American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of The Western States

Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam' Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
1901


ST. LOUIS
"THE FUTURE GREAT"
By WILLIAM MARION REEDY


SITUATED at the heart of the continent, between the East and West, the North and South, St. Louis is a unique mixture of the characteristics of all sections of the United States. In the early seventies a weird character named L. U. Reavis wrote a book called St. Louis, the Future Great City of the West, in which he advocated the removal hither of the seat of the national Government and predicted great things for the city. The fourth of American cities in population, St. Louis is preparing to hold a World's Fair in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the purchase of the Louisiana territory, on a scale of magnificence which attracts universal attention. With the completion of the Chicago drainage canal, destined soon to be a ship canal connecting Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River, with the necessary improvement of the Mississippi to its mouth, and with the certain construction of an Isthmian canal, St. Louis is sure to be in as close touch with the world at large as if it were a seacoast city. Always the natural commercial centre of the Mississippi Valley, since it became the focus of a mighty network of railroads St. Louis has been the market of the prosperous West, the new South and the great Southwest, with its wealth of agriculture, mining, manufactures, and its almost magic development, shown, for instance, in the fact that Texas is now only a few thousand behind Missouri in population, and must in consequence of the recent discoveries of enormous oil lands soon overtake States like Illinois and Ohio and Pennsylvania. The prophecies of the city's greatness are coming to realization. Its future is here, but bright as the future is, it is not so bright as to allure us into forgetting the picturesque past.

The old town on the Mississippi has ever been modest to a degree that has caused the thoughtless to make mock of its conservatism, but the steadiness of character and the regard only for the realities of progress which have marked St. Louis have their justification in that they have resulted in a city known in times of depression and panic as "the solid city." A city that owns itself, with a proper sense of dignity, it has never advertised itself in the modern meretricious fashion. And so the story of St. Louis, an honest tale, will speed best being simply told.

St. Louis was founded by Pierre Laclede Liguest and a few companions, all French voyageurs, in 1764; at least it was in that year that Laclede's lieutenant, Auguste Chouteau, cleared away the site of the present city. Laclede Liguest, or, as he is sometimes known, Liguest Laclede, a merchant of New Orleans, had from the French Government a monopoly of the fur trade in the Missouri River country. He left New Orleans with his family and a small party in August, 1764, with the intention of founding a town near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Shortly after the town was laid out occurred the cession to Great Britain of the Illinois country, on the east bank of the Mississippi. The French inhabitants of that country having followed from the north in the wake of Marquette in 1673, and of La Salle in 1678, hated the English, and began to move over to the new town, which soon grew into importance. A trading point for the Indians, Laclede and his companions so managed them that there was none of the friction which marked the contact elsewhere of the English and the natives. When the laying out of the city began a band of one hundred and fifty warriors, with their squaws and papooses, outnumbering the whites five to one, appeared and camped near the strangers. The Frenchmen treated the savages with such tact and kindness that they not only did no harm, but even of their own volition assisted in the work. The first cellar was excavated with the aid of the squaws, who carried off the day in baskets, and were paid in beads and other trinkets which Laclede had brought up from New Orleans. The Indians became so friendly that they were a hindrance rather than a help, and finally, to induce them. to depart, Laclede hinted that the French soldiers at Fort Chartres were to be summoned.

Shortly after the little village was begun, news came that the territory of Louisiana had been ceded to Spain. The French Governor, M. d'Abadie, who announced the fact to the people with tears, is said to have died of grief. St. Ange de Bellerive became Commandant or Governor General in 1765, instituted a government, and demeaned himself in such manner generally that unto this day he is remembered affectionately in every published history of the town. The first two grants of land in the village were made to Laclede by De Bellerive, August 11, 1766. The Spaniards do not appear to have paid much attention to the village of St. Louis, for there was some doubt whether De Bellerive had any authority to make grants; Although the best authorities agree that De Bellerive acted with the authority and consent of the Commandant General of New Orleans, it seems that he was practically elected Governor by the inhabitants. It is amusing to read in a history of St. Louis and Missouri, published in 1870, that De Bellerive in 1766, began to make grants, "hoping for a retrocession of the country to France, when the grants would be legalized by confirmation." The first marriage in the new colony was celebrated April 20, 1766, the contracting parties being Toussaint Honen and Marie Baugenon. The first mortgage was recorded September, 1766. It was specified that payment should be made in peltries, though no definite value was attached to the number of deer hides to be delivered by Pierre Berger to Francis Latour.

