How old is old? How long ago was long ago? Indians roamed Missouri long before Europeans arrived. There were no hogs or sheep or cattle or horses, and no guns . . . all of those things were brought by the invading Europeans. Many sites across the Show-Me State educate, inform and demonstrate what life was like before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
In far southeast Missouri, about 30 minutes southeast of East Prairie, Towosahgy State Historic Site holds the vestiges of a fortified American Indian ceremonial village and trade center believed to have been inhabited from circa 400 to 1350. The 64-acra site includes several burial mounds and a kiosk that outlines the history of the area. Towosahgy is an Osage word which means "old town," although it is not known if the Osage inhabited the site. Towosahgy was abandoned around 1400, for unknown reasons. Ceramic vessels and artifacts from Towosahgy are displayed at the Rosemary Berkel and Harry L. Crisp II Museum at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.
About 15 miles northeast of Nevada, Missouri, the Osage Village State Historic Site was the location of an Osage Indian settlement of 2,000-3,000 Indians in the early 1700s. The site features a self-guided interpretive trail with exhibits and information about the Osage. When French traders encountered Osage Indians, they established a barter relationship and the Osage accounted for more than half of the total trade in furs in Missouri. The Osage Indian tribe’s territory included what now are southern Missouri, Arkansas, eastern Kansas and Oklahoma.
Mastodons are an extinct species of elephant-like mammal with very long, slightly-curved tusks. They inhabited North and Central America more than 11,000 years ago. Mastodon State Historic Site in Imperial, 30 minutes south of downtown St. Louis, is the location of one of the most famous and extensive ice age deposits of fossils, including a number of bones of giant mastodons. The museum displays artifacts, fossils and a life-size replica of a mastodon skeleton, and outlines the story of the Clovis Indian culture, which existed in the area between 10,000 and 14,000 years ago. Interpretative hiking trails and picnic sites dot the landscape.
Walk in the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition at Clark’s Hill/Norton State Historic State, where William Clark climbed the hill on June 2, 1804. A short trail takes visitors past Indian burial mounds mentioned by Clark in his journals, to an overlook at the site where Clark stood. The location of the Lewis and Clark campsite can be seen from the overlook, with the Missouri River to the left and the Osage River to the right. The size and shape of the mounds, as well as the village site nearby, indicates they probably date to the Late Woodland period (A.D. 600-900).
Built in 1808, when Missouri was at the very edge of civilization, the jumping-off point to the western wilderness, Fort Osage served as a military garrison and a trade center. On that site, overlooking the Missouri River in Sibley, 40 minutes northeast of Kansas City, Fort Osage National Historic Landmark has been reconstructed to depict the fort as it was in 1812. The military left Fort Osage in 1827, when Fort Leavenworth was established. Authentically attired interpreters provide living-history insights into the daily life of the military, civilian and American Indian populations.
For more information, read the VisitMO article, Missouri’s Indian Heritage, written by a member of the Osage Tribe.