[Narrator 1:] Today in Oklahoma, when the name Chouteau is mentioned, it brings to mind the great prima ballerina, Yvonne Chouteau, but the name goes back a long way in Oklahoma history all the way back to the time when George Washington was father of the 13 states. At that same time, the land that is now Oklahoma had its own father and his name was Jean Pierre Chouteau.
[Narrator 2:]They came to Oklahoma from many nations. Newcomers to a new land, looking for better opportunities, a chance to begin again and what remains is their heritage. A rich heritage, that has become the Oklahoma image.
[Narrator 1:] Oklahoma's first white settlers didn't come by covered wagon. By the time wagons began to arrive, homes already had been made in the Valley of the Grand Verdigre and Arkansas rivers by people who were French but carried the ruling red and gold flag of Spain. Jean Pierre Chouteau and his brother, Auguste, were the first of his French family born in America, a family that became one of the most influential trading families in upper Louisiana territory. They were daring, enterprising people, different from many traders who swept into the area west of the Mississippi. The Chouteau's established communities and their diplomacy with the American Indians proved valuable for both.
[Narrator 1:] The Osage brought clay and laid the floors and cabins at the St. Louis trading post. Auguste set the policy the Chouteau's continued to follow. He paid the Osage fairly for their work but it was Auguste's younger brother, Jean Pierre, who ventured further into the unsettled land and took over many of the remote trading enterprises, seeking new hunters and new areas rich with furs. His search brought him to the place in Oklahoma now known as Salina.
[Narrator 1:] With a party of about a dozen French traders and a few Osage scouts, he traveled to what Pierre called Le Grande Riviere and it's what we call the Grand River. He was looking for a spring-fed stream as a spot for a new settlement and found it at the Salina site but there were few hunters within hundreds of miles which meant there was no thriving trade, so they left the camp and went back north. But the Chouteau's were not so easily discouraged. They set about persuading 3,000 Osage to move to the southwest hunting ground and bring their furs to the Chouteau post on the Grand. This time the exhibition set up permanent dwellings, sent for their wives and children and some took Osage wives.
[Narrator 1:] The post grew quickly into a French settlement with traditional food and customs. When the U.S. purchased the Louisiana Territory, some of these people were angry and refused allegiance to this new English speaking white father but when Jean Pierre Chouteau was appointed U.S. Agent to the Osage, they began to relent. By the time Jean Pierre's son, Auguste Pierre, entered the new military academy at West Point, they were all loyal Americans. Young Auguste Pierre took over the Grand River post in 1817 and influenced the settlement with his knowledge, refinement and charm. With his second wife, Rosalie, who was half Osage, he built a veritable castle landscaped with rare shrubs, flowers and trees from France. It was visited by notables like Washinton Irving, Sam Houston and Jefferson Davis. Auguste Pierre, now Colonel Chouteau, and his brother, Paul, expanded the trading company.
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[Narrator 1:] Colonel Chouteau died on Christmas Day 1838, ten years before his father died but places like Salina, Chouteau, Pawhuska and Claremore are reminders of the Chouteau influence. There are others too, the most important one being Yvonne, the prima ballerina of Oklahoma, the great-great grandaughter of Jean Pierre.
[Narrator 2:] This program was produced by the Oklahoma Image Project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and brought to you as a public service by this station. Oklahoma Image is sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and the Oklahoma Library Association.
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Part of the Oklahoma Image Statewide Humanities Project, Promoting Newcomers to a New Land book series.
Copyright of this digital resource, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, 2009. For further information regarding use please consult the Rights and Permissions page, http://www.crossroads.odl.state.ok.us/shell/rights.php or contact the holding institution of the digital resource.