Chapter 1 – Joy and sorrow in St. Charles
The air was pungent with the scent of falling leaves around her home northeast of the village of St. Charles. Jeanette Clairmont set down her broom and strolled to the small garden plot outside, while trying to decide what she would serve for the family’s evening meal.
“Genevieve,” she shouted back toward the house, “bring me some water for the garden.”
Her 15-year-old sister appeared with an empty bucket and a sullen expression.
“Why don’t you buy this family a slave, so we won’t have to work so hard?” she pouted. “I want time to finish the new gown for the festival tonight.”
“You will have time,” Jeanette replied, “as soon as you hoe the weeds around the pumpkins.”
“Why can’t Louis do that?” Genevieve argued.
“You know why. He’s too busy apprenticing with the blacksmith every day. We do the work around here.”
I wish something would change, Jeanette thought. I can’t believe that I have lived in this place for 15 and all I have to show for the hours of drudgery each day is a family that doesn’t appreciate my sacrifices.
She considered with sadness her father, Jacques, who at age 55, no longer went trapping. He and his brother Philippe had built a small grist mill on a nearby creek and bolted corn for their neighbors. The small income from their work barely sustained their families but the older men were content to live modestly, hunting and spending time at frequent festivals.
And her younger sister, Suzanne, is 20 now, married and having children. Her best friend, Nichole, has five now and little time anything else.
Sometimes I wish I hadn’t promised my stepmother that I would look after the family just before she died giving birth to Louis.
“May we leave for the festival now?” Genevieve asked later that afternoon.
“Make sure that Louis stays away from those crude American frontiersmen,” Jeanette replied.
“Jeanette, Louis is 13 now. Stop babying him so.”
I may as well baby him, Jeanette thought, since I am the only mother he has known.
“Aren’t you going with us?” Genevieve asked later.
“No, father hasn’t come back from the mill yet. I will wait to serve him supper before we walk to town together.”
Where is Father? Jeanette wondered as evening fell. We’re going to miss the festival.
Just then her cousin Francois knocked noisily on their door.
“Come,” he ordered. “Your father is unwell.”
Swiftly, they walked back the half-mile path to the mill. Jeanette gasped when she came upon her father, surrounded by half a dozen men. He lay on the ground unmoving, his face gray instead of the usual pink.
Jeanette grabbed one hand and spoke: “Father, please wake up.” His hand was cold. He did not move.
Jeanette put her head to his nose and mouth. His breath was shallow and ragged and it smelled of whiskey.
“Have you all been drinking earlier in the day?” Jeanette asked.
“We didn’t have much,” Francois said defensively. “Our neighbor brought us some in exchange for milling his corn. We had to sample it, didn’t we?”
“I suppose he is dead drunk again,” Jeanette said. “Would you men please help me bring him home?”
Late that night, Genevieve and Louis returned.
“Where were you?” Genevieve demanded. “You missed the fun.”
“Our father was taken ill.” Jeanette explained.
The following morning Jeanette found that their father was no more responsive.
“We must have the doctor,” Jeanette decided. “Louis, run into town and fetch him.”
Louis returned around noon with the local pharmacist instead.
Having examined her father’s limp body, the pharmacist said: “The doctor is 20 miles away at Nathan Boone’s place right now. I believe your father has had an apoplectic stroke. I’m not sure the doctor can do anything for him.
“Try to wake Jacques and coax him to drink some water. I’ll send up some smelling salts.”
Jeanette tried the smelling salts and when they did not work, she tried a poultice of hot herbs. Nothing helped. The third day, her father stopped breathing.
Quickly, his funeral Mass was held and his body was buried in the new Catholic cemetery on the north side of town.
What am I going to do now? Jeanette wondered. We were barely living on Father’s income. Now I am totally responsible for my stepbrother and sister.
Did you know?
In the1600s, a doctor, Jacob Wepfer discovered that something disrupted the blood supply in the brains of people who died from apoplexy (stroke). Slowly doctors began to learn how surgery on the carotid artery would sometimes help.
From 1803 until 1818, life in the village of St. Charles had changed quickly. The Louisiana Purchase had been negotiated and Lewis and Clark had led a successful Corps of Exploration to the American West. Other explorers and trappers had followed their lead. Close behind them were American settlers taking advantage of the newly purchased land from the crowded eastern American states. Although St. Charles did not add population very quickly, it slowly became a staging point for those wishing to settle the fertile bottomlands along the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers. In 1806, the movement of Americans toward the west came as a trickle. By 1810, it seemed more like a flood.
Unlike the French who settled in villages, the newcomers from places like Kentucky and Tennessee tended to settle randomly on farms widely separated from other settlers. This filling up of the land by strangers frightened and then angered the Native American tribes who had roamed them for centuries. Tensions arose, as settlers tried to drive off tribal members from places they had relied on for food and water. Attacks against settlers became more common. As they did, attacks against Indian villages also increased.
