In 1764 Auguste Chouteau made landfall on the banks of the Mississippi River and began construction of the fur-trading post that would become St. Louis. He was just fourteen at the time, and acting at the behest of his mother's lover, Pierre Laclede. Forty years later, as a prominent citizen of the city, he penned an account of the founding in a journal that is still partly preserved today.
That account is the subject of a new documentary produced by the Nine Network of Public Media, "Chouteau's Journal: In His Own Words." It airs Monday to mark the 250th anniversary of the city’s founding.
In addition to the history of the founding, the show also gives a historical background of the family and the culture of the times, including the at-times controversial relationship between Pierre Laclede and Madame Chouteau. While the two lived together as husband and wife, they were unable to marry because Chouteau's husband was still alive and divorce was forbidden under French law.
As the city became more established, Laclede and Chouteau’s descendants attempted to disprove their illegitimacy in an effort to appear more socially upstanding, Nine Network producer Jim Kirchherr said. But at the time of the city’s founding, more focus was put on survival than propriety.
“That story of early St. Louis, colonial St. Louis, the French Creole St. Louis – [it's] not the story of Indians and settlers we’re used to hearing. It’s not westward expansion, it’s not conquest. It’s figuring out a way to live as part of the environment here, work with the tribes as partners, business partners, and make that work,” Kirchherr said.
At the time, the town was “a multi-cultural town, diverse town. Mixed marriages, mixed race, mixed ethnicities, slavery yes, but not the sort of society you would begin to find in the 1840s and 50s here,” Kirchherr said.
The Nine Network Presents "Chouteau’s Journal: In His Own Words"
Monday, February 10, 2014
For more information, call 314-512-9000 or visit the Nine Network of Public Media website.