Monday, March 19, 2007

March 19

Rene-Robert Cavelier De La Salle was killed by a single bullet to the head three hundred and twenty years ago today at a spot about 70 miles northwest of what would later be the city of Houston. The French explorer was certainly not the last person to be murdered in Texas, but the circumstances of his passing were memorable nonetheless. Credited with exploring the Louisiana territory and establishing (and botching) the first French colony on the Gulf of Mexico, La Salle was an audacious but badly organized, manic depressive and ill-tempered leader who eventually drew the murderous animosity of his men during his final adventure. While searching for the Mississippi River La Salle’s nephew, Moranget, became embroiled in a dispute over bison meat with the expedition’s surgeon, a man named Pierre Duhaut; Moranget accused them of setting aside the best meat and saving the marrow bones for themselves. On the night of March 18 Duhaut -- enraged by the accusations from a man he already loathed -- plotted with four other accomplices and killed Moranget and two others with an axe while they were asleep.

The next day, when La Salle arrived at the scene of the crime with a Recollet priest, he was dispatched as well. As one of the conspirators explained later
We followed them a few paces along the river as far as the fatal spot where two of the assassins were hiding on either side in the grass with their guns cocked. The first one missed his mark, but the other fired at the same time and with that single shot hit Monsieur La Salle in the head; he died one hour later.
The murderers stripped La Salle’s body and left it behind as the rest of the party continued on toward their destination at Fort Saint-Louis-des-Illinois. Accounts vary as to the final disposition of La Salle's corpse. Some accounts insist that the dead explorer was buried by his friend, Father Anastase Douay, who was with him when he died. Others explain that he was left unburied to be eaten by wild animals. Regardless of the truth, La Salle's body was never recovered.

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