His Plans and Early~Explorations
WHEN Joliet reached Montreal with the news of his great
discovery, he found there a very brave and
strong-minded man named
Frontenac gladly gave his permission, and in the year 1677 La Salle sailed for France. He told the King of the journey of Joliet and Marquette, of the fertile soil of the Mississippi valley, and the abundant game and the pleasant climate. He told him of the wool of the buffaloes, which could be used in making cloth, and of the hemp and cotton that grew wild along the banks of the great river.
"Now," said La Salle, "why should not all this rich land belong to France, instead of waiting for the English and Spanish to come and take it away from us before our very eyes?"
The King was pleased with what La Salle said, and gave him permission to make a voyage of discovery which should last not more than five years. He was to build forts wherever he thought it necessary.
In 1678 La Salle came back to Canada to prepare for his voyage through the west. He thought that, if he could start with a ship above the falls in the Niagara River, he would be able to sail up the river to the lakes, and then through the lakes to the Mississippi. He did not know that part of this distance lay overland.
So with his men he sailed up the Niagara as far as the falls. Then with their baggage on their backs the men plodded twelve miles through the forest until they reached a creek above the falls.
Here La Salle immediately set the men to work building
a ship. He drove the first nail himself. When the work
was well under way, he started back to Fort Frontenac
on foot—a distance of two hundred and fifty miles
It was summer before he returned to the Niagara. He found the ship all finished and towed out into the river. She had been named the Griffon.
In August, 1679, the voyagers left the Niagara River
and sailed out into
Here he found some men whom he had sent ahead to buy furs of the Indians. He told these men to load the furs upon the Griffon and take them back to Niagara, where they would find men to carry them to Montreal. Then they were to come back again with the ship. So on a September morning the Griffon fired a parting shot and set sail for Niagara.
La Salle, with fourteen men and four canoes, went down
the lake to the
As La Salle sailed down this river he came to an Indian encampment. He told the Indians that he had come to protect them against their enemies and to teach them about the true God. He told them also that he was going to build a great wooden canoe, with which to sail the Mississippi. This pleased the Indians, and they feasted and entertained the white men.
During the night some Indians, sent by the enemies of
When morning came it was easy to tell that a change had come over the Illinois. After breakfast they began to talk about the terrible dangers of the river.
"There are fierce monsters," they said, "which will devour white men. There are great whirlpools which will swallow your big canoe."
La Salle saw at once that his enemies had been at work. So he told the Indians that he was not afraid of monsters or whirlpools and that he was going on to the great river. But his men were of a different temper. Most of them were much alarmed by what they had heard. That night six of them ran away, and some others tried to poison their brave leader.
La Salle now went farther down the river, where he
built a strong fort, which he called Crèvecoeur. This
And yet La Salle did not lose hope. Since his ship was
gone, he resolved to build another. As the timber
sawyers were among the men who had run away,
In six weeks the ship was half done. But there were no
anchors or cables or rigging. There was nothing to be
done but to go back for these things to Fort Frontenac,
a distance of one thousand miles.
It was a fearful journey. Sometimes pushing the canoes
through the drifting ice, sometimes walking overland
shoulders, sometimes in danger from the Iroquois,
sometimes torn by brush and briers through which they
made their way, the men kept bravely on until they
reached the Niagara. By this time all but
It was May when he saw before him the walls of Fort
Frontenac. Here he heard nothing but bad news. Not only
was the Griffon lost, but a ship from France laden with
Still the brave leader did not give up. He went to Montreal for the supplies he wanted and returned with them to Fort Frontenac.
La Salle Reaches the~Gulf~of~Mexico
IT would be a long story to tell of the adventures
From Fort Crèvecoeur, La Salle and his companions
pushed on down to the Mississippi, the great river
which they had never before seen. Then turning his
In December, 1681, La Salle started once more on his
dangerous journey. With him were
They sailed on past the place where the mighty Missouri empties its muddy stream into the Father of Waters, and past the mouth of the Ohio. Winter gave way to spring, the air became soft and warm, and the banks were bright with the fresh green of the unfolding leaves.
Near the mouth of the Arkansas River
On the 6th of April La Salle found the river dividing into three streams. He separated his men into three parties, himself taking the western channel. As he drifted down the muddy stream, the salt smell of the sea reached him. The banks of the river disappeared. He had reached the Gulf of Mexico, his journey's end.
The three parties soon met. They landed upon a piece of
dry ground, a little way from the river's mouth. Here
La Salle made a column, bearing the arms of France and
these words, in French:
The Frenchmen were drawn up in martial array and sang
hymns. Then, amid volleys of musketry and shouts of
"Long live the King!"
IN the year 1684 La Salle was in France for the last time. His purpose was to ask the King for one ship and two hundred men, that he might build a fort on the Mississippi. He would form an army of fifteen thousand Indians, he said, with which he could easily capture the Spanish silver mines. The King granted this request most generously. Instead of one ship he gave four, and recruiting agents were sent out to enlist the soldiers asked for.
La Salle's plan was to reach the mouth of the Mississippi River by crossing the Gulf of Mexico.
It was December before the little fleet entered the
Finally he entered Matagorda Bay on the coast of Texas,
which he thought was the western mouth of the
Mississippi. He ordered the ships to be brought within
the bay, and the men to go ashore. The bay was shallow,
and one of the ships was wrecked upon a reef. After
building some houses for his little colony,
La Salle's fortunes were now in a very sad state. He
had sent two of his ships back to France; and, a few
days after his return, news came of the wreck of the
one that he had kept. Many of the colony had died of
Everyone set to work to prepare for the journey. The
sails of the wrecked vessels were cut up and pieced
with deerskins to make coats for the men. On the 7th of
Across prairies and rivers they journeyed. In March
they were still on the plains of northern Texas. One
day the men fell into a quarrel about some buffalo
meat. Three were killed, among them La Salle's nephew.
La Salle rebuked him for his manner of speaking, when a shot whizzed from the grass, and the great leader fell dead. He had escaped the fury of flood and Indians, to die at the hands of one of his own countrymen; and the helpless colony in Texas was left to the mercy of the Spaniards.