Author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell

True tales of Texas -- and beyond...

School visits
Illustration Portfolio
The Admiral's Blog
Contact Mark



Raising La Belle
: The Story of the La Salle Shipwreck (Eakin Press 2002)
Ages 12 and up, 7" x 10", 112 pages, illustrations, photos, maps, glossary, index, timeline, bibliography & resources
Consulting Editor: Pam Wheat- Stranahan, education coordinator for the "La Salle Shipwreck Project" for the Texas Historical Commission and author of "La Salle in Texas: A Teacher's Guide for the Age of Exploration and Discovery".

Archeologists recover the Belle, the ship of Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle -- as they piece together a classic exploration saga of early North America. 

The cofferdam makes a "hole in the sea." (Drawing Mark Mitchell from "Raising La Belle."

"Book provides a fascinating history lesson for all ages"


“Although Eakin Press calls Mark Mitchell’s Raising La Belle a book for young readers, it kept me occupied all of a gray January afternoon, learning from illustrations how an astrolabe worked and wondering if I could get my own copy of Diderot’s dictionary, the 18th century reference modern archeologists used to identify objects from La Belle. Mitchell fascinates in less than 150 pages, alternating chapters on La Salle’s disasterous trip to our coast in 1685 with chapters on the Texas Historical Commission’s La Salle Shipwreck Project, the 1990s effort to recover La Belle from Matagorda Bay.


La Belle’s story is local history in a part of Texas that loves history, and so we adults already know the facts as well as we know myths and fairy tales; how Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, missed the mouth of the Mississippi to end up wrecked in Texas, how La Belle ran aground and sank in Matagorda Bay. Since we know the facts, what matters is the telling of them. Imagine a seventh grader’s delight in these disasters of La Salle’s colony: ‘Thirsty men drank from brackish ponds and fell sick. A soldier ate a prickly pear without removing its bristles. His throat swelled until he strangled to death.’ French colonists drowned, caught pneumonia or yellow fever while ‘the gentlemanly Sieur Le Gros was bitten on the ankle by a rattlesnake. He died after his gangrenous leg was amputated.’


“Back in the present, a sudden Gulf storm separates marine archeologist Layne Hedrick from the excavation he guards. ‘He reached the aluminum catwalk that was the bridge to the cofferdam. The barge rolled up on a great wave. The catwalk, stretched beyond its capacity, snapped and dropped into the waves. Hedrick watched in disbelief as it sank from view.’


Raising La Belle has photos, maps, a time-line, glossary, websites, sources and an index, all in a size that would slide into a backpack without weighing a student down. So why don’t we replace the dreary, committee-written prose of seventh grade history texts with Raising La Belle and books like it, written by one good writer?”


Reese Vaughn, Books in the Crossroads

Victoria Advocate



“Austinite Mitchell has done a brilliant job of making a potentially dull subject (an archeological recovery) lively, fascinating and slyly educational. He tells the story of La Belle, the sunken ship of famed explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle, which was recovered from Matagorda Bay in 1997. Chapters telling the tales of La Salle’s adventures alternate with the story of how La Belle was raised: each storyline is as engrossing as the other. For middle-graders and up.”


Gretchen Hebner, New For Kids

Austin American-Statesman




"...This book is an excellent retelling of the fateful 1686 La Salle exploration of Matagorda Bay area and the subsequent 1995
raising and claiming the wreck from the waters. The 16th century
and 20th century time frames are neatly juxtaposed to give two
exciting adventures relating to the same ship. This history is fascinating, and Mitchell has filled each segment of the story with tension and authenticity."

Book Concerns




"The author's construction and juxtaposition of the two stories is well crafted and holds the reader's interest until the end. The drama of the events of La Salle's are well balanced by the equally stunning accomplishment of raising the Belle from the ocean floor. There is enough technical information on the technical difficulties of digging for and preserving the entire ship for the juvenile reader to be well-informed on how underwater archeology is performed. At the same time, the progress of the dig provides a great story in itself.


