The First Chouteaus: River Barons of Early St. Louis

March 26, 2014 Posted by: Tom Dewey, Librarian

The First Chouteaus: River Barons of Early St. Louis by William E. Foley and C. David Rice. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

Authors William Foley and C. David Rice wrote a very compelling book titled The First Chouteaus: River Barons of Early St. Louis in the early 1980s. The book explores the early history of St. Louis and the tremendous effect the Chouteau family had in its early development.

Step-brothers Auguste and Pierre Chouteau were the leading fur traders in the early days of St. Louis.  The book tells the story of St. Louis from their point of view from its founding by their stepfather, Pierre Laclede Liguest, in 1764, until Missouri statehood in 1821. Their mother, Marie Therese Chouteau, was a clever businesswoman in her own right and exerted considerable social influence in St. Louis for several decades. 

For more than a half century the Chouteau family dominated trade and enterprise in the St. Louis area. Members of the family were merchants, Indian traders, bankers, land speculators, governmental advisors, public officials and community leaders. Because of their extended reach into so many areas of early St. Louis life, it is impossible to overstate the overwhelming influence that Pierre, Auguste and the Chouteau family had on the on the city and westward expansion.

The Chouteaus managed to retain influence during an era which saw the Louisiana Territory pass from control of France to Spain, momentarily back to France, and finally to the United States. When international developments beyond their control made for sudden changes, they displayed a remarkable facility for adaptation. It was that adaptive spirit that made them so successful in almost every venture they attempted. 

The First Chouteaus is personal and local history at its best. The book, published in 1983 and reprinted in 2000, is in print and available through many book retailers and libraries.


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