The War of 1812 brought even greater dangers, as British agents induced the native tribes to kill settlers. Even after the war ended, Indian raids continued. In 1816 a treaty was been signed by many tribal chiefs, bringing relatively more safe conditions. By 1819, tribal leaders began to realize how much land they had lost under these treaties.
Chapter 2—Louis goes fishing
For the next months in 1819, Jeanette struggled to keep their home life normal. Uncle Philippe and cousin Francois brought food to them. but Jeanette had no idea how she would be able to pay taxes on their home.
I’m 28 now, she thought. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life here. I want to teach.
Although her father had paid little attention to her stepsister and brother, Jeanette found that in his absence, they misbehaved even more than usual.
“Louis,” Jeanette ordered, “bring me in more wood before you leave for the blacksmith’s shop.”
“Why can’t Genevieve do it?” Louis growled.
“Because I have to mend my dress for the spring festival,” Genevieve whined. “I really need a new dress, Jeanette. Father would have given me one.”
“We don’t need new dresses,” Jeanette snapped. “We need to need to find work so we can eat.”
“I’ll bet Louis isn’t really going to the blacksmith shop today,” Genevieve accused. “I’ll bet he’s going fishing with his friend Mike.”
“I’m doing that after work,” Louis insisted. “And I’ll bet you’ll be happy to eat the fish I catch.”
“You know I’ll be grateful for any extra food,” Jeanette said quietly as she continued churning milk into butter. “But you and Mike must not go out alone,” she admonished. “The Indians are still angry with us because we compete with them for food. They might steal you away … or worse.”
“Mike and I could take on a dozen Indians,” Louis bragged.
“Don’t try it,” Jeanette sighed.
Louis worked hard that morning. As usual, a number of wagons and tools had been brought in for repair by strangers heading out over the Boone’s Lick Road toward the newly founded town of Franklin.
“You and Mike can head out now if you promise to bring me back a catfish,” Mr. Dubois told Louis in the early afternoon. “Fish are getting harder to catch, though. Too many people fishing. But I just heard there are still some beauties near where Dardenne Creek joins the Mississippi River.”
“Some men wouldn’t let us off so early. Is that why the Americans say you Frenchmen are lazy?”
“We’re not lazy,” Mr. Dubois replied. “We just think people should enjoy life and not work from dawn until dusk. All the American settlers want to do is make money, buy land and go to church. Work, work, work. Make more money. Buy more land. Their trappers and explorers are different, though. They still enjoy their liquor like real men.”
“So you think being a real man is spending months or even years away from your families?” Louis asked.
“No, but I think there should be time for family and fun and fetes,” Mr. Dubois insisted.
“Since my father died, we haven’t had time for any of that,” Louis said. “My old maid sister Jeanette orders me around. She picks on Genevieve and me all the time. She doesn’t understand that I am the man of the family now and she should do what I say.”
“Aw, you are just a kid.” Mike grinned.
Louis slugged Mike hard on his shoulder: “Does that feel like a kid? You are not that much older.”
“Ouch,” Mike said. “That feels like an angry kid.”
“How much older are you than me?” Louis challenged.
“I’m 16 now, I think. My parents both died when Indians attacked us after we escaped, so I don’t know for sure. And at least you have a home to go to. I had to sleep in a shed and work hard for the people who found me so I ran away again. Mr. Dubois took me in five years ago.”
“At least you’re not a slave.”
“No, but my parents were, though. They escaped and made it almost to here before the Indians killed them. If someone somewhere thinks he owns me, how can he prove it now?”
“I heard tell that some people think there should be a law here in Missouri that no free blacks should be allowed here when we become a state, Mike.”
“ Sorry, Mr. Dubois, but if that happens, I’ll have to head further west. Now Louis, let’s go dig some worms and get to fishing. ”
The sun was setting. Jeanette was seething.
“Where is Louis?” she asked Genevieve. “I was counting on cooking fish for our supper. We will all go to bed hungry tonight”.
Did you know?
Officials of the territory of Missouri had begun petitioning leaders in Washington to become a state in 1818. While settlers from the northeastern states like Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York were willing to settle in Ohio Territory where slavery was discouraged, settlers from the slave states of Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee preferred Missouri, where slavery had been legal when the French and Spanish had been in power.
Many of the new immigrants to Missouri by 1819 were slaves. The area now called “Little Dixie” (around present-day Boonville) offered rich ground for the planting of single crops like hemp for making rope. Its wide, rich river valley was suitable for large plantations employing many slaves.
A trail marked out by Daniel Boone and his sons began at the river dock at St. Charles and headed west toward the salt works the Boones had founded, crossing the present-day counties of St. Charles, Warren, Montgomery, Callaway, Boone and Howard to get to the area.
By 1819, the work of organizing a new state was making progress even though Northern and Southern members of Congress were struggling with the reality of slavery, since it was allowed by the framers of the U.S. Constitution. In Missouri Territory, officials were being appointed and rules for elections were taking shape. The efforts would continue until 1821 and require an historic compromise.