August 11, 1767, news came that Spain was making ready to take possession of the country. The transfer had been made by secret treaty in 1762. The people accepted the situation in a sort of dumb rage. The following year a body of troops arrived under the command of a man named Rios, acting under the authority of Don Antonio d'Ulloa, Governor of Louisiana. To the joy of the inhabitants, De Bellerive was not disturbed in his office, and the Spanish troops left in the summer of 1769.

It was the great distinction of De Bellerive that he was the friend of Pontiac, the Ottawa chieftain, and about the time of the departure of the Spaniards, Pontiac arrived at St. Louis. He represented all the poetry and nobility, the grandeur and genius of the Indian character. After Red Jacket, he was the greatest Indian the New World had known. Dreaming of driving the English into the sea he had confederated the tribes between the Allegheny and the Mississippi, the Ohio and the Lakes into a league against them. He had been known and beloved by the gallant but unfortunate Montcalm at Quebec. He had participated in the ambuscade in which Braddock with his life had paid the penalty of narrow mindedness, and had planned the "massacre of Michilimackinack, in which more than two thousand of the English had lost their lives. The French "loved him for the enemies he had made," and he was "feted and caressed," says an early chronicler, "by many of the principal inhabitants of the village." St. Ange de Bellerive entertained the warrior at the house of Madame Chouteau, but Pontiac was now a broken man. His dream of driving back the English beyond the Cumberland had faded. His allies had been seduced from his support by presents and by firewater. He, too, had made the acquaintance of the fiery liquor, and drink was then such a passion with him that De Bellerive and his friends not only endeavored to prevent the sale thereof to him in the village, but tried to dissuade him from crossing the river to Cahokia in response to the invitations of certain of his friends there. Not to be dissuaded, Pontiac crossed the river in the uniform of a French officer, which had been given him by Montcalm. Wandering on the outskirts of the village of Cahokia, he was tomahawked by a Kaskaskia Indian, who had been given a barrel of whiskey to do the deed by an English trader named Williamson. His friend De Bellerive had the chiefs remains brought to St. Louis, and they were buried somewhere in the vicinity of the site of the present Southern Hotel, in the corridor of which was placed, in 1901, a handsome tablet to the unfortunate warrior's memory. Whether Pontiac was assassinated in accordance with official English instructions, or met his death in consequence of a private grudge, was long a matter of dispute, but there is no doubt that the passionate and sympathetic Frenchmen believed for many long years that the chief was killed to relieve the English of the danger, of his presence and a possible utilization of his undoubted abilities by the Power in possession of the west bank of the Mississippi. Pontiac's death, however, was promptly avenged upon the Illinois Indians by members of the tribes with which he had been in alliance.

Next came Don Alexander O'Reilly to take charge of the territory of Louisiana. He arrived at New Orleans at the head of three thousand men to enforce his authority. There was need for the soldiery, for though seven years had elapsed since the cession of the territory, the Spaniards had never actually taken possession. The people were still French to the core. When they heard that Don O'Reilly was coming they even conferred together upon the advisability of meeting him with force and preventing his landing. The head men of the town counselled against this, however, and their advice prevailed, but such was the spirit of insubordination, so many were the execrations heaped upon the Spaniards, so frequent were the threats of violence against them that Don Alexander had at once to adopt stern measures. He promptly arrested a dozen of the ringleaders, had five of them publicly shot, and the others, except one who committed suicide, sent as prisoners to Cuba. The Spanish code was put into operation throughout the territory, and O'Reilly's deputy, Lieutenant Governor Piernas, arriving in St. Louis in I 770, took possession of St. Louis, with the help of De Bellerive, wisely conciliating the villagers. The village, settled into peace. The church, for which ground had been set aside even S before the founders of the town had prepared to build their own homes, was dedicated, June 24, 1770, with solemn ceremonies. Where that first church of flattened logs set on end with the interstices filled with mortar stood, there stands a church today, and, says Elihu Shepard, since that time "the worship of God on that block has not been suspended for a single day." All De Bellerive's acts were formally confirmed by Piernás, and the little settlement forgot its woes under a benign administration, which recognized village prejudices, and shut its eyes to the loyalty everywhere apparent to France.

