THE TRIALS OF LA SALLE.
When, at last, they drew near the meadows on which had stood the great village of the Illinois, with its population of eight thousand souls, their horror-stricken gaze met a scene of utter desolation. Where once was heard the busy hum of human life, no sound, save their own footsteps, broke a silence as of the grave. The plain was covered with heaps of ashes and charred poles. Hundreds of human bodies, hideous souvenirs of battle, half-eaten by wolves and birds of prey, filled the air with pollution. With but one thought, La Salle searched the blackened and bloody field of death, with sleepless anxiety, for traces of the fate of Tonty. That the Iroquois had wrought the work of ruin was clear. That Tonty had been burned alive, or taken prisoner, he thought he read in some charcoal drawings on some stakes. Taking four men with him, La Salle pushed on to Fort Crévecoeur. Hope was dead in his breast, and dark despair floated on raven plume, like a bird of ill-omen, in ever-narrowing circles above his dauntless form.
The fort was destroyed. On the stocks stood the hull of the half-finished vessel, with every nail and spike withdrawn. In charcoal letters La Salle read, "Nous sommes tous sauvages: ce 15, 1680" inscription by the mutineers. Even here he found bodies lashed to stakes and half-consumed by the torturing flames. Down the Illinois he floated, till he saw before his eyes the mighty river of the Mississippi. It was the source and object of all his vast ambitions and incomparable efforts. But its charms were unheeded by his anxious eye. No trace of Tonty could be found.
Tonty, after the mutiny, lived in the Illinois village, a weak, one-handed soldier of fortune, yet, withal, a courtly gentleman, amid his savage companions; one who would have graced any court in Europe. One evening word was brought that the Iroquois were coming. The same messenger said La Salle was with them; hence, Tonty must be a traitor. The excited savages threw his precious forge and tools into the river. He was in the utmost peril. All night the warriors sang, danced, painted their bodies, and worked themselves into a frenzy to raise their courage. Tonty resorted to a desperate expedient. He went unarmed into the Iroquois camp, bearing a belt of wampum.
By exaggerating the numbers of the Illinois and threatening future vengeance from the French, he patched up a peace. Scarcely was it made before being broken. In six days the Iroquois chieftains summoned Tonty to meet them. An orator presented him with six packs of beaver skins. The first two, he said, signified that the children of Frontenac, that is, the Illinois, should not be eaten; the next was a plaster to heal Tonty's wound; the next was oil to anoint himself, that he might not be fatigued in traveling; the fifth signified that the sun was bright; the sixth required him to pack up and go back to Canada forthwith. Sadly he called his five faithful companions together and started on foot for Green Bay Mission.
La Salle, failing to find his friend, retraced his steps to the fort on the St. Joseph River. Here he located for the winter. Instead of being crushed by the cruel aggregation of disasters and defeats, he modified his plans and mapped out in his own secretive mind a new plan for the pursuit of the great enterprise, from which he never took his eye. His notion was to induce the Western tribes of Indians to unite in a defensive league against the Iroquois, with himself at its head. He worked incessantly, traveling far and near. As has been said, he was a great orator with the Indians. He punctuated his sentences with presents of hatchets and kettles, and emphasized his words with red blankets. Such eloquence was irresistible. Besides, the Indian knows a hero by instinct. He recognizes a true leader at sight. Everywhere the Indians from innumerable tribes lent their aid to the enterprise. La Salle was to protect them against the Iroquois, and French traders were to bring to them all the articles they needed, in ships which would sail up the Mississippi.
Things looked promising. To discover the mouth of the Mississippi was of the first importance. For this a trip to Canada was again necessary. On his way back, La Salle, to his infinite joy, found Tonty at Michillimackinac. Each told his tale of disaster. The new scheme and its signs of promise were laid before Tonty. Arrived at Montreal, La Salle made a last effort to appease his creditors and procure a new equipment. Once more he set out for the Illinois, by the same dreary route, so full of suggestions of wasted wealth, disappointed ambitions, and fruitless toil. The past was a failure. Would the future prove brighter?
