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Wilderness Fugitives (CEC)

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On March 19, 1687, bitter, weary, and desperate men finally had enough with their leader, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. They were stranded in a foreign land with little hope of rescue, or even survival, and still he seemed lost and incapable of finding a way home.

If they hated anyone more than their leader, it was his arrogant and overbearing nephew, Crevel de Moranget. They killed him first. Then, they compounded the crime by killing La Salle.

But who were these conspirators?

Jean L’Archevêque, born in 1672 in Bayonne, France. Just fifteen-years-old at the time of the murder, he was living in the West Indies with his parents before becoming an indentured servant to Sieur Pierre Duhaut. This merchant would become the accused trigger-man in the escapade, while L’Archevêque played a key role in luring La Salle into the ambush. Duhaut paid for the crime with his life, but L’Archevêque escaped into exile among the Hasinai (Caddo) Indians, along with fellow survivor, Jacques Grolet.

Two years later, L’Archevêque convinced a Jumano Indian to carry a note and a drawing to the Spanish. “I do not know what sort of people you are. We are French[;] we are among the savages[;] we would like much to be Among the Christians such as we are[.] … we are solely grieved to be among beasts like these who believe neither in God nor in anything. Gentlemen, if you are willing to take us away, you have only to send a message. … We will deliver ourselves up to you.”

Tipped off by this note, the Spanish recovered L’Archevêque and in the summer of 1689 sent him and Grolet to Spain in irons. He languished for two years before Spanish authorities—wary of setting them free because of their knowledge of the frontera, instead made them swear an oath to Spain and then returned them to Mexico as soldiers.

L’Archevêque, now just twenty-two years old, joined the Diego de Vargas expedition to New Mexico in 1694. There he married Antonia Guitiérres and settled into a domestic life as a soldier, merchant, and landowner. He became a famous scout in the Santa Fe region and a man of political influence. In 1720, during the War of the Quadruple Alliance between Spain and France, the forty-eight-year-old L’Archevêque guided Lieutenant General Pedro de Villasur’s expedition into the heart of the Great Plains in order to push back the French influence along the Platte River. Pawnees and Otoes, aided by French trappers, surprised and crushed the Spanish-Pueblo column, killing nearly half and sending the rest scurrying back to Santa Fe. L’Archevêque and Villasur were among the slain.

Born in 1663 in St. Jean, La Rochelle, France, Jacques Grolet was an illiterate sailor aboard Aimable during the La Salle Expedition. In 1685, when his ship wrecked off the coast of Texas, he remained with the colony instead of returning to France aboard Joly. After La Salle’s murder in 1687, Grolet vanished among the Hasinai people instead of joining the party still heading for Canada. The twenty-four-year-old soon met up with Jean L’Archevêque and, after two years among the Indians, surrendered to the Spanish. Grolet, shipped to Spain and imprisoned, returned to Mexico in 1692 after swearing allegiance to his new masters and enlisting as a soldier. He, like L’Archevêque, traveled to New Mexico. In 1699, Grolet married Elena Galuegas and settled down to domestic life in the town of Bernalillo as Santiago Gurulé

Born 1670 in Paris, France, Pierre Meunier was the son of minor nobleman Louis Meunier, Sieur de Preville. A companion of René-Robert Cavaleir, Sieur de La Salle, he traveled to La Rochelle to join the expedition. Meunier served aboard the Aimable but stayed at Fort St. Louis after his ship sank on the Texas coast. He fell afoul of La Salle, and served time in irons aboard La Belle in 1685-1686 before that vessel, too, sank. Once again ashore, Meunier made his way to Fort Saint Louis. He accompanied La Salle’s overland expedition looking for a way to the Mississippi, and was on hand when his companions killed Crevel de Moranget, La Salle’s nephew.

Claiming illness, he disappeared among the Hasinai instead of continuing to Canada. The seventeen-year-old met fellow survivor Pierre Talon, an eleven-year-old boy that La Salle had planned to leave with the Indians to be raised among them for future service as an agent. Meunier “went native,” being tattooed in the Caddo fashion and apparently intended to make a life with the Hasinai. The Spanish captured him and Talon in 1690, however, believing they would prove useful as guides for establishing Spanish outposts in East Texas. After being taken to Mexico for interrogation, Meunier returned to the region as a guide and interpreter for the 1691 Domingo Terán de los Rios expedition before returning to Mexico. In 1693, Meunier joined the Diego de Vargas expedition to New Mexico as a soldier and disappeared from history.