Gateway Arch National Park: Peace Medals

Saint Louis

Gateway Arch National Park commemorates Saint Louis’s role in the westward expansion of the United States. Situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Saint Louis was the ideal location from which to explore America’s new territories.

The French founded Saint Louis in 1764. They developed trade with the Osage Indians. The city grew into a successful fur trading post. The French, Spanish and British crafted medallions called Peace Medals. They gave these to tribal leaders to form trade alliances.

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson signed the Louisiana purchase. The new territory doubled the size of the United States. Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on a mission to explore the new lands. Lewis and Clark set out from Camp Dubois in May of 1804 to establish a route up the Missouri River to the Pacific. They returned to St. Louis in 1806.

Peace Medals

I visited the Arch with the National Park Travelers Club. We started our tour with the movie, “Monument to the Dream.” From there, we rode the tram up to the viewing platform at the top. While we were waiting for our Mississippi Steamboat ride, we had time to explore the museum on ranger-led tours. One of the tours covered the history of the numerous Peace Medal artifacts on display.

Gateway Arch National Park holds one of the country’s largest collections of peace medals. During George Washington’s first term, Americans adopted the European practice of gifting these tokens of friendship to key native leaders. The Indians valued these and passed them on from generation to generation.

The Washington medals were quite large. The first term medals depicted Washington on the front, the second term versions did not. These were not as popular because the chiefs wanted the picture of the president. Adams did not produce any peace medals during his presidency.

With Jefferson and westward expansion, the medals became important again. The Jefferson medals were smaller. Jefferson portrait dominates one side. The reverse shows clasped hands with the motto, ‘Peace and Friendship.’ Lewis and Clark brought 32 of these on their journey to forge new alliances.

St. Louis Posts

Location: 11 N 4th St #1810, St. Louis, MO 63102
Designation: National Park
Date designated/established: February 22, 2018
Date of my visit: July 14, 2022

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