In 1685 Rene Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle stumbled into a deadly mutiny while leading a party of marooned Frenchmen to the northern Mississippi Valley. Famished and demoralized, his men had been traversing the Texas Gulf Coast while engaged in a brewing class confrontation. It was a fight to the finish, over buffalo meat, and several men had already been killed. The world famous explorer had endured many annoying mutinies all over North America, but this would be his last. One of his men waited and ambushed him as he tracked the party that had been sent to hunt buffalo to feed the famished caravan. The frenchman known as Duhaut knew that La Salle was no one to mess with, and would surely punish the killers, no matter what the reason.
Over fifty years ago historians suggested that according to the accounts of his survivors, La Salle must have been killed somewhere in the southern end of the Navasota Valley. The Daughters of the American Revolution commissioned and erected a bronze statue of La Salle in Navasota during the Texas Centennial in 1930. Since then, Navasota has been traditionally associated with the ill-fated Frenchman.
The French mutineers scattered, and some even made it back to French-held lands on the Mississippi. News of the great La Salle’s demise took years to reach the French court. And the Spanish authorities in Mexico launched an epic manhunt to find the French colonists in Tejas. One Don Alonzo de Leon, the governor of Coahuila, took it upon himself to find and root out the French intrusion. In 1689 he traveled along the La Bahia Trail, and passed through present day Navasota on his search for the elusive La Salle. He brought a hundred men to help him face the legendary adventurer. La Salle was known to be an intrepid conqueror. He had established the first American Trust on furs, successfully trading with the Indians of the Great Lakes region. He had found the mouth of the strategic Mississippi River, and claimed all of its reaches for France. Now he was under the direct employ of King Louis the XIV, and had reportedly built the first European settlement in Texas. De Leon had good reason to be concerned, and was wise to take every precaution.
Little could de Leon have known that La Salle and his accursed colony were already destroyed and gone without a trace. Nature had already reclaimed their shallow footprint on Texas soil. One of the greatest explorers of all time was left to rot and feed the scavengers in the Navasota Valley, his dream of a French colony on the Gulf Coast left in ruins at Matagorda Bay. The curse that confused La Salle and caused him to overshoot the Mississippi, searching in vain until his ships were hopelessly wrecked on the Texas coast, now led de Leon on a wild goose chase after a ghost. There is some evidence that the Spanish war party did not fare well either. While blasting out a hill east of Navasota in the early 1900's, railroad construction men found a cave near Piedmont Road full of strangely clad skeletons, thought to be either members of La Salle's party or Spaniards. Perhaps more men who fell under the curse that had brought La Salle to his early grave.
Sadly, other than our statues of La Salle, there is no monument to these other courageous seekers, no marker for lives given in the wilderness to the earliest vanguard of Manifest Destiny.