The la Salle Expedition to Texas: The Journal of Henri Joutel, 1684-1687

Article excerpt

The La Salle Expedition to Texas: The Journal of Henri Joutel, 1684-1687. Edited and with an Introduction by William C. Foster. Translated by Johanna S. Warren. (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, c. 1998. Pp. x, 350. $39.95, ISBN 0-87611-165-7.)

The journal of Henri Joutel, in which he chronicled his experiences as a member of the La Salle expedition to the west coast of the Gulf of Mexico in the mid-1680s, constitutes one of the great European exploration epics in seventeenth-century North America. Joutel served as a member of the French expedition that attempted to settle the coast of present-day Texas, distinguishing himself as a loyal officer under the Sieur de La Salle. For a time, he commanded the post at Fort St. Louis while La Salle explored the interior regions of the coastal bend during 1685 and 1686. The following year, Joutel traveled with his commander on the ill-fated trek to locate the mouth of the Mississippi River that ended with La Salle's assassination by disgruntled members of the expedition. His life spared by the assassins, Joutel eventually walked from eastern Texas to the Arkansas Post on the Mississippi, from whence he made his way to Canada.

Joutel prepared a manuscript copy of his journal that first surfaced in the 1690s. Over the generations, various other manuscript copies of the journal, along with heavily edited published abridgements, have circulated in various languages. Some of the published versions contained serious flaws of transcription, omission, and translation. It was not until the late nineteenth century that a Paris archivist published in French the first unabridged version of the relatively complete journal. Such has not been done in the English language until this present volume. Indeed, William C. Foster has surpassed earlier editors of the Joutel journal by conducting a comprehensive examination of extant manuscript copies and the various published versions. The result is a definitive rendering of the narrative that provides the fullest possible reconstruction of a complete text. …