Piernas narrowly escaped assassination at the hands of an Osage chieftain who thought himself insulted at a meeting at the Commandant's house. The Osage, while drinking with other Indians, divulged his intention to kill the Governor, whereupon a Shawnee warrior stabbed him to the heart. The slain chief was buried with honors in the big mound to the north of the village, an eminence that gave to St. Louis for many years the name of "The Mound City."

For twelve years the village was orderly and quiet. The people liked the Governor who succeeded Piernas, but the next, Don Fernando de Leyba, "a drunken, avaricious, and feeble minded man, without a single redeeming qualification," they did not like. He came upon the scene in 1778, at a critical time. The American Revolution was on. The French and Spaniards, hating the English, were inclined to sympathize with the colonists, so far as they knew or cared about things happening so far away. Fearing an attack of English and Indians, the villagers threw up a trench and stockade about the town, having three gates on the sides other than the one on the river, and built a fort in the centre of the city at what is now, approximately, Fourth and Walnut streets, and supplied it with four small cannon and one company of soldiers. The people were afraid to till the fields outside the trench and stockade, and the men who might have braved attack were busy building the defences. In the spring of 178o fears of a famine forced the men into the fields to plant the spring seeds.

On the morning of May 26, 1780, the attack came. It was led by Canadian French renegades, the main body being made up of about one thousand Upper Mississippi Indians. The attacking party came from the north, slew forty of the workers, carried fifteen up the river as prisoners, in their war canoes, while the rest made their way back to the fortifications, amid the booming of the cannon, which saved the fort. Leyba, who was drunk, appeared upon the scene, it is said, sprawling in a wheelbarrow and muttering incoherently, after the Indians had been repulsed. He died a month later, covered with ignominy.

The succeeding Lieutenant Governor, Francisco Cruzat, thoroughly fortified the town, which was never afterwards molested by the savages. While the more extensive fortifications were in process of construction, indeed to the peace of 1783, the price of provisions in St. Louis was high, and visitors from New Orleans, Ste. Genevieve, Cahokia, Kaskaskia, and other settlements nicknamed the place "Pain Court," or "short of bread." Still, it was a time of prosperity. The town grew, and nothing alarming happened until, in 1785, when the people were terrified by their first sight of the "June rise" of the Mississippi. They saw the great yellow stream spread out over the American Bottoms on the east bank and the Columbia Bottom on the west bank to the north, until it became a vast lake reaching farther than the eye could distinctly see. They saw the mighty flood garaging past, black with the trunks of mighty trees torn up by the wild waters, the villages of Caholkia and Kaskaskia submerged, crops ruined, cattle drowned, and houses melting into the yellow sea. St. Louis was flooded to what is now Main Street, and part of the people were preparing to move farther up the high bank that ran back from the stream, when the waters began to recede, and the anxiety of the town was relieved. The people called this "l' annee des Brands eaux," "the year of the great waters." There have been many such floods since, but none more awe inspiring than this, seen in a setting of virgin wilderness. The flood increased the population of the city, however, for the settlers in the bottoms went to town and joined in its upbuilding. In those days, notwithstanding all the dangers of war and flood, St. Louis seems to have been a gay place. Society was simple, yet retaining an indefinable air of elegance that bore the flavor of old France. Even if they were "short of bread," the people were hospitable, a trait which still persists characteristic and conspicuous. The French element has almost wholly disappeared in newer elements, but there yet lingers, somehow, the atmosphere of deliberate ease among the people, even in the pressure of modern business. So orderly was this frontier town that during the entire period of the French and Spanish dominations but one murder was reported.