"The illustrations by the author Mark Mitchell add a great deal to the book. Reminiscent of the drawings of the great Austin cartoonist Robert Crumb and the remarkable ironic illustrations of Jack Patton in Texas History Movies (1928), the drawings of Mitchell stamp the book with his own personal vision. The photography is of lesser interest.


"Raising La Belle is aimed at the juvenile audience. It is rich in detail and never talks down to its readers. The work is well-researched, using important primary sources such as the journal of Henri Joutel, one of the few men from the La Salle expedition to make it back to France. Material on the Caddo and Karankawa Indians is based on excellent research as well. Although accurate in its depiction of the lives of the Indians at the time, it lacks depth and reiterates the idea that if Indians are hunters and gatherers they can be described as 'Stone Age hunters and gatherers,' when actually they were 17th century hunters and gatherers.

"Both the story of Fort Saint Louis, the earliest French settlement in Texas, and the story of the gargantuan feat of excavating the Belle by the Nautical Archeology Program of the Texas Historical Commission are part of Texas history. Mitchell has created a concise, lively book to pass those stories on to the new generations of Texans. I would recommend it for Texas history classes, as a gift to pre-teens and teenagers (and anyone else) interested in reading about Texas."

Anne H. Sutherland, Georgia State University
Southwestern Historical Quarterly


 “This fine book provides a model for what juvenile history can be. Within its slim confines, Mark Mitchell introduces the reader both to the story of the explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle and to the practice of archeology. The book begins with a 1995 vignette from Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast, where scuba divers probed the bottom of the bay for artifacts from the 309 year-old wreck of the ship La Belle. That day, they made a breakthrough discovery: an 800-pound bronze cannon.


“The narrative alternates between segments about the archaeological world that recovered La Belle and the seventeenth century expedition that resulted in its shipwreck. Both stories are absorbingly told, in language just challenging enough for bright youngsters in the upper elementary grades. Mitchell’s own illustrations and maps enliven the telling of La Salle’s melancholy story and the archaeologists’ modern scientific pursuit of it.


“…..In the 1990’s archaeologists from Texas A&M University and other institutions undertook the excavation of La Belle, which rested in the mud and sand at the shallow bottom of the bay. Mitchell entertainingly describes (and illustrates) the building of the large cofferdam that shielded the site from the rest of the bay and allowed the excavators to work in open air below sea level. He conveys some of the patience required for scientific work, as well as the excitement that comes when that patience is rewarded.


“If I were trying to get 10-year-olds to understand and enjoy history, this book would be a godsend. It tells a dramatic piece of history, but also explains how modern people come

to understand more about that history through the process of scholarly and scientific discovery. For example, the paragraph which describes the work done on the cannon mentioned above helps a young reader see how all those facts in the textbook came to be known:


"‘Technicians at a conservation lab in Corpus Christi, Texas scraped shells and debris from the object’s six foot barrel of solid bronze. Near the breech, or rear, of the gun, they cleaned around the insignia of Louis XIV of France, the seventeenth century  ruler known as ‘the Sun King.’ Farther up, an engraved crest depicted crossed anchors and an unfurled scroll with the words ‘Le Comte de Vermandois,’ meaning ‘The Count of Vermandois’ Researchers and archeologists had to look up this name. The count turned out to be the grand admiral of the French navy in 1683, when the Belle was built.’


“It is details like these that help youngsters to understand that what historians know wasn’t always known. It also opens up the possibility that more of those students may become fascinated with history and historical investigation.


“Mitchell has gone one step further in this vein by including excellent reference materials at the end of the book: timeline, glossary, bibliography, further reading, and so on. Even better, each of these appendices faces a page of photographs that documents some part of the archeological dig or preservation work on La Belle.  The young reader has reason to keep turning the pages after the main story is done; even if just to see the photographs, he or she will be exposed at least a little bit to the types of scholarly apparatus that scholars and bibliomanes love.


