of LaSalle's murder
by Bob Bowman
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
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
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
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.