Following the annalists we learn that the city's commerce in those early days was much hampered by a band of pirates that infested the river at a place called Grand Tower, midway between the mouths of the Missouri and Ohio. Lurking 'at this point, where the stream is very swift, the pirates would dart out and attack the boats plying between New Orleans and St. Louis, kill the boatmen and seize the goods. They secured rich spoil of hides from the down trade, and many luxurious articles from the up trad, treasures even from distant France. One voyageur north bound escaped the pirates through the strategy and courage of a negro who won the confidence of the captors of the barge and the sympathy of two negro slaves of the pirates. At a signal the negroes hurled the buccaneers off the barge, and either shot them or left them to drown. The barge crew then took the boat once more, went back to New Orleans, and told their story to the Governor, who issued an order that all boats leaving for St. Louis should go in company. In obedience in the spring of 1788 ten barges started up the river with crews well armed. Arrived, at the rendezvous of the robbers they found none, but they recovered, however, much of the plunder that had been stored away and brought it to St. Louis. The year of their arrival was known for generations as "l'annee des dix bateaux,", " the year of the ten boats."

St. Louis traded not only with New Orleans but with Canada as well. The Indians gave no trouble up stream or down. The Spanish Government wanted settlers, and was liberal in granting land. We read that "there were no mails or taverns, but every house was a welcome house to new corners." In 1798 the population of Upper Louisiana was 6028, of whom 1080 were colored. The population had risen in 1804 to 10,340. In 1803 the Louisiana Purchase was made, and in 1804 St. Louis "contained one hundred and eighty houses built of hewn logs and stone, the latter being generally the rendezvous of the most wealthy, and surrounded by a wall of the same material, enclosing the whole block, which continued in use many years, protecting the fine fruit trees, which shaded the mansion." Frame houses became fashionable after the transfer to the United States. "There were but one bakery, two small taverns, three blacksmiths, two mills, and one doctor in the town." Coffee and sugar were $2.00 per pound, and everything else was costly in proportion. The United States took possession March 10, 1804, when Major Amos Stoddard assumed the duties of Governor of Upper Louisiana. Then history began to make quickly.

Near St. Louis, Lewis and Clark organized their expedition via the Missouri and Columbia rivers to the Pacific Ocean, departing in May, 1804. In August Lieutenant Zebulon Pike started to explore the Mississippi to its source. The Mississippi was opened up to free navigation. General William Henry Harrison came from Indiana to preside over the district. He was succeeded by General James Wilkinson, and the region formerlyknown as the District of Louisiana became known as the Territory of Louisiana. Later a strangely handsome, dark, romantic man, much honored by every one and indescribably fascinating in manner, visited the town and was feted. He was entertained by General Wilkinson, through whom it is believed the authorities at Washington first learned of that vast, vague treason which Burr - for it was he - conceived in his restless brain. Wilkinson was later appointed to watch Burr and was succeeded as Governor by Captain Meriwether Lewis, fresh from his adventures in the mysterious Northwest A ferry had been established in 1797, and at the same spot there is today a ferry operating, one of the most profitable of the vested interests of St Louis. The post office was established in 1804. In 1810 the population was fourteen thousand. In 1808 was founded the first newspaper, which exists today as the St. Louis Republic, a daring enterprise begun when the whole country was suffering from the embargo and non intercourse with England. The great New Madrid earthquake shook the little city in 1811. The battle of Tippecanoe had been fought a little before the earthquake, and in the same year appeared the first steamboat in Western waters. In 1813 the Territory of Louisiana became the Territory of Missouri, and in June of that year the Bank of St. Louis was founded. The year before that the Governor of the Territory had gathered in the city of St. Louis the chiefs of the Great and Little Osages, the Sacs, Foxes, Delawares, and Shawnees, made peace with them, then conducted them to Washington, arriving there just before the declaration of war against Great Britain, in time to conclude a peace which saved the, country from any such conspiracy as had been formed among the Indian tribes to the east, under the leadership of the great Tecumseh.

