Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 11, No. 3
September, 1933
Their Contributions to the History of the West

(Continued from the June Issue)

Page 942

Madame Marie Therése Bourgeois Chouteau seems to have occupied an elevated social position in New Orleans during the French régime and later in St. Louis. While extensive records to uphold this statement are not available, three things definitely indicate its truth. The first of these is the lifelong friendship of the French Governor, St. Ange de Bellerive and the Chouteau-Laclède family; the second is the regal aplomb with which Madame Chouteau maintained her liaison with Laclède without losing social position; and third, is the natural air of aristocracy about her sons which enabled them to mingle on terms of perfect equality with high-born Spaniards who succeeded the French in the control of Louisiana, and with prominent and aristocratic men of the United States, and with various European visitors of rank.

Louis St. Ange de Bellerive was a French officer who accompanied Bourgmont in Kansas in 1724. In 1765 St. Ange surrendered Ft. Chartres to the British and transferred the French capital to St. Louis where he held authority until 1770. Here he died in 1774 at the age of seventy-three years. At the time of his death he was living in the home of Madame Chouteau and Laclède.

Page 943

The Chouteau steamer which made the annual trip up the Missouri in 1851 was named the St. Ange in honor of this old family friend.

When Auguste Chouteau was a tiny baby his mother was separated from his father, charging the latter with extreme cruelty. No legal divorce was ever obtained. This may have been due to the Catholic faith of the Chouteau family. About eight years after the separation, Madame Chouteau and Pierre Laclède Liguest established a home together and she bore him several children. Although this union could have no legal or religious sanction, the social position of the two contracting parties and the high esteem in which each was held, seem to have prevented any social ostracism of them or their children.2 While such irregular relationships were common between white men and Indian women on the frontier, and were often the center of happy family groups, it was something of an achievement for a white man and a white woman to so successfully defy convention. According to French law, Madame Chouteau's children by Laclède all bore the name of her undivorced husband.

A brief perusal of Houck's Spanish Régime in Missouri, which consists of translated documents from the archives of the Indies in Seville, will show in what esteem the Spanish authorities held Don Pedro Laclède, Don Agustin Chouteau and Don Pedro Chouteau. Benito Vasquez, captain of Spanish militia at St. Louis and later ayudante mayor, married Julia Papin, a cousin of Auguste Chouteau.3 Laclède's partner, St. Magent, was allied by marriage with two of the Spanish governors of Louisiana. Don Luis de Unzaga married one of the St. Magent girls. He was succeeded in 1777 by Don Bernardo de Galvez, as governor, and Galvez married Felicitas de St. Maxent. Young Galvez became Governor of Louisiana when he was only twenty-one years of age. It brings the social life of the frontier rather close to that of the Spanish court when we consider that Galvez was the nephew of Don Joseph de Galvez, Secretary of State of Spain and president of the Council

Page 944

of the Indies.4 The young governor's father was viceroy of Mexico at that time.5

By 1775 the Chouteau-Laclède business and estate were firmly established in St. Louis. The Chouteaus never let fur-trading interfere with their progress in agriculture and along other lines. In an agricultural report made by Lieut. Gov. Francisco Cruzat to Gov. Unzaga in 1774, Laclède is credited with harvesting 400 quintals of wheat when the majority of the other farmers harvested less than 100 quintals. In his next annual report, Cruzat says;

"Don Pedro Laclède, who has been earnestly cultivating hemp for some years, has at length succeeded in producing a goodly quantity, and is sending 30 quintals in rope to the city as a sample."6

Auguste Chouteau seems first to merit mention by the Spanish authorities in 1777 when Cruzat sent Galvez a list of the subjects granted permission to go up the "Misury" to trade and a statement of the value of the merchandise each was allowed. Those licensed to trade among the Big Osages [Pahatsi] were Agustin Chouteau, Silvestre Labadia, Alego Rondo, Pedro Marly, and Monsieur Beletre. The other tribes to whom traders were sent were the Little Osages [Utsehta], Misuris, Canzes, Republicas, Mahas, Panis, and Hotos.7 Seventeen traders in all were accredited to the Missouri valley. Auguste Chouteau's amount of merchandise was valued at 10,000 libras of deerskin, while the average of the others was 2862 libras.

Several members of the Chouteau dynasty were members and officers in the Spanish militia by 1780. In a letter from Cruzat to Galvez, dated December 27, 1780, Don Augustin Chouteau is named as lieutenant "since in him are found the qualities

Page 945

of honor, activity, and zeal necessary for the position."8 Among the enlisted men named we find;

"Gabriel Serre   
   age 45-    from Canada
Silvestre Labadia   
         43-    France
Pedro Chouteau   
         22-    New Orleans
Joseph Papen   
         36-    Canada."9

Gabriel Cerré was Auguste Chouteau's father-in-law, while Silvestre Labadie and Joseph Papin were his brothers-in law, having married Pelagie and Marie Louise Chouteau respectively.

When Captain Benito Vasquez became ayudante mayor in charge of military instruction in St. Louis, he was succeeded by Auguste Chouteau as captain of his company.10 Units of local Militia were necessary in protecting the settlers from Indians and in maintaining the Spanish frontier against the tide of English settlers.

