The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

The Wreck of the Belle, The Ruin of La Salle. By Robert S. Weddle. (College Station:
Texas A&M University Press, 2001. Pp. xviii+327. List of illustrations, fore-
word, acknowledgments, introduction, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN 1-
58544-121-x. $29.95, cloth.)
Readers whose previous acquaintance with La Salle came from Francis Park-
man's La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West (Little, Brown & Co., 1879), will
hardly recognize Parkman's romantic (if geographically befuddled) hero in this
retelling of the explorer's biography and the history of his colony on Garcitas
Creek just off Matagorda Bay, Texas. "Haughty, headstrong, overbearing, impetu-
ous, and quick-tempered... [with a] desire to dominate, to subdue, and to mas-
ter" (p. 27). Perhaps afflicted with bi-polar disorder (p. 77), La Salle was willing
to "sacrifice the sure thing for a chimera, to mortgage his very being, as it were, for
a chance at the big prize beyond the distant horizon .. ." (p. 31). Repeatedly at
crucial moments in his schemes-and no more so than when the storeship
Aimable was to enter Matagorda Bay and the indispensable Belle, the colony's only
remaining way to quickly communicate with the non-Indian world, was left in the
charge of a drunk and without adequate anchors to hold her in a storm-La Salle
would be off doing something less consequential than tending to the imperatives
of the moment. The loss of those two ships, and especially of the Belle, doomed
him and his colonists.
This schemer fell into the hands of Eushbe Renaudot and Claude Bernou,
Sulpician Fathers with their own elaborate schemes. With their help, he secured
Louis XIV's rather limited support for the expedition of 1684, whose aim, Wed-
dle shows, was to create a base for an attack on Mexico. For their own reasons,
these friars created accounts of La Salle and his doings that have only slowly been
corrected, and no more so than in Weddle's careful deconstruction of their mo-
tives and actions, and of those of other men like Henri Joutel who also wished to
control the story.Joutel was so determined in that regard that he destroyed Father
Zenobe Membrd's journal.
This account of La Salle unfolds chronologically in three parts: La Salle's early
life and Canadian adventures, the court intrigues, preparations for the voyage,
and arrival on the Texas coast, and finally (and most fully) the history of the
colony, La Salle's murder, and what the survivors did afterwards. Throughout
Weddle is careful to show how La Salle was his own worst enemy, how callous he
and his grasping brother, the Abb6Jean Cavelier, were towards their social inferi-
ors, and, always, how the record was being distorted.
This is the master work of a master. Robert Weddle has brought to bear his life-
time of studying La Salle as well as the recent archaeological excavations of the
Belle and the Garcitas Creek settlement site. His research is exhaustive both in the
primary documents of France and Spain and in the secondary literature. While
not all scholars of La Salle will agree with all of Weddle's conclusions on the nu-
merous controversial details of the La Salle story, it is difficult to see how future
scholarship will be able to surpass this book.
As with all of Robert Weddle's books, this one is beautifully written with care-
fully chosen illustrations. In sum, this book deserves a place in the library of every

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/. Accessed April 16, 2014.