Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Raising La Belle, By Mark G. Mitchell. (Austin: Eakin Press, 2oo2. Pp. iv+lo7.
Illustrations, maps, epilogue, timeline, glossary, suggested readings, sources,
special thanks, index. ISBN 1-57168-535-9. $16.95, cloth. ISBN 1-57168-
703-3. $10.95, paper.)
Raising La Belle recounts the story of the expedition of Robert Cavelier, Sieur
de La Salle, a French explorer in the seventeeth century who sailed to what he
thought was the mouth of the Mississippi in 1684. Instead, he landed at
Matagorda Bay in Texas for what would be his last expedition to establish a
colony and claim land for France. This fateful expedition ended in tragedy, the
murder of La Salle by some of his men, and the final destruction of the fort he
built on Garcitas Creek when it was attacked by the Karankawa Indians.
Interspersed between the telling of this fascinating and well researched story is
the story of the archeological excavation of one of La Salle's ships, the Belle. The
author's construction and juxtaposition of the two stories is well crafted and
holds the reader's interest until the end. The drama of the events of La Salle's
expedition are well balanced by the equally stunning accomplishment of raising
the Belle from the ocean floor. There is enough technical information on the
technical difficulties of digging for and preserving the entire ship for the juve-
nile reader to be well informed on how underwater archeology is performed. At
the same time the progress of the dig provides a great story in itself.
The illustrations by the author Mark Mitchell add a great deal to the book.
Reminiscent of the drawings of the great Austin cartoonist R. Crumb and the
remarkable ironic illustrations of Jack Patton in Texas Hzstory Movzes (1928), the
drawings of Mitchell stamp the book with his personal vision. The photography
is of lesser interest.
Raiszng La Belle is aimed at the juvenile audience. It is rich in detail and never
talks down to its readers. The work is well researched, using important primary
sources such as the journal of Henri Joutel, one of the few men from the La
Salle expedition to make it back to France. Material on the Caddo and
Karankawa Indians is based on excellent research as well. Although accurate in
its depiction of the lives of the Indians at the time, it lacks depth and reiterates
the idea that if Indians are hunters and gatherers they can be described as
"Stone Age hunters and gatherers," when actually they were seventeenth-century
hunters and gatherers.
Both the story of Fort St. Louis, the earliest French settlement in Texas, and
the story of the gargantuan feat of excavating the Belle by the Nautical
Archeology Program of the Texas Historical Commission are part of Texas histo-
ry. Mitchell has created a concise, lively book to pass those stories on the new
generations of Texans. I would recommend it for Texas history classes, as a gift
to pre-teens and teenagers (and anyone else) interested in reading about Texas.
Georgia State Unzversity
ANNE H. SUTHERLAND
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed September 17, 2014.