The Wah-Zah-Zhi, People of the Middle Waters

Efmo_View_from_Fire_PointBefore the arrival of Europeans more than 560 tribal nations peopled the continental United States. There were no state boundaries or mapped delineations between them. The territorial distinctions between their ancestral lands were fluid, the inland waterways their highways.

Their sages sang their histories in words that were powerful and imagistic, drawing their spirituality from nature, the world about them; and their words became sacred repositories for ancestors, traditions and wisdom.

Into the Earth my grandfathers dug,

In the palm of their hands they rubbed its soil.

Into the Sacred One, the Aged One they dug;

In the palm of their hands they rubbed its soil.

Into the Earth my grandfathers dug;

Upon their foreheads they put its soil.

from The Osage Story of Creation*

osageWhen Pierre Laclede chose the site for his fur trading post below the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers in 1763, the Osage was the most powerful tribal nation in the area.

These Wah-Zah-Zhi (pronounced Wah-Sha-She) People of the Middle Waters, established hunting and trade routes far beyond their villages, from what became St. Louis, west and south to Santa Fe.

By 1750 the Osage controlled large areas of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas** and Laclede and his business partners were anxious to establish exclusive trade relations with them.

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In a tradition pre-dating Laclede’s birth, the French in North America were intermarrying with women of the tribal nations. The young bride represented in the painting below, the mural of Fort Orleans, Missouri (from the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City) was part of a tribal delegation that visited Paris in 1725.

This custom would be adopted by Laclede’s common-law and natural sons, Auguste and Jean Pierre Chouteau, who spent months living among their Osage trading partners, establishing familial ties of their own.

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“Legend traces Osage and other Dhegiha Sioux (Kaw, Omaha, Ponca and Quapaw) origins to Indian Knoll near the mouth of the Green River in Kentucky. In paleolithic times they ranged from the fork of the Ohio River to the Mississippi and beyond. Once peace-loving, the Osage became warlike in the face of invasion by the Iroquois who had dominated much of the Northeast. By A.D. 1200 both the Osage and the invading Iroquois (had) left the ‘dark and bloody’ ground of Kentucky.”**

The Osage Bear Clan story of creation has “the Four Winds gathering all of the flood waters on earth and draining them into great rivers at a place they called Ni-U-Kon-Ska (The Middle Waters); today the junction of the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Wabash, Arkansas, and Illinois rivers.”**

p013489 Left to right front: Mary Nora Lookout Standingbear Escue, #594, Fred Lookout, #590, Henry Lookout (Pa-hu-kah-sha, #596), Julia Lookout (Mo-se-che-he, #591). Back: Frederick Lookout, allottee #593, Charles Lookout, #592.

Here they settled in great numbers, dividing themselves into diverse bands and clans, into Earth People and Sky People.

We had come down from the starry heavens into this holy land,

and we met here the mighty Middle Waters, rolling evermore,

the Waters who come down from the Mountains of the West

and the Mountains of the East

and the Great Lakes of the North,

who move continually into the great Waters of the South:

we met them here, the waters who make clean this Middle Earth,

the moving waters at their priest-like task

of pure ablution round earth’s human shores . . .

Carter Revard – Living in the Holy Land

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April of 2014 was an especially rich month commemorating, in the words of the Rev. John Padberg, S.J. “the 250th Anniversary of the Founding of St. Louis in the land of the Osage.”

IMG_20140402_111323It began April 2nd with an Osage Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church (the College Church at St. Louis University), an Osage incantation leading the Processional.

The First Reading from Genesis was read in Osage by Principal Chief Scott BigHorse and then in English. Descendants of the French & Creole founding family of St. Louis were present.

Following a luncheon reception, Carter Revard gave a reading of his poetry and the 2,229 Exhibit opened at St. Louis University Museum of Art on Lindell Blvd.

A descendant of Osage, Ponca, French-Canadian, Irish and Scots-Irish ancestors, Revard grew up on the Osage reservation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

51UlJO8cJFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_After earning Bachelor Degrees at the University of Tulsa and Oxford University in England (where he was a Rhodes Scholar) Carter Revard completed a PhD in English Literature at Yale University, taught at Amherst College and is currently a professor emeritus at Washington University, St. Louis.

He is the author of several books of poetry and prose:  (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/carter-revard).

IMG_20140417_132323On loan from The Osage Tribal Museum in Pawhuska, Oklahoma (http://www.osagetribalmuseum.com/) the 2,229 Exhibit at St. Louis University Museum of Art commemorates a spiritual relationship that began with Jesuit missionaries ministering to the Osage Nation from the 17th century.

By virtue of the missionaries’ very careful registration of Osage marriages and baptisms, the U.S. Government in 1906 recognized for land and natural resources allotment 2,229 men, women and children whose descendants continue to benefit from deeds related to those records.***

The Osage people were forced to move three times in forty-six years by the U.S. Government, finally arriving back in Oklahoma from which they had earlier been removed.

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Pawhuska, Oklahoma is the capital of the Osage Nation. The 2,229 Exhibit contains traditional clothing, Osage genealogical records and scores of photographs depicting original allottees and their family members. (http://www.slu.edu/sluma.xml)

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Left to right front: Josephine Watson (Wah-hrah-lum-pah #226, Joseph Cox (Wah-tsa-ah-tah, #167), Jennie Spencer Red Eagle Long, #155. Back: Amanda Claremore, allottee #308, Celia Cox Pryor (A-non-to-op-pe, #166).

Begun in 1999, The Osage Tribal Museum Allottee Collection is now sixty per cent complete.

pierre-jean_de_smet_-_evamgelizadorA third floor gallery adjacent to the 2,229 Exhibit contains photographs of the most powerful Jesuit advocate western tribal nations had in the United States, the great Belgian missionary, Fr. Pierre Jean De Smet; along with the black robe by which he became famous, and the beautifully hand-made, Plains Indian coat that Fr. De Smet so proudly and humbly wore.

A short, three block walk north of St. Louis University, an exhibit titled Imagining the Founding of St. Louis was (and continues ongoing through summer) on the second floor of the Sheldon Galleries  at 3648 Washington Blvd.

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Culled from private collections and collections of The St. Louis Mercantile Library, The St. Louis Art  Museum, The St. Louis Science Center, and The Osage Tribal Museum in Pawhuska, it provides a powerful context for the evolution of St. Louis from an ancient tribal capital to “The First City of the New West,”**** as a result of mutual friendship and partnership among native people and the French and Creoles of Saint Louis.

IMG_20140417_141401The exhibit in The Sheldon Galleries (http://www.thesheldon.org/current-exhibits.php) includes pottery, early maps, artifacts, sculpture, textiles, oil and watercolor paintings, and the hand-colored lithograph on the left by Thomas L. McKenney after Charles Bird King’s painting of Mo-han-go, an Osage woman with her child, first published in History of the Indian Tribes of North America, 1838.

From trade beads to bear claw collars they leave a splendid impression of the transcultural relations that made early St. Louis such a rich and diverse settlement.

On Thursday, April 3rd the Chatillon-DeMenil Foundation (http://www.demenil.org/) hosted an overflow crowd in the Carriage House.

Osage Principal Chief Scott BigHorse delineated some of the family ties between the Osage and French in early St. Louis, including the Chatillon and DeMenil families, and the impact his nation had on the founding and rise of St. Louis.

p013161Chief Bighorse explained the Osage approach to change, and how their ability to adapt to and assimilate aspects of other cultures, coupled with their determination to be agents of change themselves allowed the Osage not only to survive but to flourish.

