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Last St. Louis birthday before the big 250

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 14, 2013 - Today at 11 a.m. a group of St. Louisans will mark the traditional founding date of St. Louis by laying a floral wreath at the foot of the statue of Pierre Liquest Laclede, west of St. Louis City Hall facing Market Street downtown.  

La Societe Francaise de Saint Louis has a decades-old tradition of placing a wreath before the statue of the fur trader from Bedous, in the Bearn region of southern France, on this date. On Feb. 14, 1764, at Laclede's direction Auguste Chouteau, the 14-year-old son of his common law wife Marie Therese Chouteau, began oversight of laborers who would build a fur trading post. The post was on ground within yards of today's Gateway Arch. 

Interest in the founding of the city is expected to grow over the next year as the city approaches its 250th birthday. Many organizations are planning seminars and special events; and historical societies are planning national meetings here.

Renewed interest has led to more questions about the city's founding -- more than whether the actual date was Feb. 14 or 15.

Two historians of the Upper Mississippi Valley during the French Colonial period now contend that Laclede's fur trading post was not the first European settlement within the city's current boundaries.

They believe a French man or a French Canadian settled within the St. Louis city limits before Laclede.

In their upcoming book on early St. Louis Carl J. Ekberg and Sharon Person make their case based on three maps by a French civil engineer Dufossat that were created in mid-April 1767. The historians say a person with the last name of De La Joie already had settled in what is now the city's Hyde Park neighborhood north of downtown. Dufossat's maps name a stream there that flows into the Mississippi for De La Joie.  That stream today is piped under under Branch Street.

A Dufossat map named a street and an island for De La Joie, indicating, if he followed map-making tradition, that De La Joie had been living there long enough that area could be identified to others by his name.

Could this year or last or earlier be really the 250th anniversary of European settlement? All this will no doubt enliven next year's celebrations.

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer based in St. Louis who has covered religion for many years. She also writes about cultural issues, including opera.