The “Petites Côtes” of St. Charles, an amazing story

St. Charles in the 19th century (image

St. Charles is a city in Missouri State located on the north bank of the Missouri River, about 22 miles (35 kilometers) northwest of St. Louis. At the time of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase between France and the United States, the village of St. Charles was named “San Carlos del Missouri”.

The Spanish authorities wanted to honor Saint Charles Borromeo, a 16th century cardinal who was the archbishop of Milan. And yet, the population of St. Charles was mostly French-Canadian since the founding of the village around 1769, when it was called by its French name “Les Petites Côtes” (The Little Hills). Here is the narrative of St. Charles’ inception.

Louis Blanchette

The founder of St. Charles was Louis Blanchette, a French-Canadian nicknamed “The Hunter,” who built his dwelling and a trading post on the north bank of the Missouri River, at the foot of gently sloping hills. The colony he founded became known as “Les petits côtes”, and in all probability he was the first civilian and military commandant of the district of St. Charles on behalf of the Spanish authorities. It is said that four years earlier, in 1765, Blanchette had already explored this region where he met a band of Dakota Sioux who had set up a camp away from their tribe. Louis Blanchette made friend with their chief, someone named Bernard Guillet, who happened to be a Frenchman from Marseille. The chief told Blanchette this place was widely known among Native Americans as “Les Petites Côtes”, because of the gentle slopes of the surrounding hills. In about 1769, Blanchette decided to return, without any further delays, to this place so beautifully named to found a colony. A reality slightly romanticized? Whatever!

St. Charles, its gentle inclination toward the Missouri River (photo Travel in the USA)

Today, every year in August the citizens of St. Charles celebrate since 1971, their rich French heritage by honouring their intrepid French-Canadian founder, Louis Blanchette The Hunter, through the “Festival of the Little Hills”, a major event in the American West emphasizing arts and crafts. It was on the occasion of St. Charles’ 200-year anniversary that the city decided in 1969 to commemorate annually its amazing genesis under the Francophonie.