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Relating to Location of La Salle's Colony
Site of La Salle's Fort St. Louis

From the program: "Souvenir of the visit of French and Canadian Missions, Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Death of Sieur de la Salle (Rene Robert Cavelier-1643-1687)"
Sunday, April 4, 1937-Victoria, Texas

"The site is exactly where the Cardenas' map shows La Salle's settlement, on the west bank of the Garcitas River, about five miles above its mouth, and on the highest point of the cliff-like bank of that stream. To the south, west and northwest, stretch the great level prairies, now sprinkled with a recent growth of mesquite, but in La Salle's day an open prairie dotted with buffalo herds. In front lies a beautiful little valley through which winds the Garcitas river, from a hundred to a hundred and fifty feet in width, and still navigable with a launch for a number of miles above its mouth. On the other side, the valley is hemmed in by a range of low hills which, off to the northwest, fade into the great plain lying east of Victoria. The choice by La Salle of the spot for his colony is no cause for surprise." PHOTOGRAPH
Thus wrote Dr. Herbert E. Bolton, great American historian, now chairman of the Department of History of the University of California, in describing the site after discovering its exact location. Dr. Bolton, in a letter to the Victoria County Texas Centennial Committee, published elsewhere in this program, extends his greetings to the distinguished guests present here today and expresses regret at his inability to participate in "so notable a program for the commemoration of the deeds of the great La Salle in your immediate vicinity." Continuing, he says in part: "To me the evidence I presented in my article seemed complete and indisputable, and it has been accepted by scholars all over the world, the most competent of whom, with respect to this subject, are your own Texas historians, Barker, Hackett, Mecham, Castaneda and Dunn."

A map found by Dr. Bolton in the archives of Spain outlining the region of La Salle's settlement on the west bank of the Garcitas Creek (called "The River of the French" by the Spaniards), about five miles above the mouth of the creek, exactly where Dr. Bolton located the site in 1914 by the aid of this map, drawn in 1690, just a year following the destruction of the settlement . The map was made by Joseph Cardenas, a distinguished Spanish naval engineer. MAP

The Lavaca River can be positively identified by the islands at its mouth to distinguish it from the Garcitas. Cardenas delineated correctly every important bend in the stream (Garcitas) and his map is so accurate one is able to identify practically every point which his expedition visited, says Bolton. "There can be no question as to its reliability. It is the work of a skilled and carefull [sic] engineer," he adds. Cardenas explored both the Lavaca and Navidad Rivers and his description of the adjacent territory leaves no doubt as to their identity. His expedition camped some two miles above the junction of these two rivers on an elevation (6 on the map) described as a red bluff. "This spot," Bolton says, "was clearly the place where the village of Red Bluff now stands."

Among the distinguished guests here today is Senator Clint C. Small of Amarillo. In 1907, Senator Small, while one of Dr. Bolton's students at the University of Texas, on the basis of Joutel's journal of La Salle's expedition, reached the conclusion that Fort St. Louis was on the Garcitas and not the Lavaca River, as was generally believed. He therefore shares in the glory of the noted historian's important discovery, which his preliminary studies helped to inspire

In 1722 the Spaniards built the Presidio of Loreto on the exact site of Fort St. Louis and in digging the trenches they relate that they "unearthed numerous remains of the French settlement." Says Dr. Bolton: "From the surface of the ground I gathered a handful of small fragments of antique blue and white porcelain." The Keerans have in their possession a quantity of the same material, but, in compliance with a promise made to Dr. Bolton, will permit no one except recognized archeologists to make a thorough exploration of the site.

When the Spaniards built their presidio on the site of the French settlement they also established the Mission Espiritu Santo on the east side of the Garcitas in what is now Jackson County, about a mile and a half above the fort. The hostility of the Indians caused the removal of the presidio and mission to Mission Valley in Victoria County in 1726 and in 1749 to Goliad. The distance the mission is said to have been from the fort places it on an ideal elevation just east of the Brownsville Railroad bridge and possibly at the exact site of the Bennett Ranch house in the vicinity, where it is evident there was an Indian village. However, owing to the temporary nature of the mission, no remains of it probably are to be found. In the valley about half a mile above the site of the presidio, William F. James, son of D. A. James, foreman of the Bennett Ranch, recently found a cannon ball, which is now in the possession of Edwin mason, teacher at the nearby Bennview school.