This adaptability may have been impacted by their habitation of the Middle Waters where rivers converged and so many different people and cultures intersected.

The garden beyond the Cafe DeMenil was transformed with celebratory lights on April 3rd that lent the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion’s STL250 Birthday Cake a silvery glow.

Standing: Marion Coshehe, allottee. Seated: unknown girl and Hope Coshehe (Wah-kon-tah-he-um-pah, allottee #573).

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As tornado sirens went off all over St. Louis, Osage guests from Oklahoma and the large crowd of St. Louisans there to welcome them, hurriedly retired to the mansion to finish their wine, secure in the knowledge that if tornadic winds circled DeMenil Place they could all take refuge in the cave below; some things in St. Louis not having changed appreciably since well over the 250 years we’re celebrating in 2014.

Special thanks to Kathryn Redcorn of The Osage Tribal Museum in Pawhuska, OK for permission to publish the three photos above from the museum’s 2,229 Allottees Collection. 

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References: * Osage Life and Legends – author: Bob Liebert; ** Louis F. Burns -http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/O/OS001.html; ND ***Osage Chief Scott BigHorse;****Frederick Fausz – Founding St. Louis, First City of the New West; and Imagining the Founding of St. Louis – exhibit book published by the Sheldon Art Galleries St. Louis.

IMG_20140417_131959Illustration Credits: Tal-lee and Fort Clark – Karl Bodmer – in the public domain; Map of the Great Osage Trail/Sante Fe Trail – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; Fort Orleans Missouri Mural from the Missouri State Capital Building – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; Book Cover of Winning the Dust Bowl by Carter Revard, University of Arkansas Press.

Photography Credits: Mississippi River – Efmo_View_from_Fire_Point -in the public domain at wikipedia.org; 3 Allottee Photographs from The Osage Tribal Museum Archives, Pawhuska, OK; Garden of the Chatillon-De Menil Mansion – Thomas Kavanaugh, Sr., Cell Phone Photographs of the 2,229 Exhibit at St. Louis University Museum of Art, Fr. De Smet’s Coat at St. Louis Univeisty Museum of Art, and Imagining the Founding of St. Louis Exhibit at The Sheldon Art Galleries – Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.

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St. Lou’s Buried Treasures

IMG_20121006_115732 Unlike the Gateway Arch, Union Station, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and the Chatillon-Demenil Mansion, some of the city’s greatest treasures lie underground. Chief among these from a public perspective are the limestone caves over which St. Louis evolved from ancient times; some of which continue to be used for railway tunnels and offices in downtown St. Louis.

Cherokee Cave, a popular attraction in a by-gone era still lies mostly-inaccessible beneath the Chatillon-Demenil Mansion, as do the once highly-utilized Anheuser-Busch and Lemp brewery caves, as does the tunnel through which a full-size train can pass beneath the formidable Old Post Office.

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But the huge cave beneath the Main Post Office on Market Street is filled with naturally cooled offices and Metro Transit runs commuter trains several times an hour through a natural channel of the cave engineered by James Eads in the early 1870’s, in conjunction with his masterwork of a bridge connecting Missouri and Illinois at St. Louis.

P0002006The modest cave beneath Sugar Loaf Mound, which stands just west of the Mississippi River atop a sheer bluff on Ohio Street east of Broadway, makes it doubly precious from the perspective of history. It is believed to be the last Mississippian Mound in what was once the western fringe of the great capital at Cahokia, and it may contain the only intact, Mississippian burial remains on the St. Louis side of the river.

Conical in shape at its southern end, before a retired riverboat captain named Adams leveled it early in the 20th century to build a home with a splendid view of the Mississippi, Sugar Loaf is believed to have been constructed in the Pre-Colombian Era, sometime around 1050 AD, with three platform steps to the north, one of which may have served as the base for a leader’s home, archaeologist Melvin Fowler has suggested.*

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The conical top, no longer visible, was strongly suggestive of a burial mound. Although a small amount of digging was permitted many years ago, the last of the St. Louis Mounds has never been completely excavated. Nor will it be according to the Osage Nation which purchased it in 2009 and is planning to remove the contemporary houses on it, restore the mound and its steps, and establish an interpretive, cultural center there.

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Like many Mississippian Mounds, Sugar Loaf was built over a cave. Archaeologists believe that caves were sacred to ancient peoples, who considered them the womb of mother earth. This may explain why such a large concentration of mounds was situated in and around what became St. Louis, because of the extensive underground cave system on the Missouri side of the river.

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Federal troops stored ammunition in part of the cave beneath Sugar Loaf Mound during the Civil War. But the land fill created immediately south of the mound by the highway department, hides the cave entrance and several feet of Sugar Loaf’s base. The Osages have constructed cyclone fencing around much of the mound and are allowing nature to have it’s way with the earthwork. With grass growing high over its southern apron, Sugar Loaf is very much a protected burial site under wraps.

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Honoring the graves of our ancestors is important to modern humans as it was to the ancients. But as descendants of many of St. Louis’ First Families discovered, locating the lost graves of their ancestors proved quite a mystery.

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Jenne Kostial (shown to the left of her cousin Sharon Jezierski) grew up in St. Louis with stories that her “de Gamaché lineage had,” in her words, “strong historical ties that ran deep into the city’s core.” But it would take a great deal of personal research to get to the bottom of that oral tradition. There she found that her Great-great-great grandfather, Jean-Baptiste de Gamaché, was one of The First Thirty who built Colonial St. Louis.

800px-Fort_de_Chartres_powder_magazine_1-02Aug07Emigrating from Quebec, Canada in 1762 at the age of twenty-eight, Gamaché made his way to Fort de Chartres, where he met Pierre Laclede Liguest in November of 1763 and signed on to the expedition that gave birth to St. Louis. In terms of verifiable proof, it was in St. Louis’ colonial marriage and baptismal records that Jenne struck gold.

Jean-Baptiste de Gamaché married Marie Charlotte D’Amours de Leuviere of Praire du Rocher on May 3, 1767. Their original marriage certificate survives in the archives of the Missouri Historical Society Library.

Three of their five children lived to adulthood, one was the first child baptized in the first St. Louis, King of France Church. Sadly Charlotte died in 1781 not long after giving birth to her last child, who died by the age of four. Life in the frontier outpost was hard.

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But Jean-Baptiste (known familiarly as Bapbette) lived on to the spring of 1805 witnessing St. Louis’ transfer from France to Spain and then to the United States of America. He built his home three doors north of Pierre Laclede and Marie Chouteau on Rue Royale/Main Street where the north leg of the Gateway Arch stands today. A farmer and fur trader (with a separate building for his merchandise) Bapbette flourished in St. Louis, operating a mill, surveying land and briefly running a ferry on the Meramec River.

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And when he died Jean-Baptiste was buried, as was everyone else in St. Louis, in the graveyard beside the church, in the third block from the river, in the center of the village (where you see the crosses on the right). So why the mystery? Decades later Jenni explained, “the land where the cemetery lay was sold to make way for Hiway 70.”

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The remains of those whose families could not purchase separate grave markers in a new cemetery were placed in metal boxes in the crypt beneath The Old Cathedral. Such was the fate of Jean-Baptiste and Charlotte de Gamaché – and many others! The Gamachés alone had thirty-seven family members who needed to be re-buried.

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In a tangle almost as complicated as her genealogical research, Jennne Kostial discovered that her ancestors had eventually come to rest in an unmarked area of Section 5 in Calvary Cemetery with other early St. Louisans. So great was the Gamaché family’s joy in the resolution of the mystery, and so deep their devotion, that they partnered with the Archdiocese of St. Louis to raise a fitting memorial, not only to their family, but to all of the first settlers re-interred there.

ArkansasPost1689Dedicated in 2009 the memorial bears the names of the First Thirty Families of St. Louis. City founder, Pierre Laclede is among them ‘though he died two leagues south of Arkansas Post in 1778 and his grave was later swept away by the Mississippi.

Jenne Kostial’s cousin by marriage, Ken Webb (pictured with her above) is a very knowledgable director with the St. Louis Genealogical Society, one of the largest family research organizations in the United States: http://www.stlgs.org/

IMG_20140227_122949“St. Louis was,” Webb points out, “a focal point in the westward movement.” It would become a melting pot of refugees from the Civil War and immigrants from the world over. Spearheaded by Dorothy Amburgey Griffith in the summer of 1966 and founded in 1968, the St. Louis Genealogical Society is a great place to research your family. With a database of 4,000,000 surnames and 2,000 members world-wide their resources are far-reaching.

Virtually everything left of Colonial St. Louis proper, as it stretched out above the Mississippi where the Arch grounds are today was believed lost in the Great Fire of 1849 and later demolitions that made way for the Jefferson Expansion Memorial Park.

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Until an aerial view taken of the St. Louis Riverfront in 1942 after the demolition, revealed that the grid pattern established by Laclede in 1764, had survived a century-and-a-half of massive reconstruction, only to re-appear in the 20th century. As if the founder’s vision had never been lost. A carpet of grass now replaces the colonial grid.

Note the steeple of St. Louis’ Old Cathedral in the photograph above, the only building left standing at the center of the last block; on the only piece of land in St. Louis which has never been bought or sold.

securedownloadSpecial thanks to Jennne Kostial, Sharon Jezierski and Ken Webb for sharing their treasured family stories with me! 

Illustration Credits: The First Catholic Church in St. Louis, Arkansas Post 1689, and Louisiana Transfer for Exposition in 1904 World’s Fair – all in the public domain at wikipedia.org.

Photo Credits: Julian de GamachéGrandson of Jean-Baptiste de Gamaché with His Wife – used wih the kind permission of Jenne Kostial; Dedication of the Founding Families Memorial in Calvary Cemetery – Jenne Kostial; Fort de Chartres Powder Magazine – author: Kbh3rd, Creative Commons Share Alike License at Wikimedia Commons: Attribution: I,Kbh3rd, wikipedia.org.; St. Louis Riverfront after Demolition for the Gateway Arch, 1942 – used with permission of the National Park Service, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; Four Views of Sugar Loaf Mound in St. Louis, March 31, 2014 and The Famille Chouteau Gravesite in Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis – Thomas  Kavanaugh, Sr.; all other photos – Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.

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References: Journeys: The Gamachés in the New World, by Marquis de Gamaché, AuthorHouse, 2008.

*”A New Era for Sugarloaf Mound,” Max Wexberg Sanchez, The St. Louis Beacon, 7.02.10. https://www.stlbeacon.org/#!/content/18531/a_new_era_for_sugarloaf_mound_

 

 

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The Founding Spirit of St. Louis

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The City of St. Louis was founded in a spirit of collaboration, of tolerance among people of different races and socio-economic backgrounds, and of unprecedented freedom according to J. Frederick Fausz of the University of Missouri St. Louis.* This was due in large part to city founder, Pierre Laclede Liguest, who fostered those attitudes in the fur trading post he named St. Louis and to his stepson, Auguste Chouteau, city co-founder at the age of fourteen and by 1800 its leading citizen, who honored them after Laclede’s death near Arkansas Post in 1778.

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Participants in the dynamic symposium conducted at the Missouri History Museum on February 14, 2014 were met with a list of nineteen ways in which Laclede impacted St. Louis from the start and  which proved to be lasting legacies. The list was compiled by Professor Fausz, author of Founding St. Louis: First City of the New West.

Although some of these attitudes, notably regard for the indigenous nations who lived on the land and racial tolerance began to change dramatically during the territorial period (from about 1804-1821 onward) much of Laclede’s pioneering spirit permeates present-day St. Louis along with the relaxed hospitality that also marked our colonial period and which Meriwether Lewis and William Clark fully enjoyed when they arrived here in 1803.

Historian Bob Moore of the National Park Service, followed Fausz’s opening lecture with a demonstration of the intriguing, interactive map he’s created of St. Louis circa 1804. It allows viewers to click on a link and virtually ascend Rue de La Place/ Market Street to enter St. Louis as Lewis and Clark found it. http://www.nps.gov/jeff/historyculture/saint-louis-in-1804.htm

IMG_7006 - Version 2Indeed William Clark found St. Louis so congenial that he made it his permanent home, raised his children here and supervised Indian Affairs of Upper Louisiana from the house he built adjacent to where the north leg of the Gateway Arch stands today.

Twice Governor of the Missouri Territory, William Clark is buried in St. Louis’ Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Geography has also played a major role in St. Louis’ greatness – undulating prairie atop a firm bed of limestone – covering rich clay and coal deposits, fed by numerous natural springs, and watered by the mightiest river system in North America. We have Laclede to thank for selecting what geologists have termed the perfect place in the Mid- Mississippi River Valley to establish a fur trading post with the potential to evolve into a major metropolis; by 1890 the fourth city in the nation.

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The founding of St. Louis was neither accidental nor a personal venture but the planned establishment of an “Indian Capital of Commerce” in the Mid-Mississippi River Valley – a collaboration among French government officials and businessmen in New Orleans via Laclede and leaders of the Osage Nation who dominated the area, with the potential for trade with tribes over a far greater area. Frederick Fausz detailed this collaboration in the opening lecture of The St. Louis: a Great City from the Start Symposium that launched the city’s 250th Anniversary Celebrations two Fridays ago.

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Of course the Mid-Mississippi River Valley, and what became the Greater St. Louis Area specifically, had been a major center for trade among tribal peoples from ancient times because of its access to numerous river highways and its extensive natural cave system. St. Louis remains today the vortex of an enormously rich area of diverse natural resources – fertile cropland, mineral deposits, and water.

IMG_20130213_151252 - Version 2Fausz went on to suggest that Pierre Laclede had been specifically recruited in New Orleans for the establishment of this French and Indian Capital of Commerce because of a unique combination of charcateristics. Laclede was a well-educated Frenchman, an expert swordsman and officer in the French Militia in lower Louisiana. He was poised, diplomatic, adventurous and a natural leader. Moreover, for personal reasons, Laclede was willing to leave New Orleans and settle elsewhere.

Thus it was that Pierre Laclede Liguest of Bedous, France set sail at the beginning of August 1763 with his stepson, Auguste Chouteau, a youth remarkable in his own right (a month shy of his fourteenth birthday) for the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to establish a fur trading post.

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Traveling with a royal convoy of five boats bringing provisions from New Orleans to Fort de Chartres, along with the imports they were to trade with the Indians, Laclede and Chouteau had time to get to know each other very well and a bond of trust and friendship formed that would determine much of Chouteau’s future success.

