When the Revolutionary War Came to St. Louis

When we think of the American Revolutionary War, we usually imagine the action taking place on the East Coast and involving just the British and the American colonists.  But the battles west of the Appalachian Mountains, though less well known, also helped shape the destiny of the nation; and they involved various indigenous tribes as well as the French and the Spanish.  The Battle of St. Louis in 1780 – which took place near what is now the western border of Gateway Arch National Park – was one such conflict.

The small village of St. Louis was founded by French traders in 1764 but became a Spanish settlement when the French ceded the territory to Spain.  Most of the approximately 900 St. Louisans were still of French heritage, overseen by a small number of Spanish soldiers.  They were far outnumbered by the various Native American tribes who lived nearby as trading partners of the Europeans. 

Map of the village of St. Louis c. 1790

When the American Revolution broke out in 1776, the British sought to control not only the Mississippi River but also St. Louis, which was a trading hub and the political capital of the region. Because the British had only scattered troops in the Midwest, they recruited nearly 2,000 Native Americans from several tribes near the Great Lakes, who began traveling downriver in early May of 1780. 

After fur traders warned the Spanish Lt. Governor Fernando de Leyba about the impending British attack, he began developing plans for his town’s defense.  De Leyba made plans for four round defensive towers to be built on which to place sharpshooters and cannons.  Only one tower – named Fort San Carlos –was finished by the time the attackers neared St. Louis.  The locals managed to place five cannons on its roof as well as trenches along the outer walls of the town.

Once the British and their Native allies began attacking on May 26, the villagers were greatly outnumbered – as many as 100 were killed – and the outlook looked grim.  However, thanks to their cannons and other defenses, St. Louis was able to overcome their attackers and win the battle.  This meant the British were not able to gain control of the Mississippi River during the Revolutionary War, a key victory for the American colonists.

The National Park Service commemorates the Battle of St. Louis every year near the anniversary date.  The event takes place this year on May 28th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the south end of the Gateway Arch grounds.  Interpretive rangers and living history volunteers in 18th-century attire will be on hand to explain the story of St. Louis’ role in the American Revolution and the implications of the settlers’ victory.  There will also be periodic musket- and cannon-firing demonstrations. Reservations are not required.

An exhibit at Gateway Arch National Park

More information on the Battle of St. Louis can be found in the Arch Museum.  Also, check out an extensive new exhibit, The American Revolutionary War in the West, which just opened at St. Charles County’s Heritage Museum.

The Newest Addition to Ste. Gen is also the Oldest

The newest acquisition to Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park’s historic buildings happens to be the oldest structure in the community.  While the Green Tree Tavern has played numerous roles in the small Missouri town, it now serves as a reminder of the complex history of this unique European settlement.

The Green Tree Tavern in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, is a rare surviving example of French Colonial architecture known as poteaux sur sole (post on sill). Its unusual construction featured walls made of hand-hewn white oak logs arranged vertically rather than the more traditional horizontal log structure used elsewhere.  Recent studies of the building’s timbers confirmed a construction date of 1790, making it the oldest home in the town and possibly the oldest home west of the Mississippi.

Green Tree Tavern c. 1934

The tavern has filled many different roles for many different people.  It was originally built as a home for French Canadian Nicolas Janis and his family.  When they migrated to the area, they brought with them at least 10 enslaved people, many of whose ownership transferred to the original owners’ descendants. 

When Nicolas’ son, Francois, inherited the property, he opened it as an inn.  The tavern offered lodging, entertainment, socializing, and news to the many travelers pouring into the new Louisiana Purchase territory. Guests could enjoy food and drink in the public room, then sleep in rooms heated by an unusual triangular fireplace.  In later years the building served as a tobacco store and as the first Masonic Lodge in Missouri.

Interior view of Green Tree Tavern showing the triangular fireplace

The grounds of Green Tree Tavern are open year-round.  National Park Service rangers offer free interior tours daily, but registration is required either in person at the park’s Welcome Center (66 Main Street) or by phone at (573) 880-7189.

An Epic Journey

Nearly 218 years ago this week, 45 men and one dog set out from Camp Dubois near St. Louis on what was to become one of the most famous explorations in American history.  On May 14, 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led their Corps of Discovery on an expedition to explore the newly acquired western portion of the continent.  Their epic two-year journey took them to the Pacific Coast and back, yielding a treasure-trove of detailed maps, climate and soil data, and plant and animal specimens, as well as the beginning of relationships with dozens of tribal nations.

