The Wreck of the Belle, the Ruin of La Salle
American History - Texas History
6 x 9, 352 pp.
12 b&w photos., 8 maps.
Pub Date: 03/01/2001
Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University
  cloth
Price:        $29.95

978-1-58544-121-1

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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2001 Kate Broocks Bates Award for Historical Research, presented by the Texas State Historical Association

2001 T.R. Fehrenbach Award, presented by the Texas Historical Commission
 
2001 Award of Merit for Best Book Published on Texas in 2001 Runner-up, presented by the Philosophical Society of Texas

The Wreck of the Belle, the Ruin of La Salle

By Robert S. Weddle

Robert Cavelier de La Salle: daring explorer, empire builder, shaper of history—and shameless schemer who abused his followers and deceived his king. In The Wreck of the Belle, the Ruin of La Salle, acclaimed historian Robert S. Weddle reveals how La Salle and his closest associates spun a web of secrecy and falsehood about their travels, dissembled their objectives, and put their own spin on his exploits by suppressing other would-be diarists. Weddle’s study represents a major revision of the story of La Salle and his times as they have been traditionally understood, with few of the major characters in the epic tale emerging unscathed. Even his death was misreported by survivors of the French colony in Spanish-claimed territory as they sought to save themselves.

This book had its genesis in the Texas Historical Commission’s 1995 discovery in Matagorda Bay, along the Texas coast, of the wreck of La Belle, the last of four vessels that La Salle brought to America on his final mission. Artifacts salvaged from the ship shed new light on the efforts of La Salle and his two hundred colonists to establish the first European settlement between Florida and Mexico, a settlement that has been erroneously labeled Fort-Saint-Louis.

As history provided the clues that led to this archaeological discovery, so archaeology now fills in the blanks of history, raising a host of new questions about the ill-starred colony. Weddle marshals the evidence to answer those questions, reframing the old picture of one of France’s premier American explorers in the light of new discovery and setting the record straight.

Weddle’s exhaustive research has resulted in a work not limited to La Salle’s final misadventures in Texas. Rather, he chronicles the explorer’s activities throughout his travels in North America, drawing on several unpublished sources to provide a more accurate picture of La Salle, both as private individual and as legendary explorer.

Robert S. Weddle, a Fellow of the Texas Historical Association, is widely regarded as the dean of Texas colonial historians. Author of La Salle, the Mississippi, and the Gulf: Three Primary Documents and Wilderness Manhunt: The Spanish Search for La Salle, also published by Texas A&M University Press, he is an independent historian with a background in journalism and publishing.

What Readers Are Saying:

“I found The Wreck of the Belle readable as well as dense with new and solid interpretation. . . . This volume is a satisfying rounding. . . supplying in several instances ‘the rest of the story’ that has awaited certainties and new documents.” --Louisiana History

“The world he inhabited was filled with factionalism, intrigue, and enemies bent on his destruction. Weddle’s exacting portrayal of that world and the people in it makes this a compelling and engrossing book. . . . The last word on La Salle is probably yet to be written, but for now readers will find much to savor in this carefully crafted volume.” --Western Historical Quarterly

“Reads like a detective story, full of intrigue, mystery, and deceit. . . . Like the archaeological investigation of the ship and her contents, Weddle’s research provides an intimate and previously hidden perspective on an epic chapter in French efforts to colonize North America. . . . Handsomely produced at a moderate price, the book contains several maps, and black and white photographs of documents, archaeological finds, and places associated with La Salle; the illustrations punctuate the lengthy narrative at appropriate intervals. It is clear from the depth of detail and discussion that pervades each page of this book that the author spent many years pursuing the story of La Salle. He provides a solid and timely historical context within which to interpret recent archaeological finds–the recent discovery of La Belle and the site of the aborted colony, Fort St. Louis. Together with forthcoming studies of the ship itself and its contents, and the artifacts left behind y the French colonists, a new chapter in the history of North American discovery and exploration is emerging from Texas.” --Nautical Research Journal

“Even before writing this book, Robert S. Weddle already had established himself as the foremost expert on Robert Cavalier de La Salle and a detailed examination of his fatal trip to Texas. In addition to exhausting sources found in Europe and North America, the author has also included new archaeological findings from the exhumation of the wreck of La Belle, discovered in Matagorda Bay in 1995, to present as complete an account of the expedition as can be imagined. . . . Through expert analysis of the sources, the author is able to present a cogent, exciting narrative which revises almost everything we thought we knew about the expedition and its leader. The most startling finding–even to Weddle himself–is that La Salle, rather than being a daring explorer, was actually a stubborn, insecure fool who refused to take responsibility for anything or advice from anyone.” --East Texas Historical Association

“This scholarly and meticulously researched book presents an airtight narrative of the expedition and the reasons for its eventual failure.” --Choice

“Numerous illustrations of the artifacts salvaged from the Belle round out this instructive volume.” --Booklist

“Perhaps most fascinating of all, is that The Wreck of the Belle exposes La Salle’s human weaknesses. . . .Author Weddle must unravel conflicting accounts and innumerable threads of history to lay out the whole truth of who La Salle was, and what truly happened to him and his ill-fated ship. Recommended for history buffs, and for anyone who wonders about the real story behind the oft-told legends of the ‘conquest’ of the Americas.” --The Bookwatch

“Weddle asserts that his classic work has been a “catalyst for change.” This intricate study enlightens the “divergent aims” that propelled Spanish penetration of Texas. . . . Weddle’s work set the stage for the reclamation of this colonial treasure. This book does much to enlighten a tragic but significant chapter of Spanish/Tejano history.” --Journal of the West

“If you’re interested in getting the whole story behind La Salle’s excavation, this is the book to buy.” --Review of Texas Books

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