Portage des Sioux is located near the metropolis of St. Louis, Missouri, in the confluence zone of three major rivers, namely the Mississippi, the Missouri and the Illinois.
Its name, French since the 18th century and still current, identified a shortcut used by Native Americans to pass from the Mississippi to the Missouri, and vice versa, shortening the navigation distance by 25 miles (40 kilometers). The portage itself was a short one and avoided paddling to reach the mouth of the Missouri and then ascending upstream the Missouri’s estuary to the site of the carrying place.
A colony at the portage site
Concerned by the plan of some American entrepreneurs to establish, on the east side of the Mississippi, a presence in front of the portage site, Zénon Trudeau, born in New Orleans, governor of Upper Louisiana and commander of the city of St. Louis, asked François Saucier to found a colony at the Portage des Sioux, on the west side of the mighty river. Something he did eagerly in 1779. The first villagers were all Franco Americans. They rushed to cross the Mississippi with a view to freeing themselves from the control of the U.S. government and its rules. François Saucier was born in Mobile in 1712 in what is now the State of Alabama. According to the genealogy of the Saucier family, he was the youngest son of Jean-Baptiste Saucier and Marie Gabrielle Savary. Zénon Trudeau, meanwhile, was the brother of Charles Trudeau, fifth mayor of New Orleans.
Portage des Sioux is home to the wonderful Our Lady of the Rivers Shrine, where thousands of pleasure boats come together every July for the annual tradition of the “Blessing of the Fleet”, and the jolly parade of boats to the mouth of the Illinois River nearby. In 1951, the village was spared from a devastating river flood. In order to thank the Virgin Mary, the villagers erected in October 1957 a statue of Mary in immaculate white fibreglass, 25 feet (7.6 meters) in height, mounted on a 20-foot (six-meter) concrete base overlooking the Mississippi River at the foot of Le Sieur Street.