Always Further: Following in the Footsteps of La Salle
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My honors thesis project focuses not only on the French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, but also looks at three modern men who strive to capture some aspect of La Salle's legacy. La Salle was the first explorer to sail a ship through the Great Lakes after building a fort in what is now Kingston, Ontario. He was also the first European to travel to the end of the Mississippi, and in doing so claimed for France the land that would one day become the Louisiana Purchase. The men who are interested in La Salle now look at numerous aspects of his life. Steve Libert works in intelligence and scuba dives in the Great Lakes. His passion was always searching for "Le Griffon," the ship La Salle used to travel the Great Lakes which sunk and was never recovered. In 2001 Libert found a wreck that matched descriptions of "Le Griffon" and since then he has been doing archaeological work to confirm whether or not the ship is La Salle's. Reid Lewis is a schoolteacher who organized a re-enactment of La Salle's trip down the Mississippi. In 1976 he and 22 other men (16 of whom were recent high school graduates) took off in handmade canoes and period clothing, equipped with food they themselves prepared, ready to spend a year traveling by canoe down to the Gulf of Mexico. Since then Lewis has used his trip as material for motivational speeches in schools and businesses around the world. Finally, Rich Gross is trained as a biologist but is passionate about the history of La Salle. After taking part in Reid Lewis' voyage as a high school student, Gross decided to devote all his free time to the pursuit of La Salle's history. He is working now to prove that one of La Salle's forts, Fort Crevecoeur, was located not in Peoria, IL (as previously believed), but in Beardstown. This project tackles ideas of the tangibility of history, the desire to escape the present, and the longing for adventure.