If you're in Lincoln Park this Labor Day, you might pass him on your way to the zoo or North Avenue Beach. Look for him a few hundred feet north of the Chicago History Museum.
There he stands, gazing down the street that carries his name. He is one of Chicago's most visible statues. He is - to give him his full name -Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle.
Much of the material about La Salle is incomplete or contradictory. He seems to have been born of minor French nobility in 1643. As a youth he studied with the Jesuits, and may have thought about becoming a priest. But in 1666 he moved to France's North American outpost at Montreal.
La Salle was ambitious and well-connected. He received a series of royal patents to explore the interior of the continent. The idea was to set up forts and trading posts, and eventually attract settlers from the mother country.
Beginning in 1669, La Salle mounted a series of expeditions. He explored the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, then moved onto the Illinois River and the Mississippi Valley. He probably portaged through the area that became Chicago.