A map of the Spanish fort and mission discovered a few months ago in Mexico by Carlos Castaneda, eminient [sic] Latin-American historian, unmistakably defines the region. The reproduction herein marks the first publication of this map. A bridge shown below the fort at a point where the bluff recedes, just as it does in this day at exactly the same point, according to the scale, establishes the width of the stream which obviously could not have been the Lavaca. FORT

The Presidio of Loreto had a larger garrison than any fort established in connection with the Spanish Mission system in Texas. The first soldiers, fifty in number, under the command of Captain Jose Domingo Ramon, arrived at the site of the fort on exactly this day of the month (April 4) in the year 1721. The Mission Espiritu Santo was moved to the Garcitas (then known as the San Gabriel River) from San Fernando, Coahuila, the following year when forty soldiers and their families came. Most Rev. Father Fray Augustin Patron was the minister of the mission, which as has been noted, was moved four times.

Of the ruins of La Salle's settlement and the Spanish fort on the Garcitas, Dr. Bolton declares: "The archeological remains of the settlement, so far as we ascertained, are not extensive, but they are palpable and of certain character. Before we went to the site Mr. Keeran stated that years ago there were distinct remains of an ancient wall, but feared they had entirely disappeared. But he was mistaken in this, for we easily found the wall, then just visible above the surface of the ground and without digging were able to trace it for many feet. The wall is made of large, red, adobe-like blocks, apparently of baked red clay. Subsequently, Mr. Keeran has found it to be two and a half feet thick and to inclose an area ninety feet square. Thus, the relics on the banks of the Garcitas mark the site of both La Salle's Colony and the Spanish Presidio of Loreto. The walls still visible are probably the remains of the Spanish rather than the French fortification."

The accompanying picture of the Garcitas, called "The River of the French" by the Spanish expedition which located and destroyed the remains of La Salle's settlement on its west bank in Victoria County, was taken from the east bank opposite the Keeran Ranch home about four miles above the site of Fort St. Louis and nine miles from its mouth, where the stream is nearly three hundred feet wide and thirty feet deep in places, forming one of the finest natural waterways on the Texas coast. [PHOTOGRAPH] Although generally referred to as a creek, along with its branch, the Arenosa, it is a more reliable watercourse than many so-called rivers. In the days of the French and Spaniards, it was called a river, and in Mexican records it is often referred to as a creek, as are also the Lavaca and Navidad Rivers. However, it is designated as a river on the latest government maps. The early Spaniards called the Garcitas "The River of the French," as already noted, and the Spanish missionaries named it "The San Gabriel River." Later it was called the Garcitas by the Mexicans, who often named streams according to their resemblance to different objects. Garcitas means "the first horns of the deer," to which projections at the mouth of the Garcitas bear a striking similarity.

An old French map is said to show La Salle's settlement on the first river to the west flowing into Lavaca Bay and to designate this river as "The River of the Oxen." This could only have been the Garcitas, for it is the most westerly river. The same map is said to call the first stream east of the "The River of the Oxen," "The River of the Reeds." This evidently is what modern maps show as the Arroyo Venada, meaning "doe," a watercourse of considerable proportions lying between the Garcitas and Lavaca. The same stream on early maps is called "Benadito," or "little deer." Reeds line its banks for its full length, which is not true of other streams in that vicinity.

The Lavaca, "vaca" being the Spanish for "lady cow," was so called by the Spaniards or Mexicans most likely because of the marked resemblance of the delta islands or marshes at its mouth to the udder of a cow. The Spanish or Mexican "River of the Oxen," designated on early maps as "The Bueyes River," is today known as the Buffalo Bayou.

Now that the Texas Centennial Commission of Control proposes to erect an imposing monument and establish a park at the site of La Salle's settlement and the State Highway Commission has designated a highway to the site, a controversy has ensued not only over the location of the site but as to the point where La Salle was slain. The location of Fort St. Louis on the Lavaca would place the point where La Salle was assassinated near the Neches River in Cherokee county, instead of at the established point on the Brazos near Navasota, and Cherokee County in supporting the Lavaca claim is seeking a monument and highway. In that connection, Dr. Bolton, recognized as the greatest authority on this subject, says:

"One of the tests of a scentific [sic] hypothesis is whether it is contradicted by or harmonious with individual phenomena. As might be expected, the substitution of truth for error on this fundamental point of the location of La Salle's fort dispels several other difficulties which have arisen regarding early expeditions in Texas. The San Marcos river described by De Leon as from three to six leagues east of 'The River of the French,' has been taken by students to be the Colorado, a stream which in fact is a good fifty miles away. The San Marcos referred to was obviously the Lavaca, as shown on Cardenas' map. Starting with the Lavaca as the site of the French fort, Joutel's report of La Salle's last expedition to the eastward raises difficulties regarding the streams at every part of his journey. But with a correct start (the Garcitas), his itinerary is easy to follow. Starting too far east, students have come out too far east in locating the place where La Salle was murdered, placing it on the Neches or the Trinity, instead of on the Brazos."

Further evidence of the location of Fort St. Louis and the Presidio of Loreto on the west bank of the Garcitas in Victoria County was discovered a few days ago in the Spanish archives of the Texas Land Office by Postmaster Leopold Morris of Victoria. This discovery was made in an examination of the original five-league grant of what is now the Keeran Ranch to Don Martin de Leon by the State of Coahuila and Texas more than a century ago. DeLeon was the empresario who founded Victoria in 1824.

The field notes defining the grant refer to "the Presidio Viejo" or old fort, on the west bank of the Garcitas exactly where the Spanish map found by Dr. Bolton in the archives of Spain places Fort St. Louis. The reference is underscored in the photostatic copy of a portion of the Spanish instrument published herewith. All subsequent descriptions of the land also refer to "the Presidio Viejo, or old fort." Carlos Castaneda, the historian, is authority for the statement that a similar reference is to be found in the archives of Bexar County. In fact, Mr. Castaneda states that the phrase, "Settlement of the French," is included. He cited Frederick C. Chabot of San Antonio, well known historical authority, as one of his informants, but Mr. Chabot could not recall the exact language. The reference in the Spanish archives of State Land Office is recorded in Volume 67, Page 980.

An investigation of the descriptions of land grants on the east side of the Garcitas and both sides of the Lavaca failed to reveal any land marks of the nature of an ancient fort or mission. However, "the edge of the road which runs to the Military Post which was established on the Lavaca River," is given as the first landmark of the Valentin Garcia grant. This military post, probably established by the Mexican Government, was at Dimmit's Point, once mistaken for the site of La Salle's settlement and within the original confines of Victoria County. In fact, early maps show the road in question branching from the Victoria-Texana road to Dimmit's Point, when supplies were landed for Fannin's Army during the Texas Revolution and Col. Ward and his men were captured. The point is named for Captain Phillip Dimmit, who presided over the convention at Goliad where the first declaration of Texas independence was made. He resided nearby and his trading establishment was one of the first voting places in Victoria County.

Early historians also were mistaken as to another matter of interest. They gave the year of death of the founder of Victoria as 1833 and state monuments recently erected bear that year. The month was unknown. However, DeLeon died in August, 1834, as a transfer by his widow of the land embracing the "Presidio Viejo," on January 24, 1837, to Pleasant B. Cocke recites, as follows:

"In the summer of the year 1834, said Martin de Leon, who then resided within the limits of Texas, at Guadalupe Victoria, was attacked with the cholera and died then very sudden of that disease in the month of August of that year; that the attack was so sudden and violent, and the progress of the disease so rapid that it was not possible for him to make a written disposition of his property, which was rendered otherwise difficult by the unsettled (e)state of the country, and the small number of persons qualified and empowered to draw up and pass acts, but that on his deathbed the said Don Martin de Leon made a cession and station in payment to his said wife, which was accepted by her, of the property hereinafter described, sold and conveyed by the present act."

This century-old document describes the land conveyed to Cocke in part as follows:

"Thence to the mouth of the Garrio or Zorrillo at the Bay of Matagorda and following the shore of that bay there known by 'Pinta' del Tapon, or Tapon Point, which is the last mouth of Garcitas Creek; from thence up the last mentioned creek to the place where it spreads itself in a bottom full of permanent marshes and ponds, which place is known by the Presidio

Viejo,' or old fort, and thence up the Garcitas following all its meanders to the place where it joins the Arenosa or Sandy Creek, and thence following always the Garcitas to the first corner for place of commencement."

During the union of Coahuilla and Texas, the records at the State Land Office disclose, the land office for this entire section was located in Victoria, and many of the old records now filed in Austin were therefore executed at "Guadalupe Victoria."