Early exploration across pre-statehood Texas unravels over the course of several centuries, providing history enthusiasts with real life adventure stories writ large.
Some of the first expeditions, led by French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle and financed by the notorious King Louis XIV, succeeded in opening much of the Mississippi to later exploration and claimed the Texas territory for France, making some of our ancestors French subjects, if only briefly. But La Salle's final adventure reads like a thriller. Mutiny, pirates, and hapless orienteering plagued the expedition from the get-go, landing La Salle's men and his charge—a group of colonists—at Matagorda Bay where they attempted to survive in misery. His ships suffered as well, with the last, La Belle, wrecked off the Matagorda peninsula in a squall.
Leaving the colonists to fend for themselves, La Salle headed north with a small expedition only to be ambushed and murdered by one of his men, Pierre Duhaut. Most of the remaining colonists fared no better. Men and women were killed by the local Karankawa, leaving the children to tribal adoption. Two surviving children suffered a final insult as well. Once rescued by the French enemy (the Spanish), they were sent to Mexico in servitude to the viceroy Conde de Galve. But as tragic as La Salle's exploits appear, they also offer grist for today's heritage enthusiasts who can view the archived remains, including the shipwrecked guts of La Belle, in museums across the Texas coast.
Explore the La Salle Odyssey with the following Texas Historical Commission travel resources:
Mobile Tour – Go mobile with the La Salle Odyssey mobile tour, featuring a rich blend of images, videos, first-person interviews, maps, and useful visitor information for exploring historical sites across Texas.
Texas Time Travel website – Use the map and links below to explore La Salle Odyssey historic sites in Texas.
Watch our La Salle Odyssey video series to learn more about the history and archaeology of La Salle's ill fated expedition to Texas.
THE BELLE AND ITS WATERY GRAVE
History defines the reign of Louis XIV as both a New World land grab and an era of gilt-laden excesses. The monarch's foray across the North American continent, courtesy of explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, served Louis's program of colonial expansion, including a claim to the Louisiana Territory, the swath of continent that would encompass about one-third of the United States today. La Salle's efforts on behalf of the king were long on aspirations and short, ultimately, on lasting results. Thanks to his misfortunes, and a remarkable series of events, Texans ended up with one of the most sought-after shipwrecks in maritime history-La Salle's barque longue known as La Belle. How did that happen? Greed and treachery within the expedition's ranks left La Salle with a bullet hole through his head and two of his ships - the l'Aimable and La Belle - wrecked along the Texas coastline. Ingenuity would enter this saga 300 years later, once the Texas Historical Commission archeologists discovered the location of the sunken La Belle. A rescue ensued, and scientists recovered the entire shipwreck from its resting place on the bottom of Matagorda Bay. Texas Tropical Trail museums, including the Maritime in Rockport and the History and Science in Corpus Christi, share the recovered artifacts with six other museums in the state in order to tell the full story.