La Fête d'automne 2012 and Missouri French

Yes, you read that right. Missouri has its own French dialect. Sometimes called pawpaw French, descendants of French colonists who journeyed up the Mississippi from the Lower Louisiana territory and down from French Canada in the early 18th century have preserved this language in a region of southeastern Missouri that's centered around the Old Mines area. 
Philippe François Renault arrived in the Old Mines area in 1720. With his miners and slaves, he's considered the founder of the community that would bring with it its French language and Catholic religion. The region was then known as part of the Illinois Country.

I hardly believed this when I first learned about the culture, but it exists. Over the centuries, families were geographically and culturally isolated from the outside world and the American colonization that was going on around them. They came to this region to mine silver and gold, but instead found lead and barite, or "tiff" as the locals call it. While not rolling in wealth, they were able to support their families and establish a settlement. Only a handful of elderly inhabitants still speak the language as native speakers, so if you have a desire to see and hear this distinctly Franco-American heritage, you should do so soon.

Every fall, the Old Mines Area Historical Society (OMAHS) has a fall festival celebrating the region's cultural heritage and language. I couldn't resist discovering more about this area and its quickly disappearing dialect. Alicia was game to tag along, too. She had never seen Ozarks Mountain Country, so the adventure began again.

Reconstructions of colonial French cabins have been built near the St. Joachim Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is still the center of community life in this part of Missouri.
Alicia peeks through a window.

Notice the mud-daubed walls or bousillage. The traditional insulation for French colonists on the frontier.

I'm checking out the woodwork on a log column.

It may be hard to see in this photo, but there are engravings on the doors of this stone bread oven that say "Renault" and "1723".

Three cemeteries sit near St. Joachim Catholic Church. This one was the oldest. The wrought-iron crosses were a practice brought over from Europe.

Gravestone of Étienne LaMarque (1785-1851). He was buried, along with his wife Louise, behind his home which was built in 1818 and is still a private residence today.

I was worried about the weather, but it turned out to be a beautiful day for a fall festival.

Festival-goers try their hand at rope-making.

LEsprit Créole performs on the stage. The sign says, "300 years - We're still here!" in Missouri French.

L'Esprit Créole performs a song in the Missouri French dialect. Near the end of the video, you can hear me talking with a local named Ray Thebeau. He and his wife, Emma have spent their entire lives in the Old Mines area. They were glad to share a few stories from their history. Ray said his grandparents spoke French and lived on less than three dollars a day. After this song was over, Ray went on stage and led a square dance while his wife joined the dancing. 

These ladies were fun to watch. They rushed into action whenever a customer requested a bowl of ham and beans.

Le Magasin campagnard - The Country Store

Traditional Yarn Spinning

A display on the history of Old Mines inside an old schoolhouse.

We had plenty of good food. The croquignoles, or croxiolles in the local dialect, were delicious!

This young girl threw it down on the fiddle! Preserving a culture is done one generation at a time.

I got a picture with Dennis Stroughmatt, the lead singer of L'Esprit Céole. Dennis is preserving the history of French America in his own way, through  music. Learn more about Dennis and L'Esprit Créole here:

A reconstruction of a colonial French home.

Me with Monsieur Beaulne, stage manager/local historian/preservationist/Missouri French speaker and an all-around nice guy.

La Société Historique de la Région de Vieille Mine.

Alicia took this photo on our way home. It's kind of blurry, but you can get an idea of the topography. It's beautiful country. Hope you had a good time discovering La Vieille Mine with us!


  1. Good one, Shared.
    Regards, Keith.

  2. I work for the Independent newspaper in London. Would it be okay if we use a couple of your pictures for a piece about how the French Missouri language is dying out? (Stuart henderson (


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