Two of JNPA’s partner sites – Gateway Arch National Park and the Lewis and Clark Visitor Center – feature interpretive exhibits about this famous expedition in their museums.  So we thought it fitting to honor the intrepid explorers during this anniversary week.

Thomas Jefferson

President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition shortly after acquiring the Louisiana Purchase territory in 1803.  Although scientific discoveries and mapping were of high importance, Jefferson’s primary interests were political and commercial.  He envisioned an eventual expansion of the nation to the Pacific Ocean and wanted to establish an American presence in the west before European nations made claims to the region.  He also charged Lewis and Clark with preparing the way for the extension of the valuable fur trade, with documenting other natural resources that could support future settlements, and with assessing the friendliness of the indigenous tribes they encountered.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

Jefferson provided the Corps of Discovery with the best clothing, firearms, boats, equipment, and rations then available.  He also supplied them with an assortment of medals, ribbons, needles, mirrors, and other articles which were intended as gifts to Native American chiefs.

The expedition travelled up the Missouri River and through its tributaries in a specially built 55-foot keelboat and two smaller boats called pirogues, averaging 15 miles a day.  Their journey proved difficult and exhausting:  the men were plagued by heat, injuries, insects, and the river’s strong current and many snags.  Both Lewis and Clark’s kept detailed records of these arduous conditions in their journals, which were primarily devoted to meticulous descriptions and drawings of the native people, plants, animals they saw.

[Columbia River near Mouth of Umatilla River, Washington and Oregon]. Entry of 19 October 1805, cont. Voorhis Journal #6 [Elkskin Bound Journal]. p. 53. [Moulton 5:302]. Voorhis Journal 6. William Clark, Elkskin Bound Journal, 11 September – 31 December 1805., p. 53. Clark Family Collection. William Clark Papers. Missouri Historical Society Archives. Photograph by Cary Horton, 2003. NS 26957. Photograph and scan (c) 2003, Missouri Historical Society.

To find out more about this famous expedition, you can visit the museum at the Gateway Arch.  The Jefferson’s Vision gallery features numerous exhibits on Lewis and Clark’s journey, including replicas and artifacts, interactives about the plants and animals the explorers encountered, and information about the native peoples who inhabited the West at the time of the expedition.

The Arch Store also offers books and other products related to the Corps of Discovery, including the classic best-seller Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose.  You can purchase these and other items online or at The Arch Store.

Animals Have Mothers Too!

As we approach Mother’s Day, it’s important to honor those who raised us.  But it’s also a fun time to celebrate amazing animal moms.  Look no farther than Voyageurs National Park for some great examples.

Credit: NPS

Gray wolf moms have litters of four to six pups, who remain with her in the den for six to eight weeks. Only the alpha female in a pack of gray wolves will become a mother, but all adult pack members contribute to supporting her and her pups. Young wolves will stay with their parents for two or more years before leaving to start their own territory, or they may stay with the pack and eventually replace their mother or father as alpha.

Credit: NPS

Voyageurs is a paradise for waterfowl, including the beautiful and haunting common loon.  Mother loons typically have one or two chicks per year. It is very difficult for the birds to walk on their awkward legs, so the moms do not travel far from the water’s edge during nesting; and they spend much of their time in the water once their chicks hatch. Loon moms (and dads!) are very devoted parents and occasionally even carry their chicks on their back!

Credit: NPS

Black bears typically have two cubs every other year. A mother bear gives birth while she is in her den for the winter, then spends the time until spring dozing on and off while her cubs nurse. (That is a lot more sleep than human moms get in the early days!) The cubs will stay with their mother throughout spring, summer, and fall and will hibernate with her the following winter. They finally strike out on their own the following spring, when they are about 1 ½ years old.

Credit: David Hypes, NPS

Bald eagle moms are very fortunate, as parenting duties are split evenly between moms and dads. Eagles lay one to three eggs per year, which hatch after about 35 days. The nestlings will remain in the next for 10-14 weeks, during which time both mom and dad will care for them.

