Indian Tribes of Missouri

Missouri Native American history in the Arcadia Valley Region, Black River Recreation Area of Missouri goes back to the Paleo-Indians, the ancient peoples of the Americas who were present at the end of the last ice age. They camped and hunted along Ozark rivers, perhaps as long as 12,000 to 14,000 years ago. These early inhabitants were big-game hunters. The mastodon (for meat) and the giant ground sloth (for fur), still roamed the area. After the ice age arrived, circa 8000 B.C., the disappearance of the large mammals caused the people to hunt smaller game and rely more heavily on gathering and foraging. They crafted fluted points for hunting, needles for making clothing, hand-woven nets for fishing, and mortars for crunching seeds. Fish and vegetables became an important part of their diet.

Read more about a local family who discovered Stone Age “dreamstone” in their backyard!

During the Woodland Period (1,000 to 500 B.C.) The Hopewell tribe inhabited the region now known as Missouri. They learned how to fire clay pots and tools, engaged in trade, and created large ceremonial earthworks. They cultivated corn and hunted deer and wild turkey.

From A.D. 900 to 1700, the Mississipian Period, the Native Americans became highly dependent on the rivers, eating river dwelling animals and growing crops in the fertile soil of the riverbeds. Corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and gourds were grown. These were the Native Americans that De Soto and his men encountered in 1541, when they crossed the Mississippi River into Calpista and Palisema (present day Arcadia Valley Region and Black River Recreation Area) **”Another eye-witness describes the army’s journey, —We traveled for five days (from Kaskaskia) and reached the province of Palisema (which extended from Lesterville to the Current River). The house of the chief was found (probably near the mountain refuge of Centerville) with coverings of colored deerskins drawn over with designs, and the floor of the house was covered with the same material in the manner of carpets. The chief left it so, in order that the governor might lodge in it as a sign that he was desirous of peace and his friendship, but he did not dare remain. The governor upon seeing that he was away, sent a captain with horse and foot (soldiers) to look for him. The captain found many people, but because of the roughness of the land (the highest mountains in Missouri) they captured only some women and young persons. It was a small and scattered settlement and had very little corn (there’s nowhere to grow it). On that account, the governor left it immediately (choosing to camp farther down the trail on Bunker’s Plateau).”

Discovery of the Mississippi by William H. Powell (1823–1879) is a Romantic depiction of De Soto seeing the Mississippi River for the first time. It hangs in the United States Capitol rotunda.

The Historic Period, beginning in 1700, is the last classified era of Native American development. These were the Indians the European explorers and settlers of our region would come into contact with. Our region was the hunting ground of several tribes including the Osage, Delaware, Kickapoo, Shawnee, Piankashaw and perhaps others. The Osage tribe was master of the area. (The Osage Indians were first recorded in 1673 by the French explorers Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette). Only the Osage Indians seemed to be native to Missouri and the Ozark region. All the other tribes had been driven from east of the Mississippi River to our region as the white man made his gradual advance across the eastern portion of North America.

The Osage empire covered roughly a portion of four states:  Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.  How many people this represented is not known, but the war-like Osage had the numbers to rule this area preeminently against the other tribes that flanked them on every side.  As quoted from History of Early Reynolds County Missouri, by James E. Bell, “Due to their marriage customs, the Osage were tall, physically strong, and possessed unquestionable courage.  The smaller, weaker males often were denied marriage and the mightiest warriors got the girl plus all her sisters.  In this way they had a form of selective breeding, which undoubtedly accounts for most of the tribe being over six feet tall.”  When the first white settlers came to our region in the early 1800’s, it is estimated that there were about 20,000 Indians in Missouri.  Early maps verify the presence of a village of Delaware Indians along the Black River.

The Osage Indians gave up their claim to most of the Ozark Plateau in a treaty with the federal government in 1808. As paraphrased from Mr. Bell’s book, the Osage always considered this treaty not to exclude their right to use the Ozarks for their frequent hunting trips.  This often caused many problems for the first white settlers even though the Indians were mostly friendly and often hunted and traded with the white man.  The ever increasing white population in conjunction with the various treaties that relocated the many tribes that were common to this area, made it rare to see a Native American in this locale after 1830.  Sadly, the Trail of Tears passed through our region.

There are many Indian legends about our Arcadia Valley Region and Black River Recreation Area.  To read the tragic Legend of Taum Sauk Mountain, click here.

While on your Missouri Vacation in our region,  view the many Indian artifacts in our Iron and Reynolds County Museums.  Keep your eyes open while hiking along the rivers and streams, and in our parks.  Artifacts are just waiting to be found!

(Sources of De Soto information, from simple to detailed, by Conquistadors, DeSoto’s Missouri Chronicles, by: Biedma, Rangel, Elvas as presented by Donald E. Sheppard) Other reference: “A History of Missouri from the Earliest Explorations and Settlement until the Admission of the State into the Union”, Volume II, 1908, by Louis Houck