More than two centuries ago, a teenager, directing a crew of men, cleared land along the Mississippi River, laid out streets and founded the city of St. Louis. Many years later, that young man, Auguste Chouteau, recounted his adventures in a manuscript that the Nine Network explores in “Chouteau’s Journal: In His Own Words,” a half-hour documentary that will be broadcast Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. on Nine PBS.
The program is one of the Nine Network’s contributions to the region’s celebration of the 250th anniversary of that groundbreaking.
Fur trader Pierre Laclede chose the site of the trading post that would become St. Louis, but left initial construction to his stepson, Chouteau. His journal, written decades after the events he describes, is held at the St. Louis Mercantile Library and is an incomplete fragment of a larger work that has been lost.
“Chouteau’s Journal: In His Own Words” quotes directly from the document (in both the original French and English translation).
Historians and other experts read between the lines of the journal to present a more complete version of the picture drawn by Chouteau from his memory. They describe a tough and resourceful colonial settlement.
St. Louis was a diverse, multicultural town that maintained a peaceful and profitable co-existence with the region’s American Indian tribes. “This is not the story of settlers and Indians we are used to hearing,” says producer Jim Kirchherr. The arrival of European Americans after the Louisiana Purchase and colorful tales of westward expansion over time pushed aside in popular culture the remarkable narrative of the city’s early years.
“Chouteau’s Journal: In His Own Words” features interviews with historians Sharon Person of St. Louis Community College, Peter Acsay of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Bob Moore of the National Park Service; Chouteau descendant Ted Atwood; St. Louis Mercantile Library director John Hoover; and Webster University language professor Lionel Cuillé.
The Nine Network is the media partner for stl250. Support for “Chouteau’s Journal: In His Own Words” was made possible in part by the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.