PRE-STATEHOOD 11 Salle set out to follow the course of the Mississippi to its endpoint. He believed (correctly, it turned out) that the river would take him all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, and that would open all sorts of possibilities for his burgeoning fur trade. He was successful, and his party reached the mouth of the Mississippi on April 9, 1682. La Salle hurried back to Canada, and from there sailed to France. The king gave him a commission to be governor of all the inhabitants, “whether French or Indian” from Illinois to the Gulf. La Salle returned to America in 1684 with four ships, 300 colonists, and dreams of glory. His plan was to sail directly to the mouth of the Mississippi and establish a French colony at that point. The voyage was a disaster. He would not listen to his navigators, missed the mouth of the Mississippi River, and landed hundreds of miles west on the coast of modern-day Texas. His colonists, completely lost and nearly starving to death, grew tired of La Salle’s arrogance and incompetence, and they mutinied and killed him. Nearly all the colonists subsequently died, either from disease or attacks from indigenous people. Even though La Salle’s attempt to colonize the mouth of the Mississippi failed, the possibilities were too great for the French to ignore. Spain had staked first claim to the new world, but it could only control a portion of the vast lands. Other than a few small Spanish forts along the coastline, most of the western hemisphere was left unsettled and unguarded. This was especially true in the area that would become Mississippi since Spain saw no evidence that gold could be found there. The French, whose interest had been piqued by La Salle’s discovery, saw other possibilities and decided to send further exploratory missions to evaluate the possibilities for settlements and fur trade. At the time (1690s), France and Spain, rivals although officially at peace, were the two major competitors for settlement of the New World, with England in third place but growing. France (and England) considered any area not actually occupied by Spain to be fair game, the “effective possession” theory similar to the phrase common in business practice stated as “use it or lose it.” With Spain showing little interest in the big river, France had what seemed to be a clear path to claiming it. The English colony at Charles Town (South Carolina) had earlier toyed with the idea of westward expansion, but the prospect of Native American hostilities cooled such efforts. In addition, England and Spain had grown weary of squabbling over territory in the New World, and in 1670 they signed the Treaty of Madrid that recognized the right of both nations to keep those western hemisphere lands over which they had “effective possession” at the time of signing. With no plans for expansion beyond the east coast, English activities in the Mississippi area consisted of random and isolated visits by traders out of Carolina seeking deerskins to send back to Europe. The English had second thoughts about the Mississippi River once they heard of La Salle’s discovery. English colonists from the Carolinas openly expressed an interest after it was proven the river was indeed a trade route with unlimited trade possibilities. The French, knowing they had to solidify their claim over La Salle’s great river, decided to beat the English to the punch and moved quickly to settle and fortify the lower Mississippi down to the Gulf. Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur D’Iberville, one of several sons of a distinguished military family from Canada, sailed to France in 1697 to request an exploratory team to establish such a presence. With a commission from Louis XIV, and joined by his brother Bienville, he sailed out of France with an exploratory force in 1698. The Iberville mission consisted of four ships. They were to be joined in Santo Domingo by another French warship, and from there, they were to carry on to Louisiana and bolster the French claim. Meanwhile, an English ship set sail out of Charleston in late 1698 to see if they could stake an English claim to the Mississippi River at its mouth. The Carolina Galley, sailed into the Gulf of Mexico in early 1699 and spent some time exploring the coastline of modern day Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. As it would turn turned out, the English frigate and her crew may have spent a little too much time in those side trips instead of heading straight for the intended destination. The Iberville expedition from France reached the weakly-fortified Spanish Pensacola in January 1699. Iberville had orders not to confront the Spanish at any established post they may have had, so he went on to the unclaimed Mobile Bay. The party reached Dauphin Island on January 31. From there, they explored and named the Mississippi barrier islands: Petit Bois, Horn, Ship, and Cat. On February 10, they anchored inside Ship Island and rowed ashore. They befriended the Native Americans in modern day Biloxi and stayed with them for two weeks. In sharp contrast to the Spanish venture under de Soto, Iberville practiced diplomacy when dealing with the native peoples, and it paid off. They gathered information about the area, made friends with the Native Americans, and made a brief The Native Americans in Mississippi knew little or nothing about the European newcomers, and had no idea how their presence would eventually change their lives.