Little_osagesThe journey provided Auguste with months of tutelage in organization, military discipline and leadership. Upon reaching Fort de Chartres and almost immediately upon breaking ground for the fur trading post, Auguste witnessed exemplary diplomacy as his step-father negotiated with Indian leaders, French military, and residents of Cahokia, Illinois – recruiting many to move to St. Louis. In making Chouteau his first lieutenant Laclede was establishing his acceptance as a leader, grooming him for authority in the community, and providing security for Chouteau’s mother and siblings; in effect it was lasting evidence of the love he bore Marie Chouteau and their family.

By this time Laclede had a son of his own by Marie Bourgeois Chouteau, Jean Pierre Chouteau aged six. But this did not diminish his affection for Auguste, who had become in all but name, his adopted son.

220px-AugustechouteauAbandoned in early childhood along with his mother, by his legal father (Rene Auguste Chouteau, who left New Orleans, went to France and didn’t return for nearly fifteen years) Auguste would become one of the shrewdest merchants in North America; a quality he may have inherited from his mother. He was likely, already, a bright and determined little boy when a French officer by the name of Laclede entered their lives – Auguste’s and Marie’s – and began to mentor him.

220px-Reverie_TN_08_former_MS_river_SThe voyage up the mighty Misssissippi was a journey into the unknown for both,  “Laclede symbolizing the mature wisdom of Enlightenment Europe and Chouteau, the youthful vitality of frontier America.”*

It was an arduous but fascinating, twelve-hundred-river-mile voyage into the Illinois Country against the Misssissippi’s powerful current – past Arkansas Post, past Kaskaskia, past Ste. Genevieve (settled just twenty-eight years earlier).

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They reached Fort de Chartres in November as winter was settling into the Mississippi River Valley. There Laclede secured permission to store their trade goods until spring while he and Auguste began scouting out a secure site for the trading post. Since the land at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers proved to be too marshy and prone to flooding for a permanent settlement, they needed an alternative nearby.

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While wintering at Fort de Chartres Laclede began planning a grid pattern map for a village centered around the fur trading post. It would stretch out atop the natural terraces of bluffs that fronted the Mississippi in the location he had chosen about fifteen river miles south of the confluence. Beyond the riverfront, flowering prairie and virgin forest spread as far west as the eye could see.

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Considered modern by many in 1764, this plan had its roots in the street grid of New Orleans and earlier roots in medieval Europe. When the ice began to break up in the Mississippi in February of 1764 Auguste returned to the area in which Laclede had notched trees for the location of the village, with a “faithful crew of thirty” and began supervising construction of the first buildings of St. Louis  – thus ushering in the Colonial history of St. Louis.

St. Louis was for a time remarkable for its vision and its tolerance. It did indeed become an Indian Capital of Commerce where delegates from many nations, some as far west as the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, came peacefully to trade. For the first four decades the languages spoken most commonly in St. Louis after French, were Indian dialects. Indians came in such great numbers that at times they outnumbered the villagers. Trade was also conducted outside of the village. Laclede’s sons lived for months at a time among Indian nations and established trading posts far to the west of St. Louis.

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Women rose to prominence, many controlling their own fortunes before the turn of the 19th century. Auguste Chouteau and his younger brother Pierre learned to speak the languages of the tribes with whom they did business. They spoke Osage but not English. Class distinctions would not arise until after the Colonial period.

People of different races and social backgrounds lived and worked side by side in the village perched above the Mississippi. Slavery would not be eliminated until 1865 but almost from the start free men and women of color also inhabited this multi-cultural community that evolved in stark contrast to the English colonies along the Eastern seaboard. In all of North America there was nothing quite like St. Louis.

* J. Frederick Fausz, The Founding of St. Louis: First City of the New West, The History Press, 2011.

51Hc-5wiwqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Illustration Sources: Fur Traders in Canada Trading with Indians, 1777 – author William Fadden (1750-1836) from Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain at wikipedia.org; Map of the Illinois Country 1718 – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; Chief of the Little Osages c. 1807 by Charles B. J. de Saint-Memin – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; Old Ste. Genevieve c. 1750 – mural from the Missouri State Capital Building by Oscar E. Berninghaus, 1924 – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; New Orleans Fort Map, 1763 – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; Fort Pierre from Travels in America – by Karl Bodmer – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; St. Louis: The Fourth City, 1764-1911, Volume 2 by Walter B. Stevens – paperback reprint by the Ulan Press, available at amazon.com.

Photo Credits: Reverie, Tennessee, TN/AR Stateline at the Old Course of the Mississippi River, View South, author: Thomas R. Machnitzki, July 2010 – Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License; wikimedia commons, GNU Free Documentation License at wikipedia.org; Fort de Chartres – Front Curtain and Gate House - author: Kbh3rd, released into the public domain at wikipedia.org; St. Louis, Missouri Skyline in September 2008 - author: Captain Timothy Reinhardt, USAF – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; William Clark’s St. Louis Grave Site and February 15, 2014 Re-Enactment of Chouteau’s Return & the Founding of St. Louis – used with the kind permission of Thomas Kavanaugh, Sr.. All other photos by Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.

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The City of St. Louis metaphorically lights 250 birthday candles next weekend in celebration of its founding in 1764 by Pierre Laclede Liguest and his fourteen-year-old stepson René Auguste Chouteau. A spirited re-enactment of Laclede’s landing in December of 1763 at the foot of what became Market Street took place shortly before the end of last year under the direction of National Park Service Interpreter, Douglas Harding in anticipation of the city’s Sestercentennial.

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No one would be more surprised perhaps than Pierre Laclede, that his vision for one of the finest cities on the continent flourishing here where he planted it, would come to fruition. For he died believing himself a failure. But flourish St. Louis did, thanks in no small part to Laclede’s foresight, fair-mindedness and diplomacy, evolving by 1875 into what Compton & Dry termed The Great Metropolis of the Mississippi River Valley.

Lewis_and_ClarkSt. Louis’ most famous nickname had become The Gateway to the West, thanks in large part to Captains (later Territorial Governors) Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; Laclede having proven to be quite literally – as his name translates – the gate.*  St. Louis’ earlier nicknames had been The Mound City, Pain Court and after the Great Fire of 1849, The Brick City. St. Louis now entered into one of its greatest eras.

Generally I cover St. Louis history, art and architecture from the year 1000 in the walking tours and coach tours that I conduct. And although I will emphasize the past 250 years during this celebratory year, I will credit the Mississippians as the first-known architects of the landscape that became St. Louis. Though we have no way of knowing what they called the western fringe of their great capital at what is today Cahokia.

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I love giving tours of St. Louis. In part because it has gone through so many distinct eras, been impacted by such remarkable people, and the stories are so numerous that no two tours are exactly the same. And partly because St. Louis is so beautiful, such a mosaic of cultures, architectural styles, hidden places and flavors that I love showing it off!

451px-Pacific_Coast_Limited_1898I come up with the concepts for most of my tours but I love the challenge of tailoring a tour to a very specific theme or group like The History of Transportation in St. Louis Over the Past 250 Years that I was asked to construct for TEAM the (Transportation Engineers Association of Missouri) and which I cannot wait to give in March!

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Scores of splendid events celebrating St. Louis’ Sestercentennial have been organized under the umbrella of stl250. You will find a calendar of their listings thru December 31, 2014 at http://www.stl250.org/. For events in January and early February of 2015 you will need to check back as time goes on. With over a hundred listings there are far too many to name. But I’d like to share with you several that I think will highlight the year:  (I have starred events that look great for families with children):

220px-Augustechouteau1. Auguste Chouteau’s Journal: (Monday, February 10, 7 pm on Channel 9) PBS TV Producer Jim Kirchherr examines a journal kept by Auguste Chouteau, the only extant description of the city’s founding by a first-hand witness. Young Chouteau is designated co-founder of St. Louis because on February 15, 1764 he oversaw a crew of thirty men who broke ground for the first buildings of the fur trading post that Laclede named St. Louis.  http://ninenet.org/

2.* Imagining the Founding of St. Louis: (February 7 thru August 23, 2014) http://www.thesheldon.org/galleries_current.asp. An exhibit of the works of 19th century artists commemorating tribal nations who impacted early St. Louis is ongoing at The Sheldon Memorial in Grand Center and includes works on loan from the Missouri History Museum, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Mercantile Library, the St. Louis Science Center, the Osage Tribal Museum and several private collections. This is a one-time opportunity to see them together in one place.

3. St. Louis at Its Founding: (February 13th, 2014) A presentation by faculty and alumni of St. Louis University, the oldest university west of the Mississippi River, on the city’s origins as a French Catholic village amidst native American peoples. Speakers include historian Frederick Hodes and Christy Finsell, alum and member of the Osage Nation. http://www.stl250.org/event-calendar.aspx#/?i=1

IMG_20111028_1256544.* The Campbell House Museum: (February 14-16, 2014, 10 am-5 pm) The doors to this fascinating, mid-19th century family home open wide and free to the public all weekend in celebration of St. Louis at 250. Monday, February 17th Director, Andrew Hahn gives an illustrated presentation: St. Louis in the Gilded Age at the Missouri History Museum. http://www.campbellhousemuseum.org/visit/ 

5. From Chouteau to Scharf: (February 14 – September 1, 2014) The St. Louis Mercantile Library’s 250th Anniversary Exhibit of the Early Histories of St. Louis is drawn from the deep coffers of the oldest surviving library west of the Mississippi River. Location: Thomas Jefferson Library at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.

6.* 250 in 250: (Feb. 14, 2015 thru Feb. 13, 2015) A major exhibit mounted by the curators of the Missouri History Museum consisting of 50 People, 50 Places, 50 Moments, 50 Images and 50 Objects illuminating 250 years of St. Louis History. http://mohistory.org/node/8725

7.* The Biggest Birthday Bash: (February 14-17, 2014) A four-day-weekend of family-friendly events that include free admission to the 250 in 250 Exhibit, puppet shows, face painting, cupcake decorating, live music, crafts. http://mohistory.org/node/9478 

8.* Burnin’ Love: (February 14, 2014, 4:30-10:30) Valentine’s Day extravaganza and spectacle on Art Hill in Forest Park that includes concerts, videos, fire dancers and fire works! http://www.stl250.org/burnin-love.aspx 

IMG_20130213_1527019. A Great City From the Start: The Founding & Lasting Significance of St. Louis: (February 14,2014) http://mohistory.org/node/9175 Day-long symposium jointly sponsored by Yale University and Washington University with Les Amis and the Missouri History Museum, featuring nationally renowned scholars on French Colonial St. Louis: at the Missouri History Museum. Tickets must be purchased in advance.

10.* STL250 Re-Enactment: (February 15, 2014, 10:30-11:00 am) Mayor Francis Slay hosts dignitaries from France, Spain, Quebec, Canada and the Osage Nation for a series of tableaus staged by the Repertory Theater of St. Louis and Les Amis reflecting the cultures that defined early St. Louis. Following this event downtown St. Louis street signs will be unveiled bearing their original French names. A welcome initiative by Les Amis! https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/mayor/news/St-Louis-Celebrates-its-250th-Anniversary-in-2014.cfm

11.* Chouteau Returns to St. Louis: (February 15, 2014, 11am – 4pm) Thirty historic re-enactors under the direction of the National Park Service will arrive in canoes at the foot of Market Street, climb the Grand Staircase and demonstrate the workings of La Poste de Saint Louis, the fur trading post established by Laclede atop the second tier of natural limestone bluffs that fronted the Mississippi. Look for the blacksmith forge near the south leg of the Gateway Arch.https://www.facebook.com/events/718100961534570/

12.  Guy Foropon Presentation on the Birthplace of City Founder Pierre Laclede: (February 15, 2014, 12:30 pm) The National Park Service hosts a presentation in the Old Courthouse by Guy Foropon, whose great-grandmother Jeanne Marie Laclede was a descendant of Pierre Laclede’s ancestors. Foropon will present “Bedous, France a Forgotten Village?” and discuss how Pierre Laclede’s birthplace has changed little since he was alive. The castle where Laclede was born and most of the village’s homes were built before 1729 and are still standing.

IMG_20130213_16284913. Reflection: Peter Blow & Dred Scott Descendants Looking Back, Looking Forward: (February 15, 2014, 1pm) Meet the descendants of Dred Scott and the descendants of his owner Peter Blow as they discuss the Blows of Yesteryear & the Dred Scott Decision of 1857. Re-Enactment by the Dred Scott Theatre Troupe where Susan Blow started the first public kindergarten in the U.S.,  today the Carondelet Historical Society. http://carondelethistory.org/

14. St. Louis’ Biggest, Birthday Ball: (February 16, 2014, 6pm-10pm) Elegant soiree and cocktail party (without dancing) in the Missouri History Museum. Tickets must be purchased for this event. http://www.stl250.org/birthday-ball.aspx 

15. Let Us Remember (February 19, 2014, 7pm) A Brief Re-Acquaintance with the Founders of St. Louis: lecture at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.

16. St. Louis at 100: (February 26, 2014) Missouri folk singers, Dave Para and Cathy Barton will perform music from the Civil War era with David Halen in the Sheldon Memorial Concert Hall. http://www.stl250.org/event-calendar.aspx#/?i=3

Soulard 00817. St. Louis Mardi Gras 2014: (January 6-March 4, 2014) Carnival (long-known as Mardi Gras from Lower Louisiana to the Mid-Mississippi River Valley) has been celebrated in St. Louis since Colonial times. It was a season of weekly dances beginning with Twelfth Night and ending with Shrove Tuesday. It’s bigger than ever in St. Louis!  http://www.mardigrasinc.com/

IMG_20121025_15042118.* Osage Mass at St. Louis University (April 2, 2014) The Osage Nation of Oklahoma, once stewards of the land that became St. Louis,  are planning an Osage Mass at St. Louis University, in St. Francis Xavier Church : (314) 977-7300. Fr. John Padberg S.J. will concelebrate with Fr. Todd Nance (Osage) and Fr. Christopher Daigle (pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church “Cathedral of the Osage” in Pawhuska, Oklahoma). 

19. Evening with Osage Principal Chief Scott Big Horse: (April 3, 2014, 7pm) Principal Chief Scott Big Horse of the Osage will give a free talk on the relationship between the Osage and the French that proved so critical to St. Louis’ evolution from fur trading post to city. He will discuss Osage connections to both the Chatillon and DeMenil families at the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion on DeMenil Place. Phone:(314)771-5828

p0001982120.* Fur Trapper Encampment (April 5, 2014, 11am-3pm) In time St. Louis emerged as the Fur Capital of North America. The Chatillon-DeMenil Foundation will host a fur trapper encampment on the grounds where Henri Chatillon, who served as Francis Parkman’s guide on the Oregon Trail, built his brick farmhouse in about 1848. http://www.demenil.org/ 

21. Beneath Your Feet: 250 Years of St. Louis Caves: (April 15, 2014) The Academy of Science, founded in St. Louis in 1856, presents a lecture in the History Museum on the city’s fascinating and useful underground labrynth.

