alkoivat pitää silmällä ranskalaisten toimia. 
Siirtolaiset rakennuttivat alkeellisen leirin lahden rannalle. Paikkaa ympäröivät vain matalat hiekkadyynit ja mereltä ajelehtineet puunrungot. Metsän puuttuminen teki leirin alttiiksi tuulelle. Lähellä riehuvat preeriapalot uhkasivat levitä rantaan, ja siirtolaiset joutuivat leikkaamaan kaiken heinän ympäriltään. Intiaanit piirittivät leiriä öisin, mutta eivät hyökänneet. La Sallen asettamat vartijat valvoivat erityisesti ruutitynnyreitä, joista suurin osa oli pelastettu haaksirikosta. Aimablen onnettomuudessa oli kuitenkin menetetty enin osa siirtolaisten matkatavaroista lähes kaikki lääkkeet, 60 barrelia viiniä, 1 600 tykinkuulaa, tuhansia kiloja rautaa ja lyijyä sekä ahjo ja mylly. 
Maaliskuussa 1685 laivaston komentaja Beaujeu lähti purjehtimaan Le Jolyllä takaisin Ranskaan. Hänen mukanaan palasi 120 siirtolaista, jotka olivat menettäneet uskonsa onnelliseen tulevaisuuteen Amerikassa. La Belle jäi Texasiin jääneiden ainoaksi alukseksi.  Myöhemmin samana keväänä siirtolaiset siirtyivät ylemmäksi sisämaahan ja aloittivat Fort St. Louis’n rakentamisen. Työn etenemistä hidastivat kuuma ilmanala, rakennusmateriaalin niukkuus ja osaamattomat puusepät.  Linnaketta rakennettaessa yhä useammat siirtolaiset alkoivat epäillä La Sallen taitoja johtaa siirtokuntaa. Myös Santo Domingista mukaan liittyneet miehet olivat La Sallea vastaan ja tekivät parhaansa horjuttaakseen hänen arvovaltaansa. 
Linnoitus valmistui elokuussa 1685. Sen sijainti korkealla kalliolla Lavacajoen varrella tarjosi hyvät puolustusmahdollisuudet intiaanien, espanjalaisten ja merirosvojen hyökkäyksiä vastaan.  La Salle teki useita retkiä Lavacajoella ennen kuin uskoi, että kysymyksessä ei ollut Mississippijoen haarautuma. 
Fort St. Louis’n myötä siirtolaisten elämänlaatu parani. Joenvarsilla liikkuvien biisonien ansiosta heillä oli riittävästi ruokaa ja nahkatarvikkeita, mutta La Sallen epäoikeudenmukaisuus ja kovuus alaisiaan kohtaan aiheutti pahaa mieltä ja joitakin retkikunnan jäseniä karkasi. Myös intiaanien hyökkäykset koettelivat siirtokuntaa. Kesän loppuun mennessä siirtolaiset olivat haudanneet yli 30 toveriaan, suurin osa sairauksiin menehtyneinä. 
La Bellen haaksirikko Muokkaa
Lokakuussa 1685 La Salle kokosi 50 miehen retkikunnan, joka aloitti kanootein tehtävän tutkimusmatkan kohti itää. La Bellen oli määrä purjehtia rantaviivaa myötäillen kauempana lahdella ja kuljettaa tarvikkeita Mississippijoen suulle. Laivan mukana seurasi 27 miehistön jäsentä.  Fort St. Louis’in jäi 34 siirtolaista, joista suurin osa oli naisia, lapsia ja pappeja. 
