"Camped at the mouth of a Creek called river a Chauritte, above a Small french Village of 7 houses and as many families... The people at this Village is pore, houses Small, they Sent us milk & eggs to eat."
William Clark, May 25, 1804
On May 25, 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped near Marthasville at the westernmost Euro-American community of La Charrette, which was situated approximately one mile south and slightly west of this location. On that day, the corps made a relatively easy 10 miles and camped at the mouth of La Charrette Creek. There the expedition encountered La Charrette, the "Last Settlement of Whites" according to William Clark's journal.
La Charrette was a small community that apparently came into existence before 1800, perhaps around the same time a small Spanish fort, or garrison, called San Juan del Misuri, was possibly established in 1796. (La Charrette was sometimes referred to as St. John after this fort, and a nearby river island was known as St. John's Island; St. Johns Creek across the river still bears the name.) Virtually nothing is known regarding this fort; it may have been planned but never built or it may have existed for only a short time. Clark described the settlement of La Charrette as "a Small french Village of 7 houses and as many families, Settled at this place to be convt. [convienent] to hunt, & trade with the Indians." The inhabitants, though impoverished, were friendly and provided the expedition with milk and eggs.
Soon after reaching La Charrette, the expedition met a boat that had just arrived from upriver. On board was a fur trader, Regis Loisel, who had spent the previous winter at his trading post near the Teton Sioux Indian tribe. This encounter with Loisel was of specal importance because President Thomas Jefferson considered meeting the Sioux a crucial part of the expedition's mission. Captains Meriwether Lewis and Clark gathered "a good Deel of information" from Loisel that evening. Loisel also provided "letters," according to Clark. Perhaps these were letters of introduction to Loisel's trading partners, Pierre-Antoine Tabeau and Hugh Heney, who were still upriver. Lewis and Clark were later to encounter both men.
Missouri River Traders
At least a decade before the voyage of the Corps of Discovery, French traders had gone up the Missouri River as far as the Mandan villages, 1,600 miles from the mouth, in search of valuable furs. Lewis and Clark relied heavily on traders' maps and information during the 1804 season as they traveled upriver. Regis Loisel was an experienced and articulate trader who was returning from his third voyage upriver. This Montreal-born trader proved a valuable informant who likely provided intelligence about the Indian tribes they might encounter after they passed the Platte River and entered Indian country. He told them they would see no Indians on the river below the Ponca nation.
Loisel had established a trading post around 1800 on Cedar Island, 1,200 miles up the Missouri River, and traded with the powerful Teton Sioux. Loisel had spent a harrowing winter there. The Tetons had harassed him, confiscated his goods and even threatened his life. For the past 10 years, the Teton Sioux had blockaded the river against traders intending to trade with Arikara and Mandan Indian tribes who were above them on the river. President Jefferson had hoped to win over the Teton Sioux and break down trade obstacles. If this was not possible, however, the captains were willing to resort to force to keep "proceeding on." They may well have had the Teton Sioux in mind when they augmented their force to more than 40 men and mounted guns on the keelboat and two pirogues.