Chapter 3—Fish and bears
Jeanette fretted when darkness fell and Louis had still not come home. Much later, Louis returned, supported by Mike and Louis’s new friend, Andre. Jeanette started to bawl them out, then noticed Louis was swaying dizzily in the dull light of their torch. Blood was dripping from his forehead and his clothes were bloodstained.
“What happened?” Jeanette cried out.
“We killed a bear today,” Louis slurred, trying to grin.
“Let me clean you up, and then you can tell me about it,” Jeanette snapped, while racing for her healing kit. Then she examined his many wounds.
“Mike, please hold him down. I’m going to have to stop the bleeding and stitch him up. Don’t worry, I’ve had practice stitching up our father a few times.”
Jeanette poured some whiskey into his wounds. Louis turned white from the pain and then passed out.
“It’s just as well, Mike. At least now he will hold still.”
Jeanette patiently cleaned the wounds and sewed up the torn skin on his face and chest.
“I’m finished now, Mike. But before you go home, would you please tell me what happened?”
“I’m really sorry about this,” Mike said. “Some of the other young men in town decided to go fishing with us. We hiked upriver to where there aren’t many settlers yet and had good luck; we caught lots of fish. Louis and I were cleaning them when a small black bear cub came near. He was obviously sniffing the air and liking what he smelled. We threw a few rocks at the cub, but moments later, a big mama bear came charging through the brush. Two of us shot at her with our rifles, but that just made her mad and she tried charging us. Louis brought out his knife and tried to stab her in the heart. He was very brave. She knocked him down and mauled him, forehead and chest. The others had reloaded their weapons by then. One shot hit her in the eye, the other higher on her head. She fell over and died. Then we killed the cub. The others are butchering them now. We’ll all get our share of the meat, including Louis. We will be enjoying bear bacon for quite a while. The mama bear was fat. Must have come down the Illinois River. We can sell her rendered fat for cash. Louis will get a share and I will get her fur for a warm blanket for this winter.
If we keep killing the cubs and mothers, we soon won’t have any more bears left to kill for food, Jeanette thought in frustration.
Just then Louis began to moan and squirm, regaining consciousness. After trying to focus his eyes, he asked: “Is that you, Mike?”
“I’m here,” Mike replied.
“Did I kill the bear?” he muttered.
“Yes, you did.”
Louis smiled, then winced in great pain as he tried to move his arm.
Soon Andre returned with the village doctor, who examined Louis’s wounds.
“You’ve done a good job,” he told Jeanette. “I couldn’t have done better myself. Guess you’ve had a lot of experience sewing up quilts. Here’s some alcohol. Be sure to keep his wounds clean no matter how much he screams.”
Louis had a long recovery which meant that Jeanette had to spend even more time than ever at home. Evenings, she would sit by the fire often with him and her married sister, Suzanne, the women doing the unending chores of sewing, knitting or mending. One night the sudden roar of a distant clap of thunder startled all three of them.
“Remember when the earthquakes came six years ago?” Suzanne asked. “Our whole house shook. Crocks crashed down from the shelves and we cried in terror?”
“I do,” Louis said. I was only 7 the first time a quake hit. By the third time a couple of months later, I wasn’t as scared. What did you think, Jeanette? You were old enough to realize how bad it was.”
“I was even more frightened to hear townspeople report how many homes were badly damaged,” she replied. “And then we heard that the Mississippi River had begun turning backward to the north and made a great lake in Illinois. Townspeople began finding the corpses of those traveling by river, washed up on the shores. We all feared the shaking would never stop and it was the end of the world.”
Did you know?
Bears were numerous in the 1800s Missouri and throughout most of the continental forested regions of the U.S. For woodsmen, frontiersmen and explorers, bear meat was considered a welcome change from venison. It was said to taste like pork. Some settlers made bear bacon. The rendered fat was also useful and nutritious and could be stored for long periods of time.
Between late 1811 and early 1812, three intense earthquakes rumbled through the New Madrid Fault, destroying among other homes, the first brick house built in St. Charles. The quake was so intense that damage was done as far as the East Coast. The Mississippi River, for a time, flowed backward.
John Ordway, who had kept a journal throughout the Lewis and Clark Expedition, had been rewarded with a land grant near the town of New Madrid. He and his family had settled on it before 1811 and had kept in touch with friends by sending notes. Neither he nor his family were ever heard of again after the quake.
No one knows what became of the many indigenous tribes and settlers either who had lived close to the epicenter of the quakes near New Madrid. The first quake did the most damage. Some believe the second and third ones were actually very strong aftershocks.
In spite of the terrifying earthquakes, the loosely defined Territory of Missouri slowly grew to have 20,000 residents. However, that territory was much larger than the state of today. It extended from the Missouri River on the south, the Mississippi River on the east, the Rocky Mountains to the west and the British Dominion (Canada) to the north. William Clark was appointed governor of the territory in 1813.
