Cover image for Before Lewis and Clark : the story of the Chouteaus, the French dynasty that ruled America's frontier
Before Lewis and Clark : the story of the Chouteaus, the French dynasty that ruled America's frontier
Christian, Shirley, 1938-
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First edition.
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New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [2004]

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509 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
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F474.S253 A225 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Shortly after Meriweather Lewis reached St. Louis in 1803 to plan for his voyage to the Pacific with William Clark, he prepared his first packet of flora and fauna from west of the Mississippi and dispatched it to President Jefferson. The cuttings, which were later planted in Philadelphia and Virginia, were supplied by Lewis's new French friend, Pierre Chouteau, who took them from a tree growing in the garden of his mansion. One of the best-known families in French America, the Chouteaus had guarded the gates to the West for generations and had built fortunes from fur trading, land speculation, finance, and railroads, and by supplying anything needed to survive in the region between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Patrician in their origins, they nevertheless won the respect and allegiance of dozens of Indian tribes. From their St. Louis base, the Chouteaus conquered the more-than-two-thousand-mile length of the Missouri River, put down the first European roots at the future site of Kansas City and in present-day Oklahoma, and left their names and imprints on lands stretching to the Canadian border. Before Lewis and Clark: The French Dynasty that Ruled America's Frontier is the extraordinary story of a wealthy, powerful, charming, and manipulative family, who dominated business and politics in the Louisiana Purchase territory before the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, and for decades afterward.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

If not for evocative histories such as Christian's, America's French heritage might molder only in vestigial place-names and ruins. St. Louis and its environs have their share, and Christian brings alive the fur trade that created them. French-Indian trade, she emphasizes, predated the founding of the city in 1764 by Pierre Laclede, but his conduct of the business generated records that, in Christian's hands, palpably project a feeling for the perils and potential riches of frontier life. This quality, in addition to the emphasis on Laclede and his Chouteau sons and grandsons' vast trading network, endows her history with more than local attraction, for it captures the uniquely amicable relationships between whites and Indians. Without idealizing the Chouteaus' affairs on their journeys into the lands of the Osage,ansa, and other tribes, Christian underscores their peacefulness. Some arriving Americans, including Lewis and Clark, took advantage of the Chouteaus' diplomatic value, which threads through Christian's narrative to her conclusion with fur trapping's decline. A fascinating history bound to enrapture Old West readers. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Before the United States' westward expansion, French settlers dominated a wide swath of territory west of the Mississippi from New Orleans to St. Louis and beyond. Pulitzer-winning journalist Christian (Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family) chronicles several generations of one of the major French families occupying this frontier territory in her fast-paced historical portrait. Born into a wealthy family, young Auguste and Pierre Chouteau moved to the town that soon became St. Louis in 1763. Their father, Pierre, one of the town's founders, came to the region from New Orleans as an explorer, but soon prospered as a fur trader. He established a very good relationship with the Osages and other Indian tribes, and he taught his sons to respect them. Auguste and the younger Pierre moved easily among the tribes to trade and sell, feeling as much at home in Indian huts as in their mansions on the Mississippi. They hosted parties for visiting American dignitaries, including Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, whose journeys reaped enormous benefits from their association with the Chouteaus. As Christian points out, the Chouteaus were instrumental in paving a smooth path in the relations between Indians and American settlers. But, as Christian observes, the settlers paid little attention to the cultivation of relationships with the Native Americans and thus encountered more resistance than the Chouteaus ever did. Christian's lively portrait of the Chouteaus opens a window on a little-known portion of early American history. Map. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

With May 14, 2004, marking the 200th anniversary of the start of Lewis and Clark's journey of discovery, the publication of this book is well timed. However, the word "before" in the title is misleading; it actually denotes that the Chouteau family was by 1804 well established in St. Louis after the city's founding by family patriarch Pierre Lacl?de in 1763. Through telling the story of Laclede and the following two generations of his family, Christian, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has created an insightful history of the maturing American frontier during the first half of the 19th century. The Chouteaus were leaders in running the fur trade, mediating between whites and Indians, and in opening the Louisiana territory to settlement. Christian does not romanticize the family, pointing out that they were sharp in business, owned slaves, and helped to displace the Indians. She richly describes both the fur trade and the gradual destruction of the native tribes. The book's two maps are inadequate given the text's wide-ranging geographical content, but Christian's well-written and profusely researched book is an essential purchase for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/03.]-Lawrence R. Maxted, Gannon Univ., Erie, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

US historiography reflects the fascination of the national interest in the travels of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Serious students can follow their adventure in a number of excellent works, including the explorers' own journals. Readers now have another noteworthy book to read with this 436-page account of the very important Chouteau family of St. Louis. While Lewis and Clark narratives rightfully focus on the "corps of discovery," giving short shrift to the Chouteaus, Christian's well-written book centers on that family with Lewis and Clark being peripheral, albeit important, characters. This is only proper, for the Chouteaus founded St. Louis (Clark visited the town and the family in 1797); were involved in the development of Kansas City; had extensive contacts with Native Americans (most notably the Osage) via the fur trade; and played a major role in the development of the trans-Mississippi West from the mid-18th to the mid-19th centuries. With illustrations, a helpful genealogical table, map, and more than 40 pages of notes, this is a significant contribution to US history and the famous exploration. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All levels and libraries. C. L. Egan formerly, University of Houston



Before Lewis and Clarck ONE Among a People of Strange Speech     When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark descended on the shores of the Mississippi River at the end of 1803 to organize their "Voyage of Discovery" up the Missouri River and beyond, they knew next to nothing about the Louisiana Purchase region, which would eventually form all or part of fifteen states. But William Clark, thanks to the path opened in the Illinois country by an older brother some twenty years earlier, knew an important person in the little French Creole village of St. Louis, whose inhabitants were then living amiably under Spanish rule. The name of the man was Chouteau, which neither Clark nor Lewis could spell. Because St. Louis and the Upper Louisiana territory had not yet been transferred to the United States, Lewis and Clark set up camp opposite the mouth of the Missouri River on the east bank of the Mississippi to await the official completion of the Louisiana Purchase. From Camp Dubois, named for the river that emptied into the Mississippi at the spot, they rowed southerly across to St. Louis--as breaks in the winter ice permitted--and commenced the work of gathering information and filling out their crew and supply needs. Seen from the river, St. Louis was a collection of fewer than two hundred stone and timber houses and other buildings sitting atop a perpendicular limestone bluff extending for two miles along the Mississippi. The best of the houses were built of stone, and some of them included large gardens enclosed by high stone walls. Their styles were a blend of those of Quebec, the Caribbean, and New Orleans. Theprincipal thoroughfare and two other streets ran parallel to the river about forty feet above the usual water level. Only one cross street, present-day Market Street, connected Rue Royale to the riverfront. It had been quarried down to the level of the river. A sand towpath ran close to the water's edge for the use of cordellers who pulled flatboats and other craft up the river. At high water, the towpath was completely submerged. St. Louis occupied a place on the North American continent just before the forested midlands gave way to open prairies and eventually the arid plains. The settlement had been carved out of a great stand of trees--oak, black walnut, ash, hickory, pecan, cottonwood. The forests stretched far south into the hills and low mountains of the region the French called Aux Arcs. Hemp grew wild and thick among the trees. To the west, along the Missouri River, intermittent open prairies and fertile valleys marked the landscape. The population of what was called the "district" of St. Louis, which included the villages of Carondelet and St. Ferdinand in addition to the town of St. Louis, was estimated at 2,780, including 500 slaves and a few free mulattos. The remainder were whites of primarily French or French-Canadian ancestry. The nearby district of St. Charles had about 1,400 whites and 150 blacks. In addition, some 1,200 settlers lived on small farms ringing the district, most of them Americans who had emigrated from east of the Mississippi during the previous decade, including Daniel and Rebecca Boone and their large clan. These lands surrounding St. Louis were "beautiful beyond description," in the words of a first-time visitor. They contained "marrow and fatness" and produced "all the conveniences, and even many of the luxuries of life," including fruit, grains, vegetables, mutton, fowl, beef, pork, butter, and cheese. Grape vines imported from France and Germany were flourishing, and it was also possible to make wine from the so-called summer grape native to the area. Buffalo were already becoming scarce, but tasty black bears, elk, and antelope still roamed the hills to the south. In short, the region was so fertile that the inhabitants had it in their power "to live as they please, and to become opulent with little labor."     The "West's first tourists" quickly found their way to the elegant mansions of Auguste and Pierre Chouteau, half brothers whose parents had come up the Mississippi from New Orleans forty years earlier and founded St. Louis. Making a comfortable living trading furs and skins from surrounding Indians and then shipping them to Europe via New Orleans and Montreal, the Chouteaus were the leading figures in the future metropolis. Each of their homes, filled with large families and frequent guests, had two full stories plus a dormer floor. Double-height porticos supported by pillars stretched partially around the houses, which, together with buildings for slaves and horses, took up a square block each on the principal street. Auguste's house measured about 95 by 55 feet, which would have represented about 10,000 square feet of living space on two floors. Each property was enclosed by solid stone walls with portholes, giving the houses the appearance of castles. They were remarkable sights in such a small town. Auguste, courtly and fifty-three years old, was a steady, trustworthy man of outward moderation who had years earlier given up travels among the Indian tribes in favor of overseeing the accounts and bringing up a young family. He was the "Mr. Shoto" who had entertained William Clark at a ball during his previous visit, in 1797, where Clark enjoyed "all the fine girls & buckish Gentlemen." The festivities during that visit had been such that it was nearly daylight when Clark got to his bed in the home of the Chouteaus' youngest sister, Victoire, and her husband, Charles Gratiot. On that occasion Clark had walked around the town and found it to be "in a Thriveing state, a number of Stone houses built & on the stocks, tho all in the french stile." Forty-five-year-old Pierre Chouteau was the far more outgoing of the two brothers. Almost universally known as Cadet, a French designation for the second brother in a family, he was ambitious, zealous, and explosive--but charming and hospitable. The departing Spanish administration considered him a brave and daring man of unsurpassed skill for maintaining peace with, and among, Indian tribes. He was the right man to lead a force "against whatever enemies happen to present themselves." Pierre opened his home to Lewis and Clark during their stays in St. Louis. He and his twenty-five-year-old second wife, Brigitte, provided the travelers with housing far more luxurious than the spartan camp their men erected across the river. Meriwether Lewis, who did most of the information gathering among the knowledgeable citizens of St. Louis, enjoyed Pierre's hospitality more than did William Clark, who had principal responsibility for the camp and men. Pierre and Auguste Chouteau had been brought up to be equally at home in the drawing room and the Indian lodge. Little is known about their physical appearances except for a surviving portrait of Auguste, showing some middle-age softness, a pronounced widow's peak, and the beginnings of a receding hairline. The only portrait representing Pierre is a composite made long after his death, based on the recollections of some of his descendants. It depicts a commanding man with lines about a thin face and a firmly set jaw. Both had short hair and were clean-shaven. They wore the finery of satin, linen, and lace that men of their era favored for formal occasions. Despite the trappings of French style and sophistication, the brothers had been students of Indians and Indian ways since their adolescent years, especially of the Osages, the dominant tribe along the Lower Missouri River. Pierre had wintered among them for many years, and he displayed a curiosity and knowledge of nature that easily matched that of the man who had sent Lewis and Clark on this journey. It soon gave him great pride to be able to supply a number of the specimens sent to President Jefferson by Meriwether Lewis. Most likely, Auguste had been schooled in New Orleans before the family came upriver when he was fourteen, but Pierre's formal education was severely constrained in a village that did not even have a schoolmaster until 1774, by which time Pierre was sixteen. Nevertheless, both Chouteau brothers were tutored and well-read in the classical tradition. Not only did they know double-entry bookkeeping and how to chart rivers and survey lands, but they also wrote literate, well-composed letters with good penmanship. They treasured books, sometimes asking business associates in Europe, New Orleans, or Montreal to buy a recent book for them. On trips up and down the rivers on keelboats and barges, there was timeto absorb literature, history, philosophy, and the latest on science and geography. Descartes, Bacon, Voltaire, and Locke were among the writers and thinkers in their libraries, along with Defoe's Robinson Crusoe , Fielding's Tom Jones , and Cervantes's Don Quixote . They and the other people of St. Louis also liked to have fun. They enjoyed billiards, cards, horse races, and, most of all, dancing to the music of fiddlers. They partied every Saturday evening and began again on Sunday as soon as high mass was finished in the little wooden church, continuing their social gatherings for the rest of the day and evening. Protestants from the East at first thought such activities bordered on licentiousness, but they were soon won over to the joyful ways of the French Creoles, who told them that "men were made for happiness." To those "educated in regular and pious habits," it was suggested that such amusements "appear unseasonable and strange, if not odious and seem prophetic of some signal curse on the workers of iniquity." But one American new to St. Louis was surprised to find that "the French people on those days avoid all intemperate and immoral excesses, and conduct themselves with apparent decorum." He found them to be people "void of superstition ... prone to hospitality, urbanity of manners, and innocent recreation," who were as confident of being faithful to their religion "as the most devout puritans in Christendom." Another early visitor to the French settlement found "scarcely any distinction of classes." The virtues of the inhabitants included "honesty and punctuality in their dealings, hospitality to strangers, friendships and affection amongst relatives and neighbours." Women were seldom abandoned and seldom seduced, he observed. By contrast to their virtues, however, this visitor said the people of St. Louis "are devoid of public spirit, of enterprise or ingenuity, and are indolent and uninformed." Lewis, who was twenty-nine years old, and Clark, thirty-three, were the honored guests at balls graced by the beautiful and charming daughters of Charles and Victoire Gratiot, the handsome sons of Pierre Chouteau, and the numerous young adults in the families of the two other Chouteau sisters, the Papins and Labbadies. Whateverconflicts might arise between people speaking different tongues were easily dispelled amid rustling taffeta, gleaming silver, and flickering candles reflected on polished walnut floors. Enveloped in this flirtatious Gallic setting, the soon-to-be explorers found themselves almost giddy with delight. House slaves served wines and brandies from France, rum from the Caribbean. Tables were laden with food. Implicitly, amid all the gaiety, a deal was being struck under which the Chouteaus would do all they could to help Lewis and Clark succeed on their daunting voyage. The Americans, in turn, would help assure for the Chouteaus an influential position with the new power in the region, just like the one the family had enjoyed under the French and Spanish. In this new and distant outpost of the young republic, the Chouteaus and Lewis and Clark would need each other.   It was thanks to the virtual nonstop wars in Europe during the second half of the eighteenth century that the United States had been able to acquire the Louisiana Purchase lands stretching from the Gulf of Mexico nearly to the border of modern Canada. After a century under French control, the Louisiana lands had been ceded to Spain in 1763 as the result of France's loss to England in the French and Indian War. But thirty-seven years later, in 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte reached agreement with Spain to reclaim France's American empire. He promptly laid plans to reassert power in the New World. However, Napoleon's dreams suffered a mortal setback when the army he sent in 1802 to put down the slave rebellion in present-day Haiti was nearly wiped out by a combination of yellow fever and the unexpectedly competent black army led by former slave Toussaint L'Ouverture. Thus, Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe, Jefferson's representatives, found themselves in the right place at the right time when they opened negotiations with the French government in Paris in the spring of 1803. They had the relatively modest goal of acquiring New Orleans and West Florida, plus shipping rights on the Mississippi. Instead, and to their surprise, they were offered almost all of France's remaining domain on the American continent. Livingston and Monroe quickly agreed to pay $15 million for the vast territory that Jefferson was already making plans to explore even had it remained a Spanish or French possession. Under the agreement between Napoleon and Spain, France was to have taken control of Louisiana in late 1802, but Napoleon's financial and military problems prevented that happening before the territory was sold to the United States. Thus, the transfer from Spain to France occurred at New Orleans on November 30, 1803, and twenty days later the transfer was made from France to the United States. The new American authorities in New Orleans then sent Captain Amos Stoddard upriver, where he was to take possession of St. Louis, the seat of the territorial lieutenant governor, and to serve as acting governor until a permanent governor was named. Looking to save money, the French authorities at New Orleans asked Stoddard to act on their behalf as well, once he reached St. Louis, by taking ceremonial possession of St. Louis and the surrounding lands from Spain in the name of France before passing it to himself as the representative of the United States. At the same time, the French prefect in New Orleans, Pierre Clement de Laussat, sent a note to Pierre Chouteau asking him to inventory and appraise all the buildings and houses at St. Louis, other than fortifications, that had belonged to the Spanish monarchy.   It would take Stoddard several months to reach St. Louis and carry out his assignment there. While he was making his way upriver in January and February, Lewis and Clark were busy gathering information about the town of St. Louis, the surrounding countryside, and the tantalizing Missouri River, with its promise of untold riches and access to the Pacific. Lewis regularly wrote Jefferson with the results of their intelligence gathering. Neither Lewis nor Clark spoke French, and the Chouteau brothers did not speak English. Nevertheless, the Chouteaus, probably with their bilingual brother-in-law, Charles Gratiot, or one of Pierre's older sons at their side, were key contacts. Lewis began by asking questions about the inhabitants of St. Louis and the surrounding region, some of which he submitted in writing to Auguste Chouteau. He wanted to know about the geography, the nature of the population, how much immigration was occurring from the United States, and about the Indian tribes in the region. By that point, the Chouteaus and their associates had certainlybeen as far up the Missouri River as the mouth of the Kansas, eventual site of Kansas City, and probably to the Platte, near today's Omaha--Council Bluffs. They had traveled the width and breadth of what became the state of Missouri, also parts of Iowa, into the northeast corner of today's Oklahoma, and for an unknown distance along the Kansas and Arkansas rivers across the eventual state of Kansas. They were familiar with the Mississippi River for most of its length, had regularly been sending boats up the Illinois River and through the Chicago Portage to Lake Michigan, across the lake to Michilimackinac (near present-day Mackinac), then onward across Canada via the Ottawa River to Montreal and the St. Lawrence. Charles Gratiot had traveled to Europe by that long, slow route on business for his brothers-in-law and others. In addition to the Osages, the Chouteaus traded with the Sac and Fox Indians, the Omahas, the Kansas, the Iowas, Miamis, Pawnees, Quapaws, and probably some others. They also drew on information from independent traders who had ventured farther afield, and from Indians, particularly the Osages, who roamed over many hundreds of miles to hunt buffalo, possibly as far as the area around Santa Fe and Taos in New Mexico. Because they were so deeply involved in trade with the Osages, the Chouteaus had not taken part in an effort launched from St. Louis ten years earlier to penetrate the Upper Missouri region for fur trading. That expedition, which was a huge financial loss for the backers, did not achieve its goal of reaching the Mandan Indian villages near present-day Bismarck, but it did get as far as the Arikara villages near the South Dakota--North Dakota line. Although Lewis had bought supplies in the East, he did some more shopping in St. Louis and Cahokia. Making the rounds of the merchants, Lewis bought mosquito nets, shirts, flour, salt pork, ground corn, nails, and whiskey. He also picked up flags and red and blue ribbons for the Indians. The Chouteaus secured seven French engagés to man the oars of one of the two pirogues the explorers were taking up the Missouri River to the Mandan villages. Strolling around Pierre Chouteau's garden one day, Lewis took note of two exotic plants, which Pierre told him were the Osage apple and the Osage plum, and he gathered cuttings of both to send to Jefferson.He described the pale yellow plums as having "exquisite flavor," but did not suggest eating the Osage apple, which later became known as the Osage orange, or the hedge apple. A bumpy green object that looks like neither apple nor orange, it has never since been judged to be edible. Lewis wrote Jefferson that "Mr. Peter Choteau" had obtained the cuttings for the plants from a place about three hundred miles west of the village of the Big Osages, one of the branches of the tribe. The Big Osages were then situated on the Osage River in present-day Vernon County, Missouri, so the location from which Pierre Chouteau took the cuttings was probably in central Kansas. "So much do the savages esteem the wood of this tree for the purpose of making their bows, that they travel many hundred miles in quest of it," Lewis wrote Jefferson. Pierre showed Lewis some specimens that he believed to be bones from a prehistoric mammoth, which he had found some years earlier when he attempted to explore a salt lick on the south side of the Osage River some distance west of the Osage villages. Lewis recounted that Pierre had been forced to turn back by water discharging into the lick from a nearby spring. "The specimens obtained by Mr. Couteau [sic] were large but much mutilated," Lewis noted.   A highly controversial issue was also on Lewis's agenda during his days in St. Louis. It arose out of President Jefferson's ignorance of the fact that the newly acquired territory had a long history in which many Indian tribes possessed reasonably defined territories, and a relatively small number of whites had also been there for many decades and coexisted peacefully with the tribes. Jefferson was already thinking of using lands west of the Mississippi to resettle Indians from the East, moving them out of the way of advancing white settlers. He thought the whites living west of the Mississippi should move east of the river. But as soon as Lewis broached Jefferson's idea during his rounds in St. Louis, it raised great alarm, particularly among the Chouteaus and other leading Frenchmen. There is no surviving record of the words Auguste Chouteau used in reaction to Lewis's proposal, but he quickly acted to organize his neighbors to oppose the concept, which suggests that he was deeply angered. Lewis advised Jefferson that any effort at resettlement was going to run into strenuous opposition. If they were resettled, he said, the French would likely want to live in the adjacent Indiana Territory for its proximity to areas of the Indian fur trade, but the territorial laws of Indiana forbade the further importation of slaves. As Lewis saw it, the French might be faced with