Rene La Salle

(Rene Robert La Salle)


Rene Robert La Salle was a French explorer who traveled the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, claiming all surrounding territory for France. He also traversed the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada, exploring several rivers and making a name for himself as a prominent voyager of the seventeenth century.

La Salle
La Salle was born in Rouen, France. He became a Jesuit novice at seventeen but dropped from the order in 1667, claiming “moral weakness” to be the reason for his leaving. A year before his departure from the Society, he traveled to Canada, where his brother had moved the year before. He quickly learned the language of the Native peoples, primarily Mohawks, who spoke to him of the Mississippi River. Believing that the river might lead to a Western passage to China—the Holy Grail of European explorers—La Salle sold his property and embarked on the venture. He reached the Ohio River and followed it to modern-day Louisville, Kentucky but was unable to go any further, leaving the upper Mississippi unexplored until Pere Marquette’s expedition three years later. Instead, La Salle traveled to Ontario to oversee the building of Fort Frontenac, named for his patron and the governor of New France. After the settlement’s completion, La Salle sailed to France, where he received a fur trade concession and a title of nobility. He returned to Canada and rebuilt the fort, this time in stone, with the assistance of Henri de Tonti. Tonti remained with La Salle, accompanying him on a second expedition to the Mississippi. They set sail from the St. Joseph River and continued until they reached the Illinois River, at which point La Salle had to return to Frontenac for supplies. While he was away, the men mutinied against Tonti and exiled him.

Finally, in 1682, the two explorers met in St. Ignace, Michigan and canoed down the Mississippi. La Salle reached the Mississippi basin and claimed all surrounding areas for France, naming the territory Louisiana for Louis XIV. After a short trip to France for more supplies, La Salle returned to America to establish a colony near the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, the expedition was beset by pirates, hostile Indians, and navigational problems. During a search for the mouth of the Mississippi, his remaining men mutinied and he was killed during an ambush.

Key events during the life of Rene Robert La Salle:

Took his vows to become a Jesuit
Moved to Canada
Relaesed from the Society of Jesus at his own request
Began an expedition down the Mississippi River
Completion of Fort Frontenac
Set out on a seond expedition to the Mississippi but ultimately failed
Sailed down the Mississippi and claimed surrounding area for France
Went to France and returned with men and supplies
Murdered in an ambush

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
La Salle's Adventures  in  Story of the Thirteen Colonies  by  H. A. Guerber
Half-Century of Conflict  in  Canada: Peeps at History  by  Beatrice Home
Friends of the Indians  in  The Men Who Found America  by  Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson
How the Mississippi Was Discovered  in  This Country of Ours  by  H. E. Marshall
Adventures of La Salle  in  Our Empire Story  by  H. E. Marshall
La Salle and the Mississippi  in  Historical Tales: American II  by  Charles Morris

Book Links
Adventures of Chevalier de La Salle  by  John S. C. Abbott

Image Links

Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle
 in Indian History for Young Folks

La Salle takes possession of Louisiana
 in This Country of Ours

Alone across the trackless snow.
 in Our Empire Story

Robert Cavelier de La Salle
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

The Building of the Griffon
 in Builders of Our Country: Book I

Short Biography
Louis XIV French King who expanded the borders of France, and lived in great pomp and splendor.
Pere Marquette French Missionary who explored the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes.