Translation:An account of the founding of St. Louis

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An account of the founding of St. Louis
by René Auguste Chouteau, translated from French by Wikisource
A.Mississipi river B.Illinois river C.Missouri river 1.St. Louis 2.Cahokia 3.Fort de Chartres 4.Prairie du Rocher 5.Ste. Genevieve

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In the year 1762, M. Dabbadie, then Governor of Louisiana granted a company the exclusive right to trade with the savages of Missouri and all the nations living west of the Mississippi for eight years. This company, incorporated in the name of M. Laclède Ligueste, Antoine Moxan and Associates at once signed the government's terms and conditions and arranged for the materials necessary to supply the trade which they wished to expand as far as possible to be shipped from Europe. While waiting for the materials ordered from Europe to arrive, they put together an advance party under the authority of M. Laclède Ligueste, who was known to be an honorable man, and also known to be a wise leader with the ability to safeguard of the interests of the company. So they left New Orleans on August 3, 1763 and arrived in Illinois on the third of the following November.

Recall that all the French settlements which were on the east bank of the Mississippi had been surrendered to the English in the treaty of 1762 and on the western bank which remained under French control, there was only the meager village of Ste. Genevieve in which M. de Laclède could not find a house capable of containing a quarter of his goods. M. de Neyon, commander of Fort de Chartres, learned of the dilemma of M. Laclède and sent an officer to tell him that he wished him to store the goods in his fort until the English came take possession.

He accepted M. de Neyon's generous offer out of necessity. He left Ste. Genevieve and arrived at the Fort de Chartres on November 30, 1763, where he first unloaded all of his merchandise and then all of the munitions for the various nations. After all this trade business was done, he then went about finding a suitable place to locate his store. He found Ste. Genevieve unacceptable because of its distance from the Missouri river, and unsanitary location. Consequently he left Fort de Chartres in December, taking along a trusted young man, and surveyed all the land from Fort de Chartres to the Missouri river.

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He was enchanted to see the location where St. Louis presently stands. He did not hesitate a moment to found the settlement he planned. In addition to the beauty of the site, it had all the advantages one could wish for in a place which might become very important in the future. After a thorough examination, he located the spot where he wanted to make his settlement. He put his hand on some trees there and said to Chouteau, "Here you will come as soon as the river is open to navigation, you will clear this area and make our settlement according to the plans which I will give you." We departed straightaway for Fort de Chartres, where he told with some enthusiasm to M. DeNeyon and his officers that he had found the place where he was going to form a settlement ; one which could, thereafter, become one of the most beautiful cities in America, so great were the advantages joined together in this place, both in its location and in the general characteristics needed for the establishment of a settlement.

The rest of the winter he set about procuring all the things necessary for the settlement, whether it was men, provisions or tools. And, navigation of the river being possible in the first days of February, he made a boat in which he put 30 men, nearly all manual workers, and put Chouteau in charge of it and told him "You will disembark at the place where we planted tres. And you will start clearing the land and building a great hangar in which to store the provisions and the tools, and small cabins to lodge the men, and you shall give to your trustiest men, who will be able to help you the most. I will join you shortly." I arrived at the desired place on the morning of the 14th of March. I set the men to work the next day. They started working on the hangar, which was quickly finished, and the little cabins as well around the first days of April. Laclède joined us. He busied himself with his settlement, found the place where he wanted his home to be built, made a map of the village he wanted to found, which he named St. Louis in honor of Louis XV (of which he long thought he was a subject, never imagining becoming a subject of the king of Spain), and gave me orders to follow his instructions exactly, because he could not stay much longer among us.

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He was obliged to go to Fort de Chartres to withdraw the merchandise he had left at the fort before the arrival of the English, whom we expected would take control of it any day now. I hewed to his plan as closely as possible, then, taking care to build the house quickly. While we were busy with this work, there arrived within the month a group of the Missouri Nation, men, women and children. And while they did not seem to wish us harm, they did not cease to be a great burden on us, by their constant asking for provisions and by stealing our tools, all the while continually telling us that they wanted to make a village around the house we wanted to build and that it would be the centre of it. All this talk worried me greatly, being the motive behind my resolution to send for M. de Laclède. And what pressed me further to do so was the arrival from Cahokia of a group of people wishing to establish themselves in the new village, but who turned away, frightened of the Missouris, of which there were around 15 men warriors, and us being only 30-35 men. But I always said that this Nation seemed not to have any hostility. M. de Laclède arrived, and as soon as he did so, the Missouri chiefs came to see him to hold a Council.

The outcome of this council was that they were worthy of pity, that they resembled the ducks and the bustards that searched for clear waters to rest and to live comfortably, that they could not find any better place than the one they were in. They said many things that were repeated, that they desired to settle where they were. The council finished, M. de Laclède bade them well until the morrow, when they should hear his answer.

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The council assembled, and after a few vague preliminary discourses, M. de Laclède, with his usual firmness, told them: "Yesterday you told me that you resembled the ducks and the bustards who travel until they find a beautiful country in which they would find clear water, to rest and to live well, and that you wish, they, who are worthy of pity, you resemble them because you also travel like them to find a place to settle down, and that you cannot see any other more suitable than where you are now, where you want to build a village around my house and where we would live as friends. I will answer your discourse with few words, and I shall tell you that if you follow the way of the ducks and the bustards to find yourselves a place, you follow bad guides with lack of foresight, because if they had any, they would not settle down onto clear waters, because the eagles, all the carnivorous birds would find them easily, which they would not be able to do if they were hidden away and covered with underbrush. You, Missouris, you will not be eaten by eagles, but men have been at war with you for some time, and there are many against you, who are few. They will kill your warriors because they will wish to defend themselves, and will turn your women and children into slaves. This shall come to pass for following, as you say, in the steps of the ducks and the bustards instead of those of men who know how to think.

"You women who are present, hear me: go hug your children, feed them as well as your old parents. Hold them tightly in your arms, give them all the tenderness you can until the fatal moment which will separate you, and this moment is not far off."

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"If you men insist on settling here, I warn you, as a good Father that there are 6 or 7 hundred soldiers at Fort de Chartres, there to fight the English, who are keeping them busy at the moment, because they also remain on the alert all around the fort, in the rooms from which they wait for the English. But if they learn that you are here, there will no doubt come to dispatch you.

"You other warriors, it would be more prudent of you to leave this place immediately than to stay and watch yourselves be massacred, your women and you children ripped into pieces, their limbs thrown to the dogs and the vultures. A good Father speaks to you. Reflect well on what he has told you, give him your answer this evening. I do not think I can give you a longer deadline because I must go to Fort de Chartres."

That evening the whole Nation, men, women and children found M. de Laclède and told him that they had opened their ears to his discourse and that they followed all his advice, and asked him to take pity on the women and children and give them some provisions and some gunpowder and bullets for the men so that they could hunt while going up the Missouri and to defend themselves in case of attack. M. de Laclède told them he pitied them and told them to come back the next day. He could not give anything today necause he did not have enough maize ; he was obliged to send for it at Cahokia. He gave them many provisions as soon as it arrived : gunpowder, bullets, knives and other dry goods. And in the following days, the whole Missouri village left to go back up the Missouri to their old village.

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After having stayed here 15 days, during which I had the basement of the house dug and then built by the women and the children. I paid them in Alêne vermillion, and in copper. They did most of the digging, hauling out the earth in large wooden plates and in baskets they balanced on their heads. M. de Laclède left for the Fort de Chartres a few days after the savages, after having left instructions he deemed necessary to the work on his settlement. The people who fled to Caos at the arrival of the Savages came back as soon as they heard that they had left, and started making their houses, or better put, their cabins and fenced in their property according to the plots I had planned, following the map M. de Laclède had left me.

M. de Neyon de Villiers, in charge of Upper Louisiana under the name of the Illinois, was ordered by the governor general of Louisiana to evacuate the whole left bank of the Mississippi, given to the English after the Treaty of Versailles. Due to these orders, he had to remove his garrisons from Pées Fort, on the Illinois River, Fort Massac on the Ohio River, Fort Vincennes in the Wabash, commanded by M. de St Ange de Bellerive, even though Fort Cansés was in the Missouri.

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He had the little garrison at that fort transferred, even an officer he had sent to construct a fort on the Osage River, near the village of that little Nation. Once he had massed all his troops at Fort de Chartres, he ordered M. de St Ange to stay there with 40 men, 1 captain, 2 lieutenants to hand over the fort to the English, who were waited for every day. And he argued so he could leave on the 10th of July 1764 with the rest of his troops, all those employed in the government and a large part of the inhabitants of the villages around the Fort de Chartres and Prairie du Rocher, to whom he promised free land near New Orleans for the sacrifices they were making in moving to Lower Louisiana under the French government rather than under the domination of the English, who were heretics, &c. But M. de Neyon's real reasons to take a great group with him and go down the Mississippi in triumph was to make the government believe that all these people were following him entirely out of respect for him, and in that way gain the trust of the authorities and win a seat he had his eye on.

But when he found out, upon his arrival in New Orleans, that the country had been ceded to Spain, he decided to go to Europe, forgetting all the promises he had made to all the poor incredulous people stuck there with no idea of what to do. And the government mostly ignored them, probably because they knew that the colony would soon change hands, leaving these unfortunate souls, who had left the few comforts they had in Illinois to go live under the French, completely disappointed, their hopes dashed. Some of them left for the Appaloosas to live with their family, some others to the Aetitapas, where they were not able to take their possessions due to freight. They were forced to give it away for almost nothing, to buy some maize and some rice, and those who had the means to do so went to the Illinois and were quite happy to find M. de Laclède, who helped them in many ways, remarking to them that if they had only followed his advice, as those who did not want to leave had done, they would not have been in their sorry situation.

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M. de Laclède, upon finding out the motives behind M. de Neyon's acts, did everything within his power to stop the people from leaving, telling them that the English government was not as bad as they had been told it was, and that he was in a position to know this. And if they still did not want to stay under this government due to false prejudices, they could go to his new settlement, and he would help them get there with their posessions. And that it would be easy to take their good animals over land, as the distance was only of 15 leagues on a good road. Several families accepted his offer. He immediately procured them wagons with all the necessities for getting to St Louis. And once there he helped them get settled, told me to assign them plots of land following the maps he had made, which I did as soon as possible.

As I already observed, as soon as the Missouri Nation left, the inhabutants who had fled to Cahokia returned little by little along with those from Fort de Chartres and started to give St Louis a bit of consistency.

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After M. de Neyon's departure on 10 July 1764 and the emigration of inhabitants to St Louis, the village of Fort de Chartres was completely deserted except for the fort's garrison and some government employees who all stayed in the fort as well due to part of the houses of the village being demolished by the owners, who took the planks, the windows and doors, and anything they could take to the places in which they thought they would settle down.

During the winter of 1764 to 1765, the Savages in the north of this country found out that the English were gathering munitions at New Orleans to take possession of the different nations of the Illinois country.

These savages, wanting to oppose them, went to Fort de Chartres, 400 men strong, with the famous Pontiac of the Outarrois nation at their head, who had absolute power over all these tribes, for having commanded them in many takings of forts occupied by the English, against whom he fought a cruel war since the peace of 1762.

He said that he fights to avenge the French. But the truth of the matter is that he does it in the spirit of pillaging and robbing.

Upon his arrival at Fort de Chartres, he made his men camp a short distance away and made the Peoria and Micchiquamici nations, who had their village a league from the fort, to take some arms with them if needed. As the Illinois did not seem to be disposed to do so, he told them "if you doubt but a moment, I will destroy you like the fire passes over a prairie. Open your ears and remind yourselves that it is Pontiac who is speaking to you." After that moment, the Illinois seemed to join the others, I think because they could not do otherwise.

After diverse talks, Pontiac went to see M. de St Ange, taking the braves with him, and while looking at him, said: "my Father, I and my warriors have long wanted to take your hand and smoke the peace pipe together, while speaking of all the campaigns that we have led together. From this meeting and these words served against the Savages and these English dogs."

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M. de St Ange de Bellerive was a Canadian, a former officer, who had fought against the Savages since he was very young, earning himself much good considerations, especially after the attack on and defeat of the Chiquachas army, when he was under the orders of M. Prudomme.

M. Prudomme was a brave officer who had fought in Europe. He wanted to follow the same tactics fighting the Savages. M. de Bellerive made him some observations on the manner of waging this war. These seemed to offend M. Prudomme, who wanted to always follow European principles of attack upon the Chiquacha fort, which was in a large prairie surrounded by sturdy forts in which there were around 600 warriors, well armed and generally good shots with a rifle, in which art they had been taught by some French prisoners that the Chiquachas had taken and who had escaped. Despite the information on the fort's situation, M. Prudomme wanted to take it. In consequence, he took some troops and ordered them attack. M. Bellerive told him that, given the fort's position, he found it impossible to take by brute force; that it would be better to wait for the artillery in their reserve camps on the Mississippi.