Being a frontier town, St. Louis was of course a resort for trappers and traders but, unlike the frontier towns of today, not for desperadoes. The early settlers seem to have stamped upon the place its distinctive quality of quietness. Here, the North American Fur Company had its headquarters for a long time, and from this point the adventurous subordinates of John Jacob Astor went forth in all directions in search of peltries. One of these, a Colonel Russell Farnum, leaving St. Louis afoot reached Behring Strait in 1813-14, crossed over the ice, traversed Siberia and, arriving at St. Petersburg, was presented to the Emperor. This memorable journey was the wonder of Europe at the time, for Farnum went from St. Petersburg to Paris and then came home by way of New York. He wrote a record of his adventures and sent it to a New York publisher but it was lost and the writer died before he could again transcribe his narrative.

The War of 1812 with Great Britain for a time was of small concern to St. Louis. Later, however, the Indians of Missouri were armed by the people and pitted against the Indians employed by the British. The trading posts in which St. Louis was interested extended twelve hundred miles to the north and there agents from St. Louis counter plotted against the British. The Yanktons and Omahas were matched by the Americans against the lands and several battles were fought in which the British bought savages were worsted. The war coining to an end, Indian hostilities ceased and the fur trade throve under the peace. Rivals to the American Fur Company were started. The business expanded, and soon the necessities of commercial intercourse led to the organization of two banks, the second of which, known as the Bank of Missouri, was organized February 1, 1817. Inflation was the order of the day. The town took on airs of magnificence and extravagance. Wealth accumulated so rapidly that some seemed at a loss to spend it, and gave entertainments in which the tasteful and the barbaric were strangely mingled. The United States held sales of public lands and there were "rushes" such as we have seen in recent years in Oklahoma. Building was undertaken in a lordly fashion and extravagant prices were asked for everything. The demand for money was so great that recourse was had to lotteries to raise funds for an academy at Potosi, to provide fire engines for the city, to erect a Masonic Hall. The lotteries soon got into politics and were not dislodged until late in the seventies, after a fight not unlike that waged for many years in Louisiana. It was in 1817 that the Legislature of Missouri established the public school system and incorporated the institution which persists today in the St. Louis Board of Education, though it was many years before there was a public school in the city. In the same year, in St. Louis, Thomas H. Benton, afterwards United States Senator from Missouri for thirty years, leaped into notice, engaged in a quarrel with Charles Lucas, United States Attorney for the Territory of Missouri, and in a duel across the river, or rather on an island in the river that has since become joined to the Illinois shore, killed him. The place where the duel was fought became the rendezvous for duellists and was called "Bloody Island." In 1817 the first Bible Society in the Territory of Missouri was formed. The inflation of the day ended as usual in collapse, but St. Louis and Missouri suffered less harm than other sections.

When, in 1817, the Territory of Missouri applied for admission to the Union the slavery question arose. There was a slight preponderance of sentient in favor of slavery, but very slight. The Missouri Compromise left its mark on Missouri and St. Louis. The State was always regarded, however its reprosentatives stood, as doubtful on the slavery issue. From 1820 to the breaking out of the Civil War it was always a compromise State and in that war it was ever between two fires, furnishing soldiers in startling abundance to each side and sympathizing with both. St. Louis suffered in that long drawn out situation. A paralyzing incertitude was bred in the city's mind, even toward progress. The people, especially the French, did not take kindly to steamboats. "When Missouri was admitted to the Union," says Elihu Shepard, "there was no steamboat Owned in the State and but one steam mill." The assessed valuation of the town property was less than $1,000,000 and the whole corporation tax less than $4000 per year while Missouri remained a territory. The town contained six hundred houses, one third of which were of stone or brick, the remainder wooden, one half of which were framed. The population was estimated at five thousand, one fourth of whom were French. The estimated annual value of the trade was $600,000. Steamboats from the Ohio River took the carrying trade between St. Louis and New Orleans, and the imports were estimated at $1,000,000. All these conditions, while due in some measure to the extreme conservatism and self satisfaction of the dominant French element, were undoubtedly due in larger measure to the hard times that prevailed when Missouri became a State. St. Louis was incorporated as a city December 9, 1822. A spice of adventure always entered into the then predominant business of the community, for the fur companies fought with each other, and all of them made common cause against the great Hudson Bay Company in the North, with its headquarters in Canada. The people of that time thought little of distances which even now seem great. Traders and trappers went without hesitation through the wilderness to the very surf of the Pacific and the people of the city never dreamed that what we now call Yellowstone Park was very far away. Often enough the adventurous commercial traveller who left St. Louis came back without his scalp or never came at all. The city was picturesque. Men clad in buckskin and carrying rifles in their hands elbowed representatives of first families attired in the fashion that came from Paris, via New Orleans, or consorted with red Indians in paint and feathers, and too often, in liquor. St. Louis and Missouri were "big" in politics about that time. Missouri was for Clay, but Missouri's representative did not vote for him and John Quincy Adams was chosen President. After this Missouri became a Jackson State, and committed herself to the South.

A patch of color in the drab details of the history of St. Louis for the few years after the incorporation was the visit of Lafayette to the city on April 29, 1825, and his sumptuous entertainment by the enthusiastic inhabitants, most of whom, probably, loved the Frenchman more than the friend of Washington. In June, 1825, the first Presbyterian church was consecrated by Rev. Solomon Giddings, who "had a very respectable congregation" for a city which was preponderantly French and Roman Catholic. The French language was spoken in the homes of half the families of the town. There were less than a dozen German families in a city which now is more distinctly Teutonic than any other in the country, except Milwaukee. The slavery issue was all the while growing, and in 1828 there was formed at St. Louis a branch of the American Colonization Society, the purpose of which was to further the settlement of free blacks in Liberia. Many of the largest slave owners in the city and State were members and officers of the society. Between 1820 and 1831, a progressive movement started. The new Court House was dedicated in 1829, and the work of opening and paving streets was pushed with energy. The old French families resented the new life and moved into the country. The pace was too fast for them. The hunters, trappers, voyageurs and bargemen began to disappear. The city took on a truly American aspect, but the increase of population was slow. Between 1820 and 183o, the population increased only 2000, but between 1830 and 1840 the increase was nearly 10,000, reaching the total of 16,649.

Gradually Americanism made its impress. The wharf was lined with steamboats and the levee with great stores. Steam ferryboats multiplied. The city became a great river town, second in importance only to New Orleans. The lead mines to the south of the city were productive. Manufactures of various sorts sprang up. An insurance company was incorporated. Prosperity was checked by fear of the great Black Hawk, who, at the head of the Sac and Fox Indians, took the war path in Illinois. Immigration and transportation of goods to and from the North was checked till Black Hawk was defeated and his tribe transported to the other side of the river, where the influence of Great Britain could not reach them. No sooner, however, had the city recovered from its slight panic than there came another and graver excitement, another lull in business. Jackson's bank veto was the cause. As if this were not enough to discourage the community, along came the cholera, which in five weeks destroyed four per cent. of the population. Cholera has reappeared since; from time to time, the most serious visitation being in 1866, but the city as it grew began to pay attention to the sewage question and in half a century had perfected such a sewer system as is not surpassed in any city in the world. In 1835 the City Council sold the town Commons, a tract of about two thousand acres, and devoted nine tenths of the proceeds to street improvements and one tenth to the public schools, and from this small beginning arose the system which today directs the education of the children of a city of 575,000 inhabitants. In 1829 the St. Louis University, a Jesuit institution, was founded, which has been since a centre of higher education for the sons of the well to do Roman Catholics of the entire South and Southwest. Considerably later was founded the institution now Washington University, one of the best endowed educational establishments in the country, with a manual training department famous the world over, and with its Mary Institute for girls ranking with the best seminaries of the country. At an early day the Roman Catholic religious sisterhoods of charity and instruction established branches here. The Sisters of Charity founded a hospital in 1832, aided by the liberality of John Mullanphy, which has been in continuous service ever since. The Sisters of the Visitation came later and established their convent for the higher education of girls and did for the girls of the West and South what the St. Louis University did for the boys. Still later came the establishment of medical colleges, one in connection with the St. Louis University, and later the institutions founded by McDowell and Pope, from which grew the swarm of large medical and surgical colleges which now make St. Louis one of the most important centres of medical education in the land.

Events moved rapidly after 1835. The growth of river traffic was steady. The drift of emigration westward was beneficial to St. Louis in every way. Men and money flowed in from the East and the South. There were rumors of railroads, and, in April, 1835, a convention was held by representatives of eleven of the most populous counties of the State to take steps to induce the construction of railroads in the State and to and from the city. The modern spirit manifested itself in every direction, and the year 1836 found the people regarding St. Louis as a metropolis, though in that year occurred an incident demonstrating that the taint of barbarism lingered to some extent among the people. A negro who had stabbed a constable was seized by a mob and tied to a tree and burned to death, amid a chorus of execrations, an episode only too frequently duplicated in different sections of the country of late years. At this time St. Louis had 15,000 inhabitants, but it was not till the year following that a theatre was known. In the same year a brick fire engine house was built, and leading citizens were proud to be members of the company and "run with the machine."

St. Louis was much interested in the Texan war of independence, and from its stores supplies went to the followers of Houston, while many of the younger men of the community left to join the Lone Star warriors in their struggle. Later, When the war with Mexico began; there were multiplied activities in the city, because the Government here outfitted many of its troops. Here next were heard the first mutterings of the storm that broke in 1861. Elijah P. Lovejoy, anti slavery in sentiment, edited the St. Louis Observer. On the night of July 21, 1836, persons unknown broke into the publishing room and wrecked the establishment, scattering the type into the street. No one was punished for the offence. Lovejoy went to Alton, where later he was slain by fanatical opponents of his abolitionism, who unwittingly wrote his name high on the list of the martyrs to freedom. St. Louis had its first daily mail September 20, 1836, and on the same day the Missouri Republican commenced the publication of a regular daily edition. In 1837 Daniel Webster was banqueted, and it was estimated that there were more guests at the banquet than there were inhabitants of the city when Lafayette was feted twelve years before.

