Before Lewis and Clark


Before Lewis and Clark

The Story of the Chouteaus, the French Dynasty That Ruled America's Frontier

Shirley Christian

536 pages
1 map, 1 figure, 21 images


May 2009


$24.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Before Lewis and Clark relates the extraordinary saga of the Chouteaus, the dynastic family that guarded the gates to the West for three generations. From their St. Louis base, the Chouteaus, patrician and French in their origins, made their fortunes along the two-thousand-mile length of the Missouri River. Led by the brothers Auguste and Pierre, the family not only engaged in land speculation, finance, and the fur trade but also acted as suppliers and advisers to expeditions and enterprises between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains—including the famous expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark from 1804 to 1806.

This is the story of the Old World meeting the New, of the eastern United States discovering the West, and of a wealthy, powerful, charming, and manipulative family that dominated business and politics in the Louisiana Purchase territory before and after the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Author Bio

Shirley Christian has been a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, the Miami Herald, and the Associated Press and is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family.


“Christian's lively portrait of the Chouteaus opens a window on a little-known portion of early American history.”—Publishers Weekly

“With illustrations, a helpful genealogical table, map, and more than 40 pages of notes, this is a significant contribution to U.S. history and the famous exploration. . . . Highly recommended.”—C. L. Egan, Choice

“An inspirational account.”—Stanley Trachtenberg, Kansas City Star

“A fine history . . . A useful tonic to a literature suddenly full of books on Lewis and Clark, but with only passing references to those who came before them.”—Kirkus

Table of Contents

Map: Chouteau Country
Laclède-Chouteau Family Tree
1. Among a People of Strange Speech
2. The First Generation: Pierre Laclède Liguest
3. Haughty Children of the Middle Waters
4. The Business of St. Louis
5. Auguste and Pierre, Greatly Loved and Greatly Feared
6. New Rulers, New Ways
7. Intrigues and Possibilities
8. Enveloped in a Cloud of Miseries
9. Dreaming Big--and Stumbling
10. The Third Generation
11. Auguste and Pierre: Men of Property
12. Pierre Jr.: Gentle Creole, Driven Tycoon
13. A. P. Chouteau: Star-Crossed Hero
14. François and Bérénice: Together to a New Place
15. Pierre Jr.: Position, Advantage, and Perhaps Vanity

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