ST. LOUIS – Did you know that there’s a unique type of French exclusively found in eastern Missouri? It’s called “Missouri French,” and it’s one of the dialects of the language that developed in the United States.
Missouri French, also known as “pawpaw” French, named after a local fruit tree, is native to the upper Mississippi River region in the Midwest, spanning Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. Speakers of Missouri French may be descendants of Louisiana French settlers who migrated to Missouri and Illinois.
The first wave of French speakers arrived in the 1730s, establishing Ste. Genevieve as one of the earliest settlements. It became the first French community west of the Mississippi River. The United States acquired the territory that would later become the state of Missouri through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Over the years, several cities in Missouri, including St. Louis, Kansas City, and St. Joseph, were established on the strong foundations of these early French communities.
Today, there are only a few remaining French speakers, but Old Mines, Missouri, celebrated its 300-year anniversary by preserving some French traditions. Old Mines has held onto its French heritage, and some residents still speak the language.
Though it has waned in prominence, it’s a fascinating aspect of Missouri’s history, with some residents still embracing their heritage.