“This is an admirable book through and through, and it comes as no surprise that it has collected several awards, among them the prestigious Spur Award of the Western Writers of America. Raising La Belle is a good tale and a good lesson woven into one.”


Tim Walker, Books Advisory Editor

Blue Ear Daily



“!!!! Exceptional”

Today’s Books


To see more reviews of Raising La Belle
click here.


Raising La Belle: The Story of the "La Salle shipwreck" - softcover
(Eakin Press.2002)
ISBN # 1-57168-703-3




Attention for Raising La Belle

  • Western Writers of America Spur Award for best western juvenile nonfiction book, 2003
  • United States Maritime Literature Award, 2003

  • Finalist, Writers' League of Texas's Teddy Children's Book Award 2002

  • "Featured children's book", 2002 Texas Book Festival 


“…Masterfully interweaves the account of the shipwreck (1686) with the process of archeological investigation (1995-1997). This fast moving story will enrich social studies and science classes and introduce students to the intrigue of archeology at its best.”

Pam Wheat, executive director Texas Archeological Society and consulting editor for Raising La Belle.


“You are about to leave on an adventure…Through the pages of this marvelous story, you will read of how people who loved the stars had a dream. How can we build an observatory and study the stars from the darkest sky anywhere in the United States?

You will also learn about the nature of their dream: information about the sky and its stars that will last you for years to come.”


David H. Levy, science author and comet discoverer



“I am delighted that this wonderful book about McDonald Observatory exists. It tells about what we do here and how we do it. It also talks about the people who work here and what it’s like to do astronomy.”


Dr. Frank Bash, Director

McDonald Observatory


William J. McDonald looks at the stars. (Seeing Stars)


Work was funded in part by the City of Austin under the auspices of the Austin Arts Commission and by the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Dobie takes a sculptor to a horse ranch. (The Mustang Professor)


 “...A great contribution to the school children of Texas.”
Cactus Pryor
Talking of Texas, Austin KLBJ Radio


Seeing Stars: McDonald Observatory, Its Science and Astronomers (Eakin Press, second edition 2002)
Ages 12 and up, 7" by 10", 94 pages, drawings, diagrams and charts by the author, photographs, directory and map of Texas planetariums, web resources, glossary, bibliography, index

Foreword by David H. Levy, science author and comet discoverer, co-discover of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 Jupiter impact comet
Consulting Editor, Dr. Chris Sneden, Professor, University of Texas Department of Astronomy, McDonald Observatory staff
Preface by Dr. Frank Bash, Director, McDonald Observatory

High in the Davis Mountains of southwest Texas at the country's darkest sky observatory, astronomers study the light of stars to see how the universe is made. Watch the night unfold with them.

Drawing Mark Mitchell (from "Seeing Stars")

"An unforgettable journey" 


Seeing Stars offers an overview of astronomy in the United States during the early 1900s. At that time, the largest telescope in the world, located at the University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin was becoming less efficient as light pollution increased and World War 1 and the Great Depression made it difficult to find money to build a new observatory. Fortunately in 1926, an 81-year old millionaire by the name of W.J. McDonald donated over $1 million to the University of Texas ‘to erect and equip an astronomical observatory for the promotion and study of astronomy.’


“Groundbreaking events that occurred after the completion of the McDonald Observatory are wonderfully presented in Seeing Stars, a slight book that packs a punch and provides a fun introduction to the world of space science and astronomy. It compiles interesting tales of the telescope and its evolution and intertwines important astronomical concepts.


“Whether it’s capturing the vastness of the universe or describing the oddity of the early sky explorers, this book takes you on an unforgettable journey. Teachers should use this book when teaching astronomy, for its explanations of terms such as atoms and fusion are extremely accessible. While the reader is engaged in the history of astronomy, the scientific concepts are painlessly absorbed. I highly recommend that Seeing Stars should be included in both middle and high school curricula.”


