Osage Chief with Two Warriors by George Catlin, 1861.  Courtesy of Archive World / Alamy Stock Photo.

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MISSOURI'S FIRST PEOPLES

Before Europeans ever arrived in the land that would become Missouri, the region had a long history as a center of human civilization. When the first French explorers arrived at the end of the 17th century, the region was dominated by The Osage, a Siouan people, who controlled the region economically and politically due to their numbers

 

By the mid-1700s, after a long military campaign, the Osage had established a vast empire. Their population was concentrated in present-day southwestern Missouri, but Osage territory spanned across the region, overlapping with many diverse language groups. One of the largest indigenous populations, they controlled much of the trade between Europeans and less powerful neighboring peoples.

Native American Mounds

The landscape was dotted by hundreds of ceremonial mounds, which gave St. Louis the nickname “Mound City.” This map depicts what would have been a thriving Native American town that once existed just blocks north of Laclède’s Landing. Only a few of these mounds remain visible today. They can be seen in places such as Cahokia Mounds State  Historic Site in Illinois.

 

The Mound Builders’ descendants, the Missouria, still thrived when the first French explorers arrived in the area. The Missouria farmed along the many smaller rivers and hunted buffalo on the plains to the west.

Survey map reproduced in “Notes on Aboriginal Inhabitants of Missouri,” by Thomas Say and Titian Peale, 1819. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis

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Disputed Lands

Disputed Lands The northeastern part of present-day Missouri was disputed hunting territory between the Osage; their Algonquian-speaking enemies, Sauk and Mesquakie (Sac & Fox), whose main villages were on the other side of the Mississippi River in present-day Illinois; and the Ioways, to the north. With few Native villages in the disputed area, French traders and later United States settlers were able to move into the region with relatively little resistance.

Sacred Sun

Mohongo, which in English means Sacred Sun, was an Osage woman who lived near the towns of Arrow Rock and Franklin at the time of the Missouri Crisis. She was among the group of Osage tribe members who traveled to France in 1827. While in Europe, Mohongo gave birth to twin daughters. Shortly after, the Osages were abandoned by their guide and forced to spend the next two years traveling around Europe. In 1829, with the help of American Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette, Mohongo returned home to North America.

"Mo-Hon-Go. Osage Woman," from History of the Indian Tribes of North America by Charles Bird King, ca. 1827-1844. Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Cession of Native Lands

The Osage had established themselves as the dominant people in the region. As a result, the Osage became the major party in a series of treaties with the United States that allowed most of Missouri Territory to be opened to settlers. After being removed from their homelands further east, the Kickapoo, Shawnee, and Delaware were pushed by a series of additional treaties from lands they had been allowed to settle in present-day Missouri.

 “Lithographs of Osage Indians visiting Paris,” by François Séraphin Delpech. Courtesy of Yale University Library.

Did you know?

Missouri and the Missouri River are named for the Missouria tribe. The name means “town of the large canoes.”

This lithograph illustrates the visit of Osage tribe member Kishagashugah (Little Chief ), his cousin Grétomih, and Minckchatahooh (Little Warrior) to Paris, France in 1827. The group is portrayed wearing traditional Osage dress contemporary to the time of the Missouri Crisis