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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

Many places of LaSalle's murder

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
On March 19, 1687, as spring's first blossoms began to bring color to the gray winter landscape, a French explorer approached a rustic hunting camp somewhere in an area now known as Texas.

Making his way through the brush, he paused to listen for voices from the camp. From a hiding place in the tall grass, a fellow countryman rose from his cover and fired a musket at the Frenchman. The ball struck him in the head and knocked him to the ground.

Even before Rene' Robert Cavelier, Seiur de La Salle, died, his murderer and several accomplices stripped him naked, divided his clothing and other possessions and threw his body to the wolves.

It may have been the first known murder of a Caucasian male in East Texas and, ever since Texas became a civilized land, the site of La Salle's murder has been a source of unbridled speculation. At least eight communities have made claims as "the place were La Salle was killed."

E.J. Gum, a professor of French history at the University of Nebraska, once told the East Texas Historical Association a search of French records had convinced him La Salle was murdered in eastern Oklahoma. Dr. Gum was a native of eastern Oklahoma.

At a succeeding meeting of the Association, Charlie Langford, a former Rusk County judge from Henderson, argued that Spanish records pointed to a crime scene in East Texas. He said the descriptions matched Rusk County.

Dr. Lee W. Woodard, in an internet article titled, "Secret La Salle Monument and Historical Marker," claimed that Oklahoma's Heavener Runestone is a "secret La Salle monument and historical marker (that) sooner or later will be recognized" as where the French explorer died and was buried near the Poteau Valley of Oklahoma.

Another claim on La Salle's murder site is made by the Weiss family of Beaumont, Texas. The family asserts that La Salle was buried where the Beaumont Country Club now stands, about fifty miles up the Neches River from the Texas Gulf Coast.

In Hardin County, Kountze attorney Stanley Coe studied many of the available La Salle documents and concluded that the explorer was killed and buried beside Village Creek.

Coe said that La Salle, wanting to avoid man-eating Indians on the Gulf Coast, led his party across what are today's Brazos and Trinity rivers and reached Village Creek, knowing it would empty into a river. Somewhere on Village Creek, La Salle was shot, his body stripped, and dragged into the brush.

The late F.W. Cole, a Cherokee County historian, spent years tracing La Salle's movements in East Texas and concluded he was shot to death on the east bank of Bowles Creek in the Martin Lacy Survey two and a half miles southeast of Alto.

In 1913, Jasper native Jesse J. Lee wrote to a friend at the University of Texas in Austin that a camp of German stave makers cut down a large white oak tree near Burkeville, in Newton County, and found carved in its trunk the words, La Salle, leading to local speculation that La Salle may have been killed near the nearby Sabine River.

The most convincing claim of La Salle's murder scene is made by Navasota historians, who years ago raised funds to erect a statue of La Salle on the town's main boulevard. The Navasota claim is strongly supported by a book, "The La Salle Expedition to Texas: The Journal of Henry Joutel, 1684-1687." Edited by William C. Foster, the book includes a map indicating that the explorer was assassinated somewhere in western Grimes County about twelve miles west of Navasota. La Salle's expedition crossed the Brazos River on March 14, 1687, and he was supposedly killed five days later north of the crossing.
All Things Historical
July 31, 2007 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers

Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 35 books about East Texas, including “Things You Might Not Know Unless You Read This Book”)

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