Distilled History

A Drinking Blog with a History Problem
October 14th, 2015

The Indian Delegation of 1831

Nez Perce monument in Cavalry Cemetery

During a visit to Calvary Cemetery in north St. Louis a few years ago, I learned about a remarkable event in the history of St. Louis that many people aren’t aware of.

Standing off by itself in that beautiful cemetery is a monument that honors four American Indian warriors. Standing over eight feet tall, the granite carving of two eagle feathers was placed in 2003, the result of a campaign initiated by a Nez Perce Tribal historian. Two of the men it honors, Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle, are buried beneath it.

It’s there because of a remarkable journey the four men took in 1831, when they traveled over 2,000 miles to St. Louis from present-day Idaho. The purpose of their journey was to meet with a man they knew as the “Great Father”. That man was William Clark, one-half the famous Corps of Discovery duo, Lewis and Clark. In 1831, Clark was living in St. Louis and held the position of Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

General William ClarkAs I heard the story, the four Indians came to St. Louis in search of the “White Man’s Book of Heaven”(presumably the Bible), and the Indians believed William Clark could help them find it. The Nez Perce knew Clark well, since he and Meriwether Lewis lived with the tribe for more than a month on their journey back from the Pacific Northwest in 1806.

The delegation arrived in St. Louis in October 1831. The Indians met with Clark in his home, but over the years, Clark had lost his touch with the Nez Perce language. As a result, communication was impossible. But the Indians decided to remain in St. Louis for several weeks, living in a lodge on the north edge of town and hoping someone would come along and provide what they were looking for. That is, until the two older Indians, Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle, became ill and died. Prior to their deaths, both men were baptized into the Catholic faith. The two men were then interred in the burial ground next to the city’s Cathedral (known today as the “Old Cathedral”).

Reverend Jason LeeThe two younger Indians, No Horns On His Head and Rabbit Skin Leggings, left St. Louis empty-handed the following spring. Sadly, these men met the same fate on their journey home. No Horns On His Head succumbed to disease and Rabbit Skin Leggings fell in a skirmish with Blackfeet Indians. Their final resting places are unknown.

Years later, Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle’s remains were relocated to Calvary at some time after the cemetery opened in 1854. Their final resting place was a mystery for decades until Robert Moore, a National Park Service historian, successfully traced them to an unmarked grave in the fall of 2000.

By itself, the story of four Indian warriors traveling 2,000 miles to St. Louis 184 years ago is a remarkable one. However, I knew such an idyllic tale of four men seeking God had to have more to it, and I was right. When I decided to dig a bit deeper, I found a much more complicated tale, and several versions of it. Furthermore, I discovered the Indian’s journey in 1831 would have a significant impact on the future of the United States as a whole.

I also figured out that any explanation as to why these four men came to St. Louis in 1831 is pure conjecture. Even as Indians wandered around St. Louis, conflicting opinions were being formed. The most significant of these was published two years later in the March 1, 1833 edition of the Christian Advocate and Zion City Herald, a leading Protestant journal of the time. The article is written by a man named G.P. Disoway, the secretary of the Methodist Board of Foreign Missions in New York City. Disoway had an agenda, and the intent of his article is implicitly stated in the very first sentence:G.P. Disoway Quote

The article goes on make an appeal for a “religious awakening” among the distant Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest. In the early 19th Century, mostly because of the rigorous effort needed to cross the Rocky Mountains, the Oregon Country had been left mostly untouched by Christian missionaries. To support for his cause, Disoway attempts to prove that the “savage tribes” not only need salvation, they desperately want it. That “proof” comes in the way of a letter written by his friend William Walker, a “half-breed” Wyandot (and converted) Indian who had also recently visited William Clark in St. Louis. In the letter, Walker claims that he was introduced to three of the Indians (one had already died) during his visit with Clark. The Indians are described as being “small in size, delicately formed, small hands, and the most exact symmetry throughout, except the head.” Walker goes on to describe the Indians as having flattened foreheads, a practice used by some western tribes to modify the shape of a infant’s head by pressing it between two boards before the skull hardens.

"Flathead" Indian IllustrationWalker further explains in his letter that the four Indians were sent as a delegation from their homeland after a white man had visited them and witnessed them perform a Nez Perce religious ceremony.  The white man told the Indians that their method of worship was “radically wrong” and the supreme being would be angered by their method of worship. The visitor then convinced the tribe that white men in the east possessed a “book containing directions on how to conduct themselves”. Soon after, a national council was called. The result was a decision was made to send a delegation to meet with the “Great Father” in St. Louis. The Indians were sure that William Clark could provide them with such a book.

