Before Lewis and Clark: The Story of the Chouteaus, the French Dynasty That Ruled America's Frontier Review
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I live in St Louis, so I found the story of its founding (by the Chouteaus and their father/husband Laclede) interesting. Christian lives up to the subtitle by giving you a detailed picture of the life of this dynasty as it affected this area, which means you get a good idea of what it was like to be a trader on the Missouri (and some of the neighboring rivers), including interesting insights into relations with American Indians. Indeed, it was quite eye-opening to see how welcoming the Indians initially were of the French settlers/traders in and around St Louis. It was also informative to read of how the French and Indians interbred and lived quite comfortably with one another, although on unequal terms. The Chouteau dynasty began in the 1760's and continued for roughly another 80 years or so, so they had to accommodate and adapt to the change in governance that occurred with the Louisiana Purchase by the US (which although purchased from France, consisted of a territory immediately previously administered-with a very long rein-by Spain).
If you're looking more for some background into what was known about the area encompassed by the Louisiana Purchase at the time L + C started off on their expediation (and quite a bit was known; and in fact North America had already been traversed in Canada, so L + C weren't quite the 'firsts' they're made out to be), check out The Course of Empire by DeVoto.
To learn about the journey itself which, not withstanding the caveats above, is truly fascinating story, do yourself a favor and try to find something other than the popular Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose. The account provided by Ambrose is in my opinion is seriously flawed, fundamentally lacking in basic historical background necessary to appreciate the Expedition, e.g., any indication of who'd previously explored the regions into which they were heading and lacking a summary map illustrating the geographic (mis)information L + C used to plan their journey. Undaunted Courage also falls down whenever Ambrose attempts the most rudimentary analysis. To top it off, his writing style often made me cringe.
To provide socioeconomic and political background to the Purchase and the settlement that was to follow it, I recommend Mr Jefferson's Loast Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase by Roger Kennedy.Before Lewis and Clark: The Story of the Chouteaus, the French Dynasty That Ruled America's Frontier Overview
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