Ancestors

Today I’m in St. Louis where my forebear Henri Chatillon carved out a life in the 1800s as a scout, most notably to Francis Parkman, who wrote the best–seller, The Oregon Trail. Chatillon is described lovingly by Parkman as courtly, honest and brave, and also told stories about Chatillon’s Oglala wife Bear Robe and her father, Chief Bull Bear.

Ancestors Henri and Bear Robe

Bear Robe died while Chatillon scouted for Parkman, and Henri decided that their children should be raised by Lakota family members. Later, Chatillon brought home (to St. Louis) daughter Emilie, who married an Osage, Benjamin Lessert.

My ancestors aligned with the Osage, which is why my side of the Chatillon family is from Oklahoma (where the Osage were relocated) and why I am enrolled with the Wah-Zha-Zhe people.

St. Louis is home to an ancestral mansion saved from bulldozing when a freeway threatened its razing. Fortunately steady heads prevailed and the building, called the Chatillon-DeMenil House, has been saved and is open to visitors.

Henri married, and he and Odile Del Lux built the St. Louis home in about 1842, and I learned from my visit that the house was later sold to the DeMenil family, well-known in St. Louis, who added an addition to the house that wraps around the section that overlooks downtown. That explains why the current structure retains the Chatillon name, in no small part to the role that Henri played in Parkman’s Oregon journey.

I was invited to meet with the staff, volunteers and board members during my visit, and thanks to the generosity of Mary Stiritz, learned where I could find more family history. One amazing discovery occurred when workers found buried in the attic rafters a canvas that had been preserved for more than 100 years, most likely by Henri Chatillon.

The canvas, now on display at the Chatillon-DeMenil House, reveals a portrait of Bear Robe and Henri. Researchers think that the painting memorializes Bear Robe’s passing because it illustrates her image, along with her beloved pony, moving into the spirit world.

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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. She is enrolled with the Osage tribe.
This entry was posted in authenticity, Francis Parkman, Henri Chatillion, Indian, Lakota, Osage and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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