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In my perusals of Francis Parkman’s history of French and British colonization of North America, I am currently reading again about the ill-fated 1687 expedition of Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle to establish French control of the mouth of the Mississippi, and therefore the entire interior of the continent from the Appalachians to the Rockies, with the idea of going on from there to knock the Dons for six.

La Salle, who had come down the Mississippi from the Great Lakes previously, this time attempted to find its mouth with a small fleet of ships coming in via the Gulf of Mexico, a body of water of which the French were almost totally ignorant.  He missed his target, sailing too far to the west, and eventually wound up in Matagorda Bay about midway along the Texas coast, a piece of water where I used to go fishing in my yoot.

During La Salle’s visit to Matagorda, one of his ships, La Belle, got caught in a norther and was blown into the shallows of Matagorda Peninsula, where she broke up and sank, taking with her a very large portion of the expeditions supplies of weapons, tools, trade goods and the like.

The entire expedition ended in utter failure.  His remaining ships having already left to resupply themselves and the colony running low on just about everything, La Salle made up his mind to walk to the Mississippi and thereby make his way to the northern French colonies, in order to get reenforcements and supplies, but was murdered by his own men somewhere in East Texas.  Those left behind were eventually wiped out by disease, hunger and the local Indians.

At any rate, I have just now come across this website, Texas Beyond History, run by the folks at U.T.  Apparently, La Belle was rediscovered a few years ago and excavated, revealing a vast horde of artifacts, preserved in remarkably good condition.  The site is well worth browsing.

It’s funny to think I spent all those summahs fishing no great distance away from the wreck without knowing it.  However, I was enough of a geek even in those days that had I known of it, I would have appreciated it greatly.


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December 2010