La Charrette (Marthasville), on the western frontier of Colonial Louisiana

At the time of the Louisiana Purchase by the United States of America in 1803, the former village of La Charrette was the last settlement for all voyageurs ascending the Missouri River.

Established by French-Canadian fur traders in the late 18th century, the village was situated along Charrette Creek, a tributary of the Missouri on its left bank. The inhabitants of this small multi-ethnic francophone community were cordial but poor, and their village was gradually being abandoned in favor of the actual city of Marthasville (Missouri) founded in 1817 in the immediate vicinity. And yet, in the first decade of the 19th century, La Charrette played a key role, that is better known today, at the crossroads of explorations of the American West. For illustration purposes, here are two salient episodes from early American history.

Westward explorations

Arrival of the Lewis & Clark expedition at La Charrette

On May 25, 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition made a stop at the mouth of Charrette Creek (most likely a variant form of the name Chorette). The villagers gave Lewis and Clark valuable information concerning the Upper Missouri that they could not otherwise get in St. Louis. La Charrette was already known by Lewis and Clark on account of stories told about trips in the area made by Canadian fur trader Jean-Baptiste Trudeau. In 1795, during a trade outing, Trudeau had lost one of his traveling companions, Joseph Chorette, who had drowned in the Missouri at La Charrette’s location. It was probably at the time of this unfortunate event that Charette Creek actually took its name.

The Santa Fe Trail (Wayne Cooper’s work)

Among the founding families of the village were Paul and Jean-Marie Cardinal (Junior), two Métis sons of the fur trader Jean-Marie Cardinal (Senior) and his Native American wife Angélique. When Captain Zebulon Pike stayed at La Charrette on July 21 and 22, 1806, leading an exploratory expedition to the Southwest, he sketched the very first map of the Santa Fe Trail (link provided here). Given their names are at the bottom of the map, there is a good chance that the two Cardinal brothers and their friend José Tebeau provided Pike with the relevant information.

Photo by HubPages

In consequence, La Charrette was very likely the last settlement on the western frontier of Colonial Louisiana that gave Pike the information all Americans would later need for traveling to Santa Fe (New Mexico). Americans first started to use the famous Santa Fe Trail in 1821 (see Leavenworth). As depicted on the sign in the image on the right, wagons were then the preferred mode of transportation.