Missouri’s Indian Heritage

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American Indian , culture , State Historic Site , State Parks and State Historic Sites , educational museum , Museums , museums , outdoors , family activities , Family Fun
American Indian sites throughout Missouri reflect Missouri’s early history. Learn about the original Americans and find out how Missouri Indians lived.
Author: Scott McCullough (an Osage Indian)

Although the common term is Native American, the fact is, anyone born in the U.S. is a native American. The correct term is, American Indian.


The History of American Indians in Missouri


Indians roamed Missouri long before Europeans arrived in the new world. There were no hogs or sheep or cattle or horses, and no guns . . . all of those things were brought by the invading Europeans. Missouri Indians, mainly the Illinois, the Missouria (yes, that is the correct spelling) and the Osage, were nomadic, moving from area to area with the crops and the availability of game.

Missouri Indians & the State’s Namesake


The state of Missouri and the Missouri River derive their names from the Missouria tribe. In the language of the Illinois Indians, Missouria roughly translates to: “One who has dugout canoes.” In their own language, the Missouria called themselves Niuachi, meaning: “People of the river's mouth.”


The First Encounter with American Indians in Missouri

The French were the first to encounter American Indians in what is now Missouri. On 25 June, 1673, explorers Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette came across a village of Illinois Indians in the extreme northeast area of what became Missouri. The area, situated four miles north of Wayland, is marked by the
Iliniwek Village State Historic Site. The location of Missouri's oldest Indian sites is an important archaeological site because of its size and the quality of items preserved there. A walking trail crosses the site of an excavated Illinois Indian longhouse.

The Life of Missouri Indians

Life in the 1700s was raw and rough. For an example, visit a restored and authentically finished 1790-1815 French and Indian trading post and village, at
Fort Charrette Village and Museum, 10 minutes east of Washington, Missouri. The fort includes five log houses, one of which is believed to be the oldest log house west of the Mississippi River. All are furnished with 1700s American antiques. A historian gives a one hour tour– an appointment is required.

A Major Osage Indian Site in Missouri

The Osage tribe, part of the Great Sioux Nation, occupied areas south of the Missouri River, spreading into northern Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma. The
Osage Village State Historic Site preserves the location of a large Osage Indian village, which was occupied between 1700 and 1775. It is on the National Register
of Historic Places. The site features a self-guided interpretive trail and information about the Osage Indians. It is located six miles northeast of Nevada, Missouri.

Lewis and Clark and Missouri Indians


The Missouria were nearly wiped out in 1798 by the Sauk and Fox tribes from the north, and by smallpox brought from Europe. Lewis and Clark met with a small party of Missouria during their Corps of Discovery expedition in 1804. Dioramas and exhibits at the
Lewis and Clark Boat House, Museum and Nature Center in St. Charles outline the historic journey. The museum in the Boat House illustrates the story of their journey and the American Indian tribes they encountered.

Another Osage Indian Site in Missouri

In 1808,
under the direction of William Clark, Fort Osage was built as a trading outpost in the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. It was there, in 1808, that Osage tribal leaders signed a treaty giving up all rights and claims to 52,481,000 acres in southern Missouri. Today, reconstructed using the original plans which still in exist in Washington, D.C., Fort Osage National Historic Landmark is presented as it existed in the fur trading era of the early 1800s. Costumed reenactors demonstrate the lifestyles and activities of the period. Fort Osage is located on the outskirts of Sibley, along the Missouri River, 14 miles northeast of Independence.

By 1837, the Osage were in a state of poverty and near starvation. Today however, the Osage prosper, thanks to shrewd negotiations of their final treaties which gave the tribe the mineral rights to their oil-rich reservation lands in northeastern Oklahoma.

A Cherokee Indian Site in Missouri


In 1838 and 1839, as part of the government’s Indian removal policy, more than 20,000 Cherokee Indians were relocated from their ancestral lands, and force-marched westward. More than 4,000 Indians died as a result of exposure, disease and starvation. The Cherokee called this journey the Trail of Tears. The route crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri, just north of Cape Girardeau. The visitors center at Missouri’s
Trail of Tears State Park
,12 miles north of Cape Girardeau, houses exhibits describing this forced relocation.

The History of American Indians in Missouri Exhibited Beneath the Gateway Arch


As the
American westward expansion grew, contact and conflict with the western Indian cultures became more common. Artifacts of this interaction of cultures are displayed in the Museum of Westward Expansion, beneath the Gateway Arch in St. Louis . . . the Gateway to the West.

Journey Back & Discover the History of Missouri Indians

Indians roamed Missouri long before the events discussed above. To journey even further back into history, try
Thousand Hills State Park, two miles west of Kirksville. Visitors can view American Indian rock carvings (petroglyphs) more than 1,500 years old. These petroglyphs are listed on National Register of Historic Places.

Looking for something even older? Visit Graham Cave State Park,
25 miles east of Kingdom City, off of Interstate 70. Radiocarbon dating indicates the park's shelter cave was inhabited more than 10,000 years ago. Interpretive signs point out interesting discoveries; exhibits detail how the early inhabitants lived.

In addition to these specific locations, many museums throughout Missouri house American Indian information and artifacts. Indians were her thousands of years before us. Seek out their interesting history by visiting Indian sites scattered throughout Missouri and learn how America really began.


 Iliniwek Village State Historic Site
Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette arrived at this site on June 25, 1673. Illinois Indians were ...

 Fort Charrette Historic Village and Museum
This restored 1790s French and American Indian trading post and village includes five log houses, all ...

 Osage Village State Historic Site
This site was the location of a large, Osage Indian village between 1700 and 1775, when the Osage were ...

 Trail of Tears State Park
The Trail of Tears– the forced relocation of Cherokee Indians from Tennessee to Oklahoma in the ...

 Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Park
The memorial includes the Gateway Arch, the Museum of Westward Expansion, and the Old Courthouse. Ride ...

 Thousand Hills State Park
Thousand Hills State Park includes American Indian rock carvings (petroglyphs) more than 1,500 years ...

 Graham Cave State Park
Radiocarbon dating indicates the park's shelter cave was inhabited more than 10,000 years ago. The park, ...

 The Gateway Arch
The nation's tallest monument at 630 feet, the Gateway Arch has beckoned visitors since June 1967. The ...

 Fort Osage National Historic Landmark
Journey to a time when Missouri was way out West, in the wilderness. Experience the lives of the men ...

 Lewis and Clark Boat House, Museum and Nature Center
This educational facility has exhibits on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Missouri River ecosystem. ...