News Column

History lovers gather to learn about old St. Louis, see new museum exhibit

February 14, 2014

By Tim O'Neil, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Feb. 14--ST. LOUIS --The history professor was describing how Pierre Laclede, founder of St. Louis, prudently and profitably worked with the native population rather than seize its land.

Nodding in approval was the chief himself.

Fred Fausz, a professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, was among speakers Friday during a symposium at the Missouri History Museum for the city's 250th birthday. Among the roughly 400 people listening was Scott BigHorse of Pawhuska, Okla., chief of the Osage Nation.

"Laclede was a very, very smart man," BigHorse said afterward.

The lectures opened a weekend of events in Forest Park to commemorate the founding of St. Louis on Feb. 15, 1764, on ground now occupied by the Gateway Arch. Historians from several universities, including Yale and Tulane, outlined the events and culture of St. Louis in its first decades.

Fausz, author of two books on the subject, said Laclede worked carefully with the Osage tribe, then the largest in the future state of Missouri, to develop his fur-trading network. His approach was better, and much more peaceful, than the land grabs of the British and Americans.

"St. Louis prospered and thrived by cultivating Indian friendship rather than cultivating Indian land," Fausz said.

BigHorse attended as part of a tribal delegation, some of whom came to take part in a re-enactment of the founding of St. Louis at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in City Hall downtown.

Bob Moore, historian at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, gave the audience a preview of a "virtual" colonial village intended for display in the underground museum at the Arch. Expanding and renovating the museum is part of the CityArchRiver project, and the video display is scheduled for completion in 2016.

He said the virtual village will allow people to "see" along the streets of colonial St. Louis, based upon maps and descriptions in early records. No buildings still exist from the town's colonial era.

Also Friday, the History Museum opened its exhibit on the 250 years of St. Louis. Running all year, it portrays the region with 250 subjects -- 50 each of people, places, images, moments and events.

Exhibits include a 19th Century fire engine, Charles Lindbergh's flight suit, one of Chuck Berry's guitars and samples from the museum's collections of antique firearms and Veiled Prophet queen gowns. Interactive displays allow visitors to learn about events such as the Great Fire of 1849, the 1904 World's Fair, the 1953 Southwest Bank robbery and David Freese's two magnificent hits in the 2011 World Series.

The crowd at the symposium filled the museum theater and part of an overflow area connected by television. Jay Gitlin, a professor at Yale University and moderator, told the audience, "I have always been impressed by the love of history that the people of St. Louis constantly and enthusiastically show."

Among them was Gwenne Hickman of Fairview Heights, a retired former teacher of French and Spanish at Belleville East High School.

"The French history in St. Louis is my passion," Hickman said. "I want to find out what the scholars have been working on to increase my own knowledge. This is a validation of the importance of our our French past."


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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

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