The Choteau (sic) family played so important a part in the economic history of the western frontier, its power was distributed so well throughout a large family, with the younger members ever ready to carry on the work begun by the older ones that we may well describe this family by calling it an economic dynasty. Rene' Auguste Choteau founded the dynasty which dominated, for so many years, the City of St. Louis and the fur trade in the Missouri valley.
We know little abour the very early life of Rene' Auguste Choteau, except that he was born in New Orleans and was the son of Rene' and Marie Therese Bourgeois Choteau(1). Pierre Laclede Liguest became his step-father, when Auguste was still a young boy(2). The dates given for the birth of Rene' Auguste vary greatly. This is not an especially important point, but it is interesting to note that some authorities say he was born in 1739(3), and some say 1750(4), but the generally accepted year seems to be 1749.(5)
Auguste [the Rene' was soon dropped] Choteau was joined by his half-brother, Pierre, in directing the family fortunes. Another pair of brothers, sons of Pierred the elder, carried on the work begun by the earlier pair. These younger brothers were Auguste Pierre and Pierre Choteau Jr., know to his family as "Cadet"(6). These four men were ably assisted by many others, related to them by blood or marriage. A brief survey of some of these connections will help us to understand the family history.
1. Bennitt, ed., History of Louisiana Purchase Exposition, p. 47. 2. Thwaites, Early Western Travels, Vol. 22, p. 216, n. 3. International Encyclopedia, Vol 5, p. 274. 4. Bennitt, p. 47. 5. Americana, Vol. 6, p. 595. 6. Chittenden, History of the Fur Trade, p. 382 disputes other authorities. He says Pierre Jr. was the son of Auguste Chouteau.
Auguste Choteau married Marie Therese, daughter of Gabriel Cerre', a fur trader who had moved from Kaskaskia to St. Lois. Auguste Choteau had a son, Augustus Aristide Choteau(7). Pieere Chouteau (sic) the Elder is described as the younger half-brother of Auguste(8). Since Auguste's mother was living and since Pierre Laclede Liguest was step father to Auguste at the time of the establishment of St. Louis, we may surmise that the little half-brother was the son of Pierre Laclede Liguest, although he was called "Chouteau." This theory is strengthened by references to Pierre Chouteau Jr. as a grandson of Liguest(9).
Pierre Chouteau the Elder, so called, was the father of several sons. August Pierre, Pierre Jr., and Paul Liguest are reputed to be sons by one marrieage(10). By another union he was the father of Cyprian(11) and Louis Pharamond(12). Francis and Frederick Chouteau, who were part Osage, were probably his sons. Pierre Chouteau Jr. became a great merchant prince, probably the best known of the dynasty.
Auguste and Pierre Choteau Sr. had a sister who married Sylvester L'Abbadie, also interested in the fur trade. Their daughter, Emilie, was married in 1794 to Bernard Pratte, another fur trader. Bernard Pratte Jr., offspring of this union, made the third generation in this direct line to enter the fur business(13). Sophie L'Abbadie, sister of Emilie, married her cousin Auguste Pierre Chouteau(14). Later in life, A.P. Chouteau married an Osage girl, called Rosalie, and by her had several children(15).
Pierre Chouteau Jr. married Emily Gratiot and her sister married Emily Gratiot and her sister married Jean Pierre Cabanne', a fur trader associated with the Chouteau company. Charles P. Chouteau was the son of Pierre and he in turn had a son Pierre Jr., to whom we are entitled for much knowledge about this interesting family(16). Paul Ligueste Chouteau, brother of Pierre Chouteau Jr., was succeeded by a son, Edward L. Chouteau.
7. Foreman, Pioneer Days in the Southwest, p. 211. 8. Thwaites, Vol. 16, p. 275, n. 9. Bennitt, p. 77. 10. Foreman, p.24. 11. Thwaites, Vol. 22, p. 251, n. 12. Foreman, p. 208. 13. Thwaites, Early Western Travels, Vol. 22, p. 282. 14. Thwaites, Vol 20, p. 108, n.
The first recorded step toward founding this commercial empire in the west was taken in the latter part of 1763 when an expedition was sponsored by Maxent, Laclede and Co. sailed from New Orleans up to Ft. Chartres. Here their supplies were stored for the winter. Laclede, the leader of the group, and his yound stepson went on up the river looking for a desirable spot on which to build a trading post. In December, 1763, they decided upon a point neart the mouth of the Missouri River. Then they returned to Ft. Chartres to await the coming of milder weather(17). During the months of waiting, men were recruited from Ft. Chartes, Cahokia, and Ste, Genevieve and on February 15, 1764, about thirty of these men were sent across the river to clear the land for the new post. In spite of his youth, August Chouteau was put in command of these men(18). Toung Chouteau was then hardly fourteen years old but the Chouteau men, like many other pioneer youths, have been able to assume responsibility at an early age.
Numerous trees were growing on the site of the new post. Under Chouteau's direction these were felled and from them were built the first houses where St. Louis now stands. In April, Laclede brought a stock of goods and joined the pioneers at the post. Laclede named the place St. Louis, in honor of Louis IX, the cononized former king of France(19). For some years, however, the nickname Pain-court (short [loaf of] bread) was in more common use. Ir may have described the scarcity of provisions during the first year(20). <20> The settlement at St. Louis had probably been made more than a year before news of the cession of this territory to Spain reached the little outpost. During this year a number of other proud Creole families had come from New Orleans. There ensued several years of friction between them and the Spanish authorities.
Laclede and Choteau began at once the two-fold policy of expansion which led to the supremacy of their trading company. The objectives of this policy were, first, to win the confidence and allegianceof the Indians, their principle customers, and, second, to improve the physical conditions of their headquarters post.
17. Ghent, Early Far West, p. 36. 18. Thwaites, Early Western Travels, p. 147. Vol. 26. 19. Ghent, Early Far West, p. 36. 20. Ibid.