According to Walker, when the four men arrived in St. Louis, Clark immediately acknowledged the visitor’s claim. Furthermore, Clark proceeded to give the Indian men a full biblical lesson, including a “succinct history of man, from his creation down to the advent of the Savior”and a full explanation of all of the “moral precepts contained” within.

At its conclusion, Disoway’s article reaches a fever pitch. In describing the Indian quest through “thick forests and extensive prairies, the four men are described as brave and “sincere searchers of truth!”:

G.P. Disoway Quote #2

It was a bold move by Disoway to use Walker’s story in his article, because Walker’s story is almost entirely fabricated. Walker was not in St. Louis at the time of the Indians visit, and he certainly never met a single one of the Indians. The most glaring evidence of this is his completely inaccurate physical description of the Indians. The Nez Perce were not small in stature, and despite their name, Flathead Indians did not practice the custom of skull manipulation. In all likelihood, Walker heard about the visit during his own travels and simply decided to make himself a participant in a really good story.

The Oregon Trail

But Disoway’s application of Walker’s letter worked perfectly. Within a year of the article’s publication, Oregon Country missionaries were on their way west. At the head of the pack was Reverend Jason Lee, a Methodist minister from New York. Within just a few years, the Pacific Northwest was inundated with Protestant missionaries and Jesuit priests spreading the word of God in one form or another.

If Walker’s version of the Indian visit was “high-wrought” (as even Reverend Lee described it), it paled in comparison to the flamboyant version it became. In what became known as the “Indian’s lament”, a man reportedly overheard one of the younger Indians make a final appeal to Clark at a banquet. Transcribing it word for word in a letter, the account eventually ended up in the hands of Henry Spalding, a Protestant missionary. Spalding used it in an 1866 speech to justify the missionary movement:

The Indian's LamentA notable contradiction to Walker’s letter (and the subsequent “lament”) is provided by Bishop Joseph Rosati, the first Bishop of the St. Louis Diocese. In December 1931, Rosati wrote a letter detailing the visit at the same time it happened. Contrary to Walker’s account, Rosati details the struggle communicating with the men, including his own six-week (and unsuccessful) search for an interpreter. In contrast to the Protestant-based version of G.P. Disoway, Rosati’s letter introduces the Catholic argument in why the Indians came to St. Louis. Most significantly, Rosati details Black Eagle and Speaking Eagle’s satisfaction with being “administered the sacrament” prior to their deaths.

No Horns On His Head & Rabbit Skin LeggingsRisati’s entry into this story is significant because in the years following the Indian visit, Catholics and Protestants (and even Mormons) argued over which branch of Christianity the four Indians were really looking for. Even as late as 1920, Reverend J. Rothsteiner argues the Indian visit was entirely Catholic in nature. Rothsteiner argues the Indians did not seek a “black book”, since a copy of the Bible is something that was surely available to give. Instead, what Clark couldn’t give them was a “Black gown”, or a Jesuit priest that could travel back with the four men to the Oregon Country. This version of the story, that western Indians actually sought Jesuit teachers, is reinforced by the work of another notable St. Louisan, Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet. In 1841, DeSmet founded the St. Mary’s Mission among the Salish Indians in present-day Montana.  Today, Father DeSmet’s final resting place is not far from where the Indian monument stands in Calvary Cemetery.

Of course, the Indian version of the visit is as important, if not more so, than any other. In an interview with Tim Woodward of the Idaho Statesman in 2002, Nez Perce Tribal Council Member (and Black Eagle descendant) Allen Pinkham rejects the view that the warriors were seeking religion. He adds that a “black book” could have meant a multitude of things, and most likely it was meant as a way to record and a convey knowledge. Even the monument that stands today in Calvary Cemetery offers a different version than Disoway or Rosati. Inscribed on the base, its stated that the Indian men sought information about the “Book of Heaven” and the religion of a group of people encroaching on their homeland.

The Oregon Territory

Nailing down a definitive reason for the Indian’s visit is something more suited to a different forum, but it must be mentioned here what the lasting impact was. As historian Francis Haines writes in 1937, the missions founded in Washington, Idaho, and Montana in the 1830’s and 1840’s are a direct result of the publication of Walker’s account of the Indian visit in 1831. Haines isn’t alone in his assessment. Nearly every account and history of the Indian’s journey (including the Indian version) agrees that the missionary movement to the Pacific Northwest was triggered as a result.