22. St. Louis Metamorphosis: (April 25-April 26, 2014) A panel of authors including Patricia Cleary author of “The World The Flesh and the Devil: A History of Colonial St. Louis” discuss the significance of a city (this city in particular) across centuries: at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. http://stlmetromorphosis.com/

800px-St-louis-attack23.* 1780 British Attack on St. Louis: (May 24, 2014) Living history volunteers under the direction of Doug Harding of the National Park Service will re-enact portions of The Battle of Fort San Carlos in St. Louis: adjacent to the Gateway Arch.

24.* 1864 Christmas Ball: (December 20, 2014) Civil War Era Dress Ball hosted in the Rotunda of the Old Courthouse by the National Park Service. You can join the fun in period clothing – or not.  http://www.gatewayarch.com/experience/old-courthouse/

IMG_20110108_13204425.* Twelfth Afternoon Ball: (January 3, 2015) Marking the start of the Carnival/ Mardi Gras season in Colonial St. Louis was a costume ball held on Twelfth Night. Moved to the afternoon for practical purposes this delightful event held in the rotunda of St. Louis’ historic Old Courthouse includes servings of traditional King Cake, great Creole music, set dances and general merriment.

Throughout the next twelve months I will be blogging about about significant people and events that shaped St. Louis over the past 250 years. I hope that you will join me on the journey!

*Reference: Frederick Fausz, Founding St. Louis: First City of the New West

Illustration Credits: All images shown are in the public domain at wikipedia.org

Photo Credits: Pierre Laclede Chooses the Site for La Poste de Saint Louis in December of 1763 – used with the generous permission of Douglas Harding of the National Park Service; all other photos by Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.

 
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Loving St. Louis: 1763 – 2013

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Autumn in all its glory has arrived in the mid-Mississippi River Valley and we St. Louisans revel in it! From excursions to pumpkin patches, apple orchards and wineries to street runs like the Rock’n’Roll Marathon, from dramatic baseball pennant races to the festive tail-gate parties that usher in the football season – we spend as much time outdoors as the weather allows. Spring may rival autumn in St. Louis for beauty but no season can rival its exuberant color!

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It was the autumn of 1763 when city founder Pierre Laclede Liguest caught his first glimpse of the Illinois Country (Pays des Illinois) and the lush ripeness of the landscape. Coupled with a bracing coolness reminiscent of his native Pyrennes, the temperature and the view must have been a welcome contrast to the sweltering, subtropical New Orleans that he had left behind.

After reaching the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and finding the land too marshy for the settlement of a fur trading post with potential for expansion, Laclede selected an area of woodland and prairie atop the first elevated and accessible site on the west side of the Mississippi, fifteen river miles below the confluence. He would name it St. Louis for the patron saint of Louis XV, whom he’d served as a soldier before leaving Bedous, France.

ScanLaclede wasn’t the first to fall in love with the beauty and richness of the mid-Mississippi River Valley. The ancient people archaeologists have named the Mississippian Mound Builders raised the first city north of Mexico several hundreds of years before Laclede’s arrival, on the east side of the river, eventually expanding westward as their population increased, into what became downtown St. Louis.

In Cahokia Mounds: America’s First City archaeologist William Iseminger describes the lay-out and construction of the amazing Mississippian capitol; today one of twenty World Heritage Sites in the United States.

The French and Creoles of Saint Louis named the earthworks on this side of the river and used them to gauge their proximity to dangerous shoals and bluffs when navigating the Mississippi, but they did not destroy the mounds as later settlers would. Sugar Loaf Mound (Pain du Sucre) is the sole surviving earthwork in the near-downtown St. Louis area, though two small ranch houses were built – one near the top and the other on the step portion – of this once conical-shaped burial mound. The Osage Nation now owns and plans to restore Sugar Loaf as a sacred heritage site.

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In Colonial times French settlers in Cahokia and Kaskaskia fled their Illinois homes before the encroaching British and found in Laclede’s village a refuge where they could re-situate their businesses and their homes safely above flood level along the greatest natural highway in North America. Above and behind the village proper, rolling prairie farmland and pasture grazing land stretched for miles, fed by natural springs and creeks, and buttressed by virgin forests. When Laclede chose the site no one at all was living here.

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As rich as the landscape was, life on the edge of the frontier was isolated, arduous and fraught with danger. Hunger, extremes of weather and precarious relationships among foreign settlers and tribal nations were constants. I don’t think that any author to date has painted a more detailed nor thought-provoking portrait of Colonial Saint Louis than historian and native St. Louisan, Patricia Cleary in The World, the Flesh and The Devil.

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Cleary’s book is the latest in  a very fine series of St. Louis histories leading up to the Sestercentennial Celebration of the city’s founding in February of 1764. Others include Shirley Christian’s Before Lewis & Clark: The Chouteaus, the French Dynasty that Ruled the North American Fur Trade, Frederick A. Hodes’ Beyond the Frontier, and J. Frederick Fausz’s Founding St. Louis: First City of the New West. Each written from a distinctive perspective, they combine for an amazingly descriptive view of early St. Louis.

IMG_20120529_154919Auguste Chouteau, who was fourteen years of age at the time and overseeing a “faithful crew of thirty”  cutting timber for La Poste de Saint Louis was an old gentleman when he put his memories of the founding into writing, and historians have debated for decades whether the number he wrote after the 1 for the date was a 3 or a 4.

The City of St. Louis has officially settled on the 14th because even though Chouteau arrived with his crew on February 13th, they didn’t break ground until the following day. I’m hopeful that the celebrations will cover both days.

The terraces of limestone bluffs that front the Mississippi here and the prairie west of them have evolved in fantastic ways in the last two hundred and forty-nine years. 170px-La_Fayette_1957_Issue-3c Although it has been landscaped and partially built upon, Lafayette Park (named for the Marquis de Lafayette, who served as a volunteer under George Washington in the Continental Army) southwest of downtown St. Louis is the oldest city park west of the Mississippi River and the most unchanged segment of the broad St. Louis Commons delineated in 1764.

But to view the last remaining segment of virgin prairie in Greater St. Louis one must travel to Calvary Cemetery near the city’s  northern boundary. Indian burials in a hill that once stood tall in that area of prairie overlooking the Mississippi and which were relocated on the same grounds, suggest a remnant of the Mound Culture that inspired many such earthworks in the vicinity, gaining for St. Louis the early nickname of The Mound City.

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Other areas of the vast St. Louis Prairie have given way to gardens – one of them magnificent – thanks to English emigre, entrepreneur and philanthropist Henry Shaw, who fell in love with St. Louis in 1819 and left large parts of it far better than he found them. Seven and a half generations of St. Louisans have delighted in the Botanical Garden he bequeathed to us and to all Missourians.

IMG_20110616_150907Louis Sullivan, father of modern western architecture, never lived in St. Louis but he conceived a skyscraper here of steel, glass, wood, and terra cotta sculpted from the richest clay deposits on the St. Louis prairie that became an international model for steel frame architecture and the wedding of functionality and lyrical design.