The plan of building a large vessel for the journey down the Mississippi, if consummated, would have enabled La Salle to gather quantities of furs, and pay the cost of the expedition. Disaster had forced him to abandon the plan and the trip was made in canoes. The Indians along the river proved to be friendly, intelligent, and polite. Concerning the Arkansas tribe, one of the party writes: "They are gay, civil, and free-hearted. The young men, though alert and spirited, are so modest that not one of them would take the liberty to enter our hut, but all stood quietly at the door. We greatly admired their form and beauty. We did not lose the value of a pin while among them." At the principal town of the Taensas, the travelers were dumb-founded to find large square dwellings, built of mud, straw, and cane, arched over with dome-shaped roofs.
In one of these buildings, in a room forty feet square, sat the king on a chair of state; three wives were at his side, and ranged around him sat sixty old men, wrapped in white cloaks, woven of mulberry bark. When he spoke his wives howled. His death would be celebrated with the death of one hundred victims. Another building formed the temple. In the center was an altar on which burned a perpetual fire. Around the room were ranged long rows of grinning skulls from the victims sacrificed to the Sun. The king was frightfully solemn. No smile had ever flitted across his cast-iron countenance. But if he failed to appreciate a joke, he liked presents and visited La Salle at his camp. On this important occasion the solemn old savage advanced in his white robes, preceded by two men with large white fans, while a third bore an enormous disc of burnished copper, representing the Sun, which was the king's ancestor. At each spot that he visited, La Salle erected a cross with the arms of France, as an emblem of her dominion.
On the 6th of April they reached a point where the river divided into three channels. It was the Delta. It was not long till the heavy current bore the voyagers out into the lonely gulf. For a thousand years its tossing waves had in that mighty solitude striven to rise above themselves; for a thousand years they had fallen back, broken and sullen, to their own level--fit emblems of human ambition. Gathering on the shore, the little group of weather-beaten men erected a column and a cross, with the insignia of the French people. Then La Salle proclaimed aloud the French dominion.
"On that day," says Francis Park man, "the realm of France received on parchment a stupendous accession. The fertile plains of Texas; the vast basin of the Mississippi, from its frozen northern springs to the sultry borders of the gulf; from the woody ridges of the Alleghanies to the bare peaks of the Rocky Mountains--a region of savannahs and forests, sun-cracked deserts, and grassy prairies, watered by a thousand rivers, ranged by a thousand warlike tribes, passed beneath the scepter of the sultan of Versailles; and all by virtue of a feeble human voice inaudible at half a mile."
The new domain was called Louisiana, in honor of its king. Henceforth the name of La Salle was a part of history. But his labors were only begun. Impatiently he urged his little fleet of canoes upward against the heavy current. His way seemed clear now for the execution of his original plan, to abandon the difficult and roundabout route through frozen Canada, the great lakes and the Kankakee swamps, to plant a fort at the mouth of the Mississippi, and thus monopolize the magnificent natural pathway to the interior of the continent. On his way back, La Salle was stricken down with a deadly fever. Against this foe his stubborn will was powerless. He could not proceed to Canada to announce his discovery, nor to France to raise means for carrying out his splendid plans, nor even to the Illinois to commence his fort. While La Salle lay in a hut on the banks of the Mississippi, the fever of ambition and impatience uniting with that of disease, Tonty pressed on to Canada with the glorious news of the discovery.
By December Tonty and La Salle were once more together on the Illinois River, busy with perfecting the great Indian league. Overhanging the river, La Salle had previously noticed a great rock, one hundred and twenty-five feet high, inaccessible on all sides except by a difficult footpath in the rear. Its top was about an acre in extent. This rock, properly fortified, could be defended by a score of men against hosts of savages. It is now called "Starved Rock." It is six miles below the town of Ottawa, Illinois. On the top of this rock La Salle and Tonty made a clearing, and built a palisade, lodges, storehouses. It was named Fort St. Louis.
