Fort Orleans (1723-1726) – Also called Fort D’Orleans, this was a French fort — the first built by any European country on the Missouri River and the first settlement in what is the State of Missouri today.
It was established in November 1723 by Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont and 40 French soldiers on the Missouri River, near the mouth of the Grand River, but its exact location is unknown. The fort was to be the Missouri River headquarters of the newly created Louisiana (New France) territory and was named for the Duke of Orléans. When complete, the post included a chapel, the first Catholic church in the Missouri Valley.
De Bourgmond, a friend to many Indian tribes and author of the first navigation report on the Missouri River in 1714, was chosen to build the fort by a French trading concern, The Company of the Indies. The fort was to serve as a check to any advance by the Spanish from the southwest and as a base for New Mexican and Indian trade. Bourgmond was later made Commandant on the Missouri River and was in charge of making peace with the Comanche Indians. n 1724, De Bourgmond traveled to Kansas via the Kansas River to the southwest, where he fulfilled his commission to make peace with the Comanche tribe, as well as the Osage, Iowa, Pawnee, Oto, and Makah tribes.
In 1725 he returned to France taking several Indian chiefs and a young Missouri maiden along for a visit. The whole party delighted the French who called the girl “Princess of the Missouri,” saw her baptized in Notre Dame, and married to a sergeant. De Bourgmond was made a noble and had for his coat of arms an Indian against a silver mountain. Bourgmond did not accompany the chiefs back to Missouri, instead choosing to stay at his home in Normandy. The following year, the fort was abandoned. One story says that it was left manned by only eight soldiers, who were killed by Indians.
The exact location of the fort is unknown; however, a marker is located on US Highway 24 in the Wiese Roadside Park about one mile northeast of De Witt, Missouri.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated January 2018.