François Gesseau Chouteau (7 February 1797 – 18 April 1838) was an American pioneer fur trader, businessman and community leader known as the "Founder" or "Father" of Kansas City, Missouri.
François Gesseau Chouteau was born in 1797 in St. Louis, Missouri, to French parents Jean Pierre Chouteau, a prominent fur trader, and his second wife Brigitte Saucier, when the area was still under the authority of New Spain. His uncle Auguste Chouteau had founded the city of St. Louis 33 years earlier. In his youth, François learned his father’s trade, which was the basis of the early wealth of the city.
Marriage and family
Chouteau married Bérénice Thérèse Ménard, originally of Cahokia (Kaskaskia, Illinois) and also of French descent, on 12 July 1819 in St. Louis. He soon started making fur trading expeditions into the western frontier via the Missouri River.
In 1819, Chouteau and his cousin Gabriel S. Sères set up a temporary trading post for John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company on the Randolph Bluffs along the Missouri River in Clay County, western Missouri. Seeking an ideal place for a permanent post, they investigated several other locations as far north as Council Bluffs, Iowa. Chouteau, together with his wife and his brother Cyprien, finally chose a site on the Missouri River not far from the earlier post a few miles from the mouth of the "River Canses," known today as the Kaw or Kansas River. The place, called Chouteau's Landing, was located near the north end of present-day Grand Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1821 it became the area's first permanent European-American settlement.
Several trappers joined them in 1825, including Gabriel Prud'homme and his family, who were returning from an expedition in the Snake River region. Chouteau, with Prud’homme and his brother Cyprien as partners, created his own fur business. The company's warehouse became the headquarters. The company concentrated on western trading routes and engaged other members of the family clan. Following a flood in 1826, Chouteau moved his trading post to higher ground near present-day Troost Avenue's intersection with the river. Chouteau traveled widely throughout the Kansas Territory, trading manufactured goods for animal pelts from the Shawnee, Kickapoo, and other tribes, with whom he had established long-standing good relations.
Chouteau, Bérénice and their family continued to expand. They established a home on the bluffs above the Missouri River and were active in affairs of the early French community. In 1835, Pierre La Liberté built a log cabin church dedicated to St. Francis Regis. French missionary Father Bénédict Roux became its first parish priest. So many members of Chouteau's extended family were congregants that it became known as "Chouteau's Church," and Bérénice became its most important patron. Kansas City’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was built on the same site.
François Chouteau died at age 41, probably of a heart attack, in Westport, Kansas City, Missouri, on 18 April 1838. His funeral was held at the Old Cathedral of St. Louis in the city of that name one week later, on 25 April. He is interred at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. His plot, marked by a tall obelisk, includes his grave and those of his mother, Brigitte (Saucier) Chouteau, and three children who died young: Louis-Amédée, Louis-Sylvestre, and Benedict Chouteau. François Chouteau is called the "Founder of Kansas City." During his lifetime, only the city of "West Port", now part of Kansas City, had been developed. The "Town of Kansas", as Kansas City was originally named, was not chartered until 1850.
The widow Bérénice Chouteau supported her family in the merchandising end of the Chouteau family trade business, later running a retail store. She continued to be active in the church and community, and was called the "Mother of Kansas City."
Due to the violent armed conflicts in Westport and the surrounding area during the Civil War, the widow moved for safety back to the eastern part of the state, first to Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, and then across the river to Kaskaskia, Illinois. Two years after the end of the war, in 1867 she returned to Kansas City with her son Pierre Chouteau and his wife. Bérénice outlived all her children, dying in 1888 at age 87.
Married in 1819 to Bérénice Thérèse Ménard (b. 1801-d. 1888):
- Edmond François Chouteau, b. 1821 in St. Louis–d. 1853 in Jackson County, Missouri
- Pierre Menard Chouteau, b. 1822 in St. Louis–d. 1885 in Jackson County, Missouri; married Marie Anne Polk
- Louis Amédée Chouteau, b. 1825 in St. Louis–d. 1827 in St. Louis
- Louis Sylvestre Chouteau, b. 1827 in St. Louis–d. 1829 in St. Louis
- Benjamin Chouteau, b. 1828 in St. Louis–d. 1871 in St. Louis; married Anne E. Toler
- Frederick D. Chouteau, b. 1831 in Independence, Missouri–d. after 1870; married Adèle Gregoire
- Benedict Pharamond Chouteau, b. 1833 in Jackson County, Missouri–d. 1834 in St. Louis
- Mary Brigite Chouteau, b. 1835 in Jackson County, Missouri–d. 1864 in St. Louis; married Ashley C. Hopkins
- Thérèse Odile Chouteau, b. 1837 in Jackson County, Missouri–d. 1837 in Jackson County
- James G. Chouteau, b. before 1825; Note: He was identified by name to receive 640 acres (one section) of land reserved for "half-breeds" according to a provision in Article 5 of the 1825 Osage Treaty.
- Barry, Louise (1972), The Beginning of the West: Annals of the Kansas Gateway to the American West, 1540-1854, Topeka, KS: Kansas State Historical Society, pp. 87–88
- The River Market for History!
- City of Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO.org), A History of Kansas City
- Chouteau’s Church (St. Francis Regis), Historical Marker Database
- Christensen, Lawrence O.; Foley, William E.; Kremer, Gary R. & Winn, Kenneth H., Eds., Dictionary of Missouri Biography, Chouteau, François (1797–1838), Columbia: University of Missouri Press.
- Drouin, Gabriel, comp., St. Louis, Missouri, Old Cathedral, Burials 1832–1847, "Drouin Collection," (images of manuscript parish register), Montreal, Québec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin. p. 55, Fr[ançois] G. Chouteau, 25 April 1838.
- Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Saucier-Chouteau Headstone photos.
- Christensen, Lawrence O.; Foley, William E.; Kremer, Gary R. & Winn, Kenneth H., Eds., Dictionary of Missouri Biography, "Chouteau, Berenice (1801–1888)", Columbia: University of Missouri Press.
- Wikisource, Treaty With The Osage, 1825 (full text).
- Hoig, Stan (2008), The Chouteaus: the first family of the fur trade, Albuquerque NM: University of New Mexico Press, p. 253
- Roglo.eu: François Gesseau Chouteau.
- Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Columbia: Genealogy Collection Descriptions, "Chouteau Family Bible Excerpt, (C3137)."