Once every so many years, I travel to the eastern side of the country to visit family. One thing I always enjoy is the Revolutionary War sites, which is something we don’t see around these parts.

Columnist's Note: I wrote this awhile back, but as this is Independence Day week, it seemed appropriate.

Once every so many years, I travel to the eastern side of the country to visit family. One thing I always enjoy is the Revolutionary War sites, which is something we don’t see around these parts.
Our corner of what became Missouri was a virtual wilderness at that time, unseen by most white men and controlled by the then-powerful and warlike Osage people.
The land that would become Missouri however, did not remain entirely bloodless. In fact, an American Revolution battle was fought on her very soil.
The Battle of St. Louis took place May 26, 1780. It pitted warriors from British-allied Native American tribes against local militia led by a Spanish commander.
At the time, the settlement of St. Louis, though established by the French, was under Spanish control, having been ceded by France in 1763. Spain entered the Revolutionary War on the side of the Americans and against their old enemy, Great Britain, in 1779.
The lieutenant governor of Spanish Louisiana, Don Fernando de Leyba, received a tip in March 1780 that the British were planning an attack on the small town of St. Louis, which was a trading hub on the Mississippi River and the administrative capital of Upper Spanish Louisiana. He began building up defenses, including the construction of a stone tower 30 to 40 feet tall and 30 feet in diameter.
He wanted four such towers, but only had time and the funds to build one, using strictly local donations and labor. The lone tower was named Fort San Carlos. Trenches were dug between the Mississippi River and both sides of the tower to protect the settlement of St. Louis behind it.
De Leyba’s military force consisted of 29 regular Spanish troops and less than 170 local militia scattered around the countryside. He later was reinforced by about 150 men from Ste. Genevieve.
Meanwhile, the English were stirring up their old Indian trading partners. They asked their fur traders to recruit tribes for an expedition against St. Louis in return for a chance at control of the upper Spanish Louisiana fur trade.
Spanish Louisiana included parts or all of the modern states of Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Thus, the British fur traders stood to gain some significant wealth.
What was in it for the Indians? Control of more territory. The tribes that came on board included warrior elements of the Sioux, Chippewa, Winnebago, Fox, Sac, Ottawa, Mascouten, Kickapoo and Potawatomi.
All told, the Native American and English fur trader force numbered as high as 1,500. They were placed under the command of a former English militia captain-turned-fur trader, Emanuel Hesse.
The mostly Native American force approached St. Louis on the afternoon of May 26, 1780 and instantly were spotted from the tower of Fort San Carlos, which commanded a view of the countryside between the defenses and the Mississippi River. A warning shot was fired from the tower.
The Indian forces, led by the Sioux and the Winnebagos, charged the defenses. At the first volley, the Sac and Fox warriors, who had been reluctant to join the expedition, fell back and refused to fight, which led to much criticism later by their Indian brethren.
The alliance of Native American forces was rather shaky to begin with because some of the tribes, such as the Sioux and the Chippewa, had been enemies before.
The tribes, the Sioux in particular, attempted for several hours to draw the defenders out of the safety of the tower and trenches, even going so far as to kill civilian captives – some of whom no doubt were family members of the militiamen – in full view of the defenses. However, de Leyba wisely kept his men in check and didn’t allow them to leave their defenses to attack in the open, where they would be outnumbered and could be overwhelmed or surrounded.
In the end, the British-led Indian force withdrew from St. Louis, but ravaged the countryside to the north and across the Mississippi River. At that time, St. Louis had a population of only about 700. The defender casualties numbered between 50 and 100, almost all of whom were civilians caught outside the trenchworks. The British and Indians, meanwhile, only had about four killed and four wounded.
Nevertheless, the attackers were repelled, and the Battle of St. Louis ended up a British defeat, which could only help the American cause.
Today, the tower of Fort San Carlos is no more. Where it stood is at the corner of Fourth and Walnut streets, within sight of the St. Louis Arch. A mural and a diorama in the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City depict the battle.
So if anyone ever tells you Missouri has no Revolutionary War history, you can tell them that’s not true, even if there is nothing left to show of it.

Wes Franklin writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.