Buchanan County, Missouri
Joseph Robidoux, Founder
of St. Joseph, Missouri






 

Joseph Robidoux, the son of Joseph and Catharine Robidoux, was born in St. Louis, August 10th, 1783.  He was the eldest of a family consisting of six sons and one daughter, to wit:  Joseph, Antoine, Isadore, Francis, Michel and Palagie.  Louis, the second son, lived and died in California, after his removal from St. Louis.  Joseph, Antoine, Isadore and Francis are all buried in St. Joseph.  Joseph, the father of this family, was a Canadian Frenchman, and came from Montreal, Canada, to St. Louis, where he located shortly after the settlement of that city by the French.


Being a shrewd business man, and possessing great energy, he accumulated a fortune.  His wealth, his business qualifications, and his genial dispostion made him many friends among the leading merchants and influential men of that city.  He occupied a large mansion, located between Walnut and Elm Streets, surrounded with every comfort and convenience.  Here he entertained his friends in a royal style, and so noted was his hospitality that the First General Assembly of Missouri did him the honor of holding its first session at his house, on the 7th of December, 1812.

His children attended school at an early age, the best then to be found in the city of St. Louis, where they remained till the completion of their scientific and literary courses.

Joseph, the eldest of the boys, when only eighteen years of age, married Eugenie Delslille, the daughter of a wealthy gentleman of St. Louis.  By this union they had one child, Joseph E. Robidoux, who is still living near White Cloud, Kansas, at the advanced age of seventy-two years.


Four years after his marriage, his wife died.  After her death, young Robidoux, then in the twenty third year of his age, became an extensive traveler, first visiting New Orleans, and different points on the Lower Mississippi, in search of a favorable location for a trading post.  Finding none that offered the advantages desired by him on the Mississippi River, he finally located on the present site of the city of Chicago, where he was plundered and robbed by the Indians, of his goods and merchandise, within a few days after his arrival there.

He returned again to St. Louis, and soon thereafter made a voyage up the Missouri River, in company with one of the partners of the American Fur Company. 


"Blacksnake Hills" had been seen by some of the men connected with the fur companies, while en route on one of their expeditions, their attention being attracted hither by not only the topography of the country, but by the presence of the congregrated tribes of the Sac, Fox and Iowa Indians, who assembled here en masse at stated seasons of the preparatory to crossing the river, either on a visit to other tribes farther west, or for the purpose of hunting.

Seeing the Indians here in large numbers, while on their journey at this time, they debarked, and after looking at the point and its advantages as a probable future trading post, they proceeded on their way to Council Bluffs, Iowa, the original place of their destination.


The Bluffs at that time constituted the most important trading post on the Missouri River, being the headquarters of the Otoe, Pawnee, Omaha,Punka and other Indian tribes, numbering about forty thousand.  Being favorably impressed with the "Bluffs" as a trading post, Mr. Robidoux returned to St. Louis and purchased a stock of goods, which he transported up the Missouri by a keel boat, arriving at the "Bluffs" in the fall of 1809.

Here he remained for thirteen years, supplying the Indians with goods and taking in exchange therfore money, peltries and such other commodities as they had to barter, in the meantime making occasional visits to St. Louis.

While residing at the "Bluffs" in 1813 he married Angelique Vandry, another lady of St. Louis, who died in the City of St. Joseph on the 17th of January, 1857.  By this union they had six sons and one daughter- Faraon, Julius C., Francis B., Felix, Edmond, Charles and Mrs. S.P. Beauvis, Charles being the youngest.  Of the above named all are dead excepting Edmond and Mrs. Beauvis, the former residing in St. Joseph and the latter in St. Louis.


Readily adapting himself to the havits, manners and customs of the Indians, and speaking with considerable fluency the dialects of the tribes by whom he was surrounded, Mr. Robidoux became an expert Indian trader.  The American Fur Company were also in business at the "Bluffs" and had had a monopoly of the entire Indian trade for some time previously to Mr. Robidoux' locating there.  But a short time, however, passed after his arrival before he began to divide the trade, and finally became so popular with the Indians that he controlled a large portion of this trade, to the great detriment of the Fur Company.

The company, wishing no further opposition from Mr. Robidoux, finally purchased his stock of goods, giving him fifty per cent on the original cost, and in addition thereto the sum of one thousand dollars annually for a period of three years, conditioned that he would leave the "Bluffs".


He then returned to St. Louis, where he remained with his family, and carried on the business of a baker and confectioner, until the experation of the three years, the time agreed upon between himself and the Fur Company.  Having spent already many years of his life among the Indians as a fur trader, a business, if not entirely congenial to his taste, had at least been a profitable one, he concluded to embark once more in the same pursuit.  Not that he really wished-

"for a lodge in some vast wilderness-
Some boundless contiguity of space,"

but that he might reap therefrom a golden harvest.  Making known his intention to the Fur Company, it at once offered him the post at the mouth of "Roy's Branch," just above the "Blacksnake Hills", at a salary of eighteen hundred dollars per year year, provided he would in no wise interfere with the business at the "Bluffs."