The league grew and strengthened. Every day brought re-enforcements. Around the fort a hundred tribes took up their dwelling, inspired with the idea of being protected by La Salle from the terrible Iroquois. They came from the Kankakee, from the Ohio, even from Maine. Among the promiscuous throng of lodges were those of some discomfited warriors of Philip of Mount Hope, who had for a while spread terror and despair through the Puritan settlements of New England. La Salle's diplomacy had achieved a wonderful success. Twenty thousand savages planted their wigwams upon the plains, over which he looked from his castle in the air.
Of all men the Indian is the most unstable. La Salle understood the Indian character thoroughly. His mushroom colony could only live by his fulfilling his promises to protect it from the Iroquois, and bring Frenchmen to exchange commodities for their furs. To achieve these things he needed help. Frontenac was no longer governor of Canada. His successor, La Barre, belonged to the political faction composed of La Salle's enemies. These last were not asleep. The news of his discovery and his mammoth Indian town teased their jealousy and hate into a perfect frenzy. Their emissaries worked incessantly to induce the Iroquois to make war and destroy La Salle, who, they said, was combining the western Indians against the Five Nations. On the other hand, they spread rumors through the excitable throngs around Fort St. Louis that La Salle was keeping them there for the Iroquois to destroy them all at once. Reports were frequent that the Iroquois were coming.
La Salle's situation was full of peril. He dared not leave Fort St. Louis to carry out his plans for traffic on the Mississippi, for if an attack should be made in his absence he would be denounced as the instigator of the Iroquois war. Yet the necessity for his departure grew stronger each day. No one but he could arrange to build the fort at the mouth of the Mississippi, and bring vessels from France laden with articles of traffic for his savage allies. To meet the emergency, he sent letters to France, imploring assistance. They were never heard from. He begged La Barre to send him supplies and reenforcements. No answers were ever received. He weakened his little colony by sending messengers to Montreal to procure supplies and bring them by canoes. The messengers were plundered of their cargoes by the Canadian governor and thrown into prison. La Salle, in the depths of the wilderness, was unaware of the governor's enmity. Again and again he wrote, describing the situation, and imploring that his men might be allowed to return with supplies. The only response was angry letters from his creditors, accusing him of every crime under heaven. There remained but a hundred pounds of powder in the fort. Should the Iroquois come, strong resistance was impossible.
On receipt of La Salle's letters, La Barre wrote to the government of France that La Salle was a crack-brained adventurer, bent on involving the Canadian colonies in a war with the Iroquois; that he had set himself up as king; that he had robbed his creditors only to waste the ill-gotten gain in riotous living and in debauching the Indians; that so far from serving the king, his sole object was private gain. These slanders reached the mark. The king wrote back that "the discovery of La Salle is utterly useless, and such enterprises should, in the future, be prevented." What a prophet was Louis XIV concerning the future of America! Had he but known better, his " New" France was most speedily to far surpass his "Old" France. La Barre, emboldened by the king's letter, seized all of La Salle's property, declared his privileges forfeited, and dispatched an officer to supersede him at Fort St. Louis. He found only Tonty. La Salle had started for France.
It was an opportune moment for La Salle when he appeared before the gold and ivory chair of state in which sat the small specimen of humanity, in high-heeled shoes and gaudy attire, who represented the sovereignty of France. A war with Spain was in progress. La Salle was smart. His great object was to get a fort and colony on the Mississippi. Instead of dwelling on its use in controlling and developing traffic with the vast interior, he held out the more glittering, but far less substantial, allurement that such a fort would be a basis for a descent on Mexico and the Spanish dominion. His geographical notions were wrong. Mexico was much farther off than he thought. But the king knew no better. The idea of wresting Mexico, with its rich mines of silver and gold from the indolent Spaniards who guarded it, caught his eye. Feeling exerts a powerful influence on conduct. He hated Spain. Any plan to hurt her was grateful to him.
So La Salle was granted more than he asked. La Forest, La Salle's lieutenant, was dispatched to Canada with a royal reprimand for La Barre. He was also to resume possession of Fort Frontenac and Fort St. Louis. He was further ordered to march the four thousand warriors at the latter place, to the mouth of the Mississippi, to co-operate with La Salle in an invasion of Mexico. When his lieutenant received this latter order from La Salle, the latter must have nearly burst with inward laughter. It is the solitary joke in his stern career. It gives him a rank among the funny men of all ages. Gulliver's exploits are nothing in comparison with marching four thousand wild Indians, as unstable as water, belonging to a hundred wandering tribes, two thousand miles from their hunting-grounds; their women and children left behind at the mercy of savage foes; their numbers so great that, without any provision for supplies, they must starve on the way; with no arms but bows and arrows, and no object but to invade a country of which they had never heard. But the wise simpleton of Versailles saw nothing of the joke. What could be more natural? The idea delighted him. He gave La Salle four ships instead of one. Of these the Joly was the largest.
A hundred soldiers, thirty gentlemen, a number of mechanics, besides the wives of some and a few girls who saw a certain prospect of matrimony, embarked on this last expedition of Robert Cavalier De La Salle. The command was divided. Beaujeu, a high-tempered, but old and experienced naval officer, was to command the ships at sea; La Salle was to have entire control on land. This two-headed arrangement gave rise to no end of trouble. La Salle, always suspicious and secretive, found out that Beaujeu's wife was devoted to the Jesuits. His cold, impenetrable manner, confiding in none, counseling with none, haughty and reserved, would have exasperated a far less testy and excitable man than old Beaujeu. As it was, La Salle's colleague sputtered over with fury. Before they were out of the harbor, La Salle believed that Beaujeu was a traitor, in connivance with his enemies to ruin the expedition. Old Beaujeu, on his part, was furious that he, an experienced naval officer of high rank, should divide command with a man "who has no experience of war except with savages, who has no rank, and never commanded any body but school-boys"--a thrust at La Salle's school-teaching days, when he was with the Jesuits. Beaujeu wrote letters continually to the government, complaining of his ignominy. To these ebullitions of age, vanity, and temper the answers were curt enough.
The two leaders quarreled--about the stowage of the cargo, about the amount of provision to be taken on board, about the destination of the expedition. Beaujeu believed that La Salle was not a sane man. It is not impossible that his terrible exposures and sufferings, his ceaseless struggles with his creditors and enemies, his crushing disappointments had affected the poise of La Salle's mind. His universal distrust included even the faithful Tonty. On July 24, 1684, the little fleet spread its canvas. On the fourth day out the Joly broke a bowsprit. La Salle believed it to have happened by design. The ships put back to Rochelle to repair the damage.
The wretched voyage lasted two months. La Salle was in miserable health. The disagreements between him and Beaujeu grew continually worse. La Salle desired to put in at Port de Paix. Here he was to receive supplies and information from the French governor, who had orders to render all possible assistance to the expedition. Beaujeu, boiling with rage, managed to run by the place at night and insisted on landing at a different place, Petit Gouare. No supplies were to be had here. Many of the men were sick from the intense heat and close confinement on shipboard. The smallest vessel, the one laden with stores, tools, and ammunition, had fallen behind. Two days passed, and instead of her arrival, word was brought that she had been captured by pirates. The blow was terrific, and could not have fallen, had Beaujeu put in at Port de Paix. La Salle, eaten up with anxiety, became dangerously ill and delirious. In the extremity, Joutel, a gardener, who had joined the expedition, was his main reliance, and continued so till the end. He became the historian of the enterprise. While lying at this port, freed from the restraint of their leader's eye, the men engaged in the worst debauchery, contracting diseases which brought many to their graves.
