At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the United States was a comparative infant of a country. Well established along the Atlantic coast, with adventurers and the settlers who invariably followed them just barely beginning to cross the Appalachians. There was nothing but three thousand miles of wilderness, about which practically nothing was known, when the largest portion of it was purchased from France.

But by then the a teenaged Auguste Chouteau and his stepfather Pierre Laclede had already spent many years in the fur trade, venturing in clumsy keelboats, up the river from their original home in New Orleans to establish a trading post and engage in commerce with the various Indian tribes along the Missouri River valley and daringly with those to the west of the Mississippi, that great water highway. In 1764, Laclede had selected a place for his trading post, near the mouth of the Missouri river, on the west bank of the Mississippi – St. Louis. His base of operations would become the keystone of the western fur trade. Auguste Chouteau, his younger brother Pierre and three generations of their descendents would be intimately involved in trade, exploration and development of the West, as merchants and as agents to various tribes. They would be friends with everyone – explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, with Thomas Jefferson and William Henry Harrison, with the Sioux and Osage Indians, with the displaced Creeks and Cherokees… and Sam Houston and Washington Irving, just to name a few.

This account is a thorough and readable, if slightly juiceless account of a family whose various frontier exploits, adventures and friendships – not to mention fairly complicated marital histories would make a fantastically eventful novel. One might wish that the writer had more of a novelists touch in bringing the various Chouteaus more vividly to life, but as this seems to be the only one of two recent books dealing with such a quietly important family, enthusiasts for the history of the pre-Civil War west must take what they can get.

The Chouteaus is available online from Barnes and Noble and the publisher, The University of New Mexico Press.

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer and member of the Independent Authors Guild who lives in San Antonio and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her current book “To Truckee’s Trail” is available here. More about her books is at her website www.celiahayes.com.

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