Encroachments of the English on the Spanish territory of upper Louisiana and the presentation of English medals and banners to the natives there so exasperated Cruzat that he sent Agustin Chouteau to those Indians to make them give up the obnoxious gifts. In spite of Cruzat's loud denunciation of the English fox giving such things to the savages, he at once sent Chouteau and Cerre to New Orleans for a supply of Spanish banners and medals to replace the confiscated ones. This occurred during the Revolutionary war and Cruzat's letter indicates fear and uneasiness on the part of the residents of St. Louis. He begs Galvez to send Chouteau and Cerré back at once. In this same letter the writer throws some light on the means by which the English procured some of their Indian allies. He says;

"I am contriving to satisfy them more by astuteness than by presents, for, although I work by means of presents as much as possible to me, they never reach the hundredth part of those which our enemies [the

Page 946

English] are distributing among them . . . a reason which makes it possible for them to find as many Indian auxiliaries as they wish."11

Baron de Caropdelet, in a letter of April 25, 1797, addressed to Godoy, "His Excellency, the Prince of Peace," refers to Don Pedro Chouteau and Don Luis Lorimier as his two strongest allies in case the enemies' boats attempt to descend the Mississippi. Chouteau was ready to bring five hundred picked savages to Ft. Carondelet for the protection of St. Louis and Lorimier was prepared to furnish" about 200 Chawannes and Abenaquis . . .whom . . . he has assembled in a settlement . . . in Cave Girardeau 40 leagues from St. Louis."12

The voluntary gifts made to the King of Spain, by his subjects, to assist him in this war, remind us of the late Liberty Bond campaigns. All classes of people in Louisiana were represented in these patriotic gifts. There is a touching account of two Abenaki chiefs, Crow and Great One, who came in voluntarily to say that all the men of their tribe had gone hunting for furs, which in the autumn would be turned over to the governor at New Orleans to be placed at the disposal of "their good and respectable Father, the king of Spain, their noble protector."13 Since no regular currency was in use in Louisiana then, all the patriotic contributions were valued in terms of libras of deer skin or furs. Below are the gifts of the Chouteaus and some of their friends;

Don Pedro Chouteau    gave 125 libras    worth 50 pesos
"Don Carlos Graciot    gave 125 libras    worth 50 pesos
Don Bernardo Pratte    gave 62½ libras    worth 25 pesos
Silvestre Labadia    gave 62½ libras    worth 25 pesos
Benito Vasquez    gave 25 libras    worth 10 pesos
Manuel Lisa    gave 25 libras    worth 10 pesos
Don Agustin Chouteau    gave 250 libras    worth 100 pesos14

One wonders how much was sincere personal loyalty and how much was politic use of his wealth, which won for Auguste Chou-

Page 947

teau, the Frenchman, such panergyrics as the following, from an official of his adopted sovereign;

"I shall also remember the special recommendation which Your Grace gives Don Agustin Chouteau, who was chosen to direct the fortification of that post because of the capacity, zeal, and love to the royal service which he has shown on various occasions."

This letter from Intendant Martin Novarro to Cruzat15 refers to the building of Ft. Carondelet, of which Pierre Chouteau was first Commandant. The necessity for this fort arose from fears of an invasion of the Mississippi valley by Genet who was assembling a force upon the Ohio. The situation is explained in a letter from Baron Carondelet to Las Casas in 1795. In this he refers to Auguste Chouteau as "a rich man, very friendly to the name of Spaniard, and held in the highest esteem by those savages (Osages) among whom he and his brother had lived in the early part of their career."16

Throughout these years of loyal service to Spain, the Chouteaus did not lose their French identity. In 1804 when New Madrid was transferred to France, it seems the natural thing to find Pierre Chouteau an official representative of France. Pierre Laussat appointed him Agent and Commissary, in charge of appraising public buildings which were being transferred from Spain to France in New Madrid.17

We have sketched briefly some of the dealings of the Chouteaus with the Spaniards and with the early and later French authorities in Louisiana. Their relationships with the Indians cover all of these years and many more. They were with the Indians in war and peace; they bought from them and sold to them; they carried the authority of the Spanish king and then of the United States government to the Indians; they took to the Indians the beneficent influences of the good Jesuit fathers and the dire disasters of great epidemics; Chouteaus married into the

Page 948

Shawnee and Osage tribes and were adopted into the Cherokee. There was hardly a phase of Indian life on the Mississippi and the Missouri from 1765 to 1865 which they did not touch, but their greatest interest seems always to have been in the Osages. In fact Auguste Chouteau was accused in 1794 by Chief Pacanné of the Miamis of showing great favoritism to the Osages. The Chief said;

"Chouteau is a trader, let us suppose by his talent. He has the sole right of going to the Osages to carry them their needs, and without doubt to sustain them in their rogueries. We, if any of us steals a horse, or any other thing, are treated as thieves and as bad savages . . . it is quite the contrary for the Osages when they steal, pillage, and kill. They get nothing but caresses and are supplied with everything.18

The murder of two white settlers, Adam House and his son, by some of the Arkansas Osages in 1800 resulted in a conference at Ft. Carondelet between White Hair's Osages and the Spanish officials. The head of the murderers' band voluntarily came in to face punishment. He said he was a man and did not fear death, but hoped by his own surrender to, save the rest of his tribe from punishment. This man was put in chains while his fate should be decided and White Hair anxiously awaited the verdict of the Spanish officials in regard to the rest of the tribe. De Lassus wanted to be as lenient as possible and diplomatic, so he gave a dinner which was attended by "all the officers at the post, Don Pedro, and Don Agustin Chouteau, the two chiefs, Cheveux Blanes and La Cheniere, and two influential men."19

The next day Pierre Chouteau and De Lassus reprimanded the Osages severely for the House murders. The prisoner's fate was left in the hands of the governor at New Orleans and it depended in part upon the future behavior of his tribesmen. Presents were given to the other Indians with the understanding that they keep peace with the whites and other Indian tribes in the future. Since many people think beads were the principal present

Page 949

given to the Indians in such affairs it may be of interest to read the official list of things given at this time.