The captain of the Aimable gave La Salle great uneasiness. To prevent treachery, he went on board the vessel himself. It was near New Year's, when, having entered the Gulf of Mexico, they discovered land. Every eye was strained to detect the mouth of the great river.
At this point La Salle committed a fatal blunder. Having heard that the currents of the gulf set strongly to the eastward, he supposed he had not reached the Mississippi. In fact he had passed it. Day after day they sailed slowly to the west. No sign of the river appeared. A halt was called. The weather was stormy; the coast unknown and dangerous. The men were rapidly consuming the provisions. Beaujeu was irritable. Joutel says La Salle requested him to sail back in search of the river and that the naval commander refused to do it. Impatient of the restraint and anxious to assume the sole command, La Salle determined to land his soldiers on the swampy shores and send them to search for the river by land. Joutel was placed in command.
For three days the detachment pushed their way northeastward through tropical forests and across lagoons. The men were constructing a raft to cross Matagorda Bay, when they discovered the ships which had been following along the coast. La Salle came ashore, and announced that this was the western mouth of the Mississippi. He ordered the ships to enter the narrow harbor. The Aimable came first. La Salle was watching her. Suddenly some men came running in from the forest reporting that two of their number had been carried off by the Indians. La Salle ordered instant pursuit. With a last anxious look at the Aimable, which was steering in the wrong direction to be safe, he started after the Indians. He had just come in sight of them when the report of a cannon was heard from the bay. The savages fell prostrate with fright. But the chill of a more deadly fear froze the blood in La Salle's veins. The gun was a signal of distress. The Aimable, with her cargo of stores and utensils for the colony, had struck the cruel reef.
Securing his men from the Indians, La Salle hastened back to the scene of either accident or treachery to save, if possible, the cargo. The small boat of the vessel was found to have been staved in. This looked suspicious and caused delay. A boat was sent from the Joly. Some gunpowder and flour had been landed, when the wind rose. The breakers came rolling in, lifting the doomed vessel and hurling her, again and again, upon the rocks. The greedy waves were strewn with her treasures.
La Salle's heart must have been broken. The circumstantial evidence that the captain of the Aimable had wrecked his vessel on purpose was of the strongest character. The wretched company encamped near the wreck behind a rough pile of boxes, bales, driftwood, and spars. The Indians were unmistakably hostile. They plundered the camp, fired the woods, and even killed two men. The colonists were nearly all sick. Five or six were dying every day. Beaujeu having accomplished his mission and landed La Salle at what he declared was the mouth of the Mississippi, set sail for France. Toward the last, the testy old sea-captain sympathized with La Salle. He, at least, had not proved treacherous, and they parted friends. The colonists were left to their misery. It is to be remembered that in the unhappy company were women and girls. The colony lived in constant fear of the Spanish, who were patrolling the gulf in search of them. Two of the men deserted. Another was hung for crime. One of the best of the company was bitten by a snake and died.
The most serious thing, however, which befell the colony was the discovery by La Salle that he was not at the mouth of the Mississippi. He knew not where he was, only not on the river which was the source and object of all his Titanic toil. Unless the river could be found, and that speedily, his mighty undertaking was utterly and forever ruined. If it could be found, a good fort built, and communications established with Fort St. Louis, on the Illinois, something might yet be accomplished. Unless this was done, La Salle felt that all his Herculean labors were wasted, his life a ruin, and his dream of empire a bitter folly.
The future was as black as midnight. A single star beam shone through the darkness. The little frigate Belle, a gift from the king to La Salle, was still safe. If the Mississippi could be found, this vessel might convey the colony and such stores as they had left to its banks. A spot was sought where protection could be had from the scorching sun. The industrious toiled. The friars got out their battered altar and crosses. A fort was built. The stoutest sank under this labor. Numbers also were being slowly consumed by diseases brought with them. La Salle's company was not the "flower of France." Many of his men had been professional street beggars. On the walls of the new "Fort St. Louis," as La Salle called it, were planted eight cannon. In the absence of balls, they were loaded with stones and bags of bullets.
