Early St. Louis



 Joshua Pilcher, Successor to William Clark

Throughout my years of research, I began to realize the many similarities between the lives of Joshua Pilcher and William Clark.  Both were native Virginians who had first moved to Kentucky and then to St. Louis.  Both had belonged to the Freemasons in Missouri, both had joined Manuel Lisa in the Missouri Fur Company, and both had died while serving as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.


William Clark and Joshua Pilcher had much in common despite the differences of their youngest years. Born in 1770 to an affluent family in Virginia, William was just a young boy when his older brother, Lt. Colonel George Rogers Clark, successfully marched on Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes during the American Revolution and overtook the British forts. Following the war, in 1784, the Clark family moved across the Allegheny Mountains and down the Ohio River to the present site of Louisville. 

At age nineteen William Clark joined the Kentucky militia and served under Scott and Wilkinson, and later under General Wayne in which he conducted an expedition up the Wabash to Vincennes. He resigned from the army in 1796 and removed to St. Louis and there became the principal military director of the expedition in 1804 with Captain Meriwether Lewis. One can easily speculate that it was during the expedition years that Captain Lewis ( who helped establish the St. Louis Lodge No. 111) talked to Clark about the Freemasons. Having already risen to the degree of Past Master Mason and a Royal Arch Mason, Lewis was an ardent believer in the Masonic principles, and had no doubt had some influence in Clark being admitted in 1809.

Born twenty years later than Clark, Joshua Pilcher spent the first years of his life on a Culpeper farm in Virginia, but also made his way to Kentucky arriving with his family in 1793. The Pilchers  settled south of Lexington on a tract of land and were sharecroppers. At sixteen years of age, Joshua moved to Lexington where he was an apprentice hatter for his sister's husband, Hiram Shaw. After his father's death in 1810, he moved to Nashville, and in 1814 arrived in St. Louis where he helped organize a masonic lodge and was named Charter Master.


While living on the frontier, William Clark gained a great deal of knowledge about the Indians, and learned much more when he partnered with Manuel Lisa and other prominent men in the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company. In 1807, he was appointed Indian Agent at St. Louis, and in 1822 appointed to the office of Superintendent of Indian Affairs by President Monroe. His sub-agent to the Sauk and Fox Indians was Joshua Pilcher, who had joined the Missouri Fur Co. in 1819 (after Clark had left), and succeeded Manuel Lisa as its president after Lisa's death the following year.

Clark and Pilcher had clearly known each other for some length, and though the two would have corresponded with some frequency reporting back and forth on the relations between the Indians, traders, and settlers, the earliest correspondence I have yet come across between Clark and Pilcher took place in 1832.  At this time the treaty between the Indians and the U.S. Government had been disputed by Black Hawk.  Clark had inquired of Pilcher to respond to the reports that Black Hawk had re-crossed the Mississippi into Iowa. A portion of Pilcher's July 14th reply to Clark follows and clearly defines Joshua's understanding and sympathy for the plight of the neutral Sauk and Fox Indians:

 “... I have been in constant apprehension, leste they should cross over for the purpose of hunting and get kill'd by the Malitia, who, under existing circumstances would not be justified in regarding them as friends, as they do not know one from an other. This country is filled with so many idle rumours, that the whole of my time would be occupied in writing, were I to undertake to communicate them … Gen'l Hughs and several gentleman from Galena had informed me; that it was universally believed there, that the enemy would cross & that they had probably already done so - that they would be immediately persued by Genl. Dodge &c.”


Although William Clark is famous for the expedition to the Pacific coast, he had spent the majority of his life negotiating many of the early treaties between the various Indian tribes and the U.S. Government. Throughout his career as Superintendent, he signed thirty-seven treaties, most of which were primarily intended to establish peace and friendship. As years passed, however, he supervised the removal of the Indians for the sake of westward expansion.

Clark died at the home of his son on 01 Sep 1838 at the age of sixty-eight while still serving as Superintendent of Indian Affairs. A funeral procession which stretched more than a mile along the streets of St. Louis.  It was followed by graveside services which took place outside the city on land which was then the farm of his nephew Colonel John O'Fallon but is now within the boundaries of Bellefontaine Cemetery. The St. Louis Republican immediately paid tribute to their honored citizen by saying his name would ever occupy a prominent place on the pages of this country's history.

The vacancy following Clark's death was filled by Joshua Pilcher who also held the position of Superintendent of Indian Affairs until his own death in 1843. Though he never became well-known in our American history, Pilcher was a well-respected man who had spent nearly all his life living among the Indians; and had in fact, a son with Poporine Barada who was raised by the Omaha Chief after she had died of cholera. 

The night before his own death, Joshua had attended a banquet at the home of Governor Benton – indicating the ease in which he must have moved from one environment to another. His obituary from the Missouri Reporter reads in part: “His memory will be fondly cherished by thousands in the West who have reaped the fruits of his labors … Even the red men of the forest and prairie will remember one, who whilst serving the American Government, was desirous of promoting their happiness and assuaging the miseries of the present and unfortunate condition.”


The final resting place of these historic American frontiersmen is at Bellefontaine Cemetery although both their present monument and markers were not set until much later.

Clark's thirty-five foot obelisk monument, engraved with the Masonic emblem, was not erected until 1904. Shown here, and photographed in December 2010 by friend and Bellefontaine Cemetery Archivist, Connie Nisinger, his place of burial is included among the “Notable Person Tour.”

Joshua's original place of burial had been in Lot No. 10, St. Luke Square of the Episcopal Cemetery.  In his Last Will and Testament he requested a fifteen foot square stone wall enclosure, but it is long gone with the cemetery which closed about 1859.  Virginia (Riddick) Brooks then authorized his remains to be removed to the Brooks plot at Bellefontaine. His headstone, shown here and photographed in 2006 by Bellefontaine's Administrative Assistant, Jeanie Stephens, was not set until 2002. Though not nearly as lavish as his first place of burial must have been, Joshua's achievements are now briefly summarized and set in stone where the fine character of this man can still be remembered.

Note: Although I called Rosebrough Monument Co. to determine who had ordered Joshua's 2002 monument, their microfilmed records for Joshua were missing. Only the date and name of deceased was listed in their records and so it still leaves the question of whether an historical society or Pilcher descendants ordered the stone. William Clark's monument was erected in 1904 under the supervision of John Kennerly Clark's widow, he having died in 1902 and bequeathed money for same.

Comments, questions, suggestions and emails are most welcome and appreciated.  And again, my thanks to Connie Nisinger who always comes through with my many requests.


1 comment:

Linda Bryan said...

You might be interested to know that Wm. Clark was called "the red head" or "the Prairie Chicken" by the Dakota at St. Peters because of his reddish hair. His reputation was felt way up there.