Pierre Laclède was a middle child, and a child of middle-ness. He was the second son, born in the Vallée d’Aspe of the French Pyrenees between France and Spain. He spoke French and the Occitan dialect of Béarnese. He founded his city in Middle America, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri, and died at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Arkansas.
It was his middle-ness—the fact his brother would inherit the Laclede Family Chateau in the tiny village of Bedous—that forced him out of France and into New France, first to New Orleans, then up the river to what became “Laclède’s Village.” Middled as he was, he was never middling: the family chateau, where he was birthed in a back bedroom, is now a B&B that markets itself as “the birthplace of Pierre Laclède Liguest, founder of the American city of St. Louis.”
In our town, he is ubiquitous, from Laclede’s Landing to the gas company. He is our rugged, frontier founding father in powdered wig and bearskin coat, leather-bound volume of French poetry under his arm. Tiny Bedous loves him, too: in 2014, on the bicentennial of St. Louis’ founding, the village staged a two-hour pastorale celebrating Laclède’s life, his St. Louis years scored with live, syncopated jazz. It attracted 1,500 people—about 1,000 more than live in the village itself. Half of Bedous’ residents (including burros, cows, and sheep), participated in the production, and the program was 70 pages long, printed in French and Béarnese. We sent a delegate with a proclamation naming August 4 “Bedous Day,” and for a short while, the village flew the flag of the City of St. Louis.
But how could you celebrate him otherwise? If Pierre Laclède was a native of anything, he was a native of the between: two languages, two rivers, two cultures, and now two cities more tightly connected than ever, almost three centuries later.
Laclede family chateau in Bedous, France. Photograph by Pier, circa 1960.
Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum Photograph and Print Collection