The House of Chouteau
THE RURAL FARM and the company of her stepmother would not long hold the interest of the young doctor’s wife, particularly after she had spent two years in the social isolation of a remote army post. Mistress Irene must have turned her attention to the dazzling St. Louis social life. In the same way that her brother had introduced his sisters into society,1 the Sanford name now opened doors, and Mistress Irene could take advantage of this connection during her sojourn without her husband. (Indeed, her husband would later use these social connections to try to keep his job.) Brother John was extremely prominent in the city, and Irene was now respectably married. Among women of her class, visiting, gossiping, and entertaining were the order of the day.2 Among those she would visit were her brother’s in-laws, the Chouteaus, who knew her before her marriage.3
Dred probably drove her in the buggy to the Chouteaus’ grand home in town. It made a good impression to use a driver, especially if he was neatly attired.4 Dred had no reason to know the house personally, although the Chouteau mansion was renowned throughout the city. Dred had been brought west by Virginia immigrants and the French aristocrats were a separate society. This was probably his first approach to the door of the fine house of Chouteau but, given the way things turned out, one that he would surely remember.
Driving through the city’s dirt streets, Dred could observe more closely how the city had changed during his seven years in the North. There were still quaint, wooden houses that resembled shabby, French colony architecture, but the downtown street names were no longer French; the streets had been renamed for numbers and trees.5 Mass was still said in French because the Chouteaus liked it that way, and they underwrote the debt on the large new cathedral—although the new Catholic immigrants were German, Irish, and Italian and did not understand French.6
The Chouteaus had built a new mansion at the corner of Seventh and Market. While Mistress Irene visited, Dred would have had some free time as he waited