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Rene Robert de La Salle - Explorers for Kids and Teachers Illustration

Rene Robert de La Salle
Explorers For Kids

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For Kids

Rene Robert de La Salle was a French explorer. He was the first to navigate the Mississippi all the way down to the mouth of the river. He claimed a great deal of land, equal to about a third of what would become the United States, including the mouth of the Mississippi, for France. (After the American Revolution, this land was purchased from the French by the new government of the United States, and is referred to as the Louisiana Purchase.) 

He returned with four ships to establish a colony. One ship was lost in Haiti to pirates. Another, carrying most of their supplies, hit some rocks and sank. The two ships left missed the Mississippi delta by about 400 miles. They finally landed in what would become the US State of Texas. After the settlers had built a fort, that offered some protection, one ship returned to France. The only ship left was the La Belle.

 The settlers soon discovered that the natives were very unfriendly. Whenever the settlers left the fort in small groups or alone, they were attacked by the natives. To solve this, La Salle outfitted the ship, the La Belle, with what supplies were needed for a small band of men to sail off and find the mouth of the Mississippi, anchored the boat off shore, and left some men onboard to guard her. La Salle left on foot with a handful of men in hopes of finding the small settlement he had established on one of his prior trips. His plan most probably was to find the settlement, move his settlers there, then use the La Belle to find the mouth of the Mississippi. His plan did not work. La Salle never returned because he was murdered by his own men. The settlers lost many people to disease and starvation. The men guarding the La Belle who came ashore for fresh water were killed by the natives.

After a while, the men still alive on the La Belle realized they had to move the boat or die. But they had waited too long. They were ill and dehydrated and they couldn't handle the sails. It did not help that a storm blew up while they were trying to move the boat. The La Belle shipwrecked. She did not completely sink, but she was not sea worthy. There were no life boats, but the men were able to reach a narrow peninsula by building a raft. They couldn't get back across the bay to the settlement without a boat. They lived mostly on oysters that they collected along the beach, and on ducks they could shoot. They were surrounded by seafood, but they had no way to catch it. Their attempts mostly failed. At least they were not attacked by Indians. When an empty canoe floated up on shore, they grabbed it and took it across the bay to rejoin the settlers.

They would have been better off staying on their peninsula. About a year later, a ship arrived looking for La Salle and the settlers. They found the La Belle, as some of the ship was still above water. But they did not find the settlement across the bay. A year after that, some Indians pretending to be friendly, entered the fort, now down to about 20 people, and killed all the settlers remaining except for a couple of small children. That was the end of the settlement.

The adventures of La Salle and his ship, the La Belle

La Salle (History Museum, Canada)

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Death on board the La Belle
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The French in Texas (Early French exploration)

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