Come learn about the prominent figures in Cape Girardeau’s history through some of our permanent exhibits!
Around 1793, Pierre-Louis Lorimier, a Canadian-born Frenchman, established a permanent trading post on the Cape Girardeau riverfront, where he built “The Red House,” which also served as his home and the seat of government. He proposed to call his small settlement ‘Lorimont.” However, the site was already known as “Cape Girardeau,” and the name change was not effective.
There are no known images of Lorimier. In 1803, Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, described him as nearly six feet tall, with dark skin, hair and eyes. He had thick, black hair worn pulled back into a queue and fastened with a leather strap. He was married to woman of métis French and Native American ancestry, whom Lewis thought, when young, had been quite handsome. She followed Indian ways and traditions, which was helpful in her husband’s relations with the native populace.
When Pierre-Louis Lorimier died in 1812, he was the area’s leading citizen and is considered to be the founder of the city of Cape Girardeau.
Jean Pierre Girardeau began his military career in New Orleans as a cadet soldat or “gentleman cadet” in France’s Compagnies Franches de la Marine. Documentation of his life is sparse, yet by the mid-1760s he was engaged in fur trade on the Mississippi River and likely had a trading post at present day Cape Girardeau.
Following the British victory in the French and Indian War, Lieutenant Girardeau, known for his “knowledge of Indian affairs” and familiarity with the land, was employed by the British Crown as an interpreter and guide for the Indian Commissioner of the Illinois Territory. He died after 1782 when his name last appears in colonial records.
Born of German parentage in 1840 in St Clair County, Illinois, he arrived at the downtown, cobblestoned waterfront on a steamboat in 1869.
From 1880 to the 1920s, he built 500 miles of railroad track in Southeast Missouri, which opened the area to industrialization and modernization. He was a student of history. His three-volume History of Missouri, and two-volume, Spanish Regime in Missouri (with research from the archives in Seville, Spain), are standard references in the study of Missouri history.
He was a civic leader, whose efforts secured the Normal School for the city. Later he served thirty-six years as president of the Board of Regents of Southeast Missouri State Teachers College. The college field house is named for him.
Through his vision, Louis Houck made art, culture and formal education available to the people of the city.
Marie Watkins Oliver
Marie Watkins was born in 1854 in Ray County at the family home “Westover.” She came to Cape Girardeau on a steamboat in 1879, as the bride of Robert Burett Oliver, who would later become a successful attorney and civic leader. The couple first settled in Jackson and later moved to Cape Girardeau.
In Mrs. Oliver’s pursuit to design a state flag, she sought information from other American states and territories relating to the origins of their flags. After much research and thought, she settled on a final design and in March 1913, Governor Elliot Major signed legislation for a flag bill, based on her submission. Nearly a century after achieving statehood, Missouri finally had a flag.
Marie Oliver died in 1944 at age ninety. Her former home at 740 North Street, where she created the Missouri State Flag, is privately owned and has been carefully preserved.