Following in quick succession, events too numerous to be recapitulated marked the history of the town. In spite of floods and cholera and a great fire, which swept away the business portion of the city, the community went steadily ahead. The gold fever helped St. Louis, for the Argonauts going overland outfitted here, as in very recent years their fellows bound for the Klondike and Cape Nome outfitted at Seattle. As the West built up St. Louis builded too. Something substantial from the westward moving stream always found its way into the coffers of the St. Louis merchants. The prosperity and power of the South lent prestige to the city. The city was a great cotton market. It had a vast trade up and down the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, up and down the Ohio and the Tennessee. The fleets of steamboats at the wharves grew in size, until, old inhabitants say, there were three or four miles of them at the river front at one time, being loaded and unloaded day and night by singing negroes. As agriculture grew in importance, St. Louis became a great wheat market, a great market for cattle and swine, horses and mules. Its manufactures in every line throve, as well they might, for it was the great depot of the West, with a straightaway water route to the sea There was plenty of work, plenty of money, and more than plenty of pleasure. The society of St. Louis was exclusive and magnificent. The ante bellum balls were gorgeous affairs. The women were beautiful, of the Southern type, and when it was desired to say of one of them that she was royally bejewelled, a common phrase used was "She wore a nigger on every finger." Steamboatmen, planters, slave traders, merchants dealing in cotton or in sugar, spent money like water. The town was, as we say in these days, wide open, and of a perilous liveliness, for the incoming Northerners and Easterners were never equal to the task of suppressing what the New England American regards as vices not to be temporized with. The brightness and gayety, however, did not wholly conceal the dread of the sorrow that was to come. St Louis was, for the most part, intensely Southern; but the Revolution of 1848 had brought to this country and to St. Louis a great number of Germans, who were set against slavery and secession. The storm broke, and the breaking was a severe setback to St. Louis, whose prosperity was founded chiefly on that of the South. Its sympathies, through social, political; business ties, were mainly with the South. The war destroyed business. St. Louis, if not the enemy's country, was strongly suspected of disloyalty, and for a time it seemed as if war would smite the city itself, while there hung in the balance the decision of the alternative of Governor Claiborne Jackson of Missouri that he would "take Missouri out of the Union or into hell." Feeling ran high in the community. Almost a battle was fought on its outskirts. St. Louis had bitter experiences of martial law, while its commercial activities seemed to be mostly controlled by people who had government contracts. Here, where Grant had been known as a none too tidy farmer, his name was loathed, as was Lincoln's, by the larger element, while the Germans were profoundly loyal. The misfortunes of the South were unfortunate for St. Louis in every instance, and when the scourge of war passed, the region whence St. Louis had drawn most of its wealth was devastated, and the sceptre of trade passed to the North. As the fortunes of St. Louis declined from these causes, they and other causes operated to push Chicago to the front, even though, when Chicago had been twice visited by fir; St. Louis, as the greater city, made large contributions to the relief of the sufferers. St. Louis did not go backward, but the country to the north recovered from the war and improved more rapidly than that to the south and southwest, and the northern and western trade went to Chicago. St. Louis managed, in the face of such obstacles, to hold its own. The work of expansion and extension of improvement went steadily ahead, though with great conservatism. The boom idea, that grew after the war, was never hospitably entertained in St. Louis, though the manufacturers and merchants found a new trade and strenuously developed it in the new Southwest. The southwestern railway systems began to take shape, and the prosperity of St. Louis came back in great measure late in the eighties. The great St. Louis bridge had been opened in 1874, and the city was put in touch with the East, but the greater movement of the country's wealth and energy was being felt in the territory that was out of trade touch and political sympathy with the field in which St. Louis was once supreme. Nevertheless St. Louis added to her beauties steadily. She acquired Forest Park, the greatest natural public city park in the country, after Fairmount in Philadelphia, also O'Fallon Park, but little less magnificent. Through the philanthropic generosity of Henry Shaw she acquired Tower Grove Park, which is perhaps the finest specimen of the park artificial to be found anywhere. Later, Mr. Shaw left to the city by will his botanical garden, an institution famous the world over for its collection of plants of almost every species. The city paved all its downtown streets with granite, and later its outlying streets with asphalt, erected a new custom house, a Four Courts Building, stupendous water works, and constructed a gigantic extension of the sewer system. The development of the system of street railway transportation in St. Louis was more rapid and more perfect than in any other city in the world. A new mercantile library was built and the public school library was made free. Churches increased in great numbers. Schools multiplied and were overcrowded in places where within twenty years had been quarry ponds and cow pastures. The growth of business, the multiplication of banks, the overspreading of the population since 1880, has been bewildering in its progress, and remains so, in spite of the fact that there has been all this time in process of building, directly across the river, a sort of overflow city of sixty thousand people. The city lost its river trade but has made up for it in utilization of the railroads, and is now preparing again to use the mighty, free, natural highway for the transportation of products to the world at large. St. Louis, so often thought of as slow, has really grown with phenomenal rapidity. It is one of the wealthiest cities in the country, a city of homes, and a city of perhaps more beautiful homes widely distributed in different sections than are to be found elsewhere. The wealthy men of St. Louis are almost all young men. The greater fortunes in St. Louis, with but few exceptions, have been made within the past twenty years, and many of them in the last ten years, and these now utterly eclipse the fortunes that have been handed down from the earlier days. The city has today a population of 575,000. In the suburban territory there are over 700,000 more people in close relationship daily and almost hourly with the business and social life of the city. The "slow old town" is not so slow when it is remembered that within one year after a cyclone swept it in May, 1896, there was not a trace of the visitation. Its conservatism is very real, but it is not stagnation. St. Louis has gone on with its work, even though war and the industrial tendencies consequent on war, and the political and social drift growing out of war have been in opposition to the city's progress. The city has built steadily but well, passing through the panic of 1893 without a single failure. The earlier history of the town shows how the conservatism so thoughtlessly derided came to be ingrained in the life of the city. It shows, too, the pertinacity which has made St. Louis the fourth city in the Union, in defiance of the disaster that befell its prestige in the great War, and in defiance too of the circumstance that the new popular national activities generated after that great conflict found their most congenial field in regions practically out of reach of, and wholly antipathetic to the interests of the chief city of Missouri. The new South and the new Southwest mean a new St. Louis. And we shall see what the new St. Louis means when the city expresses its higher and better self in the Exposition with which its people purpose to celebrate the purchase, by the United States, in 1803, of the Louisiana Territory.

Historic towns of the Western States

Return to History at Rays Place