And it goes even further. A secondary impact can be seen just by looking at a map of the United States today. The permanent American presence in the Pacific Northwest, which began with explorers and fur traders, was secured by the missionaries that arrived after 1831. In 1846, when Great Britain and the United States finally decided sit down and work out their Oregon border dispute (without any Indian input, of course), British hopes of controlling even the northern bank of the Columbia River had long-since disappeared. The Americans were already there, and they weren’t moving. As a result, the border between the United States and British Canada was set at the 49th parallel, where it stands today.

The Drink

Dry Fly Washington Wheat

I love history topics like this one because they allow me to boast about historical events that St. Louis has taken part in. Even if St. Louis played a minor role, I still look forward to telling friends in Portland and Seattle that if it wasn’t for St. Louis, they’d be living in Canada.

That’s probably a stretch, but it’s certainly more realistic than the “Indian’s lament” that Henry Spalding gave us in 1866.  Anyway, It’s a perfect example of the kind of fun I like to have with good history.

Alcohol can be a difficult topic when it comes to Indian history, but I still think its appropriate that I raise my glass and offer a toast to the four Indian Warriors who came to St. Louis in 1831. To do so, I found a nice whiskey distilled in Spokane, Washington, which is not far from where the Indians likely started their journey.

And finally, consider making a trip to Calvary Cemetery to see the monument that honors the four men. It’s a beautiful monument, as I found out by writing this post, a thought-provoking one.

Nez Perce monument inscription

quote_line
 Key sources:
  • The Evolution of a Lament by C.T. Johnson, The Washington Historical Journal, Vol. 11 No. 2, April 1908
  • Ten Years in Oregon by Daniel Lee, 1844
  • The Nez Perce Delegation to St. Louis in 1831 by Francis Haines, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 6 No. 1, March 1937
  • The Flat-Head and Nez Perce Delegation to St. Louis 1831-1839 by Rev. J. Rothsteiner, Saint Louis Catholic Historical Review, Volume 2 No. 1, January 1920
  • A History of the American Fur Trade of the Far West by Hiram Martin Chittenden, 1902
May 8th, 2013

Which Louis is Saint Louis?

Statue of St. Louis

I played an interesting game with several St. Louis friends over the past couple of weeks. I asked about thirty of them a basic history question about our city. Most of the people I quizzed are native to the area, but I also asked a few people (like myself) who came to this city later in life. Either way, I was surprised to discover that very few people could correctly answer this basic question:

After whom is the city of St. Louis, Missouri named?

The simple (and smart-ass) answer to that question is obviously “Saint Louis”. But I wasn’t letting anyone off that easy. “The guy on the horse in front of the Art Museum” didn’t cut it, either. The Louis I wanted to know about was canonized as “Saint Louis” twenty-seven years after his death. I wanted to find out if people knew who, what, and where the namesake of our city was before that.

The idea for this post came from a book I recently read titled Founding St. Louis: First City of the New West by Frederick Fausz. In his book, Fausz vents his frustration over the fact that much of St. Louis history prior to Lewis and Clark is significantly overlooked. It started me thinking about St. Louis history prior to the Louisiana Purchase, and I think I agree with him. We don’t hear much about the periods St. Louis spent as a French and Spanish colony.

The Founding of St. Louis

Don’t get me wrong, Lewis and Clark and their remarkable journey are a big deal. But St. Louis was founded forty years before they set foot on this side of the Mississippi River. The two men who actually founded the city, Pierre Laclède and Auguste Chouteau, are well-known, but it could be argued they deserve even more recognition. They have some streets, buildings, and businesses named for them, but St. Louisans today don’t even pronounce their names correctly (Pierre and Auguste wouldn’t answer to “Lacleed” and “Showtoe”).

I’ll revisit Pierre and Auguste in a future post since it is a vast and fascinating story. For now, its back to quizzing people Saint Louis. Some of my responders were able to tell me Saint Louis was a king. A few were able to correctly tell me he was a king of France. Others suggested Louis was a “religious figure of some sort” (which isn’t a bad guess). Three people tried to get specific and guessed the French king Louis XIV. Another guessed Louis XVI. About ten people didn’t didn’t even hesitate to admit they had no idea who Saint Louis was.

This, my dear friends, is how Distilled History blog posts come about.