Chapter 4 – New neighbors
Although there weren’t as many attacks by angry Indians, families in St. Charles were reminded of the continuing risk each time word would spread that yet another farm family had been threatened or massacred further west or north. Jeanette’s sister, Suzanne, had just brought news of cousins who had recently been killed.
“I wonder if British agents are still stirring up trouble,” Suzanne asked. “Don’t they ever give up?”
“I don’t understand,” Louis said. “We won the war four years ago. Why would they keep up the threats?”
“I believe they are still trying to hold on to the land they claim north of here,” Jeanette said “Still, we felt in more danger four years ago. At that time, British agents had been coming down from their domain to the north to encourage the Indians to attack us, even here in St. Charles. They paid them with the same gifts our trappers do for furs. But they wanted Europeans’ scalps in exchange.
“They never did attack our village,” Suzanne said. “I suppose there were too many of us.”
“In the midst of our fears, William Clark came back to be the governor of Missouri Territory,” Jeanette added. “He helped by negotiating peace treaties with several tribes. He seems like a fair-minded man, doesn’t he? Not like so many of the land speculators who take advantage of us when they can. We have been fortunate that our Spanish land grant patent is still being honored.”
“I haven’t heard about that, but I heard about how Gen. Andrew Jackson and his men kicked the British out of New Orleans,” Louis said. “He must be very brave. I guess the British won’t stop trying to make us doubt the new government even now, but it sure took the wind out of their sails when we beat them.”
“That’s a funny expression,” Jeanette said.
“I guess it’s American,” Suzanne said. “John says it all the time. Now that Americans are starting to move west in larger numbers, John’s business is doing well. I don’t like having as many strangers in town but as long as they are just passing through, it isn’t so bad.”
“Do you mind that John is so much older than you?”
“That’s just the way it is, isn’t it, Jeanette? The younger men were more fun to flirt with, but John offers me and our children more security. Do you think you would like to marry some day, Jeanette?”
“No, for some reason I’ve always felt I wouldn’t.”
The dull routine of the village changed when word was passed of the arrival of five nuns from France.
“Have you heard the latest news?” Jeanette’s friend, Nichole, asked as they sat shelling peas for supper. “Some French nuns just came upriver from New Orleans on one of those amazing new steamboats. They arrived at St. Louis and were transported by cart and ferried across the Missouri River. They’ve rented a house owned by a rich widow and plan to begin organizing a school for girls. Isn’t that exciting?”
“Perhaps you can send your daughters to the school,” Jeanette said.
“Bishop DuBourg’s agent told John that the nuns hope to support themselves by boarding girls from wealthy families but they also hope to have a free day school for poorer girls, even Indians.”
“Even Indians? I wonder how well that will be accepted.”
And I wonder if they will need more teachers? Jeanette thought.
“None of them speak English,” Suzanne reported to her sister later that day. “I wonder how they will fare here. My neighbor told me Mother Duchesne came from a wealthy family in France and she just passed her 50th birthday. That’s really old to start over again.”
Soon, the attention of the villagers was drawn away from the nuns by the news of yet another tragic massacre of settlers. This was followed by word of an attack of a Sioux village to the north by the militia.
“I hate those redskins,” Louis told them when he got home from the blacksmith shop.
“Haven’t you figured out that your friend Andre is part Indian?” Jeanette asked. “What about him?”
“That’s different,” Louis replied. “He’s a responsible person. We both are going to join the militia as soon as they will let us.”
Did you know?
By 1818, one of Fulton’s first steamboats had begun to serve passengers and haul goods on the Missouri River, providing a quicker and more comfortable way to travel from the south or east. Soon more would appear, adding to St. Charles’ appeal as a gateway to western expansion.
Before 1812, seeking to destabilize the new United States, the British had been harassing American trading ships, even going to the extreme of “impressing” American crew members into serving on British ships against their will. From British-owned territory to the north (Canada) they had also sent agents across the border to urge the unhappy native tribes to harass and kill settlers, providing the tribes with arms, ammunition and whiskey.
In 1812, the war with the British and their Indian allies began. It lasted until the end of 1814 officially. The Battle of New Orleans actually happened in early January 1815, after a peace treaty had been completed in Europe but before word of it reached the U.S.
Although the official war was over, battles between settlers and Indians continued well into 1816 and beyond, slowing the pace of settlement throughout the frontier. The profits of businesses around St. Charles slowed, along with those who brought in supplies for wagon trains passing through St. Charles. Items most in demand were flour, sugar, bacon, coffee, rifles and ammunition.
Two leaders of the Sauk tribe took different positions on the invasion of settlers. During the War of 1812-15, Chief Keokuk convinced fellow tribal members not to leave their principal village to fight for the British. Black Hawk, the leader of a rival clan, joined the British.
Keokuk often protected his village by negotiating. He was noted for his personal bravery as well as skills in persuasion. On several occasions, he changed the minds of members of tribal assemblies, although some had been firmly determined to go the opposite way.