Credit: Veronika Ronkos

Female moose are beginning to give birth this time of year. Typically, a mother has one or two calves, which grow extremely quickly and can outrun a human by five days old! (Can you imagine having to chase your baby five days after giving birth?) Moose calves stay with their mother for about a year.

If you are looking for an animal-inspired gift for your mom this year, check out these beautiful wolf earrings or this stunning photo book all about the amazing loon.

Happy Birthday, Ulysses!!!

How do you fit 200 candles on a birthday cake?  Tomorrow – April 27, 2022 – marks the 200th anniversary of Ulysses Grant’s birth.  This notable bicentennial will be commemorated with events, activities and exhibits at dozens of locations across the nation.  Our partner park Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site will offer programs for all tastes and ages in the coming months.  Whether you’re a history buff, a military veteran, a food lover or a kid, you’re sure to find a fun and interesting way to celebrate the former president’s 200th year.

The park is devoting the entire day and evening of April 27 to an extended birthday celebration:

  • There will be presentations on Grant’s life in the visitor center theater. 
  • Food historian Suzanne Corbett will deliver a program on 19th century cakes and other desserts in the dining room of White Haven, the house where Ulysses lived with his wife Julia and her family. 
  • Visitors can make and send cards to residents of Missouri veterans’ homes letting them know about Grant’s appreciation of military veterans. 
  • You can pick up a “Flat Grant” handout at the park’s visitor center to color and take with you on your travels. Share your selfies with Grant on social media as you travel with #USGrant2ndWorldTour.
  • Kids can explore all aspects of Grant’s life with a special Junior Ranger activity book and receive a commemorative Junior Ranger badge. 
  • In the evening, the Independent Silver Band will conduct a one-hour concert on the park grounds, beginning at 6:30 pm. This program is presented in partnership with the Ulysses S. Grant Association and Mississippi State University.

Credit: Curt Fields

Other bicentennial activities planned by the park include a visit by the nation’s premiere Grant impersonator, Curt Fields, on Tuesday May 17th.  Throughout the summer, park staff will offer special themed tours of the historic White Haven estate, gallery walks, touch tables, and facilitated dialogue programs inside the park’s museum.  Check the park’s list of bicentennial events for more details. To learn about events elsewhere in the U.S. that will commemorate the Grant Bicentennial, visit the Ulysses S. Grant Association’s website.

Finally, if you’d like a keepsake of this important bicentennial, pick up this unique brass ornament at our bookstore when you visit the park. It features a likeness of Grant beneath his well-known saying “Let us have peace.”  You can also order the ornament from our online store.  Quantities are limited!

Meet the New Leader at Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch National Park has a new superintendent.  Jeremy Sweat, a 15-year veteran of the National Park Service, took over the job late last year.  He oversees operations not only for the Gateway Arch but also for Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park.

Sweat has a background in resource management and policy at the park, regional and national levels, and has experience working with non-profit partners, with other agencies, and with local communities.  JNPA is excited to be working with him.

We recently caught up with Jeremy Sweat to learn a little more about him.

Why did you start working for the National Park Service?   

My first experience working in a national park was as an undergrad archeological field school student at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2004. The field school was a partnership between the University of Tennessee and the NPS, so we got to live and work in the park for the summer. I enjoyed it so much that I returned to the Smokies in 2005 as a graduate teaching assistant to supervise the field school. That winter the park archeologist encouraged me to apply for a seasonal position as an archeological technician and I was hired in the summer of 2006 to conduct backcountry archeological surveys. After that first season, I fell in love with the mission and the people, and never left the NPS.

Credit: Debbie Franke

What is particularly special about Gateway Arch National Park, or why should someone visit? 

Aside from the incredible local and regional pride that the park inspires, one of my favorite things about Gateway Arch National Park is how relevant the park’s story is to America today. The Arch helps to tell the story of the European American settlement of the west, which for some people meant new opportunities and greater freedom, while for other people, it meant the loss of rights, lands, and freedom. The Old Courthouse is a place where people fought for racial equality, women’s rights, and voting rights during the 19th century. Telling these complicated, challenging stories gives our visitors the opportunity to connect that history with many of the challenges and conversations that are still happening in America today.  

What’s your favorite part of the job, or what do you hope to accomplish at Gateway Arch National Park?  

My favorite part of the job is seeing people enjoy the park. Each time I look out my window and see families enjoying the Arch grounds, or when I walk through the museum and see children learning about history, it reminds me why I joined the NPS.

