St. Louis - Where the West Began


Before steam powered boats, going upriver meant poling the boat or dragging it by rope through brambles and mud from the shore. Manuel Lisa once drove his men 2600 miles up the Missouri River in two months. His goal--partnership with John Jacob Astor in the American Fur Company.

Our forebears believed in the Manifest Destiny of the United States.  They were practical and pragmatic. If they could buy the land, as they had the Louisiana Purchase, they would. But not even war would stop them from spreading American dominion and democracy across the breadth of the land. The way was not always simple or free from fear and suffering. What we take for granted now was paid for at high cost in blood and pain by daring men and women of vision. Virtually the entire catalog of American explorers provisioned at St. Louis before heading west.

Not even the American Revolution brought more change, more victory or more tragedy to our country than the years from 1840 to 1880. The populated United States grew to six times its original size.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, St. Louis was the military and civilian capital and the Gateway to the West. From the expeditions of John Charles “Pathfinder” Fremont in the early 1840s, St. Louis blossomed as it outfitted intrepid hordes off to find their share of California gold after the big bonanza at Sutter’s Mill in 1848.

Not only was St. Louis the heart of westward expansion, it was the core of military might. The Arsenal was the fourth largest in the country as well as the third largest arms and munitions manufactury. Nearly every senior military man of renown in the Civil War served at Jefferson Barracks. After the Mexican War, Jefferson Davis himself organized “Jeff Davis’s Pets,” the 2nd U.S. Dragoons.  Commissioned personnel assigned to this elite cavalry were the best in the army. Albert Sidney Johnston served as colonel and Robert E. Lee as lieutenant colonel. 


Families braved unimaginable Hardships as they moved ever westward.
These pictures are taken from parts of WPA murals painted in the old wing of the US Post Office at 1720 Market Street. They depict the first two centuries of Missouri History.