One hundred muskets.
One hundred pounds of powder.
Three hundred pounds of bullets.
Four pieces of limbourg cloth.
Fifty blankets of two and one-half puntos.
Fifty white shirts.
Fifteen pounds of vermilion.
Two hundred pounds of tobacco.
Three hundred flints.
One gross of awls.
One gross of gun-wad worms.
One gross of flint-steels.
Eight pieces of woolen ribbon.
Two gross of large knives.
Six kettles.
Fifty hatchets.
Six hats.
Four aunes of silk ribbon.
Four dozen mirrors.

This list was attested to by Don Eugenie Alvarez, store keeper for the Spanish Government, at St. Louis.20

These gifts were ordered by De Lassus and furnished by Auguste Chouteau. We cannot pass this episode without noting the impression the Chouteaus made on the Lieutenant Governor. He says;

"I have been greatly surprised at seeing the confidence which this tribe places in the Messers. Chouteau, and the manner in which they get along with them. For this general peace (although it is possible that it may be of short duration) they are the ones who have greatly contributed to it, in particular, Don Pedro Chouteau, Commandant of Fort Carondelet. Assuredly he merits the thanks of this Government, for the

Page 950

firm and equitable manner with which he maintains this tribe and that in sight of everybody, so that from the time that these two gentlemen have kept this tribe under their care, their raids against us have diminished in great part until this time; and furthermore, when, on an occasion like this, I know of no one in this post (notwithstanding the gain that they could derive from them) who have resolved to lodge them and entertain them with the generosity which these gentlemen showed. For one must consider that, besides the presents which I have given them, I believe that the amount of what the Messers. Chouteau will have supplied them with in the week that they have remained in this post, and lodged in their houses, cannot but cost them a great sum."21

Two years after this letter was written the Spanish officials canceled Auguste Chouteau's fur-trading monopoly and gave it to Manuel Lisa. [There are those who believe this was done by bribery.] Pierre Chouteau had such a monopoly on the Arkansas, so, in 1802 he moved there from Ft. Carondelet and used his influence with the Osages to such good effect that Pahuska or White Hair moved his band of Osages to Chouteau's post on the Verdigris. Pahuska in turn owed much of his power in the tribe to Chouteau's sponsorship.22 Lisa's monopoly was short lived. The Chouteau's showed their usual adroitness in getting along with the government in power, when the United States acquired Louisiana in 1804. The license to trade on the Missouri was taken away from Lisa and restored to Chouteau at once.

When the transfer of Louisiana to the United States was made, Auguste Chouteau was made one of the three justices of the first territorial court.23 In July of the same year, Pierre Chouteau accompanied White Hair and some other Indians to Washington. President Jefferson and Chouteau had a conference in which the president asked Chouteau to explain the cir-

Page 951

cumstances of the schism in the Osage ranks. The president seemed anxious to have the tribe re-united.24

In the early years of United States ownership of Louisiana the Chouteaus were active in the local militia in St. Louis just as they had been during the Spanish regime. Pierre organized a company of which he was captain and Auguste was a colonel.25

When St. Louis was incorporated in 1809 Auguste Chouteau was one of the trustees. Ten years later he held the office of United States pension agent for Missouri territory. Most of his life was spent in Missouri where he was the wealthiest citizen and the largest land-holder.26

Between 1808 and 1865 the Chouteaus represented the United States government in various Indian treaties. Pierre Chouteau acted as agent at the Ft. Clark treaty of 1808 between the Big and Little Osages. By this treaty the Osages gave up extensive lands in return for the protection afforded by the fort, although President Jefferson had promised them a fort in 1804, and again in 1806, a fort and trading post, apparently gratuitous. When it was finished in 1808, Pierre Chouteau, then United States Indian agent for the Osages, forced or cajoled them into signing this treaty.27 This fort is sometimes called Ft. Clark, sometimes Ft. Osage. It is the present site of Sibley, Missouri. It is said that White Hair protested against signing this treaty, calling it a breach of faith.28 The following year the Arkansas Osages signed the same treaty.

In 1815 Auguste Chouteau acted as United States commissioner at St. Louis in a treaty with the Kansas Indians. In the summer of that year he acted with Gov. Clark of Missouri Territory and Gov. Edwards of Illinois in making a treaty with the Sioux, Iowa, Sauk and Fox. This treaty, "the counterpart of the treaty of Ghent"29 was signed at Portage de Sioux near the mouth of the Illinois river.

