The city of St. Louis, by American standards, has been around quite a long time. In 1764, a wandering fur trapper named Pierre Laclede stood at the foot of today’s Walnut Street and made this proclamation: “I have found a situation where I intend establishing a settlement which in the future shall become one of the finest cities in America.” He was accompanied by his stepson Auguste Chouteau, who would oversee much of the construction of the new village.
|Auguste Chouteau's Rendering of St. Louis|
St. Louis, named for King Louis IV, technically lay within Spanish territory. It thrived as a trading post due to its location at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and proximity to fur-rich lands to the west.
Beginning in 1800, there were a whole lot of land switcheroos going on. France whipped out the secret Treaty of St. Ildefonse, which gave them immediate claim to the entire Louisiana Territory. They named St. Louis its capital. Four years later, a battle-weary and cash-strapped Napolean cut a package land deal–the Louisiana Purchase–with President Thomas Jefferson, thereby doubling the size of the United States. (As a native of the state of Louisiana, I take great pride in pointing out that our boundaries once encompassed all or part of fifteen modern states!)
|Missouri River Water Trail|
St. Louis grew into an important outfitting post for travelers heading west. After months of preparation, the Lewis and Clark Expedition officially launched their keelboat and pirogues onto the river at nearby St. Charles in 1804. Their Corps of Discovery would return to the same riverfront two and a half years later.
Two mailbags marked “The Butterfield Overland Mail Company” left St. Louis on September 16, 1858, marking the inaugural trip of BOMC’s three-year run as a postal carrier. Countless settlers streamed through the city, stuffing their wagons with supplies for a long trek to the newly opened frontier.
Riverboats sidled up to the docks at old Laclede’s Landing, a number of them piloted by an upriver boy named Samuel Clemens. The famous 1870 race between the Robert E. Lee and the Natchez ended here on the Fourth of July, with the Lee more than six hours ahead.
|The Robert E. Lee and the Natchez, roaring upriver|
Two brewers named Anheuser and Busch became “buds” in 1879. Industry and railroads moved in. At the time of the World’s Fair in 1904, the host city of St. Louis was the fourth largest metropolis in America.
If you thought that Charles Lindbergh named his plane “The Spirit of St. Louis” out of fondness for the city, you would be mistaken. That was the home base of…his investors.
On St. Louis’s riverbank–framing the setting sun–stands its most famous modern icon, the Gateway Arch. It is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and was dedicated in 1968. If you’ve never visited, be sure to check out the Museum of Westward Expansion at the base of the Arch. Take the enclosed tram (unless you’re claustrophobic) to the observation deck for stunning views of the city to the west and the sprawling farmlands of Illinois to the east. Finnish architect Eero Saarinen designed the curve of the aluminum structure to resemble a length of hanging chain. I’m told that the technical term is a weighted catenary.
And just where does this St. Louis timeline lead us? To the first annual Western Fictioneers Convention, of course! It seemed only right that we should meet in the city known as “The Gateway to the West” to celebrate the literature and history of the American Frontier.
Old Pierre Laclede would be pleased to know that "one of the finest cities in America" will be hosting a talented group of writers who continue to keep the spirit of the frontier alive.
The Western Fictioneers convention runs from 1:00 PM on Friday, October 30, through 11:00 AM on Sunday, November 1, 2015. Registration info can be found HERE.