The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999

A Cache of Cannons: La Salle's Colony in Texas
CURTIS TUNNELL*
O F THE PROMINENT SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY EUROPEAN EXPLORERS,
Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle,' is certainly one of the more
renowned participants in the French effort to gain dominance in North
America. After successfully navigating the Mississippi River from Illinois
to the Gulf of Mexico and back in 1682, La Salle returned to France and
planned the establishment of settlements near the mouth of the great
river. These colonies, conceived at a time when France and Spain were
at war, were intended to provide a base for military operations into Mex-
ico and to serve as a barrier against further English expansion-and to
permanently claim the Mississippi's drainage and exploit its great riches
for King Louis XIV, for France, and for La Salle. At Versailles on March
23, 1684, the king granted to La Salle the following armament, along
with tons of other necessities for his planned colony in America:
*Curtis Tunnell is a native of Turkey, Texas. He holds an M.A. degree in anthropology from
the University of Texas at Austin, and was curator of anthropology at the Texas Memorial Muse-
um from 1963 to 1965. He has conducted archeological excavations in Arizona, Kansas, Illinois,
and at many locations throughout Texas. He served as the Texas state archeologist from 1965 to
1981. Since 1981 he has been executive director of the Texas Historical Commission.
Terry Cullen of Victoria, who manages the Keeran Ranch Trust, is fully supportive of archeo-
logical investigation and preservation of Fort St. Louis. Bill and Christy Donoghue cooperated in
recovery of the cannons and provided assistance to the crew. John Nau and Sen. Ken Armbrister
initiated discussions that led to excavation of the cannons. THC archeologists Jim Bruseth, Brett
Cruse, Mike Davis, and Bill Martin worked under the most trying conditions to excavate, docu-
ment, and safely recover the cannons. Smitty Schmiedhn of Victoria volunteered his services for
the duration of the project and provided use of his truck as needed. The late Gen. John M. Ben-
nett, former member of the Texas Historical Commission, was vitally interested in the preserva-
tion, excavation, and public interpretation of Fort St. Louis. His heirs, Carolyn Wood and Missy
Marlow, generously provided the Bennett ranch house for use by the archeological crew during
the cannon recovery project. Glenn Adams made the initial discovery of the cannon cache and
helped the crew solve technical problems. Dick Byrns and Richard Barnett of La Salle, Texas, as-
sisted in loading the cannons. Robert Weddle provided research assistance. John De Bry of the
Center for Historical Archaeology found and translated a document relating to the original load-
ing of the cannons onto the Aimable. Jim Jobling and Helen Dewolf provided cannon measure-
ments during conservation treatment at Texas A&M University, and John Nichols, an
architectural student at the university, did the drawings of the cannons. THC staff also assisted
the project: photographer Jim Bonar took a series of large-format photographs of the excava-
tion; Roland Pantermuehl prepared maps and illustrations for this article; Gabriela Fuentes
translated Spanish documents; and Helen Simons did her usual heroic job of copyediting.
The explorer's name is often shown as Rend Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, in historical
sources, but an original birth certificate found in the archives of La Rochelle by a Texas Histori-
cal Commission researcher does not show the name Rend.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101219/. Accessed August 23, 2014.