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The Battle of St. Louis

May 25, 1780 at St. Louis, Missouri

Spanish Forces Commanded by
Spanish settlers
Strength Killed Wounded Missing / Captured
202 15 6 37
British Forces Commanded by
Strength Killed Wounded Missing / Captured
900-1,200 4 4 ?
Conclusion: Spanish Victory

East of St. Louis, 300 Indians went with pro-British Frenchman, Jean Marie Ducharme (was a former St. Louisan) to attack Cahokia, while rest of command went with Hesse to attack St. Louis. Crossing north of the city, Hesse's forces encountered two unfortunate St. Louisans (at present day Fairgrounds Park). One man was killed and other captured. Many St. Louisans were out picking strawberries when the Indians caught them. Reports of the number killed outside the city's gates varying significantly from a few dozen to forty or more. Among the killed was Jean Marie Cardinal who was an early trader and explorer of the Mississippi. He and his Pawnee Indian wife, Careche-Caranche had seven children. (Cardinal Avenue in St. Louis is named for him not the Baseball Cardinals).

At least one American was also killed in the fields. He was with a Frenchman by the name of Chancellor and his family, riding a horse drawn cart. Chancellor was hit twice by a musketball in his arm, his wife was shot through her hand. The American (name unknown) was shot dead while an elder daughter was hit in the shoulder. Another daughter received a wound to the head. To prevent the Indians from getting the American's scalp, Chancellor hurried the horses through the city gates.

Another lucky survivor was Julian Roy. He had gone to the fields armed with a pistol. First trying to outrun the Indians, Roy realized that one was nearly upon him. Using his pistol he fired and shot the Indian in the jaw. Not seeing anyway to escape the onrush of the enemy, Roy cleverly assisted the wounded Indian and winning his appreciation which spared his life.

One woman defender, carrying a pistol and knife, made several rescue trips from the city gate to help those trying to get to safety. This was the young school teacher, Marie Josepha Rigauche.

For defense, the city had fortifications that extended over a mile. The militia numbered approximately 168 men, augmented with 34 Spanish regulars and the militia of Ste. Genevieve. Without the artillery, this force would not have been able to withstand the overwhelming enemy force. A stone tower located near Fourth and Walnut Streets had three four-pounders and 2 six pounder cannons. From this artillery loaded with grapeshot commanded the fields immediately surrounding the fort. It was so successful that upon the first volley, the Sac and Fox warriors left the field. According to Leyba, the Winnebagoes rushed like "madmen, with unbelievable boldness and fury, making terrible cries and a terrible fury." The Sioux commanded by Chief Wabasha tried to lure the militia out into the field. The British, including Hesse, remained out of range for combat, apparently knowing that it would be suicide to charge artillery.

Following the battle, Hesse's forces withdrew but not without capturing and killing area residents, in addition to farm animals as they came upon them. Along the Mississippi upstream, a party of 46 whites was captured. No accurate reports of enemy casualties exist. The British reported they lost four Indians killed and four wounded. This was probably an understatement, especially since their operation was a failure. Ducharme's attack on Cahokia was also defeated. George Roger Clark's Virginians along with artillery scared off the Indian attackers.

In addition to Ducharme, Joseph Calve, was another St. Louis Frenchmen that betrayed his native land in favor of the British. He is the one credited to convincing the Sauk/Fox tribe in sending warriors for the attack on St. Louis. The Sauk Fox nation redeemed itself on Feb 12, 1781, when it joined the St. Louis counterattack on the British supply depot at the fort at St. Joseph (Michigan). This was a 600 mile journey during winter that consisted of sixty volunteers from the St. Louis militia, led by Capt. Eugene Poure. They were combined with sixty Pottawatomie, Sauk and Fox Indians. Taking the British by total surprise, the tiny army from St. Louis was victorious. After this raid, St. Louis received much attention back in Spain, since the Spanish flag was raised above St. Joseph, proclaiming all the land below Lake Michigan belonging to "His Most Catholic Majesty the King of Spain." Never again was St. Louis threatened by foreign attack and the valley of the Illinois river became claimed by Spain in 1783.

The Enemy Forces:

  • Departed Prarie du Chien on May 2, 1780
  • Commanded by British officer,. Emanuel Hesse.
  • Small contingent of British (Canadians)
  • 200 Santee Sioux, Commanded by Chief Wabasha
  • "Party of Chippewas", Commanded by Chief Matchekewis
  • "Large contingent of Winnebagoes and Menominees"
  • 250 Sauk and Fox warriors
  • Other warriors from a "half dozen other tribes."
  • Total numbered anywhere from 900 to 1200 men, depending on sources.

