A Fur Trade / Treaty Family

The Chouteau family, founders of St. Louis, were major players in the fur trade for 70 years. Like the Dakota, Osage, and many other American Indian groups with whom they traded, the Chouteaus preferred to conduct business with relatives, and their extensive family ties shaped trade and U.S.-Indian relations from Canada to New Orleans, from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.

In partnership (and sometimes rivalry) with other leading fur traders -- Manuel Lisa, William Morrison, John Jacob Astor – the Chouteaus not only traded with American Indians, but supplied American and French fur traders, often making money on both sides of fur trade transactions. Under the direction of Pierre Chouteau, Jr., the family diversified its interests into shipping, land speculation, mining, and other areas.

The Chouteaus married into powerful families - French, Osage, Cuban, Spanish, British, and American families. They were masters of regime change as St. Louis became a trading center under Indigenous, European, and ultimately U.S. political control. Signing his name as Pierre when writing to the French, Pedro when writing to the Spanish, and Peter when writing to the British and Americans, Chouteau made sure that he and members of his family were present at treaties to protect their own interests. The family used its family ties to American Indians to leverage positions in the U.S. Indian Affairs bureaucracy.

Pierre Jr. was a partner with Henry Sibley in purchasing land around Traverse des Sioux as soon as it was ceded by the Dakota in 1851; when the Dakota were exiled from Minnesota 12 years later, they were taken down the Mississippi on boats owned by Chouteau. The capital of South Dakota is named after Pierre Chouteau, Jr.

The family tree presented here accounts for 2% of all of the U.S. signatures on all of the formal U.S.-Indian treaties in history. Their in-laws, in turn, married into other treaty signing families, ultimately creating a kinship group that accounts for 300 U.S. treaty signatures.

Auguste Chouteau

Pierre Chouteau

Pierre Chouteau Jr.