Saturday, December 26, 2009

French Texas?

Would you like some honey Dijon mustard with your barbecue sauce? Didn't think so. I'm not sure how this is going to sit with the Freedom Fries crowd, but thanks to Wikipedia's "Today's Featured Article" (which previously gave us "Anti-tobacco movement in Nazi Germany"), I've just discovered that the first Europeans to colonize Texas were not the Spanish, but the French. Sacre bleu! Apparently a French colony named Fort Saint Louis existed between 1685 to 1689. This has to be the most pathetically doomed expedition I have ever read about. Its sense of existential futility seems tailor-made for a Werner Herzog movie. Absolutely nothing appears to have gone right. Infighting, disease, inaccurate maps, Native American attacks, shipwrecks, you name it. The hero, or rather, anti-hero is one Robert de la Salle. Where do we start?

According to the article, La Salle "intended to found the colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River, but inaccurate maps and navigational errors caused his ships to instead anchor 400 miles (650 km) west, off the coast of Texas near Matagorda Bay." Hey, Columbus got lost too, all right? Granted, he was aiming for India and instead discovered a whole new continent, whereas La Salle was aiming for New Orleans and instead discovered ... Texas. Not quite as impressive? "Although Hernando De Soto had explored and claimed this area for Spain 140 years before,[2] on April 9, 1682, La Salle claimed the Mississippi River valley for French king Louis XIV, naming the territory Louisiana in his honor.[3]" Sure, why not? What was De Soto going to do, file a lawsuit? Apparently Spain had declared war on France in 1683, but "shortly after [La Salle's] departure, France and Spain ceased hostilities, and Louis was no longer interested in sending La Salle further assistance." Have fun on the trip! Nice knowing you!
The chronicler of the expedition, Henri Joutel, described his first view of Texas: "The country did not seem very favorable to me. It was flat and sandy but did nevertheless produce grass. There were several salt pools. We hardly saw any wild fowl except some cranes and Canadian geese which were not expecting us."
Welcome to Texas.
Against Beaujeu's advice, La Salle ordered La Belle and the Aimable "to negotiate the narrow and shallow pass" to bring the supplies closer to the campsite.[20] To lighten L'Aimable's load, its eight cannons and a small portion of its cargo were removed. After La Belle successfully negotiated the pass, La Salle sent her pilot to L'Aimable to assist with the navigation, but L'Aimable's captain refused the help.[19] As the Aimable set sail, a band of Karankawa approached and carried off some of the settlers. La Salle led a small group of soldiers to rescue them, leaving no one to direct the Aimable. When he returned, he found the Aimable grounded on a sandbar.[18] Upon hearing that the captain had ordered the ship to sail forward after it had struck a sandbar, La Salle became convinced that the captain had deliberately grounded the ship.
As if the Indians and the terrain weren't bad enough, you gotta start playing games with me.
On March 24, La Salle took 52 men in five canoes to find a less exposed settlement site. They found Garcitas Creek, which had fresh water and fish, with good soil along its banks, and named it Rivière aux Boeufs for the nearby buffalo herds. Fort Saint Louis would be constructed on a bluff overlooking the creek, 1.5 leagues from its mouth. Two men died, one of a rattlesnake bite and another from drowning while trying to fish.[24] At night, the Karankawa would sometimes surround the camp and howl, but the soldiers could scare them away with a few gun shots.
That probably wasn't going to work for long. Also, "drowning while trying to fish"? Can't an expedition catch a break?
From January until March 1686, La Salle and most of his men searched overland for the Mississippi River, traveling towards the Rio Grande, possibly as far west as modern-day Langtry.[29][30] The men questioned the local Native American tribes, asking for information on the locations of the Spaniards and the Spanish mines, offering gifts, and telling stories that portrayed the Spanish as cruel and the French as benevolent.
Smooth, guys. Real slick.
While La Salle was gone, six of those who had remained on the Belle finally arrived at Fort Saint Louis. According to them, the new captain of the Belle was always drunk. Many of the sailors did not know how to sail, and they grounded the boat on Matagorda Peninsula.
Not knowing how to sail. That may be a problem.
By early January 1687, fewer than 45 of the original 180 people remained in the colony, which was beset by internal strife.[34][36] La Salle believed that their only hope of survival lay in trekking overland to request assistance from New France,[35] and some time that month he led a final expedition to attempt to reach the Illinois Territory.[34] Fewer than 20 people remained at Fort Saint Louis, primarily women, children, and those deemed unfit, as well as seven soldiers and three missionaries with whom La Salle was unhappy.[36] Seventeen men were included on the expedition, including La Salle, his brother, and two of his nephews. While camping near present-day Navasota on March 18, several of the men quarreled over the division of buffalo meat.
It always comes down to the buffalo meat, doesn't it?
That night, one of La Salle's nephews and two other men were killed in their sleep by another expedition member. The following day La Salle was killed while approaching the camp to investigate his nephew's disappearance.[34] Infighting led to the deaths of two other expedition members within a short time.[37] Two of the surviving members, including Jean L'Archeveque, joined the Caddo. The remaining six men made their way to Illinois Country. During their journey through Illinois to Canada, the men did not tell anyone that La Salle was dead. They reached France in the summer of 1688 and informed King Louis of La Salle's death and the horrible conditions in the colony. Louis did not send aid.[38]
"Excuse me while I wipe my hands of this whole sordid affair. So tell me, what is for dinner?" It must have been nice to be a king back then.
La Salle's mission had remained secret until 1686 when former expedition member Denis Thomas, who had deserted in Santo Domingo, was arrested for piracy. In an attempt to gain a lesser punishment, Thomas informed his Spanish jailers of La Salle's plan to found a colony and eventually conquer Spanish silver mines. Despite his confession, Thomas was hanged.
Hey come on! That's cheating! Not fair. And now, to the scene of the wreckage:
The fort and the five crude houses surrounding it were in ruins.[30] Several months before, the Karankawa had attacked the settlement. The Native Americans left a great deal of destruction and the bodies of three people, including a woman who had been shot in the back.[42] A Spanish priest who had accompanied De León conducted funeral services for the three victims.[30] The chronicler of the expedition, Juan Bautista Chapa, wrote that the devastation was God's punishment for opposing the Pope, as Pope Alexander VI had granted the Indies exclusively to the Spanish.[42][43]
That's it! That's why the expedition failed. Not because they were ill-equipped, disorganized, and morally repugnant, but because they were opposing the Pope. Thank you, Spanish, for putting it all into perspective. Speaking of perspective, the Spanish received a note from one Jean L'Archeveque, consisting of the following:
I do not know what sort of people you are. We are French[;] we are among the savages[;] we would like much to be Among the Christians such as we are[.] ... we are solely grieved to be among beasts like these who believe neither in God nor in anything. Gentlemen, if you are willing to take us away, you have only to send a message. ... We will deliver ourselves up to you.[43]
Oh, so now the Spanish aren't so bad, huh? Not after you've been living with the savages, eh?

Sorry French. You and Texas were just not going to work out.

3 comments:

Buffalo Soldier 9 said...

How do you keep a people down? ‘Never' let them 'know' their history.

Keep telling that history; read some great military history.

The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn't for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry. Read the book, “Rescue at Pine Ridge”, and visit website/great military history, http://www.rescueatpineridge.com

Herr Zrbo said...

Tex-carraldo?

Buffalo Verde?

Encounters at the end of the world... wait a sec.

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