Fort Saint Louis
by Laurie Moseley
Because October is Texas Archeological Awareness Month, this
month's historical highlights are focusing upon Rene' Robert Cavelier Sieur de
LaSalle, commonly called LaSalle, and his activities in Texas. The Texas
Historical Commission (THC) under the direction of Dr. Jim Bruseth and Dr. Mike
Davis has been working on the site of Fort Saint Louis for several months.
Because access to the site is restricted, the THC has set up a temporary museum
and laboratory in downtown Victoria, Texas. If you are going to be in the
Victoria area, I urge you to visit the laboratory. It will be open until
at least May 2001. The museum/lab contains artifacts from the excavation
of LaSalle's supply ship La Belle as well as artifacts from the Fort St. Louis
archeological dig. Among the most interesting artifacts are the personal
things such as plates, shoes, and scissors. Kids like to see the big
cannon and the swords.
Each work day THC archeologists travel up Garcitas Creek to the
location of Fort Saint Louis. The site is located on a working ranch in an
unspoiled area that features thick brush along the creek banks, low swampy areas
and a high bluff on which the fort had been constructed. Traces of the
original L-shaped fort building where supplies were kept and where LaSalle slept
when was in the fort have been identified by THC investigators. Part of
the building was used as a chapel where the French priests conducted services
for the settlers.
Two other buildings in the fort complex were constructed to
house the men and women settlers. Since LaSalle was out exploring most of
the time, the commander of the fort was Henri Joutel. Joutel kept a
detailed journal of events in the expedition. The journal has been
translated and edited by William C. Foster under the title of The LaSalle
Expedition to Texas: The Journal of Heni Joutel, 1684-1687. The book is
available from the Texas State Historical Association, (2/306 Richardson Hall,
Austin, Texas 78712-9820). Foster has done an excellent job of reconciling
Joutel's account with other memoirs, official documents, and modern day
archeological findings. Foster provides maps and notes enlarging on
Archeological excavations at the site are very difficult because
of the dense balk clay. The archeologists have to dig out the clay with
picks; then the lumps of clay are soaked overnight to make them softer.
Next the softened clay is washed through window screen-type mesh under high
water pressure to reveal the artifacts. Finally the artifacts and the
remaining lumps of clay are taken to the laboratory for further cleaning and
restoration. Detailed records are kept so that the artifact can be put
into context just as the pages of a book or the letters on the Wheel of Fortune
TV show are put into order to complete the words. In the case of Fort
Saint Louis the excavated artifacts help to complete the picture of life at the
fort in the late 1600's.
When the locations of nails are entered into the computer,
outlines of buildings show up. Remains of cooking vessels showed where
people lived; pieces of religious statues showed where the chapel was located.
Since the Spanish built a presidio next to Fort Saint Louis after they burned it
down, there are many Spanish artifacts at the site. However, careful
plotting and analysis have revealed where there are almost exclusively French
artifacts, where there is mixture of Spanish and French materials, and where
there are almost exclusively Spanish remains.
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