When the wretched colonists were thus located, La Salle started on a journey of exploration. He was still dauntless, self-contained, energetic. His mighty sorrows may have shattered him. In his extremity his fierce temper only became more fractious, his suspicion more dark. He treated his men with more and more rigor and hauteur. He kept his own counsel more obstinately than ever. He was made of iron. He bent not one inch to the storm. His invincible intellect refused to bow to defeat. It insulted Fate, and hurled defiance at all the powers of destiny and hell.
The day of his departure was the last of October, 1685. His brother, Abbé Cavalier, just recovered from a long illness, accompanied him with fifty men. It was March before they returned. They told a tale of suffering and disappointment. Some of the men had deserted, some were drowned, some snake bitten, some killed by Indians. The Mississippi had not been found. This was not the worst. The Belle had been ordered to follow them along the coast. At a certain point in the journey La Salle lost sight of her. Men were sent to search. They brought back no tidings. The day after La Salle reached the fort the last one of these detachments arrived. They had been more successful. The pilot of the Belle, while on shore, had been killed by Indians. Soon after this the crew got drunk. A wind arose; the vessel was clumsily handled; in five minutes all that was left of her was a mass of spars and splinters hanging on the rockbound coast.
In all his troubled career, the unfortunate La Salle had never met with a disaster so utterly overwhelming and irretrievable as this. With the loss of the Belle was lost the only means of returning to France, or of planting a colony on the Mississippi.
There was no longer any use to hunt for the river. If it were found the colony could never get there. To transport their cannon, forges, tools, and stores by land was preposterous. A man could not carry enough food to take him halfway. La Salle broke down. He was taken with another terrible attack of fever.
For months he fought this foe as he had every other. His sublime will rose superior to difficulty. His mind once more cleared. He determined to make his way to the Mississippi, force his canoe upward against its current to the Illinois; thence from Fort St. Louis again to Canada and to France, where he would obtain succor. It was a journey of seven thousand miles. The imagination fails to compass the immensity of the undertaking. It surpassed the labors of Hercules.
One April day, after mass and prayer, a little handful of men, with hatchets, kettles, guns, corn, and presents for the Indians, strapped to their backs, set out over the prairie on the mighty undertaking. La Salle alone knew its extent. He kept the secret locked in his own breast, or not a man would have accompanied him. The trusty Joutel remained in command at the fort. The strictest discipline was enforced. This was to divert the minds of the colonists from their terrible situation. Every one was compelled to work. Joutel says: "We did what we could to amuse ourselves, and drive away care. I encouraged our people to dance and sing in the evenings, for when M. de La Salle was among us pleasure was often banished. I tried to keep the people as busy as possible. I set them to making a small cellar to keep meat fresh in hot weather; but when M. de La Salle came back he said it was too small. As he always wanted to do every thing on a large scale, he prepared to make a large one, and marked out the plan." Like poor La Salle's other plans, the one for this cellar proved too large to be practicable. So it was never built at all.
The situation of the colonists was practically hopeless. There was not one chance in a thousand that La Salle could really make his way across the wilderness of a continent inhabited by sleepless and bloodthirsty savages, to Montreal, and thence to France. Even if he reached France, from what resources could the disappointed and ruined adventurer draw the large sums necessary to equip a vessel and come to their relief? It was now nearly two years since they left Rochelle. La Salle had promised to conquer Mexico in a year! Yet La Salle's trip to France was their only hope. Located at the mouth of a Texan river, no ship would ever pass that way, unless some Spanish cruiser, seeking whom it might destroy.