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The Mississippi still waters and sustains St. Louis as it has since our founding,  occasionally reminding us after repeated, heavy rainfalls and great snow-melts to the north, that we are no match for its breadth and power. Appreciating that as long ago as 1763 when he chose this site after toiling close to a thousand miles against its current, Laclede notched trees for the first buildings of St. Louis just behind where Eero Saarinen’s magnificent steel Arch rises today. He didn’t need to see the Mississippi fifteen miles wide at St. Louis to realize that he needed to situate the fur trading post well-above the river.

943546_4977173315069_1498131795_nAccording to Bob Moore, Jr., historian in residence at the Old Courthouse downtown, if Laclede’s  fur trading post was still standing, the view of the Mississippi from its windows would be blocked by the south leg of the Gateway Arch. Never in recorded history have the waters of the mighty Mississippi reached that point on the bluffs.

IMG_20110616_151208There are numerous ways in which St. Louis can and must be improved, as those who have spent lifetimes in the effort will passionately tell you. But there is a great deal to love about St. Louis, not the least of which is an open and relaxed friendliness imbued by prairie vistas.

As we look forward to 2014 and the lighting of a birthday cake with two hundred and fifty candles, there is ample room for new dreams to take shape and grow; here on the bounteous prairie overlooking the  Mississippi, which the poet Thomas Stearns Eliot knew from boyhood and rightly described as running right through us.

Illustration Credits: Pays des Illinois – from the Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet des Estampes, Paris, France, in the public domain in France and the U.S. at Wikimedia Commons.org; Book Cover for The World, the Flesh and the Devil – by Patricia Cleary, published by the University of Missouri, 2011; Indian Attack on St. Louis 1780 by Oscar E. Beminghaus, from the Missouri State Capitol Building, Jefferson City, MO, in the public domain at wikipedia.org; U.S. Postage Stamp La Fayette 1957 – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; Book Cover for Cahokia Mounds: America’s First City by William Iseminger, The History Press, 2010.

img_1878Photo Credits: The Gateway Arch at St. Louis – used with the generous permission of photographer, James Seatris; Detail of the Wainwright Building, St. Louis and The Rooftop of Bob Cassilly’s City Museum – used with the kind permission of Thomas Kavanaugh, Sr.; all other photographs by Maureen O’Connor Kavanaugh, author of this blog.

Posted in Commentary and Criticism, Happenings, History, St. Louis | 4 Comments

St. Louis of France and The Lou

Today marks the seven hundred and forty-third anniversary of the death of St. Louis of France, for whom Pierre Laclede Liguest named a fur trading post that evolved into the Port of St. Louis.

I’m rarely in the Old Cathedral at night except for weddings, Holy Days that occur during the week or when welcoming a Leadership Team from Ascension Health to St. Louis. Tranquil by day, the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France is hushed and luminous at night. Then spectres from the centuries in which the building is steeped crowd the cathedral even as a futuristic, ribbon of steel arches in the windows to the east.

Once upon a time, you could look out the cathedral’s west windows, beyond the statue of St. Joan (Jeanne d’Arc) and see covered wagons being drawn by horses over Third Street (originally Rue des Les Granges/today Memorial Drive). You might glimpse Abe Lincoln climbing Market Street to defend a client in the Courthouse on the hill above, or see Sam Clemens making his way down the bluffs to pilot a steamboat to New Orleans and back. Or watch a delegation of Osage bearing gifts and making their way to treat with William Clark in his Council Room (today that would be just north of the Gateway Arch). So much history has passed before these windows!

Situated on the only piece of land in St. Louis that has never been bought or sold, the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France is the fourth Catholic Church built on the third square that Pierre Laclede laid out in the center of the village in 1764 for a village church and cemetery.

The first in 1770 was a simple, poteaux-en-terre (vertical post) church modeled upon Holy Family Log Church in Cahokia, Illinois and replaced six years later with a larger, white oak structure in the same style. There, in December of 1809, Sacagawea witnessed the baptism of her little son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, after which William Clark adopted him and raised him in St. Louis with his own children.

Named for the patron saint of the French king Laclede served in the military, the first church on this site and those that followed it, bore the name of a 13th century monarch who was also a knight. Mounted on a steed atop Art Hill in Forest Park, Louis IX of France is a striking if perhaps surprising representative for an American city.

The earliest surviving sculpture of St. Louis dates to the 14th century, a little over one hundred years after he died. Reputed to be a true likeness of the man who ruled France for fifty plus years, rode into battle and was called upon by other European monarchs to mediate disputes before all-out war erupted, he does not appear the modern image of a warrior. But this knight was also an ascetic. Father of eleven children, founder of hospitals and the first court of appeals in the western world, Louis IX would endow the Sorbonne and erect in Paris one of the greatest cathedrals ever built, Sainte-Chappelle, a soaring, breathtakingly beautiful monument of faith.

The facade of the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (which held the title of oldest Catholic cathedral west of the Mississippi River until it was designated a basilica by Pope John XXIII for its historic significance) bears inscriptions in four languages: French (the first language of St. Louis), English, Latin and Hebrew. This is the only place remaining downtown where the French origins of La Poste de Saint Louis are clearly engraved in stone:

Ma maison sera appelle la maison de priere./My house shall be called the house of prayer.

In 1907 an enormous cathedral basilica began to rise four blocks north and some three miles west of the Old Cathedral, about as different in scale and style as one can imagine, for a community that had far-outgrown the original.

Romanesque-Revival with a Byzantine interior and adorned with eighty-three thousand square feet of mosaics, the New Cathedral also bears the name of St. Louis, whose life is illustrated from childhood to adulthood in tesserae panels lining the narthex (the basilica’s entry and gathering space).

Louis became king upon the death of his father, while still a boy. His mother, Blanche of Castille, governed in his stead until he married at age nineteen and assumed full reign of France. A portrait of St. Louis kneeling in prayer before his coronation hangs on the southeast wall of the Old Cathedral.

It was a gift to Bishop Louis DuBourg, first bishop of the Louisiana Territory, from King Louis XVIII of France, a descendant of St. Louis. The fleur-de-lis which cover his shield and cape constituted his family’s coat of arms, and have become another symbol identifiable with the City of St. Louis.

The mosaic art work in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis is stunning. Over eight thousand colors reflect the skill and devotion of artists who fashioned it over three quarters of the 20th century. The first humble church of St. Louis is illustrated there amidst the early history of the St. Louis Archdiocese. The archangels which span the length of the basilica walls with outspread wings are splendid. But one of my favorite sections depicts St. Louis as a child being counseled by his mother.

I grew up learning about the human frailties of St. Louis of France as well as his strength and wisdom. Between the two basilicas, which capture such different aspects of his personality and such different eras of St. Louis history, I have come to understand his place in the context of a far greater mystery and design.

I left the “new cathedral” in The Lou’s Central West End this August 25th, the Feast of St. Louis of France, as I always do – in awe – because it is such an artistic treasure trove.

But the image that remained with me as I made my way home was of the simplicity and serenity of the Old Cathedral drenched in the morning light, and of the quiet figure standing guard within the sanctuary of a city named for him.

Photo Credits: “Sainte Chapelle – Upper Chapel, Paris, France, October 14, 2005″ – author: Didier B(San 67fr) from Wikimedia Commons at wikipedia.org. Attribution: Share Alike 2.5; “14th Century Statue of St. Louis” – in the public domain at wikipedia.org. All other photos: Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog, taken with my cell phone.

