Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, was born in 1643 and studied in Jesuit schools to become a priest.
But lured by the opportunity of adventure and fortune in North America, the 22-year-old Frenchman traveled to Montreal, a city on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. He cleared a patch of nearby forest and set up a fur post to trade with local Indians, including the Hurons and Ottawas.
Although his business thrived, the young La Salle grew restless. He heard stories that described a giant waterway to the west, a river that sliced through the dense North American forest.
Hoping that the river led to the Pacific Ocean, La Salle sold his trading post and organized an expedition to find it. He assembled woodsmen, Indian guides, and missionaries in eight canoes and led them down the St. Lawrence River in 1669.
The expedition paddled into Lake Ontario and found the Ohio River to the south. The river flowed steadily to the southwest, and La Salle was excited thinking it might be the Northwest Passage. But after several months, the expedition was halted by a stretch of roaring rapids. Frustrated, La Salle turned back and returned to Montreal.