René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle was a famous French explorer and the first European to sail the length of the Mississippi River. He also explored the Great Lakes region and the Gulf of Mexico. He named the Mississippi basin Louisiana, to honor King Louis XIV.
Robert de la Salle was born in a reasonably wealthy family in Rouen, France, and as a young boy he was keen on scientific and naturalistic studies. He studied with the Jesuit religious order and took his vows when he was seventeen. He later abandoned the order, however, to pursue a career as an explorer.
La Salle started exploring in 1666, when he traveled to Quebec, Canada. His dream was to find a passage to Asia, so in 1669 he launched an expedition from Montreal with only nine canoes. The crew was not prepared for the journey, and the expedition ended in two months with few results. Despite having failed at finding the fabled river that would lead to China, La Salle kept exploring and between 1679 and 1680 he traveled across Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.
His most memorable journey, however, took place in 1682. La Salle and a crew of 40 men reached the Mississippi River and navigated it all the way south to the Gulf of Mexico. La Salle later tried to return to the Gulf, hoping to establish a French colony there. During the trip, however, they came under attack by pirates and natives and ended up stranded in Texas, where La Salle founded Fort St. Louis. His own men later killed him when they mutinied during an expedition to find the road to the Mississippi River from the Fort in 1687.