What kinds of careers are available in the Park Service?

Honestly, it would be easier to make a list of what careers are not available in the NPS. If you look at the 423 sites that make up the national park system, there are opportunities for nearly every kind of skill and profession. Everyone knows that we hire park rangers, but we also have jobs for scientists, plumbers, law enforcement officers, engineers, carpenters, lifeguards, boat captains, arborists, livestock supervisors, scuba divers, veterinarians, accountants, and more. I encourage anyone who is interested in working for the NPS to learn more about how their skills might be needed in a park or office around the country. 

What’s your favorite activity to do at the park?

I moved here in the middle of winter, so now that it is getting warmer, I enjoy just being out in the park on sunny days. It’s nice to bike through the park on my way home from work and see so many people from the local community, and from around the country and world, here enjoying this place.

The park’s best kept secret is…?

If I told you, it wouldn’t be a well-kept secret, would it? 

Preserving the Delta’s Heritage

JNPA has recently embarked on a new way to help the National Park Service protect our nation’s treasures.  Starting this month, we are partnering with NPS in an annual federal grant program aimed at preserving the unique culture and heritage of the Delta region.  Known as the Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative (LMDI), this effort provides Local Heritage Grants for small-scale cultural and historical projects in the Delta. 

The Lower Mississippi Delta Region is the cradle of a rich artistic, indigenous, musical, and literary heritage, brimming with stories that testify to both our nation’s diversity and its struggles.  Helping preserve the region’s historic and cultural treasures was the intent of a 1994 federal law which created the grant initiative.  Congress directed NPS to provide funding to protect, preserve, and interpret the irreplaceable cultural assets of local communities in the Delta, especially those that highlight the legacy of underrepresented peoples.

Over the years, more than 240 not-for-profit cultural groups and programs have benefited from LMDI grants, benefitting such diverse projects as blues festivals, archeological sites, and history museums.  These in turn have not only generated local pride but have also brought new tourism dollars to many Delta communities.  And now, JNPA is co-administering this important grant program with NPS.

The 2022 grant application process is underway, and eligible applicants are invited to apply before May 20th. Details on projects that are eligible for funding, are available here.

JNPA is proud to be involved in this worthy endeavor, and we look forward to seeing the impact that the LMDI grants will have, says President & CEO David Grove: “We are pleased to partner with the National Park Service in ensuring that communities throughout the Delta will have an opportunity to preserve and promote the culture and heritage of this important vibrant region.”

How Many National Park Sites Have YOU Visited?

The National Park Service system currently includes 423 sites throughout the United States and its territories.  These range from national monuments and battlefields to national historic sites and recreation areas to national rivers and seashores. 

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t visited the majority of these places (most of us haven’t!). But luckily, National Park Week is just around the corner – a perfect time to add to your NPS “life list.”

National Park Week is an annual celebration jointly hosted by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation to encourage everyone to discover our nation’s diverse historic, natural, and cultural treasures.  This year, the week runs from April 16 through 24.  Parks across the country will host a variety of special programs, events, and digital experiences, including National Junior Ranger Day for kids on Saturday April 23.  You can find out more about programs and themes you might be interested in by going here.  

Another bonus for park visitors during National Park Week – entrance fees are waived at all parks on Saturday April 16.  (Other 2022 free fee days can be found here).  Luckily, there are never entry fees at JNPA’s partner parks but each of them would be glad to see you in April, or any time!

If you’re planning to visit any of the 63 parks that have “national park” in their name, you’ll want a copy of National Geographic’s national park guide as well as the Passport to Your National Parks, which not only contains park information but allows you to collect the passport stamps from every park you visit. 

The Legacy of the Dred Scott Decision

The road to freedom from slavery was a long one for Dred and Harriet Scott.  Just over 170 years ago, on March 22, 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that enslaved people entering a free territory were not automatically free, delivering a blow to the hopes and dreams of the Missouri couple. While this was not the end of the Scotts’ pursuit for freedom, this blight on Missouri history was not corrected for over a century.

Dred Scott was born in Virginia sometime around 1799. He was enslaved by the Blow family, who moved him to Alabama and then Missouri. He was then sold to an army surgeon, Dr. John Emerson, who took him to Illinois, a free state, and then Fort Snelling, Wisconsin, a free territory. At Fort Snelling, Dred met and married Harriet Robinson, an enslaved woman whose owner transferred ownership of Harriet to Dr. Emerson, who then brought the couple back to St. Louis.