Chapter 5—A new teacher in town
By late September 1818, the inhabitants of St. Charles were spending much time talking about the arrival of five nuns who had vowed to start a school. Jeanette began asking her family questions about the new arrivals.
“I heard the boarding girls all sleep on the floor in the big main room at night and so do the nuns. It’s a hard life for them and will be harder come winter,” Suzanne said.
“I was shocked to see how crowded the house is,” Nichole told Jeanette. “It is large compared to ours, perhaps 25 by 30 feet, with a wide central hall set between six tiny rooms and surrounded by a wide gallery. But it was vacant for some time and needs many repairs.”
“I’ve heard rumors that the widow Duquette is charging too much rent for the house,” Suzanne added. “Most of us are giving the nuns whatever we can without charge. I guess this is how the wealthy stay rich.”
“I see a dozen or more girls sitting out on the wide gallery being taught by the nuns,” Louis reported. “And there are more who only attend school and go home at night. That includes a couple of mulatto children and just one half-breed Indian. Seems the Kickapoos around here don’t have any interest in white man’s learning.”
“So you are watching the girls who are attending the school, my brother?” Suzanne teased.
“Just curious, sister,” Louis said, blushing.
At worship one Sunday, Jeanette realized she had something to offer the nuns because she had learned to read and write both French and English. She had found out that none of them knew more than a few words of English. But how could she join them? Her time was taken up caring for her father’s children.
The following morning, Jeanette prepared breakfast for Genevieve and Louis and then casually said, “I think I will visit the nuns today and see if they need anything.”
“You mean you’re going to ask if they need help teaching,” Genevieve said.
“How do you know that?” Jeanette replied.
“We all have suspected that’s what you want to do. You don’t gossip about them like your friends and I saw your face at Mass yesterday.
“But what about us?” Louis asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Jeanette replied.
Still, she went to visit Mother Duchesne, who welcomed her help, but added, “but you understand we cannot afford to pay you?”
For the following months, Jeanette helped the nuns teach.
“I admire Mother Duchesne; she is so dedicated,” she told Suzanne. “I only wish the bishop who brought her here would help her more.”
“My husband, John, and I want to suggest a solution to the problem we are all aware of,” Suzanne said. “We are willing to come live here and finish raising Genevieve and Louis. You may live here for as long as you wish but if you want to leave to join the nuns later, we will understand.”
“So John will be the one to inherit this home, Suzanne?”
“Yes, Jeanette. We’ve spoken with Uncle Philippe and Francois and they agree. The Americans don’t recognize that women can own property and as we continue having to fight to keep our Spanish land grant-based homes, it will be easier if my American husband owns this land.”
Jeanette bit her lip. It stung that Suzanne’s husband John could not speak French and had been raised a Protestant.
The following day, Jeanette visited the nuns and joyfully told them the news.
That winter was exceptionally cold. “The nuns make do without bread,” Jeanette told her friend Nichole on a visit late one afternoon. “Their cow has gone dry and now that the river is so frozen over, they do with little water as well. They consider a meal of both potatoes and cabbage a special treat. A gift of a few eggs or some butter is a tremendous blessing. Louis gives me game to share with them when he has a successful hunt, but even the animals hide in this bitterly cold weather. Father Richard has gathered children from nearby but they are totally undisciplined.
“The nuns must also be homesick,” Nichole said. “I wonder how long they will be able to hold out.”
The answer came a year later.
“Mother Duchesne has been ordered to move her school across the river to Florissant,” Jeanette told her sister. “And I want to go with her and take the veil.”
“But even though you will live 20 miles from here, we may not ever see you again.”
“That may be true, but I feel my calling is real and I must go.”
Did you know?
In 1818, a group of French nuns arrived in St. Charles by steamboat. Led by Mother (now Saint) Rose Philippine Duchesne, they began the first free school west of the Mississippi.
Mother Duchesne was 50 when she began her work in the New World. Along with four other dedicated nuns, she traveled from France. Having survived a storm-filled Atlantic passage, they arrived in New Orleans in May 1818. From New Orleans, the nuns took one of the first steamboats up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, then traveled by cart and ferry to St. Charles.
Mother Duchesne’s dream had been to educate Native Americans. Her reality was shaped by Bishop Louis Valentine DuBourg, who was more interested in establishing Catholic schools.
Organizing and running a school in St. Charles was a struggle. Money was tight for the self-supporting nuns; the rented building was in poor condition and the students were unaccustomed to formal education. Roughly, two-thirds of the residents of St. Charles at that time could not read or write. Many saw no need at all for education.
“I can’t read or write,” some told Mother Duchesne, “and I do just fine without it.”
DuBourg sent her messages of encouragement but he withheld the money the nuns had raised in France, assuring them that their poverty was a gift from God.
As the number settlers grew, new churches and schools were soon being organized in St. Charles by Presbyterians and Methodists as well.
The goal of the nuns was to serve children of the prosperous who could pay for their boarding school educations while also taking on daytime students who could not pay, including Native Americans. Because of the small number of paying students, within a year, the nuns, with their new academy, were relocated to Florissant.
