Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Television can be so broadening. Once upon a time I wrote about the book "How the states Got Their Shapes". You can find my earlier post here.

Last week, The History Channel had a program which covered many of the salient points of the book, and added some filler to make the program less dry.

One of the filler bits explained a bit of local history I knew a bit about, but never understood the why. Being a history geek, I had to explore.

South of Mayberry, in the river towns along the the Mississippi River, improbable as it may seem, are several pockets of French speaking communities. They are authentic holdouts from pre Louisiana Purchase days. The argot is an ancient French, unique to the area, and includes many words which long ago died out in France. Inbred? You bet, suspicious of outsiders too.

Originally, these were communities of French fur trappers, with the occasional missionary priest thrown in for good measure.

Many of the trappers took local Indian wives, permanently settled and their descendants are still there. Prior to the Louisiana Purchase the land traded hands between France and Spain every 20 years or so. French trappers were wary of the British so English never caught on.

The history aspect involves the village of Kaskaskia, Illinois. Kaskaskia, has several claims to fame. Originally a French fort, built in the 1730's it was destroyed by the troops to keep it from falling into British hands, at the end of the French and Indian Wars.

Located where the Kaskaskia River meets the Mississippi River, it was the first state capital of Illinois. Today, it is a village of 9 lost souls for Kaskaskia, now an island, lies on the western side of the Mississippi.

Technically, being on the west side of the Mississippi,it is in Missouri, it shares the zip code of St. Mary's Missouri, yet they are Illinois residents.

And so ends today's history tour.



Karena said...

So fascinating Toad, There is a lot to learn about our region! The French settlement is to me special, I am French and German, my family settled about 30 minites from Jefferson City.

Art by Karena

JMW said...

Wow, I was not aware of this. Great history lesson!

Patsy said...

This is so cool. Thanks for being a history geek.

French speaking communities are still fairly common in Maine, NH and Vermont. Very interesting accents.

M.Lane said...

Great post! I didn't know any of IL was west of the Mississippi! How did that little pocket get there? Folks down my way would say all these folks are cajuns...


Toad said...

M. Lane, the river moved. I suspect these folks have been here since before cajuns arrived.

Since France did not have a common language until the mid 19th century, the odd words,and usage of the mo locals reflects the village they immigrated from.