In 1846, the Scotts sued for their freedom at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis on the grounds that they had lived in a free territory, and Missouri had been known to follow the legal precedent of “once free, always free.” However, the Scotts lost their case on a technicality and began a decade of litigation that would lead to unfavorable rulings in both the Missouri Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.

The final decision from the United States Supreme Court in March 1857 ruled that Black people, whether free or enslaved, were not United States citizens and therefore had no right to sue in federal court. The court also ruled that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, and that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in territories. This outraged abolitionists and is thought to have hastened the onset of the Civil War.

Dred Scott’s “free negro bond.” Credit: Missouri Historical Society

The Scotts did eventually gain their freedom later in 1857, after the son of Dred’s original enslaver purchased and subsequently emancipated their family. Sadly, Dred Scott passed away the following year from tuberculosis.

To watch a dramatic re-enactment of a conversation between Dred and Harriet Scott, you can view the short video A Bid for Freedom.  JNPA helped produce this video for Gateway Arch National Park.

It was not until 2021 that the Missouri State Legislature finally passed House Concurrent Resolution 4, formally denouncing the Dred Scott decision. JNPA Board Member Lynne Jackson — Dred and Harriet Scott’s great-great granddaughter — is the President and Founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation. She said:

We started seriously inquiring about a renunciation of the 1852 Dred Scott decision in 2013 and hoped something along that order would be in the Missouri time capsule in 2015. The next serious push was in 2018 when we came close to a senate vote, but time ran out. We are very pleased at the bi-partisan and unanimous votes by the MO State Legislature in 2021.”

The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation continues the work of recognizing the Scott Family’s place in history both at the Old Courthouse in Gateway Arch National Park and through efforts to construct an educational memorial at Dred Scott’s gravesite in St. Louis’ Calvary Cemetery.

New Leader at U.S. Grant National Historic Site

We’re excited to welcome Nathan Wilson as the new superintendent at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.  The National Park Service announced his appointment, effective this month.  Wilson is a 17-year veteran of NPS and has a wide range of experience working in historical parks, mostly in the Midwest.  We recently caught up with him to learn why he’s excited about his new role at our partner park.

Why did you start working for the National Park Service?

I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and parks as places to reflect, learn, and recreate. As a student in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism program at the University of Missouri, I became interested in public land management and the various agencies tasked with overseeing them. I found the National Park Service mandate to protect and preserve our nation’s most significant resources – for everyone’s enjoyment – to be particularly special. That’s what led me to pursue a career working for the agency. I was fortunate to receive an internship at Fort Smith National Historic Site as I was finishing my undergraduate degree and that opportunity turned out to be a springboard for my career with the NPS.  

What is particularly special about U.S. Grant National Historic Site, or why should someone visit?

I think the story we tell in conjunction with the physical resources at the site make for a very impactful experience. The period of Grant’s life spent here in St. Louis is often overlooked in comparison to his time served as Union general and president. However, it was critical in shaping and influencing the values, character, and identity that we associate with this American hero today. Visitors get a meaningful glimpse into this part of his life when they visit our park.

What’s your favorite part of the job, or what do you hope to accomplish at ULSG?

The park staff does an incredible job of interpreting the Grant story and administering and caring for the resources here at the park. The level and variety of skill among our team is impressive and inspiring to me, and collaborating with them is a highlight of the job. I’m truly honored by the opportunity to take on this leadership role and look forward to continued collaboration with this amazing team during Grant’s bicentennial year and into the future.

What’s your favorite activity to do at your park?

I really enjoy the historic structures and cultural landscape here at the park. The restoration and rehabilitation work that took place at White Haven in the 1990s transformed the park structures and makes for a great historic preservation experience, and the landscape provides a nice greenspace to enjoy the outdoors in suburban St. Louis.   

Your park’s best kept secret is…?

Not necessarily a secret but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to our park volunteers. We’ve got over 20 volunteers here at Grant who help us with everything from visitor services and tours to cultural resource management and museum operations. These dedicated team members provide a tremendous amount of support to our park and are a major contributor to the high-quality visitor experience we provide at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.