Report by Martin Navarro sent to Senor Don Joseph De Galvez, August 18, 1780
[Translated from Spanish records at General Archives of the Indies--Seville--Original documents from Cuba.]

The king upon information received, has deigned to confer the of lieutenant colonel upon Captain Leyba, and of captain Lieutenant Cartabona as a reward for an action which merits this sovereign gratitude; and the king desires that from this letter a notice be prepared for the Gattette, February 5, 1781. Done February ninth of the said year.

Your Excellency: While we were under the belief that the English had been falsely charged with the atrocites committed in North America upon persons of all classes in that continent by the hands of the various savage tribes who followed their banners, there was given a most amazing proof of the facts by Captain Esse [Captain Hesse] at the head of three hundred regular troops and nine hundred savages which left not the least doubt that this nation, having forgotten how to make war according to the system practiced in Europe, does not desire to be false in America to the title with which an author of ability has characterized it. Captain Don Fernando de Leyba of the infantry regiment of Luisiana was commandant at the post of San Luis de Ylinoises; and having received information that a body of one thousand two hundred men composed partly of savages and partly of troops, was being drawn up for an attack upon the town under the orders of Captain Esse, he fortified it as well as its open situation permitted.

He built, at the expense of the inhabitants, a wooden tower at one of the ends of the town, overlooking it, and placed therein five cannon. In addition to these he had some cannon with which he defended the two intrenchments that he threw up at the other two extreme points. These were manned by twenty-nine veteran soldiers and two hundred and eighty-one countrymen.

The enemy arrived May twenty-sixth, at one o'clock in the afternoon, and began the attack upon the post from the north side, expecting to meet no opposition; but they found themselves unexpectedly repulsed by the militia which guarded it. A vigorous fire was kept up on both sides, so that by the service done by the cannon on the tower where the aforesaid commander was, the defenders at least succeeded in keeping off a band of villains who, if they had not opportunely been met by this bold opposition on our part, would not have left a trace of our settlements. There were also to be heard the confusion and the lamentatable cries of the women and children who had been shut up in the house of the commandant, defended by twenty men under the lieutenant of infantry, Don Francisco Cartabona; the dolorous echoes of which seemed to inspire in the besieged an extraordinary valor and spirit, for they urgently demanded to he permitted to make a sally. The enemy at last, seeing that their force was useless against such resistance, scattered about over the country, where they found several farmers, who, with their slaves, were occupied in the labors of the field. If these hungry wolves had contented themselves with destroying the crops, if they had killed all the cattle which they could not take with them, this act would have heen looked upon as a consequence of the war, but when the learned world [mundo filosafico] shall know that this desperate band slaked their thirst in the blood of innocent victims, and sacrificed to their fury all whom they found, cruelly destroying them and committing the greatest atrocites upon some poor people who had not other arms than those of the good faith in which they lived, the English nation, from now on, may add to its glorious conquests in the present war that of having barbarously inflicted by the hands of the base instruments of cruelty, the most bitter torments which tyranny has invented.

The number of dead, wounded, and prisoners is detailed in the report, and information is constantly looked for as to the end of the prisoners, which believed to be as unfortunate as that of their companions, perhaps more so. This information is sent Your Excellency for your guidance. I shall take care to report to Your Excellency any news henceforth, of this post but also of all others in the colony.

Our Lord preserve the valuable life of Your Excellency.

Nueva Orleans, August 18, 1780.

His Excellency, your most obedient servant kisses Your Excellency's hand.


His Excellency Senor Don Joseph de Galvez.

General Statement

  • Whites: Dead (15), Wounded (6), Prisoners (57)
  • Slaves: Dead (7),
    Wounded (1),
    Prisoners (13)

Governor Galvez's Reply

The King has been greatly pleased at the vigorous defense made by Don Fernando de Leyba and Lieutenant Don Francisco Cartabona in repulsing the English Captain Esse, who intended to surprise them and dislodge them from the post of San Luis deYlinoeses and in proof of his sovereign gratitude he has decided to confer upon the first the rank of lieutenant-colonel and on the second that of captain, commissions for whom I enclose to Your Lordship that you may arrange to communicate them to the interested parties. His Majesty was unable to look with less grief upon the unhappy lot which those innocents suffered who had the misfortune to be victims of the ferocity of an officer so deeply dyed with inhumanity. I enclose to Your Lordship for comparison herewith a letter of the Intendant, Don Martin Navarro, dated August 18th last.

God protect Your Lordship many years.

February 3, 1781.

Joseph De Galvez.

His Lordship the governor of Luisiana.

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