This proposition he accepted, and having been furnished with a stock of goods, he landed at the mouth of "Roy's Branch" in the fall of 1826. Shortly afterward he removed to the mouth  of "Blacksnake Creek,"  where he continued to work for the Fur Company until 1830, at which time he purchased their entire interest in the goods then in his possession, and became the sole proprietor of the post at "Blacksnake Hills."

To one living in this, the last half of the nineteenth century, surrounded with the blessings of civilization, the comforts of home and the companionship of genial friends, such a venture as that of Mr. Robidoux, would be fraught with too many dangers, difficulties and privations to be undertaken single handed and alone.  The desert waste, the forest gloom, and the contiguity of savage Indians, seemed to have possessed, however, no terrors for the solitary and undaunted Frenchman, who, fifty two years ago, pitched his tent upon the present town site of St. Joseph.  He came not as a pioneer, conscious of the future populous and thrifty city, nor as a missionary to minister to the spiritual wants of the red man, but like thousands of others, before and after him, he came, seeking new and broader fields of labor, wherein, by honest toil and industry, he could the more successfully increase his own store and provide a competency for old age.

What must have been the nature of his lonely musings during the long and weary years of his isolation from early friends and associates, it is difficult to imagine.  Suffice it to say, with a fortitude unsurpassed, and a tenacity of porpose which knew no defeat, he patiently bided his time, never dreaming in the early years of his voluntary exilement, that he was destined to be the founder of a populous and prosperous city.

For many years, the solitary log cabin of Joseph Robidoux was the only evidence of the presence of civilized man within a radius of fifty miles.  Time rolled on.  With every puffing steamer, that ascended the turbid waters of the Missouri, came the emigrant and the adventurer, seeking homes in the wilds of the far west.  Embryo settlements had been made along the banks of the great river in Jackson, Clay and other counties.

Northwestern Missouri, including what was afterwards known as the "Platte Purchase" had been seen by the emigrant.  Favrable reports had been made of its great beauty, its rich prairies, its fertile valleys, its bountiful supply of timber, and of its perennial springs and numerous water courses.

A few families from Franklin County, Missouri, consisting of Thomas and Henry Sollers, Elisha Gladden, Jane Purget and a few others, ventured hither between 1834 and 1836 and located near the post. One of these pioneers who came in 1834, was immediately employed by Mr. Robidoux.

Robidoux Home

The only building that stood upon the present town site of St. Joseph, at that time, was the log house of Joseph Robidoux.  It occupied the spot where the Occidental Hotel now stands- on the northwest corner of Jule and Second Streets, and was building of considerable magnitude.  It stood east and west, was a story and a half high, and contained nine rooms, three of which were above and six below.  A covered porch was built on the south side, extending the entire length of the building.  On the north side was a shed, divided into three rooms.  The west room of this shed was used by Mr. Robidoux as his sleeping apartment.  His store room was the middle room of the main building , the entrance to which was through a door at the east end, first passing through an outer room to reach it.

He had in his employ at the time, fifteen or twenty men who were French.  These men were regulary sent east on mules toward Grand River, or west beyond the Missouri, for the purpose of trading with the Indians and bringing in furs.

He owned an old colored servant who not only possessed a French name [Poulite] but who could speak the French tongue, having been raised among that nationality in St. Louis.  This old man attended to the culinary affairs at the post.

Mr. Robidoux operated a private ferry just below Francis Street, for crossing the Indians and those who were in his employ.  The crossing generally was done in canoes, and occasionally in Mackinaw boats.  The road leading from the ferry on the other side of the river led to Highland, Kansas, or to the Indian Mission, which was established after the removal of the indians.  The roads from the ferry on this side, passed below the Patee House, and crossed at Agency Ford, where it divided, one branch of which leading to Liberty, Clay County, and the other in the direction of Grand River.

The next house log), erected at Blacksnake Hill, was built in March 1836, and occupied by Thomas Sollers, east of Pinger's packing house, for Mr. Robidoux, who wished to take up another additional quarter section of land, for about this period he began to think that Blacksnake Hills would develop into something greater than a mere trading post, for the convenience of the non progressive and half civilized Indian.  No other improvements of a special character were made until the following year.  The small colony remained in statu que, enduring the hardships and privations incident to pioneer life, but looking forward to the speed dawn of a brighter day. 



Source: History of Buchanan County, Missouri, containing a history of the county, its cities, towns, etc., Union Historical Company, 1881


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