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And while waiting for their arrival, they could investigate the fort further, in which they they assured a complete victory, otherwise they were risking a great defeat. The Canadian officers, who had come from Canada with M. Bellerive and a detachment of Whites and of Savages to join M. Prudhomme, agreed with M. Bellerive's plan. And the officers from France, who had come up from New orleans with M. Prudhomme, were of the same mind. After many words exchanged between them, M. Prudhomme spoke to M. de Bellerive and said to him, proudly and haughtily: "Sir, when one is afraid of the wolf, one does not go to the woods."

M. Bellerive told him: "I should not answer you now. I shall only tell you that I do not fear wolves, or even bullets. Passing for an ignorant in the attack of a fort, and sacrificing 2000 men, a small part of which are under our orders with no hope of making it out, with no hope, the army under our orders. And it would be otherwise if we waited for our artillery. You want to attack and take this fort without artillery at all cost! Well then, let us walk!"

The Savage chiefs who were present at the departure, the 2 chiefs, when they saw M. Bellerive march to the fort, ran to him, took his hand and said to him: "Bellerive, stop there! Where are you going? Do you not see that this fort is impossible to take without cannons? And that if you insist on doing so, you will all be killed. And your army will then be massacred. Believe us! Give up this attack! Call back the people you brought from Canada. Let this mad chief do as he will and get himself and his men killed. You say that he is brave. You must follow him and if you do not you will be taken for a coward."

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"No, Bellerive, you will never be known as who is, as who does not know. All the campaigns you have done and which you have always won: who does not remember that it is you who defeated the Lac and Renard nations? All these campaigns have earned you the respect and the trust of the Whites and the Redskins. They will always think you brave. So believe us: stay and use all those who have come with you from Canada so as to save those who will not be killed at the attack on this fort."

M. Bellerive took their hands while telling them: "I only hope that you will act as real braves in what is about to happen, as you always have. There goes the chief, I must follow him, adieu."

He rejoined M. Prudhomme and stopped him, telling him: "Here is the moment which will decide which one of us is wrong. This will surely not be decided by either you nor me but by those who will survive us, remember this.

"If you have orders to give and I am not in front of you, I will be by your side." They approached with firmness the fort and all the armed parties and their chiefs, who had ordered the stakes be hacked off with axes. But when they were at half a rifleshot's length, there was a great discharge from the besieged, which killed the 2 chiefs, many officers and a great number of soldiers.

At the second discharge, they killed many more. At the third, the bloodiest, the besiegers retreated in disorder without having been able to wound a single man, and how could they? They were fighting against wooden forts and a terrace. The beseiged, seeing the besiegers' confusion, made to go out and massacre all those they could trap, chasing them with a rage unknown to all but barbarians.

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Merciful night fell, which enabled some to escape and get to the Reserve Camp. At the start of the day, some still slept along the way of the escapees. They had dogs that found the wounded in the underbrush. They were hacked to pieces as soon as they were found. All this day was spent in looking for them and finding those who had strayed from the way. He took, in the attack on the fort and the retreat, 900 healthy men, counting the savages who did not want to sleep too soon due to the disapproval of their chief, Blancs. The Savages left right at the start and arrived at the Reserve Camps, where they said that there was no doubt that the army would be defeated.

Upon hearing this, the commanding officer doubled his guards and sent a detachment on the road. This detachment found several officers and soldiers, most of whom were wounded. They confirmed the destruction of the army and cursed M. Prudhomme's actions mightily as well as his stubbornness at not wanting to follow M. Bellerive's counsels, he who was killed for a dubious question of honor in such circumstances.

The commander of the camp sent strong detachments on the roads for 4 days to find those who had escaped the massacre. At the end of this period, having not seen anyone else, and fearing an attack himself, he had all the artillery and other objects taken on board. The troops went down to New Orleans with the army's materials. And the thousands left with the savages to Canada, where they had come from, and nothing was left of these camps, which still has the name of Ecore à Prudhomme.

I take up my journal, which I had stopped until now to tell the reasons why the Savages had so much respect for M. St Ange de Bellerive, brother of one who was killed at the Chiquachas and who had himself often been at war with these same Savages, of whom he had won their trust due to his bravery.