Page 952

Three years later in St. Louis, Pierre Chouteau took a leading part in a second land cession treaty of the Osages. Gov. William Clark, Pierre Menard, and White Hair also signed this treaty. The Kickapoos signed a treaty at Edwardsville, Illinois, in 1819, by which they ceded their lands on the Wabash. Auguste Chouteau was a commissioner in this treaty as well as in the one amending it, which was signed a year later in St. Louis. Chouteau and Clark as commissioners signed a land treaty with the Quapaws in August 1818.30

The Osages signed a third land cession treaty in 1825, in which they gave up lands in Arkansas and Kansas. They reserved for themselves 7,564,000 acres. Pierre was a witness to this treaty which was signed for the Indians by Pahusca, Chingawassa, Khigaischinga, and Nichamani. The Creeks and Cherokees frequently accused the Osages of committing depredations. In 1831 these three tribes met in Council at Ft. Gibson to settle their disputes. Col. Arbuckle, Capt. Pryor, Capt. Vashon the Cherokee agent, Mr. D. D. McNair and Major Paul Liguest Chouteau took part in this council. The conference lasted two weeks and was concluded by treaties between the Osages and the aggrieved tribes.31 Louis Pharamond Chouteau, sub-agent for the Creeks, was another participant.

In 1832 three commissioners, Gov. Montfort Stokes, Rev. J. F. Schermerhorn and Henry L. Ellsworth, were chosen to examine lands west of the Mississippi which had been set aside for emigrant Indians and settle the boundary disputes there. The day this commission was created Secretary of War Cass wrote a letter to A. P. Chouteau asking him to cooperate with these commissioners and give them the benefit of his experience with the Indians.32 Cass also instructed the commissioners to rely upon the judgment of Col. Chouteau.

The commissioners organized at Ft. Gibson, in February 1833, with Gov. Stokes chairman. Affairs concerned with the Cherokees, and Creeks and Seminoles were adjusted first. Then the commission turned its attention to the Osages. The latter were in

Page 953

destitute circumstances and had tried to alleviate their condition by a raid on a white settlement from which they emerged equipped with food supplies, bedding and utensils. At the request of the commission eight hundred Osages came to Ft. Gibson for a conference about this raid: Col. A. P. Chouteau was authorized to furnish food for these Indians during the council. His cousin Augustus Aristide Chouteau was one of the interpreters. Schermerhorn and Ellsworth were determined to move the Osages, once more, to a worthless tract. They excused themselves on the ground that this would be a good bargain for the government. Chouteau bitterly opposed such a move and Clermont was obdurate in his refusal to move again so the matter was dropped. A letter from the commission to the Secretary of War, dated April 2, 1833, shows the power the Chouteaus held over these Indians.

"Col. Chouteau has long been the great friend and counsellor of the Osage Nation, and the unlimited influence the Chouteaus seem to possess over the nation, together with the assurance of a belief that a treaty could be made, induced the Commissioners to intrust the management of the nation principally to them. Indeed, such is their influence that it would be difficult if not impracticable to make a treaty against their opinion."33

In the latter part of the 1830's Mexico was fomenting trouble between the United States and the Indians on her western frontier. Our government called upon the Chouteaus several times to go among the tribes so affected. Camp Holmes, not far from the present Norman, Oklahoma, was established in 1834 by Col. A. P. Chouteau when he accompanied the Leavenworth-Dodge expedition from Ft. Gibson to the Kiowa country. The prime object of this expedition seems to have been to impress and perhaps intimidate the Indians of the Southwest, but the announced purpose was to return some Kiowa captives who had been ransomed from the Osages. In 1835 Camp Holmes was replaced by Ft. Chouteau, (also called Ft. Mason) located about five miles northeast of Purcell.34 This fort was the base from which trade and diplomatic af-

Page 954

fairs were carried on with the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache until the death of Col. A. P. Chouteau in 1838.

Major Paul Liguest Choteau was delegated in 1835 to find the nomadic Kiowas and bring them into Ft. Gibson for a treaty-council. He was away all winter looking for them and finally found them near the headwaters of the Colorado.35 They treated him with exceptional courtesy and agreed to come to Ft. Gibson in 1836 but they forgot to keep their promise. The next winter, Major Chouteau sent his son Edward to Camp Holmes and thence to the Kiowa-Comanche winter camp on Red River.36 Edward reported that Sheconey, the Comanche chief was angry with the whites for he was just beginning to realize the meaning of the land treaties which admitted other tribes to his territory.37 The chief sought to cancel the transaction by burning the treaty paper and was planning to make war against the "invading" tribes.

The following year Col. A. P. Chouteau was requested to find out about white prisoners reported to be held by the Comanches. Cynthia Ann Parker, later the mother of Chief Quannah Parker, was one of them. During this year A. P. and P. L. Chouteau were sent out, without available government pay, to make treaties with the Plains Indians. A. P. Chouteau was recommended for this work by Gov. Stokes, as follows;

A. P. Choteau is "better acquainted with the situation of Indian tribes, and of Indian manners, habits, and dispositions, than any man west of the Mississippi River."38

To further impress the Plains Indians, Chouteau was authorized in 1837 to collect a deputation of Comanche and Kiowa and accompany them to Washington. This expedition was frustrated by a small-pox epidemic and by the Mexican and Texas troubles.39 The following year, men from eight tribes presented themselves to Chouteau at Ft. Chouteau, ready to go, to Washington. Again the trip had to be postponed and Chouteau tried to lighten their

Page 955

disappointment by giving them presents.40 From Ft. Chouteau, Col. A. P. Chouteau returned to Ft. Gibson, was taken ill, and died December 25, 1838. He was accorded a military funeral with all honors and his passing was mourned both by the whites and the Indians on the frontier.

An important peace treaty was entered into at Ft. Gibson in 1837 by the Kiowa, Apache, and Tawakoni with the Creeks and Osages. A. P. Chouteau and Montfort Stokes represented the government, Roly McIntosh the Creeks and Clermont the Osages. Witnesses were Col. Whistler, Capt. Bonneville and Col. R. L. Dodge.41 This treaty assured peace for hunting parties west of the Cross Timbers and safety for the Santa Fe traders.42

Charles P. Chouteau acted as witness for the treaty of 1846 at Methodist Mission in Kansas when the Kansas ceded, by sale, lands to be used by the Pottawatomies. In 1865 the Osages signed a removal treaty. The Osage chiefs who signed this were Pahuska, Tawashehe, Beaver and Clermont. Black Dog and Louis Pharamond Chouteau served as witnesses.43

For ninety-one years members of the Chouteau dynasty were almost constantly in the Indian service under Spain or the United States. This service may perhaps extend over an even longer period, but information is easily available for the years between 1780 and 1871. We have already traced the Indian service of this remarkable family during the Spanish regime and their special appointments by the United States government as treaty makers. We shall have to go back some years to, pick up the thread of the story of other services rendered by the Chouteaus to the United States in connection with Indian affairs. For half a century various members of this family served as agents, sub-agents, and other officials in the Indian service in addition to the work they did as treaty commissioners.

Pierre Chouteau was for many years agent for the Big and Little Osages at St. Louis. In 1815 August P. Chouteau was

Page 956

special agent to the same tribes, with Paul Liguest their official interpreter. In 1822 P. L. Chouteau was appointed sub-agent to the Osages in Missouri, at Ft. Clark, which position he held until 1831 when he was promoted to the agency. He was emigration agent for these people in 1833 and established the new agency for them on the Neosho. He remained in the Indian service assigned to the Osages until about 1840.

A. P. Chouteau was given in 1831, the very responsible job of the Superintendency of Emigration west of Arkansas. From 1869 to 1871 Louis Pharmond Chouteau was the official Osage interpreter. A more detailed investigation of Indian affairs in this period will undoubtedly yield many more official notices of contacts between the Chouteaus and the Indians.

Manuel Lisa and Pierre Menard, sometime partners of the Chouteaus, also figured considerably in Indian affairs. In 1815 Lisa was appointed agent for the tribes on the Missouri, above the Kansas river. At the same time Pierre Menard was agent for the Shawnees, Delawares, Peorias, Piankeshaws and Kickapoos. Pierre Menard Jr. became sub-agent for the Pottawatomies in 1829 and for the Peorias and related groups in 1834.

To thoroughly understand the relations existing between the Indians and members of the Chouteau family is to be perfectly familiar with the life stories of Jean Pierre Chouteau and his son Col. A. P. Chouteau. Let us review briefly some of the unofficial connections of Pierre Chouteau Sr. with the Indians.

Pierre Chouteau spent nearly all of his life with the Osage Indians. Coming to St. Louis when he was about five years old, he once said his schooling was received in "1" acedemie Osage" yet it is said he could quote Horace in the original.44 Before he was thirty-five years old the Osages formally granted him a tract of land in grateful acknowledgment of his friendship and services of many years.45

Pierre Chouteau and his son Auguste Pierre were in the group of men who organized the St. Louis Missouri Fur company

Page 957

in 1809. This company was commissioned the same year to return the Mandan chief Shahaka to his people, since the previous attempt had ended in failure. The contract which Governor Lewis made with the company stipulated that the military escort for the expedition must consist of at least "125 effective men of the territorial militia of whom forty must be expert American riflemen". He expressly appointed Pierre Chouteau to head the expedition until the chief should be safely delivered to his own people. The fur company were to receive $7,000 for this errand.

The expedition left St. Charles about June 15. If one may judge from the preparations the company made for their trip they did not intend to fail. Every member of the company, except Morrison, who sent his brother Samuel, accompanied the expedition. Nine barges and one canoe were required for transportation. Shahaka arrived safely at home on September 24. Ft. Mandan was erected at this time. About November 20, Lisa and Pierre and their companions were back in St. Louis.46

The St. Louis Fur Company was dissolved in 1814. About six years later Pierre went into semi-retirement on his plantation near St. Louis. The Marquis de Lafayette was his guest there in 1825. Pierre Chouteau's life was an active one over a long period of years. When he was 82 years old, he made the voyage to St. Louis and return.47 He lived nearly another decade at his St. Louis home. Chouteau had eight sons and one daughter. The daughter married Bartholomew Berthold, partner of Pierre Chouteau Jr. A. P., Pierre Jr., and Paul Liguest were the sons of Chouteau's first white wife, Pelagie Kiersereau. Cyprian, Louis Pharamond, Frederick, and Francis were also his sons, as, perhaps, was James. Some of these last five sons were by Osage mothers. There is a record of the baptism in 1822 of two Osage boys, brothers, named Francis and James Chouteau. They may have been sons or grandsons of Pierre Chouteau Sr. At any rate, we know he had a son named Francis. Cyprian, Frederick, and Francis were traders to the Kaw Indians. Frederick established a trading post in the Kaw country in 1827 and moved it in 1830 to Valencia.

