Historical Marker: The Old French Cemetery
Backstory and Context
Many of the earliest Europeans to settle in the Kansas City area were French immigrants. Around 1834 Father Benedict Roux, the local Catholic priest, purchased a 40 acre plot of land to build a church for the community. In 1835 he built a log church (the first in Kansas City) named the St. Francis Regis, and established a cemetery behind it. Most of the early French population ended up being interred in this cemetery. The first death records were recorded by the church in both French and Latin. Hundreds were buried over the years; the known graves include those of Kansas City pioneers such as Pierre and Eleonore LaLiberte, Benoise Troost, Gabriel Prudhomme, the Etues family, the Jarboe family, the Chouteau family, and J. Pino Fournaise, who according to legend lived to be 124. A large number of people buried there were the victims of disease, including a cholera epidemic.
The original St. Francis Regis church was eventually replaced by what is now the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. As Kansas City grew and encompassed the site, it became clear to some that the old French cemetery had become an impediment to development. The cemetery officially closed in 1877. By 1880 all of the known graves had been exhumed and reinterred at the new Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery, which had been established on 22nd. Many of the graves were unidentified and reburied en masse as a result. In 1986 construction work on 11th and Jefferson Streets uncovered sixteen graves from edge of the French cemetery that had been forgotten. They were subsequently reinterred at St. Mary’s; reportedly a number of crucifixes and other religious items were found with the remains.
Today all that remains of the old French cemetery are the transferred graves, which reside in their own section at Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery. In 1984 the Chouteau Society was founded to preserve and commemorate the early French heritage of Kansas City. One of its projects was the erection of a historical marker near the site of the original French cemetery. Funding for the marker was contributed by the Francis Families Foundation and the Mildred Lane Kemper Fund. In a nod to the city’s French history, the marker features an inscription in English on one side and in French on the other. The marker was one of eleven placed around Kansas City by the Chouteau Society. The Society dissolved around 2008, and the Jackson County Historical Society has assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the markers.
“Chouteau Society and its mission to preserve the memory of Kansas City’s early French Heritage.” Jackson County Historical Society. Accessed May 26, 2018. https://jchs.org/chouteau-society/
Denzer, Marty. “A Final Resting Place For Missouri’s Founding Settlers.” The Catholic Key Online. September 14, 2011. Accessed May 26, 2018. http://catholickey.org/2011/09/14/catholic-cemeteries-a-final-resting-place-for-missouri’s-founding-settlers/
“The Old French Cemetery.” Historical Marker Database. Accessed May 26, 2018. https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=86273
Images 1-3: https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=86273