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, Missouria (yes, that is the correct spelling) and Osage, were nomadic, moving from area to area with the crops and the availability of game.
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 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 is now Missouri. The area, situated four miles north of Wayland, is marked by the Iliniwek Village State Historic Site. The location 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.
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, in 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.
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.
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.
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 near Sibley, along the Missouri River, 14 miles northeast of Independence.
By 1837, the Osage were in a state or poverty and near starvation. Today however, the Osage prosper. Thanks to shrewd negotiations of their final treaties, the tribe holds the mineral rights to their oil-rich reservation lands in northeastern Oklahoma.
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 visitor’s center at Missouri’s Trail of Tears State Park houses exhibits describing this forced relocation. The facility is 12 miles north of Cape Girardeau.
As the expansion into the American west grew, contact and conflict with the western Indian cultures became more common. This interaction of cultures is displayed in the Museum of Westward Expansion, beneath the Gateway Arch in St. Louis . . . the gateway to the west.
Indians roamed Missouri long before any of these events. 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, off of I-70, 25 miles east of Kingdom City. 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 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 u; Seek out their interesting history to learn how America really began.