Louis Louis, We Gotta Go Now

Only two people were able to tell me the correct answer. In April, 1764, Pierre Laclède travelled to the site he and his stepson August Chouteau had recently selected for a new trading outpost. He announced the new village under construction was to be named “Saint Louis”. He named it after the legendary French king Louis IX. According to Chouteau’s own journal of the event, it’s even a bit more detailed than that. Laclède named it after Louis IX and in honor of Louis XV, the current French king (for those keeping count, that makes four different French kings named Louis mentioned in this blog post).

Louis IX

Louis IX was as well-known to 18th century French colonials as George Washington is to 21st century Americans. To this day, he is the only French king to have been canonized (thus the name “St. Louis” instead of something like “Louisville”, which was used to honor Louis XVI in the neighboring state of Kentucky). Laclède’s choice wouldn’t have surprised anyone in 1764. At the time, Louis IX was widely regarded as a model ruler and was considered one of the greatest monarchs in French history. Most significantly, Louis IX was revered as the most religiously devout king in French history.

I did quite a bit of research for this post, and I couldn’t find much to disparage the character of Louis IX. He was a good husband. He was generous to the poor and needy. He was a patron of the arts. He founded a theology college that would eventually become the Sorbonne. He railed against government corruption. He promoted peace in Europe. According to his closest advisor and confidant, Jean de Joinville, the man didn’t even swear. And throughout his reign, France was the most prosperous country in all of Europe. Add it all up and you get a Middle Ages rarity: An absolute monarch universally adored by his subjects.

He did have one fatal flaw, though. Although it’d be considered a magnificent character trait in the 13th century, Louis IX was obsessed with crusading. He believed that his purpose on Earth was to rid the Holy Land from the evil scourge of heathens and infidels that infested it. Despite the few crazies around today who still think this may be a good idea, it isn’t. Louis IX was not tolerant of anyone who didn’t subscribe to his faith. That fact would ultimately bring him down.

Saint Louis by Jacques LeGoff

As part of my research for this post, I sat down and read an eight-hundred page biography titled Saint Louis by Jacques LeGoff. Although I adore biographies about historical figures, this one was tough to get through. Biographies are better with a bit of drama and scandal. Saint Louis and his pious ways certainly didn’t provide much of that. In fact, It’s a safe bet that Louis and I wouldn’t get along very well if we hung out. I drink too much, I swear too much, and I’m certainly no Catholic. I haven’t stepped into a church for a reason other than a wedding or funeral in twenty years. Louis would probably consider me one of the heathen infidels he was obsessed with booting from Jerusalem. I also take the Lord’s name in vain several times a day, so I’m sure I’d find myself uniquely punished. In the late 13th century, Louis IX demanded that blasphemers get branded on the lips.

Differences aside, Louis IX lived a fascinating life. He was born on April 25, 1214 in Poissy, just north of Paris. His father, King Louis VIII, died when he was only twelve. Crowned at a young age, his mother Blanche of Castille would act as regent until he was of age to rule on his own. It was Blanche that instilled in the young king that he live his life as a devout “Lieutenant of God on Earth”. Her efforts took root. Louis IX developed into a pious and devout ruler. He surrounded himself with Catholic doctrine. He routinely heard sermons and attended mass twice a day. He wore hair shirts and surrounded himself with chanting priests. Most importantly, he pined for the opportunity to crusade and free the Holy Land.

Louis IX on Crusade

Louis IX announced his long-cherished intention of taking the cross in 1244. After four years of preparation, he left Paris with an army on 1248. The immediate objective was Egypt, led by Sultan Melek Selah. When Louis and his forces arrived there, success was immediate. Louis IX’s forces easily took the city of Damietta, located at the mouth of a Nile tributary.

The good fortune didn’t last long. The summer heat and rising Nile waters prevented Louis from following up on his victory. His army became bogged down and were routed by the Saracens at the battle of Mansourah. As a result, Louis and much of his army were captured. Louis was thrown in prison, and a staggering sum of gold was required to procure his release. Sources say it took two full days to count the gold paid in order to free him.

Young Louis

Louis eventually made it back to Paris, But he was severely humiliated by his failure. In the wake of his defeat, he even considered stepping down as king and becoming a monk. Instead, he focused on eliminating sin in his realm. He started eating and dressing simpler. He also began to work for peace on the international stage, settling long-standing territory disputes with England and other realms. These actions enhanced his image at home and abroad.

