The city of St. Louis, Missouri, is located on the western shores of the mighty Mississippi, about 20 kilometers south of the mouth of the Missouri River. Downtown on the riverfront, is the Gateway Arch, which typified the spirit of the men and women who pioneered the American West.
It is indeed in its immediate vicinity that was built, in February 1764, on a height overlooking the river, the trading post that gave birth to St. Louis. Its founder was Pierre Laclède, a French merchant from New Orleans, originally from Béarn, France, charged with exploiting a trading venture in Upper Louisiana, along the Missouri River. He was assisted by his young clerk and son-in-law of thirteen or fourteen years of age, Auguste Chouteau, also from Béarn. The foundation of St. Louis was therefore a family affair among Béarnois traders. But their influence did not stop there.
A trade economy
After the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the British took possession of the eastern half of Colonial Louisiana only in 1765. The consequential change of allegiance drove many villagers from the Illinois Country to the west side of the Mississippi, officially “Spanish” since 1764 but “French” in fact until 1770. The newly founded city of St. Louis took advantage of this migratory movement and the arrival of merchants from New Orleans, thus developing its local economy on trade rather than agriculture. Still, it was necessary to know how to profit from the very lucrative fur trade with daring Native American tribes, in particular the Osage Nation.
It was precisely in this skill that Auguste Chouteau and his young half-brother, Pierre Chouteau, son of Pierre Laclède, excelled on account of their intimate relationship with the Osages. Around 1800, St. Louis was a cosmopolitan city of 1200 inhabitants, where French was still spoken by the majority. In this early American community, the Chouteau brothers had founded the most prosperous family-owned enterprise. Their family played a key role in transforming the city into a thriving trading center.
Some 30 Quebec families, notably the Beauceneau, Bequette, Côté, Delin, Gamache, Hérieux, Labrosse, Leroy, Mainville, Martigny, Picard, Pothier, Rivière and Taillon erected in 1764 the first houses and structures of St. Louis. Its first city streets were named Royale, de l’Église, des Granges, de la Tour, de la Place, Missouri, Quicapou et la Grande-Allée.