Robert Cavelier La Salle, sieur de, a French explorer, born in Rouen in November, 1643, killed in Texas, March 19, 1687. He is said to have forfeited his patrimony by becoming a Jesuit; but he withdrew from the order, and went to Canada early in 1666. He settled at Montreal, and from the Sulpicians, seigneurs of the island, to which body his brother Jean belonged, obtained a grant of land and founded La Chine. He soon disposed of this, and in 1669 started on an exploring expedition with the Sulpicians Dollier de Casson and Galinee; but after visiting the Seneca country he parted with them near the head of Lake Ontario, on the Canada side, on account of illness. He is then said to have returned to the Iroquois country, reached the Ohio, and descended it to the falls where Louisville now stands. An assertion made recently that about this time he descended the Illinois to the Mississippi rests on an anonymous statement of conversations, and is unsupported by his own petitions and documents as to his discoveries. After Fron-tenac established Fort Frontenac, on Quinte bay, La Salle went to France in the autumn of 1674, with strong commendatory letters from the governor general to Colbert. He was received with favor, ennobled, obtained a grant of the fort and adjacent lands, and was made governor of the fort and settlement, May 13, 1675. He replaced the palisade fort with one of cut stone, gathered French and Indian settlers around it, and soon had four decked vessels on the lake, making his post the centre of the fur trade, on which he now entered; and Canada became divided into two great antagonistic organizations, both grasping at a monopoly of the peltries.
With a view of extending his operations to the west, and perhaps finding a way to the western ocean and China, he returned to France, and in May, 1678, obtained permission to carry on western explorations for five years, build and hold forts, and enjoy a monopoly of the trade in buffalo skins, but was expressly forbidden to trade with the Ottawas or other lake tribes who had been accustomed to bring furs to Montreal. With Tonty, an Italian veteran, and 30 mechanics and mariners, he sailed from La Rochelle on July 14, and proceeded to Fort Frontenac. He sent Tonty to establish a post near the mouth of the Niagara, gained the good will of the Senecas, and began to build a vessel of 55 tons, above the falls, apparently at Cayuga creek. The Griffon was launched in 1679, and in August he embarked with his expedition, including three Franciscans. He sailed through Lakes Erie, St. Clair, Huron, and Michigan to Green bay. As his creditors had during his operations been proceeding against him, he unwisely collected furs in defiance of the terms of his grant, and sent back a load by the Griffon to meet their claims.
His party then proceeded in canoes to the mouth of the St. Joseph's river, where he established a trading house, called Fort Miami. He then ascended the St. Joseph's, crossed to the Kankakee, and sailed down till he reached an Illinois village. He formed an alliance with the tribe, and in January, 1680, began near the present Peoria a post which he called Fort Crevecceur. The Griffon never returned from her voyage down, and La Salle was deprived of much that he needed for his explorations. After putting Tonty in command at his fort, and despatching Acau and Hennepin to explore the Illinois to its mouth, he himself started back for Canada with five companions. From the mouth of the St. Joseph's he struck across Michigan to a river flowing into the Detroit, crossed that river, made his way overland to Lake Erie, and then proceeded in a canoe to his post at Niagara. Here he was convinced that the Griffon had perished, and heard of the loss of a ship on its way from France with supplies. Arranging his affairs as best he could, he made up a fresh party, and started back for Fort Creve-ceeur with supplies; but on arriving he found that Tonty, by the attack of the Iroquois on the Illinois, and by the desertion of his men, had been forced to abandon the post and retire to Green bay.
La Salle went down the Illinois to its mouth, and returned to gather his followers and obtain resources to renew his exploration, although De la Barre, Fronte-nac's successor, was openly hostile to him and aided his enemies. At last, Dec. 21, 1681, he started from Fort Miami with his expedition, ascended the Chicago, crossed to the Illinois, and descended to the Mississippi. Sailing down, he camped on the first Chickasaw bluff, stopped at the Arkansas villages, and kept on till the river divided. He explored the three channels to the gulf, and on April 9, 1682, set up a column with the French arms at the mouth, and took formal possession of the country watered by the river. Returning, he began Fort St. Louis at Starved Rock, on the Illinois, and in November, 1683, reached Quebec, leaving Tonty in command in the west, with instructions to meet him at the mouth of the Mississippi. He then proceeded to France, and proposed to the government to begin a settlement there, and to undertake the conquest of New Biscay and the rich mining country of northern Mexico. By patent of April 14, 1684, he was appointed commandant of all the country from Fort St. Louis, in what is now the state of Illinois, to New Biscay. An expedition consisting of 280 persons, most of them ill chosen, sailed from Rochefort on Aug. 1, in four ships; but dissensions at once sprang up between La Salle and Beaujeu. the naval officer in command of the vessels.
After stopping at Santo Domingo, they entered the gulf of Mexico, but, miscalculating distances, passed the mouth of the Mississippi, apparently on Jan. 10, 1685. As they advanced, La Salle, convinced that they had gone too far, wished to return, but Beaujeu went on. They finally anchored off the entrance to Matagorda bay. Here La Salle disembarked his colonists, but his store ship Aimable, containing most of his munitions, was run on an island and wrecked. Beaujeu, pleading a want of provisions, soon after sailed off with two vessels, leaving La Salle with the Belle, a small vessel given him by the king. La Salle then threw up a fort called St. Louis, and attempted to cultivate the soil. The Indians showed hostility from the first. Some of the settlers were killed, others perished from diseases and imprudence. La Salle lost time and men in excursions through the country; the Belle was wrecked; and after the lapse of two years the whole party, in January, 1687, was reduced to fewer than 40. Leaving half of these, including the women and children, in the fort, La Salle set out on Jan. 7 to make his way to the Illinois, with his brother, his nephews, Joutel, and 12 others. He had already visited the Cenis or Assinais, and now pushed on for their towns.
He had crossed the intervening rivers and reached the Trinity, when a long smothered revolt broke out. Duhaut and Larcheveque killed Moran-get, a nephew of La Salle; and when the commander turned back to look for his relative, they shot him down, and as they looked at the body cried, " There, you grand bashaw, there you are!" The murderers soon after quarrelled among themselves, and Joutel with the Caveliers and four others, started on, and finally reached a French post on the Arkansas. Of those left at Fort St. Louis nearly all were massacred by the Clamcoet Indians, the few survivors falling into the hands of a Spanish force sent to drive out the French. - The career of La Salle was, in and immediately after his day, the subject of conflicting statements, and controversies have been maintained to this day. Hennepin, Le Clercq, Joutel, and Tonty gave contemporaneous statements; and in recent times the subject has been specially treated by Sparks, "Life of La Salle;" Shea, "Discovery of the Mississippi;" Parkman, "Discovery of the Great West;" and Gravier, Decouvertcs et etablissement de Carelier de la Salle.