René-Robert Cavelier was born on November 21, 1643, into a noble family in Rouen, France. When Cavelier was younger he enjoyed science and nature. He was a noted French discoverer and explorer claiming vast territory in Canada and areas in present day United States for France. In exploring the Mississippi, he named the basin of Mississippi La Louisiane which we know today as the great state of Louisiana.
On July 24, 1684,La Salle departed France and returned to America with a large expedition designed to establish a French colony on the Gulf of Mexico, at the mouth of the Mississippi River but actually landed 500 miles west of their intended destination. They had four ships and 300 colonists. The expedition was plagued by pirates, hostile Indians, and poor navigation. One ship was lost to pirates in the West Indies, a second sank in the inlets of Matagorda Bay, and a third ran aground there. They founded Fort Saint Louis, on Garcitas Creek in Victoria County, Texas. La Salle led a group eastward on foot on three occasions to try to locate the mouth of the Mississippi.
During a final search for the Mississippi River, some of La Salle's remaining 36 men mutinied, near the site of present Navasota, Texas. On March 19, 1687, La Salle was slain by Pierre Duhaut during an ambush while talking to Duhaut's decoy, Jean L'Archevêque. They were "six leagues" from the westernmost village of the Hasinai (Tejas) Indians. Duhaut was killed to avenge La Salle, while Jean L'Archevêque was killed in 1720 by Indians during the Villasur expedition—coincidentally in an ambush beside a river.
The expedition was doomed from the start. It had hardly left France when quarrels arose between La Salle and the naval commander. Vessels were lost by piracy and shipwreck, while sickness took a heavy toll of the colonists. Finally, a gross miscalculation brought the ships to Matagorda Bay in Texas, 500 miles west of their intended landfall. After several fruitless journeys in search of his lost Mississippi, La Salle met his death at the hands of mutineers near the Brazos River. His vision of a French empire died with him,
The colony lasted only until 1688, when Karankawa-speaking Native Americans killed the 20 remaining adults and took five children as captives. Tonti, a La Salle follower, sent out search missions in 1689 when he learned of the settlers' fate, but failed to find survivors.
There is some disagreement about accepting Navasota as the site of La Salle's death. The historian Robert Weddle, for example, believes that La Salle's travel distances have been miscalculated. Weddle thinks that La Salle was murdered just east of the Trinity River, which would put the site somewhere about 20 miles (32 km) east or north-east of today's Huntsville, Texas
La Salle provoked much controversy both in his own lifetime and later. Those who knew him best praised his ability unsparingly. He was considered “one of the greatest men of the age” by Tonty, who, like Frontenac, was among the very few who were able to understand the proud spirit of the dour Norman. Henri Joutel, who served under La Salle through the tragic days of the Texas colony until his death, wrote both of his fine qualities and of his insufferable arrogance toward his subordinates. In Joutel’s view, this arrogance was the true cause of La Salle’s death.
Navasota was founded in 1831 as the stagecoach stop of Nolansville. Its name was changed in 1858 to Navasota, a name perhaps derived from the Native American word nabatoto (“muddy water”).