Page 958

Cyprian established, in 1828, on the Kansas river, a post for the Shawnee and Delaware trade. In a few years he married Nancy Francis, daughter of John Francis, hereditary chief of the Shawnees.48 Due to this marriage and to his long residence among them, Cyprian Chouteau came to have a great deal of influence over the Shawnees.

In later years he took a leading part in some of the enterprises of his white neighbors. Fremont organized his first expedition at Cyprian Chouteau's trading post near the Shawnee Manual Labor School, now Westport, Kansas. Fremont chose Lucien Maxwell for one of his hunters and Christopher Carson for his guide. The men recruited for the expedition were largely the French inhabitants of St. Louis.49 His post was frequently the main outfitting station for caravans engaged in the Santa Fe trade. When Kansas was preparing to organize as a territory in 1854, Gov. A. H. Reeder appointed Cyprian Chouteau one of the three judges of the 17th election district. He officiated at the election held in March, 1855 at Shawnee Methodist Church to elect members of the territorial council and the House of Representatives.50 He was at one time county commissioner of Johns County, Kansas.

In 1858 a massacre of free-state settlers took place near the Chouteau trading post in Linn Co. Kansas. This massacre is sometimes called "Marais de Cynes" and sometimes the Hamelton massacre.51 During the years when the slavery controversy was rocking the state in the Mississippi valley, Cyprian Chouteau and the other members of his family were sought as allies by first one side and then the other. The family seems to have achieved a fair degree of neutrality, or at least to have lent some assistance to both sides.

Capt. Louis Chouteau of St. Louis took part in the meeting which named Osawatomie Kansas. This name is a composite word taken from the names of the Osage and Pottawatomie tribes.52

Page 959

Cyprian's brother Frederick spent most of his life among the Kaws. A letter from him to W. W. Cone, written at Westport in 1880 gives a few reminiscences of his life in the Kaw country.

"The Kaw Indians had their village at mouth of Big Blue, where it empties into the Kaw river. After I removed the trading from the south side of the Boone farm and went and built below the mouth of American Chief creek, then the Kaws came down near the trading house. The Fool Chief built on the north side of the river, the Hard Chief on the west side about two miles then above mission, the American Chief on the creek. That was in 1832 . . . . The agent had 300 acres of land broke, fenced and planted for them in 1835, and the Fool Chief's village would go and camp there for a month, dry corn and also pumpkins, and gather their beans. I went with the agent and selected the most suitable place for a field. Also there was 300 acres selected this side of the river for the Hard Chief's village."53

While the lives of Francis, Cyprian, and Frederick Chouteau are colorful, their half-brother A. P. Chouteau typifies the romance of the frontier. He was a star actor in the drama so aptly described by W. J. Ghent in referring to Ft. Gibson.

"To this region, thronging with savages, often at war, came Indian agents, soldiers, missionaries, traders, and land speculators; and it remained for many years the theatre of the most stirring and colorful drama to be found anywhere on the old frontier."54

After his graduation from West Point the glamor of military life always surrounded A. P. Chouteau. In 1812 he was captain of Territorial militia, later became a major and finally a colonel, a title by which he was known throughout the later years of his life.

In 1813 he was a judge of a court of common pleas.

Page 960

Twenty years after his father had colonized the Arkansas Osages on the Verdigris, A. P. Chouteau established his home among them. Some of the time he stayed at Ft. Gibson but he maintained a home for his Osage wife Rosalie and their children at the estate on the Saline. Some of his neighbors at this period included Sam Houston, Nathaniel Pryor, Hugh Glenn and Col. Hugh Love.55 The latter three were traders who had preceded him into that territory. Houston's career is too well known and too varied for us to discuss it here. Suffice it to say that he and Chouteau formed an enduring friendship. Houston, as an adopted Cherokee, was able to use some influence in Washington as well as in the Indian country, in Chouteau's favor.

Houston bought from Chouteau two Osage reserves which contained some salt springs. The Salines were near the present town of Salina, Oklahoma.56 This sale was to prove most unfortunate for Chouteau's Osage heirs and cause Gov. Stokes to intervene for them.

When Houston was tried for assaulting Rep. Stanberry of Ohio, he offered A. P. Chouteau as a witness of the foul conditions of feeding emigrant Indians. The attack on Stanberry was Houston's retaliation for things which Stanberry had said about him in the House, relative to a contract for emigrant Indian rations.57

In 1832 when Commissioners Ellsworth and Clark, together with Washington Irving, Count de Pourtales and Charles Latrobe arrived in St. Louis, A. P. Chouteau met them there and escorted them to Ft. Gibson and to his home on the Saline. Latrobe and Irving both refer, in their writings, to Chouteau's feudal estate on La Saline. Their impressions have been arranged in such a delightful word picture by Grant Foreman in his Pioneer Days in the Early Southwest that it seems fitting to include the description.

