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Wheat-Stranahan lecture will feature ‘Raising La Belle’
Jan 08, 2009 | 656 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Refugio County History and Archaeology series will feature archaeologist Pam Wheat, executive director of the Texas Archaeological Society.

Wheat will present Raising “La Belle,” La Salle’s supply ship that sank in 1686 in Matagorda Bay, on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2 p.m. at the Refugio Community Center.

The discovery and investigation of La Belle was one of the most exciting archeological discoveries in recent times, according to Capt. Don Foxhall who is coordinating the event. It also illustrates history in the making - textbooks were written based on the findings.

The world followed the progress of unique excavation while multiple layers of artifacts and information were uncovered. Headlines an in local, state and national newspapers as patterns and artifacts related previously unknown details about the story of La Salle and his misadventures on the Texas coast. One Houston Chronicle byline read “History rising from the bay’s murky depths.”

In 1995 the Victoria Advocate labeled the recovery of the first cannon, “Catch of the Century.”

A dock attached to the coffer dam site encouraged people from all walks of life to join in the recovery effort. They came by small boats or charters and spent the day watching the detailed but intriguing work of the archeologists.

It was one of the most public excavations because the archeologists realized the importance and relevance of the investigation.

The sinking of this ship in 1686 literally changed the map of North America. It meant that the goals of the French to establish a stronghold on the Gulf of Mexico and challenge Spanish domination of the region were thwarted. Because La Salle’s physical presence on the Gulf coast the Spanish intensified their effort to expand and secure their territory known as New Spain. The Spanish exerted their influence on the region and stayed.

As the story unraveled we learned more about explorers, colonists and Native Americans. The Native Americans known as Karankawa Indians were at first hospitable. When the French blundered and took a canoe, the Karankawa became hostile and a constant threat. The Caddo tribe, however, offered counsel as to the location of the Mississippi River and became active trading partners with the French. A little-known tribe, the Jumano, served as messengers and traders with the Spanish along the Rio Grande River and kept the Spanish informed of French activities.

Wheat is currently executive director of the Texas Archeological Society (TAS). She was education coordinator for the La Salle Shipwreck Project with Texas Historical Commission (TC) during the excavation of La Belle. She has served the TAS as chair of the Education Committee, editor of the newsletter, and president. She is currently on the Advisory Board for the Museum of the Coastal Bend in Victoria. Wheat also serves as a trustee of the Aransas County Historical Society and on the Aransas County Historical Commission.

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