Still, that the colonists were not overwhelmed with despair, is shown by one Barbiers, who asked leave to marry one of the girls. Joutel held a solemn consultation with the friars, and the two lovers were united. Shortly afterward a marquis begged the same privilege concerning another girl. Joutel, the young gardener, concerned at such an abasement of nobility, refused, and deprived the lovers of all communication with each other. Meanwhile great discontent became manifest. Duhant, the greatest villain in the company, declared that La Salle had left them to their fate, and would never return.
One night a knocking was heard at the gate. It was La Salle. Out of twenty men only eight had lived to return. They had journeyed far, incurring almost every peril and disaster of which one can conceive. At last La Salle took sick. This delayed them two months, and by exhausting their ammunition and strength, forced them to return to the fort. The colonists, of whom only forty-five remained, murmured loudly. La Salle had a heavy task to make them contented with the dreary weather-beaten palisade and fort. He was about to renew his effort to reach Canada, when he was attacked with hernia. His constitution seemed badly shattered.
It was in January, 1687, before the start could be made. Joutel this time was to accompany his chief. La Salle made a farewell address, in an unusually kind, winning and hopeful manner. With heavy hearts, both of those going and those remaining, the little band took up its slow march, followed by straining eyes, until it disappeared from view forever. The company was full of discord. Liotal, the surgeon, had sworn revenge on La Salle for having on one occasion sent his brother on a trip, during which he was killed by Indians. Duhaut had long hated La Salle, and both men alike despised Moranget, La Salle's nephew. Several quarrels took place. One day Duhaut, Liotal, Hiens, a buccaneer, Teissier, l'Archevêque, and Nika and Saget, two Indian servants of La Salle, were out hunting buffalo. Having killed some, they sent word to the camp. Moranget and DeMarle were dispatched with horses, which had been bought of Indians, to bring in the meat. When Moranget arrived he abused the men violently because the meat was not smoked properly, and quarreled fiercely with Duhaut because he claimed the marrow bones. Moranget ended by seizing them.
It was too much. The men who might in France have lived and died respected citizens, embittered by disappointment, and crushed by disaster, were no longer men. They were wild beasts. That evening Duhaut and Liotal took counsel with Hiens, Teissier, and l'Archevêque. A bloody plot was laid. The supper over, the pipes smoked, each man rolled himself in his blanket. Then the conspirators arose. Duhaut and Hiens stood with guns cocked, to shoot any who might resist. The surgeon stole forward, and, with hurried blows from an axe, clove the skulls of the sleeping Moranget, Nika, and Saget, the nephew, the friend, and the servant of La Salle.
It was quickly done. Their victims lay weltering in pools of blood, while the night wind sighed through the lonely forest. The red demon of murder, which had entered the hearts of the conspirators, pointed with bloody finger at La Salle, six miles away. Hatred and self-preservation alike demanded his death.
That evening Moranget had not returned, and La Salle seemed to have a presentiment of evil. He questioned Joutel closely as to whether Duhaut had any bad designs. Joutel knew nothing except that he had complained about being found fault with so much. La Salle passed an uneasy night. In the morning he borrowed the best gun in the party, and taking a friar for a companion and an Indian for his guide, started in search of the missing men. As he walked, he talked with the good friar, only "of piety, grace, and predestination; enlarging on the debt he owed God, who had saved him from so many perils, during more than twenty years of travel in America." "Suddenly," says the friar, "I saw him overwhelmed with a profound sadness, for which himself could not account. He was so moved I scarcely knew him." His approach was perceived by the murderers. Duhaut and the surgeon, crouched in the long grass, with guns cocked. L'Archevêque remained in sight. La Salle called to him, asking where was Moranget. The man replied in a tone agitated but insolent, that he was strolling around somewhere. La Salle rebuked him, and continued to advance. At that moment two shots were fired from the grass, and the great La Salle, the hero of a thousand exploits, dropped dead with a bullet in his brain.
The toiler had found rest at last. The toilworn body was rudely thrown into the bushes, and became the food of vultures and of wolves.
