Visitors Guide to Portage des Sioux, Missouri


    Portage des Sioux
St. Charles County, Missouri
Custom Search

Situated in the southeast corner of St. Charles County along the Mississippi River is the small community of Portage des Sioux. Known human history of the region dates back as far as the Mississippian culture (800 A.D. – 1500 A.D.) as several Cahokia-type mounds have been located within the community. Portage des Sioux is located at a point where the distance between the Missouri and Mississippi is only two miles. The name of the town derives from the fact that Native Americans would carry their canoes across this narrow neck of land saving themselves twenty-five miles of paddling.

In 1799, before the Louisiana Purchase and when Missouri was still governed by the Spanish, Lieutenant Governor Zenon Trudeau encouraged Frances Saucier to establish a settlement at the site. The new town would serve as a new home for the French Creole from east of the Mississippi River not wanting to live under American rule, to provide protection for the area from attacks by the Sauk and Fox tribes, and to counter an American fort being built across the Mississippi near present day Alton.

Relationships with the Native Americans deteriorated during the times leading up to and including the War of 1812 as the tribes sided with the British. Although the Treaty of Ghent ended the war in December of 1814 it wasn’t until July of 1815 that the leaders of the hostile tribes agreed to meet with the Americans to discuss a peace treaty at a great assemblage at Portage des Sioux. The Americans, led in part by the Missouri Territory Governor William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame, gave the assembled tribes $20,000 worth of presents to facilitate negotiations. The tribes, led by Chief Keokuk, ultimately acknowledged American sovereignty of the land on both sides of the Mississippi north of the Missouri and Illinois Rivers. This great treaty gathering, the most important ever held with the tribes of the Mississippi River Valley, marked the beginning of the decline of the tribes influence along the Mississippi.

Flooding on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers had always been a problem in the region, particularly affected small communities in the low lying bottomlands like Portage des Sioux. In 1951 when it appeared that the rising waters appeared that they would engulf the community, the community prayed to Blessed Virgin Mary and gave her the title "Our Lady of the Rivers" for the first time. After two weeks, when the flood finally crested, Portage des Sioux escaped mostly unscathed.

In gratitude, the parish decided to erect a statue on the banks of the river, dedicated to “Our Lady of the Rivers.” Word of the project spread, and contributions came in from all over the United States. In October 1957, ten thousand people attended the dedication of a 25-foot fiberglass statue of Mary mounted on a 20-foot concrete pedestal that sits at the water's edge looking across the Mississippi to the bluffs above Alton, Illinois. An annual tradition, the Blessing of the Fleet, soon followed where hundreds of decorated boats gather from miles around to receive a blessing from the town priest asking for Mary's intercession to protect their vessels from harm.

Foundry Art Centre
St. Charles, MO
Riverlands Environmental
Demonstration Area
August A. Busch
Conservation Area