La Salle Expedition

Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle sailed from France, on August 1, 1684, to find the mouth of the Mississippi River by sea. He had four ships and more than 300 people with him. At the time, Spain and France were at war and La Salle planned to build a colony so he could attack Mexico, which would affect Spanish shipping and block England from expanding. At the same time, he would be able to use the Mississippi valley for fur trade. While on his voyage, the war ended, but La Salle did not hear that. He sailed into the Gulf, which was now Spanish seas.

From the beginning the trip had problems. The leaders did not get along, they lost a ship to Spanish privateers, and La Salle failed to find the Mississippi. He instead landed at Matagorda Bay. There were only 180 French settlers left. As they worked on building homes, they suffered from a lack of food, being overworked, or getting lost in the wilderness. The last remaining ship, Belle, was also destroyed during a storm.

As the settlement grew, La Salle explored the area. He was gone from October 1865 through March 1686. He realized that the bay they settled was west of the Mississippi. He marched to the Hasinai Indians hoping he would find the river. He was killed in an attack by one of his followers, Pierre Duhaut in March 1687.

Six of the men who had left the settlement with La Salle continued moving north to Canada and returned to France.

Only 20 people were left at the settlement. Most were women, children, and physically handicapped men. The Indians heard about La Salle’s death and the weak settlers and they attacked the settlement.

Why did La Salle do so poorly identifying his landing point? In the 1980s some documents became available to help answer the question. The maps that were available during La Salle’s expedition were not accurate. La Salle’s compass was broken and the astrolabe he used gave the wrong latitude coordinates. He tried to use the sun to help direct him, but it was often covered by clouds or fog. La Salle thought that he had discovered the Escondido, a different river now called the Nueces.

The La Salle expedition shifted the focus of Spanish interest from western Texas to eastern Texas. The French began exploring this area, too. Men from La Salle’s colony became explorers and set up settlements in the South and Southwest.

Source: La Salle Expedition
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