Thus, at forty-three years of age, fell one of the greatest explorers of all time. That he had grave faults is most true. He was often impractical. His movements seem sometimes the result of hasty and inconsiderate resolve. His fierce temper, and gloomy, unsocial nature brought on him the dislike of his men. He attempted too much. Yet, it is clear that he far surpassed his age in his foresight of the future of the Mississippi valley. His dream of the interior empire was to what has really come to pass, as the first faint blush of dawn in eastern skies is to the blazing radiance of noon. If his material resources were too small for his vast undertaking, he possessed a will like that of a god. The vast and continuous stream of energy, proceeding for twenty years from the brain of La Salle, was superhuman. His sensibilities were weak or wholly wanting. His intellect and will place his name above that of every other explorer.
It is impossible to find anywhere an equal for La Salle's undertakings and efforts, his sufferings and toils. Yet for it all he received no reward save the bullet of an assassin. Like many another hero, La Salle was ignored and cast out by mankind. Unfortunate in life, he was still unfortunate in death. His countless throng of enemies each made a stab at his memory. The only thing we, who enjoy the fruits of his terrific toil, can do for La Salle, is to accord him the praise of history. We have said he was one of history's loneliest characters. It is true. He was and is a solitary of the solitaries. In life his lonely, retiring, secretive nature forced him, as he himself said, to abandon various employments in which, without it, he would have succeeded, and to choose a life more suited to his solitary disposition. We see him driven to the wilderness by his own solitariness. Still he was not enough alone. He shut out from his confidence even the handful of men with whom he traversed the silent and uninhabited forests of America. His was the solitude of genius. "Buzzing insects fly in swarms; the lion stalks alone." He was separated from his nearest friend by fathomless abysses. Solitary in life, he is also solitary in history. He can not be classed with nor compared to any other. His name is a star which belongs to no constellation. The Chevalier de La Salle is like no one but himself. His very greatness makes it so.
After the murders, Joutel, and one or two companions, who had been faithful to their leader, expected nothing but death. The conspirators would never allow the witnesses of their crime to reach the settlements alive. But the way was strangely cleared. The murderers fell out among themselves, and Hiens and his friends deliberately shot and killed Duhaut and Liotal. Thus these heralds of civilization instructed the savages in its lessons. Joutel and his friends were allowed to depart on condition of giving the murderers certificates of their innocence of the crime. They made their way to Fort St. Louis, on the Illinois, where the brave Tonty still held his own, and thence to Canada and France. When Tonty had learned that La Salle had landed on the shores of the gulf, he had gone to meet him. But though he explored the coast for sixty miles from the mouth, failed to find him. La Salle, at that moment, was seeking the fatal river in the plains of Texas. The brave Tonty remained for some years at Fort St. Louis trading in furs. The king finally ordered the post to be abandoned, and his subsequent career is unknown.
The colony on the gulf was left to its fate by Louis XIV. In his gorgeous palaces at Versailles, he turned an ear of stone to the account of Joutel concerning the unfortunates left behind. One day a Spanish ship, guided by one of La Salle's deserters, sought out the spot where the colony had been, intent on its destruction. But the destroyers found the place as silent as death. The weather-beaten palisade was out of repair. The roof of the storehouse had tumbled in. The dismounted cannon lay scattered around in the mire. The whole place had fallen into decay. Looking a little farther, the fierce Spaniards found a cluster of human skeletons, lying as if they had fallen there in death. Around the bony finger of one was a little ring. Its possessor had been a woman. Awed by the mystery of the place, the strangers were about leaving, when two men, apparently Indians, came up. They said the colony had been attacked by smallpox. Many had died. The rest were murdered by the Indians. The speakers were 1'Archevêque and Grallet. They alone remained to tell the tale. They were made prisoners of war, and sentenced to a life imprisonment in a Spanish dungeon. The last of La Salle's colonies had disappeared from the face of the earth!
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Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh