The first European explorers to wind their way up the Osage Valley were Frenchmen, known as coureurs du bois, or woodsmen. Their goal was not so much to explore, but rather to make contact with Indians in the area and trade for furs. Coureurs du bois traveled in small groups, usually without the sanction of their government, and relied wholly on their wits and skills to see them through ever-present dangers. In 1683, two of these French woodsmen traveled through the lake area and located a band of Osage Indians. This was the first contact between white men and the Osage. The Osages were fascinated by the strange intruders, and called them the "Heavy Eyebrows," in reference to their bearded faces. The names of these two coureurs du bois have been lost over time.
The earliest named French explorer to pass through the lake area was Claude-Charles du TisnÚ (pronounced doo-tin-AY). He led a trading expedition up the Osage River in 1719. He stopped to trade with the Osage Indians and then continued northwestward to the land of the Pawnees. Du TinsÚ described the future lake region as an area of "many mountains of rock, covered with oak groves."
In 1794, Auguste Chouteau, a wealthy and influential fur trader from St. Louis, led a group of French settlers and artisans up the Osage Valley into present-day Vernon County, Missouri. They established a trading post known as Fort Carondelet. At the time, Missouri was under Spanish rule. Fort Carondelet stood for three years; its exact location remains a matter of conjecture.
In 1804, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory, which included the future state of Missouri. In 1805, Lieutenant George Peter led a small party up the Osage Valley and located the Osage villages near the former Fort Carondelet. This was the first American expedition into the area, though its goals were limited. Peter's brief descriptions of the area mirrored those made by du TisnÚ more than eighty years earlier.
In 1806, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike led another American expedition up the Osage Valley. His exploration was the first to survey the course of the river and to bear specific comments on the nature and geography of the area. Pike made five overnight camps along the course of present-day Lake of the Ozarks. Look for Pike's journal entries and expedition notes elsewhere on the Lake Area History Pages.
© 1999-2000 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.