having to choose between moving to the South and keeping their slaves or giving up the slaves in order to live closer to their trading partners, the Indians of the Missouri and Upper Mississippi. "I fear that the slaves will form a source of some unwillingness in the French to yeald [ sic ] to the wishes of the government," Lewis wrote Jefferson. They appear to feel very sensibly a report which has been circulated among them on this subject, that the Americans would [force them to] emancipate their slaves immediately on taking possession of the country, this however false, is sufficient to show the Opinions and disposition of the people on that subject; there appears to be a general objection not only among the French, but even among the Americans not slave holders, to relinquish the right which they claim relative to slavery in it's present unqualified shape ... thus the slaves appear to me in every view of this subject to be connected with the principal difficulties with which the government will have to contend in effecting this part of it's policy. Lewis may have been mistaken in assuming that the issue revolved so much around the right of slave ownership. The French in St. Louis and the surrounding area used slaves to make their daily lives comfortable, employing the slaves as household servants and for a limited amount of farming, mainly to supply food to their own households. However, they made their real money by trading with Indians for furs and pelts. It was those long-standing trading arrangements that could be easily upset by resettlement, not only by forcing the white traders to move across the Mississippi but also by bringing immigrant farming tribes into traditional hunting and trapping grounds of the western tribes. Further, although the Chouteaus were not heavily engaged in farming, they wanted to protect their large landholdings, many of which dated back four decades to the founding of St. Louis and hadbeen recognized as legal by French and Spanish authorities. It was highly unlikely that they could acquire anything comparable at that late date in the country east of the Mississippi. Thinking in dynastic terms, they wanted to pass those holdings to their children and grandchildren, whom they expected to benefit by selling land in parcels to the settlers likely to pour into the territory now that it was part of the United States. Between the Chouteau brothers and their kin, the lands included many square blocks that would eventually be covered with skyscrapers, other major structures, and parks in the commercial heart of modern St. Louis. In addition, family members held rural properties ranging in size from a few hundred acres to a few thousand acres within a hundred-mile radius of St. Louis.   Even with the discord over the resettlement question, the French and the Americans found many areas in which to serve each other's interests. Pierre made an offer to Clark to lead a delegation of Osage chiefs and principal men to Washington to meet with President Jefferson. For Pierre, who had not previously traveled to the United States or the former English colonies, this was an opportunity to make himself known to the leaders of his new country. It was also a unique opportunity for Jefferson's government to have a major Indian tribe brought to its center of power by the man whom the Osage leaders trusted more than any other white man. In dealing with Indian tribes, the Chouteaus had always operated on the premise that they could be most effective if they appeared to the Indians to be rich and powerful, which partly explained their insistence on impressive homes and substantial trading posts. They reasoned that showing the Indians the growing cities and relatively large population of the United States would awe the tribal leaders and help convince them to accept American authority. Lewis was at Camp Dubois when Clark informed him of the offer to take the Osages east, and Lewis quickly responded: Nothing has given me more pleasure than the proposition he has made to you on the subject of the Osages ... I wish him not only tobring in some of those Chiefs (the number hereafter to be agreed on) but wish him to attend them to the seat of the government of the U'States provided he can make it convenient to do so; I presume the Chiefs would come more readily provided Mr. Chouteau would make them a promise to that effect; I am as anxious as Mr. C. can be that he should set out on this mission as early as possible. Pierre probably waited until March, and warmer weather, to set off for the Osage villages to gather the delegation. Making the journey to the main Osage villages meant a grueling trip by horseback unless the Missouri River was already thawed. Even with the river thawed, it would have been a slow trip upriver, probably making less than ten miles a day. Near present-day Jefferson City, he would have left the Missouri to follow the Osage River into the tribal heartland. On the return trip to St. Louis, while traveling downstream on the Missouri, the party was attacked by a band of Sac and Fox warriors, and five of the Osages were killed. This sour beginning to the great adventure of traveling to Washington reflected some of the issues in intertribal rivalries about which the American government was just beginning to learn. The Sacs and Foxes, historically friends of the British, were old and bitter enemies of the Osages, who were historically friends of the French. Jealousy that their worst enemies were being honored with a visit to Washington undoubtedly played a role in the attack by the Sacs and Foxes.   Meanwhile, Captain Stoddard arrived at Cahokia, the village opposite St. Louis to the southeast, on February 24, 1804. Carlos Dehault Delassus, the Spanish lieutenant governor of Upper Louisiana, was ill, and Stoddard's men had been delayed by ice on the Mississippi, so the formal ceremonies of transfer were postponed a few more days. In the first days of March, a single company of about forty American artillerymen reached Cahokia by boat and remained there, on the American side, awaiting final arrangements for the transfer. On March 8, Delassus issued a public notice that at "either 11 o'clock or noon" the next day he would surrender Upper Louisiana to Stoddard as "agent and commissioner of the French Republic." Most of the inhabitants of St. Louis were waiting in the streetswhen the United States troops crossed over on March 9 and climbed the future Walnut Street to Rue Royale. Amos Stoddard and Meriwether Lewis and leading citizens of the town were gathered in front of Government House, a small one-story structure with a porch extending around three sides. A chimney rose through the pitched roof, and simple wooden posts supported a wide roof overhanging the porch. The building sat catercornered to Auguste Chouteau's mansion. At the next corner to the north was the square where farmers and tradespeople came to sell produce and other food items. Although the French of St. Louis had received the Americans with great cordiality, they quietly regretted the missed opportunity to reclaim their own nationality. During the years of Spanish rule, they had remained a French society except for the use of the Spanish language in official documents. Spain had always appointed French-speaking governors, and two or three of the governors, including the popular Delassus, were of French birth. Except for the handful of Spanish officials and soldiers posted in St. Louis, not more than a dozen Spaniards had settled in the area during Spanish rule, and they usually adopted French ways and married Frenchwomen. Nevertheless, when the French of St. Louis learned of the retrocession of their land to France, they had hoped their colony was destined for a more dynamic future under a French regime. Now they were uneasy, realizing that this change of power would bring far more change to their lives than had occurred when the territory passed back and forth between France and Spain. The sympathetic Stoddard commented later that "they seemed to feel as if they had been sold in open market." Delassus formally received and welcomed Stoddard at Government House, then proceeded with the ceremony of transfer. Tears rose in Delassus's eyes when he told the crowd that in obedience to the desires of "the great Napoleon," he was delivering this country to the Americans. Expressing his love for the territory, he said he intended to remain and live among them. "The flag under which you have been protected for a period of nearly thirty-six years is to be withdrawn," he said. "From this moment you are released from the oath of fidelity you took to support it." TheSpanish troops at the fort on the hill began to fire in salute, which continued at intervals until completed. Stoddard and Delassus signed the transfer document, with Meriwether Lewis, Antoine Soulard, who was the surveyor general, and Charles Gratiot as witnesses. Deferring to French sentiment, Stoddard allowed the Tricolor to fly over St. Louis for twenty-four hours before raising the flag of the United States. As Stoddard prepared to lower the French flag, Charles Gratiot interpreted for the benefit of the largely French-speaking crowd. You are now "divested of the character of subjects, and clothed with that of citizens," Stoddard told them. "You now form an integral part of a great community, the powers of whose government are circumscribed and defined by charter, and the liberty of the citizen extended and secured." He said they might soon expect the establishment of a territorial government, to be followed eventually by statehood, and that one of the first objectives of the United States government would be to "ascertain and confirm your land titles," touching on the issue uppermost in the minds of many in St. Louis. "It is confidently expected that you will not be less faithful to the United States than you have been to his Catholic majesty," he told them. "Your local situation, the varieties in your language and education, have contributed to render your manners, laws, and customs, and even your prejudices, somewhat different from those of your neighbors, but not less favorable to virtue--These deserve something more than mere indulgence; they shall be respected." As the Stars and Stripes floated to the breeze for the first time on land west of the Mississippi River, Gratiot urged his relatives and friends to cheer. But, as a daughter of Gratiot's recalled years later, the cheers were faint and few, some people still shedding tears of regret for France's lost empire. Despite this underlying nostalgia, the social circles of St. Louis took Stoddard into their fold. The very evening after the flag raising, the Chouteaus, Delassus, and other St. Louisans honored him with a public dinner and ball, and all eyes seemed focused on the future. The next month, on April 7, Stoddard returned the courtesies with a dinner and ball at his rented house, with Lewis and Clark and manytownspeople attending. This was another of those St. Louis affairs that began on Saturday evening and went through to Sunday morning. Stoddard's party may have been where he discovered that French Creole women were "less guarded than their female neighbors on the east side of the Mississippi" in conversing with men and expressing opinions, which might lead "a prudish observer to believe that there existed a laxity in their morals." But he said that Frenchmen did not consider their women any more exempt from propriety than other women. Calling the women "small and attractive" and their homes "remarkably neat and cleanly," he said it was normal for them to be consulted by men in many areas of their mutual interest, such as purchases of land and items for the home. The party cost Stoddard $622.75, as much a shock to his New England grain as the charm and openness of the women. While Delassus waited for boats to be built to transport him and the Spanish troops to New Orleans, he prepared for Stoddard a list of those in the community who had served him in some official capacity, and he included his assessment of them. Of the thirty-eight men on the list, he reserved his highest praise for Pierre Chouteau, writing: Mr. Pierre Chouteau, a very zealous officer, he was commandant of Fort Carondelet, at the Osage Nation ... So long as this officer had the trade of this nation, he so managed them, and his authority was such as to induce them whenever they killed any one, to bring in the ring-leaders. He is respected and feared, and I believe loved by this nation (the Osages) ... I saw him here with a party of 200 Indians make himself respected and obeyed, and manage them with firmness and mildness. I think he is the most suitable officer of this post, to be employed in that nation and others of the Missouri. In their search for ways to assure the loyalty of the Chouteaus and other prominent Frenchmen to the United States, Lewis and Stoddard offered some of the young men appointments to the new military academy at West Point. There were a number of youths in the French families who were about the age of recent high school graduates, including Pierre Chouteau's eldest son, Auguste Pierre, and a cousin, Charles Gratiot Jr., both of them turning eighteen in 1804. AugusteChouteau had married relatively late, and his first two children were girls who died in childhood. A son, Auguste Aristide, was then a rebellious twelve-year-old at a boarding school in Montreal. Another son, Antoine, born to an Indian mother when Auguste was in his late teens, had died at the age of about twenty-eight a few years before the Americans arrived. Lewis and Clark had undoubtedly made an impression on the young men in St. Louis, perhaps setting a standard they wanted to emulate. In a portrait a few years later, Auguste Pierre, known in his mature years as A. P. Chouteau, was wearing his hair in the same style as Meriwether Lewis, combed forward all the way around from the crown. Though never as famous as Lewis and Clark, A. P. Chouteau would himself grow into a heroic figure of the American frontier, a man as revered by Indians as his father had been. Military men were highly regarded among the Chouteaus and other French families in the territory. Most of the adult men, including both Chouteau brothers, held positions in the militia under the Spanish regime. Auguste Chouteau was routinely addressed as "Colonel" for his Spanish militia rank, and Pierre Chouteau was known as "Major." They thus welcomed the offer of an education at the new academy for some of their young men. There was also potential benefit to the American government from the West Point appointments, because the young Frenchmen had skills and travel experiences in the West that were lacking among other cadets. According to historian Donald Chaput, who researched the early Missouri appointments to West Point, "Being reared on the frontier, these young men could be of great value as leaders of military units expected to deal with Indian problems. Additionally, they would possess first-hand knowledge to answer questions about transportation and travel in the Louisiana Territory." On March 28, 1804, Meriwether Lewis wrote recommendations to West Point for Charles Gratiot Jr.; A. P. Chouteau; and Auguste Bougainville Loramier,1 a son of Louis Lorimier, the leadingcitizen of nearby Cape Girardeau, whose wife was a Shawnee Indian. West Point was then enrolling its fourth class of cadets after a slow start in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. The first group of twelve cadets had begun classes in 1801 under the temporary direction of Lieutenant Colonel Louis de Tousard, a French officer who had fought in the American Revolution under General Lafayette. At the end of the year, President Jefferson appointed Major Jonathan Williams, a nephew of Benjamin Franklin, as permanent superintendent. Only two members of that first class graduated, and after four years there was a total of just ten West Point graduates. The army itself had shrunk at the beginning of the 1800s from a Revolutionary War--era high of 400,000 soldiers and militia to fewer than 3,000 men and about 175 officers. But the West Point class of 1806, entering in 1804, represented a big jump to fifteen admissions. There were no fixed admission or graduation dates for the early cadets, who normally graduated two years after entering. Nor were there requirements of age or ability for the cadets. They had to make their own arrangements for food and lodging. Under Williams, there were just two teachers, who placed a strong emphasis on mathematics, artillery, and fortifications. No Greek or Latin was taught, but French, the language of science and military art at that time, was added to the curriculum the following year. Cadets who completed the two-year program were assigned to either engineering or artillery. The War Department wrote Stoddard on May 16, 1804, that if the parents of the three youths nominated by Lewis "should be inclined to have those young men appointed Cadets I the Artillerists ... at the Military Academy they will receive appointment accordingly and may come forward as soon as they find it convenient."   There was a flurry of activity in the first half of May in St. Louis and at Camp Dubois as final preparations were made for two historic trips. The dogwoods and fruit trees had long since shed their springtime blossoms along the riverbanks, and the men of the Lewis and Clark expedition were eager to be under way. They were waiting for Lewis to complete arrangements with Pierre Chouteau, who had returned toSt. Louis with the delegation of Osage chiefs he was to lead to Washington. The success of that visit was of great importance to all sides. Wanting to assure a warm reception and hospitality for Pierre Chouteau and the Indian leaders, Clark wrote a letter to his brother-in-law, Major William Croghan, and gave it to Pierre to deliver in person when the party passed through Virginia. Clark informed Croghan that Pierre Chouteau was a gentleman deservedly esteemed among the most reputable and influential citizens of upper Louisiana. Mr. Choteau's [sic] zeal to promote the public welfare has induced him, at the instance of our government to visit the Osage Nation since the session of this country to the United States. He has brought with him the great chief of that nation and many other chiefs of the first consideration and respectability among them, and is now on his [way] to the City of Washington in charge of those Chiefs, with a view to effect a treaty between the United States and that nation. The promptitude and fidelity with which Mr. Choteau [sic] has fulfilled the wishes of the government on this occasion, as also the personal dangers to which he has been exposed in the course of this transaction, intitle him in an eminent degree to the particular attention and best services, not only of yourself but of his fellow citizens generally. Clark praised the efforts made by Pierre Chouteau and "his Lady and family" on behalf of himself and Lewis during the winter and spring. "During our residence in this country on our several visits to St. Louis, in the course of the winter and spring, we have made the house of this gentleman our home."   On May 14, 1804, Clark and forty men set out from Camp Dubois in a fifty-five-foot keelboat and two pirogues, crossed to the mouth of the Missouri, and began their upriver trip toward St. Charles. There, they would await Lewis, who was coming later by land from St. Louis. Clark wanted some extra time to test the way he had loaded the vessels. "I ... proceeded on under a jentle [ sic ] brease up the Missourie to the upper Point of the 1st Island 4 Miles and camped," he noted. It rained most of that night but stopped at about 7 a.m. the next day, sothe group took off again and camped that evening at a Mr. Fifer's landing opposite an island. The barge ran foul three several [sic] times on logs, and in one instance it was with much difficulty they could get her off; happily no injury was sustained, tho' the barge was several minutes in eminent danger; this was ca[u]sed by her being too heavily laden in the stern. Persons accustomed to the navigation of the Missouri and the Mississippi also below the mouth of this river, uniformly take the precaution to load their vessels heavyest in the bow when they ascend the stream in order to avoid the danger incedent to running foul of the concealed timber which lyes in great quantities in the beds of these rivers. In St. Louis, Lewis completed last-minute arrangements. He appointed Amos Stoddard his agent, with power to pay bills, receive Indian delegations, and handle other matters that arose. If Stoddard should be away, then Charles Gratiot, with his indispensable language skills, was to act in his place. Lewis also wanted to see Pierre Chouteau and the Osages off to Washington before turning his own sights toward St. Charles to meet Clark. On the day before Pierre and the Osages departed, Lewis put together a packet of items he had collected for Jefferson, mostly from the Chouteaus and their relatives, which Pierre was to deliver to the President. There were some specimens of silver ore, lead ore, and an "elegant Specimen of Rock Chrystal," all from Mexico, probably meaning the Santa Fe/Taos area, which Lewis said the Osages had collected during war excursions and had given to Pierre Chouteau. There were specimens of lead ore from the Osage River and the Breton Mine on the Meramec River, both in the future state of Missouri. He also sent what may have been a giant hair ball, described as a mass taken from the stomach of a buffalo, which was apparently formed by the animal continually licking itself, then swallowing. A horned lizard from the Osage plains along the Arkansas River, five hundred to six hundred miles west of St. Louis, had been supplied by Charles Gratiot. A salt specimen from the Great Saline on theArkansas River (Salina in present-day northeastern Oklahoma) was provided by Auguste Chouteau. A chart of the Mississippi, from the mouth of the Missouri to New Orleans, had been "compiled from the observations of Mr. August [sic] Chouteau, made with a Marinors Compass, distance being computed by his own estimate and that of many other French traders, accustomed to ascend and descend this River, the same being drawn by Mr. Soulard, late Surveyor General of Upper Louisiana." Finally, there was a rough map of part of Upper Louisiana compiled by Lewis and Clark from information collected from inhabitants of St. Louis and the Osages.   Amos Stoddard also wrote a letter to be delivered to Secretary of War Henry Dearborn that reflected the racial questions already building within the new nation. "This letter will be handed to you by Louis Lorimier Jr., the brother of the one of the same sir [sic] name, whom Captain Lewis and myself have recommended for a cadet," Stoddard began. So extremely solicitous was he to go on with Mr. Chouteau, that his father at last consented. His father has applied to me to recommend him as a cadet--in reply I told him, that I believed he would be considered as rather too old for the military school. But my real objection was, that he exhibited too much of the Indian in his color. This circumstance may make his situation among the cadets at the school rather disagreeable--a situation of which he is not aware, as in this country the mixture of blood in him does not prevent his admission into the first circles. He is certainly very active, and at the same time rather dissipated, tho perhaps not more so than the generality of young men of his age; he is now seventeen. As his father is one of the most respectable men in this country ... I did not feel myself at liberty to refuse his request. The young man will exhibit his real character before you; and should you not think proper to appoint him, I believe his father will not regret the expence of his journey to the Atlantic States. Clark reached St. Charles at noon on May 16 to be greeted by French and Indian spectators gathered on the bank. "The Village contnsabout 100 houses, the most of them small and indefferent [ sic ] and about 450 inhabitents chiefly French, those people appear pore, polite & harmonious," he reported. The next day, Clark held a court-martial for two men who had been absent without leave the night before. On May 18 Clark had the loading of the vessels examined "and changed so as the bow of each may be heavyer loded than the stern." Two keelboats arrived from Kentucky loaded with whiskey and some other items. The night of May 18--19 brought three hours of rain and violent winds, but the sky cleared about 8 a.m. On May 19, barely back from his harrowing trip to collect the Osage leaders, Pierre Chouteau set out for Washington with his son Auguste Pierre, his nephew, Charles Gratiot Jr., the two Loramier boys, and fourteen Osages, twelve of them chiefs or tribal elders and two of them boys. From Washington the newly appointed cadets would continue to West Point. At that time of year it seems likely that the group would descend the Mississippi to the mouth of the Ohio, then ascend the Ohio to Pittsburgh. They were seen passing through Pittsburgh on Saturday, June 16. From there they continued to Washington by stagecoach or on horseback. On May 20 Lewis bid "an affectionate adieu" to Pierre's wife, Brigitte, then departed with Stoddard, Auguste Chouteau, David Delaunay, Charles Gratiot, Sylvestre Labbadie Jr., and several others for St. Charles "in order to join my friend companion and fellow labourer." About 1:30 p.m. the travelers had their journey interrupted by the approach of a violent thunderstorm from the northwest. They took shelter in a small cabin for an hour and a half and, according to Lewis, "regailed ourselves with a could collation which we had taken the precaution to bring with us from St. Louis." The rain didn't stop, so they continued anyway, arriving at St. Charles about 6:30 p.m. in the midst of driving rain and thunderstorms. The next day, May 21, the group shared a big midday meal as the guests of a Mr. Ducett while hoping the rain would let up. It did not, so the voyagers decided to get under way. As the rain continued to pour down, the small flotilla inched up the river, and the people clustered on the bank cheered them on their long way.     With both groups of travelers gone, Amos Stoddard returned to St. Louis and sat down to respond to a letter from his mother, who had expressed concerns for his safety "among a people of strange speech." He assured her that people in the Louisiana Territory were very friendly toward him. "About two thirds of the people in this country are from the States--many of them from New England, particularly from Connecticut; the other third are French. I now speak of those who dwell in Louisiana; very few French are intermixed with those on the east side of the Mississippi. I, however, find the French people very friendly--I even speak part of their language--and they consider it a duty as well as a pleasure to make themselves agreeable to the United States." Copyright (c) 2004 by Shirley Christian Excerpted from Before Lewis and Clark: The Story of the Chouteaus, the French Dynasty That Ruled America's Frontier by Shirley Christian All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Map: Chouteau Countryp. vii
Laclede-Chouteau Family Treep. viii
1 Among a People of Strange Speechp. 3
2 The First Generation: Pierre Laclede Liguestp. 25
3 Haughty Children of the Middle Watersp. 41
4 The Business of St. Louisp. 54
5 Auguste and Pierre, Greatly Loved and Greatly Fearedp. 76
6 New Rulers, New Waysp. 106
7 Intrigues and Possibilitiesp. 136
8 Enveloped in a Cloud of Miseriesp. 163
9 Dreaming Big-and Stumblingp. 184
10 The Third Generationp. 204
11 Auguste and Pierre: Men of Propertyp. 225
12 Pierre Jr.: Gentle Creole, Driven Tycoonp. 250
13 A. P. Chouteau: Star-Crossed Herop. 300
14 Francois and Berenice: Together to a New Placep. 341
15 Pierre Jr.: Position, Advantage, and Perhaps Vanityp. 370
Epiloguep. 421
Notesp. 439
Acknowledgmentsp. 485
Indexp. 489