Re-Visiting History: The Battle of Pilot Knob, Missouri


At the invitation of good friends who live in Farmington, my husband and I took a scenic drive this past weekend out of St. Louis, over the Ozark Plateau and into the beautiful Arcadia Valley to attend a 150th Anniversary Re-Enactment of the Civil War Battle of Pilot Knob, Missouri/ aka The Battle of Fort Davidson (

IMG_20110616_143539It’s difficult to get a sense of the Civil War Era in St. Louis outside of specific landmarks – the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion, The Campbell House and Eugene Field House Museums, the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site at White Haven or The Old Courthouse (pictured at the left), where in some respects time stands still. St. Louis has changed so greatly since that time.

We were eager to view this re-eanactment on the actual battle field where it took place, which is preserved by the State of Missouri as The Fort Davidson Historic Site, in a mountainous area little changed since 1864.


Every third year The Battle of Pilot Knob is staged where Confederate and Union soldiers lie buried in a common grave, in what had been the fort’s long rifle pit.


Fort Davidson is a hexagonal earthwork constructed by the Union  Army three hundred yards from the base of Pilot Knob Mountain,* adjacent to what was during the Civil War the southern terminus of the Iron Mountain Railroad; its purposes to protect the rail line and defend the City of St. Louis from attack by the Confederate Army.

Pilot Knob is part of the Saint Francois Mountain Range in southeast Missouri, which takes its name from the river originating in the mountains. Granite from these mountains was used in the manufacture of cobblestones on the St. Louis Levee and the piers James Eads sunk to bedrock when he constructed the first bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis; granite shipped from Iron County on board the Iron Mountain Railroad.**


Although Pilot Knob, Missouri is located eighty miles south of St. Louis, incidents in both places related to the Civil War, impacted the other greatly.

601px-St-louis-riot1Chief among these were an event that took place in St. Louis in May of 1861 that inflamed thousands of rural Missourians to enlist in the Army of the Confederacy, and Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s failure in September of 1864 to capture arms and ammunition from Fort Davidson at Pilot Knob, which would have enabled him to lay siege to St. Louis with an army of 12,000.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861 St. Louis was the only city in the State of Missouri.

The Federal Arsenal of the West, which produced an enormous amount of ammunition was located here on the west bank of the Mississippi River. After the war Ulysses Grant wrote that had the Federal Arsenal at St. Louis fallen to secessionists in the spring of 1861 the Union could not have won the war.

Nathaniel_Lyon_on_horseback_1General Nathaniel Lyon, a Connecticut native and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, is the Union officer credited with preventing that from happening. Two monuments dedicated to him stand in Lyon Park, immediately east of the St. Louis Arsenal grounds.

The riot that broke out as the Federal troops ordered by Lyon to surround the Missouri Militia at Camp Jackson, resulted in the wounding and killing of not only soldiers but many civilians including children.

The Camp Jackson Affair was sensationalized by newspapers around the nation as The Massacre at Lindell’s Grove, fueling enlistment in the Confederate Army.


Nathaniel Lyon was killed in the first major battle of the Civil War in Missouri, the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, on August 10, 1861 precisely three months to the day since the incident at Camp Jackson.


There remains to this day, a haunting sense in the mountainous areas of southern Missouri, where a Trail of Tears was forged by thousands of the Cherokee Nation in 1830.


And where thousands of American soldiers and Missouri residents lost their lives during the guerrilla warfare that racked this part of the state between 1861 and 1864.

71D1+HjD47LPaulette Jiles’ novel, Enemy Women, is one of the most lyrically powerful tellings of the Civil War in Missouri that I’ve ever read.

Her story takes place between Doniphan County (a little south of Pilot Knob) and the City of St. Louis, where main character, Adair Colley is imprisoned for months with other women refugees from various parts of Missouri.

As shocking as this was to me while reading the novel, more shocking still was confirmation that women were indeed imprisoned at Gratiot Street and later in what became known as the Chestnut Street Womens Prison.

Watching the battle re-enactment at Pilot Knob and observing re-enactors (some who live in the area and many others from around the U.S.) walking to and fro in period dress, chatting over campfires or interpreting history from numerous stations like that of the Women’s Aid is a moving experience.

20140927_134634 - Version 2

Such historic re-enactments are curious and important events. There is something surreal and unforgettable about having the past and present flow concurrently around you, as you sit on a plastic chair capturing a 19th century battle scene with a camera or cell phone.


Events that dramatically shape history like the Civil War, the deadliest man-made disaster in the history of this nation, should never be forgotten. Lest they be repeated.





Whatever it is that inspires individuals (over 1,400 in this event) to re-enact history as a spectacle for others to experience, engage in and learn from, is truly marvelous.



Over this two-day Re-Enactment of the Battle of Pilot Knob ( spectators were estimated to exceed 40,000 in number. Twenty-five thousand saw the Saturday event alone.****



Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s plot to seize weapons and ammunition from the Federals at Fort Davidson in southeast Missouri failed.

20140927_142155Although his army of 12,000 won a victory over the 1,450 Federal troops stationed there under the command of Gen. Thomas Ewing, Jr., it was a hollow one. All but twenty-eight of Ewing’s force escaped, the last blowing up the Powder Magazine on their way out, while a thousand of Price’s troops were killed or wounded.

Price left Missouri for the final time during the Civil War after his army’s defeat in the Battle of Westport (today Kansas City) on October 23, 1864. There 30,000 men engaged in the largest battle fought west of the Mississipppi River with the Union Army carrying the day. Maj. Gen. Sterling Price is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis.


Special thanks to Tiffany and Allan, Christian and Cameron Smith, for their warm and generous hospitality, and for luring us to the Arcadia Valley for this momentous event.


References: *, gleaned from The Missouri Department of Natural Resources; **, U.S. Geological Survey,*** Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles, William Morrow Publisher, an Imprint of Harper Collins, 2002; ****Sept. 13, 20014 article by Tim O’Neil in the St. Louis Post- Dispatch:

Illustration Credits: Book Illustration of Union General Nathaniel Lyon, St. Louis Riot at Lindell’s Grove/Camp Jackson in St. LouisThe Battle of Wilson’s Creek Mural and The Battle of Westport Mural – from the State Capital Building of Missouri, and 1863 Map of Pilot Knob, MO and Vicinity – all in the public domain at Cell phone captures of the Diagram of Fort Davidson in the Missouri State Park Museum at Pilot Knob, and Exhibit Depicting Maj. Gen. Sterling Price – Maureen Kavanaugh.

PilotKnob03 - Version 2

Photo Credits: Rotunda of The Old Courthouse at St. Louis Hung with Replica of the U.S. Flag Flying Over the Courthouse When the Civil War Broke Out in 1861 – used with the kind permission of John Powel Walsh; View towards the Saint Francois Mountains of the Missouri Ozarks from the top of Knob Lick Mountain -“Knob lick view-26aug06” by Wikipedian Kbh3rd – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –;two vintage black & white images: Civil War Hospital and Camp Life – in the public domain – Shmoop Editorial Team, “The Civil War,” Shmoop University, Inc. , 11 November 2008, (accessed October 1, 2014).

PilotKnob12Above contemporary photos (excepting those taken with my cell phone) – the 4th, 8th and 10th – by Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.

All other photos generously taken and shared by Thomas Kavanaugh, Sr.

Just click on a photo to enlarge.




Posted in American Civil War, Books, Civil War, Civil War St. Louis, Happenings, History, Missouri in the Civil War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Piecing a City Together: Recreating St. Louis


Great old cities, like great quilts fray and fall to pieces. In order to remain vibrant they have to be revitalized.


Cahokia, the first city on the landscape that became St. Louis, defined by archaeologists as the first city north of Mexico, confirms this. For while Mississippian Mounds survive in great numbers and scale – the homes, the language, the beliefs and the nature of the people who constructed them are lost to history.


St. Louis is made up of seventy-nine city neighborhoods that form an irregular quilt-like pattern which wraps itself around a broad bend of the Mississippi River.

In St. Louis, within the downtown neighborhood alone, bits and pieces of the urban landscape are being revitalized by individuals, civic groups, businesses, and municipal, state and federal governments committed to saving them.


The land lid under construction over I55 between Market and Chestnut Streets replaces a center section of Rue des Granges (aka Third Street/aka Memorial Drive). The Street of Barns formed the western perimeter of the Colonial Village of Saint Louis proper. It was the narrow street along which St. Louisans built their barns, between their homes and the Common Fields in which they grew their crops.*


Walnut Street, originally Rue de la Tour (named for the Spanish Tower of Fort San Carlos which was located one block west of here and from which St. Louis was defended the only time it was attacked in May 1780) has been widened into a two-way street with a covered walkway on the north side of the bridge. The newly installed street sign in French is an STL250 initiative of French heritage group, Les Amis.


Walnut Street ends at The Basilica of St. Louis, King, the first Catholic cathedral west of the Mississippi, which stands on the only piece of land in St. Louis never been bought or sold. A complete restoration/renovation of the oldest man-man structure on the downtown riverfront is nearing completion, from the gold-leafed ball atop the steeple, to the lettering on the facade in French, English, Latin and Hebrew, to the underground museum and crypt where Bishop Rosati lies buried.

20140918_123649The interior of the basilica is full of surprises from the color palette, to the detailed stenciling on columns, the beautifully-restored maple flooring in the body of the church, and the mosaic flooring with its fleur-de-lis pattern in the sanctuary. Fleur-de-lis formed the coat of arms of Louis IX of France.

No building in St. Louis has offered a more continuous view of the city’s dramatic evolution from a frontier capital when covered wagons lined 3rd Street to a frontier of human exploration – of the west, of aviation, of outer space – encapsulated in Eero Saarinen’s steel arch. Where the former interior design was tranquil and serene, the restoration resonates a reverent 19th century elegance.

The entire spectrum of Judeo-Christian architecture20140918_120501 is embodied in this Greek-Revival worship space, first cathedral of the West, constructed primarily of native limestone.

It replaced three earlier structures – the third of brick; the first two, vertical-post (poteaux-en-terre) churches of timber and stucco, particular to the Mississippi River Valley with their origin in Normandy, France. They faced the Mississippi River on Rue de L’Eglise (Church Street).

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the little boy born to Sacagawea near the start of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was christened in the second of these in late December of 1809.**

Four blocks west and six blocks north of The Old Cathedral the last pieces of a broken landscape along North 8th Street between St. Charles and Locust Streets have been restored or replaced.


The handsome, boutique Mayfair Hotel has been by re-envisioned by Magnolia Hotels, a company that specializes in transforming historic architectural structures into state of the art inns – first in Denver, then Dallas, Houston, Omaha, now St. Louis.


They’ve restored the Mayfair’s signature features – beautiful plaster and brass work, and  jewel-toned, art glass windows, and lit a marquee at the entrance to The Magnolia St. Louis ( that adds a bit of Manhattan pizzaz to North 8th Street.

UnknownIn her wonderfully nostalgic The Grand Hotels of St. Louis, St. Louis author Patricia Treacy writes that four thousand invited guests filled the lobby of The Mayfair on August 29, 1925 for the hotel’s grand opening.

“The hotel, designed by Preston Bradshaw, was built of mat-faced brick with terra cotta trim in the Italian Renaissance style, which was carried into the foyer and lobby with its handsome hand-painted ceiling.”***The world-famous Mayfair Dressing was created here, KMOX Radio was launched in 1925 from a studio on the mezzanine and matinee idol Cary Grant began the tradition of leaving a chocolate on the pillow.

Due south at 411 North 8th Street, The Tower at OPOP  ( quite literally towers over, what was first the Mercantile/now U.S. Bank, which has been a neighborhood anchor for decades.


Rounding the corner we enter Post Office Square and Roberts Plaza, the open courtyard facing St. Louis’ magnificent Old Post Office (officially the U.S. Custom House and Post Office at St. Louis) designed by Alfred B. Mullett (first official architect of the U.S. Treasury Department) and across the street, Henry Ives Cobb’s ruddy, charmingly upstart Chemical Bank Building, with its undulating banks of windows and cast-iron storefront; the oldest, extant, design of its kind in the U.S.

St. Louis has been enormously gifted by skilled artisans and craftspeople over ten generations, many of them immigrants who came to the city with expertise in various trades, and many who came from other parts of the U.S. to make St. Louis home.


Their work has left a treasure trove of beautifully designed and decorated buildings, masterfully engineered by local companies capable of not only conversion for contemporary use but inspiration with their artistry.


Continuing south to the intersection of North 8th and Olive Streets we find a huge renovation underway on the soaring Arcade-Wright Building (Tom Barnett-Eames & Young) crowned with its splendid, cathedral-style windows. One of the nation’s earliest experiments in an indoor shopping mall and the most daring Gothic-Revival confection downtown, the Arcade-Wright Building was abandoned in the 1980s.


Once designated the city’s “most visible emblem of decay”****(, when Minneapolis-based Dominium Development (who’ve rescued it) meets their target opening date of 2016, The Arcade-Wright Building will be a stunner to compare with its mythical neighbors, allowing St. Louis architect Tom Barnett to once more stand gloriously shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Henry Ives Cobb, Louis Sullivan and Alfred B. Mullett in a two-block area.

According to Kevin Killeen of KMOX Radio “the 16-story historic building at 810 Olive will soon house three stories of Webster University and, above that, loft apartments.”***** Webster University plans to open an art gallery at street level and a campus for a thousand students.

Meanwhile in a south side corner of St. Louis, smaller but no less beautiful dreams are taking shape in yet other distinctive old buildings, including a vintage Standard Station.


What catches your eye? Charming building details? Handsome brick and terra cotta?


Sumptuous Parisian pastries? A cozy tea room in which to spend a leisurely hour with friends? (


Airy cotton camisoles is a sunny storefront window that beg trying on? Or maybe a shop where your children can play while you browse?


All of these you will find a few blocks north of The Missouri Botanical Garden on Tower Grove Avenue in the Botanical Heights Neighborhood.

Union Studio ( at 1605 Tower Grove Avenue is one such a place. Co-owned by Mary Beth Bussen and Maggie Wheelock, Union Studio is a place for creative activity – art classes of many kinds, some for adults, some for children – weaving, perfumery, painting – even theater improv.


Mary Beth designs and sews beautiful children’s clothing and accessories for women.


Maggie Wheelock is a freelance designer and fine artist whose work encompasses several genres. She exhibits her work for sale in this homey studio. She is also the owner of Magpie Design Studio (


The afternoon I shopped for baby gifts I found a beautiful wooden sailboat made by Mary Beth’s dad, a vintage top and reversible cap, and a Onesie imprinted with one of Maggie’s delightful birds. I also found water color notecards and kitchen towels printed in original designs. Union Studio has a wonderful ambience. A studio/shop flooded with light where patrons are warmly welcomed and invited back to create art of their own.

This four block area of McCree Town with its design studios, pastry shop and restaurants highlights the enormous progress made in an area of the city formerly plagued by absentee landlords, drug trafficking and gang violence.

IMG_20121024_111301A substantial involvement by the Missouri Botanical Garden enabled area residents, business owners, developers and a pro-active neighborhood organization to recreate this fractured part of the city.******

Whether in downtown St. Louis, where hotelier Charles Drury rescued the International Fur Exchange and American Zinc Buildings connecting existing structures with a new expansion and breathing new life into them, or within the seventy-eight other widely variegated neighborhoods of the city, it takes concerted effort and collaboration on many levels to repair the frays and stitch the pieces back together. But we’re doing it.


St. Louisans are hard at work in this 250th Anniversary Year – identifying and preserving our historic past, investing in new vision, and boldly recreating places in need of renewal. It’s a process that will never end while the city lives.

References: *Colonial St. Louis, Building a Creole Capital – Charles Peterson, The Patrice Press, 2001; **Bob Moore, Jr. website related to St. Louis Circa 1804;***The Grand Hotels of St. Louis – Patricia Treacy, Arcadia Publishing, 2005;****Jeff Vander Lou, buitstlouis*****Kevin Killeen at, 6/4/2014;******

20140918_123717Photos: Westward View of St. Louis Skyline, Sept. 2008 -Capt. Timothy Reinhart, USAF – in the public domain at All other photos by Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.

Illustrations: Camille Dry’s drawing of James Eads Bridge for Pictorial St. Louis 1875 – in the public domain at; Webster University Logo – in the public domain; Representation of 13th Century Cahokia – by Varing, own work, uploaded april 18, 2014, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license at

Posted in Happenings, History, Neighborhoods, St. Louis | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Expanding the Mosaic of St. Louis

1200px-Harmony_Day_(5475651018) Immigrants have proven to be the life-blood of the world’s great cities, infusing them not only with workers but a rich diversity of culture, talent and ways of thinking. For much of its 250 year history St. Louis was very much an immigrant city,  each new group bringing with it their recipes, their skills, their music and dance, their stories, their history. And in the sharing of these St. Louis became a richer and deeper place. irish-1856 The first to arrive in large numbers were the Irish, forced to emigrate by political oppression and famine. By 1850 Irish made up nearly sixteen per cent of St. Louis’ population, by 1860 they were close to 39,000 in number.*

John Mullanphy, who emigrated from County Fermanagh to the U.S. in 1792, and made his way to St. Louis after reaping a fortune in the cotton trade following the War of 1812, was the first to have a major impact on St. Louis. The first millionaire west of the Alleghenies,**he is remembered as the city’s first philanthropist. John Mullanphy knew what poverty looked and felt like and he never forgot it.

Among his many endowments SistersHospital_ca1854_largewas the first hospital west of the Mississippi River in 1828 – a three-room log cabin, which he invited four Sisters of Charity from the east to staff. The needs for medical care were so great that he replaced it with a three-story brick hospital in 1832 at Third and Spruce Streets downtown.This was the first Catholic hospital in the nation.

As with other immigrant groups – Italian, Scan 9Bohemian, Polish, Syrian, Russian, German, Czech, Chinese – the Irish sent some of their wages home to enable other family members to emigrate.

When my husband’s father, Jack Kavanaugh arrived in St. Louis from County Galway at the age of eighteen, he already had cousins here to welcome him. He began work as a laborer, carrying the hod and worked his way up to police officer, later security guard.

Adolphus_busch2German immigrants had a considerable impact on St. Louis. But none left a more dramatic impression than an enterprising young man from Kastel Germany, named Adolphus Busch, who arrived in St. Louis shortly before the Civil War broke out, enlisted in the Union Army, served briefly under Ulysses S. Grant, married Lilly Anheuser (daughter of another German immigrant) and grew a fledgling brewery into a powerhouse (for decades the largest brewery in the world). Together they created a family dynasty that gave the city Cardinals Baseball.

The quotation (borrowed from Caesar) which Lilly Anheuser Busch had engraved on the miniature, cathedral-styled mausoleum in which she buried her husband in Bellefontaine Cemetery, pretty much said it all.


By the time St. Louis played host to the world at The Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 it was itself, to some extent, a microcosm of the world. While only twenty percent of St. Louisans were foreign-born, forty-two per cent of the population had foreign-born parents. Immigrants now came in great numbers from outside the British Isles and Europe – Central America, India and Pacific Islands.****



David Francis, one-time Mayor of St. Louis, Governor of Missouri and U.S. Secretary of the Interior, was then President of the 1904 World’s Fair. 1904summerolympicsposterFrancis was instrumental in getting the first Olympic Games held in the United States situated in St. Louis concurrent with the fair. A natural diplomat, with a deep interest in foreign relations, Francis helped to organize the world’s first International Peace Conference during the fair. He later served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia during the Russian Revolution.

St. Louis has become home to as many refugees as it has immigrants. Kate Howell of the International Institute, differentiates between the two groups in this way. Immigrants are non-nationals who freely choose to leave their homelands and are “pulled to another country for a variety of reasons, whereas refugees are pushed out of their homes by war or persecution.”

Crowd2011 Founded in 1919 to help refugees from the First World War, the International Institute of St. Louis ( is a non-profit organization that provides services to more than 7,500 immigrants and refugees from seventy-five countries residing in St. Louis City and County. Services include instruction in English, computer and citizenship, refugee resettlement, economic development through small business opportunities, and a host of health-related, social services.

Their website states that they “have had a hand in the resettlement and integration of every new immigrant population in St. Louis for almost ninety-five years.” 20140902_122207 The International Institute is currently at located at 3654 South Grand Blvd. in one of the city’s most diverse areas of foreign-born residents and business people, home to people from many areas of Asia, Africa and Latin America.When I was a girl one of my Irish grandmothers lived two blocks from this location.

20140902_122331 It was a bustling neighborhood of Europeans, Mediterraneans and first generation Americans where many languages could be heard on a streetcar ride. Ethnic bakeries,  butcher shops and markets have been replaced by Middle-Eastern cafes, Persian, Thai, Chinese and Ethiopian restaurants.

The smells are still alluring but more exotic. 20140902_121741An STL250 Birthday Cake stands outside of Jay International Food Corp. at 3172 South Grand signifying one of the city’s first international grocery stores and Suchin Prapaisilp, one of the most successful, non-national St. Louis entrepreneurs of the late 2oth century. Named for Suchin’s brother Jay, who later returned to Thailand, Jay International is managed by their sisters who have made St. Louis home.

Suchin emigrated to St. Louis in 1970, a trip made possible by a gift from his mother, a modest savings of several hundred dollars, that offered him the opportunity for a better future in America. He worked three jobs until he had the money to open his own business in a small storefront “with one light bulb” on South Grand, bringing his sisters to the U.S. 20140902_121809 Business flourished with the arrival of Vietnamese refugees who attended St. Pius Church up the street, followed by Laotians and Cambodians. He expanded his stock gradually to provide whatever new residents wanted to eat, moving to his much larger, current location (also on South Grand Blvd.), importing foodstuffs eventually from Italy, India, Nigeria, Eritrea, Congo, Israel, the Phillipines, Uzbekistan, Brazil and Mexico.


The list just kept growing, to more than ten thousand items from around the world. Prapaisilp’s various businesses now include The King and I Restaurant on South Grand, Oishi Sushi & Steakhouse in Chesterfield, Global Foods ( in Kirkwood and the new Global Foods he’s opening in collaboration with Washington University – a 15,000 square foot, international market in The Lofts of Washington University in the Delmar Loop, which will also sell prepared foods. The Delmar Loop is to St. Louis County what South Grand Boulevard is to the city – a rich, multicultural mix of peoples. 20140902_114843

A little further south and east of Grand Blvd., Cherokee Street between Gravois and Jefferson Avenue evolved into a vibrant Hispanic, cultural center. Though many more Latino immigrants have settled in the Maryland Heights area of St. Louis County, they come to south city to shop for specialty items like soccer equipment at Minerva Lopez’s Gooolll! and imported foods, fresh meats and sundries at Carlos Dominguez’s Carniceria Latino Americana La Mexican. 20140902_115130 Dominguez was one of the early, foreign-born, business people of this Hispanic center, opening his market in 1985. Immigrants from many areas of Central America come to shop where someone speaks their language and understands their needs. 20140902_115007His business is thriving. In 2010 he expanded, opening Don Carlos’ Restaurant alongside the grocery store. The vivid colors of the patio furniture give this once-German enclave an exuberant twist reminiscent of his native Mexico.

Flyer independencia This weekend the neighborhood business association is hosting a family-oriented Fiesta on Cherokee. Minerva Lopez, San Diego native and descendant of Spanish and American- Indian parents, says that unlike Cinco De Mayo, drinking will not be a focus of this event. “There will be amusements for the children, toy vendors among the crafts people selling their wares, great music, and lots of delicious food.”

Unlike the 19th century when non-English-speaking, immigrant groups and refugees arrived in such large numbers that they formed enclaves – Chinatown, Dutchtown  (Deutsche Town) and La Montagna/The Hill – recent immigrants and refugees have arrived in small enough numbers to be assimilated into many different neighborhoods.

20140902_130900Named “The Hill” by Italian immigrants who built homes and businesses above the huge caves in which many of them were mining clay, this proudly ethnic neighborhood within a generation spawned doctors, religious, politicians, professional athletes, chefs, entrepreneurs who learned to speak English but kept Italian close enough to their hearts that succeeding generations still understood if not spoke it fluently.