But it didn’t help Louis deal with his internal struggle. He continued to believe his purpose for living was to free the Holy Land from the grasp of the Saracens. Despite pleas from his advisors and subjects (his confidant Jean de Joinville flat out refused to go on a second crusade), Louis again announced in 1267 that he would take up the cross. With far less support this time around, Louis left for the Holy Land in 1270.

The result was a disaster. Along the way, he made a rash decision to alter his plans and sail for Tunisia. He had learned the Emir was ready to convert to Christianity and join the Crusade. Upon arrival, Louis learned the rumor about the Emir was false. While camped in Tunisia waiting for reinforcements to arrive, disease broke out in camp. Louis was stricken with dysentery and died on August 25, 1270.

Louis IX on a Bed of Ashes

In the years following his death, the legacy of Louis IX grew to a cult-like status. He was widely praised throughout all of Europe and especially in his kingdom of France. Considered “the most Christian King”, the process to have him sainted began almost immediately. He was canonized as “Saint Louis” by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297, just twenty-seven years after his death.

His legacy would last for centuries and spread around the world. It isn’t just St. Louis, Missouri that is named after Louis IX. He’s the main reason nine more French kings named Louis followed him. Other cities named after him are scattered around the globe in places like Mexico, Brazil, Senegal, Canada, Michigan, and obviously, Europe. Along with cities, it would be a daunting task to count the number of cathedrals, churches, missions, lakes, hospitals, bridges, and streets that use his name today.

In St. Louis, Missouri, it’s likely that people look upon tributes to him even when they don’t know it. In Forest Park, the Apotheosis of St. Louis in front of the Art Museum is perhaps the most well-known statue in the city. This image of Saint Louis on horseback was actually the de facto symbol of the city until they built the big shiny thing on the riverfront. It may also surprise some that the “Old Cathedral” near the Gateway Arch is in fact named after Louis IX (the official name is the “Basilica of St. Louis, King of France”). The image of St. Louis also used to be on the St. Louis flag, but Theodore Sizer took it off when he redesigned the flag in 1964 (and he was right to do so, as I detailed in this blog post).

Even history buffs who write blog posts about the man stumble upon hidden tributes. Just yesterday, I was driving down Olive Boulevard and noticed a small statue of him in a median near St. Louis University. I was stunned. I had driven or bicycled by that location hundreds of times and never noticed it.

The Apotheosis of St. Louis

The Drink

Brasserie in the Central West End

Since Louis IX died long before the discovery of the new world, he wasn’t even aware of the hemisphere where I was attempting to find a drink in which to honor him. At first, this seems like an easy post to tie a drink to. I could simply go anywhere in the city of St. Louis and claim it was sufficient.

Since I wouldn’t let the people I quizzed about St. Louis off easy, I couldn’t let myself off easy, either. I decided to find a French restaurant at which I could order a true French cocktail in honor of King Louis IX. Located in the Central West End, Brasserie by Niche is an excellent place to fulfill that requirement. I know the place well, and I can also report the fine people behind the bar at Brasserie know how to make a great Manhattan.

Interestingly, the French seem to have an affinity for this location. Prior to housing Brasserie, it was the home of Chez Leon, a wonderful restaurant that has since moved on to well, I don’t know where. I know Chez Leon well because it’s the place where I once watched my father mercilessly berate a server for no sufficient reason. St. Louis severs may owe a small debt of gratitude to my late father for that horrific display. Since that evening over five years ago, I don’t think I’ve tipped less than twenty percent since… even if they shake my Manhattan.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about that at Brasserie. The server (I didn’t get his name) who made my drinks was knowledgeable and helpful. I didn’t know much about purely French cocktails, but the bartender gave me some good suggestions. I started with an offshoot of the French 75 (which I was familiar with) called the Orchard 75. It’s Calvados Brandy, lemon, simple syrup, and champagne served in a champagne flute. It’s a delicious cocktail, and one to come back for when the weather warms up. It is exceptionally refreshing.

The Parisian at Brasserie

The next drink is the one I ordered for Louis, though. While weighing my options, I was told the Parisian is the one cocktail on Brasserie’s menu that is there to stay. It’s been there since the day the place opened, and it’s been on every iteration of the menu since. St. Louis isn’t going anywhere either, so this one is a good fit. The Parisian contains champagne and two aperitifs, Lillet Blanc and Aperol. It was also delicious and I’m happy to have selected Brasserie for my homage to Louis IX.

This is a good thing, because I have some drinking to do for Pierre and Auguste in the very near future.

%d bloggers like this: