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I. Rouillard's 1690 Cartegenérale de la NouvelleFrance indicates the scope of New France as it was envisioned from La Salle's descent of the Mississippi, while also showing the explorer's concept of the river that led him to the Texas coast. This mistaken concept was to lead to his doom. From Chrétien Le Clercq, First Establishment oftheFaith in NewFrance ( 169 1 ; repr. and trans., 1881). • Tarnished Hero: A La Salle Overview by Robert S. Weddle* arely in Western lore has one individual assailed the pages of history with as much confusion as René Robert Cavelier, sieur • e La Salle. His record of daring as an explorer of the trackless and often frozen wilderness is without parallel, the extent of his discoveries with few rivals. Yet to the explorer himself, the truth was whatever was most convenient. He was wont to shift the blame for his failures to subordinates. When a ship was lost, he faulted the captain, even though he himself had placed captain and vessel in dire straits. When a colony failed, he blamed the poor quality of his followers. He shucked responsibility in many instances by alleging his enemies' subversion. He forced his followers, who often were short of pay and driven beyond ordinary human endurance, into a position of having to conceal the truth, either to save his skin or their own. Nonetheless, the man could boast of nearunprecedented feats of daring and outstanding achievements before an assassin's bullet, fired from ambush in the East Texas wilderness, cut short his career at age forty-three. La Salle's failings were not in derring-do but in human compassion. Although superficial assessments abound, few provide satisfactory answers. Historiography has been uneven at best, fraudulent and sycophantic at worst. Canadian writers offer one view, Texas and Gulf Coast historians another. From the vantage point ofhaving followed the man La Salle for forty years, I offer this overview. In a most unlikely way, and quite unintentionally, I fell under La Salle's spell in the late 1960s. It came in my nascent study of Spanish Texas with the realization that the La Salle episode lies at the roots of Texas history, especially the Spanish colonial phase. Fortuitously, my awakening coincided with a renaissance ofinterest in the French colony, manifest in both *Robert S. Weddle, a newspaperjournalist turned historian, is audior of The Wreck ofthe Belle, the Ruin of La Salle (Texas A&M University Press, 2001), which encompasses a La Salle biography, and fourteen other books and numerous articles dealing with die Spanish and French colonial history ofTexas and the Gulf region. A Fannin County native, he lives in retirement at his "country place" near Bonham. He extends his thanks to Donald E. Chipman, who provided die idea and die inspiration for this article. Vol. CXII, No. 2 Southwestern Historical Quarterly October 2009 1 6oSouthwestern Historical QuarterlyOctober history and archeology. Understanding came in stages, each effort a bit more sophisticated than the preceding one, each a bit closer to the real La Salle.1 The renaissance begun in the early 1970s was followed by the Texas Antiquities Committee's 1979 magnetometer survey of Matagorda Bay, accompanied by testing of promising sites within the bay. When the regular season's work failed to turn up sign of La Salle's ships, a resurvey of Pass Cavallo, the natural entrance to the bay, was undertaken in October 197g, a final effort to cap the season with discovery of one or the other of his two vessels.2 That objective having failed, the effort—lacking funding and perhaps focus—remained moribund until 1995, when discovery of the royal French ship Belle within Matagorda Bay set interest in La Salle's Texas venture to boiling anew. Meantime, previously untapped documents had come to light: from Canada, thejournal of La Salle's engineer, Jean-Baptiste Minet, who had defected from the Texas venture and returned to France; from Spain, the diary ofJuan Enriquez Barroto, a Spanish pilot, recounting the finding of the grounded Belle in 1686, providing a specific location; and from France, the interrogations of two of the Talon brothers who, as children in La Salle's colony, provided the only...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9560
Print ISSN
0038-478X
Pages
pp. 158-183
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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