Louis Lorimier as depicted on the downtown floodwall mural
It's a curious coincidence that the two most important people in Cape Girardeau city history -- Louis Lorimier and Louis Houck -- share the same first name. The first Louis founded the city; the second Louis saved the city from economic oblivion. This sounds like it could be the basis for a rock song.
The two men never met. Lorimier died on June 26, 1812, well before Houck's birth in 1840. As a historian, Houck spent considerable effort studying the life of Lorimier, although -- just as modern researchers have found -- Lorimier's life is full of sketchy details and unanswered questions.
On June 26, 1912, the hundredth anniversary of Lorimier's death, Houck presided over a commemoration ceremony honoring the city founder at his grave at Old Lorimier Cemetery. Houck then presented a lengthy speech at the Common Pleas Courthouse.
Unfortunately, I don't think the city has a third prominent Louis who can preside over this year's bicentennial of Lorimier's death. Nevertheless, a special event will be held Sunday, June 24, at Old Lorimier Cemetery to honor Lorimier as well as other historical figures buried at the city's oldest graveyard. Just like the 1912 centennial commemoration, the 2012 bicentennial event will take place at 4 PM. The event is free and open to the public.
I've tracked down the story in the Daily Republican newspaper which describes the 1912 centennial ceremonies. The same issue also featured the entire paper presented by Houck on that day. Sadly, portions of the scanned microfilm are difficult or impossible to read, including the last several paragraphs. Still, the newspaper tells the story in a language that is far more flowery than I could ever muster:
CAPE GIRARDEAU REMEMBERED LORIMIER
LARGE AUDIENCE ATTENDED EXERCISES ON HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH
The hundreth anniversary of the death of Don Louis Lorimier was observed by the patriotic people of Cape Girardeau, Wednesday afternoon and evening, by appropriate ceremonies.
The Daughters of the American Revolution had charge of the exercises, which consisted of the decoration of the graves of Lorimier and his wife in the afternoon and of a program at the court house in the evening.
At the graves, in the old historic cemetery, overlooking the town, a large number of Cape Girardeans gathered at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, bringing flowers with which to decorate the graves of the city's founder and of his Indian wife.
Little Helen Lorimier Uhl, whose mother is a Lorimier of the fifth generation, placed the flowers on the graves, after appropriate remarks by Mrs. L.B. Houck, regent of Nancy Hunter chapters, Daughters of the American Revolution.
It was an informal sort of ceremony but a beautiful and impressive one, showing that a hundred years after his death the founder of the city was not forgotten, and that the people of the new Cape Girardeau are grateful for the benefactions of the man who left them so valuable a heritage.
It had been the intention to hold the evening exercises under the trees in the beautiful park given to the city by Lorimier but unfavorable weather prevented this so a move was made into the big court room of the common pleas court.
The Normal school military band furnished several selections. Miss Mable Flint of the Normal school of music sang Mendelssohn's "Sleep Brave Heart," Miss Evalyn Chenue sang a beautiful selection and Mr. Louis Houck, the historian, gave a splendid paper on the life and character of Don Louis Lorimier.
The big court room was filled by those citizens who are interested in such matters as pertain to the better phases of life, and who are patriotically inclined, and their attendance indicated that there are many Cape Girardeans who have not lost sight of the debt we owe to the man who founded our city.
Not much is known of the life of Louis Lorimier, but all that is known was told by Mr. Houck in his paper, which is given in full in another column, and this paper should be preserved by all loyal Cape Girardeans, and it should become a textbook for the pupils in our schools.
Mrs. L.B. Houck, regent of Nancy Hunter chapter, D.A.R., explained to the audience the hopes entertained by the chapter for the erection of a suitable monument to the memory of Lorimier, a movement for which purpose the members of the chapter now have on hand.
The observance of the hundredth anniversary of Lorimier's death has awakened an interested in the plan for the erection of a monument to his memory and the D.A.R. members renew their efforts with greater hopes of success.
DON LOUIS LORIMIER, THE FOUNDER OF CAPE GIRARDEAU
Paper Read by Louis Houck, June 26, 1912, on the Hundredth Anniversary of Lorimier's Death
After all, how short a span of time is a century.
It is an invisible atom in eternity of time. Yes, less than an atom, a passing thought.