Chapter 6 – Valor
In October 1820, Louis celebrated his 16th birthday by joining the militia. Based on Louis’ encounter with the bear, he was accepted as soon as he volunteered. Louis arrived home from volunteering, his chest swelling as he told his sister Suzanne and her husband.
“It’s been quiet around here lately,” John said. “You probably won’t have to march on any alarms soon.”
“I hope not,” Suzanne said, as she held her newborn baby in her lap. “Right now, no one feels totally safe living close to these wide rivers where Indians can attack by canoe and get away quickly.”
Two weeks later, the word spread to the blacksmith shop that the Sauk tribe, which lived along the Rock River, was again on the warpath, killing settlers.
“That’s strange,” John said. “They usually are too busy building winter camps to attack at this time of year.”
Then word came of a failed attack by angry settlers trying to drive a Fox village further west from the Fort Edwards area across from Keokuk. In retaliation, Fox warriors began raids along the Mississippi River as near to St. Charles as the recently settled town of Clarksville.
When the alarm was spread, both he and Louis packed their sacks and readied their horses for a long march.
“Are you men really going to leave us and our small children here to fend for ourselves?” Suzanne asked.
“You have Genevieve and my uncle Philippe to help you,” John responded.
“Uncle Philippe is old and Genevieve is no help at all,” Suzanne argued.
“We won’t be gone long and we will all be safer when we return.”
“I’ll ask my friend Andre to keep an eye on you,” Louis added.
The militiamen returned two weeks later, but neither Louis nor John would answer questions about what had happened except to say that two of their neighbors would never return and another had lost his arm to a well-thrown hatchet.
Through winter, the family members all did their usual chores but the men spent evenings in somber silence. Even the little ones played quietly on a rug in the corner.
“Louis, I think you’d better tell me what happened,” Suzanne finally demanded. “None of the men are saying anything.”
“I can’t tell you either,” Louis said.
“Then tell a priest,” Suzanne suggested. “I’d give anything to see you smile again.”
Louis walked out the door in silence.
I wish Jeanette were here, Louis thought. I don’t think I could ever tell anyone else what happened.
When spring came and the ice on the Missouri had thawed, one day Louis announced: “I won’t be home tonight. My friends and I are going on a fishing expedition,” he lied as he rolled some supplies into his bearskin pack.
The following morning Louis rode across the Missouri River on the first ferry trip of the new year. As waves lapped at the large raft, he wondered what had happened to his oldest sister since the previous September.
He had helped the nuns pack up their few possessions and move to the bishop’s farm in Florissant. The nuns had taken with them cows and chickens and gifts from local parishioners. Once across the river, the cows refused to walk in the heat of the sun. In desperation, the nuns had spent the night sleeping in a field in their carts, the cows tethered by rope. In the cooler morning, they were able to finish their journey when Father De La Croix showed up with his horse and helped to keep the cows from running away. The unhappy cows were rewarded for their reluctant cooperation with fresh cabbages.
The American-styled farmhouse they were assigned to was an 18-foot-square, one-room log cabin with a loft, two shuttered windows and one door. In it the nuns, used to much more spacious accommodations in Europe, had to find space for sleeping, cooking, eating and praying, as well as for a classroom and for boarding students.
Louis had stayed for two weeks to help. Although it was only September, a cold rain had begun quickly. The roof leaked. The huge stone fireplace with room for large logs helped them get through the early cold snap. Louis had helped to patch the roof and bring in logs before heading back to St. Charles.
Now Louis hoped he would find his sister in better circumstances.
Did you know?
Black Hawk was a tribal leader. Although he had inherited an important symbol of power from his father, he was not a hereditary chief like Keokuk. As a young man, Black Hawk had earned his status as a war chief by leading raiding and war parties. Later, he and his people were driven west from their traditional lands along the Rock River on the Illinois side of the Mississippi by around 1832.
During the “Indian Wars,” pioneering had slowed down but the push of land-hungry younger sons and their families began again as soon as the peace seemed to be holding. In the St. Charles area, settlers began streaming through toward Franklin. Land speculators began buying up large tracts, dividing them and reselling smaller plots to new arrivals. Not all of the speculators were honest, but enough were to encourage the continued migration toward the west.
By 1816, having signed a peace treaty with the British, President Madison and Congress began looking for ways to bring peace between westward-moving settlers and the Indians who resented their presence. That year, between 2,000 and 3,000 Native Americans, representing tribes as small as the Oto and large ones such as the Osage and Sioux, gathered at Portage des Sioux. Close by, two fully armed gunboats and 275 U.S. Army soldiers kept watch over the gathering. By signing a peace treaty with the U.S. government, the Indians (and also the settlers) were to be forgiven any past hostile act.
Unfortunately, this treaty did not stop much of the violence on the frontier by both sides. An uncertain peace followed; with it a stream of settlers began heading west again and “squatting” (building homes and farms on land they did not own). Roads were established; villages were built.