"It was an imposing establishment in the midst of the wilderness where Chouteau lived with his Osage wife, Rosalie, by whom he had an interesting family

Page 961

of children. Surrounded by a retinue of colored and Indian retainers, he was the feudal lord of this whole country. A shrewd Indian trader, of dominating personality and great influence with the Indians, he lived a care-free life with all the luxury obtainable in the wilderness. His was a double log house with a large passage through the center from which a stairway ascended to the second story and the whole was covered with whitewash. A piazza extended across the front, with buffalo and bear skins draped over the railing, while one end was loaded with harness, where dogs and cats were sleeping together. One room, the treasure house of the establishment, contained his guns, rifles, and traps.
"In a large yard in front of the house a number of Indians were roasting venison under a tree; negroes, half-breeds and squaws welcomed the distinguished visitors; negro girls ran about giggling, while others took and tethered the horses. Numerous dogs and pigs, hens flying and cackling, turkeys, geese and ducks, all fat and happy, sounded a noisy welcome, making the scene one of animation and color.
"They passed to their supper through the open hallway where Indians sat on the floor. And such a supper! Venison steak, roast beef, fricassed wild turkey, bread, cake, wild honey, and coffee served by Masina, the half-breed sister of Rosalie, as curious Indians peered at them through the window. Chouteau was a lover of horses, and his establishment included a race track a quarter of a mile from his house, on a level piece of prairie. And for the entertainment of his guests, his negro retainers rode and drove by the house a great number of horses. Chouteau's children together with those of his neighbor, John Rogers, were taught by Mr. B. H. Smith, a white man who wore a calico surcoat cut on Indian lines."58

Page 962

The principal products exported from this post were furs, skins, bear oil and wild honey. In return the Indians wanted jewelry, strouds, tobacco, pipes, rope, paint, axes, knives and cloth.59

One of the most distinguished friends of Col. Chouteau at Ft. Gibson was Captain Bonneville. This gallant Frenchman had graduated from West Point in 1815 and had been sent to Ft. Gibson in 1824. That same year he obtained a leave of absence and joined Lafayette, an old friend of his father's, in New York. He acted as secretary to Lafayette and returned with him to Europe for a visit at the Grange. The next year Capt. Bonneville returned to his command at Ft. Gibson. There he numbered among his friends Col. Chouteau, Nathaniel Pryor, who had been in the Lewis and Clark expedition, Hugh Glenn, and Pierre Menard.60

Pierre Chouteau Jr. was probably the most successful business man of the entire dynasty. For more than half a century he was an economic leader in the West and his influence was felt in the East as well. Born in 1789 and living until 1865, his life span covered one of the most thrilling periods in American history. He saw his native Louisiana purchased by the United States; as a youth he heard of the stirring adventures of Lewis and Clark into the unknown Northwest, the Northwest whose destiny he was to help shape; he saw Spain and Mexico struggling with the United States for a frontier which was in itself an empire; he saw canals, steamboats, and railroads pushing back the frontier, and helped them to do it; as a boy he had dabbled around the lead mines of DuBuque, but later on he witnessed the great gold rushes, and the silver boom, and helped in opening up some of the great iron mines; he saw a great social system swept away when the Emancipation Proclamation gave the plantation way of life its death blow; he saw and took a part in the Indian emigrations, an unparalleled moving of a subject people; death came just too soon for him to see the final destruction of the buffalo herds which in their passing made way for the range cattle industry. Through all these drastic changes which transformed a romantic wilderness into a modern civilization, this son and grandson of fur traders

Page 963

was able to keep his mental balance and keep his business interests abreast or a little ahead of each innovation. For twenty years the greatest fur trading company in the middle west bore his name. He introduced steam navigation on the Missouri. He helped to open up the iron mines in Francoise county, Missouri. In 1850 he joinned with two other men in operating a rolling mill in North St. Louis. A year later he was one of the incorporators of the Ohio and Mississippi R. R. of Illinois.

In spite of all these business interests, Pierre Chouteau Jr. was widely known as a patron of arts, science, and literature. It was his pleasure to play host to many learned and talented visitors to the West. In 1832 he was accompanied by George Catlin on a three months voyage up the Missouri. On that trip they traveled about two thousand miles in the Chouteau boat "Yellowstone."61 Prince Maximilian of Wied was his guest at St. Louis and at other points on the frontier. The Prince speaks of Chouteau's interesting botanical and zoological gardens, in which are found, among other things, the Osage oranges or Bois d' Arc trees and tame buffalo.62

Pierre Chouteau Jr. was a member of the Missouri State Constitutional Convention in 1820.63 In later life he lived in New York, surrounded by considerable luxury, and was rated a "merchant prince". He died in St. Louis in 1865.

Charles P. Chouteau inherited his father's interest in navigation and in people, if we can believe some of his contemporaries. Isaac T. Goodnow and a party of free state emigrants to Kansas went up the Missouri in 1855, aboard the "Kate Swinney," with Captain Chouteau. Goodnow, in his Personal Reminiscences, refers to the genial spirit of the Captain and crew, which allowed the passengers to have "everything their own way."64

Missionaries of several faiths have left testimony of the courtesies and help which they received from the Chouteaus, but the finest tributes came from a member of their own Church, the Roman Catholic. Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, S. J., in his letters

Page 964

has left many references to this cultured and kindly gentleman, a whose vocations were those of fur-trader and steamboat captain on the Missouri. Father De Smet gives us pictures of a devout and thoughtful man who built a chapel on board his boat, so his priestly guests need not forego saying mass during their six weeks trip with him; a man who extended every courtesy to passengers for whose transportation and that of their freight, he would take not one cent; a man who could be an intellectual companion to them in his leisure moments; but a man who was brave and resourceful enough to command a rough river-boat crew and to take a hand at the pilot's wheel at times; in short, one of those men who, we wish, might step out of the pages of history and talk to us. In a letter written in 1863, Father De Smet voices his appreciation as follows;

"The worthy captain of the steamboat. Mr. Charles Chouteau, was so exceedingly obliging and charitable as to give me a free passage, together with the two brothers, as well as transportation for our baggage and all the things destined for the missions a charity on his part, which would otherwise have cost us upward of $1,000. We shall pray, and venture to hope, that heaven will reward him, with all his respectable family, for his great goodness and charity to the missionaries and their missions. This good work he repeats with pleasure every spring and at each departure for the mountains."65

The Chouteau influence was not always good or fortunate. They undoubtedly profiteered some on the Indians, they used their political power to their own advantage, they were, unintentionally to be sure, the agents of spreading two terrible epidemics among the Indians. In 1837 the small-pox plague was scattered from their boat the "St. Peter" and in 1849 the cholera was spread from a colony of Belgians the Chouteaus had brought to Kansas City. This epidemic affected whites as well as Indians. It followed the 49'ers onto the plains, decimating their ranks. On the whole, the Chouteau family seems to stand above the

Page 965

average in the ranks of those who founded the western empire. They were better bred, better educated and more honest than many of their contemporaries. The west owes them a great debt of gratitude—a fact which we hope will be better appreciated as scholars study more deeply into the history of our western frontier.


Bennitt, Mark. ed. History of Louisiana Purchase Exposition. St. Louis. 1905.
Branch, E. Douglas. The Hunting of the Buffalo. New York. 1929.
———— Westward New York. 1930.
Cox, Isaac Joslin. Louisiana-Texas Frontier. Southwestern Historical Quarterly. vol. 17.      (1913-1914).
Drake, Samuel Adams. Making of the Great West. New York. 1887.
Drumm, Stella M. Pierre Chouteau Jr. Dictionary of American Biography. New York.      1930.
Foreman, Grant. Indians and Pioneers. Yale University. 1930.
———— Pioneer Days in the Early Southwest. Cleveland. 1926.
Ghent, W. J. Auguste Pierre Chouteau. Dictionnary of American Biography. New York.      1930.
———— Early Far West. New York. 1931.
———— Jean Pierre Chouteau. Dictionary of American Biography.
————Rene' Auguste Chouteau. Dictionary of American Biography.
Kansas State Historical Collections. Topeka.
———— Bernard, William R. Westport and the Santa Fe Trade. vol. IX. (1905-1906).
———— Botkin, Theodosius. Among the Sovereign Squats. vol. VII. (1901-1902).
———— Brewster, S. W. Reverend Father Paul M. Ponziglione. vol. IX. (1905-1906).
———— Chappell, Phillipp E. A History of the Missouri River. vol. IX. (1905-1906).
———— Connelley, William Elsey. Early Indian Occupation of the Great Plains. vol      XIV. (1915-1918).
———— Greene, A. R. The Kansas River—Its Navigation. vol. IX. (1905-1906).
Quaife, Milo Milton. Chicago and the Old Northwest. Chicago. 1913.
Twitchell, Ralph E. Old Santa Fe. Santa Fe. 1925.
United States Bureau of Ethnology. Seventeenth Annual Report. Pt. II.
———— Mooney, James. A Calendar History of the Kiowas. Wash. 1898.


Catlin, George. North American Indians. 2 vols. Edinburgh, 1926.
Chittenden, Hiram Martin and A. T. Richardson. Life, Letters, and Travels of Father      Pierre-Jean De Smet, S. J. New York, 1905.
Coues, Elliott, ed. Journal of Jacob Fowler. New York, 1898.
Kansas State Historical Society Collections. Topeka.
———— Biennial Report. vol. III. (1886).

Page 966

———— Indian Treaties and Councils Affecting Kansas. vol. XVI. (1923-5).
———— Official Kansas Roster of United States Indian Agents Affecting Kansas. vol.      XVII. (1913-1914).
———— Goodnow, Isaac T. Personal Reminiscences. vol. IV. (1896-90).
———— Lutz, J. J. Methodist Missionaries Among Indian Tribes in Kansas. vol. IX.      (1905-1906).
———— Moore, Ely Jr. Naming of Osawattomie. vol. X. (1907-1908).
———— Spencer, Joab. Shawnee Indians. vol. X. (1907-1908).
Quaife, Milo Milton ed. The Southwestern Expedition of Zebulon Montgomery Pike.      Chicago. 1925.
Thwaites, Reuben Gold, ed. Early Western Travels. Cleveland, 1904-08.
———— vol. V. Bradbury, John. Travels in the Interior of America.
———— vol. XIII. Nuttall, Thomas. Journal of Travels in Arkansas Territory.
———— vols. XV and XVI. James, Edwin. Account of an Expedition from Pittsburg to      the Rocky Mountains. [Long's Exped.]
———— vols. XIX and XX. Gregg, Josiah. Commerce of the Prairies.
———— vol. XXI. Wyeth, John B. Oregon.
———— vols. XXII-XXIV. Maximilian, Alexander P. Prince of Wied-Nieuwied. Travels in      the Interior of North America.
———— vol. XXVI. Flagg, Edmund. A Tour Beyond the Mountains.
———— vol. XXVII. Flagg, Edmund. Same.
Twichell, R. E. ed. Letter to Gov. Wm. Clark from Julius DeMunn. Old Santa Fe      Magazine. Santa Fe. (1913-1914) vol. I.

Return to top

Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site