Jo alkumatkalla osa retkikunnasta sairastui syötyään suuret määrät opuntiakaktuksen hedelmiä.  Miesten toipuminen vei aikaa. Brazos- ja Sabinejoen välisellä alueella La Sallen miehet eksyivät kosteaan viidakkoon, jota texasilaiset kutsuvat ”Suureksi tiheiköksi” (Big Thicket). Monet riidat viivästyttivät matkan etenemistä. Paikalliset intiaanit olivat pääasiassa hyvin vieraanvaraisia ja kertoivat, että kaikki rannikon heimot vihasivat espanjalaisia. La Salle merkitsi vihkoonsa intiaanien käyttämiä sanoja ja käsimerkkejä. Vaellettuaan yli 200 kilometriä Louisianan nykyiselle rajalle retkikunta pystytti Sabinejoen rantaan pienen linnakkeen. Jatkuvien sateiden ja ammusten hupenemisen takia La Sallen määräsi kääntymään takaisin. Linnakkeeseen jäi joitakin miehiä, joiden kohtalosta ei ole tietoa. 
Palatessaan maaliskuussa 1686 Fort St. Louisiin La Salle kuuli, että La Belle oli haaksirikkoutunut kaukana lahdella ja suurin osa sen matkustajista hukkunut. Tämä oli kova isku siirtokunnalle, sillä laiva oli ollut heidän ainoa mahdollisuutensa palata Ranskaan. La Bellen mukana hautautui myös La Sallen unelma vauraasta ranskalaisesta siirtokunnasta. 
La Salle teki huhtikuussa 1686 uuden tutkimusmatkan, johon keräsi 20 miestä. Hän oli vaitelias aikomustensa suhteen, ja suurin osa linnakkeeseen jäävistä oli täysin tietämätön matkan laajuudesta. Jotkut uskoivat, että La Salle ei palaisi enää koskaan. Yleinen tyytymättömyys lisääntyi ja eräs siirtokunnan rahoitukseen osallistuneista kauppiaista lietsoi kapinahenkeä poissaolevaa La Sallea vastaan. Monien yllätykseksi retkikunta palasi takaisin. La Salle oli hankkinut viisi hevosta intiaaneilta, mutta menettänyt paluumatkan aikana yli puolet miehistään. Osa oli karannut, yksi joutunut alligaattorin saaliiksi ja loput eksyneet.  Matkan varrella La Salle oli nähnyt Meksikonlahdella useita espanjalaisia sota-aluksia, jotka oli hälytetty etsimään ranskalaista retkikuntaa - ei ystävällisessä tarkoituksessa. 
La Sallen kuolema Muokkaa
Tammikuussa 1687 retkikunnasta oli jäljellä noin 45 jäsentä.  La Salle keräsi ryhmästä mukaansa 17 miestä ja aloitti kohtalokkaan marssinsa halki Texasin. Heidän ainoa mahdollisuutensa selvitä oli löytää reitti Illinoisiin ja saada apua Uudelta Ranskalta. 
Naiset ja lapset jäivät kolmen papin ja pienen sotilasryhmän kanssa Fort St. Louis’in. Vaikeat sääolosuhteet tekivät La Sallen ryhmän matkasta työlään, ja vanhat erimielisyydet ja turhautumiset nousivat pintaan. Kaksi siirtokunnan varhaisista rahoittajista osoitti tyytymättömyytensä La Sallen rooliin retkikunnan johtajana ja kehitti salaliiton tätä vastaan.  Saatuaan muutaman retkikuntalaisen puolelleen kapinoitsijat järjestivät riidan biisoninlihan jakamisesta. Tämä johti maaliskuussa 1687 retkikunnan kolmen jäsenen murhaan Trinityjoen läheisyydessä. Surmatut olivat La Sallen serkku, hänen palvelijansa ja hänen intiaanimetsästäjänsä. Murhaajat eivät tyytyneet vielä tähän, sillä heidän päätavoitteensa oli toisaalle leiriytynyt retkikunnan johtaja. Tietämättömänä tapahtuneesta La Salle etsi ystäviään seuraavana aamuna ja joutui verityöntekijöiden yllättämäksi. Murhaajat avasivat tulen ja ampuivat La Sallea päähän kuolettavasti.   Murhan silminnäkijänä oli retkikuntaan kuulunut pappi. Hän välitti tiedon läheiseen leiriin ja kertoi keitä murhaajat olivat. 
Siirtolaisista jäi henkiin arviolta 15, kaikkien kohtaloa ei tiedetä. Heistä 6 palasi Ranskaa, yksi Kanadaan ja loput joutuivat espanjalaisten vangeiksi.  . Fort St. Louis’in jääneet aikuiset siirtolaiset joutuivat karankawojen järjestämän massamurhan uhriksi, mutta lapset säästettiin ja kuljetettiin hyökkääjien kylään. Kaksi linnakkeeseen palannutta retkikunnan jäsentä hautasi 14 ruumista ja lähetti intiaanikuriirin matkassa espanjalaisille tiedon siirtokunnan kohtalosta. 
La Sallen murhaajat joutuivat omien liittolaistensa ampumiksi riidan seurauksena toukokuussa 1687. 
La Sallen merkittävin perintö oli ranskalaisten linnakkeiden verkosto, joka ylettyi Suurilta järviltä Mississippijoen varsille ja Ohioon. Hänen aloittamansa kauppasuhteet tasankojen intiaanien kanssa antoivat perustan Uuden Ranskan myöhemmälle kaupankäynnille Ranskan Louisianan alueella. La Sallen kunniaksi on nimetty Yhdysvalloissa useita paikkakuntia, kouluja, katuja, hotelleja ja automerkki. Vuonna 1930 Amerikan vallankumouksen tyttärien (DAR) Texasin haaraosasto ja Navasotan kaupungin asukkaat pystyttivät lähes viisi metriä korkean La Sallen patsaan lähelle hänen oletettua kuolinpaikkaansa. 
Ranskan hallitus lähetti hyvien tahdon valtuuskunnan Navasotaan huhtikuussa 1937 juhliakseen La Sallen kuoleman 250 vuosipäivää. 
La Sallen lippulaivan La Bellen hylky löytyi vuonna 1996 yli kymmenen vuotta kestäneiden etsintöjen jälkeen. Nostotyön mahdollistamiseksi hylyn ympärille jouduttiin rakentamaan pato. La Belle oli löydettäessä lähes ehjä, ja sen uumenista löytyi 700 000 esinettä – miekoista ja kanuunoista matkalaisten henkilökohtaisiin esineisiin sekä helmiin ja peileihin, joilla aiottiin käydä kauppaa alkuperäisasukkaiden kanssa.  Pintaan nostettu alus säilöttiin nesteeseen, jottei se kuivuessaan murentuisi. Nyt hylyn säilömiseksi ja kuivattamiseksi on suunniteltu kaikkien aikojen suurinta arkeologista pakastekuivausta, joka tapahtuu texasilaisessa tukikohdassa sijaitsevassa jättipakastimessa. 
Explores American Southwest
La Salle made other unknown trips from 1671 to 1673. In the fall of 1673 he returned to Montreal. Once there, he allied himself with Louis de Buade (also known as the Count of Frontenac), the governor of New France, in a dispute that was then going on in the colony. For his support, La Salle was rewarded with a title of nobility (Sieur de La Salle) and command of Fort Frontenac at the site of present-day Kingston, Ontario. In 1677 he went back to France, and the following year he received permission from King Louis XIV to explore the western part of North America between New France, Florida, and Mexico.
The following September, La Salle started the expedition by constructing a fort on the Niagara River. He was accompanied by several other French explorers who were to gain fame as well, including Henry de Tonti and Louis Hennepin. La Salle was forced to spend the winter of 1678–79 at Fort Frontenac at Kingston. Upon his return he discovered that his men had built a ship, the Griffon, for exploration of the Great Lakes. They sailed on August 7, 1679.
Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle
Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, was born in Rouen, France in 1643. As a young man, La Salle planned to enter the priesthood, but found himself unsuited to the life. At the age of 24, he followed his brother to Canada, where he entered the fur trade. La Salle was soon captivated by the opportunities available in the largely unexplored lands of North America. In 1669, he launched his first expedition, discovering the Ohio River. Over the next several years, he combined exploration with his business ventures. In 1682, he descended the Mississippi and claimed for France all of the lands that were drained by the river, a vast territory that he named &ldquoLouisiana&rdquo after the French King Louis XIV.
One of La Salle&rsquos men, Nicolas de La Salle (no relation), kept a journal of this expedition. He recorded a detailed daily chronology, as well as priceless information about the Indian cultures that the party encountered. He completed this journal in 1685 after returning to France, but the whereabouts of the original manuscript are unknown. Only two copies are known to exist, one at the Newberry Library in Chicago and the other recently discovered at the Texas State Library and Archives.
The provenance of this document is uncertain, but it is believed to have acquired by the Archives sometime in the late nineteenth century. For more information and the English translation of this remarkable document, see William C. Foster's La Salle Expedition on the Mississippi River: A Lost Manuscript of Nicolas de La Salle.
In 1683, Robert La Salle obtained royal support for a venture to travel to the mouth of the Mississippi through the Gulf of Mexico and establish a colony for France. From this base, France would be able to strike at Spanish Mexico, harass Spanish shipping, and block English-American expansion in North America. La Salle&rsquos fleet of four ships and 280 men and colonists was plagued with problems from the start, culminating with the failure to find the mouth of the Mississippi, landing instead at Matagorda Bay in present-day Texas on February 20, 1685. One of his ships had already been seized by Spanish pirates by the end of 1686, a second ship had been lost, and a third taken back to France with some disenchanted colonists. In late winter 1686, the last remaining ship, the Belle, was wrecked by a squall.
In spite of the severe setbacks, La Salle accomplished a great deal of exploration. It is believed that he explored the Rio Grande as far west as the Pecos River near the present-day town of Langtry. On March 19, 1687, while on a march to try to find the Mississippi and resume the original mission of the expedition, La Salle and seven others were killed in an uprising of his own men. Back at Matagorda Bay, the remaining colonists also fared poorly except for a few children, they were massacred by the Karankawa Indians in December 1688.
La Salle&rsquos activities had far-reaching consequences for the future of Texas. Spain increased its own exploration of the Texas coast and advanced the timetable for its own occupation in order to stave off French claims. As for France, it continued to claim Texas, a claim that was transferred to the United States after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and remained a sore point until the boundaries were settled by treaty in 1819.
Click on image for larger image of cover and journal pages.
The journal of Nicolas La Salle, recording observations of the 1682 La Salle expedition.
The La Salle Monument, Indianola, Texas. Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. #1/45-3.
In 1673, the reports of Father Jaques Marquette and Louis Joliet convinced him that the Mississippi flowed not to the Pacific but to the Gulf of Mexico. Backed by Governor Frontenac and supported by the King, La Salle built Fort Frontenac at present-day Kingston, Ontario as a base for colonizing the Mississippi Valley. He envisioned a chain of French forts stretching from the Atlantic to the Gulf that would channel the lucrative fur trade of the interior to France.
Robert Cavelier de La Salle
In United States, La Salle is usually considered the greatest of the French explorers in North America. When history was taught in American classrooms primarily as that nation's heroic chronicle of expansion, his name was inevitably listed with others - Henry Hudson, Coronado, Ponce de Leon - whose careers dramatized that expansion. His memory was honored by having an American car named after him, along with other individuals from the colonial period, such as Pontiac, De Soto, Cadillac. However it is the historical writing of Francis Parkman, portraying La Salle in heroic light, that has been most influential in fixing his identity and meaning in North American consciousness. La Salle - identified in popular history as the first man to travel the length of the Mississippi - is a historical personality whose contribution to the European conquest and development of North America will never be eradicated from our collective memory.
La Salle's image
The name recognition of Cavelier de La Salle remains relatively high. There is no doubt, however, that the legacy of La Salle is currently in decline, as the European conquest of the continent is increasingly deprecated by educators and historians, and as the teaching of history as the narrative of great men gives way to a more social and cultural approach.
In Canada, Cavelier de La Salle occupies an important place, with other great explorators, in the teaching of New-France's history. That said, the most concrete reminder of La Salle's career in present day Quebec is the Musee de la Ville de Lachine in Montreal, where the ruins of a house in La Salle's old seigneury has been resurrected as a museum. There are few if any references to La Salle himself amongst all the museum artifacts. In the same way, there are few if any references to La Salle in present day Kingston, in Ontario, where La Salle once commanded Fort Frontenac. This absence is consistent with the general neglect of Kingston's French heritage. A small portion of Fort Frontenac's wall, dug up in recent years by archeologists, is the only visible reminder of that heritage, in a city where historical tourism focuses almost exclusively on the British colonial era, as exemplified by Fort Henry.
La Salle, as heritage, has enjoyed a more interesting career in the United States, where the man has always been admired as a bold explorer. George Bancroft, author of a monumental history of the United States, called La Salle the "first of mariners" in an 1854 volume. Mark Twain devoted a few pages to La Salle in Life on the Mississippi, crediting La Salle with being the first man to conceive "the idea of seeking out that river and exploring it." By so doing, La Salle clearly became an honorary American, in Twain's eyes.
It was Francis Parkman, however, who made La Salle a living historical figure. This Boston intellectual was an incurable romantic - he loved the works of Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper, two authors despised by the determinedly anti-romantic Twain. As a fledgling historian, he found the history of New France to be a grand romantic epic, and of all the major characters in that epic, La Salle the most suitable to be its hero.
The fortitude and hardiness of La Salle has never been in doubt. Other qualities in the man that others have found objectionable - his combativeness, his aristocratic bearing - Parkman frankly admired. Even La Salle's bouts of paranoia and near insanity, most evident in La Salle's last Texas expedition, only served to make him more sympathetic to Parkman, himself subject to spells of severe depression. A reader can sense Parkman's delicate touch in the one passage of Parkman's history where the author points to his hero's emotional infirmity. "It is difficult not to see in all this the chimera of an overwrought brain, no longer able to distinguish between the possible and the impossible," Parkman wrote about La Salle's increasingly erratic behaviour in Texas.
Because of Parkman's narrative gifts as a historian, and the touch of lyricism that graces his prose from time to time, his La Salle has enjoyed a change of status. No longer a name among others in the chronicles of exploration, he is now a literary character. La Salle has thereby become, in a certain sense, impervious to the assaults of historians, dwelling as he does in the Elysian Fields of literature, thanks to the pen of a Bostonnais. This La Salle can only really be challenged by other imaginative recreations of his persona. At least one other writer has tried to invade those Elysian Fields and challenge Parkman on literary grounds. In 1986 an English professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton, John Vernon, published a novel entitled La Salle, a riposte to Parkman's "foolish hagiography." Although an ingenious, well researched and highly sophisticated literary exercise, the novel has had no appreciable effect on La Salle's legend.
The History of Cavelier de La Salle
Behind the legend, there is the man. Robert Cavalier de La Salle was born in 1643 to a wealthy merchant family in Rouen. At the age of 17 he joined the Jesuit Order, perhaps enticed by the prospect of missionary activity in China, India or the Americas, but left in 1667 when those ambitions were stymied by his superiors. That same year he arrived in Canada where he was granted land west of Montreal by the Sulpician order. After bringing in settlers and helping to cultivate his seigneury, La Salle in 1669 turned to his lifelong pursuit of exploration, with a sideline in the fur trade. Placed in charge of the newly built (1673) fort in present day Kingston, by Governor Frontenac, La Salle used the fort as a base to launch his explorations of the Great Lakes and the Illinois territory.
After much hardship and after witnessing horrific scenes of wilderness warfare, involving the Iroquois Confederacy and its rivals in the fur trade, La Salle and his men entered the Mississippi River via the Illinois river and in April, 1682, after two months of navigation, reached its mouth on the Gulf of Mexico. La Salle returned to Canada and France, where he obtained financial help from the king for his scheme to build a fort on the mouth of the Mississippi. His return to that place in a naval expedition was hindered by universal ignorance of the geography of the region, resulting in the expedition's 1685 landing in present-day Matagorda Bay, Texas, 400 miles west of the Mississippi River. After two years of wandering the region, while the number of French inhabitants in the crudely built settlement near Matagorda Bay steadily declined through disease, accident and warfare with local Indians, La Salle set off for Canada, on foot, to obtain help. It was during this last expedition that La Salle was murdered, in mid-March, 1687, by disaffected members of his crew.
In addition to literature, public monuments at various places in the United States have registered the shifts in public perception of La Salle. A plaque erected on the site of Fort Niagara by the state of New York in 1934 refers to La Salle as "Author of Great Beginnings" and a "Dreamer of Dreams," two titles which place La Salle firmly in the context of American history. The "Great Beginnings" clearly do not refer to the beginnings of, say, the province of Quebec, but of the United States of America. La Salle's "Dreams" also seem suspiciously like the American Dream.
The plaque reads, "Through his courage, suffering and endurance came Christianity and Civilization." Parkman might balk at the reference to Christianity, since he had no use for that religion. The shade of La Salle, however, might be pleased, since he was a serious Catholic, despite his antipathy to Jesuits, and no doubt thought of himself as more than a mere wholesaler of beaver pelts and buffalo hides.
A more recent plaque, at Starved Rock, once the site of a fort built by La Salle's men and now an Illinois State Park, retains the heroic sense of La Salle, while accommodating him to more contemporary sensibilities. "La Salle was a man of vision and courage," the plaque reads. "He established contact with Native Americans and brought European culture to this area, while acting as a peacemaker in his actions with local Indian peoples. His explorations were responsible for expansion of the Western Frontier into this area of Illinois." While few would view La Salle primarily as a "peacemaker," this label is a reminder that La Salle, in all of his adventures, was guiltless of Indian blood. The contrast is striking with his Spanish counterparts, such as De Soto, and surely forms a basis for an eventual upward appreciation of La Salle's heritage "value."
The grandest monument to La Salle was erected in 1939 on Indianola beach, not far from the site of La Salle's Texas settlement on Garcitas Creek. La Salle stands about eight feet high, with flowing hair and a massive sword, like an Arthurian knight. His head, however, is not raised in triumph. Rather, he gazes downward, as if in sad recognition of his failure. The quotation on the monument is from Parkman: "America owes him an enduring memory for in this masculine figure she sees the pioneer who guided her to the possession of her richest heritage." It's as if the creators of the monument wanted to console La Salle for the terrible debacle of his Texas expedition by granting him honorary American status, accompanied with a bouquet of gratitude.
The oddest monument to La Salle can also be found in Texas. It's a life-sized statue of La Salle on the main street of Navasota, Texas, where many historians believe that La Salle was killed. This 1930 statue refers to La Salle as a "frontier statesman, empire builder, a nobleman in rank and character," It shows him holding out a friendly hand to a local Indian. Again, this is pure Parkman, although Parkman would not be quite so sentimental about the local Indian. Added interpretation of the statue is offered in an essay entitled A History of the La Salle Monument at Navasota, by a man named Loyal V. Norman. The essay can be found in the Navasota public library. Norman writes,. "La Salle has been classed with the Heroes of the Alamo, as a martyr to the advancement of Texas."
This is perhaps the unlikeliest role La Salle has ever been cast in. Still, the comment does show a certain elasticity in La Salle's image, by no means a bad thing for a heritage asset.
It should also be noted that Navasota contains another memento of La Salle. Next to a parking lot of a Chinese restaurant called the Golden Palace is a bust purportedly of La Salle - he has a very unpleasant expression on his face - donated to the citizens of Navasota by a body called the French Committee of the Bicentennial of the United States and another body called the Association France-Amerique. There is no inscription on it.
Building La Salle's Heritage
Of all the great names from seventeenth century New France, La Salle, along with Samuel De Champlain, has been most honoured by American writers, such as the 19th century historian George Bancroft, Mark Twain, and above all Francis Parkman. These writers universally adopt a celebratory tone regarding La Salle's greatest achievement, his voyage down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. Not forgotten, of course, is La Salle's last, fatal expedition to Texas, but this episode, for these writers, only lends an air of noble tragedy to La Salle's career. Meanwhile, through historical plaques and statues, in such locales as New York State, Illinois and Texas, La Salle's memory continues to be honoured in the United States.
It is an interesting question, given that all available historical documents regarding La Salle have been thoroughly studied by historians for generations, whether any major re-interpretation of La Salle will emerge in the future. If any new light is to be shed on La Salle, it may well come from on-going anthropological and archeological investigations into conditions of life at the time, among both Europeans and native Americans. But the growth or diminution of La Salle's iconic status, and hence his heritage value, will probably come not from scholars but from novelists, film-makers or television producers intrigued by the figure of La Salle and keen to undertake an imaginative reappraisal of the explorer.
What La Salle offers us is a genuine example of the spirit of individual achievement and discovery, coupled with an understanding and acceptance of "the other" - in La Salle's case, Native Americans. The most heartening aspect of his story is his communication with Native Americans, and a rapport, that was genuine and that often exceeded his communication and rapport with his own people. He and Native Americans understood each other, in a kind of miracle of cross-cultural comprehension.
It is true that in the last phase of La Salle's career, his sojourn in Texas, his judgement, in this respect and in others, failed him. For whatever reason, he did not exercise his gifts for engaging Native people on their own terms. This should not detract, however, from his over-all record of negotiations with Native peoples. Nor should it detract from his greatest triumph, a triumph over himself and over his inability to work with, and rely on, his compatriots. For a brief time, travelling down the Mississippi with some few trusted individuals, he fulfilled himself.
This surely is a historical narrative that can be viewed as heritage in the making
Doughty, Howard. Francis Parkman. New York: Greenwood Press, 1962.
Margry, Pierre. Lettres de Cavelier de La Salle et correspondence relative à ses entreprises, 1678-1685. Brooklyn: AMS Press, 1974.
Parkman, Francis. La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West. Boston: Little Brown, and Company, 1895.
Vernon, John. La Salle. New York, N.Y. 1987.
Weddle, Robert S. The Wreck of the Belle, the Ruin of La Salle. College Station, Texas. 2001.
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643–1687)
In 1682, French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle journeyed down the Mississippi River in search of a water route to the Gulf of Mexico. Stopping in present-day Arkansas County at the current site of Arkansas Post National Memorial, La Salle erected a cross to designate the region “Louisiana” in honor of Louis XIV, king of France. He was one of the first European explorers to make alliances with the Native Americans of Arkansas and the first to try to establish a permanent settlement in Arkansas through his friend and fellow explorer, Henri de Tonti.
La Salle was born in Rouen, France, on November 21, 1643. His parents, Catherine Gesset and Jean Cavlier, were wealthy merchants. Educated at the Jesuit College in Rouen, La Salle gave up his inheritance to enter the Society of Jesus and studied to become a priest. Feeling unsuited for the priesthood, La Salle left the order and sailed for Canada in 1667 to join his brother, Jean. He traded furs in the Ohio River valley and explored the Mississippi River Valley with the objective of establishing fur trading posts from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
By the 1670s, La Salle secured a patent of nobility and a seigniorial grant from the French king for land in North America. Aided by de Tonti, La Salle cultivated important military, social, and political alliances with Indian tribes in the Mississippi River Valley. Reaching Arkansas in 1682, La Salle and his men stopped at the Quapaw village of Kappa, a settlement located on the Mississippi River approximately twenty miles south of the mouth of the White River, where, after initial suspicion, the tribe received them cordially. Before leaving the Quapaw, La Salle erected a column bearing the coat of arms of Louis XIV and a painted cross at Kappa. From this moment until Spanish domination of Louisiana in the 1760s, the Quapaw allied themselves with the French to obtain firearms and manpower to face their enemies they also traded, formed political alliances, and even intermarried with them. It was an advantageous relationship for both the Quapaw and the French. Following this ceremony, La Salle made a land grant to his trusted friend, de Tonti, who established a small trading post that would become Arkansas’s first permanent European settlement, Arkansas Post (Arkansas County), in 1686.
La Salle returned to France in order to promote settlement in French-occupied territory. Returning to North America with 200 colonists, La Salle’s expedition missed the mouth of the Mississippi River and ended up landing on the coast of Matagorda Bay, Texas, in 1685. He ordered a fort to be built and set off in search of the Mississippi River with several colonists. His error in judgment and indecision regarding their situation caused dissention, which led members of the exploration party to kill him on March 19, 1687, near the Hasinai (Tejani Indians) village.
La Salle ultimately failed in his undertaking of establishing fur trading posts along the Mississippi River, but his expeditions were his fame. However, he did open the great waterway for development and established friendships with Arkansas Indians, who would assist and support the French colonial settlers in the area for over 100 years.
For additional information:
Arnold, Morris. Colonial Arkansas, 1686–1804: A Social and Cultural History. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.
———. Rumble of a Distant Drum: The Quapaw and Old World Newcomers, 1673–1804. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.
————. Unequal Laws Unto a Savage Race: European Legal Traditions in Arkansas, 1686–1836. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1985.
Chesnal, Paul. History of Cavelier de la Salle, 1643–1687. Translated by Andree Chesnel Meany. New York: Putnam, 1932.
Cox, Isaac Joslin, ed. The Journeys of Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. New York: Barnes, 1905.
Parkman, Francis. La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West. New York: New American Library, 1963.
Weddle, Robert S., ed. La Salle, the Mississippi, and the Gulf: Three Primary Documents. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1987.
Lea Flowers Baker
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Robert Cavelier de LaSalle Monument
Robert Cavelier de La Salle (1643–1687) explored the Great Lakes area, Mississippi River, and Gulf of Mexico in the 17th Century. He is best known for claiming the Mississippi Valley for France, and naming it “Louisiana” for King Louis XIV. La Salle died during an expedition to Canada in 1687, when his crew mutinied and killed him.
A reform-minded circuit court judge, Lambert Tree (1832–1910), believed that La Salle had made important contributions to American history that had largely been overlooked. To give La Salle the recognition that he deserved, Tree and his wife, Anna, decided to donate a monument to him for placement in Lincoln Park. A few years later, they also purchased the Robert Cavelier de La Salle Monument for Lincoln Park. In addition to providing the city with public sculptures, the two philanthropists also founded Tree Studios, a complex that provided attractive and affordable housing to artists in Chicago.
While serving as the minister to Belgium in 1885, Judge Tree commissioned the then famous Belgian sculptor Count Jacques de La Laing to create the Robert Cavelier de La Salle Monument. La Laing’s figure of La Salle is depicted with a sword and pistol. La Laing cast the bronze sculpture in Belgium and shipped it to Chicago.
Over the years, the sculpture has been moved a few times within Lincoln Park. Originally installed in a small triangular lawn area in the center of W. Stockton Drive, it had become an impediment to automobile traffic by the mid-1920s. The Lincoln Park Commission then moved the artwork southeast to an area east of N. Clark Street and south of W. Menomonee Street. By the 1940s, the monument sat just north of a surface parking lot, in a location that made it relatively unnoticeable. When the Chicago History Museum built a new unground parking structure in that area in the 1990s, the sculpture was moved to a more prominent spot at the corner of N. Clark Street and the La Salle Drive extension.