Rene Auguste Chouteau
Born September 7, 1749 or September 26, 1750 in New Orleans, Louisiana – Died February 24, 1825 in St. Louis, Missouri
was founder of
St. Louis, Missouri
a successful fur trader and a politician. He and his partner had a monopoly for many years of fur trade with the large Osage tribe on the Missouri River. In addition, he had numerous business interests in St. Louis and was well-connected with the various rulers: French, Spanish and American.
The home of Auguste Chouteau in St. Louis, where Lewis and Clark stayed and purchased supplies for their 1803 expedition
Settlement of St. Louis
Maxent and Laclede formed a partnership in the early 1760s to build a French trading post on the west bank of the Mississippi River north of the village of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. They began buying supplies in early 1763, and on July 6, 1763, they obtained the necessary license from the French territorial government to trade with the Native Americans (primarily those living near the Missouri River).[
Starting in August 1763, Chouteau, Laclede and some 30 other men traveled upriver from New Orleans to Ste. Genevieve with trade goods.[By November, the group arrived at Ste. Genevieve, but Laclede found that the village did not have adequate storage for his goods As it had been settled near the riverbank on bottomland, Laclede "deemed the location insalubrious" for his business(After repeated flooding, in the 1780s the residents relocated Ste. Genevieve upriver and inland to higher ground.)
The French garrison just across the river at Fort de Chartres agreed to store the goods until the British arrived. (Following the Seven Years' War, the French conceded their territory and installations to the victorious British. The fort was to be turned over to the British according to the Treaty of Paris (1763).[The commandant of Illinois, Pierre-Joseph Neyon de Villiers, suggested French settlers should relocate from the Illinois Country to New Orleans. (He thought it would be under French control, as he did not know of the Treaty of Fontainebleau (1762) to give control of the area west of the Mississippi to the Spanish).
Because of the postwar upheaval, "instead of just establishing a trading post at the mouth of the Missouri, [Laclede] would create an entire community." Laclede believed he could convince many French to move to the west bank of the Mississppi at his new settlementHe planned to store the goods until spring, and then have Chouteau and his team build the trading post at the site they selected in December 1763. As Chouteau wrote, Laclede said, "You will come here as soon as navigation opens, and will cause this place to be cleared, in order to form our settlement after the plan that I shall give you."[
In the late winter, Chouteau fitted out a boat and led a party of 30 men across the river, where they landed on February 14, 1764] The next day, February 15, Chouteau directed the men to start clearing and founded the European city of St. Louis.[ (It was on a site long occupied by indigenous tribes, as demonstrated by the numerous massive earthwork mounds left from the Mississippian culture of the 9th-12th century.)[
Laclede was at Fort de Chartres until early April, recruiting French settlers from the east side villages. Because of a large migrating band of Osage, Laclede went to St. Louis to negotiate their departure from the fledgling post.Within months, Laclede had built a home for his common-law wife Marie Therese, who traveled to the outpost from New Orleans, arriving in September 1764.[
Auguste Chouteau lived here until his death.In addition to Auguste, Marie Therese had an additional four children (by Pierre Laclede, but under the surname of Chouteau).[ Among these four were three girls and a boy, Jean Pierre Chouteau, who later became a partner with Auguste in business and politics.After Laclede's death in 1778, Chouteau took over the business of trading, adding greatly to the family fortunes.
He quickly expanded the business to include agricultural properties, and banking, and owned the first grist mill in St. Louis. Chouteau played a significant role in the growth of other, outlying towns, such as St. Charles, Missouri.Chouteau also remained on good terms with the Spanish government in St. Louis. In 1780, Chouteau played a small role in the Battle of St. Louis, in which the village was defended against a British-led Native American attack.Chouteau negotiated with the Spanish government for greater defense of the city, and for his efforts was commissioned a captain and later a colonel.[
Expansion of trade operations
In the early 1780s, Chouteau played a pivotal role in trade between the village and Native American tribes. His efforts to maintain peace and promote trade led him to establish (along with his brother, Pierre) numerous trading forts along the Missouri River.[
His relationship with the Osage Nation became particularly important when, in 1787, the Spanish governor Esteban Miro ordered an end to trade with the Osage and began to prepare for war against them as a result of fighting between Osage and European settlers. Although the government continued its ban on trade with the Osage, Chouteau was able to defuse a conflict between Osage and Spanish-armed settlers through his intervention with Miro.
[In spite of continuing problems between the Osage and the Spanish government, Chouteau maintained good relations with the tribe.[Although the trade ban was lifted in 1791, problems continued among Mississippi tribes and the settlers, including horse theft and threatened attack on an Osage delegation in St. Louis by rival tribes of Sac, Fox, Kickapoo, Mascouten and Winnebago warriors.[
Pierre Laclede, step father of Auguste Chouteau and co-founder of St. Louis
In 1793, these problems culminated in an order from the Spanish Governor General Francisco Luis Hector de Carondelet, in which all trade between settlers and tribes was to cease. Hector also ordered a military expedition against the Osage and other tribes.However, Hector was persuaded toward peace by an Osage delegation led by Chouteau to New Orleans in the spring of 1794. To convince Hector of peace, Chouteau promised a military fort built among the Osage at his own expense. In return, Chouteau was given a six-year monopoly on trade along the Osage River.
After its construction in 1795, Fort Carondelet, although acting as a military base, was in practice a trading post for the Chouteau family.The fort also served as home to Chouteau's nephews, who gained valuable experience as traders.[Through contacts at this post, Chouteau also negotiated construction of a second trading post among the Osage, located on the Verdigris River in eastern Kansas from 1795-1797.[
However, in 1799, new Spanish Governor General Manuel María de Salcedo began favoring a Spanish businessman instead of the Chouteau fur operation. Fort Carondelet was sold to the Spanish firm, but Chouteau continued trade with the Osage on the Verdigris.[Yet the Spanish competition was short-lived, as the Louisiana Territory was transferred first to France in 1800, then the United States in 1803.
Late that year, Chouteau provided valuable information to the Lewis and Clark Expedition about the population of the Louisiana territory, along with observations of wildlife and local villages.In early 1804, Lewis and Clark purchased materials from Chouteau's trading house in St. Louis, and on March 9, 1804, Chouteau hosted the new American commander of the Upper Louisiana during the transfer ceremonies for the Louisiana Purchase.[For this, Chouteau was rewarded with a return to his monopoly on trade with the tribes by the United States.[
From 1806 to 1815, Chouteau continued leading family fur trade business, eventually negotiating part of the Treaties of Portage des Sioux in 1815 after the War of 1812. In 1816, Auguste Chouteau retired from his trading businesses.[Still active in Indian issues in 1817, Chouteau served as a U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs with William Clark in the first U.S. treaty with the Ponca tribe.