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The wreck of La Belle

I attended a lecture last night at the Houston Museum of Natural Science with Tiffany and her parents that was about the excavation of the ship La Belle, which wrecked in 1686 in Matagorda Bay. It was a part of the four-ship fleet that French explorer La Salle brought to the New World to establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately for La Salle, he missed the delta by 400 miles. He went ahead and got his colonists ensconsed in Fort St. Louis, then tried to hike (!) to Quebec for assistance from other French forts. (Amazingly, one of his men made it all the way there; his journal, which tells the story, survives to this day.)

The lecture and slide show by Dr. Jim Bruseth was outstanding. Here are some pictures from the excavation. The ship basically ran aground in shallow water without breaking up, so its artifacts were all in one place. The water is very murky, so diving was not a good option. Instead, a “cofferdam” was built around it. It’s basically a dry oasis in the bay – they enclosed an area and pumped the water out. Cost a bunch of money, but the payoff was fantastic.

I knew who La Salle was, but I knew nothing about La Belle or Fort St. Louis. If you ever get a chance to see Dr. Bruseth give this presentation, it’s definitely worth it.

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