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Honoring the past

Honoring the past

St. Charles County creek renamed for former slave and Civil War hero

By Brett Auten

However possible and by all means necessary, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlman wants Archer Alexander’s name to be remembered for generations.

Last month, an obscure creek in St. Charles County, formerly known as Tributary B, was officially named Archer Alexander Creek after approval from the Missouri and U.S. boards on Geographic Names.

Alexander was a slave and Civil War hero who lived in the area of the creek in the mid-19th century.

Archer Alexander Creek is 2.5 miles long with its head in O’Fallon. It flows generally south through the city of Cottleville to enter Dardenne Creek 3.9 miles north-northwest of Weldon Spring.

Ehlmann said that naming the creek after Alexander reminds residents of the rich, diverse history of the county.

Alexander lived in St. Charles County from 1830 until his death in 1879 and his story is both a fascinating and a heroic one.

During the Civil War, Alexander informed Union troops about an incident of local railroad sabotage and weapons hidden on a farm along the creek that now bears his name. He escaped to St. Louis and successfully petitioned the Provost Marshal of Missouri for his freedom. A photo – taken later in his life by abolitionist William Greenleaf Eliot – was used by artist Thomas Ball to sculpt the face of Alexander alongside President Abraham Lincoln in the Emancipation Memorial found in Washington D.C.’s Lincoln Park.

He was living in St. Charles County during the Civil War when he learned in February 1863 that men sawed the timbers of a railroad bridge. He informed a Union man, who conveyed the message to Union troops who fixed the bridge before any train crossed. After he informed Union officials that arms were hidden in an ice-house on

the Campbell farm near the Pitman farm in St. Charles County, rebel sympathizers came to suspect him and, fearing for his safety, he fled to St. Louis.

“Archer Alexander Creek is a perfect fit,” Ehlmann said. “It runs right through the Campbell Farm.”

Alexander was given refuge by William Eliot, a prominent abolitionist who would later found Washington University in St. Louis. Alexander argued he should be free since his master, Richard Pitman, assisted two men bound for the rebel service by giving one a horse and the other a gun and clothes. When a slave catcher apprehended Alexander, federal officials, at the request of Eliot, recovered him and returned him to freedom.

Photo courtesy the William Greenleaf Eliot Personal Papers at Washington University Libraries

After a German farmer helped Alexander’s wife Louisa and their children escape, they joined Alexander in St. Louis.

“St. Charles was very anti-slavery,” Ehlmann said. “Half of the county were German, who were very much against it as was the other half.”

In December 1864, the provost marshal began the enlistment of black troops in St. Charles County. Tom Alexander, the son of Archer Alexander, was among the first recruits. After he was killed in action, Tom’s back pay and bounty-money were paid to Archer, who, in the book “The Story of Archer Anderson,” expressed pride that his son had served, stating, “I couldn’t do it myself,” he said, “but I thank the Lord my boy did it.”

“It was an act of personal courage and he made great sacrifices,” Ehlmann said. “He paid a pretty big price to help reunite the country and make all men free. It’s an interesting story and one

not everyone knows about.”

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft issued the proclamation regarding the designation of Archer Alexander Creek. Resolutions supporting the name change were passed and submitted to the naming boards by the St. Charles County Council, city of O’Fallon - Government Council and city of Cottleville Board of Aldermen. The Missouri Board on Geographic Names recommended the proposal, submitted by Ehlmann, to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names at their May meeting. Final approval of the proposal by the U.S. board occurred on June 21.