When I was in St. Louis, over three years ago, I spent two days at the Missouri History Museum Library & Research Center to work on the Tourvilles, of course, but also on the Roussel/Fasnacht couple, and the Caillou family featured on this blog.
I must say it was literally Diane in Wonderland! I went through some microfilms, books, registers, and contracts covering the French era. I reviewed every file I could that pertained to Florissant—a suburb of St. Louis today—where actually some of the Tourvilles lived from the late 1700s until the mid-1850s.
While perusing through a file, I stumbled upon this document which I found quite interesting. Dating back to 1911, it is the testimony of an 86-year-old man who came to Florissant in 1829 at age 4. He died shortly after the interview.
Our gentleman’s comments always—I would point out—lacking any respect and expressed quite candidly on the French and the Osage obviously reflected the mentality of the time. You will not be surprised that it caught my attention. Here how it goes:
Living in Florissant, St. Louis county, is an old gentleman, who, at the age of eighty-six, recalls the time when that village was a mere struggling, backwoods settlement, the inhabitants of which, with the exception of a few Americans, were all French, and when the Osage Indians, then living on the Missouri river, came to the village to trade. He is George Weaver, a native of Kentucky, who came to Florissant in 1829 and has lived there ever since.
Seated on his porch, the other day, Mr. Weaver became reminiscent and related many things of interest of bygone days in French Florissant. He said:
“I was born in Kentucky in 1825 and came to St. Louis with my parents when I was four years old. After a short stay in St. Louis, during which my father worked as a drayman, the family came to Florissant.
“The country about here was a vast expanse of woods and thickets. Hazelbushes and crabapple and plums trees grew in profusion and the underbrush was dense. There were many deer, quail, ducks and geese; the smaller fur-bearing animals were numerous. Bears were about gone. It was a hunter’s paradise, and, indeed, this was the main reason for its settlement by the French, who were a thriftless lot. They would shoulder their guns in the morning, and, with a hound trotting at their heels, saunter away in search of game, to the great detriment of their crops. They were great gamblers, and loved any kind of sport. Horse races, on the main road of the town, were frequent. Speaking of these French and their unwillingness to work, I am reminded of an incident which occurred here in the forties.
“When the town was incorporated in 1844 each son of every original settler received forty acres of land in the commons. There was one fellow named Sam Bellville, who, having acquired his forty acres, in order to escape working the land, sold it to Francois St. Cin for a gray mare, a saddle, a suit of home-made blue-jeans and ten dollars in cash. I helped St. Cin clear his land of brush and then drove the oxen to break the ground. Oxen were used altogether in those days for plowing. There was a German named Heffner, a cart maker, who made all the plows used in the neighborhood. With the exception of the share they were made entirely of wood and by hand. By the way, this man Heffner was the only German in Florissant at that time. All the carts used were made of wood and had but two wheels; they called them ‘charettes’.
“I remember, when I was a boy about twelve years old, seeing the Osage Indians, in all their trappings, come here to trade with a man named Deshetre, who kept a trading store. They came from their homes on the Missouri river, near the mouth of the Osage, to trade for beads to decorate their moccasins, calicoes for dresses, cloth for breech-clouts, and last but not least, whiskey. If it had not been for the law which prohibited the sale of whiskey to the Indians, the Osages would have become exceedingly poor. However, despite the prohibition, Deshetre managed to supply them with a limited quantity. I believe those old Indians would have even traded off their squaws and children for whiskey. They used to camp near here for a few days, get what they wanted from Deshetre and then to back home, for if they had stayed, the French would have attempted to chase them off and there would have been trouble.
“The main crops in those days were wheat, potatoes, corn and some clover; a few of the settlers had stock—but not many—and what stock there was ran wild over the country. A Frenchman named Pachin ran a distillery not far from here, on the Missouri river. It was a big place and was built up against the bluff. After each harvest the people around here hauled their last load of corn down to the distillery to trade it for whiskey. For every bushel of corn they got a gallon of whiskey. The whiskey was worth about fifteen cents a gallon.
“Most of the houses in Florissant were log cabins, and were usually small. Judge Bryan Mullanphy, however, built a seven-room house. It was built originally for a fort in case the Indians got too heavy. It is rather pathetic that that old house should have been allowed to crumble to ruins; it was very well built and should most certainly have been preserved.
“There was not much education in those days for the simple reason that teachers were few and far between. The French themselves were ignorant and evidently saw no necessity for education. I guess there would have been more teachers had there been sufficient inducements. Teachers were allowed one dollar per month for each scholar attending school, and there were hardly ever more than forty scholars. We went to school about three months in each year. The teachers were not always of the best class, either morally or intellectually. I recollect once, when I was attending school, we all gathered around the schoolhouse waiting for the master to unlock the door. We waited and waited. Finally the sheriff came riding up and called out, “children, you had better go home; there won’t be any school. We’re after the teacher and he’s gotten away.” It leaked out afterwards that he had committed a grave offense in some distant locality and the authorities had gotten on his trail.”
Frederic E. Voelkin
St. Louis, Mo.
Aug. 23, 1911.