Texas Heritage, Volume 18, Number 4, Fall 2000 Page: 17
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In September 1996, the Texas Historical
Commission was invited to the historic
Keeran Ranch in southeastern
Victoria County to conduct a small-scale
archeological excavation. The location was
a high bluff on the west side of Garcitas
Creek, about four miles above the head of
Lavaca Bay. At the end of a miserably hot
week accentuated by hordes of voracious
mosquitoes, the archeologists had recovered
eight wonderfully preserved iron cannons
from where they had been buried for
307 years-a momentous occasion in the
annals of Texas history.
How did these remarkable cannons from
the period of New World exploration and
colonization come to be buried there, in
that particular spot in Texas?
These weapons had been part of the armaments
possessed by French explorer
Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, and his
compatriots in an ill-fated expedition to
the mouth of the Mississippi River. The
French ships carrying the colonists and
explorers had missed their intended destination,
coming to land instead on the
Texas coast. There, in the spring of 1685,
La Salle established Fort St. Louis. He
chose a strategic spot that was far enough
up and around a major bend in Garcitas
Creek so that the colony could not be
sighted from any Spanish ships that might
be reconnoitering in Matagorda Bay.
Life at the colony was arduous and grim.
The attrition rate was horrendous. From
about 150 original inhabitants who arrived
at Fort St. Louis, the contingent had
dwindled to about 40 by January 1687. La
Salle then chose to "save" the colony by
attempting, along with 16 of the fort's ablePage
16: The eight iron cannons recovered
from Fort St. Louis in September
1996. Page 17, top to bottom, artifacts
from Fort St. Louis, Karankawa pottery
and a glass arrowpoint; French ceramics;
hand-wrought irons spikes and nails from
French buildings;Spanish ficas, or goodluck
charms. All images courtesy of the
Texas Historical Commission.
bodied men, to hike to far-distant French
forts in the Great Lakes region. The attempt
resulted only in more tragedy.
Years of dissension and hatred had
been fomented by La Salle's arrogant,
haughty behavior toward his followers.
That discord came to a violent end not
long after the small band set out for
Canada. La Salle and several of his supporters
were assassinated by other members
of the group near the confluence of
the Brazos and Navasota rivers.
More murders occurred in East Texas
after the first bloodletting, as the survivors
sorted out the new leadership role
and settled other old scores. With some
of the Frenchmen opting to remain in
residence with the Caddo Indians, a final
small group made their way to and
up the Mississippi River to rejoin their
countrymen and return to France. Fortunately
for history, one of those was Henri
Joutel, La Salle's right-hand man and the
colony's primary chronicler. Absolutely
compelling reading, his diary survived
and has recently been published by the
Texas State Historical Association.
Left at Fort St. Louis to fend for themselves,
slightly more than 20 persons, including
women and children, eked out
an existence until Christmas Eve 1688,
when the settlement was attacked by
Indians. Relations with these indigenous
people of the Coastal Bend region,
known to us as the Karankawas, had
ebbed and flowed since the colonists
made landfall in early 1686. The seeds
of discontent undoubtedly were planted
by La Salle's theft of several Indian canoes
from the shores around Pass
Cavallo, just after the French arrived.
This seed bore fruit once the Karankawas
were certain that the leader and many of
his riflemen had departed the colony.
Three children, a girl and two boys with
the family name Talon, survived the attack,
lived with the Indians for some
time, and were later repatriated by the
Never more than a destitute outpost,
Fort St. Louis was of extraordinary con
HERITAGE * 17 * FALL 2000
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Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Volume 18, Number 4, Fall 2000, periodical, Autumn 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45391/m1/17/: accessed April 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.