The Hill is where you must come to eat at least once while you’re a tourist in St. Louis and love to shop if you live here, for pasta and wine, bread and scrumptious, Italian pastries like Cannoli or Missouri Baking Company’s Amaretto Macaroons. Scan 4

Most of the businesses on The Hill began as (and many remain) family businesses whether you’re talking about contractors or grocers. Where else but The Hill would you be handed a business card featuring a wedding photo of the company’s founding parents?

A wedding photo of John and Angela Viviano, who married in November of 1929 is also prominently displayed near the entrance to the store along with another of the couple in their later years.

The memories of immigrant ancestors are precious. In this neighborhood they have a prominent place.

Decades ago a huge area of south St. Louis took on the nickname Dutchtown. August A. Busch, Sr. constructed a five-story windmill approximately half-way between his family’s brewery and their country estate, in the heart of Dutchtown, as a salute to the Old World from which his father had come. Bevo Mill immediately became identifiable with St. Louis’ distinctive German community. 20140902_113638 Much of that same area has, in the last twenty

years, become home to the largest refugee group in St. Louis, some referring to it as Little Bosnia. Within sight of Bevo Mill the Bosnian community, proud of their own heritage, have erected an exact replica of the Sebilj Fountain that stands in Sarajevo, in their homeland, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The original public fountain was designed in 1753 by Mehmed-pasha-Kukavica. In this neigborhood as in others it’s fascinating to see how new St. Louisans are adapting to and re-inventing architectural styles and detailing with their own distinctive and beautiful craftsmanship; introducing their old world to St Louis. 20140902_112610 At sixty thousand strong, St. Louis contains the largest Bosnian population outside of Sarajevo. The Sabah Bosnian Amer Newspaper is published in this southside neighborhood and distributed nationally. The very first newspaper in St. Louis was published in French and English by Irish immigrant, Joseph Charless. 20140902_112846

The day that I took these photos Ahmetkavic Mirsad excitedly showed me a painting that he had made of Sarajevo where he lived for many years. He conveyed with his expressiveness the energy and passion with which so many Bosnians are shaping St. Louis and making it their own.

A case in point is the Bosnian-owned Pizzeria Tivoli at 5861 South Kingshighway whose owners have transformed a formerly non-descript, office storefront into a charming corner restaurant.

In his 2012 study for the St. Louis Mosaic Project, Regional Prosperity Through Immigration and Innovation, St. Louis University Economics Professor, Jack Strauss stated that “St. Louis (had) 126,500 immigrants, comprising 4.5% of the area’s population” (in contrast to) other metro areas in the top twenty of the nation which averaged four to five times that number of foreign-born residents.”

He went on to explain how “the region’s relative scarcity of immigrants largely explains our poor economic growth” and loss of stature among other metro areas, and how critical it is for St. Louis to attract more immigrants to reverse that trend. child making straw doll horizontal It’s the goal of the St.

Louis Mosaic Project ( to attract foeign-born entrepreneurs and to welcome newcomers from around the world to increase the St. Louis Metro area’s population, to invigorate the community, create jobs and to expand our cultural diversity. PIC MediumMember Susanne Evens, a native of Germany, was drawn to St. Louis in 1992 “by its European feel, its beautiful architectural designs, the openness of the landscape with all of the parks, especially Forest Park, the Botanical Garden, the zoo and the Mississippi River.”

“Germans love reading Huckleberry Finn,” she told me. “So I grew grew up reading that and when I first saw the Mississippi the story resurfaced in my mind. Nostalgia!” Susanne opened a German language communications company in 1994, expanding to 150 languages as AAA Translation ( in 2000. Her company is located in Chesterfield.

When she first moved to St. Louis Susanne missed the international feel she’d known in Germany. But she took that as an opportunity to get involved with local international groups: Sister Cities, World Trade Center and now Mosaic, which she thinks “offers St. Louis a huge window on being international.”

Dennis Machado’s story is different. He grew up in extreme poverty in Honduras, starting work as a boy after the death of his father, to help his mother who was raising  seven other children. As a teenager he literally walked to the U.S. Over time, with lots of hard work, he was able to send for his brothers. Together they built a house for their mother in Honduras. Recently Dennis has realized the dream of opening his own restaurant.

facebook_1410486790941(2) Machado co-owns Smoking Barrels BBQ ( at 5641 S. Kingshighway with Fernando Ordonez, where they are both pit masters. The saying on their website reads “Follow our smoke;” something more and more area residents are doing because it is so tempting! And delicioso!

St. Louis is indeed a mosaic. And there’s so much room for it to expand! New ideas, new energies, new ventures, new frontiers are welcome here. Along with the kind of daring and tolerance that rooted us here on the cusp of the west and made of us a gateway.

20140902_131002References: *Historic St. Louis – 250 Years of Exploring New Frontiers by J. Frederick Fausz, PhD, a publication of the University of Missouri St. Louis, HPNbooks; **Robert Campbell in From Mountain Man to Millionaire by William R. Nester, published by the University of Missouri; ***The Civil War in St. Louis – A Guided Tour by William C. Winter;****

Illustration Credits: Hospital of the Sisters of Charity St. Louis ca 1854 – used with the permission of the Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine; Irish Immigrants – Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper 1856 – in the public domain.

Photo Credits: Harmony Day – “Harmony Day (5475651018)” by DIAC images – Harmony Day Uploaded by russavia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons #mediaviewer/File:Harmony_Day_(5475651018).jpg; Adolphus Busch -“Adolphus busch2” by Unknown Original uploader was DavidOaks at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Sreejithk2000 using CommonsHelper. (Original text : Library of Congress). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - Prapaislip; Two Photos from the International Festival of Nations, St. Louis, MO – used with the kind permission of The International Institute of St. Louis; Dennis Machado of Smoking Barrels BBQ, St. Louis – provided by Dennis Machado;  Susanne Evens – provided by Susanne Evens. Fiesta on Cherokee Poster – provided by Minerva LopezAll other photos are by Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.

Posted in Happenings, History, Immigration in St. Louis, Neighborhoods, St. Louis | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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.


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.


“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


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:  (

IMG_20140417_132323On loan from The Osage Tribal Museum in Pawhuska, Oklahoma ( 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.


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. (


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.


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 ( 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 ( 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).


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. 


References: * Osage Life and Legends – author: Bob Liebert; ** Louis F. Burns -; 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; Fort Orleans Missouri Mural from the Missouri State Capital Building – in the public domain at; 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; 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 University Museum of Art, and Imagining the Founding of St. Louis Exhibit at The Sheldon Art Galleries – Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.

Posted in Happenings, History, St. Louis | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.


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.*


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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:

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.


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

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,; 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.



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.!/content/18531/a_new_era_for_sugarloaf_mound_



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The Founding Spirit of St. Louis


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.

IMG_20140214_084338 - Version 3

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.

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.


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.


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.


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).


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.

IMG_20140215_113812 - Version 2

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.


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.


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; Map of the Illinois Country 1718 – in the public domain at; Chief of the Little Osages c. 1807 by Charles B. J. de Saint-Memin – in the public domain at; Old Ste. Genevieve c. 1750 – mural from the Missouri State Capital Building by Oscar E. Berninghaus, 1924 – in the public domain at; New Orleans Fort Map, 1763 – in the public domain at; Fort Pierre from Travels in America – by Karl Bodmer – in the public domain at; St. Louis: The Fourth City, 1764-1911, Volume 2 by Walter B. Stevens – paperback reprint by the Ulan Press, available at

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; Fort de Chartres – Front Curtain and Gate House – author: Kbh3rd, released into the public domain at; St. Louis, Missouri Skyline in September 2008 – author: Captain Timothy Reinhardt, USAF – in the public domain at; 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.


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.

HauntingSTL 011

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 (Transportation Engineers Association of Missouri) and which I cannot wait to give in March!


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 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.

2.* Imagining the Founding of St. Louis: (February 7 thru August 23, 2014) 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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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! 

IMG_20130213_1527019. A Great City From the Start: The Founding & Lasting Significance of St. Louis: (February 14,2014) 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!

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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!

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. 

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.

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.

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

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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