We’ve had a great third week on our Texas Adventure, a literature-based Texas history unit I’ve put together using books I’ve been collecting for the last year or so.
This week we focused on the first appearance of the French in Texas with an expedition by Robert La Salle. La Salle was an accomplished explorer. He was the first to explore all the way down the Mississippi, from the Great Lakes into Louisiana. He’d gone back to France and obtained permission from the king to establish a settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi in the hopes of getting a foothold in the Gulf of Mexico, which was controlled by Spain at the time. In 1684 the expedition set out.
|map courtesy www.texasbeyondhistory.net|
Unfortunately, coming through the Gulf he overshot and completely missed the Mississippi, ending up in Matagorda Bay, Texas, which is only about 25 miles from where we live, in January 1685. His supply ship, the L’Aimable, sank attempting to come through Pass Cavallo into the bay. The warship that had escorted him returned to France, leaving him with only his small ship, La Belle, which had been a personal gift from the king. Convinced that the Mississippi wasn’t far, La Salle established a crude settlement on Garcitas Creek, named Fort St. Louis after the king, and began making expeditions up the coast, looking for something familiar. Months later, La Belle, anchored in the bay, ran aground on a sandbar during a sudden storm and sank.
Unrest grew among the settlers as time went on. They’d lost the majority of their supplies in the two shipwrecks, were plagued by the unfriendly Karankawa Indians, over half of them had died, and the expeditions had found no signs of the Mississippi. Eventually, in the spring of 1687, La Salle was murdered by a group of conspirators on one of his expeditions in search of the Mississippi. A small band of his men finally made it to the Mississippi and made their way back up to Canada and then to France, intending to send a rescue party back for the settlers at Fort St. Louis. But, in December 1688 or January 1689, the Karankawas ambushed and killed all the settlers at Fort St. Louis, taking the few children with them back to their camps. Months later, Spanish soldiers discovered what remained of the settlement.
Although the entire expedition was a failure, it’s important because it renewed Spain’s interest in Texas and was a catalyst for their establishment of missions throughout the state. They’d ignored the area for the last 150 years, after expeditions in search of gold and treasure had failed to yield anything, but they didn’t want anyone else to move in.
In recent years, the excavations at Fort St. Louis and of the La Belle have been a big deal locally. The La Belle, excavated in the mid/late 90’s, has proved to be one of the most important shipwrecks ever excavated. The kids are particularly fascinated not only because it’s local, but because their dad grew up sailing and fishing on that bay, passing right over the shipwreck who knows how many times! It was initially discovered when a shrimper who was an acquaintance of his family, pulled a cannon up in his net. The cannon tumbled back into the bay, but a couple of men who were certified divers (and friends of the family), contacted the authorites, went back out, and tried to locate it. Thus the excavation began!
Some of the resources we’ve used this week:
Raising La Belle
Journey to La Salle’s Settlement (Mr. Barrington’s Mysterious Trunk)
Learn about . . . Texas Indians (Learn about Texas)
Story of Texas (Four Volumes in One)
Story of Texas: A History Picture Book
An Educational Read & Color Book of Texas
Texas Beyond History’s Fort St. Louis page
Texas Beyond History’s La Belle shipwreck page
The Admiral’s Blog (some cool photos of the ship undergoing the preservation process here)
NOVA: Voyage of Doom website (this site accompanies the documentary by the same name. I’ve searched for a copy or place to watch it online in vain…if you know where I can get it, please let me know!)
We’ve had a blast reading about the ship’s excavation and the events surrounding Fort St. Louis! We’ve particularly enjoyed Raising La Belle by Mark Mitchell. The book alternates between chapters detailing the excavation and narrating the story of the ill-fated expedition, with many maps, drawings, and black and white photographs included.
Journey to La Salle’s Settlement by Melodie Cuate has been another hit. This is part of a fiction series in which three modern day kids are swept back in time by their history teacher’s magic trunk to various places and events in Texas history. To make it back to the present, they must collect a list of various objects to put into the trunk. My kids have loved this one and are looking forward to the rest of the series!
I also can’t stress enough what a fantastic resource the Texas Beyond History website is! It’s a wealth of information, photos, and any and everything else related to Texas history.
We’ll probably be taking a break next week, then we’ll pick back up with the era of the Spanish missions, as they moved back into Texas in reaction to the French attempt at colonization. I also have several possible field trips in the works, so watch for reports and photos from those before too long!
Don’t miss the first two updates:
In other subjects…
Our other subjects are continuing to click along nicely! Karate Kid learned about prepositions. Peanut’s new All About Reading program came in and I’m hoping to get it set up and ready to start in the next few days. In the meantime, we’ve worked a little bit on the two free downloadable activity booklets that go with it. I scheduled a fairly light week for the Dancer as she prepared to leave for an annual dance competition with her ballet company. She leaves today and will be gone for five days.
I’m planning a minimal schedule for the rest of us next week since the Dancer will be gone for the first half and because it’s spring break for all the area schools. I’m looking forward to a week of no extracurricular activities and a light schedule! I may or may not update next week, but watch for the next installment of Texas Adventures the week after!
How is schoolwork going in your house?