References: The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis Brochure and Inscriptions on the Body of the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France on the St. Louis Riverfront.

Illustration Credit: “The First Church in St. Louis” – in the public domain at wikipedia.org.

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A Grand SLAM in Forest Park

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A little over a week ago on June 30, 2013 the Director, Board of Directors, Curators and Staff of the St. Louis Art Museum hit a collective Grand Slam inside Forest Park when they unlocked the doors to the new East Wing, allowing free and cogent passage between old and new ages of art in brilliant and thrilling ways.

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Wishing to avoid huge crowds on an exuberant and celebratory opening weekend, and knowing well the density of summer traffic in Forest Park, I held back. Then visited twice in seventy-two hours. And oh, how I anticipate returning again and again at my leisure. For to someone who has known the St. Louis Art Museum (http://www.slam.org/) since childhood the transformation represents a greatly anticipated throwing wide of the rich store of modern treasure that long-awaited exhibit space in a fitting context.

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David Chipperfield, the British architect with offices in London, Berlin, Milan and Shanghai, who designed the new East Wing of the St. Louis Art Museum is quoted as saying that he sought “to help redefine the original building with an extension that created a seamless circulation between the old and the new.” To my mind he succeeded magnificently, creating drama in Cass Gilbert’s 1904 gem of a treasure house while expanding eastward atop and beneath Art Hill in cunning ways that contrast and complement Gilbert’s original concept.

Against Gilbert’s soft gray Beaux Art edifice Chipperfield positioned modernist slabs of stone and glass, and dark, polished concrete walls speckled with aggregates from the Missouri River in an harmonious counterpoint to the original building. Inside, shaded floor to ceiling windows and a coffered, polished white concrete ceiling that integrates a grid of skylights, suffuse the galleries with soft light.

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I think that Louis Sullivan, who broke ground for modern architecture here in St. Louis with the Wainwright Building would love this wing. For his philosophy permeates it. The form is functional – housing fine works of art in a straightforward manner without competing with them and honoring Sullivan’s principal that if you’re going to violate the natural landscape with a man-made structure you need to bring elements of the landscape into your design so that it looks like it belongs. David Chipperfield’s use of stone, river aggregate and white oak native to the Greater St. Louis prairie meld beautifully with the museum’s Forest Park setting.

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Ghanaian sculptor, El Anatsui’s huge metallic tapestry Fading Cloth drapes a west wall inside the east wing entrance providing a glittering welcome and reassurance that works we love and have missed while the 211,ooo foot expansion was under construction for three years are back where we can once again savour them. As you meander from gallery to gallery, each one opens to the senses like a box of hand-crafted chocolates, full of surprise and variety.

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Wonderful, wonderful things await visitors to the East Wing of the St. Louis Art Museum and the curators of the various collections have done a masterful job of framing and positioning them. I could spend hours in happy contemplation of Leonardo Drew’s 37′ wall installation, a wonder-work in wood, rust, fabric, strings, feathers and mixed media.

Many of the pieces like Chuck Close’s Keith and Gerhard Richter’s Betty are of international renown. Some like Ernest Trova’s Study: Falling Man (Walking Man) and Faith Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Birthday resonate with special significance for St. Louisans. 
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Trova the artist was a native St. Louisan as was Josephine McDonald Baker the subject of Faith Ringgold’s vibrant, painted story quilt. Trova’s sculpture mirrors all of us in sleek chrome. As you can see from the detail above, Ringgold’s fabric painting bursts with color a la Henri Matisse.

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By 1904, when St. Louis hosted a great world’s fair, the American city which in 1860 had contained proportionately the largest immigrant population in the United States had become an incredibly rich melting pot of cultures. Although many came from countries with palaces most of these immigrants along with most of the eastern and southern Americans who settled in St. Louis had never seen a palace much less stepped foot in one.

The collection that would take up residence in the Palace of Fine Arts at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 was intended to be, after the fair ended – Dedicated to Art and Free to All - the ideal of a democratic palace of the arts, where all St. Louisans, not just the wealthy, could experience, enjoy and draw inspiration from great art.

IMG_20121209_130536 - Version 2This Palace of Fine Arts, the only permanent building designed for the World’s Fair of 1904 was meant to give them that opportunity in a grand setting. The same would be true in the domain of literature with the handsome Central Building of the St. Louis Public Library that Cass Gilbert later designed.

He would go on to conceive the soaring Woolworth 225px-Cass_Gilbert_crop Building in New York City and the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. but Gilbert drew his inspiration for the grand sculpture court in St. Louis’ palace of art from the Baths at Caracalla in Rome.

 

Caracalla_innenDavid Chipperfield Architects boldly re-envisioned that interior sculpture court with a grand staircase that affords visitors the dual pleasure of descending into Art Hill to the lower galleries, cafe, gift shop, classrooms and theater of the museum as if entering an underground labrynth, or ascending into Cass Gilbert’s elegant Romanesque court. Descent into the top of Art Hill is particularly delightful for St. Louisans who have been sledding down the north slope of Art Hill in wintertime for decades.
I understand that installation of this grand staircase has been controversial, to me it’s a masterstroke.

The St. Louis Art Museum’s master plan, close to thirty years in formulation, includes an exterior sculpture garden by French landscape architect Michel Dessigne to surround the museum on three sides. Works by Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Aristide Maillol and George Rickey are already in place. That these and other works can be viewed from inside the museum as well as from the outside in the context of nature is splendid.

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Among these outdoor works are Placebo, American sculptor Roxy Paine’s 56′ x 46’6″ stainless steel tree and British sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone Sea, a massive new installation which commemorates the shallow, ancient sea that once covered the mid-western United States. The installation consists of twenty-five, ten-foot arches, each weighing approximately thirteen tons.

IMG_7239Some say that St. Louis experienced her last great epoch in 1904 with a magnificent world’s fair that showcased scientific innovation and the arts while convening the first international peace conference in the world. And that in the ensuing century-plus such dynamism, vision and creativity were lost.

But don’t you believe it. An incredible renaissance is taking place in St. Louis from the Mississippi Riverfront westward to Forest Park, where a bronze knight rendered in heroic scale by Charles Henry Niehaus for the entrance to the 1904 World’s Fair and cast locally by W.R. Hodge sits astride a steed at the center of what Travel & Leisure Magazine has named one of the ten most beautiful city parks in the world.

Congratulations to Brent R. Benjamin, Director of the St. Louis Art Museum, the Board of Directors, Curators and Staff of the St. Louis Art Museum for a monumental achievement, your Grand SLAM in Forest Park! And to the citizens of St. Louis City and County who maintain with their taxes a wonderfully free park and museum district that rivals the rest of the nation and sustains local culture.

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Illustration Credit: Baths at Caracalla in Rome – reconstructive drawing 1899, in the public domain at wikipedia.org.

Photography Credits: Louisiana Purchase Exposition St. Louis 1904 – in the public domain at wikipedia.org; St. Louis Art Museum Frieze – colin.faulkingham photographer, released into the public domain in 2006, wikipedia.org; Main Entrance to the St. Louis Art Museum from the West and Forest Park Lagoon at the Base of Art Hill – Maureen Kavanaugh; all other photographs, including the detail of Faith Ringgold’s story quilt Jo Baker’s Birthday - Thomas Kavanaugh, Sr. Photos of works of art within the St. Louis Art Museum have been taken soley for non-commercial use to celebrate the St. Louis Art Museum.

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