For this reason, a memorial meeting to honor Louis Lorimier, the founder of our city, after he has gone to his long rest this day one hundred years ago, is not altogether out of place.
As we look backward, the time since he was buried in the old graveyard overlooking the river, seems like a day.
It is only when we contemplate the changes that have taken place here and in our country, that we fully realize how long it is since he died.
When Lorimier died we had no daily newspaper to record every detail of his adventurous life, no camera to instantaneously preserve for us a correct picture of his form, his figure, his features, or a phonograph capable of transmitting to future time the very sound of his voice.
Although he was an important personage, not only here but in the great Indian country along Lake Erie, we are compelled to rely for the details of his life on such scanty facts as have escaped oblivion by accident. No one, when he died, took the trouble to preserve for us in writing any incident of his varied and adventurous life. Everybody knew all about it then, and that was deemed enough. Why preserve a chronicle of events that everybody knew, white settlers as well as the Indians? We may be certain that all of prominent settlers of that early time attended his funeral, as well as his Indian relatives. A son of a brother of Lorimier named Ini-Oi-Pi-Ai-Chi-Ca, and Leno-Wa-Ka-Mi-Chi-Ca, a wife of his brother, we may be sure came down from the Big Shawnee village on Apple Creek to attend his funeral, and so also Kau-Ai-Pi-Chi-Ca, a sister of his wife. It is also certain that many of the Indians were assembled around his grave at that time. They all knew of the events of his eventful career. And no doubt a modern reporter, if he could now interview those who attended his funeral at that time, would find much to interest the readers of today. But no one was then present, or took an interested to record the events of an eventful career, and so the great and salient incidents of his life were allowed to be forgotten. We just know enough to feel that his life was a stirring romance, sometimes dull, sometimes laughable, sometimes adventurous, sometimes heroic and more often tragic.
An Adventurous Life.
Lorimier's life from the day of his birth until the day of his death at Cape Girardeau (also called by him Lorimont) was not a dull life, but a life of adventure, of exploits, of hardships, of self-denial, of enterprise and of achievements.
His life naturally divided itself into two parts, that is to say, his life East and his life West of the Mississippi.
Born at Lachine, on the Island of Montreal, and on the banks of the St. Lawrence, he naturally from earliest infancy, became interested in the Indian trade, and in his maturer age engaged in that trade. The Indian trade was the great business of that time. The Lorimier family seems to have been identified with this trade from a very early period. His ancestor was Guillaume Lorimier, a native of Paris, who arrived in Quebec, Canada, in 1695 and died in Montreal in 17?5, was engaged in that trade. He was a captain in the French service. He commanded some of the French forts of the St. Lawrence, and following that river finally reached the Island of Montreal, and where, as stated he died. It is certain one of his descendants, the father of Louis Lorimier, settled at Lachine, and during the French occupancy of Canada, traded with the Miami Indians then living in Ohio.
During the French and Indian War a Lorimier, undoubtedly the father of our Louis Lorimier, under the command of St. [?] de la Corne, was in command of the Miami Indians at the capture of Fort William-Henry. Montcalm was in command of the French forces on that occasion. The Fort was surrendered to the French in 1765 and Louis Lorimier, at the time thirteen years of age [several lines unreadable]... No doubt like other boys he noted many things that were new and curious to him. The camp equipment, tents, discipline and order of a regular army.
Although he never enjoyed the benefit of what we now consider an education, for he never attended school, could not read, and wrote only his name, he received a practical education in the woods and prairies, on the rivers and lakes. Indians were the companions of his youth, and with them, he roamed through the land when not hat his trading post in the wilderness. His education was essentially a military education, an education of war, and General Collat, who visited him at his post in Cape Girardeau in 1796 says that he had a military education.
After the surrender of Canada to the English in 1769, Lorimier's father was still engaged in the Indian trade at the portage of the two Miamis, at a place called Pickawillany. This trading post was also known as Lorimier's station or "The Frenchman's Store." A creek or branch of a river in that locality in Ohio, to this day bears his name. He and his father traded here with the Miamis, Shawnees, Delawares, and other Indians. We have no record of when his father died.
Was a Tory.
During the Revolutionary war, Lorimier himself sided with the English. He was a violent tory. From his station were sent out many of the Indian forays against the American settlements of the Western Pennsylvania and Kentucky. At that time Lorimier Station was well known both in Europe and America, and we have reason to believe that Lorimier himself was not an idle looker on in that eventful and exciting period. He was a natural leader among the Indians, a master of their language. His wife was the daughter of a Shawnee chief. He was no doubt adopted by them, and a chief among them. It would be interesting to know his Indian name.
His influence among the Shawnees and Delawares was unbounded in 1778, during the Revolutionary War, at the head of a band of forty Shawnees and Miamis, he made a raid on Boonsborough in Kentucky, captured Daniel Boone, and carried him and his family to Chillicothe, then the principle Shawnee and Miami village north of the Ohio. In this expedition he was accompanied by another Frenchman named St. Aubin.
After the independence of the United Colonies were recognized, his activity did not cease. The Indians were not satisfied. The British loyalists were all disappointed. The Indians would not recognize the authority of the new federal government, nor concede the right of this government to intervene with their lands, or acknowledge its territorial jurisdiction. The British traders remained at their posts in Northwestern Ohio, Lorimier among them. The British refusal to vacate Detroit on one pretense of another, and thus the Indians were encouraged to resist. English officers surreptitiously fomented trouble. An Indian war resulted. The English supplied arms and ammunition. During all this time, Lorimier's Station or "The Frenchman's Store" was a center of activity. The overwhelming defeat of St. Clair by the Indians followed. The Shawnees, Delawares and other Indians invaded the white settlements and killed white settlers along the banks of the Ohio in Kentucky. Finally the Kentuckians organized an expedition, invaded the Indian country and destroyed the Frenchman's Store, and Lorimier had to flee for his life.
He established another trading post further west known as "Lorimier's Encampment," but afterwards was driven out by the army of Anthony Wayne and this encampment destroyed. During all this time, Lorimier we can well imagine, played no inconsiderable part in the counsels of the Indians. But the Indians were finally subdue and Lorimier retired with a part of them to the Wabash, secured new goods from an American fur trading concern known as the Miami Company, and after a year or so of unprofitable trade on the Wabash, ruined financially, with a band of Shawnees and Delawares moves across the Mississippi, in about 1786 into Upper Louisiana. This in short is an outline of his life on the east side of the Mississippi so far as can be traced.
In the New Empire.
He settled on the west side of the Mississippi by permission of the Spanish government. He at first established himself on the Saline six or seven miles west of the present town of St. Mary's, at a place still called the Big Shawnee Spring. Here he had a trading post in partnership with Henry Peyroux, who at that time was Commandant of Ste. Genevieve. He also acted as interpreter for the Spanish government.
[Some lines unreadable] ...many of these Indians, overwhelmed and cowed as they had been by the American forces, were anxious to leave the country. On the other hand the Spaniards were just as anxious for these Indians to settle on the west side of the river in order to protect the Spanish settlement against the Osage Indians. The Osages were less civilized than the Indians on the east side of the river. Up to that time they had had but little intercourse with white men and were more barbarous than the Indians east of the Mississippi because the Shawnees, Delawares, Miamis, and Loups had traded and trafficked with the white men and settlers for over one hundred years.
In order to secure a settlement of these Shawnees and Delawares the Spanish government made them a grant of land extending from Apple Creek to the St. Francois and further west, embracing several hundred thousand acres of land. Lorimier thus became a trusted Spanish Agent of Indian affairs. As such he was frequently called to St. Louis to act as advisor and interpreter. He remained at Big Shawnee Springs until these Indians were well settled at Apple Creek, and then finally moved to the present site of Cape Girardeau in about 1792.
His influence among the Indians was found to be so very useful to the Spanish government that the Spanish officials realized the importance of securing him an independent trading post. All the Spanish post commandants were engaged in trade more or less, and of course Lorimier could not successfully manage his Indians in a district the trade of which was claimed by another district commandant.
Geographical Boundary Disputes.
At that time the boundaries of the Ste. Genevieve district extended as far south as Apple Creek and the New Madrid district extended north to Apple Creek, and the Indian trade of this territory was claimed by these commandants of the districts, so when Lorimier first established himself at Cape Girardeau, in the New Madrid district, he interfered with the trade claimed by the commandant of New Madrid, and this caused some friction. Lorimier, however, traded on the St. Francois, White and Arkansas rivers under some kind of license, and finally in 1793 secured a concession from Carondelet to establish himself where Cape Girardeau is now located, and was made commandant of a new district.
This location was at the time also claimed by Gabriol Cerre, one of the great Indian traders of that time, and after Carondelet had granted the land here to Lorimier, Cerre made a claim for and his cause was laid before Gayoso, the governor-general of Louisiana, but decided in favor of Lorimier because of the great service Lorimier had rendered to the Spanish government, and Cerre was promised compensation elsewhere. However, Thomas Portelle, commandant of New Madrid at the time was Lorimier first established himself at Cape Girardeau, came in conflict with him as to his jurisdiction in what is now Scott and Mississippi counties.
Peyroux, who succeeded Portelle in New Madrid, also objected to land grants made by Lorimier to settlers on the St. Francois, but in the end the boundary line between Cape Girardeau and New Madrid districts was established by Casa Calvo about five miles below the present town of Commerce and running west indefinitely, and Soulard was ordered to survey the west of the St. Francois river, but the district extended far beyond, even to the Rocky Mountains. Lorimier was ceded by Carondelet a grant of a league square here, about 6000 acres, where the city of Cape Girardeau is now located, and this grant was afterwards confirmed by the United States. All of the Indian trade from Cape Girardeau southwest to White river and the Arkansas was also granted to him.
His Services Appreciated.
These great favors were shown to Lorimier principally on account of his invaluable service... 1794 when Upper Louisiana was threatened by an invasion of American filibusters. The Spanish officials of Upper Louisiana then mainly relied on Lorimier and his Indian allies to secure proper information as to possible attacks upon... [several lines unreadable]
From 179[?] until the purchase of the country by the United States, Lorimier devoted himself to the development and upbuilding of the Cape Girardeau District. He became a Spanish subject in 1794 and the oath of loyalty was administered to him by the Lieutenant Governor Trudeau. During this period he carried on a large fur trading business, and in one of his letters, Carondelet complained that he bought too many of his goods from the Americans and cautioned him not to do so. In 1796 the first Americans came to the Cape Girardeau district and settled near his grant, encouraged by Lorimier and his able and talented secretary, Bartholomew Cousins. In 1804, when the country was purchased by the United States, Stoddard remarked that the Cape Girardeau district was inhabited by the most intelligent and progressive farmers on the west side of the river.
In 1803 Lorimier participated with the Cape Girardeau Company in an expedition on to New Madrid. This was the last military demonstration of the Spaniards in Upper Louisians.
No Town Under the Spaniards.
During the Spanish dominion, Lorimier laid out no town here. A few trading houses were located along the river bank, a gunsmith and a blacksmith shop existed, and that is about all. The house of Bartholomew Cousins stood where now is the St. Charles hotel. Lorimier's house stood where is now located the Parochial school, not very far from the the big spring on Fountain street, so named on account of this spring. His house must have been painted red, for it was known as the Red House, and was a stopping place for all the Spanish officials going up and down the river, as well as of many of the American officials who came up the river to go to Kaskaskia. When the United States took possession of Upper Louisiana, no town was established in the Cape Girardeau district anywhere, and in order to secure a seat of justice for the Cape Girardeau district, Lorimier donated the four acres of ground where this courthouse now stands and $200 in labor to erect a court building out of logs.
After the purchase, he was appointed one of the judges of the Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions, but held this position for only a short time. He filled no other office positions afterwards. In 1805 he laid out of the old original town and sold some lots. But when his Spanish title was rejected by the first Board of Commissioners in 1807, no sale of lots could be made and owing to the uncertainty of his title and doubt as to the final outcome, in 1815 the county seat was moved from Cape Girardeau to Jackson, and Jackson became the principal town of the district, and Cape Girardeau a mere landing. It was not until 1820, eight years after Lorimier's death, that it became a settled belief that Lorimier's title and the tital to the other lands similary situated would in the end by confirmed by the United States. But then the time for rapid growth of a town here, with the first wave of American immigrants to the Louisiana territory, had passed. It was not until 1840 that Cape Girardeau emerged from under the cloud cast over the town by the rejection of the Lorimier claims in 1807.
Only a few other facts concerning Lorimier we find in the old records. He evidently had an old-fashioned idea that he ought to pay his debts... [last several paragraphs unreadable]