Take a road trip back in time to Missouri’s most historic places. From a mastodon bone bed to the birthplace of the Pony Express, dozens of sites across the state have amazing stories to tell. Here are some suggestions to get you started down an intriguing path to the past.
See where scientists discovered the first solid evidence that humans co-existed with giant mastodons in eastern North America. Mastodon State Historic Site is home to the Kimmswick Bone Bed – an important archaeological and paleontological area. A museum displays ancient artifacts, fossils and a full-size replica of a mastodon skeleton. Located in Imperial, the site has three hiking trails, including one that leads to the spot where bones and artifacts were uncovered.
Take a walk through history at Graham Cave State Park in Montgomery City. Artifacts found in the cave reveal that people lived there 8,000-10,000 years ago. Follow the Graham Cave Trail to view interpretive displays about the hunter-gatherers who inhabited the region. Then step into the mouth of the cave and imagine what life was like eons ago.
Experience a world filled with prehistoric creatures including woolly mammoths and giant ground sloths and explore an extensive collection of American Indian artifacts as you journey through the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum at Top of the Rock near Branson. The museum also features artifacts from the American West and Civil War.
Explore the legacy of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in historic St. Charles where the pair set out to discover an “all-water route” to the Pacific Ocean. The Lewis & Clark Boat House and Museum includes a variety of exhibits and a replica keelboat and pirogues like those used on the expedition. The museum’s living history group incorporates the boats in re-enactments and demonstrations.
As the west was being settled, communication was a major challenge. Mail, usually delivered by stagecoach, took anywhere from 20 to 60 days to reach its destination. A relay system of horseback riders to transport correspondence was developed in St. Joseph – and the Pony Express was born. With their saddlebags stuffed full of letters, the riders could deliver the mail cross-country in 10 days. Housed in the stables where the horses were once kept, the Pony Express National Museum features interactive exhibits about the riders’ adventures as they rode across the untamed wilderness.
More than 2,500 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded or declared missing in five hours of intense fighting during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in 1861. Explore the site of the second major battle of the Civil War at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in Republic on a 5-mile, self-guided driving tour. Walking trails will lead you to several battle sites.
Take in hundreds of years of history on a tour of Smallin Civil War Cave near Ozark. First documented in 1818 by explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2018, the cave has been used as shelter by American Indians, early settlers, and Civil War soldiers and spies. Hear about their experiences on a guided tour during the day, offered year-round, or an evening Civil War Lantern Tour in the fall.
More than 1,000 men were killed or wounded in fierce fighting during the Civil War Battle of Pilot Knob in 1864. Confederate troops attacked the earthen fort and were defeated during the conflict. Tour the visitor center and the remains of the fort, located near Pilot Knob, to learn about one of the largest and most hard-fought battles ever waged on Missouri soil.
Written by Liz Coleman