The story of the Native American tribes who called the state home nearly 12,000 years ago

Missouri

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.- Nearly 12,000 years ago, Missouri gained its first residents, Native Americans.

Missouri gets its name from the Missouri Native American tribe that lived at the confluence of what are now the grand and Missouri rivers. In fact, Missouri’s first inhabitants were part of the Mississippian Native American culture that eventually became a collection of Native American nations.

And because there’s a lot of history to how these nations got along, OzarksFirst’s Sarah Scarlett and Dr. Brian Calfano draw on the expertise of Missouri State University History Professor Brooks Blevins for insight.

“When the first Europeans showed up, around 1700 or so, what you had in Missouri were really two native American nations here. You had the Missouria, who were mostly in the northern part of Missouri. And then you had the Osage, who were really the really powerful group who controlled most of the state and used most of it as hunting ground because, for the most part, they lived in a couple of small areas on the Osage River and the Missouri River,” says Blevins.

“The french show up around 1700. But really, it’s only at about the middle of the 1700s that the french actually first establish a permanent settlement on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River, and that’s St. Genevieve.”

Blevins says St. Louis came about soon after the Seven Year’s War, commonly known as the French and Indian War. In the late 1700s, Missouri is actually under Spanish control, but very few Spaniards ever come to Missouri. It remained a French territory, in effect.

“And it’s only in the very late 1700s, really the 1790s, when the Spanish government finally says, ‘We got to get some people in here, we’ve got to move some people in.’ and they finally open up settlement to us citizens. And when that happens, you start to see a trickle of people from places like Kentucky and Tennessee and Virginia who start coming across the Mississippi River. And that begins the American phase of Missouri history at that point,” says Blevins.

As Blevins mentioned, Missouri already had Native Americans before the U.S. existed. But this new U.S. territory would add more native Americans from the east, creating an immigrant Indian community where the Osage dominated.

When this became U.S. Territory in 1803/1804, the U.S. government continues to basically push Native Americans from their ancestral lands east of the Mississippi into Missouri. And so, especially the southern half of Missouri becomes, in effect, a dumping ground for the U.S. government for unwanted Native American groups from east of the Mississippi. So, in 1821 in southwest Missouri you’ve got the Delaware, you’ve got the Shawnee, you’ve got the Kickapoo, you’ve got, probably about a dozen different nations represented in southwest Missouri—the Miamis, the Piankashaws, the Peoria—a whole bunch of people: Well over 10,000, what in my book I call ‘immigrant Indians; who have either come voluntarily or who have basically been pushed into southwest Missouri. And it remains that way throughout the 1820s. Southwest Missouri is an Indian Territory throughout the 1820s. So it’s very different from the rest of Missouri when we talked about 200 years ago and the founding of Missouri as a state. Southwest Missouri is doing a totally different thing from most of the rest of the state.

Missouri State University History Professor Brooks Blevins

But the forced migration, known as the Trail of Tears, didn’t end in southwest Missouri. Blevins says in advance of a lot of this white settlement in southwest Missouri, the U.S. government made treaties with the Native Americans who were here throughout the 1820s.

“By the early 1830s, the government pretty much moves all of the Native Americans out of southwest Missouri. They move them into Kansas, into what today is Oklahoma, which in the 1830s becomes Indian Territory. And the creation of Indian Territory and what we know as Oklahoma is, in part, inspired by events that happened in southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas, where these thousands of native Americans are trying to convince the U.S. government to give them this place: To give them basically the Ozarks as an autonomous nation of their own,” says Blevins.

There would be no such Ozarks nation. Missouri’s founding signaled opportunities for whites from the east, at the expense of native Americans. Today, Missouri maintains Trail of Tears State Park as a memorial.

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