Although the number of conflicts with Native Americans decreased, problems still arose. With easy traffic on the three intersecting rivers, raids continued. Outlying farms were still the favored targets for stealing horses or crops and killing residents who fought back.
Chapter 7 – A battle to forget
Louis hiked through 20 miles of marsh, cultivated fields and forest toward the bishop’s farm in Florissant.
I’m almost sure Mr. Dubois will forgive me when I return, he hoped. But how am I going to tell my sister what I want to say? The nuns may object.
With incredible luck, he spotted his sister alone, stooping to get water into a bucket from the Coldwater Creek that ran near the farm. He swooped down and embraced her before she had time to protest.
Tears came to her eyes as she said, “Oh, Louis, you have grown so tall and strong this last year. But why are you here?”
“I have to tell someone,” he whispered. “We all promised we wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“Who? What are you talking about?”
Louis looked at his older sister who was shivering in her thin robe. “You look so thin and tired. Why?”
“We don’t have much food, but at least here at the convent we have plenty of water,” she replied with a wry grin. “Here the creek floods sometimes up to the walls of the farm. Don’t worry about me. But tell me, has someone died?”
Tears sprang into Louis’s eyes. “Many people died, but none of them were of our family.” And then he explained about his time with the militia.
“On our way toward Clarksville, we came upon a small farm. We could hear a cow lowing mournfully in the distance so we headed that way. Inside the fence, the poor hungry beast was alone. The men – at least we think they were men – had been hacked into pieces. The woman and children had been killed by arrows and knives and scalped, too.
“How awful, Louis.”
“Yes, it was. Even older war-hardened men cried as we buried the family’s remains. We were all outraged and vowed revenge.
Jeanette paused and prayed for her brother Louis while he sat silent, wanting to unburden himself more, yet afraid.
“God forgives? Isn’t that right, my sister?”
“Yes, God forgives. But do we?” Jeanette asked. “Can we take responsibility for our actions? Can we forgive ourselves and God for this world as it is and trust again?”
Louis thought about all that and then began his story again:
“We militiamen were so angry. Our anger made us swift in pursuit of the trail left by the Indian raiding party. Not far above Clarksville, we spotted a winter camp. Native women were throwing red-hot stones into a cooking pot, then stirring the food to cook their evening meal. Children were rushing around playing. We had no idea where their men were.
“A few of us walked into the camp and signaled that we wanted to trade trinkets for some of their food. The others waited concealed behind trees. Nothing happened.
One of the women who knew some French told us their Ioway husbands had gone trapping, so we ate their food and then camped close by, setting guards.
Later that night, Indians attacked. No doubt they were of the raiding party we had followed upriver. They wore the tribal garments of the Fox tribe.
“Our neighbors, Mr. Larue and Mr. Gerard, were killed by them.”
Jeanette gasped. Louis put his face in his hands.
“Go on,” Jeanette swallowed her own pain and encouraged.
“When we had killed or run off the last of them, some of the men went into the Indian camp and began killing everyone – the women, children and old people. We didn’t stop them. We knew they were of a different tribe, but at that moment, an Indian was an Indian and therefore our enemy.
“I am so ashamed, Jeanette. I knew the difference. I don’t know what happened to me. I felt such rage as I hope never to feel again. Now I can barely look at my friend Andre.”
“Stay tonight,” Jeanette said. “A priest is coming tomorrow. Confess to him. He is forbidden to tell anyone else. Accept the penance he gives you and make amends as you can.
“Let me embrace you now my brother, perhaps for the last time, because some of us may be transferred to another convent in Louisiana soon. If that is true, I may never see you again.
“Louis, do not let this turn you hard and bitter as it has so many others. I must go back now. Peace be with you, my brother. I’ll write to you soon.”
Did you know?
The new location for a school in Florissant did attract more students. With much hard work and sacrifice, it grew. Because of her diligence and administrative skills, Mother Duchesne was transferred to St. Louis six years later. Through her intense efforts, she founded the City House School in St. Louis, with programs for boarders, a free day school and an orphanage.
At age 70, she was finally allowed to fulfill her life’s ambition to help, educate and convert Native American girls of the Potawatomi tribe at Sugar Creek, Kan. Her age and frail health worked against her. Living under stark frontier conditions again, she found herself too frail to be of much help with the physical work. She could not learn the Potawatomi language. She did what she could and spent much of her time in prayer, gaining the name “Woman Who Prays Always.” Her dedication by itself impressed the tribe and the missionary priest who had brought her there.
After just one year, she was called back to St. Charles because of her health. She returned to the now thriving convent of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles (which had reopened in 1828) and worked there until her death at age 83.
The Academy of the Sacred Heart was the first free school west of the Mississippi River, and the first Catholic school in what would become the St. Louis Archdiocese.
She was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church in 1940 and canonized in 1988.
Chapter 8 – The state of Missouri
After making his confession, Louis stayed out in the wilds of Florissant for three more days, hunting for food to take home with him to explain his absence. When he returned to the blacksmith shop, Mr. Dubois was angry at first but allowed him to do some work around the smithy, although by winter there were few jobs.
The constant trail of wagons bearing settlers trickled down and then ceased as deep winter approached. And as it did, the subject on most of the townspeople’s lips was “When will we become a state?”
Congress had accepted their application in 1819, but nothing happened.
“We should become a slave state,” Mr. Dubois said often and loudly.
“No way,” Mike argued. “You know I’ll have to move on if we do.”
“The way the Americans hate half-breeds, I will have to, too,” Andre said.
“People from the Northeast don’t need slaves,” Mike pointed out. “They pay workers to leave the farms and help make textiles and steamboats.”
“But how can owners do that and make a profit?” Mr. Dubois asked. “And besides, slaves don’t have to worry about going hungry. People who make parts for steamboats do. They only get paid when they work.”
“Would any of you want to be a slave?” Mike said. “I don’t. But if certain people catch me, I’d have no choice.”
“There are lots of ways to make money growing things along the big rivers here and not many cash jobs, so it makes sense to go with slavery,” Mr. Dubois insisted.
“Seems like there are a lot of new jobs as we get ready for statehood,” Mr. Dubois noted as spring approached. “We are getting a county courthouse full of them. Tax gobblers, all of ’em. New judges and justices of the peace and a county clerk. Lawyers are setting up shop like rats, just across the street.
“I heard the General Assembly of the Missouri Legislature is going to meet here in June even though we aren’t quite officially a state yet,” Louis said. “Glad I’m not one of them. All that paperwork would make me go crazy. ‘You can join the states if you sign this and ratify that and file these papers,’ they keep saying.
“And all this nonsense, it’s going to carry on for five years until they have a new capital built up the Missouri closer to the center of the state. Wonder what they are going to call it.”
“Hey did you hear? Another slave escaped,” Andre interrupted.
“They will catch him like they caught the last one and my neighbor got a big reward,” Mr. Dubois said.
“He’s a good man.” Louis insisted. “Works at the local hotel helping around. Nice and polite. But somewhere he heard his master was thinking of sending him down the river to New Orleans and he told someone he was afraid of the way they treat slaves there.”
“I hope he gets away clean,” Mike said.
Mr. Dubois frowned.
Louis opened his eyes that night, thinking he had heard a soft but persistent knock outside his open window. He struggled out of his rope bed and looked out. Nothing unusual. But then he heard a soft voice.
“Are you alone?”
“Mike, is that you?”
“Yes, it is. And I need help. The slave we talked about today is going to head west into Indian territory and I’m going with him. There’s no good place for either of us here.”
“You know if I help him and you get caught, I can get into a lot of trouble, Mike?”
“Well just help me, then. I’m still a free man.”
“I’m getting my boots on, Mike. Meet me in the summer kitchen.”
Once inside the kitchen, Louis grabbed a hemp sack and stuffed it full of food. He added a sharp hunting knife and a skin water bag.
“You’ve been a good friend, Mike. I will miss you.”
In the morning, he heard John cursing softly in the summer kitchen as he looked for his hunting knife.
“I took the knife and lost it,” Louis told John. “I’ll buy you another one today with my earnings.”
John looked at him suspiciously.
“I hope that’s all there is to this story. I heard some suspicious noises out here last night.”
In August 1821, Missouri officially became the 24th state. The entry of Maine, a “free” state, made room for Missouri to join as a “slave” state, keeping the balance of the two camps in Congress. This Missouri Compromise slowed serious threats about secession of the slave states for another 40 years.
When Missouri joined the Union, St. Charles became the first state capital, but only for five years, until a more centrally-located state capital could be established along the Missouri River in what would become Jefferson City.
St. Louis and St. Charles were thought of as gateway cities, the last places where wagon trains could stop for supplies before beginning their long trek by way of the Santa Fe Trail to the southwest or the newly discovered Oregon Trail to the northwest. The area where the four rivers converged: the Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Meramec, that had helped bring settlers to St. Charles, St. Louis and Fenton, had been considered the western edge of the frontier in 1805. By 1826, the same area had become a gateway to a vast, mostly uncharted land to the west.
Sister Jeanette was transferred to the New Orleans Parish and spent the next years teaching students, both black and white. She was cited for teaching black children several times and spent some time in prison. She died of yellow fever in 1836.
Suzanne and John prospered in St. Charles and became community leaders. When her children grew up, Suzanne became more active at St. Charles Boromeo Catholic Church and was involved in raising money for a new stone church.
Louis married a former student of Mother Duchesne’s Sacred Heart Academy. Together, they and their children moved west to Independence, where he built a livery stable and blacksmith shop.
Mike and Andre made a successful escape. The two partnered in making a living by trapping and trading. They eventually built a small trading post along the Oregon Trail as it opened up the possibility of more settlements to the west.