Dave Brewer, Instructional Reviews

Science Scope, magazine of the National Science Teachers Association




“A must read for all young astronomers.”  


Don Pearce, president

Houston Astronomical Society



“If you’ve ever wondered how the McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis, Texas came into being, or what it’s like to be an astronomer, this straightforward book is for you. It’s aimed at elementary to older children, but could interest anyone.”


Anne Morris, Books Editor

Austin American Statesman




“Students interested in the operation of an observatory and the various types of equipment used will find much of interest.” 


School Library Journal


Seeing Stars: McDonald Observatory, Its Science and Astronomers - softcover (Eakin Press. 2002) ISBN # 1-57168-117-5







The road of domes at the top of Mt. Locke (McDonald Observatory)


The Mustang Professor: The Story of J. Frank Dobie

(Eakin Press 1993)


4th grade and up, 6” by 9”,  88 pages, drawings by the author, glossary, bibliography and sources


Finalst, Writer’s League of Texas  Violet Crown Award, 1993

An expert on the lore and legend of the American Southwest, University of Texas professor (and a former ranch cowboy) J. Frank Dobie finds the Texas he loves changed by World War Two and the post war era. So he calls out what he sees and becomes a follklorist turned folk-hero to some, but a "disturbing influence" to others, including university regents, the state governor and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Dobie visits American troops in Germany. (From "The Mustang Professor.")

"A figure central to Texas' life and letters"

“One of Eakin Press’ finest publications ever, this well-written and engagingly illustrated book captures the essence of a figure central to Texas life and letters. Dobie, a University of Texas teacher in the early part of the century, was one of the first academics to appreciate our frontier heritage and to preserve it. His numerous books were collections of Texas lore, legends, reminiscences and history. He developed a popular University of Texas course, “Life and Literature of the Southwest”, which continues since his death to be taught.


“Dobie’s outspoken defense of academic freedom and civil rights caused him trouble during tumultuous times at the university. Entertaining, attractive and informative, the book points out the importance of our Texas heritage and of being true to oneself. Dobie and his era are animated through the writing and drawing talents of Mark Mitchell, a young Texas freelance reporter and illustrator. Charcoal drawings enhance nearly every page, complementing the flowing narrative to encourage late elementary school readers. Hopefully, Mitchell will give us many more books of this caliber. This book is a must for all public and school libraries.”


Sally Dooley, Editor

Review of Texas Books



“It’s a good one, with Mitchell writing in an appealing style about the educator, folklorist and writer who was no stranger to controversy and who became one of the best known names in the state. I also like the Mitchell’s black and white illustrations, which serve well the craggy nature of Dobie and the places and people he knew.”


Judyth Rigler, Southwest Bookshelf

San Antonio Express News



“Any youngster interested in writing will enjoy The Mustang Professor: The Story of J.Frank Dobie. Mark Mitchell’s book, which he also illustrates, is the first biography of Dobie for young readers. It covers Dobie’s life from his boyhood on a south Texas ranch to his rise in prominence as a writer and folklorist to his dismissal from the faculty of the University of Texas for his liberalism.

“Mitchell succeeds in his book in capturing Dobie’s colorful character and does an admirable job of explaining his politically inspired fall from grace at the institution he helped to make famous.”


Mike Cox, Texana

Austin American Statesman



The Mustang Professor: The Story of J. Frank Dobie - hardcover
(Eakin Press. 1993)

ISBN # 0-89015-823-1

softcover  ISBN # 1-57168-134-5

Hey, librarians! Schedule an author's school visit or learn more about having one. Call (512) 258-8348

or e-mail



Sign on to the passenger's manifest for the latest La Belle news and other postings on "The Admiral's Blog" -- and download Raising La Belle for free!

Sign up here.

Content Copyright 1998-2007 by Mark G. Mitchell, Carus Publishing, Cobblestone Publishing Group, Eakin Press, David R. Godine Publisher, For Kids Sake Press
Austin, Texas - U.S. - 78759
Phone 512.258-8348