The Mad Frenchman Who Tried to Take Over Mexico
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In 1643, Frenchman Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle was on the path to becoming a Jesuit missionary, but after nine years of training, he was kicked out for "mental instability." Apparently it didn't sink in that they were very politely trying to tell him he was "nucking futs," because his next choice was to sail to Canada and become an explorer.
To secure his place on an expedition, La Salle initially lied about being fluent in the native languages of Algonquian and Iroquoian, possibly assuming that he wasn't going to have to put his money where his lying mouth was (despite the fact that they were traveling through the heart of the Iroquis Confederation), or maybe it was just his crazy acting up. The party did soon meet a group of Iroquois and discovered that La Salle couldn't actually speak the language, at which point La Salle faked an illness and disappeared into the woods, presumably leaving his party and the Native Americans awkwardly staring at each other like sixth graders at a school dance.
"Goddammit, what's that idiot doing now? Will someone please tie him up?"
La Salle resurfaced in Canada the next year as if nothing had ever happened, and much later he claimed to have discovered the Mississippi River during his disappearance and just neglected to mention it, maybe because he was seeing much crazier stuff in his head all the time.
But that's nothing compared to his later ambitions. To get into the good graces of his French homeland, which was at war with Spain at the time, La Salle proposed to conquer part of Spanish-owned Mexico by leading an army of 200 Frenchmen and 15,000 American Indians against them. Although he never adequately explained how he would convince 15,000 Indians to help him, as presumably he still couldn't talk to them.
Louis XIV thought the plan was just crazy enough to work, so he approved the project and let La Salle set off for disaster. La Salle immediately quarreled with his commanders and soon lost most of his men due to sickness, piracy, and mass desertions. The few remaining ships landed about 500 miles from their destination, which La Salle figured was close enough. He then did what any inspiring leader would do and immediately built a prison to hold those who had fallen asleep on watch.
The Indians weren't exactly enamored with La Salle's brilliant leadership tactics and decided to stay the hell out of it. Of course La Salle's amazingly stupid plan failed, and that's why today you can't get decent French food in Mexico.
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"No, seriously, they just pick up anything and eat it over there."
Nathan Blumenthal has a blog and a Twitter.
Related Reading: At least these people ACTUALLY journeyed to where they said they did, unlike that hack-job Marco Polo. Maybe he was wise to skip out on his adventures. These clearly cursed expeditions are a solid argument against travel. The famous Dr. Livingstone ended up trapped in a zoo for all his wanderlust. Visiting unexplored spots on the map CAN work out, though- these guys were all mistaken for gods.