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The Explorer La Salle and Early Texas

In 1685, German composers Georg Friedrich Händel and Johann Sebastian Bach were born. In France, the Protestants lost their guarantee of religious freedom in 1685, as King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, spurring many to leave for America. New York became a Royal Colony in 1685, but widespread discontent with Britain was fueling unrest and preparing the way for the American Revolution. And Texas was still an amazing paradise waiting to be explored.

At this same time, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, sailed from France toward the New World of America with his four ships and 300 colonists. His intended destination was the mouth of the Mississippi River. But, when he missed it, he ventured on to Matagorda Bay, near the Lavaca River. From there, things went from bad to worse.

La Salle was born in 1643 in Normandy, France, to a wealthy middle-class family. Sensing a call into the ministry, La Salle enrolled in a Jesuit seminary and took the vows of priesthood, which included the forfeiture of all that he owned. As time passed, La Salle became passionate about the New World, and felt that God was calling him to be a missionary. So, in 1667, he left the seminary and traveled to Ville Marie (Montreal), Canada. An obsession with finding China then led La Salle into the wilderness south of Canada to explore the length of the Mississippi River. Upon reaching the mouth of the river, La Salle claimed the land for France in honor of King Louis – Louisiana.

La Salle returned to France and was hailed a hero. But because he was never satisfied, he urged the King to commission a settlement in the New World so they could keep it under their control. On August 1, 1684, La Salle sailed with 300 colonists and four ships on a mission to return to the Mississippi River, and build a fort. However, due to poor weather and inadequate navigation, his battered entourage ended up in Matagorda Bay near what is now known as Port Lavaca. Here, La Salle founded Fort St. Louis on Garcitas Creek about five miles inland. The Indians were deadly, and many of the colonists died from disease and famine. In January 1687, La Salle took a small contingent of men with him to find the Mississippi River. Included in the group was a friar to provide spiritual counsel and prayer, and Henri Joutel who kept a journal.

After several months of aimless search, the group became very discouraged. Later, Joutel wrote about the final days of La Salle: “All the way, La Salle spoke to me of nothing but matters of piety, Grace, and predestination; enlarging on the debt he owed to God, who had saved him from so many perils during more than twenty years of travel in America.” As the group crossed the Brazos River and camped near the area now known as Navasota, one of his own disgruntled men assassinated La Salle. At the age of forty-three, a world-class explorer was left in the wilderness without proper burial.

Though this trip ended in failure, La Salle left behind a network of forts from Canada and the Great Lakes, to the mouth of the Mississippi River. He helped establish the French presence in the New World, and provided a springboard for business, cities, and agriculture. But mainly, he left behind a testimony of his dedication to God with the Native American tribes who grew to love and respect him.

Here was a man who gave away all that he owned to follow the Call of God. With a passion for adventure, a love for his country, and a commitment to Christ, La Salle walked off the map of the known world to do more with his life than anyone expected. He had feet of clay, and made some big mistakes. But, to do nothing is worse than failing at something.

What if God asked you to do something big for Him? Would you be willing to step out? In Genesis 12, God called Abraham to march off the map to find a city not made with hands (Hebrews 11:8-16). What is God asking you to do?

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