Texas Dig Yields Earliest Settlers French Colonists Killed by Indians after Building Fort

Article excerpt

VICTORIA, Texas -- Crouching in a 15-inch-deep trench beside a creek running into Lavaca Bay, Jeff Durst carefully scraped away dirt clinging to the skeletons of at least two people thought to be among the first European settlers of Texas, massacred by Indians more than 300 years ago.

Archaeologists say the skulls, bones and teeth discovered last month at the site of Fort St. Louis almost certainly are the first remains found of the first European settlers in the state. They were French colonists who built the fort south of present-day Victoria in 1685 but were wiped out on Christmas Eve 1688.

"This is big stuff for Texas history, a very heady find," Durst said as he used a bamboo hand pick to coax one of the missing links of Texas history from the black gumbo soil.

"You're looking there at two individuals who constitute some of Texas' earliest colonists," said Mike Davis, site director for the Texas Historical Commission.

It's the most important discovery in the 14 months since the commission began a $1.8 million archaeological dig on the west bank of Garcitas Creek, officials said. It further confirms that the French led the way in settling Texas, a fact obscured by Spanish and American activity that followed.

Written records suggest identities for the remains, and DNA testing may enable the team to link them to descendants who have been located in France and Louisiana, said Jim Bruseth, director of archaeology for the commission.

"We're very excited," Bruseth said.

Also interested is Paul Newfield III, 58, of Metairie, La., a descendant of a woman who may be in the grave.

"I take a great deal of pride in these ancestors of mine," said Newfield, who has studied his family history and stands ready to provide a DNA sample.

Fort St. Louis was founded by about 150 Frenchmen led by Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle, at a time when France and Spain were competing for footholds and riches in the New World. The Spanish had claimed Texas but largely ignored it until hearing of the French settlement.

"This was what created the settlement of Texas. It got the Spanish interested, and then you had Anglo immigrants," said Henry Wolff, a Victoria folklorist and columnist for the Victoria Advocate. …

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